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Radar trends to watch: March 2022

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February was a short month, but it wasn’t short in interesting technology. Don Norman has published some excerpts from his forthcoming book, Design for a Better World, which will almost certainly become another classic. DeepMind has released some information about AlphaCode, which solves problems from coding competitions well enough to put it in the mid range of competitors. And Holochain is a decentralized framework for building peer-to-peer microservices–no cloud provider needed. Is it another component of Web3 or something new and different?

Artificial Intelligence

  • NVIDIA has developed techniques for training primitive graphical operations for neural networks in near real-time.
  • Why isn’t AI used more to protect vulnerable people? Poor data quality, lack of accountability, lack of explainability, and the misuse of data–all problems that could make vulnerable people even more so.
  • A tool that predicts where code needs comments isn’t quite as flashy as Github, Copilot, or AlphaCode, but it’s another way AI applications can partner with humans.
  • Face recognition in virtual reality: In a fascinating combination of work from AI and neurology, researchers have used EEGs to detect facial expressions and used those expressions to control a virtual reality environment.
  • In a collaboration between DeepMind and the Swiss Plasma Center, Deep Learning has been used to control the plasma in a fusion reactor.
  • DeepMind argues that “reward is enough”; reinforcement learning, in which algorithms are trained by maximizing rewards, is sufficient to reach artificial general intelligence. Specialized algorithms for different domains are not necessary.
  • AI assistants could greatly reduce the work it takes to discover important new materials.  Could this lead to a “golden age of materials science”?
  • Mozilla’s Common Voice dataset contains 13 million voice clips in 87 languages from over 200,000 volunteers. Their goal is to collect real-world samples from speakers in as many languages as possible, as an aid to training natural language systems.
  • All datasets have world views” is an excellent interactive article showing how bias, labeling, and data go hand in hand.  Datasets always come with histories and politics.
  • Diffusion models are a fascinating technique for training an AI system to work with signals like images and sound: convert the signal into noise, and train a model to reverse the process. This process can produce predictions about the source that are more accurate (and computationally efficient) than you can obtain from autoencoders.
  • AlphaCode is DeepMind’s answer to Copilot: an automated system for writing software.  It can solve coding challenges from competitions with roughly 50% accuracy.
  • From Joanna Bryson: “The temptation of automation is to force conformity on humans, because humans learn better than machines do, but then ironically humans, while their productivity may be enhanced, their individual value is lost, creating a spiral of lowering wages and expectations.”  The real question, as Bryson says, is whether we can use AI to enable people to flourish.
  • A startup that works with law enforcement says that it is developing the systems that will identify faces based on DNA. They are not publishing the details, and scientists working in both AI and biology are extremely skeptical.

Programming

  • “Serverless” development is declining. Is serverless just a halfway step towards event-driven programming, which is the real destination?
  • Monorepos, which are single source repositories that include many projects with well-defined relationships, are becoming increasingly popular and are supported by many build tools.
  • Here’s an excellent discussion of concurrency in several different programming languages, and what can be learned from them. Using concurrency effectively will be an important theme for the foreseeable future.
  • I admit I don’t understand the fuss over Wordle.  I am sure I saw this game on the Web some 20 years ago. But I am excited to see an implementation of Wordle in 50 lines of bash!
  • Dynaboard is a web development tool designed for remote work. It has support for collaboration and pairing, low code programming, connectors for databases and back end services, and many more features. It is not open source, and is now entering private beta.
  • The Information Battery: Pre-computing and caching data when energy costs are low to minimize energy use when power costs are high is a good way to save money and take advantage of renewable energy sources.
  • A boring technology checklist: Is your technology boring enough? Seven years ago, Dan McKinley wrote the classic article Choose Boring Technology: chasing the latest cool framework is a path to exhaustion. To be productive, developers need to rely more on stable, well-known technologies. Now there’s a checklist to evaluate “boring” but productive technologies.
  • ApacheHop is a metadata-driven data orchestration for building dataflows and data pipelines. It integrates with Spark and other data engines, and is programmed using a visual drag-and-drop interface, so it’s low code.

Security

  • China is now a “cyber superpower,” with offensive capabilities that equal or exceed that of any other country. Ironically, some of the development of this expertise has been funded by “bug bounty” programs offered by American companies.
  • An essay by the US Cyber Director discusses the need for a new “social contract” for a cyber age. The current relationship between the private and government sectors misaligns incentives for defense against cyber attacks.
  • The FBI has warned people about criminals tampering with QR codes to steal funds, using techniques as simple as putting a sticker over a legitimate QR code. It’s a reminder that low-tech cyber hygiene is at least as important as understanding the latest attack.
  • The Elite Hackers of the FSB is a fascinating story about the Russian intelligence agency’s attempts to target foreign government IT systems.
  • Security is an issue for any technology, and web3 is no different. However, web3 presents its own security risks, and in the overheated world of web3 development, security tends to be an afterthought. That’s ironic, given the claims of many web3 proponents, but not fundamentally different from traditional software products.
  • A new front for security: malware hidden within deep learning models. Fortunately, retraining the model destroys the malware.
  • Will Russia’s conflict with Ukraine spread into a global cyberwar? That’s a distinct possibility, and a nightmare for security professionals.

