"Big Data and Artificial Intelligence: Intelligence Matters" entries

The business value of unifying data

Practical applications of human-in-the-loop machine learning.


With hundreds, thousands, or even just tens of suppliers — each with different business units, payment terms, and locations — businesses are faced with a monumental task: unifying all of their supplier-related data, and fast so that it can be useful. In order to ask deep questions about their data, companies are increasingly looking for a single, unified view of their supply chain.

And yet, business data is often stored in different sources, systems, and formats, resulting in silos of information. These data silos take the form of enterprise resource planning systems, CSV files, spreadsheets, and relational databases. To pull together all of the data from these disparate sources, a business faces three interrelated challenges:

  1. Speed. Traditionally, businesses have attempted to catalog and organize supply chain data manually — profiling and integrating data themselves, which leads directly to the next challenge: cost.
  2. Cost. Manual work is expensive work. Usually more than one employee will need to work on the same data set in order to move quickly enough for the results to have any value for the business. Even with several employees working on the same data sets, this work will still not achieve what could be done on a machine scale.
  3. Efficiency. Relying completely on humans to organize and unify data is a situation ripe for error. Plus, there’s often no audit trail, and the work results in inherently incomplete views of information.

In a recent live demo by Dr. Clare Bernard, a field engineer at Tamr, I got a glimpse into how Tamr is using a combination of machine learning algorithms and input from subject matter experts to help businesses unify their data for analysis. A practice that uses short-term human intervention to actively improve machine models, human-in-the-loop machine learning is taking off across all types of industries, including fashion, automotive, and cloud services such as Google Maps. Read more…


Consensual reality

The data model of augmented reality is likely to be a series of layers, some of which we consent to share with others.


A couple of days ago, I had a walking meeting with Frederic Guarino to discuss virtual and augmented reality, and how it might change the entertainment industry.

At one point, we started discussing interfaces — would people bring their own headsets to a public performance? Would retinal projection or heads-up displays win?

One of the things we discussed was projections and holograms. Lighting the physical world with projected content is the easiest way to create an interactive, augmented experience: there’s no gear to wear, for starters. But will it work?

This stuff has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m headed to Augmented World Expo this week, and had a chance to interview Ori Inbar, the founder of the event, in preparation.

Among other things we discussed what Inbar calls his three rules for augmented reality design:

  • The content you see has to emerge from the real world and relate to it.
  • Should not distract you from the real world; must add to it.
  • Don’t use it when you don’t need it. If a film is better on the TV watch the TV.

To understand the potential of augmented reality more fully, we need to look at the notion of consensual realities. Read more…

Comment: 1

Artificial intelligence?

AI scares us because it could be as inhuman as humans.


Elon Musk started a trend. Ever since he warned us about artificial intelligence, all sorts of people have been jumping on the bandwagon, including Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates.

Although I believe we’ve entered the age of postmodern computing, when we don’t trust our software, and write software that doesn’t trust us, I’m not particularly concerned about AI. AI will be built in an era of distrust, and that’s good. But there are some bigger issues here that have nothing to do with distrust.

What do we mean by “artificial intelligence”? We like to point to the Turing test; but the Turing test includes an all-important Easter Egg: when someone asks Turing’s hypothetical computer to do some arithmetic, the answer it returns is incorrect. An AI might be a cold calculating engine, but if it’s going to imitate human intelligence, it has to make mistakes. Not only can it make mistakes, it can (indeed, must be) be deceptive, misleading, evasive, and arrogant if the situation calls for it.

That’s a problem in itself. Turing’s test doesn’t really get us anywhere. It holds up a mirror: if a machine looks like us (including mistakes and misdirections), we can call it artificially intelligent. That begs the question of what “intelligence” is. We still don’t really know. Is it the ability to perform well on Jeopardy? Is it the ability to win chess matches? These accomplishments help us to define what intelligence isn’t: it’s certainly not the ability to win at chess or Jeopardy, or even to recognize faces or make recommendations. But they don’t help us to determine what intelligence actually is. And if we don’t know what constitutes human intelligence, why are we even talking about artificial intelligence? Read more…

Comments: 4

On the evolution of machine learning

From linear models to neural networks: an interview with Reza Zadeh.

