Radar Trends to Watch: June 2022
Developments in Programming, Metaverse, Hardware, and More
The explosion of large models continues. Several developments are especially noteworthy. DeepMind’s Gato model is unique in that it’s a single model that’s trained for over 600 different tasks; whether or not it’s a step towards general intelligence (the ensuing debate may be more important than the model itself), it’s an impressive achievement. Google Brain’s Imagen creates photorealistic images that are impressive, even after you’ve seen what DALL-E 2 can do. And Allen AI’s Macaw (surely an allusion to Emily Bender and Timnit Gebru’s Stochastic Parrots paper) is open source, one tenth the size of GPT-3, and claims to be more accurate. Facebook/Meta is also releasing an open source large language model, including the model’s training log, which records in detail the work required to train it.
- Is thinking of autonomous vehicles as AI systems rather than as robots the next step forward? A new wave of startups is trying techniques such as reinforcement learning to train AVs to drive safely.
- Generative Flow Networks may be the next major step in building better AI systems.
- The ethics of building AI bots that mimic real dead people seems like an academic question, until someone does it: using GPT-3, a developer created a bot based on his deceased fiancée. OpenAI objected, stating that building such a bot was a violation of its terms of service.
- Cortical Labs and other startups are building computers that incorporate human neurons. It’s claimed that these systems can be trained to perform game-playing tasks significantly faster than traditional AI.
- Google Brain has built a new text-to-image generator called Imagen that creates photorealistic images. Although images generated by projects like this are always cherry-picked, the image quality is impressive; the developers claim that it is better than DALL-E 2.
- DeepMind has created a new “generalist” model called Gato. It is a single model that can solve many different kinds of tasks: playing multiple games, labeling images, and so on. It has prompted a debate on whether Artificial General Intelligence is simply a matter of scale.
- AI in autonomous vehicles can be used to eliminate waiting at traffic lights, increase travel speed, and reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Surprisingly, if only 25% of the vehicles are autonomous, you get 50% of the benefit.
- Macaw is a language model developed by Allen AI (AI2). It is freely available and open-source. Macaw is 1/10th the size of GPT-3 and roughly 10% more accurate at answering questions, though (like GPT-3) it tends to fail at questions that require common sense or involve logical tricks.
- Ai-da is an AI-driven robot that can paint portraits–but is it art? Art is as much about human perception as it is about creation. What social cues prompt us to think that a robot is being creative?
- Facebook/Meta has created a large language model called OPT that is similar in size and performance to GPT-3. Using the model is free for non-commercial work; the code is being released open source, along with documents describing how the model was trained.
- Alice is a modular and extensible open source virtual assistant (think Alexa) that can run completely offline. It is private by default, though it can be configured to use Amazon or Google as backups. Alice can identify different users (for whom it can develop “likes” or “dislikes,” based on interactions).
- High volume event streaming without a message queue: Palo Alto Networks has built a system for processing terabytes of security events per day without using a message queue, just a NoSQL database.
- New tools allow workflow management across groups of spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are the original “low code”; these tools seem to offer spreadsheet users many of the features that software developers get from tools like git.
- Portainer is a container management tool that lets you mount Docker containers as persistent filesystems.
- NVIDIA has open-sourced its Linux device drivers. The code is available on GitHub. This is a significant change for a company that historically has avoided open source.
- A startup named Buoyant is building tools to automate management of Linkerd. Linkerd, in turn, is a service mesh that is easier to manage and more appropriate for small to medium businesses, than Istio.
- Rowy is a low-code programming environment that intends to escape the limitations of Airtable and other low-code collaboration services. The interface is like a spreadsheet, but it’s built on top of the Google Cloud Firestore document database.
- Machine learning raises the possibility of undetectable backdoor attacks, malicious attacks that can affect the output of a model but don’t measurably detect its performance. Security issues for machine learning aren’t well understood, and aren’t getting a lot of attention.
- In a new supply chain attack, two widely used libraries (Python’s ctx and PHP’s PHPass) have been compromised to steal AWS credentials. The attacker now claims that these exploits were “ethical research,” possibly with the goal of winning bounties for reporting exploits.
