News Column

Boot up: meeting Eliza, XRaying online ads, open source neural nets

August 19, 2014

Charles Arthur, theguardian.com



A burst of 8 links for you to chew over, as picked by the Technology team

Artificial intelligence and psychology: the computer will see you now >> The Economist

When faced with tough or potentially embarrassing questions, people often do not tell doctors what they need to hear. Yet the researchers behind Ellie, led by Jonathan Gratch at the Institute for Creative Technologies, in Los Angeles, suspected from their years of monitoring human interactions with computers that people might be more willing to talk if presented with an avatar. To test this idea, they put 239 people in front of Ellie (pictured above) to have a chat with her about their lives. Half were told (truthfully) they would be interacting with an artificially intelligent virtual human; the others were told (falsely) that Ellie was a bit like a puppet, and was having her strings pulled remotely by a person.

Familiar to anyone who recalls Eliza, online and ready to listen to your problems now.


In the on-demand economy, flexibility isn't control and algorithms won't protect workers' rights >> GigaOm

David Meyer takes issue with a piece by Danny Crichton:

I'm from South Africa, where you regularly see people sitting by the side of the road, waiting for someone to pick them up and take them to go weed someone's garden or lay a few bricks. These hopeful workers represent the ultimate commoditization of labor, a never-ending supply with no meaningful differentiation and no bargaining ability. Sure, they can refuse to be picked up, as long as they're happy to starve. If they have any control through their "flexibility", it's of a pretty meaningless variety.

I get that Crichton isn't calling for permanent instability in employment. As he wrote, "the market has to be built in such a way that stability is a possible outcome for those who seek it." But it's a tad naive to think that this stability will come from the startups building the platforms in question. They simply have no interest in doing so, and won't until the demand for labor outstrips the supply.

Look at Uber, which strenuously denies that its drivers are its workers at all, which won't guarantee to pay those drivers' fines if they're caught keeping Uber's business afloat in cities where the service is banned, and which ultimately wants to get rid of those drivers altogether. TaskRabbit now matches tasks to workers by algorithm rather than letting workers bid for them, erasing much of the control its workers had over their work situation. These are the kinds of businesses that are going to be the "champions of workers"?


XRay - transparency for the web >> Columbia University

Roxana Geambasu and others:

The Web can be a black box. When a user sees an ad about spiritual meditation methods, she may not realize that she's seeing that ad because she recently received an email about depression or cancer. We are seeking to change that, and in doing so bring more transparency to the Web.

For this, we developed XRay, a new tool that reveals which data in a web account, such as emails, searches, or viewed products, are being used to target which outputs, such as ads, recommended products, or prices. It can increase end-user awareness about what the services they use do with their data, and it can enable auditors and watchdogs with the necessary tools to keep the Web in check.

To be presented at the Usenix security forum. Example demo works with Gmail "which reveals ads targeted on certain sensitive topics, such as depression, cancer, pregnancy, race, or debt."


Why did Windows 8 fail? It had to be explained to users >> BGR

In his Techpinions column this week, John Kirk cites the following quote from, of all places, the Twitter account of Startup Vitamins to show exactly where Windows 8 went wrong: "A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it's not that good."

And that's pretty much it with Windows 8. The platform's biggest defenders always pointed out that you could easily make it just like Windows 7 if you changed some of its default settings and downloaded third-party apps to bring back the classic Start menu. While Windows 8's champions may have been right that doing these things was "easy", it also raised the question of why users should bother to pay to upgrade from Windows 7 if they'd have to do extra work just to make Windows 8 behave the same way.


Notebook PCs, Worldwide, units by form-factor, Q1 2013 - Q2 2014 >> Canalys

Shows "clamshell" (conventional) notebook and "convertible" (2-in-1) shipments worldwide since Q1 2013. You'd have to say it's slow going so far for the convertibles. Based on these figures and world totals, desktop shipments are about a third of overall shipments.


Why the New Orleans Saints aren't embracing the Microsoft Surface >> New Orleans Tech

But when it comes to the new Sideline View System, the Saints aren't embracing it because of the hiccups that usually accompany early adopters of technology. There have been reports that drawing on the screen is an issue and the tablets are hard to work with when they get wet, get sweat on them, or players grab them with moist hands. Currently, the Saints are still using the paper system along side with the tablets.

Ultimately, when Microsoft figures out how to overcome some of the issues that plague the tablet and sideline system I think we'll start to see them used more on the field and with players.

The NFL has 400 million reasons to make it work.


DeepBeliefSDK/README.md jetpacapp/DeepBeliefSDK >> GitHub

Pete Warden:

This is a framework implementing the convolutional neural network architecture described by Alex Krizhevsky, Ilya Sutskever, and Geoffrey Hinton. The processing code has been highly optimized to run within the memory and processing constraints of modern mobile devices, and can analyze an image in under 300ms on an iPhone 5S. It's also easy to use together with OpenCV.

We're releasing this framework because we're excited by the power of this approach for general image recognition, especially when it can run locally on low-power devices. It gives your phone the ability to see, and I can't wait to see what applications that helps you build.

Warden's Jetpac (which used this technology) was just sold to Google - but this implementation (works on iOS, Android, Linux, OS X, Raspberry Pi, Javascript) is open source and available to anyone with a bright idea. The Spotter and Deep Belief apps are very impressive. Yours could be too.


Samsung, MS head for settlement >> Korea Times

The background: Microsoft is suing Samsung for unpaid royalties relating to patents it owns, which Samsung stopped paying at the end of 2013.

Samsung is being pressurized by royalty payments for Microsoft's 300 Android patents.

With its profit dropping, Samsung can't afford the payments at the current rate, forcing it to renegotiate with MS.

''While Microsoft acquired Nokia's handset division, the Finland-based Nokia was still passive to opening up its patents to the U.S. licensing giant. Because Microsoft failed to secure Nokia-owned patents, it will be very tough for Microsoft to produce handsets without Samsung-owned wireless patents. So it is likely that Samsung is asking Microsoft to renew contract terms. Microsoft is ready to accept the Samsung requests,'' said Lee Chang-hoon, a local patent attorney.

Seems unlikely that Samsung can't afford the money - more likely that it sees a chance to renegotiate now that Microsoft is itself a handset maker and so likely reliant on Samsung patents (for 3G or 4G), which it wasn't before.


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Source: Guardian Web


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