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The future looks bright: Pirates in government, super-intelligent neural-networks to replace their meat-based creators, alien moon-whales from Europa, lingering professional sexism in tech, and a Game of Thrones Death Calculator. Let’s go!
I’d like to start this tech blog roundup with one that portends the professional doom of all software developers (always a wise choice for the developer’s blog). Programming in 2016 is still a game of feeding linear instructions to a computer telling it how to perform a particular task. This requires armies of code monkeys (read: author of this blog) to maintain vast oceans of brittle code that (somewhat horrifyingly) flow through everything from our medical records to our banking system. Over at Wired, Jason Tanz envisions a world in which a small number of highly specialized technicians “train” computers to do their job, similar to training a dog, or to feeding images into Google’s Deep Dream neural network as it teaches itself to see dog faces in everything. The solutions produced by the network may be inscrutable to almost everyone, including the technician and even the developer of the neural network, as the computer comes up with novel solutions. The computer is essentially programming itself -- a bit creepy perhaps, but don’t run for your SkyNet shelter yet. The article ends with a reframing of our potentially Frankensteinian relationship to our creations. Tanz writes that “we will go from commanding our devices to parenting them.” Somehow, that’s kind of... cute?
Here, some German university students show us how machine learning can even help fuel our Game of Thrones pet fan theories. The algorithm calculates the likelihood of each character being killed off, based on hundreds of criteria including age, lineage, and whether they have living parents. Comes in handy since George RR Martin is so famously fond of killing off beloved characters. They may need to adjust their algorithm slightly now that we know (vague spoiler ahead) that “Valar Morghulis” is not an absolute certainty in Westeros. Also according to the algorithm, Daenerys Targaryen has a 95% chance of being killed off, which makes me sadder than an orphaned baby dragon. Here’s to hoping they trained their neural network monster incorrectly, and we’ll be able to see Dany emerge unfathomably naked and gangster from many more flaming pyres to come.
In the search for extraterrestrial life, the frozen watery moon of Europa has always been intriguing. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory looked at the chemical composition of the moon’s oceans, and found that they are strikingly similar to our own: “The cycling of oxygen and hydrogen in Europa’s ocean will be a major driver for Europa’s ocean chemistry and any life there, just as it is on Earth.” Does anyone else get butterflies in their stomachs thinking about alien moon-whales? No? Just me...? An internal link in the article also points to a discussion of our solar system’s life beyond the expansion of the sun into a red dwarf in a few billion years that scorches the earth and nearby celestial bodies. Apparently, at that point we could just hop over to our pal Europa and relax on its now balmy beaches for another half a billion years or so and learn to ride the moon-whales.
According to a Wall Street Journal examination of the gender pay gap, women earn less than men in 439 of 446 major U.S. occupations. Head over to the Gender Pay Gap data visualization from the WSJ to check on your profession. According to the chart, female “computer programmers” earn 92% of their male counterparts on average, “developers of applications and systems software” earn 87%, and database administrators make 72%. So our industry apparently still has a ways to go in addressing pay disparity between men and women. There are some bright spots, in which women earn more than men for 7 occupations, including “transportation, storage, and distribution managers” (102%), “meter readers, utilities” (106%), and “crane and tower operators” (104%), although the gains are small compared to the difference of sometimes over 50% the other way around.
We’ve all heard tales of mythical creatures residing in Iceland, like Bjork and trolls and a popular anti-establishment political party founded on the basis of internet freedom called the Pirate party. The party has apparently gained about a third of its government’s apportioned campaign funding based on February poll results, more than all of its rivals. If elected the Pirates will push for a 35-hour working week, direct democracy and total drug decriminalisation. This line particularly reads like poetry: “If the election were to be held tomorrow, the most likely outcome would be an alliance between the Pirates and the Independence Party or the Pirates and the Left-Greens.” I feel like “Pirates and the Left-Greens” would make a great band name.
That concludes our brief trip through the strange and exciting world of tech. Until next time, Valar Morghulis, Valar Dohaeris.