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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

QR Codes in China

Have not been using or reading about the use of QR codes of late, interesting how they are being used in China. See also links to previous pieces on QR.    Some good, straight forward examples. Key too is how ready the customer base is willing to scan them.

16 Ways QR Codes are Being Used in China
by Connie Chan,   In Andreessen Horowitz Blog

We’ve talked a lot about the rise of QR codes in Asia, but they may now finally be moving from being a “joke” to being more widely adopted in other places as well. Simply put, QR codes let you hyperlink and bookmark the physical world. Just as UPC barcodes allow machine-readable scanning of data (e.g., price) on items in stores, QR codes are a barcode-like vector between online and offline information. And unlike NFC (near-field communication), which is used for reading smart cards, keycards, and contactless payments, QR codes can be easily accessed by any phone in the world that has a camera. They enable everything from online to offline (O2O) marketplaces, which are huge in China, to augmented reality.

Some of the more obvious use cases for them include things like adding a WeChat friend in real life (IRL); subscribing to a WeChat official account (often representing media, stores, people, and others); paying a street vendor or at a convenience store; connecting to wi-fi in a shop; getting additional content from a magazine article; and learning more about styling or the brand from a clothing label. But there are also a number of less-obvious (or not as well covered) uses in China, which I share below, because they show the range of what’s possible everywhere when QR codes disintermediate existing use cases… and enable new ones.  .... 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Assistants Using Wikipedia

A conversation at Wikipediocracy discusses how personal assistants like Alexa, Google Home and Siri use and attribute (or not)  knowledge from the Wikipedia.   Back to the complicated world of licenses and copyrights.   Was also re-introduced to the considerable undercurrent of WP authors complaining about how their work is used.

Autonomous Video for the Home

IEEE Spectrum on 'friendly'  home robotics.   Still awaiting some more detailed looks at its in home use. Continue to cover this, but given the cost will likely not dive in without some convincing.

Kuri Robot Brings Autonomous Video to a Home Near You
Mayfield Robotics improves its home robot, Kuri, adding track wheels, structural updates, and “Kuri Vision,” an autonomous home video program

Most home robots are designed primarily for convenience and function. Not Kuri. Silicon Valley startup Mayfield Robotics designed Kuri specifically to be an adorable home companion. And that means it needed to have one quality you won’t find in most robotic vacuums and other home bots: cuteness. 

Mayfield introduced Kuri earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Since then, the Mayfield team has made several updates to the robot. The most significant one is the home video feature called “Kuri Vision,” which allows Kuri to take video autonomously.

To do that, Kuri has two high definition 1080p cameras, one behind each eye. These cameras take videos intermittently throughout the day, capturing candid moments. You can then review those clips through the app, which runs on iOS and Android, and choose which ones you like best. Then Kuri’s machine learning and image processing kicks in: Based on which images you favorite or delete, Kuri learns to take videos that you’ll like. .... " 

The Dataset that Transformed AI Research

As in the emergence of Big Data, it has been pointed out that the large amount of the right kind of data can make the difference.  And it has, opening an entire industry of image recognition and understanding, by sculpting algorithms to interpret them.  Re opening the idea of AI, that had slumbered since the 80s.

It's not about the Algorithm  

The data that transformed AI research—and possibly the world  In QZ by Dave Gershgorn   @davegershgorn

In 2006, Fei-Fei Li started ruminating on an idea.

Li, a newly-minted computer science professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, saw her colleagues across academia and the AI industry hammering away at the same concept: a better algorithm would make better decisions, regardless of the data.

But she realized a limitation to this approach—the best algorithm wouldn’t work well if the data it learned from didn’t reflect the real world.

Her solution: build a better dataset.

“We decided we wanted to do something that was completely historically unprecedented,” Li said, referring to a small team who would initially work with her. “We’re going to map out the entire world of objects.”

The resulting dataset was called ImageNet. Originally published in 2009 as a research poster stuck in the corner of a Miami Beach conference center, the dataset quickly evolved into an annual competition to see which algorithms could identify objects in the dataset’s images with the lowest error rate. Many see it as the catalyst for the AI boom the world is experiencing today. ... " 

Google View of AI: Intelligence and Scale

Via O'Reilly: 

Jeff Dean is a Google senior fellow in the Research Group, where he leads the Google Brain project. Here is a video (and slides) of a talk he gave, "Intelligent Systems with Large Scale Deep Learning." It's a decent intro to AI, with some hints about how Google expects AI to move forward. ....

Monday, August 14, 2017

Identifying Plant Species

Another example of using many images to train via AI.   Also describes the data needs for such a process, done via Deep Learning neural methods.

From the CACM: 
Digitizing plant specimens is opening up a whole new world for researchers looking to mine collections from around the world.

Computer algorithms trained on the images of thousands of preserved plants have learned to automatically identify species that have been pressed, dried and mounted on herbarium sheets, researchers report. ....  " 
Artificial Intelligence Identifies Plant Species for Science  In Nature 
" .... Bonnet's team had already made progress automating plant identification through the Pl@ntNet project. It has accumulated millions of images of fresh plants — typically taken in the field by people using its smartphone app to identify specimens.

Researchers trained similar algorithms on more than 260,000 scans of herbarium sheets, encompassing more than 1,000 species. The computer program eventually identified species with nearly 80% accuracy: the correct answer was within the algorithms’ top 5 picks 90% of the time. That, says Wilf, probably out-performs a human taxonomist by quite a bit. .... " 

Infinite Pool Tables

We actually used this idea for solving cleaning coverage problems.   A rare case where advanced topology math principles came into play in industry.  This was the kind of math that I always liked, not too abstractly symbolic, but visually interesting.

New Shapes Solve the Infinite Pool-Table Problem

NASA and Virtual and Augmented Realities

NASA has been known for experimenting in this space, I have played with a few of their published capabilities.  Here is an overview of their future plans.

NASA’S Next Spacecraft  may launch from virtual and augmented realities.     By Dyllan Furness in Digital Trends.  ..... "

Time Series Insights in Azure

Time Series Insights PREVIEW
Instantly explore and analyze time-series data in IoT solutions
Azure Time Series Insights is a fully managed analytics, storage, and visualization service that makes it simple to explore and analyze billions of IoT events simultaneously. It gives you a global view of your data, letting you quickly validate your IoT solution and avoid costly downtime to mission-critical devices by helping you discover hidden trends, spot anomalies, and conduct root-cause analyses in near real-time.  .... " 

(Start for free at link, taking a look at the root cause example, always a great analytics place to start, because it concerns everyone) 

Cortana Predicting Future Travel Plans

Been watching virtual assistants for some time.    The key appears to be getting as many as possible out there,  on many kinds of hardware,  keep them cheap and for attentive use with voice,  something you use every day,  but not as part of your phone and computer,  link it to a few key common entertainment functions (like music), open them to external skill development and keep coming out with new capabilities.  

Cortana has been available for some time now, but I remain unimpressed.  Note I am a satisfied Windows 10 user, always up to date, so it should be an easy sell. It should be linking to all my office functions, building intelligence into their use, but does not.  I spend more time shutting Cortana off than using it.  Still awaiting its implementation on a stand-alone on what looks to be a premium price  a Harman-Kardon device.

Now word is out that Cortana will predict your future travel plans.    Nice idea, but still not something I do every day,  will try it, but suggest you would be better to get it out in many users and developers hands.   Soon.

More of my coverage of personal assistants. 

Video Detecting Infection Patterns

Looking for patterns in healthcare using video that lead to infection.

Researchers use AI to monitor hospital staff hygiene
The technology could be used to reduce rates of hospital-acquired infections.

By Mallory Locklear,   @mallorylocklear  in Engadget. 

Hospital-acquired infections are a pesky problem and around one in 25 hospital patients have at least one healthcare-associated illness at any given time. To combat this issue, a research team based at Stanford University turned to depth cameras and computer vision to observe activity on hospital wards -- a system that could be used to track hygienic practices of hospital staff and visitors in order to spot behaviors that might contribute to the spread of infection. The work is being presented at the Machine Learning in Healthcare Conference later this week.  ... " 

Text Summarization

A good AI challenge that has useful applications.

