Tsunami’s magnetic fields, AI dungeons, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#51)

Already back home, resting with the family. Not going to lie: while I enjoy writing this a lot, do not expect very extended takes on some of the news for a couple weeks, as my brain is officially on holidays. Let’s start:

Detecting a Tsunami by using magnetism

Classic news that I read and say “yeah, this totally makes sense”, but never really crossed my mind. Instead of looking at how sea level grows when a tsunami is happening, it is actually possible to just look at the magnetic field that the water generates while moving (you know, as charged particles moving generate a magnetic field when you study physics 101). The cool thing here is that you can detect the event even before the water level rises, so this could help avoid deaths when tsunamis occur close to urban areas.

Tsunamis’ magnetic fields are detectable before sea level change, on phys.org

AI in gaming: this is how I like it

Imagine a game that is completely different every time you play it. It is also different for each person playing it, and learns the stuff you like, and how much action, story, or cool visuals it needs to generate for you to have the best possible experience. It creates totally unique and curated stories for you, and has endless replayability. This is exactly what the people at AI Dungeon want to develop. I had a short experience with AI Dungeon 2 this year, and while “just” being a conversational adventure, I had a lot of fun. Of course, there are a lot of rough edges to polish, and the pitfalls about what kind of content the AI algorithms can or should generate will always be there (we should be extremely careful about that, and it feels like a topic that not many people care about).

Still, I really like the idea of exploring these novel tools on the videogame medium. Can’t wait to see what kind of games we will have in a decade.

AI Dungeon’s creators are launching an experimental AI-powered game platform, on the verge

5⭐ this

I’ve already shared the news about Apple working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Chinese government: you do as I say, and I let you sell your stuff in one of the biggest markets in the globe. The problem comes when the government peeks into people’s privacy, or commits genocide. Still, those seem to be minor things that we should not worry about, or at least it seems that it is for a growing list of companies, which Amazon is part of. Manipulating search results? We are experts on that. Cherry-picking 5⭐ reviews? No problemo, we also know how to do that. We just want to sell our cloud services in return.

Funniest thing is that Amazon says it is just a matter of free speech. Is it almost as good as the privacy motto from Apple.

Special Report: Amazon partnered with China propaganda arm, on reuters

🔥🔥🔥 🦆🦆🦆 🔥🔥🔥

2020 sucked, and though 2021 has been better, it still sucked in many ways. However, there has been a constant over the past few years, which is Maduk doing these amazing mixes with the best from the drum’n’bass genre. He also did a couple sessions during the confinement that particularly helped me not going completely insane. Kudos to him, and I hope we can enjoy these forever (and for live concerts to be a thing again in the near future).

Is there any hope left in the MCU?

I’ve grown quite tired of the MCU during the past few years, but Dr. Strange is one of my favourite characters from the comics (I still remember Triumph and Torment from time to time, and its been years since I read it) , and the first movie had super cool visuals. Moreover, Benedict Cumberbatch is freaking amazing, and it seems there will be at least two of them on this. Plus Scarlet Witch. Crossing fingers for this being a good movie. Please. Please please please.

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Sci-Hub trials, entering The Matrix, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#50)

Two weeks to finish the year, and many rankings are starting to appear. I will try not to saturate the remaining recaps, but some are quite cool and I want to share them. Also, if time allows, I will try to write a bit about the videogames/books/shows/movies that I particularly enjoyed this year. Let’s get to it:

Nature’s best images of the year + 10 people who helped shape science in 2021

Nothing new here about the pics, as I have been sharing them every month. However, it is always to cool to take a look at the recap of the year, just in case you missed some interesting story. I am still particularly impressed by the pictures from La Palma, though there are some other impressive articles on the list.

On the other hand, Nature also wrote a cool piece about ten people who delved into relevant aspects of science. While I am not a big fan of personalising studies or causes (nothing is really researched or solved by a single person), I think it is quite cool to give voice to the people that dedicate their work to relevant topics. Of course, this year all the rankings are going to be filled with Covid related stuff, and this is no exception. However, there are still several mentions to themes that I have covered along these posts. Climate change research, the morals of AI, and aerospace are just some of the stories you can dive into. A cool read for the holidays!

