Thursday, March 3, 2016

Friday Thinking 4 March 2016

Hello – Friday Thinking is curated on the basis of my own curiosity and offered in the spirit of sharing. Many thanks to those who enjoy this. 

In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

"We are 21st century citizens doing our best to interact with 19th century designed institutions that are based on an information technology of the 15th century.

It's time we start asking: What is democracy for the internet era?"
Pia Mancini: How to upgrade democracy for the Internet era

I see technology as taking human goals and making them able to be automatically executed by machines. The human goals that we've had in the past have been things like moving objects from here to there and using a forklift rather than our own hands. Now, the things that we can do automatically are more intellectual kinds of things that have traditionally been the professions' work, so to speak. These are things that we are going to be able to do by machine. The machine is able to execute things, but something or someone has to define what its goals should be and what it's trying to execute.

...what does the world look like when most people can write code? We had a transition, maybe 500 years ago or something, from a time when only scribes and a small set of the population were literate and could write natural language. Today, a small fraction of the population can write code. Most of the code they can write is for computers only. You don't understand things by reading code.

What's the future of the humans in a world where, once we can describe what we want to do, things can get done automatically? What do the humans do? One of my little hobby projects is trying to understand the evolution of human purposes over time. Today, we've got all kinds of purposes. We sit and have a big discussion about purposes, which presumably has some purpose. We do all the different things that we do in the world.
AI & The Future Of Civilization

I remember in the Fall of 2012 getting into a rather heated discussion about the future of education - having to be free - that an innovation-based economy could not afford to make education expensive - that it had to invest in …. well the Wealth of People. But I’m not one to say I told you so. :) Besides this remains early days.
Ontario budget 2016’s free tuition pledge: What the changes mean for some students
University and college will soon be free for students from low-income families and more affordable for those from middle-class homes.

Under the new program, half of students from families with incomes of $83,000 will qualify for non-repayable grants for tuition and no student will receive less than they can currently receive.

This interesting interview was recommended to me by two different people - it does ask some vital questions about AI and is definitely worth the read for anyone curious about the future of AI and the digital environment..
The App is already dead - what is being born is a personal AI-ssistant. Future of personal AI-ssistant - is to enhance, deepen, broaden, diversity our unconscious processing and memory -e.g. we’ll have access to the entire dictionary as our vocabulary -
What will happen, more to the point, is that there will be an AI that knows our history, and knows that on this menu, you're probably going to want to order this, or you're talking to this person, you should talk to them about this. I've looked at your interests, I know something about their interests, these are the common interests that you have, these are some great topics that you can talk to them about.
AI & The Future Of Civilization
A Conversation With Stephen Wolfram
What makes us different from all these things? What makes us different is the particulars of our history, which gives us our notions of purpose and goals. That's a long way of saying when we have the box on the desk that thinks as well as any brain does, the thing it doesn't have, intrinsically, is the goals and purposes that we have. Those are defined by our particulars—our particular biology, our particular psychology, our particular cultural history.

The thing we have to think about as we think about the future of these things is the goals. That's what humans contribute, that's what our civilization contributes—execution of those goals; that's what we can increasingly automate. We've been automating it for thousands of years. We will succeed in having very good automation of those goals. I've spent some significant part of my life building technology to essentially go from a human concept of a goal to something that gets done in the world.

There are many questions that come from this. For example, we've got these great AIs and they're able to execute goals, how do we tell them what to do?...

A ‘weak signal’ of the looming emergence of AI-ssistants. There’s a 1 min video as well.
Google kicks off a public pilot for Hands Free mobile payments
The downside: It's only live in part of the SF Bay Area.

Heads up, Silicon Valley residents: the days of pulling out your credit card to pay for Big Macs are numbered. Google just announced that the pilot program for its Hands Free payments scheme has gone live for certain stores in San Francisco's South Bay, so all you'll have to do is tell the cashier you're "Paying with Google." We're trying to figure out if there's a cap to how many people can sign up, but for now, it looks like all local residents need is an Android device running 4.2 or newer, or an iPhone 4S and newer.