Web

  • The Block protocol, developed by Joel Spolsky, provides a simple way to create structured blocks of content that can easily move between applications on the Web. This is another approach to decentralization: eliminate proprietary data formats. HTML isn’t proprietary, but for all practical purposes the mess of JavaScript that you see when you look at a web page is.
  • Matomo, Fathom, and Plausible, alternatives to Google Analytics that are designed for privacy (and compliance with GDPR), could be the basis for a real next-generation web. No blockchain required.
  • Mozilla and Meta/Facebook are working on privacy-preserving attribution for advertising, a way for advertisers to gather metrics on whether their ads are effective without compromising users’ privacy.
  • A crowdsourced app for mapping sound levels tells you places to avoid if you have trouble tolerating noisy environments. It’s linked to FourSquare, so any place in Foursquare can be rated.

Blockchains and NFTs

Hardware

Education

  • Can online classes be better than in-person classes, rather than a poor substitute? When professors learn to use the medium effectively, yes.
  • Jobs of the future is a list of new professions that we aren’t yet prepared for. It sounds tongue-in-cheek, but it isn’t.  It includes jobs like edge computing manager, augmented reality storyteller, ethics officer, and ad-blocking expert, all of which are easily imaginable.

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Broadcom is in ongoing talks to acquire VMware, but a deal is not imminent (Greg Roumeliotis/Reuters)

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Sources: Broadcom is in ongoing talks to acquire VMware, but a deal is not imminent  —  Chipmaker Broadcom Inc (AVGO.O) is in talks to acquire cloud service provider VMware Inc (VMW.N), people familiar with the matter told Reuters.  —  Negotiations between Broadcom and VMware are ongoing and a deal is not imminent, the sources said.

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How to watch AMD, Nvidia, and Microsoft’s Computex 2022 keynotes

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Computex is just hours away and will feature keynotes from some of the biggest names in tech, including AMD, Nvidia, and Microsoft. There will almost certainly be some exciting announcements from each brand, but since Computex takes place in Taipei, Taiwan, the keynotes don’t occur at the most convenient times (at least for those of us in North America).

Microsoft and AMD’s keynotes will have you staying up into the wee hours of the morning tonight, while Nvidia’s keynote doesn’t take place until late tomorrow evening. Here’s how and when to tune into each keynote:

How to watch AMD’s keynote

AMD CEO Lisa Su is set to speak in a keynote titled “AMD Advancing the High-Performance Computing Experience,” which is set to highlight AMD’s latest innovations in laptop and desktop performance. The chip company is rumored to reveal Ryzen 7000 series desktop CPUs that use the new Zen 4 core architecture, as well as its X670E, X670, and B650 motherboards that support the next-gen AM5 platform.

You can watch the keynote on YouTube when it goes live early tomorrow morning on Monday, May 23rd at 2AM ET, 11PM PT, or 2PM local time in Taipei. If you’re unsure what time that is for where you live, you can check out this handy time conversion chart AMD posted to Twitter.

How to watch Nvidia’s keynote

Nvidia’s keynote will feature six different speakers, including Ian Buck, the company’s vice president of accelerated computing; Jeff Fisher, the senior vice president of GeForce; and Michael Kagan, the CTO of Nvidia. The keynote is set to cover a range of topics, such as accelerated computing, gaming, content creation, and data center solutions.

You can watch the keynote from Nvidia’s YouTube livestream tomorrow night, May 23rd at 11PM ET / 8PM PT, or 11AM on local Taipei time.

How to watch Microsoft’s keynote

Microsoft’s keynote includes a talk from Panos Panay, the chief product officer behind Windows and Microsoft Surface devices, as well as Nicole Dezen, Microsoft’s corporate vice president. The keynote is simply titled “A Conversation About Windows 11 with Panos Panay and Nicole Dezen.”

You can watch the 30-minute keynote from YouTube early tomorrow morning on May 23rd at 3:30AM ET / 12:30AM PT, or 3:30PM local time in Taipei.

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Ozark Season 4 Finale’s Polarising Ending Explained

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Ozark’s fourth season has come and gone. Endings are tough, especially for a critically acclaimed show, but after five years Ozark finally has its finale. Was it a good ending? Depends on who you ask.

Ozark began in 2017 with Chicago accountant Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) making a deal for his life: After finding himself on the wrong side of a drug cartel gun, he says he’ll launder money in the Ozarks in exchange for the safety of his family. By the time we got to season four’s first part, back in January, Marty and his wife, Wendy (Laura Linney), were in deep with that cartel. 

