Big Tech &
Facebook launches Portal TV, a $149 video chat set-top box (9 minute read)
Facebook has released a new line of Portal devices, including a device that turns any TV into a video chat device. The $149 Portal TV allows people to watch videos simultaneously while video chatting. A new 8-inch Portal Mini is now available at $129. Older portal devices have dropped in price. Portal devices lack video apps such as Netflix and HBO. When Portal launched, people were unsure about bringing Facebook surveillance technology inside their homes, but so far the response from consumers has been positive. Portal devices display a message on launch that informs users that their voice clips may be reviewed by humans. WhatsApp integration is now available for Portal devices.
Amazon will soon let you make campaign contributions through your Alexa device (1 minute read)
People will soon be able to make campaign donations to selected 2020 presidential candidates through Amazon Alexa devices. Donations can only be made to principal campaign committees. Eligible candidates must have a US-based address, bank account, credit card, and phone number. Candidates will have to register as merchants, submit some Federal Election Commission forms, and send a list of variations of the candidate's name. Donations can be made by talking to Alexa. All donations will be processed through Amazon Pay, and donors will receive email receipts.
IBM’s new 53-qubit quantum computer is the most powerful machine you can use (1 minute read)
IBM will launch its new quantum computer next month. It will be available for researchers and companies to run applications via the cloud. The computer boasts 53 quantum bits. Google has a 72-qubit device, but it is not available for public use. IBM has been promoting quantum computing via the cloud since 2016. Other companies such as Rigetti Computing and D-Wave have also launched quantum computing cloud services. Google's quantum computers are rumored to be almost at the stage where they can perform tasks beyond the reach of the most powerful supercomputers.
Multi-Agent Hide and Seek (3 minute video)
AI-based agents were placed into a simple game of hide-and-seek, and after millions of training rounds, they created six distinct strategies and counterstrategies to play the game. The goal of the exercise was to see if simple rules and multi-agent competition can eventually lead to intelligent behavior. Agents were required to work together to manipulate the environment for a majority of scenarios. The hiders eventually developed solutions, which the seekers then had to overcome, leading to increasingly complex strategies from both teams. These behaviors were not explicitly incentivized and the agents' only goal was to win the game. The agents were trained using reinforcement learning, an algorithm inspired by how animals learn.
Programming, Design & Data Science
Software Architecture is Overrated, Clear and Simple Design is Underrated (10 minute read)
When the Uber app's payment system was rewritten, it had to replace two existing payment systems and be deployed and used by millions of people every day without any business impact. The software was designed without using any of the standard software architecture planning tools. There were no software architects or references to common architecture problems used. The team followed a simple approach to the design by defining the problem, brainstorming and whiteboarding solutions, writing simple documentation and diagrams, discussing tradeoffs and alternatives, and then getting feedback within the team and organization. As an engineer, it is better to solve solutions and learn through them rather than picking a particular architecture pattern hoping it will solve the problem. The goal should be to make everything as simple as possible.
Super (GitHub Repo)
Super is a single dependency framework for Ruby on Rails applications. It is fully compatible with Sprockets and Webpacker. Super features built-in pagination, configurable forms, and a configurable display. It supports Rails 5.0+ and Ruby 2.3+. All assets are vendored.
How China Unleashed Twitter Trolls to Discredit Hong Kong’s Protesters (10 minute read)
China has long deployed propaganda and censorship to control its citizens. As the internet grows, China has turned to using platforms that it has blocked in its own country, such as Twitter and Facebook, to spread its views across the rest of the planet. A number of social media accounts were discovered to be controlled by China. Many of these accounts were created years ago and originally shared content with a range of topics, for example, sports and memes, in order to gain large followings. When the protests in Hong Kong began, the accounts suddenly started posting about China, in Chinese. Around 200,000 accounts were discovered and taken down or suspended by Twitter due to their connection with the Chinese operation. Facebook and YouTube have also completed similar investigations and removed accounts. Many of these accounts appear to have been purchased in marketplaces rather than grown organically.