Here’s one possibility for the 21st Century digital environment - providing the world with vast ubiquitous Internet.
These Terabit Satellites Will Bring Internet To The Remotest Places On Earth
The U.S.-based satellite company ViaSat has announced that it has teamed up with aerospace giant Boeing to create three new satellites that will bring high-speed Internet to the remotest parts of the world.

The three ViaSat-3 satellite will join the already 400 other connected satellites in space. However, the ViaSat-3s will deliver twice the network capacity of the other 400—combined. The satellites will be capable of 1 terabit speeds each (that’s 1,000 gigabits per second). That amount of bandwidth will be able to provide fast enough Internet to reliably deliver bandwidth-hogging 4k video to isolated areas—and in the sky.

As for the ViaSat-3 satellites, the first two will be completed and delivered into space via Boeing Satellite Systems in 2019 and provide service for users in the Americas and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). The third satellite will go up sometime after 2019 and provide service to users in Asia.

The emerging digital environment will provide a fundamentally different platform for our institutions, economy and societies. A change in the conditions of change. Here’s is one hint - a small glimpse of some changes in the institutions of collective decisioning.
How one woman's app is changing politics in the digital age
Argentina’s Pia Mancini is using technology to destroy barriers between politicians and people around the world
For a woman whose day-to-day work revolves around reimagining democracy for the digital era, Pia Mancini is pretty relaxed. On a windy day in San Francisco, where the Argentine political scientist is based, she Skypes me between meetings, her hair whipping across her face in the breeze.

The 33-year-old has worked for thinktanks, in public policy and on a range of political campaigns. But in recent years she has devoted her time to launching non-profit organisations and venture-backed collaborative projects that could change the way citizens engage with politics all over the world.

“There’s so much that is out of sync between the state, the government and the younger generation,” she says. “A huge divide exists between how we organise and communicate in our everyday lives, and how these old institutions expect us to interact with them.”

One of Mancini’s central projects, DemocracyOS, provides a platform for citizens to engage with politics away from those outdated structures. When a new piece of legislation is brought to congress in Argentina DemocracyOS is used to immediately translate and explain it in plain language. Citizens are also able to discuss and directly “vote” on these new bills using the site or desktop app.

This is a 1hr video presentation on the future of AI - a very good summary by a leader in the field - who’s also leading Google’s efforts in this domain. The discussion includes a nice explanation of the AI Google developed to beat a high level Go player. This is well worth the watch for anyone wanting to get some intuitive sense of the acceleration in AI to enhance human effort in all areas of pursuit - including science and art.
Demis Hassabis - The Future of Artificial Intelligence
This talk was held on Wed, Feb 24 2016

Dr. Demis Hassabis is the Co-Founder and CEO of DeepMind, the world’s leading General Artificial Intelligence (AI) company, which was acquired by Google in 2014 in their largest ever European acquisition. Demis will draw on his eclectic experiences as an AI researcher, neuroscientist and videogames designer to discuss what is happening at the cutting edge of AI research, its future impact on fields such as science and healthcare, and how developing AI may help us better understand the human mind.

The future of AI may also be involved in new forms of computing - this is a short fascinating article.
Building, Living Breathing Supercomputers
The substance that provides energy to all the cells in our bodies, Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), may also be able to power the next generation of super-computers. That is what an international team of researchers led by Prof. Nicolau, the Chair of the Department of Bioengineering at McGill, believe. They've published an article on the subject earlier this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), in which they describe a model of a biological computer that they have created that is able to process information very quickly and accurately using parallel networks in the same way that massive electronic super computers do.

Except that the model bio supercomputer they have created is a whole lot smaller than current super-computers, uses much less energy, and uses proteins present in all living cells to function.

This is an interesting 22 min We Evolve video about the future of medicine - the informed patient and data enabled doctor. Our wearables in a digital environment will scan, calculate, report and learn to help us learn.
The Era of Citizen Doctors
The difference between a doctor and a machine is like the difference between a private banker and an ATM machine
Last December, Walter De Brouwer, Scanadu’s founder and CEO was invited to keynote at the Tencent WE Summit 2015 in Beijing, China along with Reid Hoffman and Joi Ito.

