Tim O’Reilly: It is up to us

Listening to this conversation with Tim O’Reilly, was one of the most rewarding experiences. In this conversation, Tim and Byron discuss several topics that make you think. I listed a few here.

  1. Fitness functions (see the quote below)
  2. On Amazon’s use of robots for business
  3. About Cognitively Augmented workers
  4. The law of conservation of attractive profits
  5. On Intelligence (human and artificial)
  6. How to pair humans with machines
  7. Step changes and their impact
  8. On anticipating  and countering the worst fears
  9. The Robustness Principle
  10. Agreement Protocols
  11. On Platforms and Eco-systems
  12. On doing meaningful work

I will pick a few of the topics (1-5) and take the liberty of quoting from the transcript. My goal is to kindle your interest enough to read the article and then the book.

On Fitness functions and how they focus companies on delivering value with technology (including AI).

If you look at Google; their fitness function on both the search and the advertising side is relevance. You look at Facebook; loosely it could be described as engagement.

On Amazon’s use of robots in their business:

an analysis of Amazon. In the same 3 years which they added 45,000 robots to their factories, they’ve added hundreds of thousands of human workers.

About Cognitively Augmented workers.

Then, Sidecar and Lyft figured out the other piece of the equation, because Uber was just black cars. They figured out that in order to have enough drivers to really fill out the marketplace, other than a small segment of well-off people, you’d get ordinary people to supply their cars. And you could do that because those drivers are cognitively augmented. It used to be that you had to be a professional driver, because [when] somebody says, “I want to go to such and such an address,” you’d need to really know the city. You [would] need to have a lot of experience to know the best routes. Well, guess what, with these apps [like] Google Maps and Waze, anybody can do it. So I started looking at that and [saw that] we have a marketplace of small businesses managed by algorithms to help them match up with customers.

Law of conservation of attractive profits:

Clay Christensen, back in 2004  talked about  “the law of conservation of attractive profits,” and that’s what helped me get from open source to web 2.0—[is] when one thing becomes a commodity, something else becomes valuable. So if self-driving cars commoditize driving, you have to ask yourself, what becomes valuable. And I think it’s going to be new kinds of augmentation for humans, new kinds of services that you’ll put on top of driving.

On Intelligence (artificial):

And so what would be something that we have today that would qualify or come close to qualifying as that in your mind?

You mean, in terms of machines?

Yes.

Nothing.

And why do you think that?

I’m with Gary Marcus on this, you know. He kind of talked about how the frontier of AI right now is deep learning, and it’s great, but you still have to train it by showing it a gazillion examples of something, and after you show it a gazillion examples, it can figure stuff out. That’s great, but it can’t figure that out without being exposed to those examples. So, we’re a long way from kind of just flicking the switch, having a machine take in its experience of the world, and basically come to conclusions about it.

Tim ends with this appeal and an inspiring message.

“Hey, we have a lot of things to worry about, we have enormous new powers, let’s put them to work, in the right, way, tackling the hard problems.”

I have been a big fan of Tim’s “Work on stuff that matters” and quoted him. It framed some of my decisions on what to spend time on.

Meta:

I have been following Tim for a couple of decades. More about that in a later post. I recently started listening to Byron’s One Minute AI podcast and the GigaOm AI podcast.

If You Know How to Program…

Recently I have come across a slightly different view of programming. In this view, programming is used as a way of learning Mathematics and other topics.

The premise of books in the Think X series is that if you know how to program, you can use that skill to learn other topics.

from Think Bayes by Allen B. Downey.

I see programming as a way of learning Mathematics.

Recently, several countries have included basic programming in the national curriculum. In some of these countries (such as Estonia and France) programming is placed in direct curricular connection to mathematics, whereas in others (England, and Sweden) programming is related more to a design and engineering agenda. However, in all cases the focus is not on developing general “humanistic” skills with technology, rather it is on thinking in algorithms, writing programs, and developing technology. In other countries such curricular changes are being discussed and tested on a small scale. Hence, it makes sense to take a closer look at the arguments that have previously been proposed for utilising programming in mathematics education.

from Learning Mathematics through Programming

This is a fascinating concept. If we believe in it (after looking at various case studies), teaching kids programming may be a good move. I always thought of programming as a way of thinking and solving problems.

Meta:

There was a course on Coursera called “Coding the Matrix: Linear Algebra through Computer Science Applications”. But I am not able to locate it now.

 

When you Look at Life as a Series of Small Experiments

I think of life as a series of small experiments. When you frame it that way, you are no devastated by failures. Some experiments succeed and others fail. You don’t have to stress too much about the outcome. Whether they fail or succeed, you always gain a bit, because you learn something.

I think I have had more failures in my life than successes. But a few successes more than wiped out most failures. The rest were swallowed by time.

It is not a happy ending, though (as happens in movies). I am still living with the effects of some of those failures.

 

Ideas From KCG Innovation Challenge

We started with 40 ideas ( 5 each from 8 departments). After initial screening, we selected 16 ( 2 from each department) and had them present to an external jury. Here are a list of these ideas. we will award three top ideas. We will support many of these ideas turn to prototypes.

