Will A.I. Steal All The Code And Take All The Jobs?

New technology often brings with it a bit of controversy. When considering stem cell therapies, self-driving cars, genetically modified organisms, or nuclear power plants, fears and concerns come to mind as much as, if not more than, excitement and hope for a brighter tomorrow. New technologies force us to evolve perspectives and establish new policies in hopes that we can maximize the benefits and minimize the risks. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is certainly no exception. The stakes, including our very position as Earth’s apex intellect, seem exceedingly weighty. Mathematician Irving Good’s oft-quoted wisdom that the “first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need make” describes a sword that cuts both ways. It is not entirely unreasonable to fear that the last invention we need to make might just be the last invention that we get to make.

Artificial Intelligence and Learning

Artificial intelligence is currently the hottest topic in technology. AI systems are being tasked to write prose, make art, chat, and generate code. Setting aside the horrifying notion of an AI programming or reprogramming itself, what does it mean for an AI to generate code? It should be obvious that an AI is not just a normal program whose code was written to spit out any and all other programs. Such a program would need to have all programs inside itself. Instead, an AI learns from being trained. How it is trained is raising some interesting questions.

Humans learn by reading, studying, and practicing. We learn by training our minds with collected input from the world around us. Similarly, AI and machine learning (ML) models learn through training. They must be provided with examples from which to learn. The examples that we provide to an AI are referred to as the data corpus of the training process. The robot Johnny 5 from “Short Circuit”, like any curious-minded student, needs input, more input, and more input.

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What’s New, From 1927

Here we are at the start of the new year, which for the Internet Archive means a note about what has just entered the public domain. 1927’s finest previously copyrighted materials are now up for grabs in the public domain, which means there’s a treasure trove of films, books, and music to freely copy and remix.

Their article highlights a few notable pieces of 1927’s popular culture , of which we suggest you should definitely take note of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis if you have any interest in sci-fi, but for Hackaday readers there’s not much else in the article itself relating to technology. Delving into the archive for 1927 is still a fascinating pastime though, because beyond the interest of seeing what’s now free it led onto what was the state of technology in the 1920s. And here we find ourselves as much navigating the English language as we do the library itself, because so much of what we do uses vocabulary from the decades since. Continue reading “What’s New, From 1927”

Showing an Ortur lasercutter control module in front of a screen. There's a serial terminal open on the screen, showing the "Ortur Laser Master 3" banner, and then a Grbl prompt.

Watch Out For Lasercutter Manufacturers Violating GPL

For companies that build equipment like CNC machines or lasercutters, it’s tempting to use open-source software in a lot of areas. After all, it’s stable, featureful, and has typically passed the test of time. But using open-source software is not always without attendant responsibilities. The GPL license requires that all third-party changes shipped to users are themselves open-sourced, with possibility for legal repercussions. But for that, someone has to step up and hold them accountable.

Here, the manufacturer under fire is Ortur. They ship laser engravers that quite obviously use the Grbl firmware, or a modified version thereof, so [Norbert] asked them for the source code. They replied that it was a “business secret”. He even wrote them a second time, and they refused. Step three, then, is making a video about it.

Unfortunately [Norbert] doesn’t have the resources to start international legal enforcement, so instead he suggests we should start talking openly about the manufacturers involved. This makes sense, since such publicity makes it way easier for a lawsuit eventually happen, and we’ve seen real consequences come to Samsung, Creality and Skype, among others.

Many of us have fought with laser cutters burdened by proprietary firmware, and while throwing the original board out is tempting, you do need to invest quite a bit more energy and money working around something that shouldn’t have been a problem. Instead, the manufacturers could do the right, and legal, thing in the first place. We should let them know that we require that of them.

Continue reading “Watch Out For Lasercutter Manufacturers Violating GPL”

Copyright, What You Need To Know

Last week brought the story of a group of crypto enthusiasts who paid well over the going rate for a rare sci-fi book, then proposed encoding scans of all its pages in a blockchain before making and selling NFTs of them. To guarantee their rarity the book was then to be burned. Aside from the questionable imagery surrounding book burning in general, one of the sources of mirth in the story was their mistaken idea that in buying a copy of a rare book they had also acquired its copyright rather than simply paying too much for a book.

It’s an excuse for a good laugh, but it’s also an opportunity to talk about copyright as it affects our community. I’m not a lawyer and I’m not here to give legal advice. Instead this is based on the working knowledge gathered over decades working in the content publishing industries. Continue reading “Copyright, What You Need To Know”

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Hackaday Links: December 19, 2021

Key fobs as a service? Have we really gotten to that point? It would seem so, at least for Toyota, which is now requiring a subscription to use the company’s Remote Connect function. To be fair to Toyota, the Remote Connect system seems to do a bit more than the average key fob, with things like remote start and smartphone or smartwatch integration. It doesn’t appear that using the key fob for more mundane uses, like opening the doors, will be nerfed by this change. But if you want to warm up your car on a cold winter’s morn while you’re still in your jammies, then be prepared to cough up $8 a month or $80 a year on select 2018 and above models. Whether Toyota and other manufacturers get away with this nickel-and-dime stuff is up to the buyers, of course; if enough people opt out, maybe they’ll think of some other way to pad their bottom line. But since we’ve already seen heated seats as a service (last item), we suspect this is the shape of things to come, and that it will spread well beyond the car industry.