Get notified when our free report, “Future of Machine Intelligence: Perspectives from Leading Practitioners,” is available for download. The following interview is one of many that will be included in the report.

As part of our ongoing series of interviews surveying the frontiers of machine intelligence, I recently interviewed Reza Zadeh. Reza is a Consulting Professor in the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering at Stanford University and a Technical Advisor to Databricks. His work focuses on Machine Learning Theory and Applications, Distributed Computing, and Discrete Applied Mathematics.

Key Takeaways

  • Neural networks have made a comeback and are playing a growing role in new approaches to machine learning.
  • The greatest successes are being achieved via a supervised approach leveraging established algorithms.
  • Spark is an especially well-suited environment for distributed machine learning.

David Beyer: Tell us a bit about your work at Stanford

Reza Zadeh: At Stanford, I designed and teach distributed algorithms and optimization (CME 323) as well as a course called discrete mathematics and algorithms (CME 305). In the discrete mathematics course, I teach algorithms from a completely theoretical perspective, meaning that it is not tied to any programming language or framework, and we fill up whiteboards with many theorems and their proofs. Read more…

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Our future sits at the intersection of artificial intelligence and blockchain

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Steve Omohundro on AI, cryptocurrencies, and ensuring a safe future for humanity.


Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

I met up with Possibility Research president Steve Omohundro at our Bitcoin & the Blockchain Radar Summit to talk about an interesting intersection: artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain/cryptocurrency technologies. This Radar Podcast episode features our discussion about the role cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies will play in the future of AI, Omohundro’s Self Aware Systems project that aims to ensure intelligent technologies are beneficial for humanity, and his work on the Pebble cryptocurrency.

Synthesizing AI and crypto-technologies

Bitcoin piqued Omohundro’s interest from the very start, but his excitement built as he started realizing the disruptive potential of the technology beyond currency — especially the potential for smart contracts. He began seeing ways the technology will intersect with artificial intelligence, the area of focus for much of his work:

I’m very excited about what’s happening with the cryptocurrencies, particularly Ethereum. I would say Ethereum is the most advanced of the smart contracting ideas, and there’s just a flurry of insights, and people are coming up every week with, ‘Oh we could use it to do this.’ We could have totally autonomous corporations running on the blockchain that copy what Uber does, but much more cheaply. It’s like, ‘Whoa what would that do?’

I think we’re in a period of exploration and excitement in that field, and it’s going to merge with the AI systems because programs running on the blockchain have to connect to the real world. You need to have sensors and actuators that are intelligent, have knowledge about the world, in order to integrate them with the smart contracts on the blockchain. I see a synthesis of AI and cryptocurrencies and crypto-technologies and smart contracts. I see them all coming together in the next couple of years.

Read more…

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The VR growth cycle: What’s different this time around

A chat with Tony Parisi on where we are with VR, where we need to go, and why we're going to get there this time.


Consumer virtual reality (VR) is in the midst of a dizzying and exhilarating upswing. A new breed of systems, pioneered by Oculus and centered on head-worn displays with breakthrough quality, are minting believers — whether investors, developers, journalists, or early-adopting consumers. Major new hardware announcements and releases are occurring on a regular basis, game studios and production houses big and small are tossing their hats into the ring, and ambitious startups are getting funded to stake out many different application domains. Is it a boom, a bubble, or the birth of a new computing platform?

Underneath this fundamental quandary, there are many basic questions that remain unresolved: Which hardware and software platforms will dominate? What input and touch feedback technologies will prove themselves? What are the design and artistic principles in this medium? What role will standards play, who will develop them, and when? The list goes on.

For many of these questions, we’ll need to wait a bit longer for answers to emerge; like smartphones in 2007, we can only speculate about, say, the user interface conventions that will emerge as designers grapple with this new paradigm. But on other issues, there is some wisdom to be gleaned. After all, VR has been around for a long time, and there are some poor souls who have been working in the mines all along. Read more…

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Exploring methods in active learning

Tips on how to build effective human-machine hybrids, from crowdsourcing expert Adam Marcus.

