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Google Translate goes AI

Wednesday, 28 September, 2016 0 Comments

From now on, Google Translate will rely more on AI (artificial intelligence) when it translates languages. Alphabet, the parent company, claims that its brand new Google Neural Machine Translation system will reduce errors by 80 percent compared to its current method.

Google Translate Until today, Google has used what is called “phrase-based translation,” which is standard for the industry. With this method, a hand-coded algorithm breaks down a sentence into words or phrases and tries to match them a vast dictionary. The new system will use that same large dictionary to train two neural networks, one of which will deconstruct the original sentence to figure out what it means, while the other generates text in the output language.

Because AI algorithms don’t rely on human logic, they can often find better ways to do the job compared to the hand-coded algorithms, say the engineers. And as the network learns how to translate, no longer spending time dividing sentences into words or phrases, it discards the rules that humans thought were best and concentrates fully on the outcome. Such is the nature of AI. As Alan Turing wrote in 1950: “I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.” (Computing machinery and intelligence). We’re getting there.

Google is releasing its new translation system for Mandarin Chinese first, and then adding new languages over coming months.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Wednesday, 21 September, 2016 0 Comments

Mobile super-computing, intelligent robots, self-driving cars, AI, neuro-technological brain enhancements, chatbots, the Internet of Things… It’s a revolution! “The evidence of dramatic change is all around us and it’s happening at exponential speed,” says Marta Chierego, who directed this clip for The World Economic Forum.

“The second industrial revolution has yet to be fully experienced by 17% of the world as nearly 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity…

…The fourth industrial revolution, however, is not only about smart and connected machines and systems. Its scope is much wider. Occurring simultaneously are waves of further breakthroughs in areas ranging from gene sequencing to nanotechnology, from renewables to quantum computing. It is the fusion of these technologies and their interaction across the physical, digital and biological domains that make the fourth industrial revolution fundamentally different from previous revolutions.” — Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution


Robopocalyptic conflict in Westworld

Monday, 29 August, 2016 0 Comments

The second trailer for Westworld teases the robopocalyptic conflict between a futuristic theme park’s automata residents and their human keepers. The key figure in this clip is Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), a frontier “host” who’s actually the park’s oldest resident, having been resurrected after countless “deaths” that she’s been programmed to forget.

In 1973, the late, great Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, a science fiction western-thriller about amusement park androids that malfunction and begin killing visitors. With stories about job-stealing robots and fears of wayward artificial intelligence filling the news stream, HBO feels that what our world needs right now is an upgrade of Westworld. The story has been re-engineered for this young century and we’re expected to sympathize with the sentient bots enslaved by their scary creator, Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Westworld is tapping into the Zeitgeist as people are increasingly alarmed about a society that seems to be out of control, especially because of what information technology and the life sciences are making possible.


@WPOlympicsbot

Saturday, 6 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Washington Post will use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to report on and from the Rio Olympic Games. Its “Heliograf” technology will automatically generate short multi-sentence updates, offer a daily schedule of events, update results, calculate medal tallies and send alerts 15 minutes before the start of a final event. These updates will appear in the paper’s blog and on Twitter.

“Automated storytelling has the potential to transform The Post’s coverage. More stories, powered by data and machine learning, will lead to a dramatically more personal and customized news experience,” Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at the Washington Post, told Recode.

Heliograf will also play a role in the paper’s coverage of the November US elections, where it will generate stories for some 500 races. Heliograf is part of a suite of AI tools at the core of Arc, the Washington Post publishing platform.

PS: The world’s first website went online 25 years ago today. Created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, it was a basic text page with hyperlinked words that connected to other pages. Berners-Lee used the launch to promote his plan for the service, which would come to affect so many aspects of life and business in the 21st century. From hyperlinks to AI bots filing reports on the Olympic Games, it’s been an extraordinary 25 years.


Intelligence: artificial and emotional

Thursday, 4 August, 2016 0 Comments

This short clip about an AI unit that is “anything but artificial” is the the creation of Dennis Sung Min Kim. He describes it as a “First year film at the University of Pennsylvania, taking around ten months for completion.”

