Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for December 22, 2019

in rsslog •  2 months ago 

A robotic bug that can withstand a fly-swatter; An unbreakable encryption chip may protect bitcoin from quantum computing; A new AI tool helps human fact-checkers to identify fake news; India's Bengal Tiger population is up by 33% in four years; and a Steem essay using the calculator as an example in an argument supporting trust for technological progress


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  1. Smash This Robot - Researchers have created a miniature robotic bug that uses dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) as soft muscles. The tiny automaton can recover and continue operation after being repeatedly smashed and flattened by a fly swatter. The researchers created a fully autonomous version and a tethered version, and the fly swatter demo is only performed on the tethered robots. A challenge with this sort of micro-robotics is the weight of the actuators. These researchers dealt with that through the use of a stack of low-voltage DEAs that deliver the necessary power and weigh in at just 780 mg. The power from the actuators is converted into motion with the use of flexible angled legs that resemble the legs on a bristlebot.

    Here is a video:

Bonus link - Video Friday: These Robots Wish You Happy Holidays! - IEEE Spectrum's yearly selection of awesome holiday robot videos


  • Can Bitcoin Benefit From New ‘Impossible to Crack’ Encryption Chips? - A December 20 paper in Nature claims to describe an unbreakable encryption chip that harnesses "chaotic wavepackets in conventional Silicon-based semiconductors". The technique makes use of a one time pad (OTP), an encryption technique that was first imagined in 1882 and first implemented in 1919. This uncrackable encryption technique makes use of keys that are longer than the data itself, but it has not been widely used because of the impracticality of sharing keys. The advance here is that the researchers claim to have found a practical way of implementing the method. Under this regime, the encrypted message and its key are never sent in the same message. The chips make use of classical methods, including chaos theory, but the encrypted data is not vulnerable to quantum computing, so it may provide a bridge for Bitcoin to maintain security when quantum computing moves into the main-stream.

  • New tool uses AI to flag fake news for media fact-checkers - A team from the University of Waterloo has published in arXiv and presented to Vancouver's Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems describing their work on an AI system to flag examples of potentially fake news. One of the researchers, Alexander Wong says that the system is not designed to replace humans, but to give humans assistance in evaluating the reliability of a news story. The system works by comparing a news story to other online articles on the same topic. If it finds support in other online sources, the article is less likely to be fake news. If the story is unsupported by other sources, then it's more likely to be fake. The rest of the team included project leader, Chris Dulhanty, as well as Jason Deglint and Ibrahim Ben Daya. At a high level, the concept seems to rely on something similar to the Novelty Hypothesis that was covered in Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for December 20, 2019. This is the observation that viral fake news stories are more likely to spur a sense of surprise among content consumers. h/t Communications of the ACM

  • India’s wild tiger population rises 33% in four years - A census of the endangered species found that Bengal Tiger numbers in India are up to 2,967 from 2,226 four years ago. This survey, conducted every four years, covers 146,000 square miles of land, and makes use of 350,000 images that were taken by 26,000 automated cameras. Conservation experts express optimism, but caution that the apparent increase may be due to better counting techniques. The number of protected areas in India increased from 692 in 2014 to 860 in 2018, and the number of community reserves has more than doubled to 100. The worldwide population of Bengal Tigers was more than 100,000 in 1900, and it hit an all-time low of 3,000 in 2010. That decline prompted India to sign an agreement with 12 other countries to double the population of the species by 2022, and India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, says that this census shows they met that goal four years ahead of schedule. h/t Daniel Lemire

  • STEEM Calculators, Technological Advancement, and Bureaucratic Luddites - In this post, @jacobtothe looks at the calculator as an indicator of technological, economic, and societal progress. The first calculators were large and simplistic devices by modern standards, but they were as expensive as today's high-end gaming computers, and they were viewed with hostility by many in the education space. In a process of unplanned obsolescence, the technology became cheaper so that a basic calculator can now be purchased with pocket change, and they are now required in many classrooms. The article goes on to argue that this is a normal cycle of technological progress, and that people should welcome technological change, instead of fearing it. In this view, what people fear isn't so much the technology as it is the absence of control, but if people learn to relinquish control, technology will continue its history of ushering in a better world for humanity.


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    The 'fact checker' AI is actually a 'narrative conformance' monitor. It doesn't check facts at all, but whether the content is acceptable to the enemedia narrative - which is demonstrably contrary to fact.

    Tiger populations growing is potentially a blessing. I hope my grandkids need to be wary of predators when roaming free in the wild. Nothing more enables men to be their best than existential fear.

    Thanks!

    I agree about the tigers. It's very encouraging if it's true, although I wouldn't put it past a bureaucrat to have undercounted the numbers in 2010 in order to increase funding and also make their long term goals easier to meet. I hope it's true and I hope the trend continues.

    I had reservations when I read about the fact checking tool, too. I agree that some things that get labeled "fake news" are really just inconvenient for the media gatekeepers. On the other hand, I think there's also a lot of "fake news" that really is fake news. This tool is described as an augmentation for human deciders, and I don't really have any concerns with it in that context (although the reliability of humans for some topics is still questionable...)

    "The system works by comparing a news story to other online articles on the same topic."

    That's not fact checking. It's checking to see if the article fits in the narrative.

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