Speaking of cars, if you thought the chip shortage was over just because car dealer lots are filling back up, think again. Steve over at Big Mess o’ Wires reports that he’s having trouble sourcing chips for his vintage computer accessories. He includes a screenshot from Digi-Key showing zero stock on ATmega1284s. He also reports that the Lattice FPGA he uses for his Yellowstone universal disc controller is now unobtainium, where it had previously been easily sourced for about $5. He also has a pointed warning about some suppliers making it look like they have stock, only to send a “whoopsie” email after charging your credit card, or worse, telling you the price has increased over 400%. We suppose this was inevitable; there’s only so much fab capacity in the world, so eventually the fabs will switch over to producing whatever they can get paid the most for. And since car manufacturers have a lot more clout with suppliers than just about anyone else, it’s only natural for the shortages to shift down-market like this.

Do we finally have a “go” on James Webb? Maybe. The launch of the space telescope was originally scheduled for December 18 — well, OK, originally it was supposed to be in space in 2007, but let’s not go there — but a problem with a clamp caused unexpected vibrations in the $10 billion space observatory, resulting in inspections that pushed the launch back to the 22nd. That lasted for about a week, until the fueled and packaged spacecraft stopped sending data to launch controllers. The problem ended up being entirely relatable — a bad data cable — but resulted in the loss of two more days. JWST is now set to launch on Christmas Eve at 7:20 AM Eastern Standard Time, pending a readiness review on Tuesday morning. Fingers crossed that the long-awaited observatory has a safe 30-day trip to Lagrange point L2.

And finally, breathless tech journalists couldn’t wait to report this week that the world’s first warp bubble had been created. The paper was published by Dr. Harold “Sonny” White et al from the Limitless Space Institute, and claims to have discovered a “micro/nano-scale structure” that “predicts negative energy density distribution that closely matches requirements for the Alcubierre metric.” That last bit, the one about the Alcubierre metric, refers to the Alcubierre drive, which proposed a way to warp space-time and drive a ship at arbitrarily high speeds. But did this team actually create a warp bubble? It doesn’t seem so, at least according to one article we read. There’s also the problem of Dr. White’s previous claims of breaking the laws of physics with a reactionless EM drive. Scientific quibbling aside, there’s a sure-fire way of telling that no warp bubble was created — if there had been one, this would have happened.

Separating Ideas From Words

We covered Malamud’s General Index this week, and Mike and I were talking about it on the podcast as well. It’s the boldest attempt we’ve seen so far to open up scientific knowledge for everyone, and not just the wealthiest companies and institutions. The trick is how to do that without running afoul of copyright law, because the results of research are locked inside their literary manifestations — the journal articles.

The Index itself is composed of one-to-five-word snippets of 107,233,728 scientific articles. So if you’re looking for everything the world knows about “tincture of iodine”, you can find all the papers that mention it, and then important keywords from the corpus and metadata like the ISBN of the article. It’s like the searchable card catalog of, well, everything. And it’s freely downloadable if you’ve got a couple terabytes of storage to spare. That alone is incredible.

What I think is most remarkable is this makes good on figuring out how to separate scientific ideas from their prison — the words in which they’re written — which are subject to copyright. Indeed, if you look into US copyright law, it’s very explicit about not wanting to harm the free sharing of ideas.

“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”

But this has always been paradoxical. How do you restrict dissemination of the papers without restricting dissemination of the embodied ideas or results? In the olden days, you could tell others about the results, but that just doesn’t scale. Until today, only the richest companies and institutions had access to this bird’s eye view of scientific research — similar datasets gleaned from Google’s book-scanning program have trained their AIs and seeded their search machines, but they only give you a useless and limited peek.

Of course, if you want to read the entirety of particular papers under copyright, you still have to pay for them. And that’s partly the point, because the General Index is not meant to destroy copyrights, but give you access to the underlying knowledge despite the real world constraints on implementing copyright law, and we think that stands to be revolutionary.

DMCA Vs Hacker

This week featured a large kerfuffle over a hack that you probably read about here on Hackaday: [Neutrino] wedged an OLED screen and an ESP32 into a Casio calculator. REACT, an anti-counterfeiting organization, filed DMCA copyright takedowns on Casio’s behalf everywhere, including GitHub and YouTube, and every trace of [Neutrino]’s project was scrubbed from the Internet.

The DMCA is an interesting piece of legislation. It’s been used to prevent people from working on their tractors, from refilling printer ink cartridges, and to silence dissenting opinions, but it’s also what allows us to have the Internet that we know and love, in a sense.

In particular, the “safe harbor” provision absolves online platforms like YouTube and GitHub from liability for content they host, so long as they remove it when someone makes a copyright claim on it. So if a content owner, say Casio, issues a takedown notice for [Neutrino]’s GitHub and YouTube content, they have to comply. If he believes the request to be made in error, [Neutrino] can then file a counter-notice. After ten to fourteen days, presuming no formal legal action has been taken, the content must be reinstated. (See Section 512(g).)

cardboard cnc machineBoth the takedown notice and counter-notice are binding legal documents, sworn under oath of perjury. Notices and counter-notices can be used or abused, and copyright law is famously full of grey zones. The nice thing about GitHub is that they publish all DMCA notices and counter-notices they receive, so here it is for you to judge yourself.

Because of the perjury ramifications, we can’t say that the folks at REACT who filed the takedown knowingly submitted a bogus request in bad faith — that would be accusing them of breaking federal law — but we can certainly say that it looks like they’re far off base here. They’re certainly not coders.

The good news is that the code is back up on GitHub, but oddly enough the video describing the hack is still missing on YouTube.

But here’s how this looks for Casio and REACT: they saw something that was unflattering to a product of theirs — that it could be used for cheating in school — and they sent in the legal attack squad. If that’s the case, that’s rotten.

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