An Algorithm Summarizes Lengthy Text Surprisingly Well
Training software to accurately sum up information in documents could have great impact in many fields, such as medicine, law, and scientific research.

by Will Knight  May 12, 2017  in Technology Review.

Who has time to read every article they see shared on Twitter or Facebook, or every document that’s relevant to their job? As information overload grows ever worse, computers may become our only hope for handling a growing deluge of documents. And it may become routine to rely on a machine to analyze and paraphrase articles, research papers, and other text for you.

An algorithm developed by researchers at Salesforce shows how computers may eventually take on the job of summarizing documents. It uses several machine-learning tricks to produce surprisingly coherent and accurate snippets of text from longer pieces. And while it isn’t yet as good as a person, it hints at how condensing text could eventually become automated .... " 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Exoskeleton Controlled by Voice

Adding the voice to being reactive to movements is an interesting approach, another case of multi channel interaction and control.

This exoskeleton can be controlled using Amazon’s Alexa
‘Alexa, let’s go for a walk’     by James Vincent   @jjvincent

Amazon’s Alexa is available on a lot of devices, from lamps to alarm clocks to fridges. But robotics company Bionik Laboratories says it’s the first to add the digital assistant to a powered exoskeleton. The company has integrated Alexa with its lower-body Arke exoskeleton, allowing users to give voice commands like “Alexa, I’m ready to stand” or “Alexa, take a step.”

Movement of the Arke, which is currently in clinical development, is usually controlled by an app on a tablet or by reacting automatically to users’ movements. Sensors in the exoskeleton detect when the wearer shifts their weight, activating the motors in the backpack that help the individual move. For Bionik, adding Alexa can help individuals going through rehabilitation get familiar with these actions.   ... "

On a Bias about First Impressions

A first impression knowledge Bias?

Why our brains lead us astray when we take things at face value   Article by Diana Gitig 
A new book looks at how we overestimate what we can tell from a first impression.

" ... Professor Alexander Todorov’s new book, Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions, is about much more than 19th-century pseudoscience. It’s about first impressions more generally. We all form them instantly—within 30-40 milliseconds, before we can consciously register even seeing a face. And we start exceptionally early on, probably at around seven months of age. We also seem to agree on these impressions, which makes the physiognomists’ promise so appealing.  .... " 

Addressing the Analogy Gap

Reminiscent of using humans as a peripheral, here determining high level relationships, then having the deep learning sort out the lower level patterns.  Points to Mechanical Turk, which we used this way.  At what point are the results general?  The comment about scale is key.  Also the mapping involved, very useful for generalizing and testing.

Crowdsourcing may have just helped close the "analogy gap" for computers    It's vexed computer scientists for decades, but a huge roadblock for true AI is falling    By Greg Nichols for Robotics

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel have used crowdsourcing to teach computers to generate analogies so they can mine datasets to address new challenges by repurposing old concepts. "After decades of attempts, this is the first time that anyone has gained traction computationally on the analogy problem at scale," says CMU professor Aniket Kittur. The researchers hired participants via Amazon Mechanical Turk, tasking them to look through products on an innovation website and find analogous products from the same source. The participants noted which words caused them to link disparate products, mapping each pathway. Computers with deep-learning algorithms used these insights to analyze additional product descriptions and find new analogies. The researchers say this strategy can be used to customize computer programs to identify analogies between patent applications and literature on global problems.  ... " 

China and AI

In the NYT, word on China investments in AI: 

" ... China has laid out a development plan to become the world leader in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030, with the goal of surpassing its rivals technologically and establishing a domestic industry worth nearly $150 billion. The policy, released by the State Council, is a statement of intent from the upper levels of China's government that the country will be investing heavily to ensure its companies, government, and military jump to the forefront of AI technology. The plan comes while China prepares a multibillion-dollar national investment initiative to support "moonshot" projects, startups, and academic research in AI.  ... "

Saturday, August 12, 2017

IFTTT and Honeywell

Continue to be impressed about how companies are working with IFTTT data streams, most recently brought to my attention:  Honeywell.  Plus other methods using the IFTTT Open Platform.  I have several examples in operation.

From our partners: 
“IFTTT’s network of partners is so extensive that that one connection allows us to get a lot of connections to third-party devices… IFTTT gave us a way to get there very quickly and very inexpensively.”          Scott Harkins   VP, Honeywell Connected Home


Multivariate Regression

In DSC, a good piece explaining multivariate regression.  Not very technical, addresses both the data and the results.  Every manager should understand this simple approach.   A very common kind of problem you run into.   A good thing to walk through with decision makers and their real data.   Also leads you naturally to the next question, how do I determine which variables create the best predictive model?   The next step.

Bikes Existing Among Cars

Troublesome thought that bicycles might need to become so complex to exist in an ecosystem with automobiles.

Bikes May Have to Talk to Self-Driving Cars for Safety's Sake     by Margaret J. Krauss

Researchers envision bicycles communicating with autonomous vehicles so the latter can predict cyclists' movements. Waymo's self-driving autos have honed their predictive abilities over many simulated and actual driven miles, notes Waymo's Nathaniel Fairfield. Waymo's vehicles are programmed to pass bikes in compliance with state laws, or to wait if such action is impossible. Carnegie Mellon University professor Anthony Rowe wants bikes to feed data to cars. "We're trying to...put as much instrumentation on a bike as we can to see if we can predict how it's going to move in the future, so that it could, for example, signal a collision-warning system on a car," Rowe says. His team wants to collect as much information as possible to determine the precise and constant position of a bike in the world, and then determine the least amount of data a car requires from a cyclist for it to trigger an automatic braking system .... " 

Handbook of Neural Computation

Handbook of Neural Computation - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780128113189, 9780128113196Below book looks good, but very pricey.    Consider a free version via MIT, also being continually updated, don't have a copy to compare its coverage.    In general today, a book on 'Deep Learning' would cover similar topics than one on 'Neural Computing',  but that is not necessarily implied by the titles.   Artificial neurons do learn by computing,  but the neural computing by itself does not mean learning, yet likely does today.

Handbook of Neural Computation 1st Edition,   Elsevier,2017
Posted by Sanjiban Sekhar Roy 

Handbook of Neural Computation explores neural computation applications, ranging from conventional fields of mechanical and civil engineering, to electronics, electrical engineering and computer science. This book covers the numerous applications of artificial and deep neural networks and their uses in learning machines, including image and speech recognition, natural language processing and risk analysis. Edited by renowned authorities in this field, this work is comprised of articles from reputable industry and academic scholars and experts from around the world. .... " 

Debating Statistical Significance

A considerable look, both technical and non-technical about statistical significance. Have it has been used, and how that is being re-considered.    The original title says this is a nerdy debate, I disagree, it is very important.  Having replicable significance is essential.

The case for, and against, redefining “statistical significance.” 
Updated by Brian Resnick

 There’s a huge debate going on in social science right now. The question is simple, and strikes near the heart of all research: What counts as solid evidence?

The answer matters because many disciplines are currently in the midst of a “replication crisis” where even textbook studies aren’t holding up against rigorous retesting. The list includes: ego depletion, the idea that willpower is a finite resource; the facial feedback hypothesis, which suggested if we activate muscles used in smiling, we become happier; and many more.

Scientists are now figuring out how to right the ship, to ensure scientific studies published today won’t be laughed at in a few years.

One of the thorniest issues with this question is statistical significance. It’s one of the most influential metrics to determine whether a result is published in a scientific journal.  .... " 

Telepresence Robots

These robots should be called 'minimal presence portable robotics',  we looked at them to test the idea of having someone who was very remote introduced to a team in a unique way.   They have lots of problems.  We discovered most of these in our tests.  The article is quite good and complete, covering several devices, and exposing many of their issues.

In particular that the remote person has to be trained on the device and wastes most of their time just navigating and engaging.  And people don't engage well with them, end up just hiding.  Unless there is a very clear need to move about, like oberserving some detailed experience,  like a store layout, you are better off just having a stationary video camera somewhere.   This might seem like a cute idea, but test carefully before you buy a fleet.

