Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Computer vision needed

Sunday, 9 October, 2016 0 Comments

So, this company is looking for a software engineer with the “Computer Vision” thing because “The core of our system is the computer vision algorithms that allow drones to understand the world around them.” The daily routine means the engineer will “Design and implement real-time estimation, mapping, tracking, classification, and detection algorithms.” What kind of experience is required for such work? “Hands-on experience with visual odometry, mapping and SLAM; Proficiency with probabilistic inference and 3d geometry, and Deep Learning — training data, neural networks, online learning.”

The company is Skydio, which is developing autonomous, affordable drones. Depending on how one sees this kind of thing, and whether one wishes to be classed as a Luddite or a technophile, we’re heading towards an AI future that’s either a science fiction film or a horror movie. Having a sense of humour will protect us, however.

Parr near and far in Ireland

Saturday, 8 October, 2016 0 Comments

The great British photographer Martin Parr lived in Ireland, in Boyle, Co. Roscommon, between 1981 and 1983. So Near and So Far is the title of an exhibition of his pictures from the region that runs until Tuesday at the Roscommon Arts Centre. The images are included in Parr’s book A Fair Day: Photographs from the West Coast of Ireland.

Parr in Ireland

Bloomberg decrypted and fully charged

Thursday, 6 October, 2016 0 Comments

The technology industry is global “and supremely interconnected,” says Bloomberg as it introduces its new tech site for desktops and phones. Bloomberg Technology will offer live web shows on topics like computer security, a weekly video series on robots and a podcast called Decrypted that “will unlock hidden technology stories from around the world.” Decrypted is an intriguing, Snowdenish title for a podcast and the mandatory newsletter is equally hip. It’s energetically named “Fully Charged”. The promo writers spared no purple when typing up the site blurb. Snippet:

“An engineer on one continent changes the positioning of an electrode, a fraction of the size of a butterfly wing, and on the other side of the world, it ripples into a media thunderstorm.”

Bloomberg Technology

Allo, Allo, Allo: Productivity vs. Privacy vs. Pizza

Wednesday, 5 October, 2016 0 Comments

“The last 10 years have been about building a world that is mobile-first, turning our phones into remote controls for our lives. But in the next 10 years, we will shift to a world that is AI-first, a world where computing becomes universally available — be it at home, at work, in the car, or on the go —and interacting with all of these surfaces becomes much more natural and intuitive, and above all, more intelligent.” Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, yesterday.

The occasion was the announcement of the gorgeous new Pixel phone with its in-built artificial intelligence assistant. But there’s a price to be paid for the beauty and the smarts because AI will enable tech companies to gather even more information about us, and our data will be less protected than ever.

Allo, Allo, Allo

Google’s AI apprentice, which beavers busily inside the new messaging app Allo, will answer questions about sports, the weather, or for directions to the nearest café. Pichai pointed out yesterday that this is just the beginning. Google’s AI will learn about our preferences to better present personalized results and to answer more specific questions. It will get smarter, faster and more accurate every day. It will never rest.

Pixel To do this, it will gather data, endlessly. The places you visit, the foods you prefer, your thoughts about Trump will be collected. It can do this only by accessing all the information on everything stored on the phone, and it can also access “content on your screen”. To provide more accurate recommendations, the AI must gather and analyse our data, but for this to happen, our messages need to be unencrypted. Yes, Google offers best-of-breed encryption within Allo, but if you turn on encryption, you turn off the AI.

Here’s the reality: to stay competitive, the tech giants will have to provide AI-powered assistants. This is an arms race and the choice is fight or flight. Facebook’s Messenger also has opt-in encryption that’s regarded as the gold standard, but if users want to call an Uber from within the app, their messages have to be unencrypted.

AI is fun. But it’s also serious because it’s a potential revenue stream that will only flow if it’s filled with data. Investors in Google and Facebook know that an assistant that presents sponsored results when someone asks it to order that Pepperoni Feast could be huge for Alphabet and Domino’s. Yes, they offer people serious options to protect their data, but that means going without the sorcerer’s apprentice. Tech is betting that productivity and pizza, not privacy, will win.

Fast forward thinking at ING

Tuesday, 4 October, 2016 0 Comments

Revolutions are turbulent, gory affairs. “The time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets,” said Baron Rothschild, who made a fortune in the panic that followed the Battle of Waterloo. This time around, it’s the financiers that are filling the streets, driven out by the algorithms in the battle to capture the smartphone customer.

ING Last week, Germany’s second-biggest lender, Commerzbank, said it was planning to cut 9,600 jobs over the next four years and end dividend payments for the first time. Yesterday, Dutch bank ING says it intends to cut up to 7,000 jobs in Belgium and the Netherlands over the next five years as part of a plan to save €900 million a year, speed up the adoption of new technology and “continue to lead in digital banking”.

“Customers are increasingly digital and bank with us more and more through mobile devices,” said ING chief executive Ralph Hamers in a statement. “Their needs and expectations are the same, all over the world, and they expect us to adopt new technology as fast as companies in other sectors.” Quote:

“In order to continue to lead in digital banking, we need to offer a better customer experience, that’s instant, personal, frictionless and relevant. From 2016 to 2021, we intend to invest €800 million in our digital transformation, building a scalable platform to cater for continued commercial growth, an improved customer experience and a quicker delivery of new products.”

