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Why Attention is Not Explanation: Surgical Intervention and Causal Reasoning about Neural Models


Grimsley, Christopher, Elijah Mayfield, and Julia R.S. Bursten. “Why Attention is Not Explanation: Surgical Intervention and Causal Reasoning about Neural Models.” In Proceedings of The 12th Language Resources and Evaluation Conference, 1780–1790. Marseille, France: European Language Resources Association, 2020. https://www. aclweb.org/anthology/2020.lrec-1.220

Abstract: As the demand for explainable deep learning grows in the evaluation of language technologies, the value of a principled grounding for those explanations grows as well. Here we study the state-of-the-art in explanation for neural models for NLP tasks from the viewpoint of philosophy of science. We focus on recent evaluation work that finds brittleness in explanations obtained through attention mechanisms. We harness philosophical accounts of explanation to suggest broader conclusions from these studies. From this analysis, we assert the impossibility of causal explanations from attention layers over text data. We then introduce NLP researchers to contemporary philosophy of science theories that allow robust yet non-causal reasoning in explanation, giving computer scientists a vocabulary for future research.

Read the full paper here.

The Challenge of Explainable AI


One significant challenge for explainable AI is a philosophical ambiguity in the nature of explanation. All accounts of explanation so far developed by philosophers of science have concerned how human-generated conceptual architectures transmit understanding to other humans. In explainable AI, the parameters of the explanation problem shift: rather than transmitting understanding between humans, explainable AI seeks to transmit understanding between humans and algorithms, two groups with radically divergent conceptual structures. ML/DL algorithms do not rely upon human concepts in order to function. The new problem of explanation for AI requires additional translations between machine processes, which are built on formal language, and conceptual understanding, which is built on natural language. There is currently no general account of explanation which satisfies these translational requirements. Solving the philosophical problem of how to model explanation when an explainer is an AI is a necessary precondition for developing explainable AI.

Read the full paper here.

A Free Society Demands Free Software: Marcuse, Feenberg, and Computing in the 21st Century


In the opening pages of One Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse writes of “a comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom” that characterizes one dimensional society in advanced industrial civilization. I will argue that as society transitioned into the information age, the same structures of control and domination were exported to the internet, software, and other new information technologies. The critical theory of technology shares important goals with what is known as the Free Software Movement, which recognizes the interrelatedness of capitalism and software development, and worries that capitalist ideologies are inextricably linked to the user experience of software designed by for profit corporations. This proprietary software has a kind of economic unfreedom written into its code, but suffers from the same problems that Marcuse identified about the consumer goods of the 20th century. The user experiences the unfreedom of proprietary software as a form of convenience. The Free Software Movement recognizes this problem, and in response advocates for a boycott of proprietary software; it urges people to choose software released under a license that allows users to read and modify the software’s source code and share both the original and modified versions. Andrew Feenberg argues that technologies are not neutral, but that they can be transformed in such a way as to allow them to serve liberatory ends. I will argue that specific elements of proprietary software, namely the unavilability of its source code, permanently prevent this technology from being transformed, and as such it should be replaced by software that is unencumbered by the tendency toward domination. If we wish to build a free society, our only option is to use free software.

Read the full paper here.

Archlinux netctl profile for eduroam at the University of Kentucky


I had a difficult time connecting my Arch Linux laptop to eduroam on the campus of the University of Kentucky. I had been using wicd, and had no luck at all either using the gui or command line to connect to eduroam. After switching to netctl I still struggled to get it to work. There are several combinations of EAP mechanisms that are used at different institutions, so searching for a solution online yields results that may work for other institutions, but they do not work at the University of Kentucky. I found a package in the AUR called netctl-eduroam. This is a useful package to install if you are an Arch user, but once installed, it just creates /etc/netctl/examples/eduroam which still needs to be modified in order to work. In the profile created by netctl-eduroam, several EAP mechanisms are suggested. The correct combination for the University of Kentucky is PEAP and MSCHAPV2. I have included the correct profile below. To make it work on your system you need to modify "Interface", "identity", and "password". Your identity should be your full linkblue username @uky.edu. If you are unsure of the name of your wireless interface you can get it by running "ip addr".