The Best Telepresence Robot
After spending 20 hours researching telepresence robots and testing two of the most promising models in office and home settings, we don’t think these devices are ready for prime time. But if you want a telepresence robot to give remote employees a physical presence in your office, the Suitable Technologies Beam Enhanced is the only bot that’s reliable and user-friendly enough to consider. .... " 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Data as Asset: Deriving Knowledge from Data

Good thought, and a natural way to lead toward value based intelligence.  In O'Reilly.

A DevOps approach to data management
A multi-model approach to transforming data from a liability to an asset.

By Adam Michael Wood 

Download the free O’Reilly report "Defining Data-Driven Software Development," by Eric Laquer.
Deriving knowledge from data has become a key competency for many—if not most—businesses. With the right data, and the right tools to handle it, businesses can gain keen insights into a variety of metrics, including operations, customer activity, and employee productivity. .... " 

Making AI Explain Itself

Back to our maintenance problem. Unless you can explain a result, it is hard to maintain it under changing context.   Trust too can be lost if the methods are indistinguishable from magic.  

Inside DARPA's Push to Make Artificial Intelligence Explain Itself 
The Wall Street Journal, Sara Castellanos; Steven Norton

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DAPRA) is coordinating a project in which 100 researchers at more than 30 universities and private institutions are seeking to create deep-learning artificial intelligences (AIs) that can explain their decision-making to humans. DARPA program manager David Gunning says this advance is crucial as AI becomes more deeply entrenched in everyday life and a greater level of trust between humans and machines must be nurtured. Participants have spent the project's first phase working on focus areas of their choosing, and in the second phase each institution will be assigned one of two "challenge problems" to address. The challenges will either involve using AI to classify events in multimedia, or training a simulated autonomous system to conduct a series of missions. The final result will be a set of machine-learning methods and user interfaces that public- or private-sector groups could use to construct their own explainable AI systems.  ... " 

Platt Research Institute: Journal of Retail Analytics

Have begun to follow, details for sign-in and article download at the link:

Journal of Retail Analytics

PRI’s Journal of Retail Analytics is a comprehensive quarterly publication that includes news and case studies regarding retail analytics, digital customer-facing technologies, and related topics. The Journal provides a snapshot of the economy as it impacts retailers and consumers. In addition, the Journal examines trends in the use of retail analytics and details developments in the digital communications industry. Authors include industry thought leaders and leading academics, among others.

PRI’s offices, projects, and extensive contacts in North America and Europe enable the firm to report on cutting-edge global events. Furthermore, the Journal features distinguished guest columnists, thought-provoking case studies, network profiles, and more.

If you are interested in submitting an article for publication in the Journal, please review the current Submission Guidelines.

The most recent edition of the Journal of Retail Analytics is available for free download below. Articles in the 2Q 2017 issue include:

Audio Management and Delivery Strategies for Retail Environments by Reto Brader, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Barix

Building a Relationship That Online Shopping Can’t Replace by Richard Ventura, Vice President of Product Marketing and Solutions, NEC Display Solutions

Comparison of Traditional Predictive Analytics Tools Versus Artificial Intelligence-Based Solutions by Gary Saarenvirta, CEO, Daisy Intelligence

How Online Reviews Influence Sales by Spiegel Research Center, Northwestern University
Strategic Data Management in Retail Labeling Systems by Elizabeth Sinclair, Vertical Marketing Manager, Seagull Scientific

The Apple Store versus the Microsoft Store: Using Retail Analytics to Measure Customer Behavior Case Study — Part I by D. Anthony Miles, Founder and CEO, Miles Development Industries Corporation

The Role of Emerging Technologies in Retail: A Retail Roundtable   ... " 

The AI Nose

Have followed the idea of an 'Artificial Nose' for decades, we were first interested in using it as a automatic way to to evaluate and duplicate coffee blends and their components in the supply chain.  

Also, the argument was if we could digitize  such analyses, we could use that to deliver scents where we wanted to.  We did that in places like the retail store shelf and even the store aisle.   The solutions were never completely satisfactory.   The method here claims to use deep learning.  Continue to follow related tech, see the scent tag below.

An AI ‘nose’ can remember different scents
It can also detect potentially silent but deadly gas mixtures.    by Timothy J. Seppala, @timseppala  .... " 

Working in a Digitally Disrupted World

In McKinsey:

Do American workers feel they can ‘make it’?
Whether people in the United States believe they can thrive economically in a digitally disrupted world depends strongly on the amount of education they’ve attained, according to a new survey. ... " 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How AI is Already Changing Business

An HBR Ideacast ...

How AI Is Already Changing Business

Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT Sloan School professor, explains how rapid advances in machine learning are presenting new opportunities for businesses. He breaks down how the technology works and what it can and can’t do (yet). He also discusses the potential impact of AI on the economy, how workforces will interact with it in the future, and suggests managers start experimenting now. Brynjolfsson is the co-author, with Andrew McAfee, of the HBR Big Idea article, “The Business of Artificial Intelligence.” They’re also the co-authors of the new book, Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future.

 Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Sarah Green Carmichael.
It’s a pretty sad photo when you look at it. A robot, just over a meter tall and shaped kind of like a pudgy rocket ship, laying on its side in a shallow pool in the courtyard of a Washington, D.C. office building. Workers – human ones – stand around, trying to figure out how to rescue it.

The security robot had just been on the job for a few days when the mishap occurred. One entrepreneur who works in the office complex wrote: “We were promised flying cars. Instead we got suicidal robots.”

For many people online, the snapshot symbolized something about the autonomous future that awaits. Robots are coming, and computers can do all kinds of new work for us. Cars can drive themselves. For some people this is exciting, but there is also clearly fear out there about dystopia. Tesla CEO Elon Musk calls artificial intelligence an existential threat.

But our guest on the show today is cautiously optimistic. He’s been watching how businesses are using artificial intelligence and how advances in machine learning will change how we work. Erik Brynjolfsson teaches at MIT Sloan School and runs the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. And he’s the co-author with Andrew McAfee of the new HBR article, “The Business of Artificial Intelligence.”

Erik, thanks for talking with the HBR IdeaCast.  ....    "

Marketing and AI

How will marketing adapt?
With AI, marketing is needed but marketers might not be
By Christine Coudert on SAS Voices ... " 

Robot Restocking

Includes a good expert discussion, usually the best parts of these pieces.   Also an approach we did much experimenting with, starting with Blackberry devices.

Can robots keep shelves stocked at Schnucks?  in Retailwire,  by George Anderson

Schnuck Markets, the 100-store supermarket chain based in St. Louis, announced it will run a six-week pilot program at three locations to test robots that will move up and down store aisles to make sure shelves remain properly stocked. The robots will also scan shelves to make sure that each item is in its proper place, aligned with the correct shelf tag.

The robots, which will be deployed three times a day (morning, afternoon and night), will send real-time information to store associates, helping them keep shelves stocked for customers. Each unit, named Tally by the manufacturer, Simbe Robotics, stands 38 inches high and weighs about 30 pounds. The devices use sensors to navigate around the store. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the units are programmed to avoid busy aisles and stop moving if a customer approaches.

Dave Steck, vice president of IT – infrastructure at Schnucks, said the data the robots collect will also be shared with vendors to help them improve their supply levels to stores. The initial emphasis of the pilot is to see if the chain can improve its stock positions through automation. Later, the technology may be used to reduce pricing errors and address other issues.  .... " 

Facebook Translates with Neural Nets

Another example  of how the power of this tech is expanding.  Some interesting details here.

