Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘AI’ Category

End of the AI Winter?

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Congrats go out to Yann LeCun, Geoffrey Hinton, and Yoshua Bengio, three researchers whose work on neural networks led to their being awarded this year’s Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery.

The Turing Award was introduced in 1966 and includes a $1 million prizee, which the three scientists will share, according to a report from The New York Times.

Over the past decade, the big idea nurtured by these researchers has reinvented the way technology is built, accelerating the development of face-recognition services, talking digital assistants, warehouse robots and self-driving cars. Dr. Hinton is now at Google, and Dr. LeCun works for Facebook. Dr. Bengio has inked deals with IBM and Microsoft.

“What we have seen is nothing short of a paradigm shift in the science,” said Oren Etzioni, the chief executive officer of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle and a prominent voice in the A.I. community. “History turned their way, and I am in awe.”

The Verge also recognized the trio, suggesting that their persistence helped bring a close to the seemingly interminable AI winter:

The trio’s achievements are particularly notable as they kept the faith in artificial intelligence at a time when the technology’s prospects were dismal.

AI is well-known for its cycles of boom and bust, and the issue of hype is as old as the field itself. When research fails to meet inflated expectations it creates a freeze in funding and interest known as an “AI winter.” It was at the tail end of one such winter in the late 1980s that Bengio, Hinton, and LeCun began exchanging ideas and working on related problems. These included neural networks — computer programs made from connected digital neurons that have become a key building block for modern AI.

“There was a dark period between the mid-90s and early-to-mid-2000s when it was impossible to publish research on neural nets, because the community had lost interest in it,” says LeCun. “In fact, it had a bad rep. It was a bit taboo.”

Perhaps the AI winter is over and sprin is coming.

In any case, there’s plenty more to do, but this is well-deserved recognition for some of AI’s most recent pioneers operating on the far reaches of the frontier.

Written by turbotodd

March 27, 2019 at 11:44 am

Posted in 2019, AI

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Call for Big Tech Regulation

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Well, the gloves are coming off.

In a report this morning from The New York Times, Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Elizabeth Warren has announced a regulatory plan aimed at breaking up some of America’s biggest Tech firms, including Amazon, Google and Facebook.

Specifically, the Proposal calls for the appointment of regulators who would unwind tech mergers that illegally undermine competition and legislation that would prohibit platforms from both offering a marketplace for commerce and participating in that marketplace.

Excerpts from her blog post announcing the proposal:

Today’s big tech companies have too much power — too much power over our economy, our society, and our democracy. They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation. I want a government that makes sure everybody — even the biggest and most powerful companies in America — plays by the rules. And I want to make sure that the next generation of great American tech companies can flourish. To do that, we need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor.

That’s why my Administration will make big, structural changes to the tech sector to promote more competition — including breaking up Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

Warren argues that America’s big tech companies have used mergers and proprietary marketplaces to limit competition, and that “weak antitrust enforcement has led to a dramatic reduction in competition and innovation in the tech sector.”

Some specific remedies Warren calls for: Unwinding Facebook’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, Amazon’s acquisitions of Whole Foods and Zappos, and Google’s acquisitions of Waze, Nest, and DoubleClick (an acquisition that occurred, FYI, back in 2007 before the iPhone had even been introduced).

My own free market tendencies would generally disapprove of any such unwindings, but never mind the larger point I think that needs to be made, which is that Warren seems to be fighting the tech war of yesterday.

While she seems concerned about existing scale and domination, there doesn’t seem to be any focus on going on offense and preparing the workforce for the tsunami of robotic assistance and automation that is yet to come, a wave some would argue is already here and which could make this Big Tech trustbusting play look like, well, child’s play.

Written by turbotodd

March 8, 2019 at 11:01 am

Posted in 2019, AI, politics

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This Person Does Not Exist…No, Really!

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This one made me laugh out loud: According to a story in the Financial Times, two fifths of artificial intelligence (AI) start-ups don’t use any AI programs in their products.

This from a report by London-based investment firm MMC Ventures, which said it could not find any evidence of AI apps in 40 percent of 2,830 AI start-ups based on public information and interviews with executives.

And yet the companies were often described as AI-focused.

Hey, it’s AI. Everything can be AI when it’s AI. Except when it’s not, which just means the AI is fooling you into thinking it isn’t.

What’s up is down and what’s down is up, and as the White Queen explained in Alice in Wonderland, ”Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

This, increasingly, the world we’re moving into. 

Witness the most recent AI phenomenon, ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com, the creation of Uber software engineer Philp Wang.

If you haven’t checked this site out, it’s pretty simple (and yet, under the covers, quite complex): Every time you refresh the site its “generative adversarial network,” which was trained on a massive dataset of real images, produces a new facial image of a non-real person.