Empathy has been termed the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. In his best-selling book Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty, Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, writes:

“It allows us to tune into how someone else is feeling, or what they might be thinking. Empathy allows us to understand the intentions of others, predict their behavior, and experience an emotion triggered by their emotion. In short, empathy allows us to interact effectively in the social world. It is also the ‘glue’ of the social world, drawing us to help others and stopping us from hurting others.”

Simon Baron-Cohen? Yes, he is the cousin is the actor Sacha Baron Cohen. Why no hyphen in the latter name, but one in the former? It’s because of a typographical error in Simon Baron-Cohen’s first professional article. He didn’t correct the publisher’s misspelling, but he did adopt the punctuation mark.


Future sex with gynoids and guynoids

Wednesday, 3 August, 2016 0 Comments

The word “gynoid” was used by Gwyneth Jones in her 1985 novel Divine Endurance to describe a female robot slave character in a futuristic China. Does this mean, then, that the male equivalent is a “guynoid”? Not quite. Gynoid is created from the Ancient Greek prefix gyno– (of or pertaining to women or the female reproductive system) + android, a Greek word used to refer to robotic humanoids regardless of gender. However, the Greek prefix “andr-” means man in the masculine sense and because of this android is used to describe male-styled robots. Given the established etymology, it’s going to be a battle to replace androids with guynoids.

All this is by way of saying that sex with robots is very much in the news. Let’s take three of today’s headlines, starting with The New Scientist. “Could sex robots and virtual reality treat paedophilia?The Daily Mirror is more of a mass-market publication: “Expert to publish ‘how to build your own sex robot’ handbook after Scarlett Johansson lookalike success,” while The South China Morning Post brings us back to the gynoid world of Gwyneth Jones: “Sex and robots: How mechanical dolls may press all the right buttons for lonesome guys.”

Actually, that last headline is quite topical in light of the work being done by Kathleen Richardson, a Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics at De Montfort University in Leicester. Last September, she published a position paper titled “The Asymmetrical ‘Relationship’: Parallels Between Prostitution and the Development of Sex Robots.” Snippet:

“Following in the footsteps of ethical robot campaigns, I propose to launch a campaign against sex robots, so that issues in prostitution can be discussed more widely in the field of robotics. I have to tried to show how human lifeworlds of gender and sexuality are inflected in making of sex robots, and that these robots will contribute to gendered inequalities found in the sex industry.”

The debate about the gendering of robots and the sexualized personification of machines is on.

Ex Machina


The Robolution federator

Tuesday, 2 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s upgrading of English vocabulary is a regular theme here and the prospect of public presentations on the subject in October and November is concentrating the mind, to paraphrase Dr Johnson. We’ve had some gems recently and more are to come. Central to the revolutionary stuff going on right now is robotics.

Definition: “Robotics is the branch of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots, as well as the computer systems for their control, feedback and data processing.”

If you create an €80 million private equity fund dedicated to robotics, you’re going to need a name for the venture; one that combines the essence of the business with its revolutionary role in 21st-century industry, ideally. Robolution The result is… Robolution. Or, more precisely, Robolution Capital. But there’s something slightly unmelodious about the word “Robolution,” with its hints of ablution and absolution. Sure, it’s an attempt to capture an element of “revolution,” but the “robo” bit at the front doesn’t quite make a harmonius unit, does it? Perhaps it sounds better in French because Robolution Capital is based in Paris.

Along with robotics, Robolution Capital is focussing on artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), two very hot areas right now, and this is why it defines itself as a facilitator, an accelerator and “a federator at the heart of the ecosystem of entrepreneurs, corporates, public organizations, universities and research centers.” What’s a federator? The usually indefatigable Wiktionary does not have an entry for the word and Techopedia offers “Federation” from the world of enterprise architecture that allows interoperability. The word, however, is a version of fédérateur, the French noun that means “unifier.” And with its philosophy and its focus on robotics, AI and the IoT, Robolution is true federator.

News: 360 Capital Partners, an early-stage VC business based in Milan and Paris has just done a deal with Orkos Capital, also based in Paris, to manage Robolution Capital.


