Writing Break – Playing With LEGO Day #1

I took a break over the last few days from writing and in general from spending too much time in front of a computer. I needed to get my back and neck pain sorted out. It wasn’t as bad as a week ago but the pain and the aches are still there. It will take time to sort them out with exercises. Patience is key here.

After lunch on Wednesday (04-Apr-2018), I got myself a box of LEGO to entertain myself. The product I got, called Sanctum Sanctorum Showdown, is part of the Marvel’s Infinity War.

After unboxing, there are eight numbered packages and a few scattered pieces. In each of those numbered packages, there were smaller ones to house those smaller pieces.

Instead of going my way, I chose to build the set according to the instruction. Personally, I always saw LEGO as a form of collectibles instead of a toy.

Now, even though I’m on break, it didn’t stop me from wanting to document the LEGO building process.

Start of Day 1

The first thing to build is the corner of the two buildings. It is one of the simplest one of the whole set.

Sanctum Sanctorum/Dr. Strange – First Bag/First Level

The first bag contains parts for Dr. Strange and the first level of Sanctum Sanctorum. I went with fitting Dr. Strange. Well…he looks kind of cute in this form.

Then it was time to construct the first level of the sanctum sanctorum.

This is the back view.

After I was done with them, I put them together just for a photo shoot. I also put on the LEGO parts that represents magical effects.

While doing all the above, I can’t help but recall the childhood I had. Before I had computers or smartphones, LEGO dominates my playtime. And it is also therapeutic because unlike works that you publish, no one is judging you. It is a solo task just like reading a book or playing a single player game.

Sanctum Sanctorum/Cull Obsidian – Second Bag/Second Level

The second bag contains the parts for Cull Obsidian and the second level of Sanctum Sanctorum.

I put Cull Obsidian together first. He looked ugly and menacing yet cute at the same time. Most likely because of the LEGO nature.

Then I went with putting together the second floor of the building.

Front View

Back View

Spiderman Building – Third Bag/First Level

I moved on to bag number 3 which contains the parts for the first level of Spiderman’s home.

Front View

Now, I don’t quite remember if there was a pizza place below Spiderman’s home.

Back View

Yes, I know that Cull Obsidian is on the floor doing pushups with his hammers in hand. =) I had to put him aside so that I can do my stuff and he kept falling over anyway.

End of Day 1

Thus far, it has already taken me more than three hour to do up everything above. A big issue that I was having was how my back and neck pain reached a level where I couldn’t concentrate. And I had some trouble searching for the correct parts to install.

I decided to call it a night and shall continue it the next day.

Random Thoughts Collection #1

  1. A nation’s infrastructure is a representation of its wealth and management. Singapore government constantly repairs or repave our roads because it is necessary. A failing infrastructure will cost the nation millions if not billions of dollars. Try imagining poorly maintained roads resulting in traffic accidents or goods tumbling off transport vehicle
  2. I never liked working on legacy systems with limited budget. It feels restrictive… Stifling…maybe part of it is because I wasnt there to build it… Thus never get to see it grow up… So yeah….hate to work on somebody’s stuff
  3. You pay money to subscribe to a service. And then you come with an expectation of how the service should be. So if there’s something wrong you’ll get upset and wonder why you even pay for that service. And if the customer support goes the extra mile, you are happy. It’s the same thing as being an employee. The concept is exactly the same. The company pay you for a service and therefore they expect to get their money worth. So does it make sense for company to continue to pay you for poor service? Are you as the service provider even worth the kind of money?
  4. Glass half full or half empty. Neither. It is simultaneously full and empty.
  5. In your writing, it is necessary to achieve a balance between your privacy, authenticity and vulnerability. You don’t want to be revealing too much details about your life but reveal enough to show that it’s real.

Friday Tech News Roundup #28

Below are 10 tech news that I found interesting and are related to topics I care about.

