How AI Bots Are Becoming More Human

In the middle of Google Headquarters, something unbelievable — and almost science fiction-like — is occurring. Robots are studying human beings. They are memorizing the ways in which humans interact, perform mundane tasks, eat, drink, sleep, entertain themselves with household and other tech objects — everything we do on a daily basis.

However, this is not a part of an elaborate scheme to take away jobs from human employees, nor a plot to integrate artificial intelligence bots into our society. On the contrary, Google researchers are merely training these artificial intelligence bots to better identify and respond to human actions and interactions.

In the past, Google researchers have made extraordinary breakthroughs in the development and improvement of artificial intelligence. However, every version of every bot has struggled with completing the same tasks: identifying and classifying objects, humans, and the ways in which other humans interact with members of those categories.

With that fact in mind, Google has implemented an intriguing method of educating their bots to more effectively and efficiently identify human interaction — a tactic that entails hours of binge-watching movies.

Over the past several years, researchers have curated a catalog of over 57,000 movie clips — which feature over 96,000 human beings in total — from around the globe. Throughout any given day, these artificial intelligence bots go through the catalog and practice identifying and categorizing different actions and interactions.

Thanks to this method, the bots are getting a clearer picture of human interaction than ever before. This is because human action and interaction is less clear and identifiable in real time than it is in productions, hence why the bots have struggled so greatly to categorize them while observing live subjects.

Now, if this experiment gives Google’s researchers the results they so desire, it may not only improve the bots’ abilities to recognize human action and interaction, but eventually realize the purpose of their actions, as well as the goals humans are trying to reach through said actions. This could eventually aid Google’s bots in targeting potential consumers based on their actions online and in person.

However, it is important to note that such achievements are likely a long way off, as artificial intelligence is still very much in its infancy. However, it will be intriguing to see what other tasks artificial intelligence bots may be able to perform once they are deeply familiar with not only our actions, but our intentions as well.

Facial Recognition in Airports

facial recognition in airports by steve moyeRemember the first time you posted a photo on Facebook, and the algorithm figured out who you were trying to tag before you could even type in their name?  Blew your mind, right?  Well, facial-recognition technology has only gotten more sophisticated, and I recently read an article about how it’s on the path to being used in airports.  The TSA has already begun testing facial recognition systems at the Dulles and JFK Airports.  Face-reading check-in kiosks will be appearing at both Ottawa International and London Heathrow later this year, comparing faces captured at security screenings.  A new project called Biometric Exit is now set to bring this system to every international airport in the US.  

Biometric Exit would use facial matching systems to identify every visa holder as they leave the country.  Here’s how it would work: passengers would have their photos taken immediately before boarding, which would be matched with the passport-style photos provided with the visa application to see whether or not the visitor entered the country illegally.  While it’s currently being tested on a single flight, the Trump administration has plans to expedite its usage until it’s being used for every flight and border crossing in the US.  Speaking at the Border Security Expo last week, US Custom and Border Protection’s Larry Panetta spoke of the importance of facial recognition.  

Biometric Exit, or at least some form of it, has been discussed for decades.  However, it’s only recently that facial recognition has been named as the method of choice.  Fingerprint and iris-based systems have been named as well, but ultimately facial recognition has been preferred, since it’s the easiest.  Although Customs and Border Protection agents take photos and fingerprints from every visa holder entering the country, no such measures exist to see if somebody’s left the country before their visa expires.  According to Homeland Security, roughly half a million people overstay their visas to the US each year, although they can’t determine who these people are without any verifiable exit process.  This is where the Biometric Exit would come in.  Trump has made the program a large part of his aggressive border security policy.  

For this system to work, it will require a robust method for checking passengers’ faces against outside datasets, yet as that system is shared with more agencies, it might be used for a lot more.  Such technology could be shared with land borders and even private airlines.  There are still some technical challenges, and it’s as of yet unclear how well the system works with existing in-airport surveillance system,s but sharing the backend with CBP could make the system a whole lot more efficient.  However, such systems raise a lot of difficult civil rights questions, especially if the FBI is integrated into this system.  

