Thursday, May 11, 2017

Friday Thinking 12 May 2017

Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.
In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.
Jobs are dying - work is just beginning.

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9


The ‘untranslatable’ emotions you never knew you had

Without hardware, there is no science. From Hooke’s microscope to the Hubble telescope, instruments are modern science’s platforms for producing knowledge. But limited access to scientific tools impedes the progress and reach of science by restricting the type of people who can participate in research, favouring those who have access to well-resourced laboratories in industrial or academic institutions.

The open science hardware movement challenges these norms with the goal of providing different futures for science, using hardware as a launching point. It argues that plans, protocols and material lists for scientific instruments should be shared, accessible and able to be replicated. The fact that a lot of modern scientific equipment is a consumer product that is patented, not supplied with full design information and difficult to repair also blocks creativity and customisation.

Instruments such as OpenCTD and White Rabbit are built on the premise of equality, the idea that everyone should have access to scientific tools. Yet the ability to access such tools is only half the story: it doesn’t address the acute disparities in who is creating science in the first place. And these are enormous. In 2015, The Guardian reported that Africa produces just 1.1% of global scientific knowledge. And recent data from UNESCO indicates that only 28% of researchers globally are women. Women do not represent 50% of scientists in a single country in the world.

We need to break science out of its ivory tower – here’s one way to do this

The FDA has already given the green light to at least one deep-learning algorithm. In January the FDA cleared for sale software developed by Arterys, a privately held medical-imaging company based in San Francisco. Its algorithm, “DeepVentricle,” analyzes MRI images of the interior contours of the heart’s chambers and calculates the volume of blood a patient’s heart can hold and pump. That calculation is completed in less than 30 seconds, Arterys says, whereas conventional methods typically take an hour.

To train their software, the team led by Thrun, a former vice president at Google who worked on driverless cars there, fed it 129,405 images of skin conditions evaluated by experts. These covered 2,032 different diseases and included 1,942 images of confirmed skin cancers.

Eventually the software was able to outperform 21 dermatologists in identifying which moles were potentially cancerous.

Deep Learning Is a Black Box, but Health Care Won’t Mind

"The intimate relationship between design and biology proposes a shift from consuming Nature as a geological resource to editing it as a biological one. And this journey from mining to growing is accelerating."

In the Biological Age, designers and builders are empowered to dream up new, dynamic design possibilities, where products and structures can grow, heal and adapt. But striding Nature’s way is far from natural. It requires a change in the way we see “Mother Nature,” from a boundless nourishing entity to one that begs nourishment by design. As we master ‘unnatural’ processes at a speed and sophistication that dwarfs evolution, Material Ecology propels us into the age where we mother Nature by design.

I recall a somber quarrel between two students—a materials scientist and a biologist—over the microscope’s settings. The materials scientist viewed the world through the lens of properties, the biologist—through the lens of function. That’s when I realized that it is how we set our lenses—literally and metaphorically—that ends up defining how we see the world around us, and how it sees us back, across the many realms of being: material, immaterial, spiritual.

The builders say we dream too much, and the dreamers—that we are too fast to build. The geography is one of mindset, it’s not a place.

Neri Oxman #99

Science is in the midst of a data crisis. Last year, there were more than 1.2 million new papers published in the biomedical sciences alone, bringing the total number of peer-reviewed biomedical papers to over 26 million. However, the average scientist reads only about 250 papers a year.

Science has outgrown the human mind and its limited capacities

This is a 21 min read by Kevin Kelly - a good piece that provides some balance to the fear of Algorithmic Intelligence.
Every species alive today is equally evolved. Humans exist on this outer ring alongside cockroaches, clams, ferns, foxes, and bacteria. Every one of these species has undergone an unbroken chain of three billion years of successful reproduction, which means that bacteria and cockroaches today are as highly evolved as humans. There is no ladder.

Human minds are societies of minds, in the words of Marvin Minsky. We run on ecosystems of thinking. We contain multiple species of cognition that do many types of thinking: deduction, induction, symbolic reasoning, emotional intelligence, spacial logic, short-term memory, and long-term memory. The entire nervous system in our gut is also a type of brain with its own mode of cognition. We don’t really think with just our brain; rather, we think with our whole bodies.