  1. Robotic sewage Cleaners
  2. Detecting Landmines Using QuadCopter
  3. Partial Replacement of Natural Course Aggregate with Plastic Aggregate
  4. BIM Modelling using alternate Realities
  5. Voice ATM
  6. IOT based fire alert system
  7. Detecting and helping Dyslexia in Children
  8. Detecting early signs of foot problems for Diabetic Patients
  9. Automating powering up and down classrooms in a college
  10. Water Management system using IOT
  11. Automatic segregation of  recyclable material
  12. Hybrid Solar Panel
  13. MTC Bus Tracking
  14. IOT based Smart glasses
  15. Flexible and Compact couch
  16. Temperature control Jacket

What is Build to Learn?

Build to Learn is an initiative by a group of volunteers to help people learn programming by building useful micro-products. Our motto is – Build to Learn and Learn to Build.

Anyone who wants to learn or build or do both can participate. We plan to meet a few times a week in 3-4 hour coding sessions and build useful products.

The setting is informal. You can start with a simple one paragraph definition of a product and recruit volunteers to work with you on the idea. We do not have any rigid processes. The team can decide how to interact.

We had the first session on the 3rd of February and 10 of us were present. We started 4 projects. We hope you can all join and either learn or help others learn.

Who can participate? Anyone who wants to help  define  a product, code, design, and  test.

 

Technology in Farming – Robots, Mixed Reality, Machine Learning

Is manual farming sustainable as the need for agricultural products grow in demand? Can technology help? How does it impact lives of farmers? Is it the right thing to do? Like any other applications of technology, there are more questions than answers. The following links are just a set of leading indicators of trends.

Agricultural vehicles known as “cucumber flyers” enable as many as 50 seasonal workers to harvest crops.
Experts from Fraunhofer IPK in Berlin, along with other German and Spanish researchers, are studying the potential for automating cucumber harvests in the scope of the EU project CATCH, which stands for “Cucumber Gathering – Green Field Experiments.” Project partners are the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy in Germany and the CSIC-UPM Centre for Automation and Robotics (CAR) in Spain.
During the Hands Free Hectare project, no human set foot on the field between planting and harvest—everything was done by robots. This includes:
  • Drilling channels in the dirt for barley seeds to be planted at specific depths and intervals with an autonomous tractor;
  • Spraying a series of fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers when and where necessary;
  • Harvesting the barley with an autonomous combine.

How mixed reality and machine learning are driving innovation in farming

The Economist, in its Q2 Technology Quarterly issue, proclaims agriculture will soon need to become more manufacturing-like in order to feed the world’s growing population. Scientific American reports crops will soon need to become more drought resistant in order to effectively grow in uncertain climates. Farms, The New York Times writes, will soon need to learn how to harvest more with less water.

Some Ideas for a Newbie Tweeter

I am always urging people who would listen (and even people who would not ) to blog, tweet or learn Python. A friend of mine, who finally bought into my idea asked me “What should I tweet about”. I wrote a list. I thought it may be useful to others too. So I am sharing it here.
 
I assume that you know your target audience. When you start out, you may not know. Make your best-educated guess but confirm it as you tweet and get responses.
 
  1. Tweet about your professional self. Especially, lessons you learned that you think may be relevant to your audience. 
  2. Tweet about your profession. Talk about what aspects you enjoy most.
  3. Tweet about events. Not just that the event happened but what caused it, what you see as the effect of such events.
  4. Tweet about your learning (related to your profession). 
  5. Advice to my younger self is a nice format in which you can share your insights and wisdom about life. 
  6. Share little bits of knowledge. A one-pager or a paragraph of about a topic in your industry would be a great start.
  7. Share tweets you like. Please annotate it with your observations.
  8. Ask your audience a simple open question and start a conversation. Use a hashtag to watch these conversations. 
  9. Tweet about something worth reading, listening to or watching. Mention why you are recommending it.
  10. Tweet about ideas and trends in your industry and their potential impact. This can be another interesting conversation starter.
Please share your ideas on tweeting. If you write blog posts, please tweet them and use #tweetideas as a hashtag.

5 Reasons Why Should You Host An Hour of Code

I was talking to a group of faculty members at KCG Tech on why we should ask schools to host An Hour of Code.

The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify “code”, to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts.

Here are some reasons why you should be interested in hosting an hour of code or help schools to host it.
  1. This grassroots campaign is supported by over 400 partners and 200,000 educators worldwide.
  2. It is an international movement to get people interested in learning to code.
  3. The first step in teaching programming is to get the learner engaged. Next steps include creating curiosity and giving them a sense of wonder. Show them what they can do with the code in a few minutes.
  4.  Students will do something different and have a lot of fun while learning. In the past couple of instances where we conducted an hour of code, many 7th graders went beyond the hour, refusing to leave the computer lab.
  5. The program will be run mostly by student volunteers and techies. We are trying to get students involved in social causes. We believe the best form for students to learn, is by teaching.

List of 100 – A Great Tool for Thinking

There are several cool tools you can use for thinking.  Two of my favorite ones are Mindmaps and Lists.

List of 100 is a great way to really stretch your mind. Here is how you do it.  Take a problem or idea. Create a list of 100 things that come to your mind. In the case of a problem, it may be a hundred ways to solve it.  In the case of an idea it may be a list of hundred thoughts (typically questions related to – Why, What, Who, When, How, Where).

I first came across the List of 100 here. Since then, I have created lists of 100 individually and in groups. We had great fun doing it and learned a lot. List of 100 is both a thinking tool and a group collaboration tool. Give it a try.