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Opinion Editorials

Should you be scared or fascinated by self-learning AI? Answer: both

(EDITORIAL) As Google’s AI begins to teach itself, how should we non-robot humans react to the self-educating tech?

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Future technology

According to iRobot and Asimov’s three laws, there are only 4 results that can happen from a computer/robot driven future; a Balanced World, a Frustrating World, a Killbot Hellscape or a Frustrating Standoff.

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Now, if you’re like me and have only watched the movie iRobot you’re probably wondering what exactly I’m on about. Good question. I have an answer (well sort of), I promise.

AI Inception in real life?

Recently the creators of Google Home announced that Google’s AI had begun to generate it’s own AI. While on the surface, the sentence, “Google’s AI has begun to generate its own AI” is utterly terrifying.

If you look just a tad deeper, is just about as alarming as burning your morning toast.

You see Google’s AI is actually just a series of algorithms that predict outcomes and then are typically layered on top of one another to create what are called neural networks.

Again, what does this mean?

Well, think of it this way: A Google Home is a machine that can predict results based on a past data set and thus is only one network. Multiple Google AIs are just that – multiple prediction machines working on top of each other, narrowing down the field as much as possible creating in essence a cyber-brain… a neural network… a very precise prediction.

You might have heard the term Auto ML thrown around in the AI conversation. ML (meaning Machine Learning) is used to create neural networks.

ML historically has been a computer, given a data set and then asked to perform a prediction exactly as humans have, but in a much smaller time frame- i.e. data processing on speed. These neural networks created by Auto ML are pretty self-explanatory. They are data sets forced into a computer that is given the capabilities to analyze each data set separately and then against one another and find specific outliers, commonalities, etc.

So Google AI hasn’t really created it’s own AI, it’s just gotten exponentially better at doing what humans do in a fraction of the time.

The tough questions

Where all of this AI business starts to get a bit dodgy is when we can’t figure out how a machine taught itself something or how it came to that rationale.

For instance, the algorithms in the Nvidia autonomous car test. Nvidia is a tech company that provides cars with computer chips that have learned how to drive by watching a human driver.

Learning from humans is all well and good until you provide some hypotheticals.

Hypotheticals such as what if one day the car decides not to stop at a red light and instead hits other cars and pedestrians. The engineers behind the chip and the car can’t explicitly outline how the actions are learned and thus can’t provide any information on how or why an action takes place.

In another instance, 700,000 patient records of actual patients of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York city were put into a computer for analysis. More or less to confirm what doctors had already established but what the computer spit out was beyond what people thought capable. This test, Deep Patient, provided additional diagnoses including predicting schizophrenia, which is a notoriously hard psychiatric disorder to diagnose with relative ease.

Where we’re at

So has google AI created it’s own AI? Has a self driving car learned to drive like a human from a human? Has a computer gotten better at diagnosing mental disorders than a psychologist? No, yes and yes. All of these AI ideas are really quite simple.

They are given input and produce an output.

Where the problem lies is in our abilities to understand how they got from the source to the conclusion. It is like failing math class all over again. One week you get it and the next week, you’re clueless. Google’s creation of it’s own AI is really just its ability to stack on top of itself with precision and ease. As for Nvidia and Deep Patient, it is layered data sets of top of data sets.

Precise to a fault

All of these things, in truth, didn’t just create themselves nor did they create themselves from the data sets we gave them. They created what we asked for, just a much more precise version than we predicted.

As humans, we expect to understand data and trust it, and the next phase of AI will have to include production of rational by these AI machines so we don’t collectively fear it.

#FollowingOrders

Pam Garner is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a bachelor's degree from the University of Texas, currently pursuing her master's degree in graphic and web design. Pam is a multi-disciplined creative who hopes to one day actually finish her book on all of her crazy adventures.

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Opinion Editorials

Duo Works could represent the next generation of coworking

(OPNION EDITORIAL) Austin has seen mega growth in both population and in job opportunities. That growth has been is coupled with a need of places to work — enter Duo Works.