The best science images of 2021, on Nature
Nature’s 10, on Nature

This week we also saw how a trial in India could reshape the way we publish and read scientific papers. The main point of the news is that India might allow Sci-Hub to operate in the country, based on the fact that a free access to scientific information is more relevant for the nation that copyright claims from giant publishers.

I have written about Sci-Hub many times in the blog, and also about how the whole publishing sector feels like a bad joke to me. For a decade now, Sci-Hub has been fighting against the system by allowing researchers all over to globe to jump above the paywall system that many publishers have imposed. While doing so, they have created a service which is exceptionally efficient: you just copy the link of the paper or its digital identifier and the content “magically” appears before your eyes. It literally takes less than 20 seconds to do the whole process, while conventional systems require multiple logins, institutional checks, and going through obsolete webpages that have not been updated since the 90’s (another day we can talk about some paper submission systems, which usually make you lose a full day just to send a pdf with your work for reviewing). And of course, that only works if your institution payed millions to the publishers in the first place. Otherwise you can buy a full article for about +40$, or the journal’s full volume for +100$.

There is actually a big resemblance with how music was consumed just a couple decades ago. People were doing music, people were buying music, but most of the money was going on the wrong hands (i.e. not to the artists). With scientific research, everyone is paying the scientists to do research (mainly with their taxes), the scientists are writing, proofreading (for free), reviewing (for free), editing (for free), and paying for publishing and accessing the papers, while publishers get a massive cut for basically maintaining an online database (to no surprise, academic publishing is one the business with the biggest profits in the world).

I don’t think that Sci-Hub’s model is the perfect solution, and many things have to change in science in order to solve the publishing problems (impact factors, institutions favouring number over quality of publications, etc.). However, I am all in on something that disturbs the status quo. As Napster was the first step to a more fair music ecosystem, Sci-Hub might be the most important movement we have seen in how science is accessed in a very long time (maybe ever?). It is time that supposedly clever people get out of such a dumbass system, once and for all.

What Sci-Hub’s latest court battle means for research, on Nature

The Matrix Awakens

It is quite challenging to describe with words the Matrix demo that people from the Unreal team made. I think it is even hard to grasp the tech jump even by watching it on video. I am really curious to see how movies will look like in the upcoming years. Will we still watch non-interactive films in a decade from now, or the genre will start to fuse with interactive experiences? Will games take over as young people today get to conform the majority of the mass market?

Anyway, really impressive details on the faces of both Neo and Trinity, amazing movement animations, and a city that just feels unrealistically real. The future is here.

There is also a cool interview on how was the making of the demo, with really good points on the future of tech by Moss and Reeves. Kudos to Keanu for the comments on NFTs, crypto, and Facebook’s metaverse.

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss on making The Matrix Awakens with Epic Games, on the verge
The Matrix Awakens didn’t blow my mind, but it convinced me next-gen gaming is nigh, on the verge

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Featured image from Emilio Morenatti

The great CEO exodus, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#48)

Already in December! The year almost finished without really noticing. Holidays are getting closer and closer (crossing fingers for the new Covid variant…). Lots of cool stuff this week: more crypto nonsense, interesting moves on Twitter, math curiosities and an impressive example of facial animation. Let’s start.

Goodbye and thanks for all the fish

This year we have seen many CEOs leaving the companies they founded. Some of them seemed to be bored of running a company, which to me feels quite reasonable. After all, developing software or hardware is quite different to just running the business side of any enterprise. This week we saw the news about Jack Dosery leaving Twitter to ‘focus’ on his crypto company.

However, I have a different take on some of these events. Most of the biggest companies in the tech world (Amazon, Twitter, Google, Facebook, etc.) created their business by developing new technologies: Amazon reinvented online shopping, Google created its empire on running adds through their search motor, Facebook and Twitter developed new ways for people to connect and interact. Of course, every time you create something new, it will have many effects over time. During the last years we have seen many negative consequences of these services. Amazon is exploiting people using algorithms and they have destroyed a huge number of traditional shops. Google has collected so much information about everyone on Earth that nowadays, privacy is a word with little to no meaning. We have seen how Twitter and Facebook were used to spread misinformation and even manipulate elections.

