Monthly Archives: May 2016

Updates from Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech Research Finds Fan Communities Are Reshaping the Social Web for the Better
By Joshua Preston – Modern fan groups predate the Internet by more than half a century (think Star Trek conventions), and their shared interests include everything from science fiction to knitting. But replicating the connections fans make in person in a digital space has proved difficult.

Instead, groups with special interests are often forced onto Facebook and other social media with a one-size-fits-all approach to interacting online.

By adopting a user-centric approach to design, this community has created a rarity on the web, a “digital commons” without advertising where harassment is almost nonexistent, and a large installed audience enjoys a culture of genuine diversity.

The study, from Georgia Tech and University of Colorado-Boulder, is based on the website Archive of Our Own (AO3), an 840,000 member community of fan fiction or “fanfic” writers who post and share user-generated content. The site was launched in 2008 and boasts nearly 2 million story posts to date.

“AO3’s success demonstrates how beneficial it is to have a technology’s users as part of its development team,” said Casey Fiesler, lead researcher on the study while a Ph.D. candidate at Georgia Tech, and now assistant professor at University of Colorado-Boulder.

“What makes the rise of this online platform exceptional is that it was built primarily by its fans, some of whom started with little or no programming experience,” said Amy Bruckman, a professor of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech and author on the study. more>


How free market ideology perverts the vocabulary of democracy


How Propaganda Works, Author: Jason Stanley.
The New Jim Crow, Author: Michelle Alexander.

By Jason Stanley – Free market ideology uses democratic vocabulary as propaganda, obscuring a non-democratic reality.

Take education. In a liberal democracy, education equips citizens with the tools and confidence to weigh in on policy decisions and play a role in their own self-governance. Hence, democratic education is at the very center of democratic political philosophy, as the philosophies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau [2, 3, 4, 5], W E B Du Bois [2, 3, 4, 5], John Dewey [2, 3, 4, 5] and Elizabeth Cady Stanton [2, 3, 4, 5] attest.

But the US rhetoric surrounding education is explicitly anti-democratic. Citizens prefer ‘efficient’ education systems that train children to perform vocational tasks, rather than education that fosters community, autonomy and civic participation.

The rhetoric politicians use when running for office is usually explicitly anti-democratic. Managerial culture is paradigmatically undemocratic: a CEO is like a feudal lord.

Free market ideology has perverted democratic vocabulary, transforming it into propaganda that, in turn, obscures an anti-democratic reality. more>

Is the End of Economics 101 Nigh? Nordic Bankers May Know Answer

By Peter Levring – Is the link between monetary policy and inflation broken?

Though Denmark is using negative rates to defend the krone’s peg to the euro, the unprecedented period of monetary stimulus provides some clues as to how such a policy affects price developments. The experiences may ultimately upend the basic assumptions that have dominated central bank theory since the 1990s, when inflation targeting became popular.

In Sweden, where central bank rates have been negative for more than a year, Riksbank Deputy Governor Cecilia Skingsley said monetary policy may need to become more “flexible” in future. That’s because the existing framework is “not really as efficient as it was previously perceived to be,” she said. more>

The empty brain


In Our Own Image, Author: George Zarkadakis.
The Computer and the Brain, Author: John von Neumann.
How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, Author: Ray Kurzweil.
Remembering, Author: Frederic Bartlett.
The Future of the Brain, Author: Steven Rose.

By Robert Epstein – Here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently.

Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them – ever.

We don’t store words or the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. We don’t create representations of visual stimuli, store them in a short-term memory buffer, and then transfer the representation into a long-term memory device. We don’t retrieve information or images or words from memory registers. Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not.

Computers, quite literally, process information – numbers, letters, words, formulas, images. The information first has to be encoded into a format computers can use, which means patterns of ones and zeros (‘bits’) organized into small chunks (‘bytes’).

Computers really do operate on symbolic representations of the world. They really store and retrieve. They really process. They really have physical memories. They really are guided in everything they do, without exception, by algorithms.

Humans, on the other hand, do not – never did, never will.

Given this reality, why do so many scientists talk about our mental life as if we were computers? more>


Updates from GE

Times Are Exponentially A-Changin’ — And You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet, Says The X Prize’s Peter Diamandis
By Tomas Kellner – “We are in a period when extraordinary things are starting to happen,” Diamandis said at the Exponential Manufacturing summit in Boston, an event held by Singularity University, the future-facing think tank/startup incubator that Diamandis co-founded with the legendary inventor Ray Kurzweil eight years ago.

“You have to surf on top of the tsunami of change or you will be crushed by it.”

One of the “exponential” concepts discussed at the conference was the digital thread, a kind of a digital birth certificate that will allow companies to monitor products at every stage of their life, from birth to death. Andre Wegner, founder and CEO of the 3D-printing strategy firm Authentise, told the audience that parts will soon come equipped with sensors that will report back to the design system when the component breaks.

GE businesses have already started deploying parts of the digital thread.

The technology allowed GE to add a whole new production line to the Florence factory — which was already very competitive — without building a new production hall or adding a new shift. “It’s helping them to squeeze more out of their facilities,” says Stephan Biller, chief manufacturing scientist at GE Global Research, who helped develop the digital thread.