  Interface=YourInterface # ex: wlp3s0
  Description="eduroam network"
      # EAP mechanisms
      # Common combinations are:
      #   PEAP + auth=MSCHAPV2
      #   TTLS + auth=MSCHAPV2
      #   TTLS + autheap=MSCHAPV2
      #   TTLS + auth=PAP
      # Server identity
      # Client identity
      'identity="LinkBlueUserName@uky.edu"' # ex: xyz123@uky.edu

Gnu/Linux and Ham Radio


On January 17, 2017 I gave a presentation to the Mountain Amateur Radio Club (M.A.R.C.) in Cumberland, Maryland. The presentation covered the history and basic use of the Gnu/Linux operating system with a focus on how Gnu/Linux can be useful to amateur radio operators. The presentation can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Rationalization as Domination: The Evolution of Marxian and Weberian views on the Rationalization of Society


The writings of Marx, Weber, Horkheimer, Adorno, Lukács, Marcuse, and Habermas focus very heavily on the issues of alienation, domination, and social stratification under capitalism. Though these thinkers wrote extensively about the same topics, they frequently disagreed about the causes and consequences of the social problems they explored. All were able to recognize the rise of a new type of domination that came in the form of the increasing calculability and control of rationalization, but due to various disagreements on other matters of social theory, especially between Marx and Weber, a consensus on the meaning of rationalization for the individual remained just out of reach. The key disagreements center on the nature of social stratification as defined by Marx and Weber respectively, as well as their respective approaches to social theory as being driven by either a macro-level view of society in the case of Marx, or an individual-centered view in the case of Weber. These two opposing perspectives on rationalization manifested themselves in parallel lines of thought for the majority of the 20th century. Though the perspectives remained largely separate, the work of Weber could occasionally be seen as an influence in the work of some of the Critical Theorists. Starting with Marcuse, and continuing through the work of Habermas, a synthesis between the Marxian and Weberian elements of rationalization could begin to be seen. The history of the concept of rationalization demonstrates the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to philosophy, especially within the domain of social theory.

Read the full paper here.

An Introduction to PSK31 and other HF Digital Modes


On August 2, 2016 I gave a presentation, along with Josh (KD8SLQ) to the Mountain Amateur Radio Club (M.A.R.C.) in Cumberland, Maryland. The presentation covered the basics of the common digital modes used on HF. The presentation can be downloaded as a pdf here.

The Infinite Commons: A Critical look at Locke’s Labor Theory of Property as a Justification for Intellectual Property Laws


Intellectual property law, commonly understood as an umbrella term encompassing patent, trademark and copyright law,1 can be - and frequently is - justified philosophically by appeals to Locke and Rawls, or more specifically by appeals to the labor theory of property, utilitarianism, or distributive justice. This essay will deal exclusively with justifications of intellectual property (IP) through the appeal to John Locke and his labor theory of property. I do not intend to demonstrate that IP is unjustifiable, but merely that attempts to equate property as understood by Locke with new conceptions of intangible forms of property is unfair to Locke, who did not envision property in such a way, and that such justifications ultimately fail due to the incompatibility of Locke's theory of physical property with contemporary conceptions of intellectual property.

Read the full paper here.

The Top Ten Reasons why Hackers Should get a Ham Radio License


The following was featured in the summer 2016 edition of 2600 Magazine.

