Monday, September 1, 2014

Quote of the Day

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.

- Edward O. Wilson

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Inside Google's Secret Drone-Delivery Program

Google X began to come up with ideas and test them theoretically and experimentally. They considered many different wild options, sketching out new and wacky transportation systems. (“What if you took a glider up on a balloon with a super long string and the glider goes up, releases, and zooms down… You can—on paper—satisfy yourself that’s not the right solution.”) But eventually, Teller realized they needed an expert. They did a search and ended up pulling Roy across the county.

Roy was perhaps a less-than-obvious choice. For one, he’d never worked on drones flying outside. The challenges of the wind were new to him. Roy neither had a traditional aeronautics background nor had he dealt in logistics. Look back on his resume from the early 2000s, as he prepared to finish his PhD at Carnegie Mellon: There are almost no signs that he’d be the guy Google X would one day tap for a drone project. His most prominent work had been on tour guide and nursing robots.But that leaves out one very important detail: Roy's thesis advisor was Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google X, and one of the most influential people in robotics. In the years before his tour at Google, Roy did important work with the support of the Office of Naval Research on indoor drone navigation in "GPS-denied" environments, where the vehicles can't rely on satellites to position themselves.

When Roy arrived in California, Project Wing’s initial focus was on delivering defibrillators to help people who have had heart attacks. The key factor in the success of using a defibrillator is how quickly it is deployed, so saving a few minutes of transit time could make for a lifesaving application. But as time went on, the Google team realized that tying into the 911 system and other practical exigencies eliminated the speed advantage they thought they could deliver.

So, now, Teller’s—and, by extension, I will assume Brin’s—big-picture vision has shifted to the ways ubiquitous, two-minute delivery can transform people’s relationship to stuff.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

“The New Digital Age” is, beyond anything else, an attempt by Google to position itself as America’s geopolitical visionary — the one company that can answer the question “Where should America go?” It is not surprising that a respectable cast of the world’s most famous warmongers has been trotted out to give its stamp of approval to this enticement to Western soft power. The acknowledgments give pride of place to Henry Kissinger, who along with Tony Blair and the former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden provided advance praise for the book.

In the book the authors happily take up the white geek’s burden. A liberal sprinkling of convenient, hypothetical dark-skinned worthies appear: Congolese fisherwomen, graphic designers in Botswana, anticorruption activists in San Salvador and illiterate Masai cattle herders in the Serengeti are all obediently summoned to demonstrate the progressive properties of Google phones jacked into the informational supply chain of the Western empire.

- Julian Assange reviews The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

This is a Google-y approach to the problem of ultra-reliability. Many of Google’s famously computation driven projects—like the creation of Google Maps—employed literally thousands of people to supervise and correct the automatic systems. It is one of Google’s open secrets that they deploy human intelligence as a catalyst. Instead of programming in that last little bit of reliability, the final 1 or 0.1 or 0.01 percent, they can deploy a bit of cheap human brainpower. And over time, the humans work themselves out of jobs by teaching the machines how to act. “When the human says, ‘Here’s the right thing to do,’ that becomes something we can bake into the system and that will happen slightly less often in the future,” Teller said.

- A simple wisdom;  humans collaborating with machines is best bet we currently have for a successful AI solution (via here). 

Quote of the Day

The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

- Alberto Brandolini

Friday, August 29, 2014

Daphne Koller on MOOCs

Yet another excellent Econtalk interview (If you haven't already started listening to Russ Robert's podcast, you are missing out on Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge):

Russ: You mentioned Udacity. Sebastian Thrun launched Udacity with a great deal of fanfare, and a great deal of resources. And the early offerings, some of them were quite spectacular, and quite successful in the sense that a lot of people took the classes. And he got very demoralized by his experience in trying to take that material into a university. Do you understand why? I don't, fully. And as a result, as you said, they have shifted more toward corporate training and other areas. I don't get it. What are your thoughts?

Daphne: I think one of the experiences that caused Sebastian to shift away from the original trajectory was the experience that he had with San Jose State, where he tried to take some of the courses, or at least the philosophy behind this teaching, and apply it to remedial classes. I think the real struggle is that students in these remedial classes are ones for whom the educational system has largely failed. That is, they didn't develop in school, in high school, the study skills that they needed in order to succeed. Which is why they are in the developmental track. And if you take those students and you just plunk them in front of a computer, I don't think it's a great recipe for success. Whereas there are other populations of learners that this is a much more successful model for.

Russ: So, his discouragement was the fact that they didn't do very well in the tests and retention or whatever measures that were used. But I thought it's sure awfully early to be turning your back on this technology because of, really, one data point. I don't get it. Is there more to it than that? That you think?

Daphne: I agree with you; and that's why we have not turned our back on this technology. I think it's important to identify the right--you are not going to find a silver bullet to education. There's not going to be a single technology that works well for all types of content and all populations. So I think that particular instance was a mismatch between the technology and the kinds of learners at which it was aimed. I think those learners, and there are studies that prove that benefit tremendously from more blended learning approach; and some of the other results even in San Jose State as well as a number of our partners, show significant improvements in learning. Because when you do blended learning that involves both technology and some kind of face-to-face interaction, the technology that we're currently using in terms of the open access, the ones that go direct to consumers, they work really well for a different type of population. And that's great.

Quote of the Day

That's why I'm skeptical of people who look at some catastrophic failure of a complex system and say, "Wow, the odds of this happening are astronomical. Five different safety systems had to fail simultaneously!" What they don't realize is that one or two of those systems are failing all the time, and it's up to the other three systems to prevent the failure from turning into a disaster.

- Raymond Chen

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sleep Hygiene

Ask a good sleeper for her secret, and she won't reel off a list of elaborate evening rituals or bedroom modifications; she'll probably just look blank and say, "Nothing". That might be because she's lucky enough not to need sleep hygiene. But then again, as the dissenting sleep expert Guy Meadows points out, it could be because there's something wrong with the sleep hygiene approach itself. As every insomniac knows, the one way to guarantee wakefulness is to try really hard to fall asleep – which is why, by 5am, once you're resigned to the next day being ruined, it's often easy to doze off. Could getting obsessed with sleep hygiene have a similar self-defeating effect?

"The problem with all these props is that they erode people's trust in their natural ability to fall asleep," says Meadows, author of The Sleep Book and its accompanying smartphone app. The danger of fixating too much on sleep hygiene (Earplugs? Check! Blackout curtains? Check! Warm milk? Check!) is that it reinforces the belief that you're reliant on such things. Even when these techniques work, Meadows argues, they do so by rendering your sleep more fragile, and more easily disrupted the first night you're away from home, or for some other reason can't get everything just so.

Oliver Burkeman

Quote of the Day

Books can not be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory... In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man's freedom.

- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Quote of the Day

Terrorist', noun: 1. Someone my government tells me is a terrorist; 2. Someone my President decides to kill.

- Glenn Greenwald