Daily Tech Digest - October 12, 2020

How building bricks could store electricity

A conducting polymer called PEDOT, which is used in traditional battery-substitute supercapacitors, works well with the porous structure of bricks: "In this work, we have developed a coating of the conducting polymer PEDOT, which is comprised of nanofibers that penetrate the inner porous network of a brick; a polymer coating remains trapped in a brick and serves as an ion sponge that stores and conducts electricity," D'Arcy said in the university publication. The red pigment in bricks — bricks are made from clay that contains iron oxide, or rust — is essential for triggering the polymerization reaction, the researchers explain. D'Arcy writes in The Conversation: "We fill the pores in bricks with an acid vapor that dissolves the iron oxide and converts it to a reactive form of iron that makes our chemical syntheses possible. We then flow a different gas through the cavities to fill them with a sulfur-based material that reacts with iron. This chemical reaction leaves the pores coated with an electrically conductive plastic, PEDOT." The bricks could be connected to solar panels in lieu of batteries, D'Arcy suggests. Powering IoT sensors could be a possible use-case.

What Is GPT-3 And Why Is It Revolutionizing Artificial Intelligence?

In terms of where it fits within the general categories of AI applications, GPT-3 is a language prediction model. This means that it is an algorithmic structure designed to take one piece of language (an input) and transform it into what it predicts is the most useful following piece of language for the user. It can do this thanks to the training analysis it has carried out on the vast body of text used to “pre-train” it. Unlike other algorithms that, in their raw state, have not been trained, OpenAI has already expended the huge amount of compute resources necessary for GPT-3 to understand how languages work and are structured. The compute time necessary to achieve this is said to have cost OpenAI $4.6 million. To learn how to build language constructs, such as sentences, it employs semantic analytics - studying not just the words and their meanings, but also gathering an understanding of how the usage of words differs depending on other words also used in the text. It's also a form of machine learning termed unsupervised learning because the training data does not include any information on what is a "right" or "wrong" response, as is the case with supervised learning.

Biology and healthcare's AI moment, ethics, predictions, and graph neural networks

Hogarth mentioned that the speculation phase in AI for biology and healthcare is starting, with lots of capital flowing. There are going to be some really amazing companies that come out of it, and we will start to see a real deployment phase kick in. But it's equally certain, he went on to add, there are going to be instances that will be revealed to be total frauds. So, what about AI ethics? Benaich and Hogarth cite work by pioneers in the field, touching upon issues such as commercial gender classification, unregulated police facial recognition, the ethics of algorithms, and regulating robots. For the most part, the report focuses on facial recognition. Facial recognition is widespread the world over and has lead to controversy, as well as wrongful arrests. More thoughtful approaches seem to gather steam, Benaich and Hogarth note. The duo's report cites examples such as Microsoft deleting its database of 10 million faces (the largest available) collected without consent, Amazon announced a one-year pause on letting the police use its facial recognition tool Rekognition to give "congress enough time to put in place appropriate rules." And IBM announced it would sunset its general-purpose facial recognition products.

How to build up cybersecurity for medical devices

The easy answer to this is “yes,” since many MDMs in the medical device industry perform “competitive analysis” on their competitors’ products. It is much easier and cheaper for them to have a security researcher spend a few hours extracting an algorithm from a device for analysis than to spend months or even years of R&D work to pioneer a new algorithm from scratch. Also, there is a large, hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars industry of companies who “re-enable” consumed medical disposables. This usually requires some fairly sophisticated reverse-engineering to return the device to its factory default condition. Lastly, the medical device industry, when grouped together with the healthcare delivery organizations, constitutes part of critical national infrastructure. Other industries in that class (such as nuclear power plants) have experienced very directed and sophisticated attacks targeting safety backups in their facilities. These attacks seem to be initial testing of a cyber weapon that may be used later. While these are clearly nation-state level attacks, you have to wonder if these same actors have been exploring medical devices as a way to inhibit our medical response in an emergency.

Generating Photons for Communication Between Processors in a Quantum Computing System

“The entanglement between the photons can then be transferred into the processors for use in quantum communication or interconnection protocols.” While the researchers said they have not yet implemented those communication protocols, their ongoing research is aimed in that direction. “We did not yet perform the communication between processors in this work, but rather showed how we can generate photons that are useful for quantum communication and interconnection,” Kannan says. Previous work by Kannan, Oliver, and colleagues introduced a waveguide quantum electrodynamics architecture using superconducting qubits that are essentially a type of artificial giant atom. That research demonstrated how such an architecture can perform low-error quantum computation and share quantum information between processors. This is accomplished by adjusting the frequency of the qubits to tune the qubit-waveguide interaction strength so the fragile qubits can be protected from waveguide-induced decoherence to perform high-fidelity qubit operations, and then readjusting the qubit frequency so the qubits are able to release their quantum information into the waveguide in the form of photons.