Many hackers, technology focused hobbyists, GNU/Linux users, computer programmers, and others are already aware of some of the really neat things that can be done with radio, and probably take many of them for granted. Take wifi for example – the use of small radios that allow our computers and laptops to access a local network or the internet without having to plug in. My first real introduction to the world of radio came when I built a cantenna in order to extend the range of my wireless network, and to be able to connect to the free university wifi which was just out of range of the stock antenna on my wireless card. There are, of course, more ways to use radio than just wifi. Users of GNU/Linux and other FLOSS may be familiar with GNU Radio and other software defined radio (SDR) applications available in the free software world. With a $10 RTL-SDR dongle, it is possible to listen to the countless VHF and UHF radio transmissions that are flying through the air right now, virtually unnoticed by most. As a hacker, one of the things that draws me to the world of ham radio the most is the fact that it sort of reveals an otherwise hidden world. Wherever you are, there is almost certainly an invisible conversation happening right around you. It's invisible because it's happening through the use of radio waves, but it can be heard if you know how to listen, and you can even participate if you have a license. In the US. there are three classes of ham radio licenses: Technician, General, and Amateur Extra. Each class gets more privileges, but each requires a more challenging test (though none of them are really all that difficult). For the purposes of this article, I am going to address only the privileges for Technician class operators. The technician test is 35 questions (multiple choice) and the entire question pool is public. I studied for it for four days and passed with 100%. I do not have any formal education in math, physics, or electrical engineering. I used the free study materials provided by www.hamstudy.org. Though I meet and converse with many hackers, I am disappointed by how few of them are licensed hams. It is my intention, by writing this article, to help hackers to discover the potential of ham radio, and to go get licensed. What follows are the ten best reasons for hackers to start exploring the world of ham radio.

10) Repeaters
Some handheld ham radios can be found for very little money, and they work really well within a range of about 10 – 30 miles line of sight. The problem is that most of the time, the person using the radio isn't on top of a mountain, which is really the only place that will give you line of sight for the maximum range of the radio. Luckily we have repeaters. A repeater is a radio that is left in a good location, like the top of a mountain. It listens for specially coded radio signals, and when it hears them, it sends them out again from a much better location, giving the operator of a small handheld radio an enormous boost to their range. Using a repeater will allow someone who only has a small, low-power handheld radio to communicate with other hams that are, in some cases, hundreds of miles away. Most of the time repeaters have open access policies, and they are free to use. Some repeaters are linked together, so if you can hit one of them, the others will be able to hear you as well. Near my home there is a repeater system that covers most of an adjoining state. I can hit the closest repeater, and because it is linked with the other repeaters in the system, I can use it to talk to hams well over 200 miles away. I'll admit that this first point isn't necessarily directly applicable to hackers, but keep in mind as you read the remaining nine points that most of the things I'll discuss can be done with a $25 radio, sometimes aided by the use of a repeater.

9) EchoLink
With an amateur radio callsign, you can download and use the EchoLink app for tablets and smart phones. This app gives you access, over the internet, to hundreds of repeaters across the world. You can use them to talk to ham radio operators in other states or countries, even on other continents. The Hams you contact over EchoLink might not be using EchoLink themselves – I have talked to people on mobile radios in rural areas of states like Minnesota or Colorado as they drive to and from work listening to their local repeater. Many of the people I've talked to over EchoLink are surprised to hear someone from so far away. EchoLink could be especially useful if you have a friend in another city who is a Ham. You could talk to them for free over the radio even if they happen to be in an area with poor or no cell phone coverage. The hacker spirit is about making things work even when conditions conspire against you, and to make use of all available tools. While it's possible to use 100% ham radio equipment to make connections to other hams, we must recognize how powerful the internet can be, and EchoLink combines the power of ham radio with the power of the internet.

Slow Scan Television (SSTV) allows ham radio operators to send images over the radio. It converts pictures to sound, which can be transmitted and received, then converted back into images by the recipient. Most SSTV activity takes place on HF, which will require a license upgrade to use, but it can be done on VHF and UHF as well.

