DataDownload: The beginning of a ransomware epidemic

DataDownload: The beginning of a ransomware epidemic A weekly summary of all things Media, Data, Emerging Tech View this email in your browser

What if the robots in your life turned angry? Well, in a crazy way that’s what this spate of ransomware attacks is teaching us. An oil pipeline, a meat processing company, a hospital — all held hostage. And no sign of slowing down. And it’s been going on so long because of — you guessed it — inaction. MIT Technology Review has it covered.

This week’s newsletter is full of complicated conundrums. You’ll want to read them with a glass of something soothing in your hand. Tea perhaps?

Wednesday — our big Machines + Media event is going to be amazing. We’re calling it “Facing The Future” — because, we are. Register for free here.

See you Wednesday.

Best,
Steve

Steven Rosenbaum
Steve@NYCMedialab.org
Executive Director
The NYC Media Lab Must-Read Why the Ransomware Crisis Suddenly Feels So Relentless

Two recent high-profile ransomware attacks — against American fuel distribution network Colonial Pipeline Co. and JBS, the world’s largest meat supplier — in rapid succession might make it feel like we’re suddenly in the midst of a ransomware epidemic. But the truth is, these attacks are nothing new. The ransomware boom began towards the end of the Obama presidency and exploded during Trump’s term. Targets over this time period included multiple American cities, the US military, and even hospitals.

After years of relative inaction, the Biden administration recently signed an executive order to strengthen US cybersecurity defenses. The stakes are getting higher, with ransomware gangs now paying “specialist hackers to go ‘big game hunting’ and seek out massive targets that can pay out huge ransoms.” Deterring and punishing ransomware hackers has proven extremely difficult — mainly because they enjoy a legal safe harbor in countries like Russia and mostly use unregulated cryptocurrency to receive their ill-gotten gains.

According to MIT Technology Review, “what must happen to change this is a global partnership between countries and companies to take ransomware head on. The free market has repeatedly failed to solve some of the world’s biggest cybersecurity problems. This may be because the ransomware crisis is a problem at a scale that no private sector can solve alone.”

MIT Technology Review / 4 min read Read More Spotify Wants to Make the Yearly Wrapped Experience More Than a Once a Year Thing

For Spotify users, sharing their annual Wrapped breakdown (of what they listened to most over the past year) has become a tradition. It’s also become music to investors’ ears. In December 2020, Spotify’s “stock price surged to an all-time high as its annual ‘Spotify Wrapped’ feature generated buzz online.”

According to The Verge, Spotify is now “trying to replicate that success and build buzz with another data visualization offering.” Recently announced subscriber-only “digital experience,” Only You, creates personalized “playlists and data insights based on their music listening habits, and a new feature called Blend will let two friends automatically merge their musical tastes into a playlist.”

The Verge / 2 min read

Read more Tech+Media How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Solve Journalism’s Problems

With all the hype surrounding AI’s increasing proficiency at Natural Language Generation — large language models like GPT-3 and LaMDA have received a tremendous amount of attention — it can be easy to lose sight of how AI-powered tools can help writers and journalists do their jobs more efficiently. According to Journalism.co.uk, “technology can cut out thousands of hours of menial work. For example, a computer can grip together similar types of files that would otherwise take lots of time to explore, allowing reporters to focus on the story.”

One AI-powered solution is LA-based non-profit data visualization and analysis platform Crosstown, which attempts “to address one of the biggest pain points of local news: sustainability.” Meanwhile the JournalismAI project at the London School of Economics offers resources and training for newsrooms and is one of several initiatives “keen to help journalists overcome the resistance to work with the machines.”

Journalism.co.uk / 4 min read Read More Think You Know the World’s Most Popular Websites? Think Again

Think of the internet as a planet. Which countries would you be able to see from space? And what if those countries were each part of different continents like news, ecommerce, social media, and pornography?

Designer Martin Vargic came up with this concept and published his first Map of the Internet in 2014. Now, Vargic has come up with an updated 2021 version. Inspired by the design of historical maps, at first glance, it looks to be torn from the pages of an ancient atlas. But it’s actually data visualization on an “ambitious and comprehensive scale.” Just take a closer look.

“I hope the map will give people a better overview of the internet as a whole and allow them to explore it from a brand-new angle, bringing more order and condensing the sheer complexity and chaos of the World Wide Web into a more manageable package,” Vargic says.

