Human computer collaboration

December 22, 2012

Human computer collaboration:

The article I link here (titled “Prepare for the Next Round of Man vs. Machine” – in hebrew, and an original piece, sorry :S) begins by presenting Eureqa – a program that can build mathematical models to describe various trends in the data provided to it – and then discusses various views on how the integration of computers has and will affect scientfic research. The undertone of the article was “man vs. machine” as the title suggested, but frankly, besides vague arguments saying humans will allways be neccesairy in science, I found it to be more on the practicality of machine aided research rather than true competion. 

And there here’s the reason for that – this so-called contest between man and machine is both unhelpfull and impractical. I say it is unhelpful, because computers are tools, and not using them to their advantage because of some ego contest means wasting your own time on something computers are better at by their very nature. I say it is impractical, because we have yet to define the contest well enough, or the parameters by which to measure success.

For example, the article discusses the buzz created around Eureqa’s presentation to the public. The immediate response of non-scientific media to news about it’s “discovery” of the underlying mathematical model of Newton’s second law (f=ma) meant that it could be a better scientist than any man, having discovered this theory on its own. Scientists then critisized the program, saying it still needed humans to define the variables and the form of the function. The developers went on to say they never claimed the program worked out of nothing – the program uses random attmpts to change a basic function involving the variables from the data given to it, nothing less or more. Obviously I’m paraphrasing a little, but the general idea still holds – “inventing” is not the same as “discovering” or “defining” – which means that the arguments discussed incomparable aspects of the scientific process. All this – instead of embracing a new tool that can help verify scientific research, support it, help scientists work faster!

The point I’m trying to make is this – why even compare humanity to machines. Any apocalyptic sci-fi will tell you that making machines more similar to human’s is bad. While obviously this is an oversimplification, I still think that looking to mimic or compete with something that’s allready there is useless. Instead, why not look for ways to complement our thinking. We are allready forced to think about what makes us the way we are to improve machine learning and thinking. I personaly think that we should use this knowledge to recognize processes where computers are better, and find how to integrate them with human reasoning. 

If we return to Eureqa’s example – the program can sort out a big batch of data and verify many different equations that represent it, but it can only assess the quality of it’s resultant functions and guess randomly what changes to make to the function in order to improve it. Why not look for ways to take the parts of the program scientists are good at – recognizing and proving function are good – and integrate that process into the program. Why not take it further and allow any human do it, like in FoldIT. 

I hope we’ll eventually get over our egos and paranoia and focus on the usability of our inventions, leading to advancements in all fields of research.

via tumblr http://vehpus.tumblr.com/post/16590650052 at January 27, 2012 at 09:57PM. Originally posted on http://vehpus.tumblr.com

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Social gaming – “it’s our responsibility… to demand more honest and fulfilling fun from our entertainment.”

December 22, 2012

Social gaming – “it’s our responsibility… to demand more honest and fulfilling fun from our entertainment.” :

I love (and sort of hate, I guess) finding articles that say exactly the things I think about.

I’ve always found psychology to be a very interesting and practical field of work. Though it may be hard to quantify and measure behaviors in humans, it is not impossible – that is why psychological research is helping people to an ever growing extent in modern times – be it through proper medication for mental conditions, behavioral therapy or simply tips regarding cognitive functions that are making many people’s live’s better every day.

All the application of psychology I listed above contribute to people’s well being, and while not all methods are as precise or effective, they are helping people change their behavior according to their will. For example – helping a person with “ticks” overcome his obsessive behavior. But as they say, “with great power, comes great responsibility”. 

Even when ignoring problematic experiments and psychological torture, there are still many ways to misuse even the best theraputic practices. If we put asside drug abuse, the main concern that comes to mind, and rightly so, is behavioral modification. The same methods that can help overcome bad habits and teach us to act in more positive ways can be used, if applied correctly, to coerce us into an activity, which we might rationalize as entertaining but wouldn’t have neccesairily engaged in williningly having seen it’s outcome. This article raises a flag on one example – the social gaming industry – whose buisness model relies heavily on influencing players to dedicate time, and eventually, money, with their games.

Even if we put aside the debate regarding the merits of playing a game (described in the article as “‘easy’ vs. ‘hard’ fun”), the major concern, in my idea, is the weak but effective coersion techniques used to getting players involved in the games. If that seems to harsh of a judgement, read this. People payed to click cows… COWS… and now that they’re gone, there are still people playing… So what if their moo sounds are cute!

