Author Archives: Rachańczyk Martyna

DeepMind’s MuZero

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MuZerio is perceived as an important step forward in the searching for general-purpose algorithms. To put it simply, MuZero is a computer program which was developed by DeepMind company in order to master games and new artificial environments without knowing their rules. 

MuZero is one of the newest solutions in the pursuit of methods that can not only learn a model which explains their environment, but also will be able to plan the best course of action. The program masters games like chess, Go, shogi and Atari without being told the rules in advance. 

”MuZero really is discovering for itself how to build a model and understand it just from first principles.”

— David Silver, DeepMind, Wired

DeepMind over the last few years came out sequentially with AI programs: AlphaGo (2016), AlphaGo Zero (2017) and AlphaZero (2017). The thing which was common for all of them is that they got the rules of the games they had to master going into their training.  

Source: deepmind.com

MuZero uses different techniques than its predecessors and therefore overcomes its limitations. The program doesn’t try to model the entire environment, instead it models just aspects that are crucial for AI in the decision-making process.

MuZero doesn’t rely on given knowledge of the environment’s dynamics, such as the rules of the game or an accurate simulator. This ability gives a hope that in the near future we will be able to apply this program to messy and complex real world problems.  

Dr David Silver said that DeepMind was already using MuZero to try to develop a new kind of video compression, which could make a massive savings e.g. in data volume. 

Moreover, its most advanced predecessor, AlphaZero, has been applied to a variety of complex problems in fields like chemistry, quantum physics and more. 

Researchers have never been closer to developing a general-purpose algorithm – MuZero marks a new beginning in AI that can significantly accelerate and facilitate tackling real-world problems 

which are typically hard to distill into simple rules. There is no doubt this technology will have a notable impact in tackling new challenges in robotics and industrial systems. 

It seems like the ability to plan, allowing humans to generalise gathered experience to make predictions on new scenarios, will not be (sooner or later) the only human domain.

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55403473

https://www.engadget.com/deepmind-muzero-160024950.html

https://deepmind.com/blog/article/muzero-mastering-go-chess-shogi-and-atari-without-rules

https://www.analyticsdrift.com/deepminds-muzero-marks-new-breakthrough-in-reinforcement-learning/

Facebook buy or bury strategy

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During the Attorney General news conference of the antitrust lawsuit against Facebook (09/12/20) NY Attorney General Letitia James explained the potential harmful effect which could be caused by acquisitions made by Facebook. She announced that the acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp reduced choices for consumers, restrained innovation and caused significant harm to the protection of privacy for millions of people. In order to impede competing services Facebook decided to implement a ‘buy or bury’ strategy — acquiring smaller or potential competitors before they could threaten the company’s dominance.

Instagram was bought by Facebook for $1 billion, which was a shocking sum given the fact that Instagram did not have even a dime of revenue at that time and that it had only thirteen employees. Today the company contributes over $20 billion to Facebook’s annual revenue.
Ian Conner, Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition, states that the FTC is aiming to inhibit or at least significantly slow down Facebook’s anticompetitive behaviour and rebuild competition with the objective of enabling free competition to thrive and innovation to develop.

Facebook defends itself claiming that all acquisitions in question were legal and cleared by regulatory agencies, highlighting that overturning them could be very dangerous and result in unpredictable consequences. There are also voices claiming that it could be simply too late to react on this matter, like the comment of Rep. Rep. Jerrold Nadler who said: “This should never have happened in the first place, and accountability is long overdue.”

Facebook is facing a situation where the FTC and over 40 states are seeking to break it up. The Facebook acquiring strategy is one of the new potential threats which modern society has to deal. It is as an effect of constant technology advancements and globalization. Many questions about privacy concerns cannot yet be answered and we can only try to predict potential results of actions taken by big tech companies.

Nevertheless, imposing a $5 billion fine on Facebook for mishandling user’s information by the FTC (2019) was severely criticised by not only the public, but also members of the agency’s board. We can assume that this explicit split is a result of not being aware of the potential consequences caused by creating a monopoly by a company which possesses vast amounts of our private data.

NY Attorney General news conference on antitrust lawsuit against Facebook:

The FTC is suing Facebook to unwind its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp:
https://www.theverge.com/2020/12/9/22158483/facebook-antitrust-lawsuit-anti-competition-behavior-attorneys-general
Mark Zuckerberg bought Instagram as it was a ‘threat’ to Facebook:
https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/mark-zuckerberg-bought-instagram-as-it-was-a-threat-to-facebook-120073000324_1.html#:~:text=Facebook%20bought%20Instagram%20for%20%241,billion%20to%20Facebook’s%20annual%20revenue.
F.T.C. Approves Facebook Fine of About $5 Billion:

The time for technology to encroach on harder questions

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The greenfield of looking for and developing innovations is increasingly shrinking. Every tech solution which was easy to develop has already been developed. We have thousands of similar apps which have similar approaches to what mobile tools can give us.