Many proponents of an explosion of intelligence expect it will produce an explosion of progress. I call this mythical belief “thinkism.” It’s the fallacy that future levels of progress are only hindered by a lack of thinking power, or intelligence.

The AI Cargo Cult - The Myth of a Superhuman AI

I’ve heard that in the future computerized AIs will become so much smarter than us that they will take all our jobs and resources, and humans will go extinct. Is this true?

That’s the most common question I get whenever I give a talk about AI. The questioners are earnest; their worry stems in part from some experts who are asking themselves the same thing. These folks are some of the smartest people alive today, such as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Max Tegmark, Sam Harris, and Bill Gates, and they believe this scenario very likely could be true. Recently at a conference convened to discuss these AI issues, a panel of nine of the most informed gurus on AI all agreed this superhuman intelligence was inevitable and not far away.

Every light casts shadows - all technologies can be weaponized (even the pencil) - the paradox of freedom and control is imbued in the Internet.

Shut Down the Internet, and the Economy Goes With It

Government leaders who turn off the Internet as a means of censorship are shooting their economies in the foot.
Governments damage their economies when they shut down Internet applications and services, according to a new analysis.

During the past year, 81 disruptions in 19 countries cost those economies at least $2.4 billion, according a study by Darrell West at the Brookings Institution that estimates the cost of disrupting a nation’s online activities.

Governments can cut off citizens’ Internet access for a variety of reasons, including to quell dissent or force a company to comply with a law. In 2011, the Egyptian government shut down access for five days to prevent communication between protesters, while more recently, Brazil blocked the messaging app WhatsApp after it refused to comply with requests for user data.

As economic activity increasingly relies on the Internet, these kind of disruptions are “very counterproductive,” says West.
In some places, like countries in Africa where people rely heavily on mobile money, the ramifications are especially severe.

And here’s another emerging reason (as if there aren’t enough reasons) that Internet access may become vital to our daily life. In many countries developing a voter registration list - to ensure credible democratic and other processes is currently almost impossible.
The challenge is that in poor countries, an increasing number of people live under the radar, invisible to the often archaic, paper-based methods used to certify births, deaths, and marriages. One in three children under age five does not officially exist because their birth wasn’t registered. Even when it is, many don’t have proof in the form of birth certificates. This can have a lasting impact on children’s lives, leaving them vulnerable to neglect and abuse.

Solving a Global Digital Identity Crisis

In developing countries, one in three children under age five has no record of their existence. Technology can help.
Digital identities have become an integral part of modern life, but things like e-passports, digital health records, or Apple Pay really only provide faster, easier, or sometimes smarter ways of accessing services that are already available.

In developing countries it’s a different story. There, digital ID technology can have a profound impact on people’s lives by enabling them to access vital and often life-saving services for the very first time.

This makes the technology highly attractive for solving a range of problems, not least achieving what the United Nations calls Sustainable Development Goal 16. It requires all 193 member countries to ensure that everyone has a legal form of identity by 2030. The aim is to safeguard the rights of millions of marginalized or disenfranchised people, giving them access to things we often take for granted—education, health services, or the ability to vote.

This is an excellent and brief article outlining through some great infographics the ‘buzz’ about the Blockchain in the last year. This is worth the view - just to get a sense of the growing number of significant ‘players’ there are and the increasing range of uses and potential uses. For financial institutions the blockchain reduce the time to ‘clear transactions’ from a weak to … well 10 minutes.

5 infographics that explain one year of blockchain news

If you work in finance or own any bitcoin, you likely already know about blockchain technology.

But for those in neither category, here’s a quick overview of a year’s worth of news about blockchains, databases that essentially make records more verifiable and permanent.

For this analysis, we used Quid, software that searches and analyses massive amounts of data and then offers insight by organizing that content visually.
It’s been a big year for news about blockchain, heralded as a technology that will disrupt several industries beyond banking in 2017.