In his 20-minute talk Walter shares his view about why we, patients and consumers, will play a major role in our own health and how we’re getting there.

Self-check-out is expanding - soon autonomous robots will stock shelves and we’ll do the rest. But this is the new convenience store.
In Sweden's 1st unstaffed food shop, all you need is a phone
Customers simply use their cellphones to unlock the door with a swipe of the finger and scan their purchases. All they need to do is to register for the service and download an app. They get charged for their purchases in a monthly invoice.

The shop has basics like milk, bread, sugar, canned food, diapers and other products that you expect to find in a small convenience store. It doesn't have tobacco or medical drugs because of the risk of theft. Alcohol cannot be sold in convenience stores in Sweden.

This is not quite ready for prime time - but… the domestication of DNA continues. Another aspect of this article is the subject of who’s owns science? This is worth the read.
Genetically engineered immune cells are saving the lives of cancer patients. That may be just the start.
Availability: 1-2 years
The doctors looking at Layla Richards saw a little girl with leukemia bubbling in her veins. She’d had bags and bags of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. But the cancer still thrived. By last June, the 12-month-old was desperately ill. Her parents begged—wasn’t there anything?

There was. In a freezer at her hospital—Great Ormond Street, in London—sat a vial of white blood cells. The cells had been genetically altered to hunt and destroy leukemia, but the hospital hadn’t yet sought permission to test them. They were the most extensively engineered cells ever proposed as a therapy, with a total of four genetic changes, two of them introduced by the new technique of genome editing.

….Cellectis began developing the treatment in 2011 after doctors in New York and Philadelphia reported that they’d found a way to gain control over T cells, the so-called killer cells of the immune system. They had shown that they could take T cells from a person’s bloodstream and, using a virus, add new DNA instructions to aim them at the type of blood cell that goes awry in leukemia. The technique has now been tested in more than 300 patients, with spectacular results, often resulting in complete remission. A dozen drug firms and biotechnology companies are now working to bring such a treatment to market.

In November, Great Ormond announced that Layla was cured. The British press jumped on the heartwarming story of a brave kid and daring doctors. Accounts splashed on front pages sent Cellectis’s stock price shooting upward. Two weeks later, the drug companies Pfizer and Servier announced they would ante up $40 million to purchase rights to the treatment.

The Internet-of-Things includes the propagation of countless sensors - even when they are cheap one can think they are expensive - but these sensors are both simple and cheap.
An artificial skin with the sensory function of human skin has been created out of household items by a team of researchers from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). The low-cost sensor platform can detect touch, pressure, temperature, acidity and humidity. The “paper skin,” as it’s called by the researchers, is in the early stages of development.

The innovative material is made from common kitchen items including aluminum foil, sticky note paper, sponges, and tape. The materials were assembled into an artificial skin platform that can respond to external stimuli such as humidity, temperature changes, and even the presence of a finger. The system is based on electrical conductance, detecting the changes in electrical conductivity produced by these external stimuli. To detect these changes, the skin is connected to a device capable of measuring voltage, resistance and capacitance.  As arranged, this system could detect multiple stimuli simultaneously in real time.

The team used both individual and combined elements to mimic skin function, For example, the sticky note was used to detect humidity while the sponge was used to monitor changes in pressure. Multiple elements such as lead pencil on paper and conductive silver ink on aluminum foil could be used to measure more complex stimuli such as acidity levels, or temperature fluctuations.

This is apparently available now - something that many professionals and occupations may find very useful. There’s pictures and a 1 min video.
Augmented-Reality Construction Helmet to 'Change the Nature of Work'
Called the Daqri Smart Helmet, the wearable device enables a user to see an augmented reality – the real world overlaid with computer imagery.

The helmet – which has a blue scratch-resistant visor – was specifically created for workers in industrial settings, such as construction sites. It is intended to increase productivity, efficiency and safety, said the company.

