Monthly Archives: October 2016

Deep Learning

stay-at-homeComputing power is changing our lives for a few decades and we’re on the brink of a significant jump in computer power form artificial intelligence (AI). A recent article in Fortune magazine titled “Why Deep Learning is Suddenly Changing Your Life” highlighted what’s on the way.

Here’re some interesting takeaways from the article:

Within AI is machine learning, enabling computers to get better at tasks with practice. And within machine learning is deep learning which allows computers to train themselves using multi-layered neural networks and vast quantities of data.

Does that mean it’s time to brace for the inflection point when superintelligent machines start improving themselves without human involvement? Not just yet. 

Neural nets are good at recognizing patterns—sometimes as good as or better than we are at it. But they can’t reason. Unsupervised learning remains untracked.

For example, while a radiologist might see thousands of images in his life, a computer can “see” millions. 

One researcher says, “It’s not crazy to imagine that this image problem could be solved better by computers, just because they can plow through so much more data than a human could ever do.” The potential advantages are not just greater accuracy and faster analysis, but democratization of services. As the technology becomes standard, eventually every patient will benefit.

And what about better speech recognition? In China whose main language, Mandarin, is difficult to type into a device so speech recognition for Mandarin speakers would be a big help.

And looking to the near future an insider predicted, “A lot of S&P 500 CEOs wished they had started thinking sooner than they did about their Internet strategy. Five years from now there’ll be a number of S&P 500 CEOs wishing they’d started thinking earlier about their AI strategy.”

“AI is the new electricity, just as 100 years ago electricity transformed industry after industry, AI will now do the same.”

It’s already great

prayerThere’re always people telling us how crappy our lives are. Are you pessimistic or optimistic? Life is actually getting better,safer, and more free in the big picture. What time in the past would you like to have lived in (as a regular person)?

Be careful, don’t choose a time period with a strong chance of killing you. There are some not so great times in the past that you could find yourself in.

Consider this period from a long time ago. “Around 72,000 B.C., a volcanic super-eruption with the force of 1.5 million Hiroshima-size bombs occurred in Indonesia. A six inch layer of volcanic ash settled over Asia, there were traces of ash as far as East Africa, the homeland of humans. Skies darkened and global temperatures fell, creating a ‘long night’ lasting for many years. DNA testing indicates that the human population dropped to between 3,000 and 10,000 people.”

Pretty grim. But some people made it through that bottleneck and all 7 billion people today are descended from that tiny group of survivors. Eventually we discovered agriculture, leading to a life that generally wasn’t great for common folk.

“In the year 1820, life expectancy less than 35 years, 94% of the global population lived in extreme poverty, and less than 20% of the population was literate.”

After the industrial age got under way, followed by the information age, things began to get better for common folk, at least from a 30,000 foot perspective.

“Now human life expectancy is over 70 years, less that 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty and over 80% of people are literate.”

The strongest force enabling human progress has been the fast pace of and  broad reach of technology.

Surprise is the key element of creativity and entrepreneurship defying every econometric model and socialist scheme. Creativity can’t be planned. Most entrepreneurs, from Sam Walton to Elon Musk, didn’t get to the top of a hierarchy. They created something new. Progress comes from the creative minority. And that’s growing.

Economic potential never drops because knowledge always rises. Technology (knowledge embedded in machines) gets better because we invest in research and development and never replace a good machine with an inferior one. Plus the abilities of the average worker keeps rising because average educational and training levels continue to rise.

The trend is that things get better. It’s already pretty great and if history is any indication of the future, it’s just going to get greater. At least in the big picture first and then for the common man.

The bronut

donutBear with me for a minute before I get to the bronut.

Consider the human gastrointestinal tract. Technically it’s not part of our “insides” even though it passes through us.

It’s more like the hole in a donut that passes through the donut.

Looking at a donut, think of the top of the donut hole as your lips and the bottom of the lipsdonut hole as the hole in your bottom. Stretch that donut vertically until it’s about six feet tall. Along the way, feel free to extrude pairs of arms, legs , and ears, and whatever else you’d like,  from the glazed outside of the donut. What should this thing be called?

A few years ago, a French pastry chef in NYC started making donuts out of croissant dough and called them “cronuts.”  I’m calling my human inspired donut a “bronut.” It’s catchier than saying “sapiennut” or something like that. Mathematicians call the donut shape a “torus” but that’s not evocative enough.

Anyway a bronut is just a way to envision something that’s in us but at the same time also not part of us .

It’s mostly pretty good

get-paranoidSeth Godin writes one of the few blogs I’ve followed for years. He has a huge tribe of fans and I’m one of them. When you see him on stage in a video presentation, Seth is a skinny bald guy rocking baggy shirts and suits that are too big on him and his voice is kinda nasal, so it must be substance over style that’s propelled him.

