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AI in the works

Guess what I ran into in today? AIExperiments with Google. AI has been the talk of the town for a while. While it has been doing a lot behind the scenes, developers have been providing more and more hands on applications to see how it works, what it “sees”. AIExperiments is just that. I’ve only played around with Quick, Draw!. But it really gives you a feel for how AI does what it does. Aaaannnnnd there goes my evening.

Another project that Google made public recently was an AI system that created its own encryption algorithm. Basically, it consisted of three systems. System A would try to get an encrypted message across to system B. System E would intercept the message and try to understand /decrypt it. A would need to modify its encryption algorithm until E could not understand what it was trying to say. Now given that the communication only involved a 16 bit message and that it took 15,000 messages for A to be able to send the message with E able to guess 50% of the message (which is as good as flipping the coin on what each bit could be), nevertheless, the applications of such a system could be tremendous. More @ Wired

And that was demonstrated by another project that they released shortly after. A system creating it’s own language. To translate text from Portuguese to Spanish, the AI was taught to use the Portuguese to English translation and then translate the English phrase to Spanish. Over time, the AI learned to translate Portuguese directly to Spanish without any intermediate English translation. Meaning, the system learned to represent the concepts it uses to translate between other languages. More on Research @ Google.

A core part of AI is feedback. If it makes a decision, it needs to know whether or not it was right. It can then use this feedback to improve on its next decision because it has a little more idea about what is “expected”. So while AIExperiements might be “experiments”, ideas like this can be used to crowd-source information that can be used by AI systems to better our everyday lives.

Also, while you’re at it, there some other cool experiments folks have built for Chrome, Android and Arts & Culture. And what’s more, you can contribute too if you can build something along those lines.

-Akshar Rawal

 

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Sesame credit…Who’s in?

Credit score is too … 20th Century. How about a new score? What if you could get the score to decide on the benefits you’d get. So you missed a payment, so what? Why should my future credit-worthiness be judged based on just this one miss, right? So how about we include more factors that would decide how you are treated, in a more real-world scenario, more like how your friends treat you. So what would we need? How about:

– What kinds of people you hang out with (from social networks)

– The kind of items you buy online (from the million e-commerce sites you visit)

– Your browsing data (if that isn’t already tracked all over the place)

– Basically any activity that you do online

AND LET’S GET THIS ALL OVER TO THE GOVERNMENT

 

Interested? Sounds awesome, right? Why wouldn’t you want to let the government judge you based on your online behavior? Let’s get onboard…no? Not interested?

 

Well if you are a citizen of a “certain” country (no names here, search for sesame credit), you won’t have a choice by 2020. This “certain” government has partnered with Alibaba.com and Tencent to track it’s citizens across their online footprint, from social networks to their online purchasing patterns. Users will be rated on their “patriotic” selves. What this translates to is, to level up, do, see, buy, take part in only what is approved by the government. Or else, your score goes down.

 

Well if that doesn’t scare you, here’s more. Your friends, people you hang out with, people you interact with impact your score. So, if you hang out with people that have a low score, your own score is weighed down. AND THEY SHOW YOU WHO’S BRINGING THE SCORE DOWN. All you have to do then, is get rid of that person from your life and you’re all set. Fascinating, isn’t it?

 

Early adopters, the people who already consider themselves as patriotic, have already started to embrace this new credit system. It’s a gamified version of life. I don’t know about you but I’d be terrified of such a system. I’d love to have a discussion on where things might end up 10 years, 50 years or 100 years down the line, if such a system was actually put into place. I’d like to see where other people see this going and how, if at all, they can survive hiding from such a system (basically just go offline, I guess). There’s all these sci-fi movies and series that portray outlaws in a highly regulated system (think firefly, star wars). What would constitute an outlaw in this scenario and how would they survive? Reply below and we can have a conversation going .

 

(Credits: Extra Credits)

-Akshar Rawal

Google CS First

Google Computer Science First is a website dedicated towards teaching kids the basics of Computer Science using different real-life situation-al categories. Categories include Music and Sound, Art, Fashion, Story telling, Friends, Social Media, Sports and Game design. The courses have been designed to be very amateur friendly. Also, the program has been designed in the form of study groups. The learned can host a group in their area and the learners can join groups within their area. Check out the CS First website for yourself to learn more and join a group near you now.

-Akshar Rawal

G is for Google

As The Trashmen would say, “A well-a Google Google Google, Google’s the word”. Coz it’s made out of Alphabet (Inc.). Big new today surrounding the restructuring of Google. Google has a corporate boss and its name, Alphabet Inc. The news headlines have gone flashing across social media of the change out of the blue.