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One of the best things about Austin’s exploding growth is that a lot of interesting people are making rad things happen. There are pop up shops by brands like Vans one minute, and the next, Vera Cruz, a beloved taco truck is getting it’s own brick and mortar to spread their delicious taco gospel.

Tech giants like Facebook, Google, Atlassian, and Apple call Austin home. Amazon might open a second headquarters here, and Willie Nelson has a statue. Austin is killing it right now on many fronts.

For the first time in the Capital City’s history, we’ve evolved into not just a place a lot of people want to live, but a world-class destination for all things tech, music, and culture. But, there are so many stories, so many people doing good work, opening businesses that change the world, or starting non-for-profits that move the needle for no other reason than the social good. Our tech scene is exploding, and there are brilliant minds planting their flag in all corners of central Texas.

Duo Works is one of those inspiring stories to come out of this hyper-growth boon. Founded by Linda Blackmon and Jessica Merrell, Duo Works is a co-working space up in northwestern Austin, a place starved for a location to get work done that’s not Starbucks or their couch.

What’s empowering about Linda and Jessica’s story is that they’ve been in the tech scene for a while. Both women have had strong and successful careers in the Human Resources and Recruiting world, but wanted to take matters into their own hands: they wanted to diversify. They saw a chance to offer a service in an underserved part of town, but do it with more flair than the typical workspace – they wanted a woman’s touch.

Let’s be honest: most co-working spaces suck. Sure, there are some around Austin that offer Google Fiber or are walking distance to a food truck park. But, for the most part, you know what you’re getting. Duo Works is different because it’s a environment that feels more like collegiate lunchroom (without the awkwardness) than your typical huddled co-working spot.

The key ingredient to the vibe of Duo Works is that it’s a comfortable and welcome environment. It doesn’t feel sterile nor does it come across as too self-involved. People talk to one another. More importantly, people who aren’t coworkers are talking to one another.

The mixing of businesses and personalities makes the space feel more like a coffee shop – but without the steam and lack of “the good chairs.” These elements were by design thanks to Linda and Jessica’s vision for their space: People don’t like being lonely when they work.

A sense of community is critical to Austin’s success as a tech hub. There are a lot of transplants here. Cultivating a space where inclusivity is paramount serves the endgame of getting good work done by miles.

One of the biggest perks about the co-working thing is the brutal honesty of need. Austin’s traffic gets worse by the day. Having somewhere to dodge that commute is critical. No one needs to go into the office in the tech world. The Duo Works space is formerly home to Tech Ranch.

Whatever way you wanna slice it, Austin’s portrait of what diversity looks like is at a crucial tipping point. We need more leaders that come in every shape, size, sexuality, and color. That’s how you create a city culture that’s electric and innovative. Duo Works could be a stakeholder in helping that vision happen. Plus, they have free donuts.

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Opinion Editorials

Are liberal arts majors about to dominate the next wave of tech entrepreneurship? Yup!

(OPINION EDITORIAL) What do Liberal Arts majors and tech innovators have in common? Everything.

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*This is a guest story from Austin author, Will Ruff*

Crossing lines

This is a purely speculative article coming from a liberal arts major, and I do have a dog in this fight. That is: I have a liberal arts background, and I want to tell you how we’re about to drive the next wave of tech entrepreneurship based on my own experience.

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Engineers have driven us forward at an incredible pace in the past few years, now it’s time for liberal arts majors to pick up the slack and tell everyone how incredible their work is. And that’s exactly what you can expect us to do: tell an incredible story.

Life comes at you fast

Let’s take a look at the past few years. Tech has moved fast. Unbelievably fast. Look at the smartphone’s evolution over the last ten years. Can you remember what kind of phone you had when an iPhone came out? I had a blackberry, and was doing door-to-door sales in college. I pine for that phone now, but they’re not really practical given how much screen I need.

In many cases, tech has moved so fast that the general population who buys a smartphone doesn’t really know what they’re getting out of a new upgrade and while they might adopt whatever new features are out there, their purchase is not driven by need.

Does a fingerprint scanner, or force touch really advance my productivity, or my security? No.