Two versions of a Facebook post Facebook Translations Now Rely Entirely on Neural Networks in SiliconANGLE  by Eric David

" ... Facebook on Wednesday announced its translations are now wholly dependent on state-of-the-art machine-learning neural networks. A team of Facebook researchers says these networks manage more than 2,000 translation directions and 4.5 billion translations daily, generating more accurate translations than Facebook's previous system, which used phrase-based machine translation models. Neural machine translation gauges the complete content of a message together, which is more resource-intensive than phrase-based translation but typically results in a more fluent translation. Facebook also says neural machine translation can handle unknown or misspelled words with greater proficiency, as it can examine contextual clues to determine a word's intended meaning. Facebook thinks convolutional neural networks (CNN) can realize the same accuracy in translation as recurrent neural networks, but significantly faster. In May, the company announced that its CNN-based system was nine times faster than existing networks, and Facebook researchers note CNNs are a better fit for the newest machine-learning hardware. ... " 

Content Marketing in the Era of Voice-Controlled Devices

A number of interesting retail marketing examples are shown in this medium.

Content Marketing in the Era of Voice-Controlled Devices  in Flipboard
By Dawn Papandrea/Aug 9, 2017
Via John Frazier   BBA News - BizBuzz America

Voice-controlled devices are today’s hottest technology. 
Amazon Alexa now has more than 15,000 skills (which can range from basic functions to more robust experiences, akin to apps.) And each day, we’re hearing about new capabilities or big announcements for similar devices. Apple, for one, will release a Siri-based HomePod this fall. 

As a content marketer, you should be keeping your ears (and eyes) open to these new audio channels to ensure that your brand voice is heard. 

“If a brand doesn’t have a presence on voice platforms, then they are literally silent when a consumer asks to engage with them,” says Bret Kinsella, Editor and Publisher of Voicebot.ai, a publication about the voice and AI revolution.  

Are you ready to be an early adopter and develop audio content to expand your reach? If so, listen up: Here’s what you need to know about the voice-controlled device space.  .... "

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Data Fracking Dark Data

Found this to be an interesting,  the idea of 'Data Fracking' ... a means of finding the right data.   Better way to find and use your data assets?  Improving access to the right data.  Broadly using the oil drilling method as metaphor.  Developed by a company called Datumize.  Through the use of the right Dark Data, which is unused data in or outside your company.

" .... Effectively exploiting this resource will require new techniques.  Data Fracking™ is a new approach focused on the discovery, collection, integration and deployment of Dark Data so it can be collected, refined and made available for use to enhance your operational and decision making processes.  Data Fracking™ enables the discovery, collection, integration and utilization of this previously untapped resource. .... " ,   Have not tried this as yet, but plan to follow up.  Piece on this in DSC.   And a white paper on the method.

How Can Humans Keep Control of AI?

This starts with a clear understanding of what AI's, or anything that appears to be autonomous in any way,  is operating, and why it is operating as it does.  This has happened since the dawn of computing.   What is new is the breadth and depth of possible autonomy  Plus its transparency has decreased, this mostly in the last few decades.   Not enough to be dangerous yet today,  but the direction in which this is moving needs to be watched.   We need to understand this more than ever before.

Related, see also more from the Leverhulme Center on AI and the Future of Humanity, tag below.

How Can Humans Keep Control of AI? 
The Nation (Thailand Portal)  Via CACM      August 8, 2017

In an interview, Osaka University president Shojiro Nishio stresses the need to keep artificial intelligence (AI) under human control. Nishio notes a key issue is a lack of human understanding of how an AI arrives at certain answers, and he says a major area for researchers is improving how to check all processes the AI went through. Nishio also says this "black box" problem demands an international response, given that AI will eventually be connected to the Internet and have a global impact. Nishio cites a draft plan from Japan's Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry directing developers to ensure they can explain the results of their AI's judgments, and that they can control their AI. "I am more concerned about what happens if AI produces incorrect answers or develops in a way that humans cannot control," Nishio notes. "That sort of thing happens more and more often as AI starts getting used to real-life situations." .... 

How can humans keep control of AI   By The Yomiuri Shimbun 
Asia News Network , Tokyo

Expectations for artificial intelligence are expanding, and people are making more and more attempts to use AI in a variety of areas, from finance and medical care to manufacturing.
However, some are sounding warning bells and say that AI will eventually exceed the capabilities of humans. Shojiro Nishio, president of Osaka University, has been working on computer research for many years.  He speaks on AI-related arguments and issues we can expect in the future.  .... " 

Essence of Voice Interfaces

Very good piece here, what is the difference and essence of having voice interfaces?  Or even interfaces that are partially voice?  This is not necessarily AI but it is closer to cognitive than we had before.  Remember too, that voice more strongly implies a conversation is occurring, which embeds, context, memory and modeling who/what you are talking to.  None of this has been perfected.   Clear from my interaction with Echos and Google Home during the past few years.

“Alexa, Understand Me”  In Technology Review  by George Anders
Voice-based AI devices aren’t just jukeboxes with attitude. They could become the primary way we interact with our machines.

On August 31, 2012, four Amazon engineers filed the fundamental patent for what ultimately became Alexa, an artificial intelligence system designed to engage with one of the world’s biggest and most tangled data sets: human speech. The engineers needed just 11 words and a simple diagram to describe how it would work. A male user in a quiet room says: “Please play ‘Let It Be,’ by the Beatles.” A small tabletop machine replies: “No problem, John,” and begins playing the requested song.

From that modest start, voice-based AI for the home has become a big business for Amazon and, increasingly, a strategic battleground with its technology rivals. Google, Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft are each putting thousands of researchers and business specialists to work trying to create irresistible versions of easy-to-use devices that we can talk with. “Until now, all of us have bent to accommodate tech, in terms of typing, tapping, or swiping. Now the new user interfaces are bending to us,” observes Ahmed Bouzid, the chief executive officer of Witlingo, which builds voice-driven apps of all sorts for banks, universities, law firms, and others.  .... " 


Recenty looked at efficiency delivery in healthcare systems.  Here is one company that links location to efficiency.   Versustech.    Real time location system  (RTLS)  a part of Midmark.

Amazon Echo in Physical Store

Amazon Echo used in Physical Store for Customer Engagement

In LSN  Global: 

4. Tuft & Needle embraces Amazon
Seattle – The mattress start-up, which reportedly gets 25% of its sales through Amazon, will open its first physical store in the mega-system’s home town later this year.

The space will feature tablets that enable visitors to read Amazon reviews, Amazon Echo devices to answer customers’ questions and QR codes on products to enable seamless payments through the Amazon app.  ... "

Coursera on Deep Learning with Andrew Ng

Build Your Career in AI

Take our new Deep Learning  courses, now open on Coursera  


By Andrew Ng

More on the courses.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Free Deep Learning Book Completed

Data Science Central points to a free book on deep learning by the MIT press.   Ultimately very technical, but the introductions are useful for anyone interested in the topic.   Table of contents and links to all sections at the link below.

Free Deep Learning Book (MIT Press)  Posted by Vincent Granville  
The Deep Learning textbook is a resource intended to help students and practitioners enter the field of machine learning in general and deep learning in particular. The online version of the book is now complete and will remain available online for free. .... " 

This is the same book that was mentioned previously, it is now completed.

Pop-up Stores to Tell CPG Brand Stories

Was involved in several such efforts, in CPG, but not food.   Brands were new.  The approaches were first mocked up in laboratory settings.  Did not see specific financial outcome estimates.  More discussion at the link

Why is big food turning to pop-up stores to tell brand stories?  by Dale Buss in Retailwire
"A pop-up store allows the brand to shine and promote its best qualities without the competition breathing down its neck."   Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO Interactive Edge

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the monthly e-zine, CPGmatters. ... 

Kellogg, Pure Leaf and Chobani are among a number of CPG companies that have been sprouting “pop-up” stores that tell their brand stories. As well as fashioning “stores within a store” in larger retailers, CPG brands are putting these pop-ups into semi-permanent locations on street fronts in New York City and other heavily populated locales.  ... " 

IBM Research Writes about Progress in Deep Learning

Recently have used deep learning from IBM to solve a difficult classification problem.

From IBM AI Research: 
New IBM Research distributed deep learning software achieves record performance for large neural network, large data set ... 