I understand that coding a search engine or a way for people to share their pictures is much more fun than making sure your company respects human rights or taxation laws all around the globe. My point here is that the CEOs of these companies, instead of trying to solve the problems they created, are just disappearing with the money, and letting others try to overcome their pitfalls. Even worse, most of them seem to go for novel endeavours that will probably end creating even bigger problems in the near future. Why bother moderating fake news if you can go play with your Oculus on the metaverse? Why spend your time making sure you respect labor rights if you can just go to space? Let’s destroy the environment mining bitcoin!

Who would have told me 10-15 years ago that I would favour Bill Gates over any other CEO around?

Dorsey’s Twitter Departure Hints at Tech Moguls’ Restlessness, on the New York Times

Another crazy week on the cryptoverse

A couple news that made me smile. The first one is another example on how volatile the crypto markets have become. People are creating tokens at higher and higher speeds, in a gold rush with a pace thats really hard to follow. What happens when you create a token with the name of the last covid variant? Apparently, that you scam a lot of people into buying and then the value plummets a 900% over the course of a week. I really recommend the post on Bloomberg, which covers some other interesting news.

The second link is funny and sad at the same time. Funny because some people will pay 1500USD to get a white pixel. Sad because now some cryptodudes will own a Banksy (and one that I really like, btw). I really cannot stand how, in an age where everyone could enjoy basically any piece of culture, where we can replicate without loss any song, book, or movie, humans insist on limiting accessibility and wasting money and energy on artificially imposing cultural scarcity.

Omicron Crypto Is a Bet on Attention, on Bloomberg

Cutting a Banksy Into 10,000 (Digital) Pieces, on the New York Times

A little bit of fun math

I remember when I was at high school and we tried to solve these kind of problems for days. It was such a cool way to learn math and get used to its formalism, which later helped me a lot during my studies. Here are some cool problems that orbit around the e number, which appears time and time again when you work with natural events. It reminded me of this other cool video about how some of our sensing capacities behave like logarithms.

Why e, the Transcendental Math Constant, Is Just the Best, on quantamagazine

We left the Uncanny Valley way behind

Incredible results from Ziva. Their real time render already looks amazing (see video below), but the post-processed results with the help of their IA algorithms is just from outside this world. I can’t wait to see what the movies and videogames are going to look in the very near future.

Video Game Faces Might Finally Start Bridging The Uncanny Valley, on kotaku

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Recycling masks, detective dogs, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#42)

Crazy week for many reasons, so do not expect a lot of content. Anyway, let’s go ahead:

Covid-19: bad for your lungs in many different ways

I am not gonna introduce the pandemic to anyone, but maybe some of you did not realize that besides the direct health issues that the virus brought, problems on different directions also came up. One of those is that commonly used face masks represent a big waste problem. Let’s say 30% of the population uses a single-use mask every day (I think the number is higher, but for the sake of simplicity). A country like France would use about 22 millions of masks every day. If a mask weights about 3 grams, that means every day we generate about 66.000 kg of waste. Multiply that for a whole year and you get more than 24 million tons of waste. Now run the numbers for all the countries and… you get the idea.

Up to now, I have not seen many people caring about that (most of my relatives do not even have a clue on where to deposit used masks). However, there are some persons trying to put this waste to use. The people at Bristol University catch on to the fact that the masks are mainly made from polypropylene, and this can be processed in a way that 3D printers can use it as a filament for printing stuff.

I am not sure at all this procedure is safe: in the end, masks can be tagged as bio-hazard, and going through the printer hot nozzle could be not enough to “kill” the virus. In any case, I think it is a cool project if only for pointing out a big eco problem that’s out there.


Apple and human rights

Seems impossible to get a week without news like this. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to choose and practice any religion. It seems that this is wet paper for muslim people in China that tries to read the Quran on an Apple device.

What really bugs me out is not that Apple does not care at all about this (and do not get me wrong, Apple is not the only corporation that does not give a shit about people rights), is the fact that during the last few years the company has presented itself as a standard bearer of privacy, ecology, and human rights. You cannot pretend to be taken seriously if you bend the knee in China because it is the market that drives your sales. Capitalism hypocrisy at its best.