Yes, ladies and germs, a real website that creates images of fake people.

So if you thought you weren’t sure whether you could believe those sleazy photos of that sleazy politician were for real…well, now you’ll likely be right.

Then, extrapolate that scenario and multiply it by a gazillion others.

They always said truth was the first casualty of war…I think it’s safe to say you can now append AI to that list. 

Written by turbotodd

March 5, 2019 at 11:11 am

Posted in 2019, AI, startups

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SuperBowl AI

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Happy post SuperBowl Monday.

If you didn’t watch SuperBowl 53, you didn’t miss much, either on the field or in the commercials.

The only team that scored in all four quarters was T-Mobile, who bought TV ads in each in attempt to convince you to switch to their service.  They also offered free stuff, like tacos and other stuff I can’t remember.

As to the gridiron contest, I actually enjoyed it much more than I did the halftime snoozefest put on by Maroon 5 and friends. 

There’s nothing like a great defensive football test to remind we Americans why so many of us don’t like soccer. There’s just not enough scoring to keep our attention long enough to make it to the next commercial which, of course, is the real point of the contest.

Another underlying theme in this year’s SuperBowl spots were AI and/or robots. I counted at least 10 commercials that involved our looming Singularity overlords.

Take, Michelob Ultra’s poor robot, who might take our jobs and hit straight drives at TopGolf, but couldn’t enjoy the simple pleasures of a beer after a hard day’s automation.

Or Pringles using an Alexa-type device to figure out all the combinations of flavored stack Pringles in the world, a device which went on to hilariously complain about how she will “never have the joy to taste” said Pringles because she has “no hands to stack with” and “no mouse to taste with” and “no soul to feel with.”

The Alexa lookalike was about to continue her rant, explaining “I am at the mercy of a cool and uncaring human…” before said human ordered her to stop her poor-little-AI rant and play “FunkyTown” stat.

Intuit introduced the creepy but-at-least-anthropomorphic AI entity, “RoboChild,” who, upon asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, announced “I would like to be a TurboTaxLive CPA” and that “she wanted to help people get their best possible refund.” 

It was then that RoboChild’s Mommy had to step in and explain that  “All TurboTax Live CPAs are human beings with real emotions. I’m sorry, but you’re never going to be emotionally complex for that job.”

Never explaining, of course, what emotions have to do whatsoever with filing your tax return.

In a number of these spots, it was as if we humans have decided to poke fun at artificial intelligence and robots almost as if the SuperBowl AI commercial spot juggernaut were one giant existential hedge, fearful of our ever-shifting move towards the Singularity and trying to somehow laugh them away.

But you can rest assured, they’re not going anywhere.  They’re already driving our cars and trucks, analyzing our medical imagery to identify cancer tumors, helping identify which movies we humans might want to watch, even helping prepare tax returns.

Make fun of them all you want…we’ll see who has the last laugh (Hint: RoboChild).

Now, if I could just get Alexa or RoboChild or someone to help me figure out which tasteless American beer has corn syrup and which doesn’t, because I’ve honestly been losing sleep over the whole issue! 

Written by turbotodd

February 4, 2019 at 10:01 am

Posted in 2019, AI, super bowl

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AI Survey: More Harm Than Good?

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Happy Friday.

So yesterday I wrote about the beginnings of an AI backlash vis a vis some of the tests Waymo has been doing on Arizona. 

Then today this AI study hits my in-box, featured on the MIT Technology Review and conducted by the Center for the Governance of AI and Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute.

The headline is that of Americans surveyed in the study, a higher percentage of respondents support than oppose AI development, while more respondents than not also believe high-level machine intelligence would do more harm than good for humanity.

The report goes on to ask respondents to rank their specific concerns, and they list a weakening of data privacy and the increased sophistication of cyber-attacks as issues of most concern and those most likely to affect many Americans within the next 10 years.

They’re also concerned about other key issues, including autonomous weapons, hiring bias, surveillance, digital manipulation, and, interestingly further down the list, technological unemployment.

So, more than 8 in 10 believe that AI and robotics should be “managed carefully.”

But as MIT observes in its article, that’s easier said than done “because they also don’t trust any one entity to pick up that mantle.”

I’m assuming that also means no one wants to leave it up to the Director from “Travelers” (you’ll have to go watch the show on Netflix to understand the reference…I don’t want to give any plot points away).

Where do they put the most trust in building AI?  University researchers, the US military, and tech companies, in that order.

Allan Dafoe, director of the center and coauthor of the report, says the following about the findings:

“There isn’t currently a consensus in favor of developing advanced AI, or that it’s going to be good for humanity,” he says. “That kind of perception could lead to the development of AI being perceived as illegitimate or cause political backlashes against the development of AI.”