Despite the above rant, the point I’m trying to make has nothing to do with the games – while I despise them and find them problematic, my main issue is with the idea that this is a working, effective buisness, based on “clicking nothing” games. I can’t imagine working and supporting such an endavor – coming to work to develop games that lure people into a psychological experiment, for which they have to pay (THAT would actually be illegal in modern standards). It’s not about good or bad, but rather about the human hours wasted by both users and company on “clicking nothing”. I feel the way Luis Von Ahn fealt about the captchas.

I try to fill this blog with ideas that make our lives more fulfilling – doing something because it contributes to something else – not just for that something’s sake. I do it because I think that be it through crowdsourced efforts or individual developments, we are building, block by block, a better tommorow through todays technologies, when we try to look at them practicly rather than as a buisness or something cool. I want to eventually pitch and develop an idea that will take part in this trend.

Zynga is the exact opposite of this vision – it bases its success solely on the effectivness of its buisness model, which isn’t a great feat considering how virality and reinforcement are easy to achieve these days. The fact that the internet is so widely based on these economically oriented buisness models (AKA heavy advertising, paid subscription, etc’) is both outdated an a missed opportunity in my opinion – why waste people’s time? There are many examples of successful projects that garnered interest because of their value, not their buisness potential. I wish with all my heart more buisnesses would look into generating a valuble service or by-product as a way to get funded, rather than the methods listed above. 

Returning to social games, and more specifically, the gamers – it’s time to set up higher standards for what we do in our spare time, even in games. Look at the many options today – games that are smartly designed, thought games, games with a social message, or full fledged GWAPs (games with a purpose) – we have enough variety to chose critically on what to invest our time in. In the end, any time we spend on any activity should be valuable to us, and is in fact valuable for the companies (time is easily to capitalise. Therefore, I believe a true shift in gamers interest could, if direct enough, force a shift in buisness strategies as well. The question remains – how to engage a large enough crowd?

via tumblr http://vehpus.tumblr.com/post/16429768891 at January 25, 2012 at 01:09AM. Originally posted on http://vehpus.tumblr.com

Musings on photography

December 22, 2012

Musings on photography:

I’ve always liked taking photographs (to the point I’d carry around a camera to school and take pictures of the classroom boards rather than copying notes). In the end of 2010 I bought a DSLR and started toying around with it. Then I took a photography class in early 2011, and kept on going from there.

I’ve been unable however to take photographs for a while, though, due to a personal illness. I’m better now, and today I got a chance to learn another photography skill, during a workshop I took part in today on high speed photography. 

But this is not a photography blog. I post my works elsewhere. What I wanted to share is another story for today, that linked nicely.

Before the workshop, I was at work. Returning from a morning meeting to the office, I decided to take a coffee break in our buildings coffee booth. Wanting to take some time off, I started up a conversation with the guy who ran the booth, who served as a barkeep of sorts – serving drinks and starting up a conversation.

I don’t remember how but our conversation got to photography. The guy also enjoys it and we got to a cool discussion on our different works. Eventually, the discussion got around to photography’s part in our lives: neither of us saw it as a future carreer, despite having put a lot of money and time. You could call it art for art’s sake, but neither of us felt that way. 

Instead, we got to an agreement that photography was a tool for self expression and a prism through which we looked at the world. Becoming proficient in photography allowed us both to preserve moments in our lives the way we want them too rather than the way our memories or others preserve them, as well as look for beauty in everyday lives, as framing pictures from what we see becomes a habit. 

To me, this was a nice realization – I fealt like I was finally able to explain to others, but mainly to myself, what was the source for my passion with photography. I believe that matters a lot – knowing what I want from an activity or technology is what allows me to use it best, as well as invest in the right things. This is the reason I care for versatility enough to try a lot of equipment, but know the limit of quality I’m shooting for.  

Hopefully, the skills I learnt in the high speed photography workshop will allow me to expand my horizons as a photographer, but also as a person. The skill is there, and once I better refine how to use it, I’ll buy the appropriate tools. What’s lovely is how many options we have these days to express ourselves in many methods technologies and mediums.

**The blog linked in the title is written by the workshop’s instructor – I highly recommend it!

via tumblr http://vehpus.tumblr.com/post/16323106045 at January 23, 2012 at 02:48AM. Originally posted on http://vehpus.tumblr.com

The Power of Internet Tools

December 22, 2012

The Power of Internet Tools:

It’s amazing how much we can learn about people’s oppinions these days through the internet. Even if we ignore the whole development of Web 2.0 as a platform for self expression,  companies today are gathering more and more data about our activities, and it’s publication seems to indicate something about ourselves. 