While the Customs and Border Protection said that Biometric Exit would be meant to benefit travelers and still not disrupt travel, concerns have been raised about racial bias.  American facial recognition systems are typically trained on mostly white subjects, so they’re a lot less accurate when scanning other races.  If such a bias isn’t corrected, then it could be a major civil rights issue, especially since visa holders tend to be younger and less white than the average US population.  As the program’s growth is expedited by Trump, such questions become more and more urgent.  

Improving Office Communication

improving office communication by steve moyeBusinesses focus a lot on how to communicate with their customers, yet that doesn’t mean anything if they can’t tackle internal communication.  If there isn’t any healthy dialogue between the people in your organization, then that needs to change.  Communication fosters morale, independence, collaboration, execution and diversity, altogether forming a stronger company.  I recently read an article that shared five tips for improving communication.  Here’s what it had to say:

Small talk: Small talk is simple enough, but it goes a long way by helping build trust.  It might seem cheap and pointless, yet it makes people feel more comfortable with one another, which opens the door for more meaningful conversations in the future.  Next time you see somebody you don’t know well, talk to them, whether it’s about how their day is going, a game they watched or maybe their plans for the weekend.  

Team building exercises: If there isn’t much communication in your company, then maybe trying a direct approach could help.  One great way to do that is through team building exercises where coworkers need to collaborate.  These are especially useful for building relationships and improving communication in new teams.  

Clear communication channels: Sometimes people are bad at communicating with each other simply because they don’t know how to.  Every individual in an organization should know who they’re reporting to, who reports to them and how that looks in the larger company structure.  When this is clarified, then sharing ideas and collaborating becomes a lot easier.  

Feedback loops: Traditional annual performance reviews are outdated; the workers of today need instant feedback, not annual reports.  A regular “feedback loop”, simply a process that defines how actions are evaluated and assessed, is essential for getting constructive criticism and encouragement on a regular basis.  Most feedback loops regularly happen in daily conversation.  

An open-door policy: While most people think of an “open-door policy” in the literal sense, it goes far beyond a boss keeping their door open throughout the day.  It means that anybody in the organization can talk to anybody whenever they need to.  It’s the idea that the new intern can ask the CEO a question.  

Mobile Mario

Mobile Mario by Steve MoyeOver the summer, the mobile app Pokemon Go took the world by storm.  Even if it wasn’t developed by Nintendo, it marked the first big foray by a Nintendo franchise into the mobile app industry, and became a global phenomenon by combining an addictive gameplay with 1990s nostalgia.  While Pokemon Go was praised for promoting physical activity and allowing businesses to grow by attracting users, it also became a major public nuisance that even contributed to car accidents and robberies.  Regardless of these shortcomings, it became evident that Nintendo was sitting on top of a nostalgia-fueled goldmine.

Yesterday, Nintendo released its next big mobile app, Super Mario Run, on iOS.  Pokemon might be wildly popular, but Mario is one of Nintendo’s oldest, and easily its most recognizable, franchise.  The blue overalls, red cap and mustache of the fictional Italian plumber have become synonymous with Nintendo in the same way that Mickey Mouse represents Disney.  Responsible for over 200 different games over various genres and selling over 500 million copies in the past 30 years, Mario is the best-selling video game franchise.

The gameplay for Super Mario Run is much the same as many of the old “Super Mario” games: a side-scrolling adventure where Mario runs through levels, jumps on the bad guys, eats mushrooms and tries to rescue a princess.  The graphics might be better than when the first “Super Mario” game was released in 1985, but the gameplay has remained pretty much the same.  But the thing is that Nintendo didn’t need to make a revolutionary Mario game for the mobile.  They just need to follow the same gameplay and show us the same players, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.  