Whatever feature they’re selling you on this year will be equally underwhelming. And I would argue at best, because phones are all 99% the same, whether or not you want to admit this, that the companies behind them are struggling to differentiate themselves to their customer base, and they use features to do it. Features tell the story. The tech hasn’t really been revolutionary for years.

The big why

Think about the last time you had to buy a phone. We’ll assume that now you use one so much, you actually couldn’t imagine living without one. That’s me anyway. And we’ve all been there—the phone is locked up, or the screen’s cracked, the software upgrade shut it down, permanently, and now you have to get something new. But they should just replace it for free, I’ve been a customer for so long. Nice try. Maybe this time I’ll try an iPhone, or an Android. I’ve heard cool things about Pixel.

For whatever reason, we’ve decided to choose an operating system based on features we haven’t used yet, and this is driving up the cost of cell phones to be as expensive as a nice laptop. Well maybe they’re willing to spring an extra $200 for this new feature finally. Why wouldn’t I want this beautiful curved screen that has no edge?

For the record I’m an android user, but I could use any phone and be happy.

Now, I have nothing against advancing technology, despite my snarky tone, but the above illustrates a point of mine that is going to become more evident in the future.

Technology is only successful when you can tell its story to the audience who’s meant to use it.

It has to be clear, and it has to be on their terms. Engineers, and STEM workers absolutely drive all of the innovation, and it’s not a battle between the two, but we live in a world where billions of people have access to the Internet, and that means you have a lot more opportunity to build a business from anywhere. Not everyone is going to speak the language of engineers who build these incredible tools, and not every engineer is going to know their product can solve problems they didn’t even think of, because they can’t and shouldn’t spend most of their time talking to potential customers.

This is another area where liberal arts majors can excel.

They can look at these two groups: the engineers they work with, and the prospective customers who might use it, and they can figure out how the two are best introduced. What context they should meet under. This should always be how it works. Now, there is the rare breed of people who can be an engineer and a great sales rep, but the vast majority of people have to focus on one thing to do it well.

So, how do liberal arts majors climb into the driver’s seat in the future? I see two fundamental pieces that have to be in place.

Two steps

First, the ability to learn about technology and code is relatively cheap, and you can do it after school, and on the weekends. I did this myself after starting my career as a content strategist for a literary PR company who built sites in WordPress, and it led to designing/building/selling a website to a local business. I decided that wasn’t for me, but there’s probably some liberal arts majors out there who can do it much more efficiently than I did.

The more you know about how these things work, the more opportunity you’ll have to work for these growing companies.

The next piece is helping the next great tech company pitch their product to customers. It’s knowing how to find a potential market for something, and not being afraid to go up to anyone anywhere just to say hi, and to find out what they do. You can’t always be selling, but you can always ask questions, and maybe down the road you can help someone solve a problem because you connected with someone else who does that exact thing they need. Guess what, you’re their hero now.

Symbiosis

The shift between tech and humanities is cyclical and we absolutely will always need each other. That’s the point of this article. We’re not constantly aware of how to work with the other, but we’re getting to a point where it’s absolutely true that non-tech people have a role in spreading the reach of useful technology to people who didn’t have access a decade ago.

Things like WordPress, social media, and smartphones have made it easy to tell people how you’re about to change the world. And the next phase of this cycle is mass adoption, education, and communication among the crowds who haven’t quite figured out how to use all these cool tools yet. Strap yourself in, and hug a tech person, or a liberal arts major.

#LiberalArts

Will Ruff is the author of “The Tomb of the Primal Dragon: A Novel” which is available for Preorder on Amazon now. You can follow him on @twitter for crass and meaningless commentary, or sign up for his email newsletter and he might spam you with free books occasionally.

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Opinion Editorials

9 ways to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive at work

(OPINION EDITORIALS) With more and more people joining the LGBTQIA+ community it’d do one well to think about ways to extend inclusiveness at work.

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LGBTQIA+ people may have won marriage equality in 2015, but this momentous victory didn’t mean that discrimination was over. Queer and LGBTQIA+ identified people still have to deal with discrimination and not being in a work environment that supports their identities.

