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Redpoint and Sequoia are backing a startup to copy edit your shit code

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Code is the lifeblood of the modern world, yet the tooling for some programming environments can be remarkably spartan. While developers have long had access to graphical programming environments (IDEs) and performance profilers and debuggers, advanced products to analyze and improve lines of code have been harder to find.

These days, the most typical tool in the kit is a linter, which scans through code pointing out flaws that might cause issues. For instance, there might be too many spaces on a line, or a particular line might have a well-known ambiguity that could cause bugs that are hard to diagnose and would best be avoided.

What if we could expand the power of linters to do a lot more though? What if programmers had an assistant that could analyze their code and actively point out new security issues, erroneous code, style problems, and bad logic?

Static code analysis is a whole interesting branch of computer science, and some of those ideas have trickled into the real-world with tools like semgrep, which was developed at Facebook to add more robust code-checking tools to its developer workflow. Semgrep is an open-source project, and it’s being commercialized through r2c, a startup that wants to bring the power of this tool to the developer masses.

The whole project has found enough traction among developers that Satish Dharmaraj at Redpoint and Jim Goetz at Sequoia teamed up to pour $13 million into the company for its Series A round, and also backed the company in an earlier, unannounced seed round.

The company was founded by three MIT grads — CEO Isaac Evans and Drew Dennison were roommates in college, and they joined up with head of product Luke O’Malley. Across their various experiences, they have worked at Palantir, the intelligence community, and Fortune 500 companies, and when Evans and Dennison were EIRs at Redpoint, they explored ideas based on what they had seen in their wide-ranging coding experiences.

r2c’s team, which I assume only writes bug-free code. Photo by r2c.

“Facebook, Apple, and Amazon are so far ahead when it comes to what they do at the code level to bake security [into their products compared to] other companies, it’s really not even funny,” Evans explained. The big tech companies have massively scaled their coding infrastructure to ensure uniform coding standards, but few others have access to the talent or technology to be on an equal playing field. Through r2c and semgrep, the founders want to close the gap.

With r2c’s technology, developers can scan their codebases on-demand or enforce a regular code check through their continuous integration platform. The company provides its own template rulesets (“rule packs”) to check for issues like security holes, complicated errors, and other potential bugs, and developers and companies can add their own custom rulesets to enforce their own standards. Currently, r2c supports eight programming languages including Javascript and Python and a variety of frameworks, and it is actively working on more compatibility.

One unique focus for r2c has been getting developers onboard with the model. The core technology remains open-sourced. Evans said that “if you actually want something that’s going to get broad developer adoption, it has to be predominantly open source so that developers can actually mess with it and hack on it and see whether or not it’s valuable without having to worry about some kind of super restrictive license.”

Beyond its model, the key has been getting developers to actually use the tool. No one likes bugs, and no developer wants to find more bugs that they have to fix. With semgrep and r2c though, developers can get much more immediate and comprehensive feedback — helping them fix tricky errors before they move on and forget the context of what they were engineering.

“I think one of the coolest things for us is that none of the existing tools in the space have ever been adopted by developers, but for us, it’s about 50/50 developer teams who are getting excited about it versus security teams getting excited about it,” Evans said. Developers hate finding more bugs, but they also hate writing them in the first place. Evans notes that the company’s key metric is the number of bugs found that are actually fixed by developers, indicating that they are offering “good, actionable results” through the product. One area that r2c has explored is actively patching obvious bugs, saving developers time.

Breaches, errors and downtime are a bedrock of software, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With more than a dozen employees and a hefty pool of capital, r2c hopes to improve the reliability of all the experiences we enjoy — and save developers time in the process.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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This is the most precise 3D map of the Milky Way ever made

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Data collected by the European Space Agency’s Gaia observatory has been used to create the most detailed 3D map of the galaxy ever made. The new data set could help scientists unravel many mysteries about the universe’s expansion and the solar system’s future.

What is Gaia? Launched in 2013, the Gaia observatory is intended to observe as many of the galaxy’s stars as possible. It is designed to measure stellar positions, distances, motions, and brightness with more precision than any instrument before, with the goal of cataloguing approximately 1 billion objects. It is designed to observe each object about 70 times or so in order to track their motions and velocities over time, accurate enough to measure the width of a hair from 2,000 kilometers away.

The new map: The latest data pinpoints the location and movements of just under 2 billion stars, with highly accurate measurements of about 300,000 stars within 326 light-years of the solar system. The new map shows us that our solar system’s orbit around the Milky Way is accelerating by seven millimeters every year, bringing it that much closer to the center of the Milky Way over time. 

What could we learn? The point of the mission isn’t simply to get a glimpse of the galaxy’s stars in motion. The data could help astronomers answer a number of different scientific questions, including how the Milky Way was formed over time, where the solar system and other star systems are headed, what the expansion of the universe looks like, and the distribution of regular and dark matter throughout the galaxy. Previous Gaia data sets have been used to ascertain the mass of the Milky Way and how many sun-like stars might be orbited by Earth-light planets.

What’s next: Gaia will be operational until about 2022, but it’s holding up better than expected and could see its mission extend to 2024 or beyond. The final data release should catalogue more than 2 billion objects in the galaxy.

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YouTube introduces new features to address toxic comments

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YouTube today announced it’s launching a new feature that will push commenters to reconsider their hateful and offensive remarks before posting. It will also begin testing a filter that allows creators to avoid having to read some of the hurtful comments on their channel that had been automatically held for review. The new features are meant to address long standing issues with the quality of comments on YouTube’s platform — a problem creators have complained about for years.