"We've been working in the medium of augmented reality for the past four years, and what we found was, you just can't solve the most challenging problems with devices that were designed for consumers," said Brian Mullins, Daqri's founder and CEO. "We needed something that was designed specifically for industrial applications."

The headgear uses a combination of cameras and sensors to capture and record real-time information about the user's surroundings, from valve readings to thermal data. It can also show the wearer stored information like safety guidelines and worker instructions.

This is another nice advance in 3-D printing.
One 3-D Printer for 21 Metals
A new additive manufacturing technique makes it possible to 3-D-print parts out of multiple metals.
A new technology for 3-D-printing metal parts could be a cheaper and more versatile alternative to common industrial metalworking techniques. It also opens the door to new kinds of parts with unique properties that arise from the precise combination of multiple metals. Possible applications include structural parts for things like car or airplane bodies, as well as components of engines, electrical devices, or other machines.

That’s according to AJ Perez, CEO of NVBOTS, the Boston-based startup that developed the new method. The company says the technology, which is capable of printing 21 different metals from aluminum, nickel, and tin to alloys like stainless steel and nickel titanium, is the only one that can use multiple metals during the same job.

Here’s an interesting potential development which supports the trajectory of more flexible types of screens in the emerging digital environment.
Flexible Glass Could Bring Back the Flip Phone
Schott can make a sheet of glass thinner than your hair and half a kilometer long that bends, but doesn’t yet fold.
Imagine a flip phone that fits in your pocket but opens up to reveal a tablet-sized screen. Glassmakers are already manufacturing bendable glass that’s thinner than a human hair, and they say foldable glass is just around the corner.

German glassmaker Schott is now mass-manufacturing glass that’s ultrathin, strong, and smooth. Electronics can be made on it, and it flexes like plastic. The first consumer product to use Schott’s new glass is the fingerprint sensor on a smartphone made by LeTV, a large video-streaming company in China. Company representatives hope that this and other niche applications will give the new material a foothold while industrial designers play around with it.

...the company can now continuously manufacture flexible glass in kilometers-long sheets.

Here’s something that can use solar energy in a couple of forms to transform carbon-dioxide and water into oxygen and fuel.
Liquid hydrocarbon fuel created from CO2 and water in breakthrough one-step process
As scientists look for ways to help remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a number of experiments have focused on employing this gas to create usable fuels. Both hydrogen and methanol have resulted from such experiments, but the processes often involve a range of intricate steps and a variety of methods. Now researchers have demonstrated a one-step conversion of carbon dioxide and water directly into a simple and inexpensive liquid hydrocarbon fuel using a combination of high-intensity light, concentrated heat, and high pressure.

According to the researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), this breakthrough sustainable fuels technology uses carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, with the added benefit of also producing oxygen as a byproduct, which should create a clear positive environmental impact.

"We are the first to use both light and heat to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons in a single stage reactor from carbon dioxide and water," said Brian Dennis, UTA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and co-principal investigator of the project. "Concentrated light drives the photochemical reaction, which generates high-energy intermediates and heat to drive thermochemical carbon-chain-forming reactions, thus producing hydrocarbons in a single-step process."

This sounds amazing - the future of solar energy continues to accelerate.
Solar cells as light as a soap bubble
Ultrathin, flexible photovoltaic cells from MIT research could find many new uses.
Imagine solar cells so thin, flexible, and lightweight that they could be placed on almost any material or surface, including your hat, shirt, or smartphone, or even on a sheet of paper or a helium balloon.

Researchers at MIT have now demonstrated just such a technology: the thinnest, lightest solar cells ever produced. Though it may take years to develop into a commercial product, the laboratory proof-of-concept shows a new approach to making solar cells that could help power the next generation of portable electronic devices.

The new process is described in a paper by MIT professor Vladimir Bulović, research scientist Annie Wang, and doctoral student Joel Jean, in the journal Organic Electronics.
“The innovative step is the realization that you can grow the substrate at the same time as you grow the device,” Bulović says.