Workplace inclusivity may sound like the hottest new business jargon term on the block, but it actually just a professional way of making sure that everyone feels like a valued team member at the office. Business psychologists have found when people are happy to go to work, they are 12 percent more productive.

Making your business environment a supportive one for the queer community means you’re respecting employees and improving their workplace experience.

Here’s nine ways you can make your workplace more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ people.

1) Learn the basics.
If you’re wanting to make your workplace more open to LGBTQIA+ people, it’s best to know what you’re talking about. Firstly, the acronym LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual and the plus encompassing other identities not named; there are many variants on the acronym. Sexual orientations (like lesbian, gay, bisexual) are not the same as gender identities.

Transgender means that that person “seeks to align their gender expression with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.” Cisgender means a person identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. If you need a more comprehensive rundown about sexual orientation, gender identity, and the like, visit the GLAAD reference guide.

2) Stop using the word “gay” as an insult.
Or insinuating people you don’t like are “gay” together. This is the most basic thing that can be done for workplace inclusivity regarding the queer community. Anything that actively says that LGBTQIA+ people are “lesser” than their straight counterparts can hurt the queer people on your team and make them not feel welcome. It’s not cool.

3) Don’t make jokes that involve the LGBTQIA+ community as a punchline.
It’s not cute to make a “funny quip” about pronouns or to call someone a lesbian because of their outfit. This kind of language makes people feel unwanted in the workplace, but many won’t be able to speak up due to the lack of protections about LGBTQIA+ identities in anti-discrimination statutes. So stop it.

4) Support your colleagues.
If you’re in a situation and hear negative or inappropriate talk regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, stick up for your co-workers. Even if they’re not there, by simply expressing that what was said or done was inappropriate, you’re helping make your workplace more inclusive.

5) Avoid the super probing questions.
It’s okay to talk relationships and life with coworkers, but it can cross a line. If you have a transgender colleague, it’s never going to be appropriate to pry about their choices regarding their gender identity, especially since these questions revolve around their body.

If you have a colleague who has a differing sexual orientation than yours, questions about “how sex works” or any invasive relationship question (“are you the bride or the groom”) is going to hurt the welcomeness of your office space. Just don’t do it.

6) Written pronoun clarity is for everyone!
One thing that many LGBTQIA+ people may do is add their pronouns to their business card, email signature, or name badge for clarity. If you’re cisgender, adding your pronouns to these things can offer support and normalize this practice for the LGBTQIA+ community. Not only does it make sure that you are addressed correctly, you’re validating the fact that it’s an important business practice for everyone to follow.

7) Tokens are for board games, not for people.
LGBTQIA+ people are often proud of who they are and for overcoming adversity regarding their identity. However, it’s never ever going to be okay to just reduce them to the token “transgender colleague” or the “bisexual guy.”

Queer people do not exist to earn you a pat on the back for being inclusive, nor do they exist to give the final word on marketing campaigns for “their demographic.” They’re people just like you who have unique perspectives and feelings. Don’t reduce them just to a token.

8) Bathroom usage is about the person using the bathroom, not you.
An individual will make the choice of what bathroom to use, it does not need commentary. If you feel like they “don’t belong” in the bathroom you’re in due to their gender presentation, don’t worry about it and move on. They made the right choice for them.

An easy way to make restroom worries go away is creating gender neutral restrooms. Not only can they shorten lines, they can offer support for transgender, nonbinary, or other LGBTQIA+ people who just need to go as much as you do.

9) Learn from your mistakes.
Everyone will slip up during their journey to make their workplace more inclusive. If you didn’t use the correct pronouns for your non-binary colleague or misgender someone during a presentation, apologize to them, correct yourself, and do better next time. The worst thing to do is if someone corrects you is for you to shut down or get angry. An open ear and an open heart is the best way to make your work environment supportive for all.

The workplace can be a supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ people, or it could be a hurtful one, depending on the specific culture of the institution. But with some easy changes, it can be a space in which queer and LGBTQIA+ people can feel respected and appreciated.

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