Start Up No.1931: ChatGPT challenges university tutors, Sunak rolls over on Online Safety, hackers beat Le Mans, and more


A new cryptocurrency is aiming for a global rollout using your iris for ID. Would you trust it? CC-licensed photo by A Silly Person on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Beware the fungus. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Alarmed by AI chatbots, universities start revamping how they teach • The New York Times

Kalley Huang:

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While grading essays for his world religions course last month, Antony Aumann, a professor of philosophy at Northern Michigan University, read what he said was easily “the best paper in the class.” It explored the morality of burqa bans with clean paragraphs, fitting examples and rigorous arguments.

A red flag instantly went up.

Mr. Aumann confronted his student over whether he had written the essay himself. The student confessed to using ChatGPT, a chatbot that delivers information, explains concepts and generates ideas in simple sentences — and, in this case, had written the paper.

Alarmed by his discovery, Mr. Aumann decided to transform essay writing for his courses this semester. He plans to require students to write first drafts in the classroom, using browsers that monitor and restrict computer activity. In later drafts, students have to explain each revision. Mr. Aumann, who may forgo essays in subsequent semesters, also plans to weave ChatGPT into lessons by asking students to evaluate the chatbot’s responses.

“What’s happening in class is no longer going to be, ‘Here are some questions — let’s talk about it between us human beings,’” he said, but instead “it’s like, ‘What also does this alien robot think?’”

Across the country, university professors like Mr. Aumann, department chairs and administrators are starting to overhaul classrooms in response to ChatGPT, prompting a potentially huge shift in teaching and learning. Some professors are redesigning their courses entirely, making changes that include more oral exams, group work and handwritten assessments in lieu of typed ones.

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Wouldn’t it be ironic if this great advance (at least, that’s how it looks presently) forces our teaching systems to revert to methods that would have been familiar to the ancient Greeks. Is it the AI system or the teaching that’s the problem, in that case?
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Rishi Sunak forced to back down over Online Safety Bill after Tory rebellion • Daily Telegraph

Charles Hymas:

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Social media bosses who repeatedly fail to protect children from online harms will face jail after the Government backed down in face of a major Tory backbench rebellion.

Michelle Donelan, the Culture Secretary, has accepted changes to the Online Safety Bill that will make senior managers at tech firms criminally liable for persistent breaches of their duty of care to children.

Ministers are expected to unveil the details of the plan in the Commons on Tuesday after a rebellion by nearly 50 Tory MPs demanding tougher action on tech bosses.

It is the third time Rishi Sunak has caved in following similar revolts over planning and onshore wind farms where he also faced the prospect of being defeated in a Commons vote.

The rebels – including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, former home secretary Priti Patel and former business secretary Andrea Leadsom – tabled an amendment proposing jail sentences of up to two years for tech bosses failing to protect children from harms such as child abuse, suicide and self harm content.

…The Government’s proposed amendment aims to avoid criminalising those executives who have “acted in good faith to comply in a proportionate way” with their legal duties to protect children but happen to breach them.

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Totally predictable, though the rebels are dreaming if they think this will make a difference. Probably easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than persuade the Crown Prosecution Service to follow through on any case like this.
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‘You can’t be the player’s friend’: inside the secret world of tennis umpires • The Guardian

William Ralston:

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Since 1980, when Cyclops was introduced, technology has been a crucial part of the professional game. An electronic line-calling system that projected infrared beams across the court, Cyclops would beep when a serve was out. But the system wasn’t always reliable, and human error remained a problem. In 2004, in an instantly notorious US Open quarter-final between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati, four incorrect calls were made against Williams. The match sparked intense debate about the need for technology that could objectively scrutinise all the lines. In 2006 Hawk-Eye was introduced, and it has been in use ever since, except on clay courts, where old-school ball mark inspections still apply.

Using a network of six or more high-speed video cameras positioned around the court, the system generates an image of the ball’s path and the spot where it lands. To keep matches fast-flowing, human line judges usually continue to call when a ball is out. However, up to three times per set (plus one more if it goes to a tie-break), players can request a review if they don’t agree with the human call. In 2020, more tournaments began using Hawk-Eye Live, a newer version of the technology that makes automated line calls in real time. Not only does it remove the need for players to make a challenge, it has removed the need for line judges altogether. With Hawk-Eye Live, the only official on court is the chair umpire. However, the technology is expensive, and at present it is only used at the top-tier events, and only on hard courts.