As of now, the only thing known for certain is that Google will be owned by a parent company called Alphabet Inc. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google will serve as the CEO and President, respectively. Google will now be headed by Sundar Pichai, the former head of Android. The rationale for the move is to provide some level of independence to the other branches, formerly under google, like the health sciences lab called Calico, the research arm X-labs, Nest, Fiber, Ventures, Capital, Sidewalk, Wing, etc. Each of these will become a separate company under the Alphabet umbrella.

Each company will have it’s own CEO and Page and Brin will head Alphabet. Google will include search, ads, YouTube, apps, maps and the technical infrastructure. Google stock will now become Alphabet stock. And as for the name, Larry Page has this to say,

We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search! We also like that it means alpha‑bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for!

And what’s more, their web-page, is abc.xyz :o.

Read the complete statement by Larry Page, here.

-Akshar Rawal

Sun done, now the moon’s energy

We’ve harnessed the power of the sun’s energy through solar technology and SolarCity is an example of it. The Moon has been feeling bad about it and it wants to be helpful and important too. Well guess what, we might soon be putting it’s power to use. How, you say? Tidal energy.

Ocean waves carry immense power that is just waiting to be tapped into. We’ve tapped into the power of flowing rivers (waterfalls, primarily). Tidal waves are probably even more powerful than a river would be. So why not harness that energy? What’s been stopping us from doing so? The answer is technology. We did not have the system design that would be able to harness that power. With rivers, the turbine is forced to move with the flow with part of it being outside the water. This allows for it to be pushed at one end, forcing circular motion. But with the ocean waves, the turbine, to be in a wave intensive area, would either have to be completely submerged, or really, really huge. Let’s not go to designing huge turbines. We still have to move ships in the ocean.

So submerged it is. But being submerged would leave the traditional turbine design useless. Equal force on both ends would leave no room for the circular motion. The idea then would be to design the rotors in a hydro-dynamic fashion. We already have something similar. Wind mills, with their aero-dynamic designs. Why not replicate that? Actually people have and it has not turned out to be the best of the ideas. It is a bit inefficient, things don’t move as fast under the ocean pressure. And the marine life is not particularly happy about it either. But marine life primarily resides in the depth of the oceans. Why not do something closer to the shores? We have quite some ways around there too.

Well a British start up has done just that. It has proposed the plan to build a “Tidal fence” that will convert the power of the waves to energy as they moved towards the shore. It is expected to produce more power more cheaply than the off-shore wind farms. FYI, these are the non-eco-friendly installations in the ocean. Being in the shallow regions might prove to be friendlier to marine life. In any case, it is definitely an interesting venture but only an idea as of yet. It remains to be seen how it performs on the stage. You can read more about it over at Gizmodo.

-Akshar Rawal

SolarCity: Elon Musk and cousins

We’ve talked about Elon Musk’s more prominent ventures Hyperloop and SpaceX. But another firm that has Elon Musk’s name attached to it is Solar City. It is led by Lyndon and Peter Rive and was based on a suggestion by Elon Musk over a family discussion. Oh they’re cousins, Musk and the Rive brothers.

Solar City is exactly what it sounds like. Solar powered cities. But these aren’t cities being built by the company. Rather, the company strives to provide residential and commercial solar installations across the US. It offers financial solutions to it’s customers that fit into their budget structure while allowing them to switch to Green energy. It also takes care of the peripherals, like the paper work and installations and has quite a track record.

Since 2007, its first full year of operation, Solar City has been the leading residential solar power provider in California. It was also the largest residential solar installer in the US in 2013. Overall, it was ranked 2nd (residential and commercial installations). Solar City has expanded operations to 15 different states and is planning to build a new manufacturing facility in NY.

But that’s not the best part. You know Tesla Motors? That is also an Elon Musk venture. What does that have to do with this? Well, what is it known for? High-storage car batteries. Combine that with the solar grid and you’ve got yourself a setup with almost no need for external utility. Solar City spent 3 years developing the software that facilitates the interaction between the photo-voltaic array, the grid and the Tesla batteries at home. But, (isn’t there always one?). Why but, there should be no but. But, REGULATORS. The big well-established companies stop earning and lose control. And they have a problem with that. Can you believe it? They have a problem with not earning. Anyways, but because of this, the local storage venture of Solar City is yet to kick off. And it remains to be seen if the regulators will comply. Read more about it @ The Atlantic.

You can get a free quote for your home or business over at http://www.solarcity.com/.

Read more in detail about the company on their wikipedia page.

