Category Archives: Ranting

Calling to arms for the Attention-driven Tech Industry

With the Incident on the Capitol, the rooster is coming home to roost: It is very likely that US Federal legislation will go on to address some major links in the process that lead to a fascist liar and the party that enabled the behavior, driving a crowd and breaching the legislature building on January 6th, 2021. The link we all are familiar with is Facebook.

But the way laws work, it doesn’t make sense to sue FB or make a law that applies to only FB. After all the whole of the attention-driven economy is partly at fault, including the media. Maybe individual sites could be targeted if they cross over the customary Free Speech lines (all the public sites those protests organized on are probably going to get deplatformed if they resist taking down the content related to the event on 1/6). This means every site will have to bear the brunt of FB’s “negative externalities.” In other words, a powerful tool for humanity is going to get hammered due to one bad actor.

The exact same has already been happening for some time: Facial recognition. Clearview AI is well known in the Machine VIsion industry as unscrupulous shits where profit comes first before anything, being the only major player that enables law enforcement (and others) to do the same things the CCP does to the Uighurs. Thankfully US local law enforcement, as we know, are clumsy bad actors, lacking the technological sophistication and ruthless purpose that emboldens the Chinese government. But in 2020, these human rights abuses of facial recognition has basically started the banning of such uses by local US governments. Amazon is also a big-time no-no here, making one of the most commonly deployed product (Ring doorbells/cameras) tied to unconsented law enforcement use, after making similar mistakes letting any law enforcement at their big data sets.

Ultimately this is about externalities. I think it needs to be extremely clear, if you are doing a large-scale deployment of any new business and tech, to examine externalities. Think of it as risk assessment. It’s one thing to break fast, it’s another to break so fast that you never recover from it. It’s a third thing, unfortunately, that you break it so nobody else can ever touch it again. If the wrong legislation comes down, these technology sectors are dead ends.

It’s really important for big tech companies to be careful and not fuck it up for the rest of humanity. It’s not about starting Civil War 2, it’s about not starting the next Chernobyl (for nuclear power). It’s about not throwing the baby of advanced AI, out, with the bathwater of negative externalities that unethical actors like FB or Amazon is generating.

Midnight in the Box with the Electoral Schrödinger’s Cat

As I write this, the clock just struck midnight on the US East Coast as the calendar turns the page to November 5th. It’s been over 48 hours since the clock struck midnight on the US East Coast as the general US election began on its constitutionally mandated date of November 3rd. Thousands of elections and ballot initiatives have ended with a winner or a Yea or Nay, but a bunch hasn’t yet, including the biggest one of them all: the US Presidency.

The news cycle has been on overdrive ever since Donald J. Trump’s candidacy in 2016, and it never has really let down given the regular dose of outrage, dog whistling, gaslighting, and outright lies coming from the Mouthpiece In Chief throughout his presidency. A tired and elated electorate tries to move on from a generally horrible year of 2020 for the United States.

The odds of Trump’s reelection, as predicted throughout the 2020 campaign period, was not great. The toll of coronavirus plus just his general performance was mixed at best. But as the polls close when the sun rises on November 4th, the truth is that we are at another junction like 2016, the electoral vote path shrinks through a few battleground states with very close vote counts. The added stress of moving many votes (with a heavy Democratic lean) from the usual polling process and moving it to mail-in voting further protracts the canvassing process, and gives room for Trump and the Republicans to play the voter suppression gambit, and undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process.

But while vote counters work and results trickle out, we are in a zone where the real-time tally collected by major news outlets lag behind the reality of votes in the bag, giving us real time, non-stop TV coverage since early Tuesday. States with leads from one candidate change into the other as the later-counted mail-in ballots make it into the tally.

If you follow the pre-election coverage and predictions, there will be some swing states that are the tipping point, which makes or breaks a candidate’s bid for the White House due to the cross-state electoral correlation and the weight of its electoral college. During this period of time, the public sentiment for, say, Georgia, might be entirely different than what we thought a few days ago, when it’s a known battleground this year but always had low odds as a tipping point. Pennsylvania and Florida, huge tipping point states in 2016, may play a very small role this year if Biden retake Wisconsin and MIchigan, and take Arizona back for the Dems–piling up to 270 without those big classic turning point states.

