Microsoft

Microsoft Tries To Write the Book On AI (axios.com) 55

When it comes to the ethics and impact of artificial intelligence, Microsoft is literally trying to write the book. From a report: The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its Role in Society is being made available in digital form tonight, with a forward from longtime lawyer Brad Smith and AI/Research chief Harry Shum. Why it matters: Now is the time when a lot of key decisions are being made about how AI will work and the rules that will govern its development. But the discussion has largely been taking place within the tech sector. Axios chatted with Smith and Shum about the book, AI in general and the questions we all should be grappling with. So, why write a book? Smith: There has been a lot of discussion in the tech sector, as you know. But we think that there's an important role to play in trying to take what the tech sector is talking about and broadening the dialogue.
AI

Google Has Made It Simple For Anyone To Tap Into Its Image Recognition AI (gizmodo.com) 42

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: Google released a new AI tool on Wednesday designed to let anyone train its machine learning systems on a photo dataset of their choosing. The software is called Cloud AutoML Vision. In an accompanying blog post, the chief scientist of Google's Cloud AI division explains how the software can help users without machine learning backgrounds harness artificial intelligence. All hype aside, training the AI does appear to be surprisingly simple. First, you'll need a ton of tagged images. The minimum is 20, but the software supports up to 10,000. Using a meteorologist as an example for their promotional video was an apt choice by Google -- not many people have thousands of tagged HD images bundled together and ready to upload. A lot of image recognition is about identifying patterns. Once Google's AI thinks it has a good understanding of what links together the images you've uploaded, it can be used to look for that pattern in new uploads, spitting out a number for how well it thinks the new images match it. So our meteorologist would eventually be able to upload images as the weather changes, identifying clouds while continuing to train and improve the software.
Microsoft

AI Beats Humans at Reading Comprehension (bloomberg.com) 169

In what is being called a landmark moment for natural language processing, Alibaba and Microsoft have developed AIs that can outperform humans on a reading and comprehension test. From a report: Alibaba Group put its deep neural network model through its paces last week, asking the AI to provide exact answers to more than 100,000 questions comprising a quiz that's considered one of the world's most authoritative machine-reading gauges. The model developed by Alibaba's Institute of Data Science of Technologies scored 82.44, edging past the 82.304 that rival humans achieved. Alibaba said it's the first time a machine has out-done a real person in such a contest. Microsoft achieved a similar feat, scoring 82.650 on the same test, but those results were finalized a day after Alibaba's, the company said.
AI

French Songwriter Kiesza Composes First Mainstream Music Album Co-Written With AI (bbc.com) 51

dryriver shares a report from the BBC, highlighting "a new album that features everything from cowboy sci-fi to Europop." What's special about the album -- Hello World by Canadian singer Kiesza -- is that it's the first full-length mainstream music album co-written with the help of artificial intelligence. You can judge the quality for yourself: First, view the single "Hellow Shadow" with Canadian singer Kiesza. Next, the BBC story, which seems to think that the album is actually rather good: "Benoit Carre has written songs for some of France's biggest stars: from Johnny Halliday -- the French Elvis, who died last year -- to chanteuse Francoise Hardy. But this month, the 47-year-old is releasing an album with a collaborator he could never have dreamt of working with. It's not a singer, or rapper. It's not even really a musician. It's called Flow Machines, and it is, arguably, the world's most advanced artificially-intelligent music program. For musicians, there's been one good thing about these projects so far: the music they've produced has been easy to dismiss, generic and uninspiring -- hardly likely to challenge Bob Dylan in the songwriting department. But Carre's album, Hello World, is different for the simple reason that it's good. Released under the name SKYGGE (Danish for shadow), it features everything from sci-fi cowboy ballads to Europop, and unlike most AI music, if you heard it on the radio, you wouldn't think something had gone horribly wrong. Flow Machines, developed at Sony's Computer Science Laboratories in Paris, does indeed write original melodies, Carre adds. It also suggests the chords and sounds to play them with. But Carre says a human is always needed to stitch the songs together, give them structure and emotion. Without people, its songs would be a bit rubbish. "There were many people involved in this," he says, listing the likes of Belgian house producer Stromae and Canadian pop star Kiesza. "They gave their soul, their enthusiasm. I think that's the most important point of the album, in a way -- that it's a very human one.'"
Businesses