 

The coming decade will require us to look for answers on more complicated questions, than how to create the next app which enables users to communicate with other users. We already have a multitude of them.

It’s time to contemplate questions linked with topics which consider building a better society, better planet and facilitating our life for example, by making us more empowered to have a deep and conscious work-life balance.

Vast amounts of data undoubtedly can help with this. Although, first we have to know which tools we should use to create a useful outcome from the data. This demands from us to find a way to network knowledge and to create something fundamental from chaos.

Massive crises like COVID-19 was a test for our society and authorities. When we look around all we can see is a significant breakdown. How can technology help us to improve it?

What can we do for the world overall to make it a better place? How can we connect people instead of continuously dividing them into contra groups? Where are threats and how can we weaken them as much as possible?

One of the most important problems technology is facing right now regards privacy concerns. People are worrying about what’s going on with their so-called data and, what’s even more terrifying, some of them are not aware of the harmful influence of social media advertising which is instantly hunting for their attention. When the attention is caught, it’s easy to manipulate the user’s opinion. The problem is described in “The Social Dilemma” directed by Jeff Orlowski. More regulations and restrictions are crucial.

Looking at the bright side, the innovations in educational purposes might well be in their golden age right now. Schools and teachers adapted to the new situation. Now we can see an intensifying move into supplemental part-time teaching. Platforms like “Outschool” provide the possibility to participate in small-group classes led by teachers on a broad range of topics.

“CEO Amir Nathoo estimates that teachers can make between $40 to $60 per hour, up from an average of $30 per hour in earnings in traditional public schools. Outschool itself has surged over 2,000% in new bookings, and recently turned its first profit.”

The platform is still gaining more full-time and part-time teachers and there are predictions that maybe in the future, these kinds of platforms will be somehow linked with the traditional ways of studying.

This will enable students to have more resources to facilitate their learning, especially now, when they can’t simply stay after class and ask their teacher for one further explanation.

https://techcrunch.com/2020/10/31/tech-trends-show-practical-solutions-are-coming-for-humanitys-real-world-problems/

Amazon’s dominance

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While some businesses have been diminished or destroyed by the harmful influence of the Coronavirus pandemic, the others tried to thrive and prosper in this difficult situation.
Amazon is among those who managed to do that. The tech giant decided to accelerate an already aggressive expansion strategy which led to dominate the market to even more significant extent.

Increased demand for online shopping was a determining factor which pushed Amazon to expand their storage availability and its workforce to almost 1 million. What does it mean? The number of employees is predicted to grow by more than a quarter.

More warehouses and even more people working for long hours in enclosed spaces…
Amazon faced criticism from some employees over its handling of operations during the pandemic. Amazon made a statement saying that nearly 20k workers with contracted Covid-19 is still a relative accomplishment given the company’s size.
The hiring spree is still going on and there are no predictions it will stop.
Actually, just the opposite.

We are slowly approaching the holidays season, the time when the vast majority of us choose gifts for our loved ones. We can assume this year even more consumers decide to buy presents online rather than go to crowded shopping centres.

The company is determined to retain its Prime members, which in turns means keeping the promise of no longer than 1-2 days delivery time. Looking at it objectively, the bar is set extremely high, even for such a big player like Amazon.
“Business Insider” magazine interviewed the company’s workers and their statements create a shocking image of arduous long hours, physical labour and the constant pressure to keep the wheels turning during the Christmas period.

Amazon is the world’s largest online marketplace, notably through technological innovation.
There is no doubt technology plays an essential role in providing better consumer experience, improving productivity and reducing costs. Although, many former and current Amazon’s employees claim the price for that is too high. They can do their work faster, however they also have to do physical work – much faster.

Mobile robots have transformed Amazon warehouse jobs, which helped the company fulfill their promises of speedy deliveries (especially to Amazon Prime customers). These robots transport products across warehouses in place of workers, so they don’t have to walk about 10 or more miles a day. Moreover, the lowest-paid workers’ wages have been raised by 2$ per hour. In the end, working for an e-commerce shark like Amazon is a choice.

This poses the question: Is it possible to find a solution which satisfies both employees and customers?

Sources:

https://www.ft.com/content/9cd8038e-b38c-40d6-b2db-8f6e01cd166a

https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-employees-describe-peak-2019-2?IR=T

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_(company)

https://www.vox.com/recode/2019/12/11/20982652/robots-amazon-warehouse-jobs-automation