But that’s just me writing late night, which might change in another few hours as the votes come in. In the face of uncertainty, we can doomscroll until the sun comes up, which some might have done, but it’s also a weird zone of impermanence. It is a weird piece of peace in the endless horseracing talk of presidential electoral politics.

[Updated because I forgot to mention the first go-around]

This US General Election, with the very heavy use of the mail-in ballot, is a perfect example of what a quantum state means. Fact is, by the time polls closed on 11/3, the voters have already spoken. The results were collected–the collective, final count unknown at the time–and it has been the same this whole time. The counting went on but the truth was established days ago, if not earlier. The horserace-like coverage pinges on the vote counting, not the actual voting. When ballot processing and counting occurs, the collective whole of humanity was in the act of observing, measuring this system. In reaction to that, the system collapses into a known and measurable state.

The people doing math prior to the election are the folks trying to calculate the quantum state of the thing without directly measuring the thing. The use of mail-in ballots merely exaggerates the measurement and lets us take time to observe the observation and collapsing.

More thoughts on the police riots and protests

It’s never exceedingly wise to pour your half-baked policy and philosophical mode into the public as a place where one can stick his flag on some probably-worthless mole hill to die on, if attackers dare. So I will preface this as I am definitely open to other opinions and really I am seeking those who can, in good faith, propose some legitimate and vetted solutions, points of views, what have you. I don’t have the most open mind but my position is not immutable, and I would rather have a better if not the best opinion. I mean, wouldn’t you?

Given the lax attitude about police brutality from those who can hold them accountable, it is probably out of several or all of these reasons, and including others I missed. First, the laws are tilted one way versus another. That relates to the qualified immunity bit, insurance and what not. Second, police is organized into unions and other organizations that are not directly beholden to the people they serve. This is most notable in the Minnesota situation with the Trumper union chief. Third, there is that “a few good men” thing in which culturally there is a “us and them” that makes “good apple” cops toe the line. This is most notable in the Buffalo NY situation when the one 75yo man’s literal pusher’s firing solicited the boycott of an entire riot squad.

Then there are the systemic (if those weren’t already systemic enough) issues in regards to race relations in the USA. Of course none of it is so simple, and there are plenty interplay between them. The above issues only make sense if we think of it in the right context. That hit me when I read Banksy’s recent IG post earlier today, and it’s basically a rehash of another idea I heard earlier. The purest form of this idea is laid out by Chris Rock some years back. In an interview with the New Yorker he said:

When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.[]

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

[For completion, here’s what Banksy said.

At first I thought I should just shut up and listen to black people about this issue. But why would I do that? It’s not their problem. It’s mine.

People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system. Like a broken pipe flooding the apartment of the people living downstairs. The faulty system is making their life a misery, but it’s not their job to fix it. They can’t, no one will let them in the apartment upstairs.

This is a white problem. And if white people don’t fix it, someone will have to come upstairs and kick the door in.

Here goes hoping he doesn’t build a shredder into this one.]

In America, I think it’s fair to say that minorities live and play in a white world. They are our leaders, they are our billionaires, they are our bosses and managers, they are our teachers and cops. They fight our fires, prescribes our medicines, and pretty much set the rules for every position of power, and is also the make up of majority of people in power. They are judges and lawyers, legal scholars and lawmakers, and whites make up even far majority of the members of the press. And in a democracy with a majority white voter base, the country is literally being driven by white people. That is everything working by design. Numbers being what they are, there will always be pockets of exceptions. For example there are more non-Whites than Whites in my town. My dentist is Chinese. My coworkers is half white and half non-white? You get my drift. I suppose there are a lot of Filipino nurses? You think Chinese food chefs are still going to be mostly Chinese people (although there are, uh, an alarming number of hispanics at this job in the US. It’s probably still less alarming than the number of Chinese chefs making Korean and Japanese foods at US restaurants though).