Circuit City Is Coming Back (arstechnica.com) 84

Following a tease of a CES announcement, current Circuit City CEO Ronny Shmoel confirmed on Monday that something called Circuit City will arrive as "a new, more personalized online shopping experience" starting February 15. The announcement even included promises of AI-driven recommendations fueled by IBM's Watson platform, plus unexplained "augmented reality" and "search by photo" features. Ars Technica reports: Curiously, Shmoel also promised "real-time tech support via video chat," but it's unclear whether this feature will include two-way video feeds -- and, thus, whether Circuit City is prepared for a deluge of Chatroulette-caliber video surprises from trolls. This online Circuit City rebirth may very well actually come to exist, as Shmoel claims that the company has put together a fully fledged inventory and distribution system, with a mix of known electronics brand names and "tier-two and tier-three" names (Shamsung? Panafauxnoic?). The same cannot be said for its CES tease of eventual brick-and-mortar showrooms in the neighborhood of 8,000-10,000 square feet, however. Shmoel already backtracked on similar showroom promises in 2016, and his CES pronouncement of future shops included no hard confirmations of locations or dates. But for anybody who dares to dream, Circuit City's showroom design partner, Taylored Group, released a concept render of its store vision which looks like a Radio Shack as if rendered in a Taiwanese hot-take news video.
Google

When It Comes to Gorillas, Google Photos Remains Blind (wired.com) 306

Tom Simonite, writing for Wired: In 2015, a black software developer embarrassed Google by tweeting that the company's Photos service had labeled photos of him with a black friend as "gorillas." Google declared itself "appalled and genuinely sorry." An engineer who became the public face of the clean-up operation said the label gorilla would no longer be applied to groups of images, and that Google was "working on longer-term fixes." More than two years later, one of those fixes is erasing gorillas, and some other primates, from the service's lexicon. The awkward workaround illustrates the difficulties Google and other tech companies face in advancing image-recognition technology, which the companies hope to use in self-driving cars, personal assistants, and other products. WIRED tested Google Photos using a collection of 40,000 images well-stocked with animals. It performed impressively at finding many creatures, including pandas and poodles. But the service reported "no results" for the search terms "gorilla," "chimp," "chimpanzee," and "monkey."
China

Chinese Workers Abandon Silicon Valley for Riches Back Home (bloomberg.com) 250

From a report on Bloomberg: U.S.-trained Chinese-born talent is becoming a key force in driving Chinese companies' global expansion and the country's efforts to dominate next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Where college graduates once coveted a prestigious overseas job and foreign citizenship, many today gravitate toward career opportunities at home, where venture capital is now plentiful and the government dangles financial incentives for cutting-edge research. "More and more talent is moving over because China is really getting momentum in the innovation area," said Ken Qi, a headhunter for Spencer Stuart and leader of its technology practice. "This is only the beginning."

Chinese have worked or studied abroad and then returned home long enough that there's a term for them -- "sea turtles." But while a job at a U.S. tech giant once conferred near-unparalleled status, homegrown companies -- from giants like Tencent to up-and-comers like news giant Toutiao -- are now often just as prestigious. Baidu Inc. -- a search giant little-known outside of China -- convinced ex-Microsoft standout Qi Lu to helm its efforts in AI, making him one of the highest-profile returnees of recent years.