Although Nintendo has had a tough time staying relevant in recent years, the company does have one thing going for it: during the height of their power in the video game industry, they created some of the most well-loved, timeless and instantly-recognizable video game franchises.  In the 90s when Pokemon first took off, the company was revolutionizing gaming with what are considered by many to be some of the greatest video games of all time.  This was the age of such timeless franchises as Mario and Zelda, whose influence as pop culture icons has helped keep the company from going under in recent years.  And they might just be what offers the company their second wind.

Robots Taking Jobs?

Robot JapaneseThe UK’s next general election will most likely be dominated by the issue of immigration, one of the main catalysts for the fabled Brexit decision earlier this year.  Many British people have been afraid that a rising number of immigrants will take their jobs, yet it looks like immigrants aren’t where they should be focusing their fear.  According to a new report published by Oxford, it looks like robots are more likely than immigrants to steal jobs.

The report claims that technology and robotics will most likely replace 35% of existing jobs in the UK, with lower-paying jobs much more likely to be replaced than higher-paying jobs.  Unless this change can be fully understood and anticipated by businesses, policy-makers and educators, this could lead to a major problem with unemployment and under-employment.  However, the report also suggested that in London, 73% of businesses are planning on increasing their overall headcount to bring in new skills and roles.  Nonetheless, failure to put the correct educational elements in place to retrain people for these new jobs could lead to a massive issue in the future, not just in Britain but in the world.  

This echoes another era in world history that featured major technological change: the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th century.  New technology led to the development of factories, and much of the work that was once done by hand was replaced by machines.  It was accompanied by an agricultural revolution, where new technology replaced the work that farm hands traditionally did.  Many found their professions obsolete, leading to a huge amount of tension and resentment.  Even as many found themselves out of a job, many factories had a severe labor shortage.  So while the Industrial Revolution did make a lot of peoples’ jobs obsolete, it also created a lot of jobs, just jobs that required people to adapt.  This is what I think will most likely happen with technology in the modern era: people will have their jobs taken away by robots, but this new technology will also create new jobs and professions.  It’s just a matter of adapting to it.

The Problem of Cyberbullying

The Problem of Cyberbullying by Steve MoyeAs fun as the Internet and social media can be, it’s led to one disturbing trend, particularly among teens: cyberbullying.  In a nine-school survey by the Cyberbullying Research Center, about 26.3 percent of middle- and high-school students indicated that they’d been bullied.  This was up from about 18.8 percent back in 2007, and last year climbed to around 34 percent.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bullying and pathological Internet use are prime risk factors for teen suicide.  So something that combines the two of those, namely cyberbullying, is particularly worrisome.  They reported that Internet use in excess of five hours a day has been linked to depression and suicide.  Children between the ages of 8 and 12 spend on average six hours a day in front of screens, a number that jumps to nine for teens.  

Last year, the horror movie “Unfriended” explored the concept of what cyberbullying means to youths who more and more live online.  In the film, an embarrassing video of a girl is shown on social media, and the resulting cyberbullying from her peers, many of them her friends, leads to her suicide.  That’s only a small part of the movie, yet it represents a growing problem for teens.  According to Walden Behavioral Care CMO James Greenblatt, it’s becoming a more and more common precipitant of the downward spiral of depression and suicide among teens.  

Cyberbullying has in many ways grown into a global epidemic, harming children and families regardless of their socioeconomic background.  Before the age of social media, you could avoid bullying by simply going home, yet as long as you’re near WiFi, you can’t really escape it.  Victims are often targeted on social media, online forums or other websites, in addition to texting.  

While digitization has decreased the degrees of separation between everybody and solved many problems in the process, it has worsened bullying.  If there were an easy solution, the bullying problem would be declining, yet everybody from parents to policy makers need to rely on various mitigation tools.  One way to combat bullying is to let teens know about the damage it does, yet that doesn’t always help.  It’s also critical to offer guidance to those hurt by cyberbullying.  Luckily, our digital footprints make bullying more and more visible, with hateful remarks showing up on public forums and social accounts at an alarming rate.  