Strictly speaking, black people don’t have a say how things turn out. The only power they have is the power everyone has–the power to disrupt. Of course, individually, each of us is capable of changing the world through what we do or not do, but collectively humanity generally is a brick of stupid. But just because we may be stupid, it doesn’t make collective action less powerful. Maybe think of it as the difference between a screwdriver and a sledgehammer. I believe that is a good analogy for both individual action and collective action. If you want to swap out your old lightswitch with a fancy IOT one that you can talk to, you might want a screwdriver and not a sledgehammer. That is how we affect the changes, say, to fire a police chief. Or get rid of the New York Times Opinions editor. But if you wanna kick down the door upstairs in a hurry, a sledgehammer is going to be slightly better.

But that still is missing the forest for the trees. We still live in a white person’s house. Yes, maybe now that the lightswitch is no longer an unabashed racist, because we swapped a haunted one that can shock you with one that can pay lip service, but if the rest of the house is still haunted with Nazi ghosts trying to lynch every black person spending the night there, I don’t think it matters much. And that is the problem BLM, MLK, and other Named Historical Things have tried to address in the annals of America’s racist past. All of it is just because the white leadership and the system they have created do not give a damn about other people who might not be the same as them. Yes, we have asked the white landlords to make the house less deadly, and they have, but people are still dying, gassed, whatever. And the whole understanding behind democratic systems and guaranteed human rights, is just to provide the escape hatch in case the lightswitch is trying to kill you again. In some ways, I see it more like, building these levers of balance into the structure is more like building a fire escape for black people so when the ghost of Adolf Hitler comes, we have a way to deal with that.

But that is not the real structural change. The real change comes from, like what Chris Rock puts it, having nicer white people. Fact remains even with massive waves of immigration from Asia, America will remain a white people’s house. And the only way to really deal a fatal blow to systemic racism is to address every level in which racism happens. Thankfully this is just, well, dealing with racist white people. I mean that is the blessing and curse of democracy. In an fascist dictatorship, if the leadership is actually black, maybe we won’t need to go down this route? Well there will be bigger problems than racism at that point.

Just like trying to make a police department not racist means rooting the racists out of the group, trying to make a country not racist means rooting the racists out of the country. That is the ultimate and possibly the only real solution. After all, the Church is not a building but its people, and so is a nation. Although that sounds just as untenable as asking people who disagree with your interpretation of some Americana principle to move to Canada, that is what the ghost of Adolf Hitler is trying to do–get you to leave the house.

Otherwise you are just going to bottle in these in-power racists who, just like black people, are entitled to their voting rights, their speech rights, and they probably have long-established platforms able to reach more white people than black folks and their black platforms, and thus reach more ears in high places. It will never be fair. Sure, we can punish, deplatform, and remove them, but that does not deprive them any of the tools blacks have to affect change in the past 150 years when they were the subjects of censure, indifference, Jim Crow, what have you. If a bunch of slaves (and they were all slaves back when) can change the world, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Let’s be honest here–on average, white people have, to their credit, become less racist and nicer over time. But they are still responsible for the horrors they have done and continue to do.

The road to improved race relationship is on the backs of white people fixing themselves. That is the takeaway. Sadly blacks and minorities are here only as poster children to make the rest of us feel bad–because unless the whites cooperate and listen, only the suffering of minorities will gain traction. I mean, we all felt bad when Floyd was senselessly murdered, and maybe after enough blacks die in the hands of the police, one of the deaths might convince enough white people that this has got to change. Again, white people are the ones who have the power to change, because they are the ones who are responsible for this nonsense. It’s not like we can ban whiteness from America either. Removing the individuals is just going to allow another one to take that place sooner or later, so real systemic change is not just replace the lightswitch or staircase, it’s exorcising the ghost.