Facebook

Facebook is Shutting Down M, Its Personal Assistant Service That Combined Humans and AI (cnbc.com) 18

Facebook M, the text-based virtual assistant that used human workers to train an artificial intelligence system, is ending the human-assisted part of the service after two and a half years. From a report: The human-enhanced version of M, which was available through a bot on Facebook Messenger, only ever became available to about 2,000 people living in California. The final day of the will be January 19th, Facebook said, and contractors who worked on it will be offered other jobs at the company. First introduced in August 2015, aspects of the service will live on through M suggestions, which offers fully automated suggestions for payments, making plans, and sending stickers through Messenger. When it launched, Facebook described M as a "beta" and suggested the human-powered assistant would come to more users over time. But it never did. Upon shutting down the human-powered M, Facebook described it as an "experiment."
AI

What's On Center Stage at the CES Tech Show? Your Voice (apnews.com) 46

An anonymous reader shares a report: Some of the most popular gadgets over the holiday season were smart speakers with digital assistants from Amazon and Google. Apple is coming out with its own speaker this year; Microsoft and Samsung have partnered on another. As the annual CES gadget show kicks off in Las Vegas this week, manufacturers are expected to unveil even more voice-controlled devices -- speakers and beyond -- as Amazon and Google make their digital assistants available on a wider array of products. If these prove popular, you'll soon be able to order around much more of your house, including kitchen appliances, washing machines and other devices.
AI

Alexa is Coming To Windows 10 PCs From HP, ASUS and Others (engadget.com) 99

An anonymous reader shares a report: Amazon's Alexa recently arrived on headphones and even toilets, but it's about to become much more ubiquitous by hitting Windows 10 PCs later this year. HP, ASUS and Acer have revealed that the voice assistant is coming to various models, including ASUS's ZenBook and VivoBook lineup, the HP Pavilion Wave, and select Acer Spin, Swift, Switch and Aspire notebooks. Amazon will release a special Alexa app in the spring, and laptop builders are tapping Intel's Smart Sound tech to make sure that the app can pick up your voice when you're not right next to your PC. "Hands-free access to Alexa on PCs can be helpful to customers in many ways, like making it simple to interact with your smart home, get news or weather, set timers, and more," Amazon Alexa VP Steve Rabuchin said in a statement.
Google

Google Sold 6.75 Million 'Google Home' Devices In the Last 80 Days (techcrunch.com) 96

An anonymous reader quotes TechCrunch: Google today announced that it sold "tens of millions of Google devices for the home" over the course of the last year and that it sold "more than one Google Home device every second since Google Home Mini started shipping in October," with roughly 6.75 million seconds since October 19 (the day the Home Mini officially went on sale)... The launch of the Google Home Mini, which you could easily buy for $29 (and occasionally for $19 with store credit) gave the company a low-price competitor to Amazon's Echo Dots, and even though it's doubtful that Google made a lot of money of these sales, the move clearly paid off.
The Verge adds: Google is thought to be losing money on every unit of the Home Mini; Reuters reported on one analysis that pegged the device's parts alone at $26, not including the cost of developing the entire thing, supporting it, advertising it, shipping it, and so on. Of course, Google is in this for the long game -- the Assistant is an attempt to make sure Google remains the way people get information, and Google has plenty of options to make money through ads or the data it collects in the future...

Amazon is also believed to be losing money on the Echo Dot, which was similarly cut to $29 during the holiday season. Amazon never gives out specific sales figures, but it did say that "tens of millions" of its own Alexa-enabled devices were sold over the holidays, with the Echo Dot being one of the top sellers... These super cheap prices are getting people to buy smart speakers and commit to an ecosystem. These companies are clearly happy to spend a few dollars gaining customers in the short term so that they have an enormous audience available to them down the road.

AI

Researchers Create 'Psychedelic' Stickers That Confuse AI Image Recognition (techcrunch.com) 112

"Researchers at Google were able to create little stickers with 'psychedelic'-looking patterns on them that could trick computer AI image-classifying algorithms into mis-classifying images of objects that it would normally be able to recognize," writes amxcoder: The patterned stickers work by tricking the image recognition algorithm into focusing on, and studying, the little pattern on the small sticker -- and ignoring the rest of the image, including the actual object in the picture... The images on the stickers were created by the researchers using knowledge of features and shapes, patterns, and colors that the image recognition algorithms look for and focus on.