Here’s an interesting signal about an evolution of news media toward a citizen-based foundation - rather than advertising-based, for-profit models that have characterized the traditional purveyors of news.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales launches Wikitribune, a large-scale attempt to combat fake news

The crowd-funded news platform aims to combat fake news by combining professional journalism with volunteer fact checking: “news by the people and for the people.”
So what would happen if you combined professional journalism with fact checking by the people? On Monday evening, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales launched Wikitribune, an independent site (not affiliated with Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation) “that brings journalists and a community 
of volunteers together” in a combination that Wales hopes will combat fake news online — initially in English, then in other languages.

The site is launching with a crowdfunding campaign to fund the first Wikitribune journalists (the default amount is $10 a month, but users can donate any amount they wish) “with the first issue of Wikitribune following shortly.” The Wikitribune page said that the goal is to hire 10 journalists.

The idea is that the professional journalists will be paid to write “global news stories,” while volunteer contributors will “vet the facts, helps make sure the language is factual and neutral, and will to the maximum extent possible be transparent about the source of news posting full transcripts, video, and audio of interviews. In this way Wikitribune aims to combat the increasing proliferation of online fake news.”

The shadows of big data when use is not transparent - should be of concern to all of us.

Report: Facebook helped advertisers target teens who feel “worthless” [Updated]

Leaked 2017 document reveals FB Australia's intent to exploit teens' words, images.
Facebook's secretive advertising practices became a little more public on Monday thanks to a leak out of the company's Australian office. This 23-page document discovered by The Australian (paywall), details in particular how Facebook executives promote advertising campaigns that exploit Facebook users' emotional states—and how these are aimed at users as young as 14 years old.

According to the report, the selling point of this 2017 document is that Facebook's algorithms can determine, and allow advertisers to pinpoint, "moments when young people need a confidence boost." If that phrase isn't clear enough, Facebook's document offers a litany of teen emotional states that the company claims it can estimate based on how teens use the service, including "worthless," "insecure," "defeated," "anxious," "silly," "useless," "stupid," "overwhelmed," "stressed," and "a failure."

The Australian says that the documents also reveal a particular interest in helping advertisers target moments in which young users are interested in "looking good and body confidence” or “working out and losing weight." Another section describes how image-recognition tools are used on both Facebook and Instagram (a wholly owned Facebook subsidiary) to reveal to advertisers "how people visually represent moments such as meal times." And it goes into great detail about how younger Facebook users express themselves: according to Facebook Australia, earlier in the week, teens post more about "anticipatory emotions" and "building confidence," while weekend teen posts contain more "reflective emotions" and "achievement broadcasting."

Facebook's ability to predict and possibly exploit users' personal data probably isn't news to anybody who has followed the company over the past decade, but this leak may be the first tacit admission by any Facebook organization that younger users' data is sorted and exploited in a unique way. This news follows stories about Facebook analyzing and even outright manipulating users' emotional states, along with reports and complaints about the platform guessing users' "ethnic affinity," disclosing too much personal data, and possibly permitting illegal discrimination in housing and financial ads.

This may be of interest to anyone who might want to teach something to someone - whether it’s an online support to community programs or to work related or ‘how to’ programs.

Google Classroom outside the classroom

Technology makes learning possible anytime, anywhere. Learners aren’t always sitting in a classroom, and educators aren’t always lecturing at a chalkboard. That’s why last month we made Google Classroom available to users without G Suite for Education accounts. Now, using a personal Google account, teachers and learners in many different settings can teach or attend classes, manage assignments, and instantly collaborate.

Starting today, users can do more than join classes—they can create them, too. Over the past few weeks, teachers and students have been piloting this new feature, and they’ve already created some great new classes for adult education, hobbies, and after school programs. Below we’ll share some of these classes with you.

This is a very interesting 18 min TED talk for anyone interested in the blending of the domestication of DNA and materials science and Design.

Design at the intersection of technology and biology

Designer and architect Neri Oxman is leading the search for ways in which digital fabrication technologies can interact with the biological world. Working at the intersection of computational design, additive manufacturing, materials engineering and synthetic biology, her lab is pioneering a new age of symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, our products and even our buildings.

We have to realize that technology includes concepts that lead to new theories and whole new sciences. Everyone should know by know about quantum computing - but that also has implications on transforming traditional understandings of science - much like what Einstein did to Newton. This is a fascinating and accessible piece providing a deep peek (oxymoron?) into thermodynamics.
“If physical theories were people, thermodynamics would be the village witch,” the physicist LĂ­dia del Rio and co-authors wrote last year in Journal of Physics A. “The other theories find her somewhat odd, somehow different in nature from the rest, yet everyone comes to her for advice, and no one dares to contradict her.”