Look at the “autocomplete” example here – using google’s autocomplete to verify popular responses for certain topucs. It’s obviously demostrated in jest in this case, but some people take it very seriously. I got an email last month about a campaign in Romania called “Romanians are Smart”. Here’s a link explaining the idea behind it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDY-Q7oCbfw&feature=related. The amazing part – this link was sent to me by a Romanian from the United Nations!

Protests also seem like a great example of the impact of internet tools, rather than the user expressions they allow. SOPA and PIPA blackouts had a very large impact on support for the bills – and not just because of the user base, but because of the tool that repreesents them.

Internet tools have basicly become a tool for describing public trends without requiring direct input. With facebook expanding its sharing function to pretty much post an update on anything you do in your life, I’m guessing we’re going to see more use of the internet for these causes in the coming years. 

via tumblr http://vehpus.tumblr.com/post/16141338979 at January 20, 2012 at 02:10AM. Originally posted on http://vehpus.tumblr.com

Groundbreaking Technology and Services – Based on Gaming Innovations

December 22, 2012

Groundbreaking Technology and Services – Based on Gaming Innovations:

Before I even begin, you HAVE to see this video, if you haven’t allready (more here). 

Allow me to ignore the obvious fact that this is an awesome feat technologically speaking – I see no discussion there. What I love about what Johnny Chung Lee did there, and in the other link I added,  is that he took gaming technology and demonstrated how it could be made into new technology – some of which can even be applied outside of gaming. 

I think this is a prime example of a general trend in the past years – with games becoming more popular and widespread, their technology is becoming comparable, and even more advanced, than day-to-day technology in terms of ingeniouity, interface, and productivity.

The webpage I linked is an example of that in one of the most active technological frontiers these days – cloud computing. What you see is an amazing product in itself – a cloud service that can provide you, as long as you have the addequate connectivity requirement, a fully functional windows environment with cloud storage from ANY device (Macs, iPads, Android devices…). As a person whose main reason to buy a laptop rather than an iPad was the iPad’s lack of Microsoft office and proper multitasking, this can allow me to enjoy the best of both worlds. And by processing all the data on the cloud, it shouldn’t be too heavy on my mobile device.

But here’s the punch – this solution was not originally designed for work (or at the very least, it’s not the company’s direct pitch). Notice that the link is not to the company’s website (www.onlive.com) but rather to its desktop product. Go to http://www.onlive.com and you’ll discover a cloud-based gaming platform – same pitch, only now the processing power is much more important. This could allow you, assuming the proper gesture translation is applied, to play any PC game on your iPad’s processor (which still can’t compare to a PC of Mac)!

With developments in gaming influencing technology so directly, innovation is bound to soar in the upcoming years – originality is the very idea behind great games.

via tumblr http://vehpus.tumblr.com/post/15970291114 at January 17, 2012 at 12:14AM. Originally posted on http://vehpus.tumblr.com

Technological Breakthroughs by Engaging the Crowd

December 22, 2012

Technological Breakthroughs by Engaging the Crowd:

Rather than discussing another example of engaging people in a virtual environment, conducting science experiments through various simulations, calculations or input from people analyzing data, this new endeavor is trying something even more promising: use input from over 50 radio telescopes – impressive pieces of equipment all by themselves – and integrate them into a single coherent image of a never-before-recorded phenomenon – a black hole.

This just sounds incredibly exciting, and suggests a great trend for scientific research: integrating the work of several scientists into one coherent and impressive result. I really hope to hear more of this research soon !

via tumblr http://vehpus.tumblr.com/post/15845304565 at January 14, 2012 at 11:15PM. Originally posted on http://vehpus.tumblr.com

Turning the Sour Sweet

December 22, 2012

Turning the Sour Sweet:

Sorry in advanced – the link’s written in Hebrew. Since most of you won’t be able to read it without Google Translate, and machine translation isn’t exactly something I’d put my trust in, here’s the general idea: technological advances in our homes should, in the foreseeable future, make more “working dads”. This will happen by enhancing day-to-day technology, like refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and micros, to make daily chores more engaging. The article suggests integrating gamification, social network integration and general web connectivity to achieve this goal.