Why the Serverless Revolution Has Stalled

Most serverless platforms only allow you to run applications that are written in particular languages. This severely limits the agility and adaptability of these systems. Admittedly, most serverless platforms support most mainstream languages. AWS Lambda and Azure Functions also provide wrapper functionality that allows you to run applications and functions in non-supported languages, though this often comes with a performance cost. So for most organizations, most of the time, this limitation will not make that much difference. But here's the thing. One of the advantages of serverless models is supposed to be that obscure, infrequently used programs can be utilized more cheaply, because you are only paying for the time they are executing.  ... The second problem with serverless platforms, or at least with the way that they are implemented at the moment, is that few of platforms resemble one another at an operational level. There is little standardization across platforms when it comes to the way that functions should be written, deployed, and managed, and this means that migrating functions from one vendor-specific platform to another is extremely time consuming.

Crypto banks are going to swallow fiat banks in 3 years — or even less

You probably already know that Kraken, a cryptocurrency exchange based out of San Francisco, is now the first-ever cryptocurrency business in the United States to become a bank. For now, being an officially chartered bank means that Kraken will be able to offer more banking and funding options to existing customers. It also means Kraken Financial is going to be able to operate in multiple jurisdictions without having to deal with state-by-state compliance plans. Kraken is currently working with Silvergate Bank to offer SWIFT and FedWire funding options to U.S. customers. More and more of these kinds of partnerships will become the status quo in the near future. That’s why now is the time for traditional banks that are lagging behind to start paying attention. Silvergate Bank is a step ahead of the rest at the moment. The company boasts 880 digital asset companies as clients. Those clients have deposited more than $1.5 billion with the bank. That’s still a small amount of money relative to the market capitalizations of most major banks or even most major cryptocurrencies for that matter.

A basic overview of micro front ends

The concept for micro front ends, as described by Cam Jackson, consultant at ThoughtWorks, is similar to that of microservice design: "Slicing up big and scary things into smaller, more manageable pieces, and then being explicit about the dependencies between them." This architectural choice frees up the team to make independent choices for the technology, codebase and release processes. If you've used any leading e-commerce store lately, you may have noticed the visual format of the webpage sometimes changes after you log in. Instead of a single home page with static text and buttons, you are more likely to encounter a navigable series of clickable boxes that adjust their size in relation to the size of the browser window. These boxes are all designed to guide you to a particular purchase decision, as well as align it with your recently viewed items, past orders, recommendations, discounts and so on. In the website design, a controller is responsible for knowing how much screen resolution is available at a given time, and how much space each visual component will take. It has to optimize those spaces and call the services that will populate them. If a service is down, the controller will also need to adjust the screen in response to the failed call, or call a different service that can provide the needed function.

Project management: How to cope with massive uncertainty and get stuff done

Steve Bates, principal at consultant KPMG, also recognises the need for agility and says this requirement has gone mainstream. We're at a point now that the whole enterprise – not just the IT department – has to be adaptive and agile. "And that's going to take time; you can't just do that overnight. What you're going to see is the tendency for large-scale, long-term investments to be broken into smaller chunks. That allows IT and the business to work together to demonstrate quick value and then assess continuously if they're on the right track," he says. Bates says the future in tech is likely to be about fewer multi-year investments in platform technology: "I think business and IT both want quick, modular services, and then continuous assessment and alignment of both the market and the condition of the technology estate. I think over-planning would be a mistake; doing small horizons is probably better." For IT, that's not a big deal – that's simply an agile way of working that most organisations have already embraced. But for the rest of the business, the impact of that shift is significant. Bates says non-IT executives traditionally look to line up capital and then execute on it. Now, the trend will be to invest in smaller chunks because of macro-economic volatility.

Inside Job: Former Worker Allegedly Holds Records for Ransom

Unity Health has not indicated whether the accused former Nuance employee worked on-premises at the hospital, in a Nuance office or remotely from home or another location. "The challenging part of a situation such as this is that technology-based [access] controls only go so far," says Keith Fricke, principal consultant at security consultancy tw-Security. "Options may exist to prevent someone from printing patient information from within an application or even preventing a screen print. However, nothing can stop someone with authorized access to patient information from using a smartphone to take pictures of patient data displayed on a computer monitor," he notes. Worker behavior cannot be fully controlled, Fricke says. "When someone makes poor choices, the best a healthcare provider can often do is provide evidence that workers receive training on policies and understand expected behaviors and responsibilities as part of their employment." Auditors investigating such infractions look for evidence that the affected organization "did all the right things" in making investments in people, processes and tools to protect sensitive information, Fricke adds.

Quote for the day:

"Leadership is the creation of an environment in which others are able to self-actualize in the process of completing the job." -- John Mellecker

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