Apple removed a popular Quran app in China, on the verge

Kratos as you never saw it

Oh boy, the rumours were true. It was hinted many times that some Sony exclusive games were going to be released on PC (which means higher resolutions, frame rates, etc.). God of War was announced this week, and I hope it does really well and we get additional stuff that I would love to play (The last of Us, Ghost of Tsushima).

Sony is officially bringing God of War to PC, on the verge

Should a dog’s sniff be enough to convict a person of murder?

Amazing story on Science about the use of dogs to find dead people. This is not news at all, but the debate that brings to the table is quite interesting. Is it enough that a dog determines that there was some dead body at your place to declare you guilty of a crime?

The science behind the problem is fascinating. First, we do not know how the brain of a dog works, and for sure we do not understand how they can track a dead body even when months have passed. Second, the way the dogs are trained is up for debate, as it seems that they are influenced a lot by their trainers (even if the trainers do not realize). Dogs can read you pose, your mood, your face expressions, and even catch up to your involuntary movements. At training, all of these inputs make the dog find what you want him to find, even if there is no real “signal” (smell in this case) around.

I could not stop but thinking about how this problem relates to many different applications of machine learning that we see nowadays. Given enough complex tasks, the algorithms that people use to tackle these problems are so complex (with billions of parameters to tune) that they are essentially black boxes (as the brain of the dogs that search for dead bodies). In the same way dog training is influenced by human movements or reactions, AI training sets are influenced by the biases from the humans that build them. We have seen many problems on things like face detection where the algorithms do not detect black people or women with the same accuracy of white males, which are mainly the ones working on those tasks). There is also the problem of overfitting your data, which would be the analogy of the dog finding what you want even if it is not there.

Coming back to the article, they tell the story of a man accused of murdering his son, which was condemned mainly by the fact that a dog marked some spots near his cabin as places where the son’s remains had been. Should a black box determine if you are guilty or innocent? Should we let algorithms that we do not really understand take health or safety decisions?

THE SNIFF TEST, on science

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Featured image: The Detective Dog, by Julia Donaldson and Sara Ogilvie

More Bezosism, Nixon deepfakes, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#40)

Quite a lot going on this week. Massive leaks, Nobel prizes, deepfakes, Facebook being shamed everywhere… let’s start.

Can you tell the difference? Does it really matter?

Cool technology being shown by the people at MIT. Of course, deepfakes are not something new, and this one in particular is not over the top in quality (at some point people will start training the algorithms to move the forehead and the eyebrows in a natural way). Anyway, besides the technology, I liked the discussion about the use people are making of these tools. On the one hand, you have organizations trying to build systems to make mute people able to use their voice again (which is amazing). On the other, you have people putting celeb faces on porn videos, and making famous people tell lies on YouTube.

It really makes me think about how, for many many years, when a new regime wanted to control people, they used to change the history books. Nowadays, people consume most of their information in video format, through the internet. I guess we are not so far away from governments spamming famous people spreading fake news everywhere, with a quality that would be extremely difficult to grasp for the human eye. If it is hard to fight against fake news from random people on Facebook, what will happen when first line politicians/scientists will be the ones spreading misinformation?

A Nixon Deepfake, a ‘Moon Disaster’ Speech and an Information Ecosystem at Risk, on scientific american

Facebook vs the world

This week the Senate hold a hearing about Facebook, and a whistleblower throw a lot of shit on the fan about how the company algorithms work. The underlying idea, as everyone should know already, is that the only thing Facebook wants is for you to spend as much time as possible on the platform, sharing as much posts/information as possible, even if you spread fake news and hurt people, because that is what provides them huge amounts of money. I recommend the piece the people at MIT tech review wrote:

The Facebook whistleblower says its algorithms are dangerous. Here’s why., on the MIT technology review

CO2 removal, the shell game?

Quite an interesting piece on Nature about the plans from Microsoft to go zero-net emissions before 2030. With all these projects, I always wonder if ‘undoing’ your emissions is the right call, or generating technology with zero emissions should be the prior. Of course, at some point you have to undo all the emissions you did in the last centuries. However, I cannot help but think about how seeding trees to remove CO2 during the following decades will do nothing when those same forests disappear before balancing your emissions. Also, it is a very naïve way of solving a problem: I remove CO2 from the atmosphere and I store it on the biosphere, creating a problem for future generations (who will need to find a way to clean the biosphere). Anyway, at least they are doing something, I guess.