These stickers were created so that the algorithm finds them 'more interesting' than the rest of the image and will focus most of it's attention on analyzing the pattern, while giving the rest of the image content a lower importance, thus ignoring it or confusing it.

The technique "works in the real world, and can be disguised as an innocuous sticker," note the researchers -- describing them as "targeted adversarial image patches."
AI

Ex-NSA Hacker Is Building an AI To Find Hate and Far-Right Symbols on Twitter and Facebook (vice.com) 509

Motherboard reporter Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai has interviewed Emily Crose, a former NSA hacker, who has built NEMESIS, an AI-powered program that can help spot symbols that have been co-opted by hate groups to signal to each other in plain sight. Crose, who has also moderated Reddit in the past, thought of building NEMESIS after the Charlottesville, Virginia incident last year. From the report: Crose's motivation is to expose white nationalists who use more or less obscure, mundane, or abstract symbols -- or so-called dog whistles -- in their posts, such as the Black Sun and certain Pepe the frog memes. Crose's goal is not only to expose people who use these symbols online but hopefully also push the social media companies to clamp down on hateful rhetoric online. "The real goal is to educate people," Crose told me in a phone call. "And a secondary goal: I'd really like to get the social media platforms to start thinking how they can enforce some decency on their own platforms, a certain level of decorum." [...]

At a glance, the way NEMESIS works is relatively simple. There's an "inference graph," which is a mathematical representation of trained images, classified as Nazi or white supremacist symbols. This inference graph trains the system with machine learning to identify the symbols in the wild, whether they are in pictures or videos. In a way, NEMESIS is dumb, according to Crose, because there are still humans involved, at least at the beginning. NEMESIS needs a human to curate the pictures of the symbols in the inference graph and make sure they are being used in a white supremacist context. For Crose, that's the key to the whole project -- she absolutely does not want NEMESIS to flag users who post Hindu swastikas, for example -- so NEMESIS needs to understand the context. "It takes thousands and thousands of images to get it to work just right," she said.

AI

Amazon Alexa is Coming To Headphones, Smart Watches, Bathrooms and More (cnbc.com) 89

An anonymous reader shares a CNBC report: Amazon announced new tools on Friday that will allow gadget-makers to include the smart voice assistant in a whole array of new products. Alexa is Amazon's smart voice assistant and it has slowly made its way from the Amazon Echo into third-party speakers, refrigerators and, soon, even microwaves. Now, with Amazon's Alexa Mobile Accessory Kit, device makers will be able to build Alexa into headphones, smart watches, fitness trackers and more. That means you may soon be able to look down at your wrist and ask Alexa the weather, or to remind you to pick up eggs at the grocery store. CNET reports Kohler, a company that makes plumbing products, wants to bring Alexa to your bathroom as well.
AI

AI System Sorts News Articles By Whether Or Not They Contain Actual Information (vice.com) 80

In a new paper published in the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, computer scientists from Google and the University of Pennsylvania describe a new machine learning approach to classifying written journalism according to a formalized idea of "content density." "With an average accuracy of around 80 percent, their system was able to accurately classify news stories across a wide range of domains, spanning from international relations and business to sports and science journalism, when evaluated against a ground truth dataset of already correctly classified news articles," reports Motherboard. From the report: At a high level this works like most any other machine learning system. Start with a big batch of data -- news articles, in this case -- and then give each item an annotation saying whether or not that item falls within a particular category. In particular, the study focused on article leads, the first paragraph or two in a story traditionally intended to summarize its contents and engage the reader. Articles were drawn from an existing New York Times linguistic dataset consisting of original articles combined with metadata and short informative summaries written by researchers.
Google