- While it is not yet accurate enough to work in practice, a new method for detecting cyber attacks can detect and stop attacks in under one second.
- The Eternity Project is a new malware-as-a-service organization that offers many different kinds of tools for data theft, ransomware, and many other exploits. It’s possible that the project is itself a scam, but it appears to be genuine.
- Palo Alto Networks has published a study showing that most cloud identity and access management policies are too permissive, and that 90% of the permissions granted are never used. Overly-permissive policies are a major vulnerability for cloud users.
- NIST has just published a massive guide to supply chain security. For organizations that can’t digest this 326-page document, they plan to publish a quick-start guide.
- The Passkey standard, supported by Google, Apple, and Microsoft, replaces passwords with other forms of authentication. An application makes an authentication request to the device, which can then respond using any authentication method it supports. Passkey is operating system-independent, and supports both Bluetooth in addition to Internet protocols.
- Google and Mandiant both report significant year-over-year increases in the number of 0-day vulnerabilities discovered in 2021.
- Interesting statistics about ransomware attacks: The ransom is usually only 15% of the total cost of the attack; and on average, the ransom is 2.8% of net revenue (with discounts of up to 25% for prompt payment).
- Bugs in the most widely used ransomware software, including REvil and Conti, can be used to prevent the attacker from encrypting your data.
Web and Web3
- DeviantArt is allowing anyone to use its tool to detect NFTs that are created without the artist’s permission.
- A leaked Facebook document obtained by Motherboard reveals that they do not have an “adequate level of control” over data use, and thus “can’t confidently make controlled policy changes … such as ‘we will not use X data for Y purpose.’” A lack of data governance and lineage makes it impossible to comply with regulation, both current and forthcoming.
- Niantic is building VPS (Visual Positioning System), an augmented reality map of the world, as part of its Lightship platform. VPS allows games and other AR products to be grounded to the physical world.
- LivingCities is building a digital twin of the real world as a platform for experiencing the world in extended reality. That experience includes history, a place’s textures and feelings, and, of course, a new kind of social media.
- New research in haptics allows the creation of realistic virtual textures by measuring how people feel things. Humans are extremely sensitive to the textures of materials, so creating good textures is important for everything from video games to telesurgery.
- Google is upgrading its search engine for augmented reality: they are integrating images more fully into searches, creating multi-modal searches that incorporate images, text, and audio, and generating search results that can be explored through AR.
- BabylonJS is an open source 3D engine, based on WebGL and WebGPU, that Microsoft developed. It is a strong hint that Microsoft’s version of the Metaverse will be web-based. It will support WebXR.
- The fediverse is an ensemble of microblogging social media sites (such as Mastodon) that communicate with each other. Will they become a viable alternative to Elon Musk’s Twitter?
- Varjo is building a “reality cloud”: a 3D mixed reality streaming service that allows photorealistic “virtual teleportation.” It’s not about weird avatars in a fake 3D world; they record your actions in your actual environment.
- “Smart films” could allow developers to build interactive touch interfaces into screens, objects, and even clothing.
- Fairphone is a cell phone that is designed to last for years and be easily repairable. Three quarters of the CO2 emissions associated with the lifecycle of a device come from manufacturing; increasing device longevity is a key to sustainability.
- An extremely lightweight drone that is based on the maple tree’s seeds weighs under 100 grams and can hover for 40 minutes. The drone is capable of carrying small payloads.
- Seed-firing drones can help fight deforestation. They drop seed pods that are complete packages including the water and minerals the seeds need to survive. The drones can monitor the success of the areas that they’ve replanted.
- Researchers have developed an optoelectronic system for diagnosing disease that could be integrated into a cell phone lens.
- Pixy is a small drone that follows you around, taking video for posting to Snapchat.
- Ethical design starts with a redefinition of success: well-being, equity, and sustainability, with good metrics for measuring your progress.
- QICK is a new standardized control plane for quantum devices. The design of the control plane, including software, is all open source. A large part of the cost of building a quantum device is building the electronics to control it. QICK will greatly reduce the cost of quantum experimentation.
- Researchers have built logical gates using error-corrected quantum bits. This is a significant step towards building a useful quantum computer.