Alien Covenant: A Review

While this blog is mostly intended to lay out my ideas associated with various technologies, every once in a while I'm happy to depart from that theme. 

Last week, Geeks of Doom was gracious enough to allow my opinion to be represented as their review of Alien Covenant. 

My overall assessment? Better than Prometheus, but still flawed. Here's an excerpt of what I had to say:

Alien: Covenant lacks the same emotional heights sci-fi fans associate with Ridley Scott’s film of 1979 or James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, though it’s not without merit. Chief among the complaints is that the new film seems to sit on the franchise’s laurels rather than push it forward in the way Casino Royale did for James Bond or Logan did for X-Men. It’s been 38 years since the original Alien thriller, but this movie lacks some of the lauded learnings and innovations of modern science fiction cinema.
— Dwayne D.

Find tne entire review here at Geeks of Doom.

Toyota uses AI to sell the Mirai - it's Inefficient Eco Car

A few years ago I had a chance to check out the Toyota Mirai - a hydrogen powered electricly propelled car that Toyota claimed was, rather than its Pruis line or the trending battery electric vehicles,  the wave of the future.

Suffice it to say I didn't agree. hydrogen is not a sustainable or ecologically friendly fuel source at this time - maybe never. 

Still, Toyota put a lot of $$$$ into the research and development of the thing and they still believe that this thing, which allows for the continued time, energy and money drive-to-pump model of re-fuelling, in addition to the fact that one needs CNG or LNG to produce the fuel, is a product that Toyota hopes will take off.

To that end, Toyota has reached out to LA-based ad agency Saatchi to develop advertising materials for the series of poor logistical and ecological choices on four wheels that is the Mirai. 

To that end, the ad agency took to IBM's Watson Artificial Intelligence computer, where time and energy was spent programming the supercomputer to write phrases that would appeal to every single type of consumer that would be interested in the hydrogen-powered Mirai.

First, Saatchi LA wrote 50 scripts based on location, behavioral insights and occupation data that explained the car’s features to set up a structure for the campaign. The scripts were then used to train Watson so it could whip up thousands of pieces of copy that sounded like they were written by humans.

“We realized that we couldn’t just let it go out and try to figure out the creative on its own,” Pierantozzi said. “We had to give it guidelines with exactly what we wanted, so then it then had a little bit of creative freedom to come up with some of the thoughts on its own.”
— http://www.adweek.com/digital/saatchi-la-trained-ibm-watson-to-write-thousands-of-ads-for-toyota/?utm_campaign=nl_1&utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=AWK_TodayTech

The computer was able to find myriad new ways to describe the vehicle to potential buyers. Unfortunately, the data neglected to mention that tech-savvy, eco-minded buyers, are not necessarily into under-powered vehicles that have to be powered by fuel that's only available at select pumps in or around California. Especially when they realise that hydrocarbons are needed to create that fuel in the first place.

Still, the method of advertising is novel. While it's not clear how well crafted the data set was that determined the targeting for this campaign, there are plenty of ways to identify users and consumers who are in the market for this or that trinket. The added benefit of AI is that it can make the messages more applicable to potential consumers and, eventually, it holds the promise of being able to do that in real time with the latest available data. Did your Android Watch recently report that you just finished a run? How about a smoothie? 

It may sound "creepy" at first, but relevance is everything when it comes to saving time and money in the ad space. I'd rather be enlightened about something I want than be annoyed by ads that interrupt the flow of my day, pushing products I have no real interest in. 

So what's the takeaway? We're that much closer to Minority Report, which is, in more ways than just advertising, the holy grail of so much of tech.

The Drill Down 477: Google I/O 2017

This week, a global ransomware hack will make you WannaCry, Google’s I/O Conference, babies made from skin cells, Apple builds a new spaceship, and a pizza box, plus much, much more.

You can find the episode here.

The Drill Down, Episode 473: A Womb with a View

This week on The Drill Down podcast we discuss the future of streaming, the impact of artificial wombs, and how Wikipedia plans to fight fake news.

Check it out on Geeks of Doom or subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

Lawyers replaced by *Legal* A.I.? Not yet.

Steve Lohr, writing for the New York Times,

"...recent research and even the people working on the software meant to automate legal work say the adoption of A.I. in law firms will be a slow, task-by-task process. In other words, like it or not, a robot is not about to replace your lawyer. At least, not anytime soon."

This makes sense to me. Automation isn't a one-shot when it comes to thought-intensive tasks: it's a process. The good news for automators of the AI world, is that for all of the complexity of our legal system, it's (mostly) logical. Getting around arguments is going to be exceedingly difficult for a machine to take on, but when it comes to the *happy path* of any particular legal process, just look at Legal Zoom. They're taking the boring stuff away from lawyers every day, so all they need to do is check the documents once the forms have been filled in.

New AI Can Write and Rewrite Its Own Code to Increase Its Intelligence

In brief:

  • A company has developed a type of technology that allows a machine to effectively learn from fewer examples and refine its knowledge as further examples are provided.
  • This technology could be applied to everything from teaching a smartphone to recognize a user's preferences to helping autonomous driving systems quickly identify obstacles.

You've heard it before-- This is the stuff of science fiction. But it's not. It's real and it's here and it's one of the surest signs that our civilization can take advantage of computing in new and powerful ways, including but not limited to robotics.

And Robotics is where this gets interesting. We've heard a lot of talk about advanced engineering-- robotics taking over jobs. With technology of the ilk described in this article, we could see robots being trained to build new machines that incrementally increase efficiency by increased automation. It's quite possibly the path to the end of work, which has been explored by both the Atlantic and the New York Times.