Where does this leave the umpire? Earlier this year, in one of his scathing post-match appraisals of Bernardes in Miami, Kyrgios expressed a view that is gaining ground: “By the way, it’s all electronically done now. So you’re actually doing nothing apart from calling the score, which any tennis fan could do. Sit in the chair and just say ‘15-love’, ‘Game Kyrgios’, ‘Game Sinner’. That’s all he has to do.”

But that, it turns out, isn’t quite right.

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This is from back in July last year, but it remains true – and the Australian Open, one of the four biggest tournaments of the year, is just getting underway, putting the umpires to just as much of a test as the players.
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Hackers disrupt 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual esports event • Bitdefender

Graham Cluley:

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A security breach may have cost current Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen an esports championship victory yesterday, and he’s not happy.

Verstappen was competing in the “24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual” competition, the biggest esports event in endurance racing, which sees real-world FIA drivers compete alongside leading esports players for a total prize fund of US $250,000.

The five-round championship, which culminates in a live 24-hour finale, is ending on a sour note after server problems saw Verstappen – who was leading the race by over a minute – thrown out of the game and disconnected.

When he was eventually able to return to the track, Verstappen had fallen back to 17th position.

Over the following hour, Verstappen attempted to regain his lead – but only managed to fight back to 14th position, two laps behind the leaders.

Verstappen said he would have more chance to win if he went to a Las Vegas casino.

Several other drivers reportedly experienced similar problems while competing in the race. Earlier in the race, the Le Mans Virtual organisers had confirmed that it had suffered a “suspected security breach”.

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Obvious suspicion: targeted attack related to “sports” betting. Unless you can bring esports competitors together in one venue, that’s always going to be the suspicion, and the weakness.
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Apple has begun scanning your local image files without consent • Jeffrey Paul

Paul is a hacker and security researcher living in Berlin:

»

I don’t use iCloud. I don’t use an Apple ID. I don’t use the Mac App Store. I don’t store photos in the macOS “Photos” application, even locally. I never opted in to Apple network services of any kind – I use macOS software on Apple hardware.

Today, I was browsing some local images in a subfolder of my Documents folder, some HEIC files taken with an iPhone and copied to the Mac using the Image Capture program (used for dumping photos from an iOS device attached with an USB cable).

I use a program called Little Snitch which alerts me to network traffic attempted by the programs I use. I have all network access denied for a lot of Apple OS-level apps because I’m not interested in transmitting any of my data whatsoever to Apple over the network – mostly because Apple turns over customer data on over 30,000 customers per year to US federal police without any search warrant per Apple’s own self-published transparency report. I’m good without any of that nonsense, thank you.

Imagine my surprise when browsing these images in the Finder, Little Snitch told me that macOS is now connecting to Apple APIs via a program named mediaanalysisd (Media Analysis Daemon – a background process for analyzing media files).

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He then jumps to the conclusion that this is Apple searching for CSAM. Odd that a security researcher can’t go a quick search and find that mediaanalysisd has been in Macs since at least 2017, probably earlier, and does face analysis. Blogposts like this are how misinformation spreads.
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Is Worldcoin a cryptocurrency for the masses – or your digital ID? • IEEE Spectrum

Edd Gent:

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In a college classroom in the Indian city of Bangalore last August, Moiz Ahmed held up a volleyball-size chrome globe with a glass-covered opening at its center. Ahmed explained to the students that if they had their irises scanned with the device, known as the Orb, they would be rewarded with 25 Worldcoins, a soon-to-be released cryptocurrency. The scan, he said, was to make sure they hadn’t signed up before. That’s because Worldcoin, the company behind the project, wants to create the most widely and evenly distributed cryptocurrency ever by giving every person on the planet the same small allocation of coins.

Some listeners were enthusiastic, considering the meteoric rise in value that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin since they launched. “I found it to be a very unique opportunity,” said Diksha Rustagi. “You can probably earn a lot from Worldcoin in the future.” Others were more cautious, including a woman who goes by Chaitra R, who hung at the back of the classroom as her fellow students signed up. “I have a lot of doubts,” she said. “We would like to know how it’s going to help us.”

Those doubts may be warranted. The 5-minute pitch from Ahmed, a contractor hired to recruit users, focused on Worldcoin’s potential as a digital currency, but the project’s goals have morphed considerably since its inception. Over the past year, the company has developed a system for third parties to leverage its massive registry of “unique humans” for a host of identity-focused applications.