To sum up his idea in one phrase – the idea is that in the upcoming years, annoying tasks are going to become more fun.

This is a concept I love and try to share as much as possible. Try to look at a task, a service, a requirement one way and re-purpose it in a way that gives it additional value. Making a game out of cleaning clothes, or streamlining  shopping and cooking with other tasks will make them easier to do and allow us to enjoy more parts of our lives, if applied correctly.

This is just another demonstration of the impact technology can have on our lies. I hope that the writer’s hopes will indeed come true – that future technology will strive to make all of our lives better by both making direct progress and improving what’s already here.  

via tumblr http://vehpus.tumblr.com/post/15844043041 at January 14, 2012 at 10:51PM. Originally posted on http://vehpus.tumblr.com

Missing out on the purpose

December 22, 2012

Missing out on the purpose:

I’ve heard about Google’s “social search” a few days ago, and, while I wasn’t impressed, it didn’t bother me to much. I didn’t see much use to the tool, and having Google turned to Hebrew by default due to localisation, I didn’t get to use it. I heard people didn’t like it, but didn’t form an opinion. I can’t say that I can say I already do.

What I read in the linked article, however, concerns me, and seems to agree with my world view on internet services.

The article has a very simple complaint – when I make a Google search, I don’t look necessarily for social results. Sure, they can be relevant (finding Facebook’s CEO’s Facebook account was an example given in the article) but they don’t rank higher than my regular searches. Frankly, if I am looking for social searches, I search the social service itself – acebook, Twitter, as well as Google+ have great search functions that display post results. Considering the “social results” only display results from one social network (you guessed it – Google+), the new function is a huge miss. Let’s ignore for a second that the same function exists within Google+ – the purpose of the main search tool in Google is not to find social results – which is exactly what the article linked argues.

I won’t go on a rant on purpose like in the Matrix, and frankly I discuss it throughout the blog, but I think it’s clear that missing out on the reason your tool is great is just a huge misstep. But rather than cut the tool short (as is usually the case with problematic tools), I’d suggest another thing – add a social tab to google, like the image and video tab, and begin integrating more networks and services (like the great real time tool – a real gem, that closed for no decent reason). 

In any case, only time will tell what will become of this tool. I hope it won’t remain in it’s current state for too long.

via tumblr http://vehpus.tumblr.com/post/15783667430 at January 13, 2012 at 08:58PM. Originally posted on http://vehpus.tumblr.com

Google is already teaching itself voice recognition

December 22, 2012

Google is already teaching itself voice recognition:

If you read this article, you’ll notice it’s mostly about google’s voice recognition becoming international. Cool stuff, honestly, but you can’t learn or contribute to that too easily – you know a finite number of languages, and it’s much too hard to learn voice processing algorithms by yourself.

But then if you’ll read closer, you’ll notice a paragraph discussing the algorithm itself. Specifically, it says there that “As word spreads and millions of Koreans, Indians or Russians, for example, discover they can Google with just their voices, the model actually starts training itself, through what Cohen calls “unsupervised learning.””. 

If you’ve ever used voice recognition software, you’ll know that you always need to train it before using it. What this article is basically saying is that Google has found a learning algorithm that can put an end to this madness!

Two more points:

  • My guess is the voice recognition data is far more valuable than search. If you ask me, rather then have it be a tool to further searches on their site, google might just start selling the recognition data to companies interested in international voice recognition.
  • I’m kind of dissapointed by one part of the localisation process google is using for this project. Not that flying around to interview thousands of people in the native toungue isn’t cool, but why not try doing it digitally first. Obviously betas for searches would work badly because they won’t be impressive and because you won’t gather the data, but then what I’d do is build a game that makes users say what you need them to say. Not only would it be completely original (I don’t know any game that you can interact with by voice as a main feature yet), it could easily gather an audience if made the right way (and given for free, off course).

via tumblr http://vehpus.tumblr.com/post/15715934161 at January 12, 2012 at 10:00AM. Originally posted on http://vehpus.tumblr.com

The Internet Choir

December 22, 2012

The Internet Choir:

My brother shared this project with me yesterday – it’s an international choir made up from thousands of videos of people singing different parts of a piece. I’ll record my part and join this “crowdsourcing choir” myself – and encourage anyone interested to join. I’m sure it’ll be great!

via tumblr http://vehpus.tumblr.com/post/15641263693 at January 11, 2012 at 01:46AM. Originally posted on http://vehpus.tumblr.com


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