AI better than humans at reading?

News that AI had beat humans in reading spawned a lot of articles.

I’ve taken longer than I normally would to respond to some recent news stories about AI “outperforming humans” in reading comprehension “for the first time”.  Partly because I can’t help the wave of annoyance that fills me when I see articles so obviously designed to instil panic and/or awe in the reader without any detail, but also because I feel it’s important to do some primary research before refuting anything1.  The initial story broke that an AI created by Alibaba had met2 the human threshold in the Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD) followed closely by Microsoft outperforming Alibaba and exceeding the human score (slightly). Always a safe bet for sensationalism, mainstream media pounced on the results to announce millions of jobs are at risk….  So what’s really going on? Continue reading AI better than humans at reading?

Cozmo – a good present?

Cozmo – image from Anki

One of the toys that’s been advertised heavily in the UK this year for Christmas has been Cozmo with it’s “Big Brain, Bigger Personality” strapline. I got one last year and it was a great present. Let’s get this out there. Cozmo is relatively expensive. For about £1501 there are a lot of other things you might prefer to buy for a child (or an adult) for what is, on the surface “just a toy”. If you treat it as such then maybe it’s not the right thing for you, but viewing Cozmo as a simple toy is far less than he deserves. He is a lot of fun to play with, and the more you play with him, the more he begins to do. Continue reading Cozmo – a good present?

Being a Panellist at a Tech Talk

Being a panellist – expect to be recorded

Following on from the meetup talk I gave on building your own personal brand, I’ve been asked a few questions about speaking at events and being a panellist.  I felt it would be a good idea to write a few posts on this for reference.  This one is particularly about panel sessions. Continue reading Being a Panellist at a Tech Talk

Determination and Stamina: valuable stats but they’re not infinite

Typical Fighting Fantasy character sheet – what are your stamina, skill and luck stats?

I love choose your own adventure books. I read The Warlock of Firetop Mountain when it was first released and then pretty much every single Fighting Fantasy book released after it1. I also credit one of these books with improving my French reading and vocabulary after finding “La Malediction du Pharaon” in a charity shop2. One of the themes that run through all these books is your statistics: stamina, skill, and luck3. As you use these abilities they deplete. Use them too much and you will likely come to a sticky end in the books.

Real life is pretty similar, both mentally and physically. Continue reading Determination and Stamina: valuable stats but they’re not infinite

Is a Robot tax on companies using AI a way of protecting the workforce?

Don’t fear the robots, they’re already here.

While there may be disagreements on whether AI is something to worry about or not, there is general agreement that it will change the workforce. What is a potential concern is how quickly these changes will appear. Anyone who has been watching Inside the Factory1 can see how few people are needed on production lines that are largely automated: a single person with the title “manager” whose team consists entirely of robots. It wasn’t too long ago that these factories would have been full of manual labour.

The nature of our workforce has changed. It’s been changing constantly – the AI revolution is no different in that respect. We just need to be aware of the speed and scale of potential change and ensure that we are giving everyone the opportunity to be skilled in the roles that will form part of our future. There is an inevitability about this. Just as globalisation made it easy for companies to outsource work to cheaper locations (and even easier with micro contract sites) AI will make it cheaper and easier for companies to do tasks so it will be adopted. Tasks that aren’t interesting enough or wide market enough or even too difficult right now to be automated will still need human workers. Everything else will slowly be lost “to the robots”. Continue reading Is a Robot tax on companies using AI a way of protecting the workforce?

Chatbot immortality

University of Washington’s artificial Obama created from reference videos and audio files.

While I like to kid myself that maybe I’m only a quarter or third of the way through my life, statistics suggest that I’m now in the second half and my future holds a gradual decline to the grave.  I’m not afraid of my age, it’s just a number1.  I certainly don’t feel it.  My father recently said that he doesn’t feel his age either and is sometimes surprised to see an old man staring back at him from the mirror.

As an atheist, death terrifies me.  My own and that of those I love.  I don’t have the easy comfort blanket of an afterlife and mourn the loss of everything an individual was when they cease to be.  Continue reading Chatbot immortality

Girlguiding STEM badges – great news, but a generation late in the reporting

Guide Computer and Science interest badges. Not the new ones – the originals from ~1990!

You may have heard in the news that Girlguiding are looking to inspire girls and young women into STEM by introducing new interest badges.  This is, without a doubt, fantastic news.  The interest badge system has been a backbone of both Scouting and Guiding since they began as a way of encouraging young people to try new things.  So, helping Guides explore these skills with new badges is a great step forward.

Or is it?  The BBC article pokes gentle fun at the old-fashioned image of Guiding with the journalist’s memories of badges for tying knots and table-laying: “Fast forward some 25 years and it’s clear much has changed”1 Continue reading Girlguiding STEM badges – great news, but a generation late in the reporting

Biologically Inspired Artificial Intelligence

Mouse cortex neurons, from Lee et al, Nature 532, 370–374

Artificial intelligence has progressed immensely in the past decade with the fantastic open source nature of the community. However there are relatively few people, even in the research areas, that understand the history of the field from both the computational and biological standpoints. Standing on the shoulders of giants is a great way to step forward, but can you truly innovate without understanding the fundamentals?

I go to a lot of conferences and I’ve noticed a subtle change in the past few years. Solutions that are being spoken about now don’t appear to be as far forward as some of those presented a couple of years ago. This may be subjective, but the more I speak to people about my own background in biochemically accurate computational neuron models, the more interest it sparks. Our current deep learning model neurons are barely scratching the surface of what biological neurons can do. Is it any wonder that models need complexity and are limited in their scope? Continue reading Biologically Inspired Artificial Intelligence

Source Code Control for Data Scientists

XKCD explains git source code control.. 🙂

I work with many people who are recently out of academia. While they know how to code and are experts in their fields, they are lacking some of rigour of computer science that experienced developers have. In addition to understanding the problems of data in the wider world and testing their solutions properly, they are also unaware of the importance of source code control and deployment. This is another missing aspect from these courses – you cannot exist as a professional developer without it. While there are many source control setups, I’m most familiar with git.

I’ve recently written a how-to guide for my team and was going to make that the focus of this post, although I’ve seen some very good guides out there that are more generic, so I’d like to explain why source code control is important and then give you the tools to learn this yourself. Continue reading Source Code Control for Data Scientists

Learning BASIC – blast from the past

The book that taught me BASIC 🙂

Back in those heady pre-internet days, if you wanted to learn something that you weren’t taught at school, it pretty much meant a trip to the library.  I was pretty lucky, if I wanted a book and there was even a hint of anything educational in it, then it was bought for me.

I was further fortunate in that with a teacher as a parent, I had access to the Acorn Achimedes and BBC computers as they were rolled out to schools for the entirety of the school holidays.  There was one rule: if you want to play games, write them yourself.  While rose-tinted memory has me at the tender age of 7 fist-pumping and saying “challenge accepted”,  I’m sure there was much more complaint involved, but I’m glad that I was encouraged. Continue reading Learning BASIC – blast from the past