While various social media sites are trying out new tools to stop online abuse, certain tools, such as STOPit, are taking matters into their own hands.  This app removed the friction from the reporting process of cyberbullying, allowing victims and others to snap shots and capture videos to send to school officials.  Within just a few months of launching STOPit, schools have said that they’ve seen a decrease in all types of issues, proving it an effective deterrent.  Yet while this app has helped, in the end it’s going to be cultural shifts that cause the most change.  And with the increasing use of digital media, it’s unclear when that will happen.  

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Flip Phone Renaissance?

Flip Phone Renaissance by Steve MoyeSmartphones, as revolutionary as they are, have been losing their luster.  Don’t believe me?  Apple, a company whose business is now almost entirely centered on the smartphone, has been having a record-breakingly bad year.  Of course, these are still small numbers, so the end isn’t that near for Apple, but the market is clearly looking for the next big thing.  Could it be the flip phone?

For all of its flaws, there was plenty to love about the flip phone, with phones being a rather fluid business: Palm and BlackBerry took the market from Motorola, Apple took the market from Palm and BlackBerry, then faced the Google juggernaut.  While Microsoft was always viewed as invincible, the smartphone revolution proved otherwise.  I found an article that discussed what it would take to revive the flip phone.

Apple “flipped” the phone market most dramatically after copying a design of a poorly-selling smartphone from LG, the “LG Prada”.  The issue with these products is that they were expensive and hard to use.  Designs like Palm and BlackBerry worked better simply because they were more useful, with keyboards that made them better for email.  Yet everybody missed that phones were more personal devices than work machines, and Apple’s iPhone was simply better-looking and more fun to use while also doing most of what Palm or BlackBerry already did.  Yet with Apple pivoting to more of a focus on business to expand its market, there’s a growing opportunity to flip the market back again.

Flip phones, archaic as they seem, do have advantages over the typical smartphone: they were smaller, more portable, easier to balance on your shoulder when talking hands-free, more robust and with a better battery life.  It might not have done everything that a smartphone did, but it also cost less, so replacing a lost or broken one wasn’t as big a deal.  Yet they weren’t perfect: texting was more tedious than with smartphones, browsing ranged between painful and nonexistent, and there weren’t any apps.

The author of the article argues that, to challenge the iPhone, you’d need to build it so it did a few things, namely tethering and playing music, really well.  Most of us have phones in addition to tablets, which more or less do the same thing but are just bigger.  Yet if you had your phone mostly do just the core communications transport but left the Web browsing, app running and video playing to tablets and laptops, then you could be more connected with all of your devices without any of them overlapping too much.  There could also be device alerting, where when any paired device gets out of range you’d know.  Yet the key would be to not just make tethering easier, but also make the transition between phone, tablet and computer easier.

The market seems to be waiting for what comes after the iPhone, and this opportunity is waiting for the next Apple to make that gamble.  It doesn’t have to be completely different from how Apple does it, but more than anything else it will require a combination of the functionality of a tablet or PC, the mobility and connectivity of a modern smartphone and the voice capability of Echo.  Apple or Microsoft could be the ones to take up the mantle, but maybe a new company could emerge and completely change the game.

Multi-Material 3D Printer

Multifab 3D printer

The Multifab

Earlier this week, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) presented a new MultiFab printer at the annual computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH.  For all of the promise that 3D printing seems to offer, additive manufacturing techniques tend to have been limited to one material at a time.  That is, until now.  The new MultiFab printer, which is still under development, can work with up to 10 materials simultaneously.  Needless to say, this has huge implications.

MultiFab was pieced together with $7,000 worth of off-the-shelf parts, yet MIT says that it’s more capable than 3D printers that cost several times as much.  Expanding the materials available during the fabrication process essentially opens up the 3D design space.  While 3D printing with two or three materials has already been done, researchers at MIT have been able to push that boundary even further, enabling a whole new range of applications for the 3D printer.  The self-calibrating, self-correcting 3D printer’s ability to print up to 10 materials at one time means that it’s able to print finalized objects.