Buongiorno! Amazon’s wake words in Italy

Wednesday, 27 July, 2016 0 Comments

Amazon apre un nuovo centro di sviluppo per l’intelligenza artificiale e il Machine Learning a Torino. That was the welcome news for Italy’s battered economy earlier this week. Translation: “Amazon to open a new artificial intelligence and machine learning development centre in Turin.” The charming capital of Piedmont will soon be home to a batch of software engineers and linguists developing machine learning capabilities for Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based data and analytics service. This sentence in the press release stood out:

“Alexa usa l’apprendimento automatico in campi come il rilevamento delle parole di attivazione, il riconoscimento vocale basato sul cloud e la comprensione del linguaggio naturale.”

Question: How does one translate parole di attivazione? The available online Italian-English dictionaries are not up to the job and Google Translate offers “words activation” as its best shot. Close, but no cigar. In fact, parole di attivazione are “wake words”. Eh?

Amazon Echo To understand the function of wake words, get an Amazon Echo. This hands-free speaker connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide news, sports scores and weather forecasts. When you want to use your Echo, speak the word “Alexa” and the device comes to life instantly. That’s the “wake word”. If you have more than one Echo, you can set a different wake word for each. You can pick “Amazon” or “Echo” as the wake word. And that’s it. Why the paucity of wake words? Well, according to Veton Kepuska, author of Wake-Up-Word Speech Recognition, the challenge is to:

“Detect a single word or phrase when spoken in an alerting context, while rejecting all other words, phrases, sounds, noises and other acoustic events with virtually 100% accuracy including the same word or phrase of interest spoken in a non-alerting (i.e. referential) context.”

See the problem? In its search for usable wake words, Alexa needs ones that are not only easy to pronounce and remember, but are also rare enough that they’re not even used at the start of sentences. Very tricky. As things stand, it’s doubtful Echo owners will be able to choose their own wake word for a long, long time to come. The best hope of the Turin project is that the team there will create an expanded list of words that are unlikely to lead to too many false wakes. No false dawns. No hurry, in other words.

Turin is an ideal location for this venture. It’s the home of the slow food movement.


Westworld redux

Wednesday, 29 June, 2016 0 Comments

In 1973, the late, great Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, a science fiction western-thriller about amusement park androids that malfunction and begin killing visitors. With stories about job-stealing robots and fears of rogue artificial intelligence reaching fever pitch, HBO has decided that what the world needs right now is an upgrade of Westworld. The story has been reengineered for our new century and this time round we’re expected to sympathize with the sentient bots enslaved by their scary creator, Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). The first trailer contains hints of Ex Machina, Black Mirror, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park and Crichton’s original.

HBO blurb: “The one-hour drama series Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, it explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged.”


Will we create a new class of robot slaves?

Tuesday, 28 June, 2016 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by Joi Ito, the Japanese entrepreneur, venture capitalist, academic and Director of the MIT Media Lab. Ito is concerned that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technologies might create a “productivity abundance” that would end the the financial need to work. On the face of it, this should not be a cause of great concern, given that many people hate their jobs. But there’s more to work than labour, Ito argues. It confers social status and gives a purpose. The solution? Disassociate the notion of work from productivity. The role model? Periclean Athens, which Ito terms “a moral society where people didn’t need to work to be engaged and productive.” In a post titled The Future of Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Ito asks:

“Could we image a new age where our self-esteem and shared societal value is not associated with financial success or work as we know it?… A good first step would be to begin work on our culture alongside our advances in technology and financial innovations so that the future looks more like Periclean Athens than a world of disengaged kids with nothing to do. If it was the moral values and virtues that allowed Periclean Athens to function, how might we develop them in time for a world without work as we currently know it?”

To his credit, Ito appends this note to his suggestion: “There were many slaves in Periclean Athens. For the future machine age, will be need to be concerned about the rights of machines? Will we be creating a new class of robot slaves?”

We looked at that very issue in our Monday post here: When will the e-people be allowed to vote?


Robots: Is it really different this time?

Tuesday, 7 June, 2016 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by Louis Anslow, whose Newtru.st is researching “new ways to accredit knowledge without tests or physical intermediaries.” Technology, says Anslow, “has always triggered fears of mass unemployment. In 1811 it was the Luddites, who assumed they were done for.” From those roving bands of English workers who destroyed machinery in the 19th-century, Anslow tracks the dread of technology right up to the present in Robots have been about to take all the jobs for more than 200 years. Now, he says, “the advent of self-driving cars and consumer facing A.I., the fear of automation is once again at a fever pitch.”

Telemarketing robot