Racism is ultimately tied to a set of ethnocentric beliefs that has to be removed from the public consciousness. I am thus all for good racial relationship as a means to improve the kindness of whites and to help whites understand what it means to be non-white in America. That is the only persistent, permanent, and meaingful solution. How we manage this will vary and it is not a matter of sledgehammers, but of screwdrivers. Or maybe both, because you need some way to hammer them into shock and incapcity, and threaten each one individually with something sharp? Joke aside, I think just saying that racism is the problem and not racist is not a helpful distinction. But there you have it. Sometimes it’s nation-wide protests, sometimes it’s better K-12 curriculums, sometimes it’s just being a good person, and sometimes it’s good policy changes implemented by elected officials who the people can hold to account.

It’s like what this video essay says about Ip Man, that racists never think they are the bad guys or are racists. Racists tend to cling to the belief that they are good people. If you are white and you think Chris Rock is full of shit, well, you just proved his point.

And sure, there are blacks and asians and other minorities who are also racist just like white people. But there are two key distinctions–one is that in America, Minorities do not run the country. I mean, they are minorities, by definition in a democratic society this is necessarily the case. Second, in discussion of systemic racism, leaders ultimately have to take responsibility for the success and failure of whatever they are leading. If 44 of 45 US Presidents were white, I would think white people (and 44 people is a pretty large sample size all considered) ultimately need to put the issue of racism in their pocket.

This lead me to think about another thing, which is more in line with what Banksy said. Ultimately, if police brutality ain’t a thing, does it really matter if cops are racist pigs? Maybe the MInneapolis PD would have had a easier time staying in existence. If the pipe isn’t broken, the people living in the basement won’t be up here and trying to kick the door down. It makes you think if we can sufficiently nerf all the sharp, racist edges in the system in order to keep the current order to things. Well, it’s not a line in the sand to say what is the new order and what is the old order. It still comes down to America continue to produce ever-nicer white people. But if I was a fascist, my reaction to civil unrest (say, in HK), is going to come down to a measure of competency over than systemic issues bubbling to the fore. It is an internal weakness to become corrupt to power–different people have different resistance to it. If I was a powerful white man in leadership of a gang, I would probably terminate the goons who screwed things up and made the public pay attention to whatever gang activity. Just like how it is incompetence of Minneapolis PD union/leaders to not fire that dude who already had repeated violations and a prior murder. But as they say, it’s systemic, so fixing bad apples is not going to fix all bad apples, eventually some edge cases will happen that you did not account for. What i could say about this is that corruption and opening doors for incompetent managers into the system (like #3 in the second paragraph, but also, uh, Donald Trump) only accelerates this process.

In a nutshell, the past week we saw both extremes–nationwide (and internationally, thanks errbody) protest and also nationwide police brutality. For some reason nobody realizes unless you are Turkey and China, as countries with fully fascist political and media systems, plain brutality just won’t work. People armed with wireless networks and cell phones will know what is true and what is up, because a troll army can only overpower so many people in so many places in the same 7-day period. There hasn’t been a real count but the amount of protesting done is going to overwhelm any lamebrain 50-cent-army system in Russia or China. Nobody scales humans that fast, at least without being noticed. This is also on top of the mainstream press obviously putting these horrific footage in the mainstream broadcast channels. Zuck-chan from FB may hand-wring about blocking Trump’s post but that is low stakes versus amplifying fake news and trolling to overpower legitimate, organic citizenry signals, which thankfully algorithmically is at least undesirable. Outrage sells both ways and it is really outrageous to see innocent people being screwed over by police in military gear. It is not an over-exaggeration to say that it took a genocide in SEA and multiple homicide in India for FB to learn this lesson.

Which seems to be the kind of price to teach white people anything these days. Sad.

Some thoughts on the George Floyd protest/riots

The current wave of protests and riots are race riots, and police riots. Race riots, because, well, as American history suggests, riots due to the issue of racial oppression (mostly blacks, but hispanics too) happens from time to time. I personally associate with the Rodney King one the best, because that was wild. Look at us now though.

Police riots, however, is the kind of riot the police is mostly doing the instigating. Over this past weekend I have seen this term being thrown around, and people don’t quite realize it is one term, “police riot” and not that the riots involve the police. Well they typically all do in the modern era.

The current protests are occurring across the country, mostly in major cities. This is new and unique because it’s the first one driven mostly by SNS. It’s also organized on SNS. A lot of people are literally on the ground and broadcasting, including the news outlets themselves.