 

Box’s 65-Year-Old Android Engineer Gives Your Startup Some Unsentimental Advice

There are precious few people who have seen and comprehended enough of the rise of computing (and now mobile computing) to have some perspective on the industry’s mind-bending velocity. “The tools have just gotten so much better,” he says. “When I was working on the game for Electronic Arts, I did the entire development on the Atari 800 and it took me 45 minutes to do one compile off of a floppy disk which held a grand total of 380 kilobytes. Today I have a device in my pocket with can give me access to the world’s knowledge,” he says. “That is unbelievable–but I think we have lost the idea of the software artist. When the machines were much smaller, I did my game essentially as a one-man team. I did all the art. I did all the programming. I had one other engineer help me with some of the music. I have a friend working with EA today and he is probably working in a team of 120 engineers.”

Fantastic read.

Solar jobs growing 12x faster than US economy

A couple interesting points below based on the article, which you can find here.

  1. What it takes to pop solar on rooftops takes far more workers than the big industrial stuff that would replace coal fired power plants. The efficiency at scale is real.

    Rooftop installations drove much of the growth this year. Household projects accounted for 63 percent of the industry’s jobs, with 15 percent of the workforce tackling commercial projects and 22 percent building utility-scale installations. That points to an interesting disjoint in the way the industry operates: the type of solar installation that replaces the most greenhouse gas emissions represents a smaller share of the solar workforce. The report says this is because utility-scale projects are less labor-intensive.

  2. If this sort of growth continues, then Solar jobs will be the energy sector's most dominant type of work. That can seriously change the way Congress is lobbied. to be sure, Congressional representatives of places that still extract fossil fuels will be against it, but all that means is that companies need to look at the map and choose sunny places to hire people so that they can break those representatives constituencies and thus ensure long term growth with government support. Let's not forget-- government always picks winners and losers.

  3. Going back to point #1 above-- there's a huge win-win-win for the president if he can see past the sterotypical GOP dislike of renewable energy. Power plants are usually government monopolies, which means that they receive corporate welfare. If he gave incentives to solar companies and the 50 states to ramp up on rooftop solar, it would begin the obviation of traditional power companies while ramping up the need for these workers. The third win is that opposition party Dems would have to work with him or look like they're not genuine about energy and the environment. Whether the opposition party works with him or not, he'd look like he was putting "America First" with regard to jobs and any dependence the US has to foreign energy sources.
    You save a lot of oil if you don't have to transport coal by truck or diesel locomotive.
    You also require less natural gas and oil pipelines if most electricity is coming from people's rooftops. 
    And a bonus? The idea of each homeowner generating and managing their own electricity usage falls inline with the individual responsibility and self-reliance ideals and principles of US conservative politics. 

The environment, specifically, the carbon crisis, is probably the most important issue of our time. Let's use political and scientific realities to solve it.

 

The Drill Down 461: Explosions, Car Wrecks & The Presidency

On this week’s podcast, The Drill Down co-host emeritus Tom Cheredar joins us to discuss Donald Trump’s first week of Presidency as it affects the tech world, is this the end of Net Neutrality, the final word on the Samsung Note 7 and the Tesla crash, Sprint buys into TIDAL, and much, much more.

Check out the episode on Geeks of Doom.

CES 2017: Talk To Your TV: Dish Unveils Integration With Amazon Echo

Yours truly taking on CES for the The Geeks of Doom:

In case you needed another reason to go Alexa rather than Google, the media gods have got one for you. The avalanche of CES 2017 press conferences hadn’t even begun when the news came in from Dish Network. In addition to their Sling Box and their 2014 breakthrough, no-contract live-streaming cable service, SlingTV, Dish decided to take another leap forward in delivering television entertainment to their consumers — support for Amazon‘s Alexa Voice Services or AVS.

Dish users with Hopper DRV devices of any generation will be able to control them using their voice through Amazon’s Echo or Echo Dot hardware...continue here

The Echo Dot is Amazon's Best Seller

Andria Cheng, writing for eMarketer in the wake of holiday sales: 

"Rising sales of digital assistants reflect changing user behaviors as more people become comfortable with the idea of spoken word commands and queries. In September 2016, Google said that fully one in five search queries on its mobile app were voice initiated. And in November, a Google/Ipsos survey found that more than half of the smartphone users had used a voice-activated app to answer a question or perform a task.

Amazon said Tuesday that popular requests made to Echo over the holidays included queries about mixing cocktails and requests to play holiday music."

the $50 pricepoint of the Dot 2 was an incredible move to get the device into the hands of myriad consumers, which, through their voice platform, makes the entire system stronger. The Skills piece is also a huge part of the device's success.

Accolades these may be; the app interface leaves a lot to be desired in terms of UI and performance. Echo will need all of these elements to be top knot here if it wants to survive the oncoming onslaught from Google and (eventually) Apple, who is no doubt developing hardware with similar functionality that ties in deeply with its existing tech toy ecosystem.

Let's Gut Net Neutrality

If Trump truly cares about business growth and innovation, he'll work to keep Net Neutrality in place rather than to allow the below nonsense to take place.

 "FCC Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly sent a letter to five lobby groups representing wireless carriers and small ISPs; while the letter is mostly about plans to extend an exemption for small providers from certain disclosure requirements, the commissioners also said they will tackle the entire net neutrality order shortly after President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration on January 20.

"[W]e will seek to revisit [the disclosure] requirements, and the Title II Net Neutrality proceeding more broadly, as soon as possible," they wrote, referring to the order that imposed net neutrality rules and reclassified ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Pai and O'Rielly noted that they "dissented from the Commission's February 2015 Net Neutrality decision, including the Order's imposition of unnecessary and unjustified burdens on providers." "