Author Archives: Kuchur Dzianis

Data is a new oil?

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Until recently, companies managed just traditional assets such as machines, money and intellectual property. The digital era brought a new type of asset – data. This is the raw material from which forecasts, insights and very big money currently are made.

Big data is becoming the main driver of growth for companies and a new resource for the economy. Companies collect data on customer behavior and equipment operation along the way creating new services based on received information.

The only problem is that people usually are not aware of what data is collected from them which creates many legal disputes on whether companies allowed or not to “spy on their clients”. With adoption of data protection rules in many countries all around the world, tech giants such as Facebook, Google or Amazon are facing a real threat for their businesses.

The common phrase “data is new oil” has become dangerous for companies whose business depends on third-party data. In my opinion, comparison is not completely wrong because who controls the data controls the entire market. But for tech giants, comparison with oil barons can result in image deterioration, luck of trust and loss of customers.

Because of that Google’s chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, tried to popularize a more upbeat way of describing data: “data is more like sunlight than oil,” adding, “It is like sunshine — we keep using it, and it keeps regenerating.”

It is clear that if Google is considered to be an environmentally friendly solar power station, and not a vertically integrated oil company, then so many questions are immediately removed. I do not think everything will work out right away, but the attempt is worthy: the desire to compare technology companies with oil bars is also exaggerated and very incomplete analogy. Maybe it will end up finding an adequate middle.


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The use of facial recognition technology on birds

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Today, I want to demonstrate you a great example of how object recognition technologies based on machine learning:

1) becoming widely available and do not require rare genius programming skills to get the result.

2) can be greatly trained even on a very modest in size data sets.

The article, that I have read some time ago, tells how a bird lover and part-time computer science professor, together with his students, taught the neural network to recognize the bird species and then — and that impressed me a lot – to distinguish individual species of woodpeckers, who flew to the bird feeder in his yard.

At the same time, 2450 photos in the training sample were enough to recognize eight different woodpeckers. The professor estimated the cost of a homemade station for the recognition and identification of birds at about $ 500. This is really can be called technology for everyone and machine intelligence in every yard.

Moreover, this technology can really help birds. As Lewis Barnett, the inventor of this technology wrote in his article : «Ornithologists need accurate data on how bird populations change over time. Since many species are very specific in their habitat needs when it comes to breeding, wintering and migration, fine-grained data could be useful for thinking about the effects of a changing landscape. Data on individual species like downy woodpeckers could then be matched with other information, such as land use maps, weather patterns, human population growth and so forth, to better understand the abundance of a local species over time»

As some people correctly noted, this technology has also some great commercial potential. Just imagine that camera traps will be able to recognize birds that harm your fruit trees and than activate  a device that make a large noise to scare away pests.


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Tiger toilet: Bill Gates suggested to replace sewage system with worms

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I’m pretty sure that all you know about high-tech toilets in Japan which are a real miracle of technology with a bunch of built-in sensors, heated seats, and maybe soon, artificial intelligence. It is really great but you also should know about existence of not so beautiful, but much more important decisions which save people’s lives every day.

From insanitary conditions in the poorest parts of the world, hundreds of thousands of children die every year, millions are ill. And there is no chance to build modern sewage systems there in the foreseeable future.

American billionaire Bill Gates proposed a unique sewage treatment technology using a special type of worms, which solved the problem with cesspools and dysentery in India.

For over a year the team of biologists and engineers, inspired and funded by Bill Gates, have been developing and testing toilets in which manure worms process human waste into water, carbon dioxide and a small residue of fertilizer. Some samples have been operating for five years and do not yet require maintenance. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested millions in the development and manufacture of these facilities and it was recently announced that another $ 200 million will be spent on deploying a network of such toilets in India and other countries.

The invention called “Tiger toilet” from the outside looks like any other pit latrine. But it doesn’t smell like one. Instead, it comes with a built-in population of tiger worms which recycle our waste to survive. According to experiments, in such toilets worms process not only feces, but also 99% of pathogens, leaving no more than 15% of those obtained in the form of compost materials. The rest becomes water and carbon dioxide. Also, as a result of the work of the worms, the system has practically no unpleasant odor, and it does not attract various insects.

