AI needs to tackle the dumb things

A few suggestions for AI-based improvements while we wait for the Singularity.

A glimpse of what’s to come? Image via: Beeki on Pixabay

Artificial intelligence (AI) should take on the mundane stuff in addition to the hard stuff. That’s a point Manuela Veloso drove home at MIT’s EmTech Next Conference. I love this line:

“Every time I enter a supermarket and I push this cart, I say, ‘Why can’t this cart follow me?’ These carts should all be automated.”

She’s right. Why can’t that cart follow me around? And why can’t it return itself to the drop-off area in the parking lot? That’s the kind of self-driving vehicle we really need.

And while we’re at it, why can’t AI improve other daily activities? Continue reading “AI needs to tackle the dumb things”

The socialbot arms race

From the New York Times:

Christian Rudder, a co-founder and general manager of OkCupid, said that when his dating site recently bought and redesigned a smaller site, they witnessed not just a sharp decline in bots, but also a sudden 15 percent drop in use of the new site by real people. This decrease in traffic occurred, he maintains, because the flirtatious messages and automated “likes” that bots had been posting to members’ pages had imbued the former site with a false sense of intimacy and activity. “Love was in the air,” Mr. Rudder said. “Robot love.” Mr. Rudder added that his programmers are seeking to design their own bots that will flirt with invader bots, courting them into a special room, “a purgatory of sorts,” to talk to one another rather than fooling the humans.

[Emphasis added.]

Twitter and the Hype Cycle: The worst of the bad part is the beginning of the best part

Matt K. Lewis was early(ish) to Twitter. He resisted, tested, embraced, and then benefited from the service. But now, Twitter is too loud and too obnoxious and just too much:

Twitter has become like high school, where the mean kids say something hurtful to boost their self-esteem and to see if others will laugh and join in. Aside from trolling for victims after some tragedy, Twitter isn’t used for reporting much anymore. But it is used for snark.

Matt, meet the Hype Cycle.

The thing I like about the Hype Cycle is that the ominous “Trough of Disillusionment” is followed by the best parts: the “Slope of Enlightenment” and the “Plateau of Productivity.” These are the stages when a technology pushes through the noise to emerge as something truly useful.

Blogging is a great example. Does anyone talk about blogs anymore? Is anyone hot and bothered about this new wave of personal publishing?


That’s because blogging rolled along the hype cycle and settled into its true identity: a simple, powerful and democratizing publishing technology. Like all good utilities, blogging became boring and genuinely useful.

Twitter is following the same path. When we all stop complaining about it — and writing linkbaity headlines — that’s when we’ll know Twitter has matured into the technology it was always meant to be.

Microscopes, telescopes and big data

Big data has tremendous power, but it can be hard to explain the direct and tangible benefits of that power (“Hadoop cluster” is not a phrase for casual conversation).

Steve Lohr offers a nice translation of big data in his article, “Dickens, Austen and Twain, Through a Digital Lens“:

At this stage, this kind of digital analysis is mostly an intriguing sign that Big Data technology is steadily pushing beyond the Internet industry and scientific research into seemingly foreign fields like the social sciences and the humanities. The new tools of discovery provide a fresh look at culture, much as the microscope gave us a closer look at the subtleties of life and the telescope opened the way to faraway galaxies. [Emphasis added]

Google’s lobbying investment: effective and surprisingly inexpensive

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Internet company [Google] spent years on lobbying and other efforts to build up goodwill in Washington, becoming the fifth-highest spender on lobbying in 2012, shelling out more than $14 million related to the antitrust probe and other issues, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics and lobbying disclosure statements.

Given the glancing blow Google received from the Federal Trade Commission, that $14 million was money well spent.

“Twitter Effect” Story Covers Consumer Tech Without the Hysteria (… It’s About Time)

I was ready to rip this Twitter Effect story for being one of many “trend out of thin air” pieces commonly found in consumer-centric technology coverage. But I was pleasantly surprised to have my initial assumptions proven incorrect. The headline…

I was ready to rip this Twitter Effect story for being one of many “trend out of thin air” pieces commonly found in consumer-centric technology coverage. But I was pleasantly surprised to have my initial assumptions proven incorrect.

The headline teeters on hype, but the story itself asks a reasonable question — do rapid-fire Twitter reviews influence film revenue? — and (gasp!) presents multiple viewpoints that don’t glom on to comfortable conclusions. The piece, which is really worth a read, says Twitter might influence receipts for some films. It’s nice to see nuance for a change.