7) Emergency Preparedness
When the power grid fails, how will you communicate? Do you plan to try to use your cell phone? What if the power is out at the cell tower too? What if the cell network can't handle the large volume of calls that almost always happens during an emergency? How will you contact emergency services? How will you contact friends and loved ones in other states? With Ham radio, it is possible to communicate with emergency services and with other hams using only the equipment you have in your own home. The radios that hams use can be powered entirely with batteries, and they don't even draw that much power. There are ham radio groups that focus on emergency communications – groups like ARES and RACES – but when the shit really hits the fan, and you're the only one you can rely on, you can be sure that ham radio will get the job done when nothing else will. This sort of self-reliance is an essential part of what it means to be a hacker.

6) FSTV (and FPV Drones!)
If you thought SSTV sounded cool, wait until you realize that it's not just pictures that can be sent over the radio, but video too. For years amateur radio operators have used Amateur Television (ATV) also called Fast Scan Television (FSTV) to send video to one another. This practice goes back to the very early days of broadcast television, but with the technological developments we're seeing now, the practical applications of FSTV/ATV are really exciting. There is an emerging sub-hobby in drone flying: First Person View Drone racing. FPV drones send video back to the pilot, sometimes to goggles that the pilot wears. This allows very fast flying and tight maneuvering, which has allowed for the development of organized drone racing. The video that gets sent back to the pilot is FSTV or ATV, and it requires a license to use.

The Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) allows the automated transmission of data about an amateur radio station to those monitoring it. Used in conjunction with GPS, APRS can automatically report the position of a station. This could be used to send live location data from an all terrain vehicle to a map on the internet so that you can report your location as you drive through the woods. It could also be used to collect and transmit other types of data including altitude, temperature, speed, or pretty much anything else you can think to measure.

4) You can talk to the international space station.
The ISS has an amateur radio station on board, and when it passes over your location, you can use your ham radio to talk to the astronauts on board, but only if you have a license.

3) Digital Modes
Ham radio isn't just about talking. The transmission of data is very common among hams. There are dozens of digital modes, most notably PSK31 and JT-65, that allow hams to communicate with text. Digital modes require the use of a computer to convert text into sound, but they require very little power from the radio, and the signals can often be decoded even with a lot of noise, making digital modes ideal for long distance, low power communication. Using only technician class privileges on ten meters, my battery powered laptop, and an HF radio, I have communicated over PSK31 with other stations in South America and Europe on only 5 watts. That's less power than is used by the light bulb in my refrigerator.

2) Packet radio, AX25, and Mesh Networking
We're all familiar with TCP/IP, but what you may not be familiar with is the AX25 protocol. AX25 is a data link layer protocol, and support for it is already in the Linux kernel (and has been for a long time). Using AX25 and a ham radio, it is possible to have traditional computer networks without any wired connections. All the network connections could take place over the air. Using AX25 to facilitate the communication of a mobile station with a base station that has an internet connection, a ham radio operator in the middle of nowhere, possibly without anything but a laptop and a battery powered radio, could get on the internet. The possibilities of AX25 are really only limited by your imagination – which is something that should make hackers everywhere smile.

1) taking control of your own communications
Isn't this what being a hacker is all about? Ham radio, like hacking, is about using technology to do what you want, and making technology work the way that you want it to so that you can accomplish whatever goals you have. Technology is a fantastic tool, but all too often technology is used as a form of control rather than as a tool of liberation. Getting stuck in the prefabricated world of locked down operating systems and the restrictive ecosystems that often accompany them has been devastating for innovation. Increasingly, the same can be said of the way we use technology to communicate. As hackers, we must recognize the importance of breaking out of this restrictive way of thinking. While cell phones and the internet have been some of the most important technological developments in human history, they are increasingly being used to guide the thought process of those who use them. We should never turn our backs on these enormously powerful methods of communication, but we must recognize their limitations, and we must recognize that the relative ease of their use comes at a profound cost. Hackers must always strive to look under the hood, to discover how things work, and to make modifications and improvements as they see fit. Ham radio, in a world of constant connection, is exactly the opportunity that we seek. I encourage all of you to get licensed and get on the air.