MultiFab allows users to print objects with a variety of functional properties, such as optical, electrical, mechanical, appearance, etc.  It uses machine vision to scan objects in three dimensions during the printing process, checking for errors and applying correction masks when necessary.  Its print resolution is an ultrafine 40 microns, less than half the size of a hair.  It differs from other multi material printers through blending polymers into microscopic droplets instead of extruding melted materials that have to harden.  Along with allowing MultiFab to work with more materials, this approach helps make its designs easier to scale.

An “ultimate dream” proposed by the researchers would be a system that allows local merchants who can’t afford a $7,000 printer to drop off designs at a FedEx outlet and then have finished products printed out in batches, although there’s a lot of work to be done before we can reach that point.  Although Rob Enderle, the principal analyst at the Enderle Group, has said that this latest development pushes 3D printing more in line with real manufacturing hardware.  He’s said that up until now, 3D printers have been little more than just a bad joke, although if you can move into really using them for short-run manufacturing, then you’re one step closer to having something in your home that could actually build what you order online the same day.

The CSAIL team has still worked to overcome two of additive manufacturing’s main challenges, which researchers identify as materials and design tools.  Design tools are a critical challenge, since researchers still need to create workflows that better suit the needs of designers who work with 3D printing.  Price also represents a challenge for the industry, as the really useful stuff remains expensive; for example, 3D printing a gun would cost roughly 20 times what the same gun would have cost in the store.  And 3D printing remains best suited for basic objects.

Top 10 Technologies of 2015 (So Far)

While New Year’s might seem like it was only yesterday, we’re already halfway through 2015, and have had more than six months of new products to look at and purchase.  From useful to completely useless, there’s plenty of variety.  I recently came across an article that features what they believe are so far the best tech products of 2015, listed below:

Steve Moye Amazon Echo

1. Amazon Echo: Imagine a black cylinder with all of the features of Siri or Android Now that you can put on your shelf, and you’ve got something like the Amazon Echo.  It understands your spoken commands from across the room, no matter what you’re doing.  By starting every command with its name, Alexa, it automatically knows when you’re addressing it.  “Alexa” can answer questions about sports, news, weather, unit conversions, facts, geography or just about anything on Wikipedia.  You can even ask her to tell a joke or reorder something you’ve previously ordered on Amazon.  You can also ask her to play music, as Echo works with various music apps thanks to its rich Bluetooth speaker.  While its vocabulary is somewhat limited, this app is off to a great start.

Steve Moye Apple Watch

2. Apple Watch: While this isn’t the first smartwatch out there, this product was still able to make a huge splash in the world of media.  It’s a nicely-designed accessory that saves allows wearers to check the news, weather forecasts and social media without pulling out their phones.  It even has a built-in fitness app.

Steve Moye researchkit

3. ResearchKit: This software toolkit lets researchers write iPhone apps for medical studies.  While this seems way too specific, it allows researchers to monitor activity, sleep, heartbeat and much more, tracking useful data every day.  This app has the potential to unlock that data and safely make it available to researchers without violating your privacy.  As the phone owner, you have total control over how much of your data you want to share, how long you want to share it and which studies you want to join.

Steve Moye S6

4. Galaxy S6: Not only is this arguably the most attractive smartphone that Samsung has ever produced, but it also has one of the most accurate cameras of any phone.  The phone itself is fast, has a gorgeous display and metal body and packs both a mobile payment system and built-in fingerprint reader.

Steve Moye LG G4

5. LG G4: Much like the Galaxy S6, the LG G4 has got a stellar camera that can capture the most accurate and colorful images of any major smartphone on the market.  In a series of tests comparing this phone to the S6, Note 4, iPhone 6, 6 Plus and the M9, this phone offered the sharpest, most vivid photos of any phone.

Steve Moye Lenovo

6. Lenovo LaVie Z: While it isn’t as attractive as the sleek computers of Apple, this laptop is lighter than any other 13-inch laptop on the market, and has the processing power to edit photos and videos without slowing down.