The company said it will also soon run a survey aimed at giving equal opportunity to creators, and whose data can help the company to better understand how some creators are more disproportionately impacted by online hate and harassment.

The new commenting feature, rolling out today, is a significant change for YouTube.

The feature appears when users are about to post something offensive in a video’s comments section and warns to “Keep comments respectful.” The message also tells users to check the site’s Community Guidelines if they’re not sure if a comment is appropriate.

The pop-up then nudges users to click the “Edit” button and revise their comment by making “Edit” the more prominent choice on the screen that appears.

The feature will not actually prevent a user from posting their comment, however. If they want to proceed, they can click the “Post Anyway” option instead.

Image Credits: YouTube

The idea to put up roadblocks to give users time to pause and reconsider their words and actions is something several social media platforms are now doing.

For instance, Instagram last year launched a feature that would flag offensive comments before they were posted. It later expanded that to include offensive captions. Without providing data, the company claimed that these “nudges” were helping to reduce online bullying. Meanwhile, Twitter this year began to push users to read the article linked in tweets they were about to share before tweeting their reaction, and it stopped users from being able to retweet with just one click.

These intentional pauses built into the social platforms are designed to stop people from reacting to content with heightened emotion and anger, and instead push users to be more thoughtful in what they say and do. User interface changes like this leverage basic human psychology to work, and may even prove effective in some percentage of cases. But platforms have been hesitant to roll out such tweaks as they can stifle user engagement.

In YouTube’s case, the company tells TechCrunch its systems will learn what’s considered offensive based on what content gets repeatedly flagged by users. Over time, the system should be able to improve as the technology gets better at detection and the system itself is further developed.

Users on Android in the English language will see the new prompts first, starting today, Google says. The rollout will complete over the next couple of days. The company did not offer a timeframe for the feature’s support for other platforms and languages or even a firm commitment that such support would arrive in the future.

In addition, YouTube said it will also now begin testing a feature for creators who use YouTube Studio to manage their channel.

Creators will be able to try out a new filter that will hide the offensive and hurtful comments that have automatically been held for review.

Today, YouTube Studio users can choose to auto-moderate potentially inappropriate comments, which they can then manually review and choose to approve, hide or report. While it’s helpful to have these held, it’s still often difficult for creators to have to deal with these comments at all, as online trolls can be unbelievably cruel. With the filter, creators can avoid these potentially offensive comments entirely.

YouTube says it will also streamline its moderation tools to make the review process easier going forward.

The changes follow a year during which YouTube has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to combat hate speech and misinformation on its platform. The video platform’s “strikes” system for rule violations means that videos may be individually removed but a channel itself can stay online unless it collects enough strikes to be taken down. In practice, that means a YouTube creator could be as violent as calling for government officials to be beheaded and and still continue to use YouTube. (By comparison, that same threat led to an account ban on Twitter.)

YouTube claims it has increased the number of daily hate speech comment removals by 46x since early 2019. And in the last quarter, of the more than 1.8 million channels it terminated for violating our policies, more than 54,000 terminations were for hate speech. That indicates a growing problem with online discourse that likely influenced these new measures. Some would argue the platforms have a responsibility to do even more, but it’s a difficult balance.

In a separate move, YouTube said it’s soon introducing a new survey that will ask creators to voluntarily share with YouTube information about their gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity. Using the data collected, YouTube claims it will be able to better examine how content from different communities is treated in search, discovery and monetization systems.

It will also look for possible patterns of hate, harassment, and discrimination that could affect some communities more than others, the company explains. And the survey will give creators to optionally participate in other initiatives that YouTube hosts, like #YouTubeBlack creator gatherings or FanFest, for instance.

This survey will begin in 2021 and was designed in consultation with input from creators and civil and human rights experts. YouTube says the collected data will not be used for advertising purposes, and creators will have the ability to opt-out and delete their information entirely at any time.

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Google’s co-lead of Ethical AI team says she was fired for sending an email

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Timnit Gebru, a leading researcher and voice in the field of ethics and artificial intelligence, says Google fired her for an email she sent to her direct reports.  According to Gebru, Google fired her because of an email she sent to subordinates that the company said reflected “behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.”

Gebru, the co-leader of Google Ethical Artificial Intelligence team, took to Twitter last night, shortly after the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Google alleging surveillance of employees and unlawful firing of employees.

Gebru says no one explicitly told her she was fired, but that she received an email from one of her boss’s reports, saying:

“Thanks for making your conditions clear. We cannot agree to #1 and #2 as you are requesting. We respect your decision to leave Google as a result, and we are accepting your resignation.”

That email, according to Gebru, went on to say that “certain aspects of the email you sent last night to non-management employees in the brain group reflect behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.”

It’s not clear what exactly was contained in the email. We’ve reached out to both Gebru and Google for comment.

As Bloomberg reported, Gebru has been outspoken about the lack of diversity in tech as well as the injustices Black people in tech face. According to Bloomberg, Gebru believes Google let her go to signal to other workers that it’s not ok to speak up.

Gebru is a leading voice in the field of ethics and artificial intelligence. In 2018, Gebru collaborated with Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, to study biases in facial recognition systems. They found high disparities in error rates between lighter males and darker females, which led to the conclusion that those systems didn’t work well for people with darker skin.

Since Gebru’s announcement, she’s received an outpouring of support from those in the tech community.

Developing…

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