Watson in your pocket

IBM’s Watson deep Q&A system that famously beat the two best Jeopardy players in a million dollar challenge a couple of years ago is now being commercialised as originally intended. IBM learnt a big lesson from their champion chess playing system Deep Blue, namely, “so what’s the use now?” Deep Blue may have beaten Gary Kasparov but that was all it could do. Watson was always intended to be a proving ground for a new form of artificial intelligence that would enable people to ask unstructured questions in their own words and get relevant answers from a deep corpus of knowledge. Watson has already been tested with oncologists and now it’s heading into customer service. The MIT Technology Review reports that, working in the cloud, you’ll soon be able to access Watson from your smartphone; companies like the Royal Bank of Canada, Nielsen, and close to home the ANZ are rolling out Watson-based conversation assistants. You can think of Watson like Apple’s Siri on steroids.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/05/watson-in-your-pocket.html

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Everest anniversary

Rob Milne on the summit of Aconcagua
January 8 2003

Today is the 60th anniversary of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first summiting Everest. How the world has changed in that time, even the world of mountaineering. People now regularly phone home from the top of Everest and Skype and they are even talking about installing a ladder on the Hillary Step to ease the congestion.
    Today though I’m going to remember Rob Milne, a remarkable computer scientist who died just short of Everest’s summit in early July 2005. Rob was a very keen and experienced mountaineer who was “knocking off” the highest peaks on each continent. Only Everest remained on his list. Rob was to chair IJCAI in Edinburgh in August of that year and his death was a shock to whole AI community. Rob managed to combine his extreme hobby with service to the AI community and running a successful AI company. A remarkable man who is still missed.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/05/everest-anniversary.html

Disruptive technoligies

The famous consulting firm McKinsey & Co have released a report called “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy.” By “disruptive” they don’t mean “bad,” they just mean that they will cause profound social and economic changes. For example, the advent of the motor car in the early 1900s was disruptive if you owned a horse stable or were a blacksmith – many blacksmiths actually turned their smithies into garages, sold petrol and became automotive engineers.
   The authors of the McKinsey report considered hundreds of candidate technologies and whittled the list down to twelve all which have shown rapid technological improvement in recent years, have a broad reach across society and have the capacity for great economic and social impact. They are: Mobile Internet, Automation of Knowledge Work, Internet of Things, The Cloud, Advanced Robotics, Next-generation Genomics, Autonomous and Near-autonomous Vehicles, Energy Storage, 3D Printing, Advanced Materials, Advanced Oil and Gas Exploration and Recovery, and Renewable Energy. You’ll notice that advances in computer science are integral to most of the twelve technologies. As the report notes “Most of the technologies on our list are directly enabled, or enhanced, by information technology.
   You can download the executive summary to the report or the full report from McKinsey’s website.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/05/disruptive-technoligies.html

Do you fancy owning your own parallel computer?

Until recently if you did want a parallel computer you’d either have to build your own (not easy) or have a good sized budget. But that has changed now; chip maker Adapteva has  created a credit-card sized parallel-processing board. This comes with a dual-core ARM A9 processor and a 64-core Epiphany Multicore Accelerator chip, along with 1GB of RAM, a microSD card, two USB 2.0 ports, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, and an HDMI connection. By itself, this board will deliver over 90 GFLOPS of performance, or — in terms PC users understand — about the same horse-power as a 45GHz CPU. You can think of like a Raspberry Pi on steroids. The little super-computer, called Parallella will retail for $99 (USD) you can register your interest on Adapteva’s website and on their Kickstarter page.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/05/do-you-fancy-owning-your-own-parallel.html

Has Facebook lost its way?

We tend to assume that successful companies like Facebook get large, wealthy and powerful by making better decisions than everyone else. Consider Facebook’s recent decision to buy mapping company Waze for a rumoured $1 billion and to hire ex-Apple mapping team leader Richard Williamson. Clearly Facebook has decided it needs its own mapping functionality and not rely on Microsoft’s Bing, in it’s desktop product, or Apple’s maps on iOS and Google on Android. Is this a good decision? Well on the face of it yes, but really Facebook seems to be the last person in the room to wakeup and smell the coffee. As I noted when discussing Apple’s mapocalypse back in September 2012 – location services are going to be really important in the future. Apple couldn’t afford to gift this market to Google and Facebook can’t either.
   Google became interested in maps back in 2004, when it bought the Australian company Where 2 Technologies. Now this is an example of a good strategic decision. Our computing devices weren’t even very mobile in 2004 but Google invested heavily in mapping – this implies great long term vision. Apple’s lauded leader Steve Jobs actually made a very poor strategic decision in 2007 when the iPhone launched. Google Maps should never have been invited on board; Apple should have had its own mapping service from the start. This they belatedly corrected in 2012 because they realised they had to.
    So where has Facebook been? Have they all been too busy playing Farmville! If Facebook really wants users to spend all their time online in Facebook, and with Facebook Home that is exactly what they want you to do. Why did nobody in their Menlo Park HQ think “hey guys, we like really need our own mapping app.” This troubles me. The Facebook execs clearly aren’t always that smart.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/05/has-facebook-lost-its-way.html

The latest on the story of CAD/CAM

The final free public lecture in 2013’s Gibbons Lecture series is all about CAD/CAM – the acronym  for Computer Assisted Design and Computer Assisted Manufacturing. CAM involves robotics but CAD is the application of Computer Graphics to Engineering – in fact, at one time it was Computer Graphics but it has advanced far beyond these simple beginnings. Engineering Computer Graphics is the topic of our last Gibbons Lecture on May 23 which will be delivered by Professor Gordon Mallinson from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Auckland. Full details of the time and venue are here. If you cannot attend the lecture will be streamed live and after the event.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-latest-on-story-of-cadcam.html

Death by Powerpoint

We’ve all heard the phrase “death by powerpoint” and we’ve all sat through interminably dull presentations, talks and lectures. However, I came across an article yesterday called “No excuse for boring an audience: Advice on giving technical presentations,” which makes the fairly obvious point that usually it’s not Powerpoint’s fault but the presenters. Borring presenters give boring talks and yes their slides probably suck as well. But people were giving borring talks long before Powerpoint or Prezi.
   The article refers to an essay written in 1985 that makes a very clear argument that it’s your responsibility to make your presentation interesting, exciting and fun, and that above all you must be enthusiastic about your subject. If you are going to give a presentation soon I recommend that your read it.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/2013/05/death-by-powerpoint.html