Steve Moye Macbook 2015

7. MacBook: What would a list of new technologies be without a couple Apple products?  Ever since the iMac debuted without the floppy drive, Apple designers have been looking to take away anything that’s not essential.  Unfortunately, their definition of “inessential” is ahead of the public’s.  Their new product is super thin and super light, causing Apple to eliminate a lot of connectors, including the standard USB, video output, Thunderbolt, Ethernet and MagSafe power port.  So far there’s just one USB-C port, which handles both power and data connections.  While some might think Apple’s gone too far, others find that this works just fine.

Steve Moye Nintendo 3DS XL

8. Nintendo 3DS XL: Even though they’ve dominated the handheld video game business since the 1990s, this doesn’t mean they haven’t stopped constantly tweaking its systems, as can be seen with their new 3DS XL.  From intelligently repositioned switched to an analog stick nestled above the face buttons, there are improvements everywhere.  Of course, it isn’t perfect, but when compared to other platforms, it remains the best handheld video game system on the market.

Steve Moye Roku 3

9. Roku 3: While there are plenty of boxes that stream Internet content to your big-screen TV, none are as reliable and easy-to-use as the Roku 3.  This improved Roku 3 allows you to search for something to watch by speaking the name of a show or channel into the remote, with over 2,000 channels to choose from.  The tech will even alert you when shows you’ve been waiting to watch are finally available.

Steve Moye Sling
10. Sling TV: The arrival of this product is great news for anybody who likes to watch sports and other live TV but hate paying their cable provider for it.  For just $20 a month, this app delivers a dozen popular “cable stations” to any connected device.  And for another $5 a month each, you can add packages offering more channels.  While there are occasional connection problems, when it works, the Sling TV is something to write home about.

German Flying Car?

Steve Moye Flying Car

While this new technology isn’t exactly like the flying car shown in the “Harry Potter” universe, it’s still pretty exciting.

Imagine, if you will, a quadcopter drone, that’s able to take off and land vertically, hover and fly autonomously in any direction.  Now, imagine that this drone has two seats, 18 rotors and a joystick, that’s ready to carry you and one other person anywhere that you want to go.  While you may think that sounds unrealistic, it describes a product currently being developed by the German company e-Volo, the Volocopter.  The prototype flew for the first time in 2013, and the team is now working toward the first manned flight sometime in the next few months.

While it technically isn’t a flying car, since you can’t drive it on the road, the Volocopter has the potential to bring together numerous features expected in a flying car from the future: it’s stable, simple to fly, has 18 rotors that provide a lot of redundancy against system failures, doesn’t require a runway and is powered by batteries.  In preparation for the first manned flight, the e-Volo team is working on an upgrade for the entire system.  The structure and architecture are more-or-less the same as they were in 2013, but the inner workings have been thoroughly upgraded.  The company has been assembling a new electronic flight-control system, in addition to a new battery system.  According to e-Volo CEO Alexander Zosel, the cockpit has a lot of new features; the electronics are completely new, and the propellers now have more power.

The company has been working with the German government to revise current aviation rules, which don’t yet have a category for a light sport multicopter, a process which is going forward hand-in-hand with the certification process.  The initial two-seat design uses battery packs, with a flight-time duration of just 20 to 30 minutes.  According to Zosel, it will be certified by flying, and he intends to sell the copters for about $340,000.  He’s also working to develop a hybrid power system that would extend flight time to over an hour.  However, that’s just the beginning, as Zosel aims to change the face of mobility, whether for fun or getting work done.  Zosel has envisioned a larger version for commercial use, that could carry four to six people.  While the aviation rules will have to change to allow that, Zosel believes that will happen over the next decade or so.

Zosel has yet to share new photos of the copter, although promises that e-Volo will have cameras everywhere during the first flight.  Unlike the first remotely-piloted flight, which took place inside a hangar, the aircraft will be flying outside this time.  By next summer, Zosel hopes to bring the aircraft to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the biggest air show in the world.