Numlock News: April 30, 2020 • Imperial, Comics, Monopoly

By Walt Hickey


Facebook announced they’ve successfully developed a new chatbot, and the company claims it’s better than rival Google’s new chatbot Meena. Facebook claims Blender, the new bot, was favored by 75 percent of human evaluators compared to Meena, with 67 percent finding it sounded more human, and as the cherry on top, the bot’s transcript won out in a Turing test over real human conversations 49 percent of the time, according to Facebook. Blender was built on an initial corpus of 1.5 billion publicly available Reddit comments, basically guaranteeing it’s a huge pervert, and then later abetted with further data sets attempting to attune it emotionally, give dense information and chat with unique personalities. Oh, great news for Facebook, a key observed limitation is that it “hallucinates knowledge,” inventing facts that it generated from not a database but just improvisation. Who could have ever guessed Facebook would produce an undercooked algorithm specializing in pumping completely false information directly at the nearest human.

Karen Hao, MIT Technology Review


Akamai is one of those companies that glues the internet together, a “content delivery network” that helps people download things faster. They work with about half of the Fortune 500 and over 400 banks to pull that off. Overall, the company has 275,000 servers in 136 countries, and they had a front-row seat for when everything popped off: in March 2019, Akamai handled 82 terabits of traffic per second. Normally, internet traffic grows at a compounded rate of 3 percent per month. March, you may recall, was fairly abnormal, and internet traffic across Akamai’s content delivery networks increased 30 percent, rising up to 167 terabits per second. The company managed, thanks in no small part to the cancellation of soccer’s European Championship tournament that it had budgeted for.

Chris Stokel-Walker, OneZero


Hasbro announced retail sales of its board games were up 25 percent globally in the first quarter of the year, with homebound consumers diverting themselves by playing Operation, Jenga and Monopoly to keep their mind off of the medical emergency, social collapse and economy, respectively. There’s nothing more important than families coming together during a challenging time around a game board of Monopoly, laughing and having fun, and then one member of the family putting three hotels apiece on Atlantic Avenue, Ventnor Avenue and Marvin Gardens, and a second member of that family landing on Marvin Gardens and describing the situation as “typical” in an underhanded voice, a third member of the family pointing out the inherent hypocrisy of that remark given their conduct during the most recent Risk game, and then maybe we wouldn’t have gotten to this point if you kept all those houses on Broadway rather than immediately upgrading to a Hotel, and then — you know the Norman Rockwell painting I’m talking about, I’m sure.

Paul Ziobro, The Wall Street Journal


The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has followed the UK Intellectual Property Office in rejecting two patents that listed an AI as the inventor. According to U.S. law, only natural persons can be considered inventors. The patents — one for a food container that is easier to grasp by a robot, and one for a warning light — were attributed to Dabus, which was developed by Stephen Thaler, who argued that it would be inaccurate to list himself as the inventor of the invention his invention invented. The innovative argument didn’t hold up, but it may be a taste of things to come: AI is useful for developing some new tech, and the European Patent Office is receiving increased numbers of filings attributable to AI. This May, the World Intellectual Property Organization will tackle the issue. While I’m sure they’re going to have some cracker jack ideas, this is IP Law in America we’re talking about, so let’s just ask the Microsoft and Disney lobbyists what they want and send it to the president to sign to save us the trouble. That’s what’s going to happen anyway.


Imperial County

An obscure county in California’s Southeast is the site of yet another water war, with an incumbent, Bruce Kuhn, dislodged from the enormously powerful Imperial Irrigation District’s board of directors. The campaign centered on a vote cast 16 years ago that transferred tens of billions of gallons of water from the Colorado River that Imperial was entitled to over to the state’s thirsty metropolises on the coast. Kuhn lost by 44 votes. Imperial holds the right to a fifth of the water allocated from the Colorado River owing to a century-old deal. That water fuels a $2 billion agriculture business — if you ate fruit this winter, you benefited — but also 40 million people between Wyoming and California rely on the scarce resource. The primary loss is a sign that a new age of water fight is brewing: in 2018, the Imperial Irrigation District consumed 2,625,422 acre-feet of water from the Colorado; by comparison, Arizona used 2,662,260 acre-feet, Colorado 2,367,000 acre-feet, and California 4,265,525 acre-feet.

Sammy Roth, The Los Angeles Times


Quest Diagnostics — one of the two largest laboratory testing companies in the U.S. — is operating a nightly aerial armada. A fleet of nine PC-12s, nine Beech B58 Barons and five Embraer Phenom 100s are tasked with transporting time-sensitive lab tests to centralized facilities. The fleet makes 88 daily landings in 63 U.S. locations to recover refrigerated laboratory samples and shuttle them around the country. These days, when there are fewer flights at night than ever before, the Quest flights are sometimes one of the few flights in the sky.

Eric Tegler, Ars Technica

Comic Books

Over 100 comic book creators raised $430,000 through an auction intended to benefit comic book retailers who have seen their business upended coast to coast. The proceeds went to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, and the money was raised through donations of artwork and meet-and-greets over Zoom. Finally, I can spend an inordinate amount of money on comic book paraphernalia and my boyfriend can’t get mad because it’s for a good cause, a good cause that is technically “further comic books.”

George Gustines, The New York Times

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