To demonstrate just how thin and lightweight the cells are, the researchers draped a working cell on top of a soap bubble, without popping the bubble.

Whereas a typical silicon-based solar module, whose weight is dominated by a glass cover, may produce about 15 watts of power per kilogram of weight, the new cells have already demonstrated an output of 6 watts per gram — about 400 times higher.

Another approach to energy creation - there’s a 5 min video as well.
This Massive Waste-To-Energy Plant Will Be The Largest In The World
As cities figure out how to deal with growing piles of trash, they're taking two paths. Some, like San Francisco, are aiming for zero waste—composting and recycling everything that might have otherwise gone to a landfill. Others are burning garbage to turn it into electricity.

In 2020, the same year that San Francisco hopes to become a zero-waste city, the Chinese megacity of Shenzhen will open the world's largest waste-to-energy plant, stretching nearly a mile across and burning 5,000 tonnes of trash every day.

The phase transition in energy-geo-politics continues to make itself evident - this is important for any nation who’s put its eggs in expensive oil extraction initiatives - investment in the future is investment in renewable energies.
Top lobbying group in historic green energy U-turn

Energy UK, which represents big six providers, says it now supports phasing out coal-fired stations, after years of defending use of fossil fuels
The UK’s biggest energy lobbying group has shifted its position on green energy and will start campaigning for low-carbon alternatives for the first time, in what environmental campaigners are describing as a watershed moment.

Lawrence Slade, the chief executive of Energy UK, which represents the big six providers and has been regarded as a defender of fossil fuels, said the shift was urgent in order not to be left behind.

“No one wants to be running the next Nokia,” he said, referring to the mobile phone company that was overtaken by forward-looking rivals. “I want to drive change and move away from accepted (old-style) thinking.”

Energy UK now officially supports the government’s phasing out of coal-fired power stations and is critical of ministers over the way they have cut subsidies to wind and solar power so deeply and suddenly.

This article heralds breakthroughs -but is short on details - the interesting thing is the amount of investment being made toward the transformation of energy-geo-politics.
US agency says it has beaten Elon Musk and Gates to holy grail of battery storage
Breakthrough in next generation of storage batteries could transform the US electrical grid within five to 10 years, says research agency, Arpa-E
A US government agency says it has attained the “holy grail” of energy – the next-generation system of battery storage, that has has been hotly pursued by the likes of Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (Arpa-E) – a branch of the Department of Energy – says it achieved its breakthrough technology in seven years.
Ellen Williams, Arpa-E’s director, said: “I think we have reached some holy grails in batteries – just in the sense of demonstrating that we can create a totally new approach to battery technology, make it work, make it commercially viable, and get it out there to let it do its thing,”

The companies incubated at Arpa-E have developed new designs for batteries, and new chemistries, which are rapidly bringing down the costs of energy storage, she said.

“Our battery teams have developed new approaches to grid-scale batteries and moved them out,” Williams said. Three companies now have batteries on the market, selling grid-scale and back-up batteries. Half a dozen other companies are developing new batteries, she added.

This investment has to be seen in the context of the developments discussed in this article.
Almost 100 Million Homes May Run Only on Solar by 2020
Almost 100 million households worldwide may be powered by solar panels by 2020, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The off-grid solar market has grown to $700 million now from non-existent less than a decade ago, according to a report Thursday from the London-based research company and the World Bank Group’s Lighting Global. They expect that to swell to $3.1 billion by the end of the decade [4 years away].

There are about 1.2 billion people without access to energy and another billion who are connected to a national grid, but with unstable power. The report estimates that they spent $27 billion on crude lighting methods such as kerosene and candles last year. The demand for reliable energy is soaring with burgeoning populations and rising industrialization in emerging economies.

For Fun
This is 1 min video - about AI disrupting Robotics - funny.
"Coping with Humans:" A Support Group for Bots

IBM Watson is a cognitive system that's ushering in the new era of cognitive business. Recently, a group of battered science fiction bots spoke about their yen to take over the world and their dislike for working with humans. Unlike them, Watson works with humans to outthink competitors, challenges, limits. Learn more at

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