“I can go in and see what happens if I take a machine out. The factory will reoptimize itself instantly and the system will tell me what the consequences of adding or taking away resources are.” more>

The end of code —

By Edward C. Monaghan – Over the past several years, the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley have aggressively pursued an approach to computing called machine learning.

In traditional programming, an engineer writes explicit, step-by-step instructions for the computer to follow. With machine learning, programmers don’t encode computers with instructions. They train them.

If you want to teach a neural network to recognize a cat, for instance, you don’t tell it to look for whiskers, ears, fur, and eyes. You simply show it thousands and thousands of photos of cats, and eventually it works things out.

But here’s the thing: With machine learning, the engineer never knows precisely how the computer accomplishes its tasks. The neural network’s operations are largely opaque and inscrutable. It is, in other words, a black box.

The implications of an unparsable machine language aren’t just philosophical. A world run by neurally networked deep-learning machines requires a different workforce.

Analysts have already started worrying about the impact of AI on the job market, as machines render old skills irrelevant. Programmers might soon get a taste of what that feels like themselves.

Danny Hillis [2] has declared the end of the age of Enlightenment, our centuries-long faith in logic, determinism, and control over nature. Hillis says we’re shifting to what he calls the age of Entanglement. more>

Fixing the American Commute

By Patrick Sisson – These tunnels and rail systems, a chokepoint in a vital circulation system, now stand not as monuments to American accomplishment but as symbols of decline. The most recent Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers said the country would need to spend $3.6 trillion to repair our country’s crumbling roads, rails, pipes, power grids.

For comparison, the entire 2015 federal budget was $3.8 trillion.

The nation’s largest rail systems, all chronically underfunded, face a $102 billion repair backlog, and the Washington Metro that services the nation’s capital may be shut down for months due to aging equipment and electrical lines. In March, the Twitter account for Bay Area Rapid Transit responded to riders complaining of delays with unvarnished truth: “BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality.”

According to John Olivieri, 21st century transportation campaign director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, that reality is the result of regular budget decisions favoring expanding roadways over maintaining mass transit.

The United States spends 55 percent of available transportation funding expanding one percent of the system, and 45 percent maintaining the other 99 percent. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Four ways to make hospitals more efficient
By Chana R. Schoenberger – Hospital patient records are being digitized, and financial, clinical, and outcomes data are piling up.

Medical devices attached to patients generate real-time information, as do health apps on patients’ own mobile phones and wearable devices such as Fitbits and Apple Watches.

All these data are enabling researchers to find and address inefficiencies in hospitals.

The end goal: help hospitals care for the sick while also being operationally and fiscally efficient.

As building and equipping a single hospital bed can cost $1 million, simply building more beds and hospitals is not a practical solution. Rather, strained hospitals have to use their existing resources more wisely. more>


Updates from Boeing

Boeing’s Converted Freighters: 20 More Years of Life
Boeing – The number of airplanes in the worldwide freighter fleet will increase by more than half during the next 20 years as demand for air cargo services more than doubles.

The challenging market environment of the past three years have left traffic levels relatively flat, resulting in persistent overcapacity and weak yields. Cargo capacity on passenger flights has been expanding as airlines deploy new widebody jetliners, such as the 777-300ER and 787, that have large lower-hold cargo capacities, even with a full load of passenger luggage.

Dedicated freighter services nonetheless offer significant advantages, including more predictable and reliable volumes and schedules, greater control over timing and routing, and a variety of services for outsize cargo, hazardous materials, and other types of cargo that cannot be accommodated in passenger airplanes.

In addition, range restrictions on fully loaded passenger flights and the limited number of passenger frequencies serving high-demand cargo markets make freighters essential where both long-range and frequent service are required.

For example, the Asia-to-North America market requires about 70 freighter flights. It would take about 150 passenger flights to provide service equivalent to 10 of those freighter flights. more>

Uncanny Valley

By Anna Wiener – This office, of a media app with millions in VC funding but no revenue model, is particularly sexy. There are views of the city in every direction, fat leather loveseats, electric guitars plugged into amps, teak credenzas with white hardware. It looks like the loft apartment of the famous musician boyfriend I thought I’d have at 22 but somehow never met. I want to take off my dress and my shoes and lie on the voluminous sheepskin rug and eat fistfuls of MDMA, curl my naked body into the Eero Aarnio Ball Chair, never leave.

It’s not clear whether I’m here for lunch or an interview, which is normal. I am prepared for both and dressed for neither. My guide leads me through the communal kitchen, which has the trappings of every other start-up pantry: plastic bins of trail mix and Goldfish, bowls of Popchips and miniature candy bars.

Around here, we nonengineers are pressed to prove our value. The hierarchy is pervasive, ingrained in the industry’s dismissal of marketing and its insistence that a good product sells itself; evident in the few “office hours” established for engineers (our scheduled opportunity to approach with questions and bugs); reflected in our salaries and equity allotment, even though it’s harder to find a good copywriter than a liberal-arts graduate with a degree in history and twelve weeks’ training from an uncredentialed coding dojo.

Our soft skills are a necessary inconvenience. We bloat payroll; we dilute conversation; we create process and bureaucracy; we put in requests for yoga classes and Human Resources. We’re a dragnet — though we tend to contribute positively to diversity metrics. There is quiet pity for the MBAs.

This is a cozy home for believers in bootstrapping and meritocracy, proponents of shallow libertarianism. more>