Promoting the Useful Lawyers with Patent Law; Robots do not Care; and The Big Con.

View 818 Friday, April 04, 2014


“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009


If a foreign government had imposed this system of education on the United States, we would rightfully consider it an act of war.

Glenn T. Seaborg, National Commission on Education, 1983


“…the only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone.”

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon


I am deep into the annual ritual of Doing The Taxes, and things will be spotty for a while.



We made the front page!

Jennifer Pournelle<>

Online crowdfunding offers alternatives for researchers needing smaller budgets <>

Jennifer Pournelle is the first to use in partnership with the university’s Office of Research to crowdfund her research trip to Iraq.




Skydiver vs. meteorite.



Roland Dobbins


Six clicks: 3D printing industry predictions for the next 5 years zdnet

By Charlie Osborne <> for iGeneration <> | April 4, 2014 — 09:00 GMT (02:00 PDT)


According to Founder & Designer at Bits to Atoms & Shapeways 3D printing advocate Duann Scott, the technology which could revolutionize the manufacturing industry is being held back by one thing: patents.

Scott says that in February this year, key patents which prevented advances in 3D printing and limited competition expired. The technology, known as laser sintering <> — is a low-cost manufacturing process used in 3D printing, and allows for low-volume product creation.

The importance of laser sintering in 3D printing cannot be expressed enough, as the manufacturing technique produces goods that can be sold on as finished products. Not only this, but potential to produce low volumes of product has given birth to companies like Shapeways, who print designs for those who cannot afford their own machines.

The patent system was intended to promote the useful arts and sciences. It now promotes legal fees, and employs lawyers. It is clear that something needs to be done, but I have seen no politically credible proposals that even approach rationality.

Madison feared that America would fall into the hands of “the faction”. We are governed by political employee unions who seek higher wages, tenure forever, and large pensions, and make it impossible to be elected without their support. The Plaintiff Bar controls the legal system including the largest factor in health care costs, malpractice insurance. Historically the only way to upset these iron triangles is with war; revolution doesn’t really get rid of them, only replaces them with something else. Japan and Germany lost wars and actually got a reset in government, and moreover were occupied by proconsuls who actually believed in free enterprise.

Capitalism tends to concentrate power. The United States avoided that Marxian inevitability with the Sherman anti-trust act and trust busting, but that was captured by the bureaucracy and used as a shakedown mechanism to punish companies like Microsoft who did not have enormous Washington lobbyists who were generous to public employees as well as to politicians; the perks Microsoft did not give to White House and Congressional staffers were probably more instrumental in filing the Microsoft anti-trust farce as the lack of campaign contributions. The suit was successful, and Microsoft which had no lobby office – the Washington office was sales office prior to the suit – now has one of the largest and most generous Washington lobby offices in the area.

But we have no real lobby for the public interest, as illustrated by the above story. The Iron Law prevails.


The Problem With Self-Driving Cars: They Don’t Cry business week

By Kyle Stock <> April 03, 2014

Sure we can make a self-driving car, but can we make a self-driving car with feelings?

Noah Goodall, a University of Virginia scientist, asks that question in a new study <> of autonomous driving. Goodall (no doubt a big fan of the Terminator movies) isn’t so much worried about driving as he is crashing—can robot cars be taught to make empathetic, moral decisions when an accident is imminent and unavoidable?

It’s a heady but valid question. Consider a bus swerving into oncoming traffic. A human driver may react differently than a sentient car, for example, if she noticed the vehicle was full of school kids. Another person may swerve differently than a robot driver to prioritize the safety of a spouse in the passenger seat.

This stuff is far more complicated than calibrating safe following distances or even braking for a loose soccer ball. Goodall writes: “There is no obvious way to effectively encode complex human morals in software.”

According to Goodall, the best options for car builders are “deontology,” an ethical approach in which the car is programmed to adhere to a fixed set of rules, or “consequentialism,” where it is set to maximize some benefit—say, driver safety over vehicle damage. But those approaches are problematic, too. A car operating in those frameworks may choose a collision path based on how much the vehicles around it are worth or how high their safety ratings are—which hardly seems fair. And should cars be programmed to save their own passengers at the expense of greater damage to those in other vehicles?

