Tag Archives: software

Spam-trap Turing tests train smarter software

Email and comment spam is one of those constant low-grade annoyances that simply becomes part of the furniture if you spend a lot of time on the ‘net, as are the CAPTCHA puzzles you have to take to prove you’re a human. [image from Wikimedia Commons]

Signs are that they won’t be much use much longer, though; a UK researcher has been using the ‘twisted letters’ type of CAPTCHA to train his visual recognition algorithms, while a chap at Palo Alto has a program that can correctly identify cats and dogs 83% of the time – which, lets face it, is probably a better success rate than the average YouTube user can manage.

Sadly, training algorithms against Turing test spam-traps is no more likely to produce a recognisably intelligent piece of software than the Loebner Artificial Intelligence Prize is. But maybe one day we’ll be able to combine all the pieces… if they don’t beat us to it and combine themselves, of course. 😉

Algorithms to reveal secrets of East Germany

In Spring 2006, I spent a week in Berlin with some friends from university. As part of a city tour highlighting the Berlin’s Cold War heritage, the guide made a passing reference to plans for the digital reconstruction of files shredded by East German secret police.

As this project entered its pilot stage in May 2007, Germany’s Spiegel Online reported on the finer details;

[W]ith the looming collapse of the Communist regime becoming increasingly evident [in 1989], agents of the East German Staatssicherheitsdienstfeverishly plowed millions of active files through paper shredders, or just tore them up by hand.

Rights activists interrupted the project and rescued a total of 16,250 garbage bags full of scraps. But rescuing the history on those sheets of paper amounted to an absurdly difficult jigsaw puzzle. By 2000, no more than 323 sacks were legible again — reconstructed by a team of 15 people working in Nuremburg — leaving 15,927 to go. So the German government promised money to any group that could plausibly deal with the remaining tons of paper.

The Fraunhofer Institute won the contract in 2003 … Four hundred sacks of scraps will be scanned, front and back, and newly-refined software will try to arrange the digitized fragments according to shape, texture, ink color, handwriting style and recognizable official stamps.

This week, as the pilot phase of the project reached completion, the BBC’s radio programme Digital Planet picked up on the story;

“It will be a long job – but that’s the interesting part,” said the Fraunhofer’s Jan Schneider.

“First we have to digitise all the pieces from the bags. This is done by a special high-speed scanning device.

“The next step is to segment the image itself from the raw scan – we need the outline of the pieces, pixel-wise, to perform the reconstruction process after that.

“Then all digitised pieces of paper are stored in the database. After that we reconstruct a lot of the descriptive features of the pieces.”

However, at the former Stasi prison Hohenschonhausen, the main place political prisoners were held and subjected to torture, there are criticisms that the process has already taken too long.

“I think it comes a little bit late,” said Hubertus Knabe, director of the memorial at the site, which is also a museum.

“Nearly 20 years after the fall of the Wall we start to reconstruct these Stasi files, which are really important: the most important files were the ones they destroyed.

“I am happy that now it is going forward, but it is late.”

[2nd story via the BBC]

Verizon to carry Linux-powered phones

Cellphone KeypadVia m1k3y of grinding.be I hear the rumour that US mobile telco Verizon will begin offering cellphone handsets based on Linux operating systems alongside the usual proprietary offerings next year.

Though it may not be immediately apparent, that’s good news for more than just the OS-OS wonks. Why? Because it opens up the cellphone software market to those unable or unwilling to buy an API licence for a proprietary system, and allows people to build on a reliable platform. [image by khedara]

It’s not a perfect situation, of course – individual carriers and handset makers will be able to control the operating system’s capabilities. But hey, if the iPhone got hacked that quick, a Linux-based handset is going to crack like an eggshell

Toys of the Trade

Sven Johnson returns to Futurismic for another instalment of Future Imperfect.

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

Cyberpunk literature mirrored its era by speaking of the the fetishism of hardware; Sven takes a look at the state of play today, where what were once tools are now toys, and where complex design modeling software is available at the click of a mouse to anyone who wants it … as part of a video game. Continue reading Toys of the Trade