They’d set up a casino to launder millions, had buckets of blood on their hands and were working with both the cartel and the FBI to strike a deal that would finally let them skip town and start afresh. Throughout Ozark’s four seasons, the couple constantly got themselves into tight situations that they were able to slip out of at the last second. But the walls were closing in on them as season four part two began: Could they pull off a final Houdini?

As the petition to remake the last season of Game of Thrones shows, devoted fan bases can be difficult to please. Some of what goes down in the final episode has fans split. Here’s how that story ends. Spoilers ahead.

Pour one out for Ruth Langmore

Before we get to the Byrde family, the big news item coming out of the Ozark finale instead surrounds Ruth Langmore. While the Byrdes may get a happy ending, Ruth doesn’t. She was shot and killed by Camila Navarro, the new cartel boss.

Played by Julia Garner, Ruth is a consistent highlight of the show, and her turbulent relationship with Marty was especially compelling in Ozark’s first three seasons. Season four part one ended with Ruth charging down a highway in search of Javier, the nephew of Omar Navarro. (Recall that much of the events of season four revolved around Omar’s fear of his hotheaded, ambitious nephew: Sensing bloody usurpation by Javi, Omar strikes a deal with the FBI that ultimately backfired.) Javi had just shot dead Darlene Snell and Wyatt Langmore. Wyatt was Ruth’s closest relation, the one she hoped would end the “Langmore curse” of ending up prematurely dead or in jail. 

Ruth wanted revenge for her cousin’s death. And revenge she got. 

In the second episode of season four part two, Ruth traps and kills Javi. It went down inside the offices of Shaw Medical. Ruth hijacks a dinner between the Byrdes and Shaw Medical CEO Clare Shaw. (The cartel via Wendy struck a deal with Shaw in season four to provide cheap heroin, a key ingredient in many pharmaceutical products, and Shaw in exchange would make a large donation to Wendy’s foundation.) At gunpoint, she demands Shaw lure Javi into the office to sign a deal handing stocks over to Javi’s mother. When Javi rocks up, Ruth shoots him down. 

Fortunately for Ruth, Omar Navarro takes credit for the murder of Javi. Plotting with the Byrdes from prison, Navarro wants to take back control of his cartel. To do that, he sends Marty to Mexico to inform the cartel that Navarro was the one who killed the over-ambitious Javi. While there, Marty meets Camila, sister of Omar and mother of Javi. 

Javi was introduced in season four part one. He killed Darlene Snell and Wyatt Langmore, but is done in by Wyatt’s cousin Ruth.


Netflix

Enter Camila, the new boss

Camila pretends to understand cartel politics but orders a hit on Omar in prison. Omar survives the assassination attempt and suspects one among the cartel ranks was behind the plot. More treachery: The Byrdes plot with Camila to overthrow Omar, organizing yet another hit and for Camila to strike the same FBI deal accepted by Omar that would see the Byrde’s wipe their hands of the whole cartel thing. 

That plan goes awry when Camila goes to prison to say a final goodbye to Omar. There Omar, realizing something’s amiss, tells Camila that he didn’t kill Javi at all and that he doesn’t know who did — he only knows what Wendy Byrde told him. Camila believes him but goes through with the assassination anyway. After four seasons of pulling strings, Omar Navarro is taken out. 

The final scenes of the final episode center on a Byrde Family Foundation gala, where big donors are coming through to make all of the Byrde’s fantasies come true. The gala is attracting big-ticket donors, so they can go back to Chicago and live out their days as the charitable owners of a massive non-profit organization. Finally, they did it. Until Camila enters the party. 

Camila Elizondro.


Netflix

She confronts Clare Shaw about the day Javi died. Camila says that she’ll forgive Shaw for hiding information if she reveals it right now, but all sorts of unpublishable things would happen if she finds out Shaw had been lying to her. Shaw buckles and tells Camila that Ruth Langmore did it. (Shaw does lie though, covering from the Byrdes by saying only Shaw and Javi were in the office at the time of the killing.)

Camila calls over one of her henchman and tells him to kill the Byrdes and their kids if Marty or Wendy try to give Ruth any advance notice and Camila is coming for her. In the final scenes, we see Marty and Wendy congregate about their options and realize they have none. After four seasons of wriggling out of tough spots, they’re utterly powerless.  They’re safe, but can do nothing to save Ruth — which is painful to both them and us.

As the Byrde family takes the stage at their gala, Ruth Langmore is confronted outside her home by Camila. She knows what’s coming, but is defiant ’till the end. “”I’m not sorry,” she tells Camila. “Your son was a murdering bitch. And I now I know where he got it from.” Camila shoots Ruth right in the heart. 