15146_ORM_Webcast_ad(archived)In a recent O’Reilly webcast, “Crowdsourcing at GoDaddy: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Crowd,” Adam Marcus explains how to mitigate common challenges of managing crowd workers, how to make the most of human-in-the-loop machine learning, and how to establish effective and mutually rewarding relationships with workers. Marcus is the director of data on the Locu team at GoDaddy, where the “Get Found” service provides businesses with a central platform for managing their online presence and content.

In the webcast, Marcus uses practical examples from his experience at GoDaddy to reveal helpful methods for how to:

  • Offset the inevitability of wrong answers from the crowd
  • Develop and train workers through a peer-review system
  • Build a hierarchy of trusted workers
  • Make crowd work inspiring and enable upward mobility

What to do when humans get it wrong

It turns out there is a simple way to offset human error: redundantly ask people the same questions. Marcus explains that when you ask five different people the same question, there are some creative ways to combine their responses, and use a majority vote. Read more…


Human-in-the-loop machine learning

Practical machine-learning applications and strategies from experts in active learning.

What do you call a practice that most data scientists have heard of, few have tried, and even fewer know how to do well? It turns out, no one is quite certain what to call it. In our latest free report Real-World Active Learning: Applications and Strategies for Human-in-the-Loop Machine Learning, we examine the relatively new field of “active learning” — also referred to as “human computation,” “human-machine hybrid systems,” and “human-in-the-loop machine learning.” Whatever you call it, the field is exploding with practical applications that are proving the efficiency of combining human and machine intelligence.

Learn from the experts

Through in-depth interviews with experts in the field of active learning and crowdsource management, industry analyst Ted Cuzzillo reveals top tips and strategies for using short-term human intervention to actively improve machine models. As you’ll discover, the point at which a machine model fails is precisely where there’s an opportunity to insert — and benefit from — human judgment.

Find out:

  • When active learning works best
  • How to manage crowdsource contributors (including expert-level contributors)
  • Basic principles of labeling data
  • Best practice methods for assessing labels
  • When to skip the crowd and mine your own data

Explore real-world examples

This report gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how human-in-the-loop machine learning has helped improve the accuracy of Google Maps, match business listings at GoDaddy, rank top search results at Yahoo!, refer relevant job postings to people on LinkedIn, identify expert-level contributors using the Quizz recruitment method, and recommend women’s clothing based on customer and product data at Stitch Fix. Read more…

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Beyond AI: artificial compassion

If what we are trying to build is artificial minds, intelligence might be the smaller, easier part.

LIght_of_ideas_Saad-Faruque_FlickrWhen we talk about artificial intelligence, we often make an unexamined assumption: that intelligence, understood as rational thought, is the same thing as mind. We use metaphors like “the brain’s operating system” or “thinking machines,” without always noticing their implicit bias.

But if what we are trying to build is artificial minds, we need only look at a map of the brain to see that in the domain we’re tackling, intelligence might be the smaller, easier part.

Maybe that’s why we started with it.

After all, the rational part of our brain is a relatively recent add-on. Setting aside unconscious processes, most of our gray matter is devoted not to thinking, but to feeling.

There was a time when we deprecated this larger part of the mind, as something we should either ignore or, if it got unruly, control.

But now we understand that, as troublesome as they may sometimes be, emotions are essential to being fully conscious. For one thing, as neurologist Antonio Damasio has demonstrated, we need them in order to make decisions. A certain kind of brain damage leaves the intellect unharmed, but removes the emotions. People with this affliction tend to analyze options endlessly, never settling on a final choice. Read more…


Now available: Big Data Now, 2014 edition

Our wrap-up of important developments in the big data field.

In the four years we’ve been producing Big Data Now, our wrap-up of important developments in the big data field, we’ve seen tools and applications mature, multiply, and coalesce into new categories. This year’s free wrap-up of Radar coverage is organized around seven themes:

  • Cognitive augmentation: As data processing and data analytics become more accessible, jobs that can be automated will go away. But to be clear, there are still many tasks where the combination of humans and machines produce superior results.
  • Intelligence matters: Artificial intelligence is now playing a bigger and bigger role in everyone’s lives, from sorting our email to rerouting our morning commutes, from detecting fraud in financial markets to predicting dangerous chemical spills. The computing power and algorithmic building blocks to put AI to work have never been more accessible.
  • Read more…