Worldcoin CEO Alex Blania says the company’s technology could solve one of the Web’s thorniest problems—how to prevent fake identities from distorting online activity, without compromising people’s privacy. Potential applications include tackling fake profiles on social media, distributing a global universal basic income (UBI), and empowering new forms of digital democracy.

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You might recall that we first heard about Worldcoin back in October 2021, when it was still at much the same stage. The ambition is global, but the problem is that the database becomes the most gigantic hacking target imaginable.
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The physics principle that inspired modern AI art • Quanta Magazine

Anil Ananthaswamy:

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Around the time GANs were invented, Sohl-Dickstein was a postdoc at Stanford University working on generative models, with a side interest in nonequilibrium thermodynamics. This branch of physics studies systems not in thermal equilibrium — those that exchange matter and energy internally and with their environment.

An illustrative example is a drop of blue ink diffusing through a container of water. At first, it forms a dark blob in one spot. At this point, if you want to calculate the probability of finding a molecule of ink in some small volume of the container, you need a probability distribution that cleanly models the initial state, before the ink begins spreading. But this distribution is complex and thus hard to sample from.

Eventually, however, the ink diffuses throughout the water, making it pale blue. This leads to a much simpler, more uniform probability distribution of molecules that can be described with a straightforward mathematical expression. Nonequilibrium thermodynamics describes the probability distribution at each step in the diffusion process. Crucially, each step is reversible — with small enough steps, you can go from a simple distribution back to a complex one.

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Not gonna lie: like many Quanta articles, this is mindbendingly complicated. But if you stick with it, you might be able to extract something useful. Or at least feel like you have.
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AI-created comic could be deemed ineligible for copyright protection • CBR

Brian Cronin:

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The United States Copyright Office (USCO) has initiated a proceeding to reverse an earlier decision to grant a copyright to a comic book that was created using “A.I. art,” and announced that while the copyright will still be in effect until the proceeding is completed (and the filer for the copyright has a chance to respond to the proceeding), copyrighted works must be created by humans to gain official copyright protection.

In September, Kris Kashtanova announced that they had received a U.S. copyright on his comic book, Zarya of the Dawn, a comic book inspired by their late grandmother that she created with the text-to-image engine Midjourney. Kashtanova referred to herself as a “prompt engineer” and explained at the time that she went to get the copyright so that she could “make a case that we do own copyright when we make something using AI.”

…in a post on her Facebook page. Kashtanova revealed that the USCO had contacted her to tell her that it had initiated a proceeding to revoke the protection, explaining that it had errantly missed that Midjourney had created the art for the comic (despite Midjourney being listed on the credits of the cover of the comic). The USCO has given Kashtanova 30 days to appeal its decision. During the appeal process, the copyright is still active.

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This was reported in late December, so we might find out some more soon. But this makes sense to me – except that a human must have input in choosing what goes into the comic. A human directs the story (unless ChatGPT writes it..) and edits it. Is that not part of the creativity?
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The Shit Show • furbo.org

Craig Hockenberry, one of the developers of Twitterific, who is frankly furious about third-party apps being blocked, reflects on what Mastodon is doing:

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One thing I’ve noticed is that everyone is going to great lengths to make something that replaces the clients we’ve known for years. That’s an excellent goal that eases a transition in the short-term, but ignores how a new open standard (ActivityPub) can be leveraged in new and different ways.

Federation exposes a lot of different data sources that you’d want to follow. Not all of these sources will be Mastodon instances: you may want to stay up-to-date with someone’s Micro.blog, or maybe another person’s Tumblr, or someone else’s photo feed. There are many apps and servers for you to choose from.

It feels like the time is right for a truly universal timeline. That notion excites me like the first time I posted XML status to an endpoint.

One thing I remember from these early days: no one had any idea what they were doing. It was all new and things like @screen_name,  #hashtags, or RT hadn’t been invented yet. Heck, we didn’t even call them “tweets” or use a bird icon at first! The best ideas came from people using the service: all of the things mentioned above grew organically from a need.

That’s where I want to be in the future. Exploring unknown territory that empowers others and adapts to the needs of a community.

There’s no sense in clinging to the personal whims of a clown leading a shit show. Especially when his circus will end up being a $44bn version of MySpace.

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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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