In a crash situation, human drivers are processing a staggering amount of information in fractions of a second. The computer is doing the same thing, but much faster, and its decisions are effectively already made—set months or years earlier when the vehicle was programmed. It just has to process; it doesn’t have to think.

The apparent middle ground is a kind of hybrid model in which the car does the driving and a human can intervene and override the autonomy in a sticky situation. Goodall points out, though, that drivers on autopilot may not be as vigilant as they should be—particularly coming generations who may learn to drive in sentient cars.

Goodall’s main point is that engineers better start thinking about this stuff, because crashes will be unavoidable even with perfectly functioning robot chauffeurs. In addition to fine-tuning radar systems and steering, the self-driving wizards at such places as Google (GOOG <> ) should be working on “ethical crashing algorithms” and artificial intelligence software in which self-driving cars learn from human feedback.

He also recommends that engineers and lawyers put their heads together to come up with some kind of standard. The current policies <,d.cWc> from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration don’t drift into ethics at all.

As for automakers, it’s easy to envision Goodall’s ideas informing a whole new set of programmable driving modes: “D+” for protecting the driver at all costs, “P” for saving pregnant passengers, and “S” for selfless decision-making.

Science fiction authors have been wrestling with this problem for many decades; one of my first science fiction memories was this Kelly Freas cover:



"If this Administration wants to prove to Congress and the international community that they are serious about this process they must immediately bring an end to Net Neutrality. Telling Congress and the international community that they are serious about relinquishing control over the IANA [Internet Assigned Numbers Authority] contract <> , while simultaneously having the FCC working to promote Net Neutrality is disingenuous at best and will continue to weaken our international position."

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)

I fear American control over the Internet, but I fear more its control by a UN bureaucracy.

“The biggest issue we have in government is the one thing no one talks about,” McCrory said. “It’s how to get the work done in the most efficient, effective and quality way. I’m CEO in addition to being chairman of the board as governor and my biggest issue is being hamstrung by policies and politics which don’t allow me to operate in the most efficient and productive way and that includes paying the people who are really good.”

He shared the story of trying to find an economic forecaster.

“I can’t find the talent right now. My health and human services secretary says ‘Please get me some talent. Please get me some forecasters. Please get me some technical people.’ [Information systems] people are very, very difficult to find. If I get a good [information systems] person, they’re stolen within a year by the private sector.”

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R)

His concern apparently is over the pay scale of government workers, although I have not heard that there is any shortage of “qualified” i.e. credentialed applicants for government jobs. The biggest problem is that we have an education system indistinguishable from one imposed by a foreign power after winning a war with the US.


By law, stock exchanges must deliver price data to the public at the same time that it goes to brokers, lest the brokers be able to play the old bucket shop scams described in the 1940 book The Big Con (source of The sting and a dozen other con man movies). In practice, stock exchanges sell high speed access to the public data, as well as high speed access to the bidding floor; meanwhile the data travels by oxcart – well, by slow speed data connections – out to the networks and other sources of ticker tape crawl. I can recall when growing up in the radio business that we had an actual ticker tape in the station office (along with a new printer for UP and AP news feeds). Many brokerage offices did not get the ticker tape feed – they were not all that cheap – and it was easy to imagine scams making use of having a few minutes head start on the stock price information. Needless to say I never did anything with that, but today’s High Speed Traders do: when they see an order for a block of stock large enough to drive the price up a bit, they can take advantage of that to buy it first, then sell it do the incoming order. Of course they can’t do that themselves: it must be done on a very high speed computer with superfast Internet connections, and the whole thing is done by algorithms. I’ve thought of a neat scam using hacks to get into a super high speed trader’s account, but I doubt I’ll write a story about it. I can’t imagine any moral qualms about taking Goldman Sacksyou for a few tens of millions of dollars…



Conceding the Space Station?




Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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