I clearly understand that maybe it is not so very pleasurable to talk about toilets and faeces but honesty speaking, this charity activity impresses me as much as the creation of Microsoft.



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AI creates images of food that doesn’t even exist

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A team of researchers from Tel Aviv consisted of three people taught neural network a very interesting nontrivial skill: generate images of ready-made food from the recipe text. Literally it means that this AI can take any text which contain different ingredients and figure out what the finished food product will look like.

However, the results are not very reliable yet – in the sense that the images of really cooked dishes are sometimes quite different from what the network imagined based on reading the recipe.

Researcher Ori Bar El told:

«It all started when I asked my grandmother for a recipe of her legendary fish cutlets with tomato sauce. Due to her advanced age she didn’t remember the exact recipe. So, I was wondering if I can build a system that given a food image, can output the recipe. After thinking about this task for a while I concluded that it is too hard for a system to get an exact recipe with real quantities and with “hidden” ingredients such as salt, pepper, butter, flour etc.

Then, I wondered if I can do the opposite. Namely, generating food images based on the recipes.  We believe that this task is very challenging to be accomplished by humans, all the more so for computers. Since most of the current AI systems try replace human experts in tasks that are easy for humans, we thought that it would be interesting to solve a kind of task that is even beyond humans’ ability. As you can see, it can be done in a certain extent of success.»

Although these images are far from real, tests on people showed that they like the generated pictures and they find them even appetizing. The authors of the article, which was posted on TNW web site, find this result depressing. As you know, there is a lot of food pictures in Instagram, and now there is a danger that these pictures may turn out to be fake. For many people, it is even more distressing than fake news or portraits of non-existent people. It seems that nothing sacred is left in this world where even a photo of snacks can turn out to be a realistic-looking fantasy of a neural network.


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40% of jobs will be done by machines in as soon as 15 years

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Kai Fu Lee, a pioneer in artificial intelligence and venture capitalist from China has made his prediction regarding our future in a big interview to CBS company.

In addition to the already familiar qualitative statements (for example that the emergence of AI will change the world even better than the appearance of electricity), he formulated some of his quantitative predictions. In particular, Lee believes that in the perspective of 15-25 years, about 40% of people will not be able to compete with algorithms in their work, and this work will have to be changed.

In the interview to CBS he said: “AI will increasingly replace repetitive jobs, not just for blue-collar work, but a lot of white-collar work. Chauffeurs, truck drivers, anyone who does driving for a living, their jobs will be disrupted more in the 15-25-year time frame,” he tells. “Many jobs that seem a little bit complex, chef, waiter, a lot of things will become automated. I believe AI is going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind. More than electricity,” says Lee.

But it’s okay, it’s more dependent on the authorities who will be forced to somehow regulate this whole process of robotization so that people do not remain without work. Here is another idea from this interview that I really like. Lee believes that the most dramatic changes are not even waiting for the field of transportation but education.

And just AI will help to teach people the future as modern obsolete systems are not capable of. Currently, Lee is financing companies that are providing schools across China with modern AI systems which are designed to make education process better and more productive. The AI-system is being designed to gauge student interest and intelligence by subject.

Lee also believes that in the future AI will be able to analyze student’s portfolio and eliminate problem areas in difficult subjects. Who knows, maybe in the future teachers will lose their jobs altogether.

But it is not all so pessimistic as Lee said in the interview that “in some sense, there is the human wisdom that always overcomes these technological revolutions. The invention of the steam engine, the sewing machine, electricity, have all displaced jobs. We’ve gotten over it. The challenge of AI is this 40 percent, whether it is 15 or 25 years, is coming faster than the previous revolutions.”

And in the end of this post I want to recommend you probably the best book that I have read in 2018: AI Superpowers by Kai Fu Lee.


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A look into the future

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A couple of days ago, I found a very interesting video released by Microsoft in 2009. In this video which was called “Look to the Future”, the American company tried to imagine what our daily life would look like in 10-15 years. And after so much time, it is very interesting to see which predictions come true and which have remained just dreams.