Deep learning is a widely used AI method to help computers understand and extract meaning from images and sounds and other data types using neural networks, a brain-inspired approach to computing. It holds promise to fuel breakthroughs in everything from consumer mobile app experiences to medical imaging diagnostics. Progress in accuracy and deploying deep learning at scale is limited by technical challenges that slow processing time to days and weeks. IBM Research AI experts have created distributed deep learning software, achieving record performance for image recognition accuracy and large neural networks composed of up to 250 GPUs, a special processor for large amounts of data. Developers and data scientists can now preview this technical milestone in version 4 of the PowerAI enterprise deep learning software.  ... " 

Assistants Addressing Primary Health Care

Primary Health care via assistant, continue to follow this topic.   Good overview:

The robot will see you now  By Pam Baker in HP Enterprise
Intelligent personal medical devices will improve your quality of life. And nag you when you have that extra dessert.

While everyone in the U.S. is focused on health insurance, the truth remains that there are not enough primary care doctors to tend to everyone. Regulation (or deregulation) alone can’t fix that shortage. In order to provide prevention care, illness and injury treatments, and life-saving measures for all, technology must fill in and assist human healthcare providers.

But this is not a situation unique to the U.S., as all countries around the globe struggle with a shortage of healthcare professionals and resources in varying degrees. Further, healthcare providers also struggle with work overloads, unacceptable error rates, and lost revenue from complexities and errors in payer claims.  .... " 

Raise Your Hand With Glitch

Nice simple idea, not sure how rewards work, but could see this working among an enterprise team and getting some sort of reward points for helping. Could also push toward standard usage when developing.  Ultimately might be a way to integrate bot assistance.

Just raise your hand: How Glitch helps

With our brand new upgrade to Glitch, getting coding help in real time is as easy as just raising your hand.

Let’s face it: when we’re programming, we’re all beginners sometimes. Whether we’re brand-new coders learning the basics of how to build an app, or seasoned professionals trying out new APIs and web services, part of being a programmer is putting yourself in unfamiliar territory.

But trying new things can be a little intimidating. So we’ve invented a brand new way to get help in realtime with Glitch: it’s as easy as raising your hand. .... " 

Global Value Chains

Internalizing Global Value Chains: A Firm-Level Analysis  in HBS
by Laura Alfaro, Pol Antràs, Davin Chor and Paola Conconi

In recent decades, advances in information and communication technology and falling trade barriers have led firms to retain within their boundaries and in their domestic economies only a subset of their production stages. A key decision facing firms worldwide is the extent of control to exert over the different segments of their production processes. We describe a property-rights model of firm boundary choices along the value chain that generalizes Antràs and Chor (2013). To assess the evidence, we construct firm-level measures of the upstreamness of integrated and nonintegrated inputs by combining information on the production activities of firms operating in more than 100 countries with input-output tables. In line with the model's predictions, we find that whether a firm integrates upstream or downstream suppliers depends crucially on the elasticity of demand for its final product. Moreover, a firm's propensity to integrate a given stage of the value chain is shaped by the relative contractibility of the stages located upstream versus downstream from that stage, as well as by the firm's productivity. Our results suggest that contractual frictions play an important role in shaping the integration choices of firms around the world.    ... " 

Monday, August 07, 2017

Patent Troll Loses Podcast Fight

Was slightly involved with research for patent litigation that dealt with trolls,  so follow recent activity in this area, in particular regarding prior art.    Quite a bit of detail at the link regarding podcasting prior art.  The patent system has to be fixed.

Personal Audio loses its appeal for podcasting patent   by Brian Heater
A year after taking up the case, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled in favor of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in its challenge against podcasting patent troll, Personal Audio. The decision is a massive relief for the vibrant and ever-growing medium, which has been operated under the threat of lawsuit for a number of years.  .... " 

Siemens: Getting Robots and Workers to Cooperate

Like that this approach is addressing elements and architecture of process, and that the design and operation of  these elements is also a big part of doing something intelligently.  New component elements of business process modeling?   Looking deeper.

This AI Factory Boss Tells Robots And Humans How To Work Together  in FastCompany.

Siemens’s future “artificially intelligent” factory is aimed at a new trend in automation: telling robot and human workers how to help each other make things.

Robots are consistent, indefatigable workers, but they don’t improvise well. Changes on the assembly line require painstaking reprogramming by humans, making it hard to switch up what a factory produces. Now researchers at German industrial giant Siemens say they have a solution: a factory that uses AI to orchestrate the factory of the future, by both programming factory robots and handing out assignments to the humans working alongside them.

“Instead of programming [each robot], what we do is say, this is a machine that can do this [task], this is a machine that has the following capabilities,” says Florian Michahelles, who heads the Siemens Web of Things research group in Berkeley, CA. An AI program that Michahelles and his team have developed, called a “reasoner,” figures out the steps required to make a product, such as a chair; then it divides the assignments among machines based their capabilities, like how far a robotic arm can reach or how much weight it can lift.  ...  "

Future of Sales is AI

Looking at the future of sales.   Further, if you can automate it, you can improve it.  In performance, reach, cost or adaptability.  And learn about some of these same contexts.   Not to say this is new, we have done these things for a long time.  What is new is the introduction of cognitive channels to people we never had before.  That is what AI is in the short term.  Not thinking machines, but machines that help us by augmenting our thinking in familiar ways.

The Future Of Sales Is In Artificial Intelligence, According To This CEO
If you can automate it, you can scale it. By Nicolas Cole,    In Inc.   .... " 

Its All About Continuous Learning

Our own early experiments in AI failed because we ended up needing expensive continuous Maintenance.   We need continual learning, and we need to plan for that up front.  I always recommend that for projects that seek to integrate intelligence in process.   Feedback will likely be sparse at first,  but needs to be built-in and well designed.

Good piece in O'Reilly:

Why continuous learning is key to AI
A look ahead at the tools and methods for learning from sparse feedback.   By Ben Lorica August 7, 2017

" ... I take for granted that future AI systems will rely on continuous learning as opposed to algorithms that are trained offline. Humans learn this way, and AI systems will increasingly have the capacity to do the same. Imagine visiting an office for the first time and tripping over an obstacle. The very next time you visit that scene—perhaps just a few minutes later—you’ll most likely know to look out for the object that tripped you. .... " 

Voices in AI Podcasts

From GigaOM, have signed up for these.

Announcing “Voices in AI” Podcast,  Byron Reese
Artificial intelligence has received more digital ink recently than just about any topic in technology. This level of coverage is warranted, since AI reaches new milestones seemingly every week. So whenever AI exceeds human capabilities in some new area, we collectively reflect on what this all means and speculate about what the machines might do next. And on this topic, everyone has opinions, including Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Mark Cuban and Stephen Hawking.

The interesting thing to me is how different all of their opinions are. Some think the AIs will take away our jobs; others believe they will create better ones for everyone. Some say we should fear the AIs while others maintain that such concerns are science fiction nonsense. Some predict we will get a general AI in a few years; others think a few centuries. ... " 

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Google's Gmail will Answer Your Emails?

What is Ray Kurzweil up to at Google?  Writing your Emails.  ... in Wired ..  I respond:

Interesting background and information about an innovator and his team's neural net driven AI project.  Good as an indication of how Google works internally with innovative ideas.  Worth readng for that.  Kurzweil is very well known, innovative and very smart.

But here is a case where I have been actually 'using' the results of his team's work since it was made public on Google Mail in May.   I would say I use one of his auto answers or 'Smart Replies'  maybe one out of twenty times.  Then worry that the recipient might notice.   Have never edited an answer, but understood that I could.  Just easier to write the whole thing.

  And must say that I am not overly impressed.  This could have been done better with a lot less resources and effort.  I would not pay for this if I had to, not even close.   Is trite a good word?   Not what I expected when I heard it called  'automatic answering'.   The latter is really hard, at least to do well.   I would have to read it very closely to see if it is correct.  If its not that important, why answer at all?    More and better is coming they say, I hope so.   My singularity receptacle is waiting. But you will have to catch me.

Conversational Banking Assistant Pilot

Intriguing statement of how this is operating, and how it can deal with a messy conversational interaction.   Because of the nature of the interaction, this would appear to be particularly important and difficult to assure correctness.   How exactly is this beyond rules or a chatbot interaction?   Sentiment also included.  Learning too.    More detail at the link.  ...