1Password bolts on a ‘pwned password’ check – Password management service 1Password has a neat new feature that lets users check whether a password they’re thinking of using has already been breached. At which point it will suggest they pick another. Techcrunch

Snips brings its privacy-focused voice assistant to cars – French startup Snips is announcing two things for its voice assistant SDK. Techcrunch

Tinder vulnerability let hackers take over accounts with just a phone number – A newly published attack let researchers take over Tinder accounts with just a user’s phone number, according to a new report by Appsecure. The Verge

Google Assistant will soon detect what language you’re speaking in – Google Assistant is getting some important language upgrades this year. The Verge

Apple’s AirPower said to be released next month, pricing info still unclear – Alongside the iPhone 8 and iPhone X last September, Apple showcased its wireless charging accessory called AirPower. The charging mat will allow Apple users to charge their iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch on the same surface. At the time, Apple teased a 2018 debut, and now it looks like we’re inching closer to that release…. 9to5Mac

New AirPods reportedly coming this year with ‘Hey Siri’ support, water resistant model in development – Apple is working on a new version of the AirPods truly wireless earbuds for release later this year, featuring a new wireless chip and support for ‘Hey Siri’ activation, according to a report from Bloomberg today. 9to5Mac

Nvidia is creating surveillance cameras with built-in face recognition. Uh, great? – Nvidia has partnered with AI developer AnyVision to create facial recognition technology for “smart cities” around the world. Mashable

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre – The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penalties to HPC applications. HPCWire

Windows 10 updates could be installed much more quickly in the future
Microsoft is working to make the major updates for Windows 10 more streamlined, so that these currently twice-yearly upgrades don’t take nearly as long to install and configure. Techradar

Tim Cook Says Apple is Always Focused on ‘Products and People’ Over Wall Street Expectations – Apple’s CEO primarily reflected on the iPhone maker’s culture and approach that has led to products such as the iPhone X, Apple Watch, AirPods, and HomePod, and as to be expected, he talked up the company he runs. Macrumors

Wednesday Science News Roundup #23

Below are 10 science news that I found interesting and are related to topics I care about.

Screen-addicted teens are unhappy – Researchers found that teens who spent a lot of time in front of screen devices — playing computer games, using more social media, texting and video chatting — were less happy than those who invested time in non-screen activities like sports, reading newspapers and magazines, and face-to-face social interaction. The happiest teens used digital media for less than an hour per day. But after a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rises steadily along with increasing screen time. Science Daily

New Eocene fossil data suggest climate models may underestimate future polar warming – A new international analysis of marine fossils shows that warming of the polar oceans during the Eocene, a greenhouse period that provides a glimpse of Earth’s potential future climate, was greater than previously thought. Science Daily

First evidence of winds outside black holes throughout their mealtimes – New research shows the first evidence of strong winds around black holes throughout bright outburst events when a black hole rapidly consumes mass. The study sheds new light on how mass transfers to black holes and how black holes can affect the environment around them. Science Daily

Dietary fiber protects against obesity and metabolic syndrome, study finds – Consumption of dietary fiber can prevent obesity, metabolic syndrome and adverse changes in the intestine by promoting growth of ‘good’ bacteria in the colon, according to a new study. Science Daily

MIT Engineers Have Designed a Chip That Behaves Just Like Brain Cell Connections – For those working in the field of advanced artificial intelligence, getting a computer to simulate brain activity is a gargantuan task, but it may be easier to manage if the hardware is designed more like brain hardware to start with. Science Alert

This New Brain Study Shows Why Some People Are More Creative Than Others – Creativity is often defined as the ability to come up with new and useful ideas. Like intelligence, it can be considered a trait that everyone – not just creative “geniuses” like Picasso and Steve Jobs – possesses in some capacity. Science Alert

Every Single Piece Of Plastic Packaging In The EU To Be Reusable Or Recyclable By 2030 – The European Union has launched an ambitious campaign against single-use plastic, in an urgent plan to rid the continent of the flood of damaging plastics that are now choking the rivers, oceans, and countryside. IFLScience

Retirement Makes Short-Term Memory Decline 38 Percent Faster In Old Age – Dementia and Alzheimer’s are growing problems in many Western nations as people are living longer. While a treatment for these cognitive conditions still evades detection, there are certain behaviors and lifestyle choices that are known to exasperate the issue. It now seems that retirement might be one of them. IFLScience