The Quantum Thermodynamics Revolution

As physicists extend the 19th-century laws of thermodynamics to the quantum realm, they’re rewriting the relationships among energy, entropy and information.
Unlike, say, the Standard Model of particle physics, which tries to get at what exists, the laws of thermodynamics only say what can and can’t be done. But one of the strangest things about the theory is that these rules seem subjective. A gas made of particles that in aggregate all appear to be the same temperature — and therefore unable to do work — might, upon closer inspection, have microscopic temperature differences that could be exploited after all. As the 19th-century physicist James Clerk Maxwell put it, “The idea of dissipation of energy depends on the extent of our knowledge.”

In recent years, a revolutionary understanding of thermodynamics has emerged that explains this subjectivity using quantum information theory — “a toddler among physical theories,” as del Rio and co-authors put it, that describes the spread of information through quantum systems. Just as thermodynamics initially grew out of trying to improve steam engines, today’s thermodynamicists are mulling over the workings of quantum machines. Shrinking technology — a single-ion engine and three-atom fridge were both experimentally realized for the first time within the past year — is forcing them to extend thermodynamics to the quantum realm, where notions like temperature and work lose their usual meanings, and the classical laws don’t necessarily apply.

They’ve found new, quantum versions of the laws that scale up to the originals. Rewriting the theory from the bottom up has led experts to recast its basic concepts in terms of its subjective nature, and to unravel the deep and often surprising relationship between energy and information — the abstract 1s and 0s by which physical states are distinguished and knowledge is measured. “Quantum thermodynamics” is a field in the making, marked by a typical mix of exuberance and confusion.

The transformation of global energy geopolitics continues - here’s a signal of a new form of harvesting solar energy.

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

A chemistry professor in Florida has just found a way to trigger the process of photosynthesis in a synthetic material, turning greenhouse gases into clean air and producing energy all at the same time.

The process has great potential for creating a technology that could significantly reduce greenhouse gases linked to climate change, while also creating a clean way to produce energy.

"This work is a breakthrough," said UCF Assistant Professor Fernando Uribe-Romo. "Tailoring materials that will absorb a specific color of light is very difficult from the scientific point of view, but from the societal point of view we are contributing to the development of a technology that can help reduce greenhouse gases."
The findings of his research are published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

For all of us who were hoping that voice activation would solve some the password problems - bad news. It’s not really ready for primetime - has a sort of ‘Stephen Hawkins’ feel - but the trajectory is clear.

Speech-imitating algorithm can steal your voice in 60 seconds

Machine learning algorithm can mimic other peoples' voices or create new ones from scratch.
A Canadian start-up has developed a voice imitation programme capable of mimicking a person's voice after just a minute of listening to them speak.

Developed by AI firm Lyrebird, the algorithm uses machine learning to synthesise speech based on audio samples and is even able to replicate emotion.

Lyrebird's algorithm is capable of generating new voices from scratch as well as replicating those of others. After hearing an audio clip, the programme determines the defining feature or "key" to the person's voice and then uses this to generate words from scratch. It even varies the intonations it applies so that a repeated sentence doesn't sound the same way twice.

The results are impressive, although some of the replications are undoubtedly more convincing than others. It's important to note that Lyrebird's tech is still in its beta phase, meaning it's likely to get better as the company perfects the algorithm.

Here’s something that may signal possible ‘organic’ ways to eliminate plastic in the wild.
"We have carried out many experiments to test the efficacy of these worms in biodegrading polyethylene. 100 wax worms are capable of biodegrading 92 milligrams of polyethylene in 12 hours, which really is very fast", says Bertocchini. Following the larva phase, the worm wraps itself in a whitish-coloured cocoon or chrysalis. The researchers also discovered that by simply having the cocoon in contact with polyethylene, the plastic biodegrades.