USAA Rolls Out Innovative Conversational AI Solution
Going beyond traditional rules-based voice or chatbot digital banking solutions, a non-bot, natural language banking experience is being offered to USAA members in an Amazon Alexa pilot with Clinc.    By Jim Marous, Co-Publisher of The Financial Brand and Owner/Publisher of the Digital Banking Report

Subscribe TodayLast September, a team of computer science professors at the University of Michigan introduced an application developed in their research lab that they believed would change the way consumers would do banking in the future. Combining the science and technology from academia, with the needs for a better voice-first mobile banking capability, Clinc won ‘Best of Show’ honors at Finovate in New York City with their Finie (“the financial genie”) application.

The intelligent personal assistant uses sophisticated natural language processing engines that have been trained with a deeper knowledge of the financial and banking industry as opposed to using a rules-based approach. Unlike solutions that currently exist from Siri, Alexa and Cortana, Clinc’s machine learning capability allows the application to expand knowledge and improve responses with every query. By identifying and analyzing dozens of factors like speech patterns, word structure and sentiment, Clinc is able to understand, to remember and to respond to unconstrained, contextual, messy human language.  ... " 

Transcript Data to Tailor Voice Interaction

Amazon’s Alexa Has A Data Dilemma: Be More Like Apple Or Google?
Amazon’s virtual assistant is caught between Apple-like privacy safeguards and Google-style openness.   By Jared Newman

Devices like Amazon Echo could someday turn into a treasure trove for developers that make voice assistant skills, but first companies have to figure out where they draw the line when it comes to weighing data sharing against consumer privacy.

Now that dilemma is heating up: Citing three unnamed sources, The Information reported this week that Amazon is considering whether to provide full conversation transcripts to Alexa developers. This would be a major change from Amazon’s current policy in which the company only provides basic information—such as the total number of users, the average number of actions they’ve performed, and rates of success or failure for voice commands. Amazon declined to comment to The Information regarding the claims, but the change wouldn’t be unprecedented. Google’s voice assistant platform already provides full transcripts to developers.  ... " 

Detecting Randomness of Numbers

Early projects had us looking to determine if numbers were random or not.    Signal vs noise detection.   Can be very important for scrubbing data before use.   Here an example of a means of detecting non-randomness.   In DSC. 

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Watson Machine Learning Now Publicly Available

I note that this also includes 'visual' machine learning,  using methods that look like the Clementine system they acquired long ago for System Modeler.   Good direction.   Explored some of this via their Bluemix services, but this takes it further, for both professionals and for non professional use.

I contractually examined several examples of enterprise use in real projects, impressive plug-in power.  Natural links to Watson Analytics?  Looking at the new usability here and cost.

Watson Machine Learning is now Generally Available
Today we are excited to announce the general availability of the IBM Watson Machine Learning service. Over the past 12 months we've got feedback from hundreds of beta users of the Watson Machine Learning (WML) service. During the beta period, we’ve been actively collecting feedback provided via email, Slack, and targeted surveys. The WML product team has been actively engaged in those conversations and wherever possible we’ve worked to incorporate your feedback in to the service. With today’s announcement, we are now opening this service to the general public and rolling out a number of new features. Read on to learn more…

What is WML and why are we building it?
WML is a Bluemix service that enables users to perform two fundamental operations of machine learning. .... 

Training: this is the process of refining an algorithm so that it can 'learn' from a dataset. The output of this operation is called a model. A model encompasses the learned coefficients of mathematical expressions.

Scoring: the operation of predicting an outcome using a trained model. The output of the scoring operation is another dataset containing predicted values.   ... " 

More details.

Automated Machine Learning Tools

William Vorhies surveys some 'automated' data machine learning systems.  Agree these are for professionals,  but can likely decrease the effort needed to produce such models.  But their emergence can only mean that these techniques will ultimately be automated more fully. ...

Automated Machine Learning for Professionals
Posted by William Vorhies  

Summary:  There are a variety of new Automated Machine Learning (AML) platforms emerging that led us recently to ask if we’d be automated and unemployed any time soon.  In this article we’ll cover the “Professional AML tools”.  They require that you be fluent in R or Python which means that Citizen Data Scientists won’t be using them.  They also significantly enhance productivity and reduce the redundant and tedious work that’s part of model building.   ...   " 

Articles about Decision Trees

Good list from DSC of articles about decision trees, provided by Vincent Granville.    We found much value in the enterprise of these methods because their output was explainable to decision makers.   In addition we were able to use these results directly plugged into rule based expert systems to implement AI.  I still believe there is value in such rule bases to implement knowledge in simple logic directly.  Such systems still exist, for example, Visirule, recently updated, which we examined as early as 2009.

Predictive Analytics at Linkedin

Wise Practitioner – Predictive Analytics Interview Series: Steve Weiss at LinkedIn

By: Eric Siegel, Founder, Predictive Analytics World
In anticipation of his upcoming conference presentation, The Sprint for Teaching Data Science: LinkedIn Learning, Analytics and the New Era Steven Weiss PAW BLOGof Just-In-Time Skills Training at Predictive Analytics World for Business New York, Oct 29-Nov 2, 2017, we asked Steve Weiss, Content Manager, Data Science and Business Analytics at LinkedIn, a few questions about his work in predictive analytics. .... " 

Heatmap of AI Startup Deals

An insightful heatmap From CB Insights:

Artificial Intelligence DealsTracker

A look at where AI is heating up,  from healthcare to entertainment
In all the chatter around AI, bots and virtual assistants get much of the attention, but it’s healthcare where AI is on fire. 

Our AI deals tracker shows that healthcare is, by a significant margin, the most active industry for AI-focused investments. And there have already been 14 equity deals this quarter in healthcare AI, which means the category is on track to beat the record 30 equity deals in the last quarter. 
Among the deals in July were several to AI-powered drug discovery platforms, including an $11M Series A to Berkeley, California-based BioAge Labs, led by Andreessen Horowitz. Another was a sign of big pharma’s interest: GlaxoSmithKline’s contract worth up to $43M with Scotland-based Exscientia.  ... 

One signal that it's early days for AI in healthcare is that many of these deals are the first time these companies are selling equity, rather than follow-on deals. Last quarter saw an all-time high of first-time deals to AI in healthcare startups. And 5 of the last 7 quarters have seen 10+ such deals. .... " 

Friday, August 04, 2017

Apple Makes a Late Move with Homekit Authentication

Been watching for Homepod related  Apple announcements.    Apparently some changes behind the scenes with Homekit.  Apple expected Apple TV to carry the smarthome idea forward with Homekit, but unexpectedly Amazon Echo made the voice activated market real.   Not much from Microsoft either on assistant competitors to Amazon and Google, as Holiday season creeps up to us.    Are any of them serious?   Some proposed details below.

Apple pulls massive HomeKit chip U-turn to keep up with Amazon Echo and Google Home    Blink and you'd have missed surprise news     By Kieren McCarthy ...

Index of my coverage of Virtual Assistants, continually updated.

Running Analytics Experiments Systematically

Really growing to like Jason Brownlee's Machine Learning Mastery posts.  He is starting to seem like a trusted adviser.   Really useful stuff, the most recent example talks about the process of getting machine learning process done.   Even if you don't use all of these ideas, many can really help.   At least until it is all automated.  This should be taught, it is not.  Practical stuff.  Follow him, buy his for-pay stuff.  Thanks Jason.

How to Plan and Run Machine Learning Experiments Systematically
by Jason Brownlee on August 4, 2017 in Machine Learning Process

Machine learning experiments can take a long time. Hours, days, and even weeks in some cases.

This gives you a lot of time to think and plan for additional experiments to perform.

In addition, the average applied machine learning project may require tens to hundreds of discrete experiments in order to find a data preparation model and model configuration that gives good or great performance.

The drawn-out nature of the experiments means that you need to carefully plan and manage the order and type of experiments that you run.

You need to be systematic.
In this post, you will discover a simple approach to plan and manage your machine learning experiments.

