Summary of “What the Superhuman Controversy Reveals About the Shifting Ethics of Software”

In recent months, those attuned to the affinities of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have been hearing about a young San Francisco startup called Superhuman.
Though its name suggests a nootropics concern or a purveyor of networked exercise equipment, Superhuman’s unbodied offering is productivity software for the in-box.
Superhuman has cultivated the glimmer of exclusivity.
A Seattle-based designer and tech executive named Mike Davidson published, on his personal Web site, a blog post titled “Superhuman is Spying on You.” It focussed on Superhuman’s read-receipts feature-a function, at that time enabled by default, that allows Superhuman’s users to see when and where e-mails they’ve sent have been opened by recipients.
A pedophile, he argued, could use Superhuman to track the whereabouts of a child.
“But there’s a strong correlation between the people outraged by privacy and the people that I think are dumbasses in the Valley.” “This Superhuman ‘scandal’ is fascinating,” Sam Lessin, a venture capitalist, posted.
It’s for them that a Superhuman keyboard command called “Instant Intro”-a shortcut that replies-all, moves the original sender to BCC, and drops in a customizable text snippet-is an appealing time-saver.
It’s not clear, to outsiders, how Superhuman decided to build read statuses; the final state of a shipped product is often the aggregation of a series of arbitrary choices made along the way, an accretion of guesswork, experimentation, and technical possibility.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Coming Software Apocalypse”

It’s been said that software is “Eating the world.” More and more, critical systems that were once controlled mechanically, or by people, are coming to depend on code.
Underway to change how we make software all seem to start with the same premise: Code is too hard to think about.
“The serious problems that have happened with software have to do with requirements, not coding errors.” When you’re writing code that controls a car’s throttle what’s important is the rules about when and how and by how much to open it.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration enlisted software experts from NASA to perform an intensive review of Toyota’s code.
Barr described what they found as “Spaghetti code,” programmer lingo for software that has become a tangled mess.
“Typically the main problem with software coding-and I’m a coder myself,” Bantégnie says, “Is not the skills of the coders. The people know how to code. The problem is what to code. Because most of the requirements are kind of natural language, ambiguous, and a requirement is never extremely precise, it’s often understood differently by the guy who’s supposed to code.”
On this view, software becomes unruly because the media for describing what software should do-conversations, prose descriptions, drawings on a sheet of paper-are too different from the media describing what software does do, namely, code itself.
For Lamport, a major reason today’s software is so full of bugs is that programmers jump straight into writing code.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Hollywood is quietly using AI to help decide which movies to make”

The company licenses historical data about movie performances over the years, then cross-references it with information about films’ themes and key talent, using machine learning to tease out hidden patterns in the data.
Cinelytic isn’t the only company hoping to apply AI to the business of film.
Last November, 20th Century Fox explained how it used AI to detect objects and scenes within a trailer and then predict which “Micro-segment” of an audience would find the film most appealing.
An academic paper published on this topic in 2016 similarly claimed that reliable predictions about a movie’s profitability can be made using basic information like a film’s themes and stars.
You don’t need a sophisticated and expensive AI software to tell you that a star like Leonardo DiCaprio or Tom Cruise will improve the chances of your film being a hit, for example.
Because AI learns from past data, it can’t predict future cultural shifts Zhao offers a more benign example of algorithmic shortsightedness: the 2016 action fantasy film Warcraft, which was based on the MMORPG World of Warcraft.
Scarso says that using AI to play around with a film’s blueprint – swapping out actors, upping the budget, and seeing how that affects a film’s performance – “Opens up a conversation about different approaches,” but it’s never the final arbiter.
Hollywood is unlikely to accept AI having the final say anytime soon Some in the business push back against the claim that Hollywood is embracing AI to vet potential films, at least when it comes to actually approving or rejecting a pitch.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Building the System/360 Mainframe Nearly Destroyed IBM”

It took a nearly fanatical commitment at all levels of IBM to bring forth this remarkable collection of machines and software.
They then had three options: move to a bigger IBM system, such as an IBM 7000, install a competitor’s system, or acquire more 1401s.
Customers moving to the new IBM machines would have to rewrite existing software just once to get on the path of the new system.
At IBM, nobody seemed satisfied with progress on the new system.
The company spent US $5 billion to develop the System/360, which at the time was more than IBM made in a year, and it would eventually hire more than 70,000 new workers.
IBM opened a new plant in East Fishkill, just south of Poughkeepsie, which made more semiconductor devices than all other manufacturers worldwide combined.
Fred Brooks volunteered to help, and IBM added 1,000 people to the operating system project, costing the company more for software in one year than had been planned for the entire development of the S/360 system.
Five years later, the worldwide inventory of installed IBM computers had grown to $24 billion, while that of competitors had reached $9 billion.

