Artificial intelligence: summoning the demon

We need to understand our own intelligence is competition for our artificial, not-quite intelligences.

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A few days ago, Elon Musk likened artificial intelligence (AI) to “summoning the demon.” As I’m sure you know, there are many stories in which someone summons a demon. As Musk said, they rarely turn out well.

There’s no question that Musk is an astute student of technology. But his reaction is misplaced. There are certainly reasons for concern, but they’re not Musk’s.

The problem with AI right now is that its achievements are greatly over-hyped. That’s not to say those achievements aren’t real, but they don’t mean what people think they mean. Researchers in deep learning are happy if they can recognize human faces with 80% accuracy. (I’m skeptical about claims that deep learning systems can reach 97.5% accuracy; I suspect that the problem has been constrained some way that makes it much easier. For example, asking “is there a face in this picture?” or “where is the face in this picture?” is much different from asking “what is in this picture?”) That’s a hard problem, a really hard problem. But humans recognize faces with nearly 100% accuracy. For a deep learning system, that’s an almost inconceivable goal. And 100% accuracy is orders of magnitude harder than 80% accuracy, or even 97.5%. Read more…

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Big questions, good data, smart designs

Spotify’s Rochelle King on designing with data for optimal user experiences.

The best designers possess empathy for their users — and data is key to gaining this kind of understanding. I recently sat down with Rochelle King, vice president of global design and UX at Spotify, to talk about data, design, and user experience. King stressed the importance of understanding what the numbers in the data mean — and on staying focused on the real endgame:

“​I think a common misconception or misstep that happens is people just look at the numbers and they forget that they’re actually representing human behavior. That’s a dangerous cycle you can fall into — you can start to optimize the numbers for the sake of optimizing numbers rather than thinking about building an experience that helps to craft the best experiences possible. You start to focus on improving numbers rather than on making a great experience​.”

The benefits of data-informed decision-making are clear, but the process is far from easy. Read more…

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Connecting the microcosmos and the macro world

Christina Agapakis explores the microbiological matrix that binds everything from pecorino to people.

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Cheese from the Selfmade project.

This is part of our investigation into synthetic biology and bioengineering. For more, download the new BioCoder Fall 2014 issue here.

Good luck trying to jam Christina Agapakis into any kind of vocational box. Her CV cites disparate accomplishments as a scientist, writer, and artist — and teacher. Imparting highly technical information in a compelling, even revelatory way seems part of, well, her DNA. She can’t not do it. Moreover, her career arc represents a syncretic impulse that characterizes her general outlook on life.

“A friend is starting a group called Doctors without Disciplinary Borders, and I’m joining it,” says Agapakis. “It captures the spirit of my work pretty well.”

Agapakis is first and foremost a synthetic biologist and a microbiologist, but she’s not particularly happy with the way the synthetic biology narrative has played out. She thinks biocoding is inadequately explained by its practitioners and deeply misunderstood by the lay public, raising excessive expectations and misunderstandings about what synthetic biology can do. The discipline’s message would be better communicated, she believes, if metaphors grounded in biology rather than computers were employed. Read more…

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From factory to data center: The O’Reilly Radar Podcast

Nate Oostendorp on manufacturing and the industrial Internet, and Tim O'Reilly and Rod Smith discuss emerging tech.

Editor’s note: you can subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunes,SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

The Industrial Revolution had a profound effect on manufacturing — will the industrial Internet’s effect be as significant? In this podcast episode, Nate Oostendorp, co-founder and CTO of Sight Machine, says yes — where mechanization ruled the Industrial Revolution, data-driven automation will rule this next revolution:

“I think that when you think about manufacturing 20 years from now, the computer and the network is going to be much more fundamental. Your factories are going to look a lot more like data centers do, where there’s a much greater degree of automation that’s driven by the fact that you have good data feeds off of it. You have a lot of your administration of the factory that will be done remotely or in a back office. You don’t necessarily need to have engineers on a floor watching a machine in order to know what’s going on. I think fundamentally, the number of players in a factory will be much smaller. You’ll have much more technical expertise but a fewer number of people overall in a factory setting.”

According to Oostendorp, we’re already seeing the early effects today in an increased focus on quality and efficiency. Read more…

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The next industrial revolution

It's all about software, but it's a little harder than that.

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If you Google “next industrial revolution,” you’ll find plenty of candidates: 3D printers, nanomaterials, robots, and a handful of new economic frameworks of varying exoticism. (The more generalized ones tend to sound a little more plausible than the more specific ones.)

The phrase came up several times at a track I chaired during our Strata + Hadoop World conference on big data. The talks I assembled focused on the industrial Internet — the merging of big machines and big data — and generally concluded that in the next industrial revolution, software will take on the catalytic role previously played by the water wheel, steam engine, and assembly line.

The industrial Internet is part of the new hardware movement, and, like the new hardware movement, it’s more about software than it is about hardware. Hardware has gotten easier to design, manufacture, and distribute, and it’s gotten more powerful and better connected, backed up with a big-data infrastructure that’s been under construction for a decade or so. Read more…

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Big data’s big ideas

From cognitive augmentation to artificial intelligence, here's a look at the major forces shaping the data world.

Big data’s big ideas

Looking back at the evolution of our Strata events, and the data space in general, we marvel at the impressive data applications and tools now being employed by companies in many industries. Data is having an impact on business models and profitability. It’s hard to find a non-trivial application that doesn’t use data in a significant manner. Companies who use data and analytics to drive decision-making continue to outperform their peers.

Up until recently, access to big data tools and techniques required significant expertise. But tools have improved and communities have formed to share best practices. We’re particularly excited about solutions that target new data sets and data types. In an era when the requisite data skill sets cut across traditional disciplines, companies have also started to emphasize the importance of processes, culture, and people. Read more…

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