With this approach, you will be able to:

-Stay on top of the most important questions and findings in your project.
-Keep track of what experiments you have completed and would like to run.
-Zoom in on the data preparations, models, and model configurations that give the best performance.

Let’s dive in.   .... "       (The rest is at the link above) 

Customer Journey Methods in Retail

My correspondent, among others responds:  "In my experience data science and analytics teams need better ways to activate their work."    Gib Bassett, Customer Success Director, Salesforce .  Agree, and one way is using customer journey analysis.  Its back to where the process meets the analysis.

Can customer journey methodology level the playing field for brick and mortar retail?  by Michael Day   In Retailwire.

" ... Segmentation, predictive analytics, evolving real-time customized offers. Sounds like the sole domain of ecommerce pure plays, but brick and mortar retailers are moving toward the deployment of these and other tools to better understand how a customer journey approach to marketing and merchandising can help stave off ecommerce competitors and, maybe, beat them at their own game.

The customer journey approach focuses on the business value of integrating and operationalizing data, and leveraging that knowledge to truly understand how consumers behave during the process of buying products and services. It helps optimize marketing and the customer experience, based on integrated capabilities for connected data, analytics and interactions. And does it by enhancing each customers’ experience over time, across multiple channels and touch points, delivering relevant, timely and context-based communications. This, now more than ever, can and should be an imperative for brick and mortar retailers.  ... " 

Changing Retail: How Can Brands Connect?

In the HBR, some essential thoughts ... are old ideas but worth repeating.

How Consumer Brands Can Connect with Customers in a Changing Retail Landscape  by Robert Haslehurst, Chris Randall, Noor Abdel-Samed

When news broke earlier this year about Amazon’s courtship of some of the world’s biggest consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands, it touched off a wave of speculation. Was the e-commerce giant engaged in a long game to alter the relationships between consumer goods makers and their brick-and-mortar retail partners?

However it plays out, Amazon’s outreach exposed a digital divide in the consumer products world. On one side is the growing interest of brands in direct-to-consumer (D2C) models. On the other side are persistent worries about conflict — not just with traditional distribution channels but also with retailers carrying the brand. To bridge this gap, we’ve identified seven tactics that pioneering brands have used to arrive at an effective digital strategy:  ...... 

 ... So someday soon, digital agility will be as important to consumer brands as traditional capabilities like brand-building, new product development, and distribution. What that digital response looks like will vary from brand to brand. For now, product makers can look to retailers and innovative brands for lessons in ways to balance universal best practices with choices that are authentic to the brand, the evolving consumer purchase process, and the specific channel environment.  ....  "

Crowdsourced Testing

 Seeing Crowdsourcing continue to become more common.

Managing Crowdsourced Testing  | by Ben Linders

Crowdsourced testing is a unique way of involving the crowd- meaning the real users/testers- into software testing under real world conditions. It helped Swisscom to find defects very early in the development process and increase the quality of products, argued Maja Schreiner. Gathering and summarizing all feedback can be a challenge; having developers involved helped to speed up test cycles and improve understanding of how the product is tested and how the testers are thinking.

Maja Schreiner, senior test manager at Swisscom, spoke about crowd testing magic at the Spring Online Testing Conference 2017. InfoQ is covering the conference with Q&As, summaries and articles.

InfoQ interviewed Maja Schreiner after her talk about crowdsourced testing.

InfoQ: What is crowdsourced testing?:   .... ."

VR Transforming the Workplace?

Niche or everywhere?  Still think this will take some time before it is common in the workplace. A typical machine interface?   AR more likely.

Why Virtual Reality Will Transform a Workplace Near You   By Logan Kugler 

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 60 No. 8, Pages 15-17

" ... VR and AR companies see the technology as the natural evolution of popular collaboration apps; instead of desktop interfaces or pinging phone apps, however, they envision a world in which we collaborate with coworkers and peers in highly realistic virtual or virtually augmented environments—a more immersive, versatile, and natural way to get business done.

This is no pipe dream like the VR of decades past. Thanks to the commercial viability of popular systems and apps, ambitious VR/AR products are already changing how professionals work, train, and cooperate. Company reps use the technologies to better train for customer-service interactions and to troubleshoot issues faster in real time using digital models. Manufacturers rely on the technology to better collaborate on the design and maintenance of components, and hospital systems employ VR and AR to remotely train doctors faster, less expensively, and more effectively.

This is just the beginning. Your next meeting might take place in a VR environment that makes it easier to identify who's speaking and how others feel about your ideas (if Peter Diamandis' company High Fidelity, which creates "open source software for creating, hosting, and exploring shared VR experiences," has its way). Entire collaboration exercises or corporate retreats might be hosted in virtual environments (courtesy of technology like that offered by AltspaceVR, a virtual reality software company building a new communication platform already used by people in more than 150 countries)   .... " 

In Pursuit of Creativity

Via HBS.   Full research paper at the link:

In Pursuit of Everyday Creativity    by Teresa M. Amabile

OVERVIEW — This paper describes the most compelling research trends around creativity and innovation. It suggests that 1) creative behavior of ordinary individuals is likely to become more important to the development of products and services, and 2) future studies should focus on such creative behavior—and related psychological states and environmental contexts—as it happens.

Creativity researchers have long paid careful attention to individual creativity, beginning with studies of well-known geniuses, and expanding to personality, biographical, cognitive, and social-psychological studies of individual creative behavior. Little is known, however, about the everyday psychological experience and associated creative behavior in the life and work of ordinary individuals. Yet evidence is mounting that such individuals can be responsible for important instances of creativity and innovation in the world: open innovation, user innovation, and citizen innovation. Research into this phenomenon could do much to advance the study and practice of creativity. .... "

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Intelligent Video Analytics

Brought to my attention for a security application.

IBM Intelligent Video Analytics
" ... Turn video into insight. Find relevant images across multiple types of video files. ... What it can do for your business

IBM Intelligent Video Analytics helps security and public safety organizations develop comprehensive security, intelligence and investigative capabilities using video. You can use advanced search, redaction and facial recognition analytics to find relevant images and critical information across multiple video files from multiple camera types. Selected live-streaming cameras plus pre-recorded video ingestion from both fixed cameras and cameras in motion are supported. Augment staff and improve camera investment ROI by extracting information from captured video to uncover insights and patterns.  ... " 

Quantum, Cause and Effect

Will Quantum computing be able to take advantage of the very strange nature of time in Quantum physics?   Causality?  At the micro level perhaps, but beyond?    Introduction to the idea in Nature.

How Quantum Trickery Can Scramble Cause and Effect    In Nature

“Most of the attempts to understand quantum mechanics involve trying to save some aspects of the old classical picture, such as particle trajectories,” says Brukner. But history shows us that what is generally needed in such cases is something more, he says — something that goes beyond the old ideas, such as a new way of thinking about causality itself. “When you have a radical theory, to understand it you usually need something even more radical.”  ... " 

We still live in a macro world, which we must model.  Quantum lives in the microstructure.  Bridging these will be only the first challenge.

Ad Attention Research

In Think with Google:

Ad Attention Research: Effectiveness Hinges on More Than Just Reach

If a million trees fall in the forest and nobody hears them, do they make a sound? They might, but does it matter? New research from Nielsen and Ipsos proves that attention differs across screens and mere exposure isn’t enough—ads need to be noticed, watched, and heard to maximize impact. ... "

Google's Second Tango Phone

Have been waiting for this.  Seen demos.   Had seen this as a possibility for detecting, mapping and understanding interior spaces and fixtures, like shelves.   The second phone implementing their vaunted Tango project that maps interior spaces.  Perhaps in response to rumored upcoming Apple AR phone systems?  The Tango idea gets a negative review below,  too much hardware, while the Apple ARKit has no additional hardware.  Following.

Google’s second AR phone, the Asus ZenFone AR, is finally official
Google's augmented reality phones take forever to release, for whatever reason.
By Ron Amadeo  ...   "

See Project Tango.

AI Comparison to Previous Tech Waves

The jury is still out for general AI ... but specialized applications things are booming.