-Akshar Rawal

Alas! RIP HitchBOT

2 weeks it lasted. Remember The hitch-hiking robot, it’s journey has come to an abrupt end just two weeks in. It made it all the way to Philly, starting from Boston and going through New York and Salem, to name a few of the cities it visited. It was dismantled by humans of Philly, it’s head severed, heart stolen. It faced a gruesome death. Guess they were not ready for it just yet.

Not that the robot served any particular purpose, or that it had a bunch of highly futuristic concepts built-in, it still hurts. All it basically was a trash can with some electronics fitted inside it. But still. Come on! I mean it made it’s way through Canada and Europe, why not here? Maybe it needs to up it’s ante for a better chance of survival. After all, life does follow “survival of the fittest” standards.

Read about it’s gruesome death over at gizmodo and read a little rant over the little pile of trash that it was, over at the concourse.

-Akshar Rawal

Google’s Project Loon and Project Titan

In an attempt towards delivering internet to the far-fetched regions of the world, companies like Facebook and Google are experimenting with ways to deliver this service “Over the air”. Facebook recently finished it’s prototype of Project Aquila, a drone based Internet delivery system. But this isn’t the first of it’s kind. Google reportedly acquired a company called Titan Aerospace for something very similar. Google has been experimenting with balloons to provide a similar service. This is being done under the title Project Loom.

Project Titan is Google’s project to use drones to deliver internet connectivity to remote areas of some of the developing countries. Titan’s Solara 50 and Solara 60 are the two primary prototypes being researched at the moment. Solara 50 has a wing span of 50 meters and can carry a payload of unto 32kgs. Solara 60 on the other hand can carry up to 100kgs. The solar drones have been estimated to stay in flight for up to 5 years with simulations and experiments. They fly at heights of about 20 kms. They are reported to have functionalities similar to satellites, not just delivering connectivity. They can be used for weather monitoring with the appropriate equipment and other such monitoring that is typically done by satellites. The project is still under development. It remains to be seen how it fares against it’s expectations.

Project Loon is another venture of Google’s that os more focused towards providing connectivity “over the air”. It uses high-altitude balloons to extend connectivity of existing access points/satellites to remote areas. The balloons hover at about 32kms above the surface in the stratosphere. They are used as relay points for existing connectivity, instead of working on their own bandwidth. Google has crashed a few balloons during experimentation, the latest being on 23rd April 2015. This has been a rising concern for the project. Such malfunction during full-fledged operation could result in interference with flights and could cause serious problems for flight operators. The balloons have a flight time of about 100 days. But Google is reportedly working on improving that.

While these technologies would a decent advancement in the way we deliver technology to the masses, they come with their own flaws and risks. It remains to be seen how researchers work towards minimizing the risks and counteracting the flaws for maintain a safe haven for the living. After all, the physical life is more important than the life on the internet, or is it?

-Akshar Rawal

Facebook has an AVIATION TEAM!

Until yesterday I wasn’t aware of the fact that Facebook has an aviation team, let alone the fact that they have developed a solar powered drone with the wing-span of a Boeing 737. For reference, the Boeing 737 is the passenger aircraft with the capacity of 85 to 215 passengers which is the typical number for domestic flights.And yes, I am talking about the same Facebook that you use to network with people across the world. Apparently, they have completed the first prototype of Project Aquila, named after the eagle that carries Zeus’ thunder bolts in Greek mythology.

The motive of this venture, to provide internet access to parts unreachable of developing countries. The drone is expected to fly in the stratosphere above the weather of the earth. This takes it away from the turbulent part of the atmosphere. It still has to deal with some winds and extremely cold temperatures. Facebook expects the solar-powered aircraft to make flights that last for unto 90 days at a stretch between 60000 and 90000 feet high. This goal is however, yet to be achieved.

Another team at Facebook is working towards developing a laser technology that will be onboard the aircraft and do the actual work. They lasers will be used to transmit signals back to earth and facilitate speeds of 10s of Giga bits per second, which is way, way more than the 0 Gbps that the areas get now.

The aircraft, even with the wing span of a 737, is extremely light on it’s own. It remains to be seen what kind of weight the equipment onboard adds. Because this would significantly affect the aircraft speed and efficiency.

This is not the first venture of researchers to provide “Over the air” internet to the masses. Google has been testing drones of it’s own and it crashed one earlier this year. Google also has been working on “internet balloons”, which are essentially balloons doing the same thing. You can read more about them over at Google’s Project Loom and Project Titan. On the flip side, Facebook has also been researching satellite technologies that facilitate such communication. There are a number of other smaller firms that are working on similar prototyping. We’ve filled the land with cables and also the ocean. We might as well fill the skies, right? Poor sky, feeling all lonely without internet. Now even It will have Facebook :).

-Akshar Rawal

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