Citation Needed – without it you have opinion not facts

Heckle every speech like this 🙂 Courtesy of XKCD

Throughout my academic career one thing that was repeatedly enforced was that if you were claiming something to be true in a paper, you needed to show results to prove it or cite a credible source that had those results.  It took a lot of effort in those pre-Google Scholar and pre-Arxiv days1.  Reading the journals, being aware of retractions and clarifications and building the evidence to support your own work took time2.  Writing up my thesis was painful solely because of finding the right references for things that were “known”.  I had several excellent reviewers who sent me back copies of my thesis with “citation needed” where I’d stated things as facts without a reference.  My tutor at Oxford was very clear on this: without a citation, it’s your opinion not a fact. Continue reading Citation Needed – without it you have opinion not facts

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

Incentivising data scientists

One of the regular Data Science discussion breakfasts. Thanks to all who attended.

I chaired a breakfast meeting for Women in Data Science recently, and one of the topics for discussion was how to retain talent. While demand is outstripping supply and the market is going crazy, it’s enough of a minefield finding good people  in the first place.

Add to this that even after you’ve made an offer to someone, recruiters will be contacting them regularly to try to tempt them away to other roles. It’s impossible to prevent this. I’m a big believer in not playing games with recruitment – I know what I can afford and won’t get into a bidding war. If I’m paying a fair salary and they go elsewhere for money, then they are more likely to jump when a recruiter calls regardless of how well you incentivise them. This isn’t a big company or small company thing, if you want to keep hold of your team after you’ve done the very hard job of hiring them then you need to understand what motivates them and either make sure that you continue to provide those needs or plan to be hiring again in the next 12-24 months. Continue reading Incentivising data scientists

OU Maths – decisions on level 3

Image credit OU Mathematics

This week was results week for the Open University. Many of us who had been checking the website weekly since the exam1 finally got the link through to our overall module scores. If, like me, you were waiting for a result then I hope you got what you needed2. MST210 marks the end of level 2 of the B.Sc. Mathematics and I now have some choices on level 3. Continue reading OU Maths – decisions on level 3

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

Inspirobot: generating motivational images with AI

Inspirobot generated motivational image. Deep and meaningful or meaningless rubbish?

Motivational posters, whether in their original form or the short images shared on social media, can instil multiple emotions.  They can be positive or downright cringe-worthy, inspiring or bad advice… all superimposed on an image that may or may not correspond to the text.

The latest “fun” AI to go around is Inspirobot.  This AI has been trained on the form and tone of motivational images, and at the touch of a button will generate one for you.  There is a limited stock of images (I have had the same image more than once, but am still also getting new ones, so I’d estimate this is in the hundreds), but the text itself appears to be generated each time1.

Seems legit?
Possibly my favourite…

Continue reading Inspirobot: generating motivational images with AI