Category Archives: Computers

New Microsoft Twitter Bot Backfires

Microsoft attempted to release a new interactive Twitter bot that would try to have conversations with people. To no one’s surprise, Twitter users quickly figured out how to get it to say lots of horrible things. You would think that they would have expected this and would have tried harder to find some way to keep it from saying anything too offensive.


Man Defeats Go Computer in Fourth Match

The human Go master has finally defeated the Go-playing supercomputer in the fourth out of a planned six matches. The computer is up 3-1 so it is still very likely end up with more wins. However, this at least shows that the Go computer cannot just defeat anyone at any time. There is still room for improvement.

Is Teaching Coding Actually Helping Kids?

The Atlantic has an article from about a week ago questioning if the growing effort to teach children, particularly those in underperforming school districts, coding skills will actually help them in the end. The author and many of the people she interviews are worried that there is a danger that many of these programs will only teach a very limited set of skills that will leave the students locked out of all but the easiest and lowest-paying jobs.

The biggest concern here is that many people seem to think of coding as job training for careers in “tech” when that’s not really true. If “tech” just means web and mobile application development (and I think that is what it means to a lot of people), then maybe that’s not so far off, but knowing how to code will only get you so far in a job. Several of the people quoted stress that educators need to instead treat coding as being equivalent to the “three ‘R’s” of reading, writing, and arithmetic. I think that comparison is an exaggeration, but the general point isn’t wrong. Coding is a tool (one of many) that can be used to solve various problems or achieve various goals. Coding, however, does not necessarily teach you how to design and implement a large project. It doesn’t teach you much of anything about anything involving hardware, or about the mathematics needed to solve complicated equations in a science or engineering problem. If you know how to code but don’t know any of the underlying principles of the program you’re trying to write, you’ll always be stuck following someone else’s directions and implementing someone else’s solutions. That kind of work doesn’t necessarily pay well and won’t necessarily lead to a long-lasting, fulfilling career. Basically, tech isn’t coding and neither is computer science. Coding is an important skill for many (but not all) jobs in tech and computer science.

The author mentions Java and Javascript several times as if these aren’t appropriate languages to learn, but I don’t see any problem with that. You can’t teach every language, but something like Java is close enough to other languages like C that the transition is pretty easy. If students were learning Haskell or lisp then I could see that criticism being more valid.

The article brings up the important point that students who want careers in fields involving computers should learn coding in order to have an easier time succeeding later in their education not in order to get a job right out of high school. With coding they’ll be able to spend more time thinking about the actual problems they’re given and less about how to write the code to get a solution. There are actually many different ways that programming can be incorporated into the curriculum outside just a programming class. Simple math programs could be used to help students better understand things like calculus (one-dimensional limits and Riemann sums can be very easy to implement and might lead to greater understanding), intro physics (numerical solutions of differential equations can be written well before students are ready to actually solve the equations by hand, letting students see how equations of motion lead to the solutions in the textbook). Of course, doing this requires that students all have regular access to computers, which is a serious problems in the underprivileged schools that the article is focusing on.

Google Renames Itself

Google has announced that it is restructuring and renaming itself. What used to known as Google (the company) will now be Alphabet. Alphabet will just be an umbrella for all the various pieces of what is currently Google. The Google name isn’t going anywhere though. It sounds like a lot of the core pieces of the company such as the Google search engine will retain their original names.

St. Louis Cardinals Under Federal Investigation

This week in bizarre news stories, the FBI is investigating the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team for hacking into the Houston Astros’ computer systems. Apparently this was to obtain confidential data on players. What’s not so clear is why the Cardinals would even bother. The Astros just switched over to the American league and while they’re doing well this year, their performance has mostly ranged from decent to terrible since 2000. The Cardinals have been one of the best teams during that period, so it’s not clear why they would even bother spying.

Comcast-Time Warner Merger Fails

Fortunately for consumers, the proposed merger of media conglomerates Comcast and Time Warner has been canceled. It seems that the FCC wasn’t going to approve the merger due to antitrust concerns. Given that both companies have terrible records for things like consumer protection, this is a win for basically everyone. The merger would have given the new company a virtual monopoly over large swathes of the US, which means that consumers could have expected higher prices for less service.