Another blog I follow is Marginal Revolution by the economist Tyler Cowen. He’s another case of substance trumping nerdy professor style. He posts so many ideas it’s hard to believe.

I think there’s never been a better time to be alive and living in a modern economy even with its real and often imagined ups and downs.

Here’re two quick posts from Seth followed by one from Tyler:


Making a new decision based on new information by Seth Godin

This is more difficult than it sounds. To some people, it means admitting you were wrong.(But of course, you weren’t wrong. You made a decision based on one set of facts, but now you’re aware of something new.)

To some people, sunk costs are a real emotional hot button, and walking away from investments of time, of money, and mostly, of commitment, is difficult. (But of course, ignoring sunk costs is a key to smart decision making).

And, to some people, the peer pressure of sticking with the group that you joined when you first made a decision is enough to overwhelm your desire to make a better decision. “What will I tell my friends?”


Differences by Seth Godin

For as long as we’ve been keeping records, human beings have been on alert for the differences that divide us. Then we fixate on those differences, amplifying them, ascribing all sorts of irrelevant behaviors to them. Until, the next thing you know, we start referring to, “those people.”

It seems as though it’s a lot more productive to look for something in common. Attitudes and expectations. Beliefs in the common good and forward motion. A desire to make something that matters… Because there’s always more in common than different.


Ford fact of the day by Tyler Cowen from Bill Vlasic’s NYT article

Mr. Trump and others have criticized Ford for creating jobs in Mexico rather than in the United States. Seldom mentioned by Ford’s critics, though, is an essential fact. The Wayne factory will remain fully staffed, with 3,700 workers, to build what Ford really needs now: more trucks and S.U.V.s.

There’s no doubt that Nafta has played a role in the migration of many American manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Before that, US automakers barely had a presence in Mexico. Now, Mexico’s car-making work force is about 675,000 strong.

But many factors determine the number of auto-making jobs in the United States — a figure that according to federal labor statistics has actually grown by 200,000 jobs, to around 900,000, since the recession gave way to economic recovery in 2009.

The Dutch Reach

skirt-riding-upYou never know what could be passing next to your car just before you get out. And if you nail a cyclist when you open your car door you’ll feel pretty bad.

The Dutch have a solution. Enter the “Dutch Reach.” And I’m going to start using it.

A  Dutch Reach is opening your driver’s side car door with your far hand instead of using your near hand. Using  your right hand instead of your left hand it makes your body swivel, positioning your head to look out of your car so you can easily check to see approaching bikes. Maybe a better name would be the “Dutch Twist.”

If this habit can be spread, it’ll help reduce accidents, making cycling lanes less dangerous. The Dutch Reach is already part of the driver’s eduction program in the Netherlands.

It’s simple and easy to teach making it cheaper than costly infrastructure changes to make biking safer.

The end of the campaign


luchaThe party elders’ couldn’t believe it. And their lack of courage in getting off their doomed train weighed heavily on some of them.

The constellation of victories by the other party in the weeks before election day were strong indicators of what was to come. By the end of November 8th the exit polls left no doubt on both sides about who was going to be the biggest loser, and the soon-to-be defeated party was in shambles.

For some party true believers, suicide seemed a safe course and some even began extolling the “pleasure of sacrificing personal existence” for the party. After the election results were in, younger party members held baskets from which they passed out cyanide capsules to the party faithful.

Suicide became a national trend, exercised by thousands of distraught people fearing the worst for their country and themseslelves. As in a cult, the mass suicides were in part a response to the shock of seeing a massive, inextricable lie come crashing down.

Note: After the Nazis lost WWII there were thousands of suicides in Germany by officials and citizens fearing retribution or due to a sense of overwhelming loss. Recently, I saw a story about history that’s not widely known and that was the inspiration for the story above.

Put a bell on it

dead-hummingbirdA friend recently showed me his puppy. While we were discussing how to train dogs, he mentioned that he wanted his puppy to do some “opportunistic hunting” when it grows up. For a dog that probably means cats and maybe a slow wild animal.

Outdoor cats without bells on their collars probably need to be culled. The authors of “Cat Wars” claim cats have been implicated in the decline and extinction of some 175 different species. Any small mammal, bird, or reptile seems to be vulnerable to an attack by a cat.

A cat owner may ask, ‘What impact can my little cat be having?’ Well, every snowflake in an avalanche will plead not guilty to causing harm.

Cats are putting up some big numbers. When combined, cats’ cumulative damage to other animals is staggering. One researcher claims the number of animals killed by house cats in North American in a year is between 6.3 and 22.3 billion(!) mammals, between 1.3 and 4 billion(!) birds, between 95 and 299 million amphibians, and between 258 and 822 million reptiles. It’s an avalanche!

Think about those numbers. Even if those numbers are way off, even by half, the death toll from cats is unacceptable. Please put a bell around your cat’s neck before it goes out into the world.