Fast Company / 3 min read Read More Behind the Painstaking Process of Creating Chinese Computer Fonts

In the late 1970s and early 80s, no personal computers were being built in China. So, an intrepid team of programmers and designers took on the task of creating “digital bitmaps of thousands of Chinese characters” to make a “Chinese” PC using a repurposed Apple II. “Without a font, there would be no way to display Chinese characters on screen, or to output them on the machine’s dot-matrix printer.”

“For each Chinese character, designers had to make 256 separate decisions, one for each potential pixel in the bitmap. Multiplied across thousands of characters, this amounted to literally hundreds of thousands of decisions in a development process that took more than two years to complete…. the painstaking work… was central to a complex global effort to solve a vexing engineering puzzle: how to equip a computer to handle Chinese, one of the most widely used languages on Earth.”

In this dive, find out how “problem-solving like this ultimately made computing, new media, and the internet accessible to one-sixth of the global population.”

MIT Technology Review / 9 min read

Read More What We’re Watching Why the World is Running Out of Computers

What do cars, rice cookers, and Xboxes have in common? Like every other product that uses digital technology, they depend on semiconductors to function — and there’s an increasing global shortage.

The semiconductor deficit has occasionally brought manufacturing and supply chains to a halt and necessitated significant design changes as a workaround in multiple industries. The automobile industry alone may suffer $60B in damage from the shortage. What caused the crisis, and when will it end? Watch the video to find out.

PolyMatter (YouTube) / 11 min watch

Watch Now What We’re Listening To Podcast: #112 Adam Grant: Rethinking Your Position

How many times have you heard, “don’t overthink it”? Adam Grant, professor of psychology at Wharton and author of The New York Times bestseller Think Again, might disagree. In this podcast from The Knowledge Project, Grant “provides compelling insight into why we should spend time not just thinking, but rethinking.”

Spotify / 65 min listen

Listen Now Virtual Events NYC Media Lab & Bloomberg Present “Machines + Media 2021: Facing the Future”
Date: June 9th

NYC Media Lab & Bloomberg present the 5th annual gathering of technologists, media professionals, and academic thought leaders for “Machines + Media 2021: Facing the Future.”

With Big Tech under fire and innovation moving rapidly, we’re convening expert panelists to discuss how we can both embrace and manage the impact of technology on our increasingly essential media ecosystem. Livestreamed panel discussions include:

  • The Future of Tech in NYC
  • AI & Local News
  • Surveillance, Tech, and Transparent & Fair AI Systems
  • Living With Disinformation

The thought-provoking virtual event will be held on June 9th from 10am-3pm EDT. Register for free today!

Paid Event: Future of News
Date: June 10
Organized by The Financial Times, Future of News explores how the news industry will stay in business, whether regulators should level the playing field between news outlets and tech platforms, and how to entice readers to pay for news. Register Here.

Free Event: Global Media Forum 2021: Disruption and Innovation
Date: June 14–15
This year, Deutsche Welle (DW)’s annual interdisciplinary conference focuses on how “politics, media, economy, and society can take advantage of the challenges and opportunities” of digital transformation. Register Here. A Deeper Look Microsoft, GPT-3, and the Future of OpenAI

Despite all the buzz around the OpenAI’s language model, “creating a profitable and sustainable business around GPT-3 remains a challenge.” Seeking to change that paradigm, Microsoft, at its recent Build conference, presented a GPT-3 based tool “that uses deep learning to generate source code for office applications.” According to an example on the Microsoft blog, “the new AI-powered features will allow an employee building an e-commerce app to describe a programming goal using conversational language like ‘find products where the name starts with kids.’”

Microsoft is using a “fine-tuned GPT-3 model” for their new product. Is that viable in commercial product development, where “you must solve a specific problem, solve it ten times better than the incumbents, and be able to run it at scale and in a cost-effective manner”? Microsoft’s corporate VP for Azure AI, Eric Boyd, acknowledges this challenge, saying, “this discovery of GPT-3’s vast capabilities exploded the boundaries of what’s possible in natural language learning. But there [are] still open questions about whether such a large and complex model could be deployed cost-effectively at scale to meet real-world business needs.”

Microsoft certainly seems to believe the answer is yes, doubling down by announcing a partnership with OpenAI on the $100M OpenAI Startup Fund to “help AI companies have a profound, positive impact on the world,” according to VentureBeat.

VentureBeat / 9 min read

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