Why artificial intelligence is different from previous technology waves
The AI ecosystem just might be resilient enough to live up to the hype.
By Robbie Allen in O'Reilly

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Predicting Power Outages

Researchers develop model to predict and prevent power outages using big data
Texas A&M Engineering News   by Shraddha Sankhe

Researchers at Texas A&M University have devised a predictive risk analysis framework that can forecast a potential vulnerability to utility assets and map out the location and time of a possible outage. The researchers say this feature enables the trees in the most critical areas with the highest risk to be felled first. "Dealing with aging infrastructure assets adds another layer of complexity that utility companies face," says Texas A&M professor Mladen Kezunovic. "Any kind of environmental data that has some relevance to the power system can be fed into this prediction framework." The model's applications can be tailored by feeding it data such as a utility company's operational records, weather forecasts, altitude, and foliage around the power systems. The team says they use the goals of the power system to select a large volume of input data from multiple sources and conduct a risk analysis, adding to the reliability of the system and its operations. ... "

Shopping and Virtual Reality

In CSA, interesting statistics.    But pushes at what 'virtual shopping' is.

What do customers want from virtual shopping?  by Deena M. Amato-MCcoy

Virtual reality shopping is here and consumers — or at least the ones that are tech-savvy — are ready to use it. 

Seventy to eighty percent of "early tech adopter" consumers are eager to use virtual commerce technology to design rooms, customize products and shops with friends from across the globe, according to a study from L.E.K. Consulting.  .... "

Redefining Work

Good piece, but to these kinds of predictions, I always ask:  In what context.   Automation has been happening since the Jacquard Loom, or even the invention of writing.  It has yet to replace work.  We have adapted.  ....

How Automation is Going to Redefine What it Means to Work
The time for machines to take over most of humanity's work is rapidly approaching. The world is woefully unprepared to deal with the implications that automation will have over the coming decades. Universal basic income is just beginning to be discussed, and automation has the potential to displace much of the world's workforce. Many decisions have to be made, and quickly, if we hope to keep pace with innovation. .... "

By Scott Santens @scottsantens

Deep Learning's Next Frontier

An insightful Webinar recording:

Deep Learning's Next Frontier  By Andrew Ng

HBR’s editor in chief, Adi Ignatius, and Andrew Ng, former chief scientist at Baidu and a cofounder of Coursera, discuss artificial intelligence and machine learning. They demystify AI and talk about its real-world impact today—and about the most pressing challenges and opportunities it presents for businesses in the future.  .... " 

AI Software for Psychiatry

Another health care example of augmenting the physician,   The 'therapist' was one of the earliest uses of AI style human interaction.

A Software Shrink: Apps and Wearables Could Usher In an Era of Digital Psychiatry

Data is about to revolutionize the treatment of depression, schizophrenia, and many other disorders ... " 

WCAI and Earth Networks

An interesting collaboration, reminiscent of work by IBM with the Weather Channel

Earth Networks and Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative Collaborate to Advance Weather-Driven Analytics Research

Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI) Research Center will tap Earth Networks proprietary weather intelligence to expand commercial use cases of rich weather data assets ... "

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Kuri Finds a Skill as Family Photographer

The crawling, bleeping, recording, greeting, even friendly home robot called Kuri has announced a new skill.  It can now act as a kind of resident family still and videographer.

Not quite sure about what other assistant skills might be included, but the idea is interesting.   Beyond a cylinder that is rooted in a location, it moves to where it is needed and records and interacts.

This idea of moving where it is needed is intriguing.  What other possibilities does that provide? Security?  Location based assistance?  Don't expect it to mix drinks, but being there can be of value. It avoids the all the complexity of human conversation by only speaking in coded 'bleeps'.

Still listed at $700, Shipping original orders this fall, with new orders coming in a second wave in the spring of 2018.

More in the Kuri blog.  A good idea if delivered well.  This will take quite a few purchases to fund ongoing development, which it will need to sustain any magic it has.

High Dimensional Data Visualization

Good generalized piece.  In explaining this idea to decision makers I always point out that in nearly all real problems there are more than three dimensions.  How often have you seen a spreadsheet with less than three columns to be considered?

Once you deal with real data, all data science techniques extend to any number of dimensions.  Data viz in an important technique to scope both the original data, and the results of any analytics performed.  And data viz is beyond descriptive, its a means to interact with data, solutions and metadata.  So you have to deal with many dimensions.

Visualization Enables High Dimensional Analytics   In InformationWorld.

High dimensional data is our greatest asset in learning from data sets with hundreds, even thousands, of variables.

Data visualization is undergoing a revolution, making complex data sets easier to understand and helping both experienced and inexperienced analysts form better conclusions and takeaways from those numbers.

A notable side effect of increased capabilities for data visualization is a push toward more complex modes of data collection and processing; if we’re able to understand complex data sets without needing substantial training or experience, we can apply those data processing standards to more areas.

Enter high dimensional analytics

In the era of big data, we’ve been able to collect and store more data points than ever before. Rather than relying on simple bits of information about key demographics and behaviors, we have access to hundreds, and sometimes thousands of variables related to a given problem or outcome. For example, in medical research fields, characteristics include genetic predispositions, lifestyle factors, and demographic information may all play a role in whether a patient develops a condition (and how they respond to treatment). Each of these hundreds of variables may interact with any of the other variables, making it impossible to do a simple correlational analysis in variable pairs or triplets.

It's difficult to imagine anything in more than three dimensions, but for computers, it’s relatively easy. In physics and computer science, mathematical models can be used to make calculations in higher dimensions, sometimes hundreds of dimensions, allowing us to crunch the numbers and uncover patterns. There’s only one significant obstacle to making this practical: visualizing the results.   ... "

Connecting to Customers with Voicebots

A excerpt from Venturebeat, not from a while ago, about connecting to customers via voicebots.  Good piece.   But as of this time the Google Home calling functionality mentioned has not been delivered.

" .... Some companies are already using a mix of bots and humans to respond to customer communications. Stockholm-based Swedbank uses a chatbot on its website to answer questions about foreign currency rates and branch locations. The bot solves consumers’ problems about 80 percent of the time, and the remaining 20 percent are routed to support staff, who can answer more complex account questions. These more complex interactions make or break the customer experience. They’re the points where sales are made and loyalty is cemented — or not.

For the foreseeable future, the best experiences will come from a mix of voice-powered automation and human interaction. While most people are amenable to an automated voice control system if it works well, research shows that people prefer a live conversation with a human to resolve more complex and emotional issues. Businesses need to bring humans into the conversation at the moment when it best serves the customer.

Amazon is working on solving this problem, too. In March, the company introduced cloud-based call center software called AWS Connect that uses the natural language processing and speech recognition technology behind Alexa to interpret what callers want and routes their calls accordingly. Imagine calling an airline, saying “I’d like to change my flight this evening,’ and having a rep immediately talk through three different options on how to get home quickly. ... "

Alexa Disruptive to CPG Retail Brands?

Does this take us back to the old-time, self service store?    True we can ask for a particular brands, influenced by advertising, but the quick way is to just ask for the product.  Perhaps driven by price or delivery time,  but maybe not even that.     And the AI will assign the product.  Note that saying 'AI' is overplaying this.  It will start with simple logic, easy to implement.   But it will change the nature of the moment of truth.  Disruptive to CPG process.   How will CPG react to that?   Other expert comments at the link below.

How disruptive is Alexa to CPG brands?  By Lee Peterson
Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from WayfinD, a quarterly e-magazine filled with insights, trends and predictions from the retail and foodservice experts at WD Partners. .... 

“Alexa, order a 12-pack of toilet paper, a case of bottled water and a bag of tortilla chips.”

Welcome to the new moment of truth.

If you’re the brand manager of a CPG product, this existential threat should shake you to your brand-loving, MBA-trained core. The in-store marketing model that has ruled the consumer products industry for more than a century is being replaced by a talking cylinder.

Artificial intelligence and the generation of smartphone shopping assistants, from Siri to chatbots, are upending the traditional path to purchase, but they are all brand agnostic. Those ephemeral intangibles long considered the essence of a brand don’t matter. Price and delivery time are more likely to drive preference and selection in this new AI-driven store.    .... "