Unsupervised Learning Newsletter No. 285

News & Analysis

STANDARD EDITION | Ep. 285 | Tuesday: June 14, 2021 


The FBI paid a developer to create a backdoored chat app that it promoted among many criminal elements worldwide. They then sat and listened to communications that the criminals thought were encrypted and used that knowledge to arrest hundreds, seize 32 tons of drugs, 250 firearms, 55 luxury cars, and $148 million dollars. You have to wonder when these types of criminals are going to start insisting on more secure apps like Signal. More

EA got hacked and significant data were stolen, including the source code for various games. A representative from the group that hacked them said they got in via Slack. More

CISA has announced its vulnerability disclosure policy platform in collaboration with BugCrowd. The system will simplify the running of bug bounty programs against their attack surfaces, and will centralize payment of the researchers. In addition, discovered vulnerability information will be shared between agencies. More

The massive supply chain attack against the airline industry is now being attributed to Chinese APT41. The attack targeted SITA, a company that served around 90% of the world's airlines. More

The US has revoked the previous order to ban TikTok, and has initiated a new review of applications that are tied to foreign adversaries. More

DARPA has a project that shoots streamers at drones instead of using explosives. The streamers get wrapped in the drones' propellers and other surfaces, causing them to crash. The idea is to use this method in populated regions to avoid human casualties. More


  • Microsoft patches 6 Zero-day vulnerabilities among 49 fixes on Patch Tuesday. More

  • Google patched a critical Android RCE among 90+ issues. More

  • Intel has patched 73 vulnerabilities in its June update. More


  • McDonald's has disclosed a data breach affecting both customers and employees. More

  • Volkswagen disclosed a data breach affecting 3.8 million Audi drivers. They say the breach was the result of one of its vendors hosting something insecurely online. More

  • Cyberpunk 2077's developer says it was hacked and that there is now data circulating online, but they're not sure exactly what. More


  • Immersive Labs is a company that teaches cybersecurity skills to corporate employees using threat intelligence and gamification. They just raised $75 million. More

  • Trulioo (say it out loud) has raised $394 million to verify peoples' identities. More


Google says it's using AI to create chip designs in 6 hours that would take their experts months. More

Twitter is about to add a subscribe button to peoples' profiles that have Revue accounts. This moves their competition with Substack to the next phase. More


  • SurveyMonkey has rebranded to Momentive and is focusing more on the enterprise. More

  • Flyhomes has raised $150 million to streamline homebuying. More

  • Eightfold is an AI startup that finds, recruits, and retains workers for companies. More


ProPublica has come upon a trove of information evidently showing how billionaires manage to pay little or no income tax. More

Far more young men are out of the labor force and living at home. More

US inflation is at a 13-year high as we recover from the pandemic, and prices just surged 5% in May compared to last year. More

Pension funds are buying up single-family houses in competition with families. More


Declining Religion in the West Creates a Vacuum for Extremism — I spent much of my 20's and 30's as an outspoken atheist, and while I still don't subscribe to a religion, I increasingly see the benefits of a shared culture that comes with a shared faith. I'm becoming worried that the west is in serious danger of being stamped out. Not from people, but from ideas. I worry that the west's most powerful asset of discarding old and bad ideas is now souring into having none at all. This creates a vacuum, especially among young males, and leaves them open to strong ideas from elsewhere, e.g., Mormonism, Communism, Islam, White Supremacy, etc. In short, I worry that the west has discarded so much of its shared culture (nationalism, Christianity) that it's now eager to listen to anyone with a strong opinion. People, especially young people, are drawn to certainty. A unified vision of how the world works and what's going to happen. Religions and cults provide that in a way that agnosticism, skepticism, and humanism do not. So by discarding our own versions of bad ideas, we've opened ourselves to other peoples' versions—all because the concepts of intellectualism and curiosity aren't yet enough to quench most humans. We need more. And unfortunately, there are many bad ideas—much like the ones we've spent the last decades shedding—that are more than willing to fill the void. I see this as more than a point of interest. I think young men lacking a shared culture with those around them constitute a national security threat. They are empty vessels waiting to be filled with extremist ideologies around race, religion, and immigration. If we in the west want to continue our western experiment, we're going to need something both substantive and positive to offer as an alternative to Communism, extremist Islam, or white nationalism. Something like the thing we removed. Something like a religion.

Reinforcement Learning as a Path to AGI? — DeepMind researchers say Reinforcement Learning is the core technology that's required for current (narrow) AI to become "real" (general) AI. As a non-expert in the field, this sounds right to me. I even wrote my prediction for the nature of consciousness, and how to build a conscious machine, here in 2017. In short, I think humans benefited greatly from the concept of reward and blame, which is dramatically helped by believing one is responsible for his actions. So I think there's a chance that if you game systems against each other for doing more complex tasks, like defending a village at night, you might accidentally end up with agents that have a sense of experience and responsibility. Not any time soon, but eventually. It's like Daniel Dennett said about consciousness. "Consciousness is a bag of tricks." Agreed, and I think RL can produce a lot of the weird designs that can end up at AGI and/or consciousness. More Paper


I am getting ready to go into major health-improvement-mode. As part of that I'm reading David Sinclair's book, Why We Age and Why We Don't Have To. Fascinating stuff. I especially love that when he's putting his own ideas forward he's reminding the reader of which studies are well-replicated and which aren't. And the stuff he's talking about closely maps to other stuff I've read and liked, such as How Not to Diet. More


Who is Going Back to Work? — A16z did a survey of companies to see who was going back to the office vs. staying remote or going hybrid. 10% are moving headquarters. 25% going "remote first". 2/3 going hybrid. More

Oylaw — Manage your OKRs in Slack. More

InfoSec Core Competencies More

Quotes Do Funny Things in Remote SSH Commands More

How to Turn off Amazon Sidewalk More

Ubisoft released a stunning trailer for its Avatar game coming in 2022. More

The Psychological Benefits of Commuting to Work More

DEFCON 29 Speaker List More

America Without God More

The Work-from-Home Future is Destroying Boss's Brains More


Why We Age and Why We Don't Have To — A book that provides a unified theory of aging. I don't know if the theory is correct, but everything about how this author lives and conducts his research resonates with me. The book will be useful even if the theory ends up being incorrect. Highly recommended. More


“Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.”

~ Aristotle