Another high-frequency trading software theft allegation

Paul Raven @ 21-04-2010

Remember the story about the guy who’d allegedly “stolen” (more accurately, downloaded a copy of) the Goldman-Sachs automated trading algorithm software? Well, now a young banker formerly employed by Societe Generale is accused of a very similar crime.

There’ll probably be plenty more incidents like this as time goes by: copying code is a pretty easy thing to do (even if avoiding detection isn’t) and the temptation of an investment-bank-level income is surely enough to justify the attempt to someone with a big enough greed-on (which is presumably a given in the industry in question). If only some egalitarian copyleftist hacker type would pilfer those algos and post ’em to Wikileaks… the anger and frustration of investment bankers would be reward enough for me, had I the pertinent skills. Hell, I think I could probably even ride out the entire jail term with a shit-eating grin on my face.

Interesting side-note: stealing this sort of software is illegal, even though the software itself may be considered to provide an illegal advantage to its owners.


Posthumous cover-versions by famous musicians?

Paul Raven @ 05-03-2010

Dovetailing neatly with that piece about the Emily Howell program that composes pieces in the style of famous composers as well as its own, here’s another software company who are trying to develop software that will analyse a musician’s playing style from their recorded putput, and then reproduce other songs in the style in which they might have played them.

Or, to put it another way: they want to let you hear how Jimi Hendrix would have jammed out any national anthem you care to name. They’re not quite there yet, though:

As things stand now, Zenph’s technology looks at actual old recordings to find out how a performer played a certain song, and is not capable of figuring out how a musician would play a new part. “We hope — but we can’t demonstrate today — that after we’ve done several re-performances of a given artist, we will understand enough about that individual’s musical style to be able to suggest how that style might manifest itself in the performance of a work that the artist never actually performed,” said Frey, clarifying that today Zenph’s software only reproduces performances, it doesn’t create them.

That faint hint of white noise you can hear? That’s the sound of thousands of copyright lawyers rubbing their hands together in anticipation.


Emily Howell has written a song for you

Paul Raven @ 25-02-2010

If a piece of very-well-written computer software can produce classical music compositions that the experts can’t distinguish from ones created by people, does that mean that music is essentially meaningless? [via MetaFilter]

And doesn’t it also mean that the program in question essentially passed a version of the Turing Test?


Re-skinning the city – the dark side of augmented reality

Paul Raven @ 19-01-2010

As augmented reality becomes the latest tech buzz-phrase to excite the more mainstream media outlets, it’s interesting to watch people coming to similar conclusions by very different routes.

For instance, here’s nigh-legendary grumpy Brit television critic Charlie Brooker riffing on the not-so-egalitarian potential of augmented reality technologies:

Years ago, I had an idea for a futuristic pair of goggles that visually transformed homeless people into lovable animated cartoon characters. Instead of being confronted by the conscience-pricking sight of an abandoned heroin addict shivering themselves to sleep in a shop doorway, the rich city-dweller wearing the goggles would see Daffy Duck snoozing dreamily in a hammock. London would be transformed into something out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

What’s more, the goggles could be adapted to suit whichever level of poverty you wanted to ignore: by simply twisting a dial, you could replace not just the homeless but anyone who receives benefits, or wears cheap clothes, or has a regional accent, or watches ITV, and so on, right up the scale until it had obliterated all but the most grandiose royals.

At the time this seemed like a sick, far-off fantasy. By 2013, it’ll be just another customisable application you can download to your iBlinkers for 49p, alongside one that turns your friends into supermodels and your enemies into dormice.

Beneath the snark, Brooker is pointing out that we already have a tendency to filter reality so that we only see the bits we want to – confirmation bias at work, in other words. Once the hardware is cheap and powerful enough to achieve iPhone-ish levels of market penetration, software that works in the way he’s describing above is not just possible but plausible. And as nice as it is to think that you’d not be tempted yourself, I suspect we all would be to some degree… try inverting the class dynamic of Brooker’s prediction, for instance. [image by gwdexter]

So, reality filters are inevitable… but experience dictates that where commerce, culture and technology meet up, things rarely remain in stasis. Enter new Futurismic columnist Tim Maly, who opines that the perpetually escalating arms race between spammers and filter-builders may be the one thing that fends off the hyper-Balkanised culture that so terrifies commentators like Brooker:

The trajectory assumed is of increasingly powerful and impregnable filters. If that trajectory holds, then one expects an increasingly balkanized culture, full of isolated groups that think they have nothing in common. But there’s a second set of actors in play, the ones being filtered out.

As the first group works harder to filter out unwanted messages, the second works harder to break through. We see it in the arms race around advertising. We see it in politicians struggling to find new ways of reaching their audience. We see it in Google’s need to constantly change and update their pagerank algorithms as black hat SEOs learn to game the system.

So long as the arms race continues, the filters will get better without becoming perfect. And in those cracks, reality (or at least an alternate viewpoint) can intrude. Insofar as we believe that people can’t know in advance what is best for them or what information they should receive, we should celebrate inefficiencies in filters.

In every successfully delivered spam message, there is a ray of hope.

Spam as a ray of hope… who knew? There’ll be more from Tim in his first proper column tomorrow, by the way. 🙂


3D object scanning using an ordinary webcam

Paul Raven @ 20-11-2009

Just in case you thought Tom Maly’s speculations about fabrication tech eradicating Fed Ex were a stretch too far, and that the technologies required are no where near ready… well, you might have a point. But even so, 3D technologies are developing rapidly and cheaply, as demonstrated by some people from Cambridge University who’ve written software that allows a common or garden webcam to scan three dimensional objects in realtime as you turn them in your hand:

ProFORMA uses a fixed video camera to allow on-line reconstruction of objects held in a user’s hand. Partial models are generated very quickly and displayed instantly, allowing the user to plan how to manipulate the object’s pose in order to generate additional views for reconstruction. We demonstrate how augmented reality can be used to assist the user in view planning, guiding the user to collect new keyframes from desirable views in order to complete and refine the model.

Yeah, sure, it looks a little janky and lo-fi. The point is, ten years ago it would have been pure speculation; so where might we be in another decade?


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