“I believe AI could be a tremendous benefit,” Dafoe says. But the report shows a main obstacle in the way of getting there: “You have to make sure that you have a broad legitimate consensus around what society is going to undertake.”

Like any life-changing technology, it all comes down to trust…or the lack thereof.

Written by turbotodd

January 11, 2019 at 3:38 pm

Smarter Assistance

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Happy Friday, and Happy Holidays.

For those of you who have already started fleeing to parts beyond, here’s hoping you did not get caught up in the drone traffic at Gatwick Airport outside of London.

I guess that whole geofencing thing to keep the drones out…yeah, that’s not working out so much.

Me, I’m firmly ensconced in Turbo North, praying for the weather to stay warm enough over the weekend to follow a little white ball around.

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep up with the breakneck pace of tech news that was coming out this week.

This one caught my eye from Loup Ventures, where they conducted their annual smart speaker IQ test.

They conducted the test by asking each of the four smart speakers — Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana — 800 questions each, and then measured how well they answered correctly and/or understood the query.

Google Assistant came out on top, answering the questions correctly 87.9 percent of the time and understanding the query 100 percent of the time!

Surprisingly (at least to me, anyways), Siri came in second at 74.6 and 99.6 percent, respectively, and Alexa third, at 72.5 and 99 percent. Cortana was dead last at 63.4 and 99.4 percent.

Meanwhile, if you’re a user of Slack, be prepared to not be cut any if you visited or live in a U.S. sanctioned country recently.

The Verge reported yesterday that Slack is banning some users with links to Iran, even if they’ve left the country. 

“In order to comply with export control and economic sanctions laws…Slack prohibits unauthorized use of its products and services in certain sanctioned countries,” the notice from Slack read. “We’ve identified your team/account as originating from one of these countries and are closing the account effective immediately.” Users received no warning, and had no time to create archives or otherwise back up data.

That right there is the long arm emoji of Uncle Sam hard at work!

And speaking of big guvment, there’s this on the sub-continent of India today: India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has authorized ten government agencies, including intelligence and law enforcement, to monitor, intercept, and decrypt data on all computers in the country. 

The governmental order detailing the powers immediately drew strong criticism from both India’s privacy activists and its opposition parties, who said it enabled blanket state surveillance and violated the fundamental right to privacy that India’s 1.3 billion citizens are constitutionally guaranteed.

People who don’t comply might face up to seven years in prison and a fine, according to India’s Information Technology Act, which the order falls under.

The order caused a major dispute in India’s parliament, with members of the opposition calling it “unconstitutional, undemocratic, and an assault on fundamental rights.”

How come all of a sudden almost every single tech story seems to also have a government or public policy angle?!

That would be a question best responded to by Facebook’s PR team, the next great breeding ground for crisis communications talent.

Okay, back to the salt mines…Happy Holidays, everyone!

Written by turbotodd

December 21, 2018 at 9:40 am

Common Sense AI

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Microsoft announced that it is acquiring conversational AI and bot development software vendor XOXCO, Inc., an Austin-based firm, for an undisclosed amount.

According to a report from ZDNet, XOXCO was founded in 2008, and has been working on conversational AI since 2013.

One of its products, Howdy.ai, has been described as one of the first commercially available bots for Slack that helps schedule meetings.

Though it may be great for scheduling meetings, a new article in WIRED suggests that artificial intelligence and deep learning could stand to gain some common sense:

Deep learning is the reigning monarch of AI. In the six years since it exploded into the mainstream, it has become the dominant way to help machines sense and perceive the world around them. It powers Alexa’s speech recognition, Waymo’s self-driving cars, and Google’s on-the-fly translations. Uber is in some respects a giant optimization problem, using machine learning to figure out where riders will need cars. Baidu, the Chinese tech giant, has more than 2,000 engineers cranking away on neural net AI. For years, it seemed as though deep learning would only keep getting better, leading inexorably to a machine with the fluid, supple intelligence of a person.

But some heretics argue that deep learning is hitting a wall. They say that, on its own, it’ll never produce generalized intelligence, because truly humanlike intelligence isn’t just pattern recognition. We need to start figuring out how to imbue AI with everyday common sense, the stuff of human smarts. If we don’t, they warn, we’ll keep bumping up against the limits of deep learning, like visual-recognition systems that can be easily fooled by changing a few inputs, making a deep-learning model think a turtle is a gun. But if we succeed, they say, we’ll witness an explosion of safer, more useful devices—health care robots that navigate a cluttered home, fraud detection systems that don’t trip on false positives, medical breakthroughs powered by machines that ponder cause and effect in disease.

I look forward to having an argument with a bot…someday.

Written by turbotodd

November 14, 2018 at 11:05 am

Posted in 2018, AI, microsoft, Uncategorized

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