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Yonatan Zunger
143,350 followers -
Distinguished Engineer on Privacy at Google
Distinguished Engineer on Privacy at Google

143,350 followers
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Yonatan Zunger's posts

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A slight twist on an old tale: the Parable of the Paperclip Maximizer, and what it teaches us about our world today.

As a footnote: The parable was originally meant to be a warning about the dangers of AI. But like many parables about the dangers of technology, from Shelley's Frankenstein to von Neumann et al's "Grey Goo," it's also a parable about us. Almost every "wait, what if this gets out of control?!" question you can ask about technology has already happened at least once – and we are its outcome.

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Something new I learned about today: Grizzlies eat moths.
Wow. "Each summer, moths of the army cutworm fly into tall mountain rocky slides, where they burrow away from the intense mountain sunlight into dark crevices. Hundreds of thousands of them. These moths come from farmland many miles away to these high, remote mountain slopes in Yellowstone.

At these places of slide rock and sunshine, both grizzly and black bears gather each year, climbing high above timberline to feed on the moths. The bears will dig through the slide rock and eat the moths that they uncover. It is estimated that some 40,000 moths per day can end up in the stomach of a hungry bear.

While fat in the diet is not the best thing for humans, it is important to bears. A single moth has a high enough fat content that it accounts for as much as a half a calorie. That means that 20,000 calories of just moths per day can be consumed by a rock-turning grizzly bear."

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Ouch. 
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There is one thing certain about the political crisis in the United States today: when it ends, the Constitution will be profoundly different.

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Context for those who haven't heard: Sean Spicer disappeared into the bushes for the last time today.

Also, the suggestion of this tweet needs to happen.
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A set of colorized photos of the 588th Night Bomber regiment of the Soviet Air Force, better known by the nickname their enemies gave them – the "Night Witches." (As well as a few of their sister 586th and 587th mixed in)

A small thing to notice in these pictures is the rather large number of medals they are wearing in their dress uniforms. On Yekaterina Ryabova's chest, for example, you'll see (in increasing order of precedence and gaudiness) the Medal for Defense of the Caucasus, the Order of the Red Star, the Order of the Red Banner, the Order of Lenin, and (highest of all in precedence but visually the simplest, just a simple metal star) the Hero of the Soviet Union.

As money was both a rather un-Communist reward, and generally in short supply anyway, the Soviets long favored medals and orders as rewards and recognitions for people. Units which had notable PR value were particular targets for decoration, which accounted in part for the extraordinary amount of tin shown here – but a bigger part of that was that the average member of the Night Witches flew over 800 missions, doing nighttime bombing of enemy positions out of obsolete crop dusters, carrying enough weight of bombs that there was no capacity for parachutes.

Via the +Self-Rescuing Princess Society.
A big collection of colorized pictures of Night Witches.

[Edited to add:] One thing that is really cool about them is that you see the ethnic diversity from all over the USSR.

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Strictly speaking, the Arctic Circle is named for the constellation Ursa Major (prominent in the Northern Hemisphere), but I'll take it. The Boreal Forest is, after all, home to an awful lot of bears.
Taxonomy, go home. You're drunk.
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This is a wonderful slide deck about failures in complex systems – specifically in Space Shuttles, which are factories of some of the most bizarre failure modes imaginable.

I mean, do you design your electronics to handle the case where a diode suddenly transforms into a capacitor? You probably don't – but that failure mode is more commonly known as "a crack perpendicular to the connectors."
NASA has a truly terrifying collection of things that can and have gone wrong with systems (e.g. a diode transmogrifying into a capacitor); strongly worth reading.




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You may have thought that Google Glass was gone and forgotten. It turns out that isn't the case at all. While it didn't work out well as a consumer product for all sorts of reasons, it turns out to be tremendously useful if you're doing work that requires your hands and your attention while also being helped by visual input – say, if you're working in a factory, or performing surgery.

As a result, the Glass team vanished back into Google X for a while and started working on what they discovered to be a much better use for the technology: as an enterprise technology for people at work.

Today, Wired has an article about what the new system looks like, and how it's being used at a growing range of companies – and how this technology is living up to its promise at last.

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This is an extremely interesting article (via @avflox) about how harassment is often part of a pattern of "versatile criminality" - that is, harassment which isn't a mistake or misunderstanding is generally not an isolated behavior, but correlated to other kinds of unethical and/or illegal activity as well. If true, this suggests better ways of investigating and dealing with harassment complaints, and ones which specifically identify and target bad actors.

I don't have time to write more about this now, but it's a pattern which seems familiar to me from other contexts as well, including fraud, online abuse, and sexual assault: a disproportionate fraction of this is done by a small number of people who do a lot of bad things, most of which go individually under the radar but which form a clear pattern when you see them all. 
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