The world’s largest set of brain scans are helping reveal the workings of the mind and how diseases ravage the brain – ENIGMA, the world’s largest brain mapping project, was “born out of frustration,” says neuroscientist Paul Thompson of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. In 2009, he and geneticist Nicholas Martin of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia, were chafing at the limits of brain imaging studies. The cost of MRI scans limited most efforts to a few dozen subjects—too few to draw robust connections about how brain structure is linked to genetic variations and disease. The answer, they realized over a meal at a Los Angeles shopping mall, was to pool images and genetic data from multiple studies across the world. Science Mag

Stars with too much lithium may have stolen it – Something is giving small, pristine stars extra lithium. A dozen newly discovered stars contain more of the element than astronomers can explain. Science News

A thought on improving voice user interface while ensuring privacy

Voice user interface is going to be one of the ways we interact with our devices as we go about our daily lives. It is just a very intuitive way for us because we communicate primarily via voice with text and images to complement.

But there still are various problems that need people to work on them to improve the overall experience. One of it is related to how the AI behind voice user interface can interact with us more naturally, like how we interact with fellow human beings.

A premium Medium article written by Cheryl Platz got me thinking about that. It also covered a little on privacy and why it is a contributing factor that make it difficult for current generation of AIs to speak more naturally and understand the context when we speak. Unless, companies don’t give a shit about our privacy and start collecting even more data.

In this article, I am going to share what I thought could help improve the AI and ensure user privacy.

Current Implementations and Limitations

What an AI needs to be better at understanding and responding in ways most useful to us are processing power, a good neural network that allows it to self-learn, and a database to store whatever it has learnt.

The cloud is the best way for an AI to gain access to a processing power and huge enough database. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft offer cloud computing and storage services via their AWS and Azure platform respectively at very low cost. Even Google offers such services via their Compute Engine.

The problem with the cloud is reduced level of confidence when privacy is involved. Anything you store up there is vulnerable, available for retrieval through security flaws or misconfigurations. Companies could choose to encrypt those data via end-to-end encryption to help with protect user’s privacy but the problem is the master keys are owned by said companies. They could decrypt those data whenever they want.

Or you could do it like what Apple did with Siri, storing data locally, and use Differential Privacy to help ensure anonymity but it reduces the AI capabilities because it doesn’t have access to sufficient amount of personal data. Two, Siri runs on devices like Apple Watch, iPhones and iPads, which could be a problem when it comes to processing and compute capabilities, and having enough information to understand the user.

Although those devices have more processing power than room-sized mainframes from decades ago, it’s still not enough, energy-efficiency and capability wise, to handle highly complex neural networks for better experience with voice user interfaces.

Apple did try to change that with its A11 Bionic SoC that has a neural engine. Companies like Qualcomm, Imagination Technologies, and even NVIDIA are also contributing to increase local processing power with energy efficiency for AI through their respective CPU and GPU products.

Possible Solution

The work on the hardware by companies should continue so that there will be even more powerful and energy efficient processors for AI to use.

In addition to that, what we need is a standard, wireless-based protocol (maybe bluetooth) for the AI on our devices, irrespective of companies, to talk to each other when they are near to each other and in our home network. This way, the AI on each of those devices can share information and perform distributed computing, thereby improving its accuracy, overall understanding of the user, and respond accordingly.

A common software kernel is also necessary to provide different implementation of neural network a standardized way of doing distributed computing efficiently and effectively.

So now, imagine Siri talking to Alexa, Google Assistant or even Cortana via this protocol and vice versa.

Taking privacy into account, information exchanged via this protocol should be encrypted by default with keys owned only by the user. Any data created or stored should only reside on device also encrypted and nowhere else. Taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, the generated keys should come from some kind of hardware-based “Secure Enclave”.

To further improve the neural network, Differential Privacy should be applied on any query or information sent by the AI to the cloud for processing.

Conclusion

The above is really just a thought of how current the AIs powering voice user interfaces can be improved.

At the end, it’s really up to the companies to decide if they want to come together and improve all our lives taking into account our privacy and security.