My first observation is that the online translator, which quickly translates everything you say, somehow exists on Skype. Of course, it is not as sophisticated as shown in the picture and there are no such transparent interfaces yet, but the idea itself is exactly implemented. It is also very funny to see that in 2009, Microsoft believed that translucent interfaces are our future, which in my opinion are terribly inconvenient to use in practice.

Now take a look at the electronic boarding pass where you can see different data about your flight. Today, of course, all this would not make any sense, because these functions easily can be performed by our smartphones.

In general, there is a persistent feeling that no one in 2009 could even imagine that in the near future, smartphones would completely replace all terminals with them. Why should I display information on the glass, poke into translucent interfaces if this is all in my pocket?

The video also showed a very interesting concept: augmented or even mixed reality around us. I think that something similar is waiting for us in the near future, and the guys from Microsoft were absolutely right about this.  Also in this video was shown one of the trends of the last year, bending and frameless smartphones.

The only thing that always confused me in these concepts has always been complete isolation from reality and minimalism. For example, where can we put the battery? The last couple of years the issue of energy for a mobile device becomes the most important.

For example, behind this newspaper a power bank must precisely hide in order all this technology miracle could work. If you are interested, you can view the full version of this video under this post.




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A new kind of terrorism

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About 120 thousand passengers turned out to be blocked at the London Gatwick airport for more than one day. The only runway of the airfield was closed on the evening of December 19 after two unmanned aerial vehicles were noticed in the sky above it.

Police and military are trying to find the person who launches drones over the airport. The perpetrator of this incident will face up to 5 years in prison because UK laws prohibit unmanned aircraft from approaching the airport at a distance of less than one kilometer. Authorities fear that drones may collide with airplanes, for example, hitting a jet engine or windshield. The police believe that the aircraft invaded the territory of the airport to thwart flights during the peak period before Christmas and New Year.

In recent years, pilots have repeatedly reported close encounters with drones. In 2017, Gatwick Airport was closed for a short time due to a flying drone. In 2016, the Dubai International Airport was temporarily closed due to a drone.

Although the police still have no reason to assume that this accident is related to terrorism, it is already becoming clear that a new type of terrorism has been born – drone terrorism. Not in the sense of delivering explosives by a drone, but in the sense of disrupting the normal life of people, as in the case of telephone terrorism, when there are no victims, but concerts are frustrated, shopping centers or office buildings are evacuated. As in the case of telephone terrorism, prohibited items are not used, but the lives of many thousands of people are effectively disturbed: in the Gatwick incident, Christmas plans of many people were broken because of the little drone. I do not want to think about what example was given to many people who enjoy destroying the lives of others.



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Noise-canceling doghouse from Ford will make your pet’s life better

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From this very moment, we can say with confidence that technology progress now is available not only for people but also for our smaller brothers, for pets.

It is not a secret that many animals in cities are suffering from the noise pollution around them and they have a real reason for that. For example, dogs have a much wider range of hearing than humans, and noises that don’t bother us can give them a very rough time. Fireworks are especially tough on many pups, and also hard on owners who have to calm their panicking pets.

Suddenly, a solution to this problem was proposed by the automaker Ford that showed the concept of soundproof kennel. According to the company, it will help animals that are scared of fireworks and other loud sounds.

It is also very interesting to know that noise reduction technology that Ford used to create a doghouse is the same as in Ford’s Edge and Fusion vehicles, which protects the driver and passengers from engine noise.

“We wondered how the technologies we use in our cars could help people in other situations. Making sure dogs and their owners could enjoy a stress-free New Year’s Eve seemed like the perfect application for our Active Noise Control system,” said Ford content manager in Europe, Lyn West, in a statement.

By, the way Ford’s noise-canceling kennel also have a very good design and interior. The doghouse is packed with noise-absorbing materials, including high-density cork panels, anti-vibration risers, and soundproofed ventilation. There’s even an automatic sliding glass door on what is a very stylish-looking unit.

As Ford reported, for now it is just a prototype and it won’t be released in the market in case of insufficient interest. But you can bet there will be countless dog lovers lining up to buy one, even if it is very expensive.