How Do You Vote? 50 Million Google Images Give a Clue (nytimes.com) 103

Artificial Intelligence is now being used to scan millions of pictures taken by Google Street View to glean insights like income or voting patterns, The New York Times reports. In a Stanford project, computers scanned millions of pictures of parked cars to predict voting patterns and pollution. From the report: The Stanford project gives a glimpse at the potential. By pulling the vehicles' makes, models and years from the images, and then linking that information with other data sources, the project was able to predict factors like pollution and voting patterns at the neighborhood level. "This kind of social analysis using image data is a new tool to draw insights," said Timnit Gebru, who led the Stanford research effort. The research has been published in stages, the most recent in late November in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the end, the car-image project involved 50 million images of street scenes gathered from Google Street View. In them, 22 million cars were identified, and then classified into more than 2,600 categories like their make and model, located in more than 3,000 ZIP codes and 39,000 voting districts.
AI

Ask Slashdot: What Would an AI-Written Poem Look Like? 138

Slashdot reader dryriver writes: Imagine this. You are an AI running on the latest machine learning hardware, like Nvidia's new Tensor cores for example, or perhaps a data center full of Xeons and EPYCs. You have lots of processing power, lots of RAM, run under Linux and -- to make things more interesting -- you have access to the complete 21st Century internet over a huge data pipe, including blogs, porn sites, and gaming forums where 12- to 14-year-olds scream at game developers who didn't balance a weapon in a game properly.

You have access to 24 hour if-it-bleeds-it-leads news. You have access to the incredibly important tweets and selfies people post, and the equally important Youtube comments under the latest Taylor Swift or rap video. You read Slashdot as well. Every day.

What kind of poem do you, great AI poetry engine, write based on these inputs?
The Military

Neuro, Cyber, Slaughter: Emerging Technological Threats In 2017 (thebulletin.org) 38

"Wouldn't it be nice if advances in technology stopped throwing new problems at the world? No such luck," writes Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. "Several emerging technological threats could -- soon enough -- come to rival nuclear weapons and climate change in their potential to upend (or eliminate) civilization." Lasrick writes: In 2017, the cyber threat finally began to seem real to the general public. Advances in biotech in 2017 could lead to the deliberate spread of disease and a host of other dangers. And then there were the leaps forward made in AI. Here's a roundup of coverage from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on advances in emerging technological threats that were made in the last year.
One article even describes the possibility of malevolent brain-brain networks in the future, warning scientists (and the international community) to "remain vigilant about neurotechnologies as they become more refined -- and as the practical barriers to their malevolent use begin to lower."
Beer

Carlsberg Turns To AI To Help Develop Beers (fastcompany.com) 56

From a report: One of the reasons it takes so long to develop new beers is because brewers have to rely on actual humans -- and techniques like chromatography and spectrometry -- to test liquids and detect flavors and aromas. Carlsberg thinks it's found a better way. With help from researchers at Aarhus University, the Danish beer-maker has developed sensors that are able to detect differences between beer flavors, the Financial Times reports. Now, the company is teaming up with Microsoft to help interpret that data via artificial intelligence and streamline the lengthy beer-making process.
AI

Human Go Champion Backtracks On Vow To Never Face An AI Opponent Again (engadget.com) 31

Back in May, Google's AlphaGo AI defeated the human world champion Ke Jie in a three-part match. After it was over, Jie vowed never to play a computer again. But apparently something has changed his mind because Chinese news sources report that Jie will once again play an artificial intelligence at an AI tournament to be held in China in April 2018. Engadget reports: Ke Jie is one of the tournament's ambassadors, and he will play against the AI Tianrang. Normally, a human representative places pieces on behalf of the AI, but in this case, a robotic arm developed by Fuzhou University will fulfill that role. Tianrang previously ascended to the semi-finals of Japan's AI Go tournament, called AI Ryusei, earlier this month. Tencent's AI was the ultimate winner of that tournament. The complement of AI competitors for the Chinese tournament are Tianrang (Shanghai), DeepZenGo (Japan), CGI (Taipai) and more. Google DeepMind's AlphaGo has since retired from competition, so it will not be playing in the tournament.

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