But I think that is also a gap. Older people tend to get their news from TV so it is going to present to them a different view of the situation. One, for example, that includes a lot of Donald Trump theatrics. For most of us, he’s pretty much reduced to a twitter troll in terms of his contribution to the situation. But much like 2016, the news always jump on his coverage, amplifying that stuff, making it worse.

It’s easy to understand why saying all lives matter is, at best, an insensitive statement. But it really feeds well into the underlying condition needed to behave in a racist manner. It would explain why some feel compelled to call out those who do say all lives matter as racist. And in turn, those who do to discredit those who say black lives matter. It is a stupid taking-two-to-tango mechanism.

To further explain, in order to behave in a racist way, you first have to believe you aren’t a racist. And a statement that calls to value all lives qualifies for that condition. Of course, in the BLM context, it is a racist thing because it’s anti-black when you’re not in support of that message. It minimizes the cause and trivializes their systemic suffering. It is a stupid no-brainer, anyway. Or maybe because it is a no-brainer, it is insulting to be saying it to BLM folks. Of course all lives matter. If it was some deeply insightful thing, it probably will be something everyone else repeats, not just apparently right wingers and trolls.

At the same time, all lives matter is a valid issue some whites struggle with. Especially those nice kind of white people who recognize that black lives do matter. You probably can only find them in the church. You probably also have to kindly tell them that, well, antifa probably doesn’t exist as a terrorist group, as it were.

There is this Christian preacher and widely-read author named John Piper. He wrote a pretty decent study book I did back when I was in high school, and while he was also kind of whack it is interesting to see his point of view on this, being based in Minneapolis.

His 2016 discussion on BLM here.

His recent preaching here.

Naive/quaint old preacher he may be, but it is the baby step anyone can accomplish.

Here is a youtuber talking about the qualifying conditions to propel racism, in the context of Ip Man 4… poignant in this day and age.

Graphics and AI convergence

In PC parlance, when we talk about graphics cards we think of what Nvidia and AMD sell, these addon boards for desktops that you can put in, and these video cards accelerates the graphical rendering capabilities of games. Today, Nvidia has a lineup of real-time raytracing capable chips.

But also recent times, these GPU makers are into what’s more generally known as accelerated computing. General-purpose CPUs can do a lot of things fast, but GPUs are designed to do certain things in a massively parallel kind of way. This is why they can quickly render graphics when CPUs cannot. This is also how machine learning training and prediction can quickly be processed in a massively parallel kind of way, and slowly when using general-purpose CPUs.

Said Nvidia lineup that has raytracing also has dedicated “tensor cores” which accelerates  machine learning computing.

And what I’m saying is, the two is actually becoming the same: the workload of rendering realistic or desirable graphics quickly, and the ability of compute complex machine learning models.

This is most recently exemplary in smartphone cameras, or specifically, Google’s HDR magic that enables its Pixel phones to take great photos using fewer lenses or smaller sensors. More recently, Google announced its low-light Night Mode system which allows ordinary phone cameras (currently the APK only runs on Pixel phones) from 2 years ago to take amazing low-light photos which renders the results clearly with low enough noise and smearing to be fully visible. It is all done via machine learning prediction on a series of photographs recomposited via a HDR-like process.

In fact, HDR is kind of like machine learning, just algorithmic. Augment it with a neural network and voila.

It opens eyes, because imagine if the compute power is there to take this low-light tech into real time: make videos in which you have computational night vision? No need for a flash ever? It’s pretty nuts. You can even build in protection against drastic contrast/level changes. Such kind of augmented vision obviously have a ton of use in everyday life and in filming, but also obviously military applications.

Now, it’s software magic at work. But ultimately these breakthroughs are coupled with improvements in ML hardware as well, which means it could be possible as Nvidia and AMD continue to bring out more powerful ML and video hardware. I wonder if this still means we will have different components (either as chips or parts of SoC) to handle video rendering and AI workloads, and if things like Google’s HDR voodoo will lead us down yet another path of customized compute hardware.