The orginal article.

Summary of “How the EverCrypt Library Creates Hacker-Proof Cryptography”

“It’s some cascading failure, and it’s hard to systematically find because are individually all very unlikely,” said Bryan Parno, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who worked on EverCrypt.
EverCrypt is a library of software that handles cryptography, or the encoding and decoding of private information.
Work on EverCrypt began in 2016 as a part of Project Everest, an initiative led by Microsoft Research.
The main challenge to creating EverCrypt was developing a single programming platform that could express all the different attributes the researchers wanted in a verified cryptographic library.
The researchers proved that EverCrypt is free of coding errors, like buffer overruns, that can enable hacking attacks – in effect, provably ruling out susceptibility to all possible corner cases.
The researchers proved that EverCrypt never leaks information in ways that can be exploited by these types of timing attacks.
While EverCrypt is provably immune to many types of attacks, it does not herald an era of perfectly secure software.
Because vulnerabilities in adjacent, unverified programs can undermine a cryptographic library, Project Everest aims to surround EverCrypt with as much verified software as it can.

The orginal article.

Summary of “How China rips off the iPhone and reinvents Android”

Many experienced Android users in the West who try out Chinese phones, including reviewers here at The Verge, often find themselves unable to get over an immediate stumbling block: the software.
These were unlocked versions of each company’s new flagship phones that went on sale through Google’s Play Store, and their biggest feature was a lack of features; they ran a version of Android completely devoid of their manufacturers’ software customizations.
To put it another way, Chinese Android phones don’t really run superficial skins like TouchWiz; they run whole new operating systems that happen to support Android apps.
Unlock a Xiaomi phone, and you’ll see snappy animations, clean visual design, and overall far less cruft than you’d expect from such a comprehensive overhaul of Android.
Many of these phones apply techniques to brighten faces and smooth out skin, and I asked Xiaomi’s Wang Qian, who works on MIUI’s photo software, to what extent the company considers users outside China with these features.
Software optimizations mean that with the exception of Google’s Pixel phones, OnePlus is the only company that can touch the iPhone in terms of responsiveness and smoothness.
What is true today is that not all Chinese phone software is bad. And when it is bad from a Western perspective, it’s often bad for very different reasons than the bad Android skins of the past.
Yes, many of these phones make similar mistakes with overbearing UI decisions – hello, Huawei – and yes, it’s easy to mock some designs for their obvious thrall to iOS. But these are phones created in a very different context to Android devices as we’ve previously understood them.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Homeland Security Will Let Software Flag Potential Terrorists”

The Department of Homeland Security is now complicating the picture further by paying a private Virginia firm to build a software algorithm with the power to flag you as someone who might try to blow up the plane.
DataRobot, a northern Virginia-based automated machine learning firm, won a contract from the department to develop “Predictive models to enhance identification of high risk passengers” in software that should “Make real-time prediction[s] with a reasonable response time” of less than one second, according to a technical overview that was written for potential contractors and reviewed by The Intercept.
The contract assumes the software will produce false positives and requires that the terrorist-predicting algorithm’s accuracy should increase when confronted with such mistakes.
The overview document implies a degree of autonomy, listing as a requirement that the software should “Automatically augment Watch List data with confirmed ‘positive’ high risk passengers.”
Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, told The Intercept that giving predictive abilities to watchlist software will present only the veneer of impartiality.
Verrico’s assurance – that the watchlist software is an outward-aiming tool provided to foreign governments, not a means of domestic surveillance – is an interesting feint given that Americans fly through non-American airports in great numbers every single day.
The documents surrounding DataRobot’s predictive modeling contract make no mention of an appeals system for those deemed risky by an algorithm, nor is there any requirement in the DHS overview document that the software must be able to explain how it came to its conclusions.
Gadeir Abbas, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who has spent years fighting the U.S. government in court over watchlists, saw the DHS software as only more bad news for populations already unfairly surveilled.