Explaining the death to Vanity Fair, showrunner Chris Mundy said Ozark would be too much of a fairytale if Ruth were to survive. “I wanted everybody to have active choices in the last seven episodes,” Mundy said to the publication. “Ruth could go for revenge or not, and she knows if she did, it is going to unleash things that might end up with her getting harmed.”

A miraculous escape

Before we get to other big moment, a quick note on the car crash that opened season four part one. In the scene, if you don’t recall, the whole Byrde family is in the family car talking about their big move to Chicago now that they’re done with the Ozarks. Amid the euphoria, Marty stops paying attention and swerves off the road, making the car flip and tumble off road.

It turns out it wasn’t a dream — or anything important. The crash happens in the middle of the final episode, but improbably, no one is hurt. It comes after one of season four part two’s biggest subplots, that of Wendy’s dad Nathan Davis trying to get custody over Jonah and Charlotte. He plays the part of concerned grandpa, and Wendy has a breakdown that sends her straight into a mental health facility. 

ozark.png

Season four part one started with a car crash. It was a red herring. 


Netflix

But thanks to an interrogation from Ruth Langmore, Nathan is shown to be nothing more than a vindictive dad who’s taking Jonah and Charlotte away purely to spite Wendy. Once Nathan Davis, held at gunpoint by Ruth, tells this to Jonah and Charlotte, the kids decide to reunite with Marty and Wendy. 

Their happy car ride home is when the dramatic but insignificant crash happens. 

Jonah becomes a Byrde again

After the gala, moments after we see Ruth killed, the Byrde family arrives at their home. The kids run inside, and Marty and Wendy are both crestfallen on the fate that fell upon Ruth and their inability to do anything at all about it. 

Marty sits at the family table, head in hands, and the camera pans out to show us that the glass door has been shattered. Someone’s been inside.

It turns out to be Mel Sattem, a disgraced ex-cop turned private investigator. He made his Ozark debut in season four part one, where he was investigating the disappearance of Helen Pierce. He returns here, working for Nathan Davis in an effort to find Ben Davis. Ben was notably killed in season three by order of his sister Wendy because Ben’s antics would have literally gotten the entire family murdered. Of course, no one knows that other than the Byrdes and Ruth.

This goat cookie jar bedevilled Mel Sattem, until he realized what was being kept inside.


Netflix

Sattem discovers that Wendy had been lying about the last time she saw Ben and got photo evidence of Wendy taking Ben into the diner that was to be the site of his last known appearance. He becomes a key asset in Nathan Davis’ attempt to get a court to separate Jonah and Charlotte from their parents, so Marty and Wendy have him taken out. Not with violence, but with sweet diplomacy.

Since arriving on the show, Sattem has sought vindication. He was fired from the Chicago PD for stealing cocaine from evidence but, apart from that, appeared to be a legitimate and good-intentioned cop. Now he’s drug free and wants back into the force. Marty and Wendy, well connected with Midwest officials, get him reinstated. But there’s a catch: If he wants back, Sattem has to go immediately. He can’t testify against the Byrdes in court. 

Leave he does. Sattem was staying at Ruth Langmore’s Lazy-O Motel and checks out to head back to Chicago. As he leaves though, he notices that the large goat cookie jar he saw in Langmore’s trailer was now at the Lazy-O. He doesn’t know it, but that’s where Ruth has been keeping Ben’s ashes. 

When he gets back to Chicago, he just can’t do it. He keeps thinking about the Byrdes, and about that cookie jar. Then it clicks: Ben wanted to buy a farm and raise goats, and Ruth was keeping his ashes in a goat-themed cookie jar. The ashes of Wendy’s brother represented cold, hard evidence against the Byrdes.

The Byrdes try to buy him off, but Sattem refuses. 

“You don’t get to win. You don’t get to be the Kochs or the Kennedys,” he says. “World doesn’t work like that.” Wendy replies: “Since when?”

Then we hear a gun cock. It’s Jonah Byrde, who for both part one and two of season four has been estranged from the family. He can’t square the immoral acts his parents have committed, and is especially frustrated by his unrepentant mother. Yet there he is, aiming a gun squarely at an investigator trying to do good. Marty and Wendy look on, pride creeping onto their face as Jonah accepts the family and what they’ve done. 

As the screen fades to black we hear a gunshot. But who, or what, did Jonah shoot? Did he shoot Sattem, or did he shoot the cookie jar to destroy the only evidence against his family that exists? Some have speculated that Jonah, with the keenest sense of justice among them, wouldn’t have shot dead Sattem. 

If you go by what showrunner Chris Mundy says, Jonah shot the Sattem. Mundy told Vanity Fair that Jonah’s muder of Sattem showed “the family being brought back together through this act of violence.” But that killing isn’t shown on the screen, so is ultimately left open ended. Who, or what, do you think Jonah shot?

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