Microsoft’s million-tonne CO2-removal purchase — lessons for net zero, on nature

Science images of the month

Seahorse with mask

I’ll keep posting these as long as they keep doing them.

Space jellyfish and subterranean robots — September’s best science images, on nature

See you space cowboy


Another week, another story about how it is impossible to win huge amounts of money without being a total prick that does not care about the wellbeing of others. People working 24/7 so I can ride through space? Why not.

Blue Origin’s ideas to mimic SpaceX sound pretty brutal for employees, on the verge

Twitch being pwned by 4chan

Besides a lot of code and internal information about the company (which apparently was not a big deal, as it was quite old), the leak included the numbers for how much money people have been winning on the platform. I guess everyday is clearer why the Amazon Prime subs will stop working at Twitch sooner than later.

Will Youtube become a real competitor at any point? What’s clear to me is that all these fuzz is paving the way for multiple services to stand up and generate a blooming field for streamers, which I’d say its a good thing.

Twitch source code and creator payouts part of massive leak, on the verge

Twitch confirms hack after source code and creator payout data leaks online, on techcrunch

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Netflix and the chocolate factory, AI controlling funding, and more: THE WEEKLY RECAP (2021#38)

So, this week we have quite a lot of different stuff. Let’s get to it.

Could you please stop doing that

Is Netflix going to destroy some of the best books ever written? My bet is a big yes. At least I hope Dahl’s family will enjoy the money…

Netflix Acquires Roald Dahl Story Company, Plans Extensive Universe, on Variety

Sorry [#researcher_ID], funds not found

Really cool article on the MIT technology review about using AI to guide research. The case study is about the Decadal Survey, where many scientists decide every ten years which are the most interesting areas for future research. This leads to lots of funding going in that direction, so it is a big deal for some people (the researchers getting the funds), but also relevant for the general public (in the end, all the research provides advances for everyone, no matter the subject).

The news here is that some researchers are suggesting that we should use AI algorithms to go through all the proposals (there is more than 500 for the next survey), because there is no way the experts that work on the survey have enough knowledge to decide over so many different topics. While this seems like a good point to me, I still think the AI technology that we have nowadays is far from being useful for such a relevant task.

Some other thoughts that came to mind where that, when you decide a reduced number of areas and give tons of funding for doing research on them, you attract many scientists, which in the end will generate lots of papers on those topics. These papers will cross-reference other papers on the same topic, thus generating a lot of impact (as we usually measure the impact of publications by how many citations they get). In this scenario, you can always say that giving funding to this research was the good thing to do (it generated a lot of impact). But, was it relevant in the first place or it generated publications because there was a lot of money in funding?

Also, we have seen countless times that serendipity in science is a big force to reckon. You never know the findings you will get when doing research, and many times you will find extremely relevant applications in distant fields when you fund basic / not trendy research fields. Will AI ever be able to grasp these ideas? Should we really focus on specific topics of research, or just fund everything?

This AI could predict 10 years of scientific priorities—if we let it, on MIT technology review

Was “Despacito” a virus?

It is actually nice to know that, while I was infected many years ago by electronic music, it was something bound to happen at some point. Cool study trying to link the way music spreads between people with the way infectious diseases unfold. I really liked the ideas about the similarities and differences between dynamics with viruses and music. Sometimes you just heard something walking through the street (which would be similar to getting influenza at your work space or with your family), but many times you just see a tweet from a friend which is miles away and you get attracted to a song/genre.

Mathematicians discover music really can be infectious – like a virus, on the guardian
Modelling song popularity as a contagious process, on Proceedings of the Royal Society A

Modern architecture was a mistake

Really nice post on openculture with a video essay on Modern architecture, and why so many people (including myself) kinda hate it. Anyway, at least is not brutalism/postmodern (I am thinking about you, Centre Pompidou)

Why Do People Hate Modern Architecture?: A Video Essay, on openculture

Keep going, nothing to see here…

Everything is fine. No monopolistic practices. We are cool. Privacy is our motto. All we do is for the benefit of our customers. We review the apps on our store. We work with developers.

Fortnite likely isn’t coming back to the App Store anytime soon, on techcrunch
Apple Lies About Epic Again, on the Michael Tsai blog