A CSIC scientist discovers that wax worms eat plastic

The insect is able to quickly biodegrade polyethylene, the plastic used for shopping bags and food packaging
A research scientist at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Federica Bertocchini, has discovered that wax worms (Galleria mellonella), which usually feed on honey and wax from the honeycombs of bees, are capable of degrading plastic. This worm is capable of biodegrading polyethylene, one of the toughest plastic materials that exists, and which is used to make shopping bags and food packaging, amongst other things. The discovery has been patented by the research scientists. The CSIC scientist worked on this research with Paolo Bombelli and Chris Howe from the University of Cambridge. The paper will be published in the next issue of Current Biology.

This really could be a game change - not only for picking fruit but for transforming (again) the bio-economy we call agriculture.
“Human pickers are getting scarce,” said Gad Kober, a co-founder of Israel-based FFRobotics. “Young people do not want to work in farms, and elderly pickers are slowly retiring.”

A robot that picks apples? Washington state’s orchards could see a ‘game-changer’

Harvesting Washington’s vast fruit orchards requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States. That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market.

This is another innovation regarding robot mobility. A different take then those of Boston Dynamics. There is a 3 min video that clearly demonstrates the ideas.

An Ostrich-Like Robot Pushes the Limits of Legged Locomotion

Robots are still learning to walk. Here’s one that runs on two legs.
What looks like a tiny mechanical ostrich chasing after a car is actually a significant leap forward for robot-kind.

The clever and simple two-legged robot, known as the Planar Elliptical Runner, was developed at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Florida, to explore how mechanical design can be used to enable sophisticated legged locomotion. A video produced by the researchers shows the robot being tested in a number of situations, including on a treadmill and running behind and alongside a car with a helping hand from an engineer.

In contrast to many other legged robots, this one doesn’t use sensors and a computer to help balance itself. Instead, its mechanical design provides dynamic stability as it runs. “All the intelligence is in the physical design of the robot itself,” says Jerry Pratt, a senior research scientist at IHMC who leads the team that developed the robot. Pratt's group at IHMC is working on a range of different robots.

The shift toward a new global energy geopolitics and paradigm is accelerating.
"We are going to introduce electric vehicles in a very big way. We are going to make electric vehicles self- sufficient like UJALA. The idea is that by 2030, not a single petrol or diesel car should be sold in the country," Power minister Piyush Goyal said while addressing the CII Annual Session 2017.

India aiming for all-electric car fleet by 2030, petrol and diesel to be tanked

India is looking at having an all-electric car fleet by 2030 with an express objective of lowering the fuel import bill and running cost of vehicles.

Goyal is of the view that initially the government can handhold the electric vehicle industry for 2-3 years to help it stabilise.

Citing the example of Maruti, which has logged over 30 per cent profit this time, he explained that the government had supported India's largest car maker initially, which eventually led to development of the big automotive industry in the country.

Language and reality - or at least felt-experienced reality are deeply linked - new words enable new worlds.

The ‘untranslatable’ emotions you never knew you had

From gigil to wabi-sabi and tarab, there are many foreign emotion words with no English equivalent. Learning to identify and cultivate these experiences could give you a richer and more successful life.
Have you ever felt a little mbuki-mvuki – the irresistible urge to “shuck off your clothes as you dance”? Perhaps a little kilig – the jittery fluttering feeling as you talk to someone you fancy? How about uitwaaien – which encapsulates the revitalising effects of taking a walk in the wind?

These words – taken from Bantu, Tagalog, and Dutch – have no direct English equivalent, but they represent very precise emotional experiences that are neglected in our language. And if Tim Lomas at the University of East London has his way, they might soon become much more familiar.

Lomas’s Positive Lexicography Project aims to capture the many flavours of good feelings (some of which are distinctly bittersweet) found across the world, in the hope that we might start to incorporate them all into our daily lives. We have already borrowed many emotion words from other languages, after all – think “frisson”, from French, or “schadenfreude”, from German – but there are many more that have not yet wormed their way into our vocabulary. Lomas has found hundreds of these "untranslatable" experiences so far – and he’s only just begun.

Learning these words, he hopes, will offer us all a richer and more nuanced understanding of ourselves. “They offer a very different way of seeing the world.”

Lomas points to the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett at Northeastern University, who has shown that our abilities to identify and label our emotions can have far-reaching effects.

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