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Alibaba’s AI Customer Service is much better than Google Duplex

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A long-standing goal of an interaction between humans and computers has been to enable people to have a free conversation with machines, as they would with each other. In recent years, we have witnessed a revolution in the ability of computers to understand and to generate natural speech, especially with the application of deep neural networks.

One of the inventions in this area was Google Duplex. As you probably know, Duplex is a technology for conducting natural conversations to carry out “real world” tasks over the phone. The technology is directed towards completing specific tasks, such as scheduling certain types of appointments. For such tasks, the system makes the conversational experience as natural as possible, allowing people to speak normally, like they would to another person, without having to adapt to a machine. For example, Duplex can automatically reserve a table for you in a restaurant, using a phone call to a manager.

While Google is still testing and developing their new system on a small amount of Pixel phone Users, another giant tech company Alibaba already has a working model. It is used not for restaurants, but for an even narrower niche – the delivery of goods. At an annual AI research gathering, the e-commerce giant demoed a sample conversation where the voice-assistant was tasked to ask a customer where the package should be delivered.

The most amazing thing is that Alibaba’s voice assistant was able to deal with some controversial situations during the dialog such as interruption (pauses), nonlinear conversation (customer starts a new line of inquiry), and implicit intent (customer doesn’t explicitly says what he actually means). It is an amazing new which also once again underlines the superiority of China in the field of artificial intelligence, by the way. Currently, the agent is used only to coordinate package deliveries, but it could also be expanded to handle other topics.



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How Google was trying to hide the Dragonfly project

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For the first time, information that Google is developing a censored search engine codenamed Dragonfly was revealed in the late summer of this year. It was reported by The Intercept with reference to internal leaks. And, as it turned out, an aura of secrecy has been around the project for several years.

This is not unusual for new movies, games, services, and so on. However, in this case the situation was different. The task of Dragonfly was monitoring and filtering information because the customer was the Chinese government.

Inside the company, about the project became known in February 2017, although some top managers were discussing this issue since 2016. Top executives told the engineers that the search engine infrastructure would depend on a Chinese partner company with data centers in Beijing or Shanghai. The latter means that the Chinese government could receive any data from these servers. In addition, the system must associate user’s requests with their phone numbers. And considering a fact that in China exists a database with telephone numbers of all people, this means an unequivocal identification of all users.

One of the participants in the Dragonfly was Yonatan Zunger, who was offered to work on a search engine secret project. But after some time, he declared to management that such a system is unacceptable and would violate human rights in China. In response to these claims, the head of the “Chinese” direction, Scott Beaumont, did everything so that Zunger and other dissenters no longer participated in the project and knew nothing about it.

In the same 2017, Zunger left the company but three of his followers are still working there and agreed to disclose some new details, of course, on conditions of anonymity. In particular, according to them, the participants and developers of Dragonfly held meetings with a high secrecy regime. There were no written notes or other open communication. At the same time, out of 88,000 Google employees, only a few people knew about the essence of the project. Some were threatened with dismissal if they discussed the essence of their work with colleagues. According to one of the company’s employee, management took all measures to minimize data leaks.

After disclosing information, some human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch openly condemned the project and said that the company could become an accomplice in human rights violations in China. Later, the US Senate joined the case, and Vice President Michael Pence demanded that Google stop developing Dragonfly.

However, despite the internal and external resistance, the project was launched. And recently, the company officially confirmed the fact of development. Google executive director Sundar Pichai said that the corporation is considering the possibility of returning to the Chinese market, from which the company was forced to left in 2006 due to a number of blockings.

At the same time, according to The Intercept, co-founder Sergey Brin was personally interested in returning to Chinese territory, as Beaumont said. Allegedly, the co-founder of the company met with high-ranking Chinese officials to discuss the return. At the same time, Brin himself had previously denied the possibility of censorship and claimed that he had learned about Dragonfly only from the media.

One way or another, but the situation around the “censor” search engine has split Google. Recently, a number of employees signed an open petition against it. It is not clear how this story will end, but it can seriously shake Google’s market position.



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