The orginal article.

Summary of “How China rips off the iPhone and reinvents Android”

Many experienced Android users in the West who try out Chinese phones, including reviewers here at The Verge, often find themselves unable to get over an immediate stumbling block: the software.
These were unlocked versions of each company’s new flagship phones that went on sale through Google’s Play Store, and their biggest feature was a lack of features; they ran a version of Android completely devoid of their manufacturers’ software customizations.
To put it another way, Chinese Android phones don’t really run superficial skins like TouchWiz; they run whole new operating systems that happen to support Android apps.
In China, making your phone work like the iPhone makes a certain degree of sense With that in mind, making your phone’s basic user interface work just like the iPhone – particularly in a country with notoriously lax IP laws, and in a world that got bored of Apple and Samsung’s legal disputes years ago – makes a certain degree of sense.
Many of these phones apply techniques to brighten faces and smooth out skin, and I asked Xiaomi’s Wang Qian, who works on MIUI’s photo software, to what extent the company considers users outside China with these features.
Software optimizations mean that with the exception of Google’s Pixel phones, OnePlus is the only company that can touch the iPhone in terms of responsiveness and smoothness.
What is true today is that not all Chinese phone software is bad. And when it is bad from a Western perspective, it’s often bad for very different reasons than the bad Android skins of the past.
Yes, many of these phones make similar mistakes with overbearing UI decisions – hello, Huawei – and yes, it’s easy to mock some designs for their obvious thrall to iOS. But these are phones created in a very different context to Android devices as we’ve previously understood them.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Why a random federal agency gets to decide which devices we tinker with”

In 2003, for example, the Library of Congress approved only four narrow exemptions: accessing lists of sites banned by Internet blocking software, using software with broken “Dongle” based copy protection, obsolete video game formats, and blind people using screen readers on e-books.
The result is a byzantine system in which an obscure federal agency gets to decide how people use a wide variety of computer systems.
Crucially, the law lets the Library of Congress make acts of DRM circumvention legal, but it doesn’t allow the distribution of circumvention software.
So if you’re a blind person who would like to read a copy-protected e-book, it’s legal under Library of Congress rules if you write your own software to strip out the DRM. But if somebody else writes screen-reading software that circumvents DRM and sells it to you, they’re still committing a federal crime-albeit not one that’s likely to get them prosecuted.
The reality, of course, is that circumvention software is readily available online for most of the circumvention categories the Library of Congress mentions in its latest rulemaking.
The reality is that people are going to continue using software to make high-quality video clips, whether or not the Library of Congress says that’s OK. Nobody is going to prosecute users who do this, and the makers of the ripping software are probably going to be fine, too.
Technically, the Library of Congress doesn’t have the power to regulate circumvention software.
If the Library of Congress blesses a particular activity-say, using a screen reader on a DRM-protected e-book-a lot of people are going to think that means that software to do it is also legal.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Top 5 Contemporary Software Engineering Books”

IntroIf you’ve been into software engineering for some time and enjoy reading books, you’ve probably come across some classics such as Code Complete, Refactoring, The Mythical Man-Month or Peopleware.
While they are still great, for this article I’ve put together a list of more recent books that I consider my current personal top 5.
There’s some recency bias, of course, so regard the list as snapshot for the time from 2017 to 2018.The books cover a mix of areas such as software design and management or “People topics”.
It’s one of the most substantial books I’ve ever read about software engineering.
After reading the book you might ask yourself: How do you best apply and integrate your new knowledge into your engineering process and how do you convince co-workers of the value of the approaches? Luckily, there’s tooling support, so start small and keep improving.
Why you should read itThe core topic of A Philosophy of Software Design is simplicity - consequently, the book itself is simple to understand.
It’s a pragmatic and authentic book about technical leadership, management, and people topics in tech companies - without much of the dramatizing and shallow advice that you often find in other “People” books.
Why you should read itAlthough mostly addressing engineering management, the book is certainly valuable for software engineers staying on the technical path.

The orginal article.