Heralding the revolution at ING, Ralph Hamers titled his strategy “Accelerating Think Forward.” It’s kind of instant, but it’s certainly not frictionless for those giving way to the new technologies.

The glorious revolution

Monday, 3 October, 2016 0 Comments

Mobile network coverage and evolving technologies

“Advanced mobile-broadband networks have spread quickly over the last three years and reach almost four billion people today — corresponding to 53% of the global population. Globally, the total number of mobile-broadband subscriptions is expected to reach 3.6 billion by end 2016, compared with 3.2 billion at end 2015” Source: ITU

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Sunday, 2 October, 2016 0 Comments

“The prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully,” is the popular variant of a famous quote by Dr Johnson. And the prospect of making a presentation on the topic of the language of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in early November means this blog will be focusing on all things i4.0 in the coming weeks. So let’s get going with some basic terminology:

  • The First Industrial Revolution: The steam engine freed people from relying on their own muscular strength or that of animals for manufacturing and transport.
  • The Second Industrial Revolution: Electricity powered spectacular improvements in productivity, innovation, comfort and well-being.
  • The Third Industrial Revolution: The microprocessor, the computer and the internet led to dramatic developments in efficiency, commerce and creativity.
  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution: The smartphone, the Internet of Things, 5G, genetic engineering, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles, robotics, nanotechnology, machine learning… will affect how we live and work for the remainder of this century.

“Our ancestors could believe that their achievements had a chance of bearing up against the flow of events. We know time to be a hurricane. Our buildings, our sense of style, our ideas, all of these will soon enough be anachronisms, and the machines in which we now take inordinate pride will seem no less bathetic than Yorick’s skull.” — Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

Autumn in the air

Saturday, 1 October, 2016 0 Comments

On the first day of October our thoughts turn to autumn, the season of sweaters and scarves, of soups, stews, roasts and blazing fires. Yes, we mourn the waning, warming sunshine of summer, but the sad odes of autumn are nourishment for the soul.

The Autumn Stone by The Small Faces uses the metaphor of the season to reflect on the changing nature of life and love. The song was one of the 22 tracks on the band’s posthumous retrospective double album released in 1969.

“Flowers, cold from the dew,
And autumn’s approaching breath,
I pluck for the warm, luxuriant braids,
Which haven’t faded yet.

Let whoever wants to, relax in the south,
And bask in the garden of paradise.
Here is the essence of north and it’s autumn
I’ve chosen as this year’s friend.”

Anna Akhmatova (1889 – 1966)

The Stoner sonnet

Friday, 30 September, 2016 0 Comments

The central character in Stoner, a 1965 novel by the American writer John Williams, is William Stoner, who begins life as a farm boy in Missouri. His parents send him to the University of Missouri to study agriculture, but after reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, Stoner switches to studying literature. After receiving his Ph.D. he continues at the university as an assistant professor of English, the job he holds for the rest of his career.

“In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.” — John Williams, Stoner

The novel sold poorly when it was published but that changed at the beginning of this century, when it became an international bestseller. Stoner was reissued in 2006 by New York Review Books Classics with an introduction by John McGahern, who wrote that Stoner is a “novel about work.” This includes not only traditional work, such as Stoner’s tasks on the farm and his academic duties, but also the work he puts into relationships. It’s also a book about passion, and Stoner’s passions are knowledge and love. According to the critic Morris Dickstein, “he fails at both.” It’s Shakespearian.

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

William Shakespeare


Language guilt

Thursday, 29 September, 2016 0 Comments

The alleged crimes of the West are many and hardly a day goes by without the prosecutors discovering new examples of their oppression at the hands of Goethe and Emily Brontë, which are then paraded with the “-ism” suffix. The ensuing press release from the aggrieved will contain all the usual Stalinist/Maoist clichés: “The hegemonic power of capitalism propagates an increasing gravitation to English…”

Yes, English.

Why English? Confronting the Hydra Why English? Confronting the Hydra is a collection of essays edited by a group of remorseful scholars and English teachers, which begins with an abject apologia: “There is, indeed, huge irony in the fact this collection is written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Such is the power of the global publishing industry and the pervasiveness of English-language hegemony that this critique needs to emanate from within its very realm.”

Ah, yes, hegemony. A true trigger word. Just like “Orwellian” and “imperialism”. Talking of both, the publisher’s site has a glowing review of Why English? Confronting the Hydra by Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu, a member of the Department of Linguistics and Language Development at San José State University in California. Snippet:

“The contributors to this volume expose the Orwellian overtones that mask the linguistic imperialism that is being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid. The many examples of innovation and success stories they offer give hope that resistance is not futile after all.”

This is the same Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu who, in June 2012, delivered the plenary talk at the 4th International Symposium on Teaching Chinese as a Second Language for Young Scholars at Peking University in Beijing. The title? “Global Mandarin: Promoting Chinese language and culture in an age of globalization.” Did he warn the eager cadres about the Orwellian overtones that mask Chinese linguistic imperialism now being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid? Monosyllabic answers on a postcard, please.