How Artificial is the Hype Around AI?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is growing into big business. Machine learning, a subset of AI, is expected to reach $8.81 billion by 2022. After millennia of automaton dreams and decades of AI hype, the ability to automate tasks is becoming reality for an ever-widening range of applications. Increasingly, researchers are applying machine learning to power their AI, from the onslaught of costumer-centric chatbots and product recommendations to self-driving cars and future scenario forecasting.

The How

In computer science, a computer is programmed with an algorithm, a set of directions to follow in order to accomplish a task. Machine learning is the use of algorithms to enable a machine to effectively learn from the data it is fed. Often, the more algorithms a machine is programmed with and the more data it is fed, the more complex it can become. Therefore, the machine will appear more (artificially) intelligent to humans.

The hype surrounding AI in general and machine learning specifically is due in large part to the upsurge in big data. With big data, we’re talking about very large sets of data especially those generated from the internet. So, the machines are able to recognize more intricate patterns, and therefore, they are more useful for industries.

The What

There are multiple ways to program a machine with algorithms for machine learning. The primary methods (although there a couple of others) are:

  1. Supervised learning: the algorithms are directed toward a specific answer. For example, if a car drives past a line on the intersection while the light is still yellow, snap a photo. If the license plate is identifiable, search for an address. If the address is found, send traffic citation.
  2. Unsupervised learning: the machine is given data to process and identify patterns with few or no instructions. It works really well with retail payments to identify demographics of customers by their purchases. Usually, this information is applied to an algorithm that will predict future customer behavior. Such predictions are usually more accurate than if the unsupervised learning were not performed.
  3. Deep learning: human brains are artificially simulated in a machine using whole groups of algorithms. These simulated brains are capable of processing information of larger sets of data at faster rates. More importantly, deep learning machines are capable of recognizing images and sounds. So, deep learning is driving self-driving cars and automated language translation.
  4. Cognitive computing: some people argue that the term is a marketing buzzword. However, scientists have combined our current understanding of cognitive science with deep learning, computer vision, and other fields. IBM’s Watson which won on Jeopardy is the primary example.

The Who

Instead, of relying so heavily on AI, many experts are calling for hybrid intelligence, a relationship between humans and machines that will improve the thinking of both. In other words, an AI drives the car while we keep our hands on the steering wheel and our foot on the brake pedal. The car’s primary directive is safety, and the car will, therefore, drive at a speed that is appropriate to all the information it is given. However, the driver is still alert to any dangers the car may not recognize.

For millennia, humanity has created automatons to show off our godlike abilities of creation. Forecasters and science fiction authors have helped foster the narrative that AI will either save or destroy humanity. And now some people even want to create AI gods. Once society has deified or demonized something, it is much more difficult to think of it as an equal.

But Why?

Researchers do not fully comprehend how the most advanced algorithms work. Many of these algorithms are unsupervised learners after all. This issue is key because the algorithms could easily make mistakes. A car driven by deep learning/ cognitive computing could plow down a pedestrian, or a smart house could allow a murderer to walk through the front door. These are hypothetical, but mistakes of some sort are likely to be made. Who takes responsibility for those mistakes? How could researchers address such mistakes if they don’t even understand the process that led the machine to make such decisions?

The root question from all of this research, of course, is whether any of the machine learning techniques create machines that are actually intelligent. As far as Douglas Hofstadter is concerned, they aren’t because they do not mimic thinking even if they mimic the human mind. He believes thinking depends heavily on the analogies we as individuals use to view the world and our place in it. If Hofstadter if correct, perhaps we need to hold off on applying these AI techniques to dangerous domains like driving until our machines can understand our cultural perspectives.

The above was written for Excel4theStreet


Does it Matter if your Degree is Accredited?

Accreditation has been a very important part of the education sector for decades. As technology has changed access to education (especially home-based learning), many traditional ideas about education have been questioned. Since accreditation is supplied by organizations tasked with maintaining tradition, the need for accreditation is also being questioned.

From Home

The idea of gaining a university education from home is nothing new. It dates back to at least 1892 when the University of Chicago began offering university-level courses via the US Postal Service. Various other institutions developed distance learning courses and programs as technology advanced. A university-level education was offered on the radio in 1921, television in 1963, online via satellite in 1985, and fully online in 1993.

Since the advent of online courses in the early 90s, many students have gotten degrees from accredited universities either online or with a combination of online and on campus. Some graduates have even furthered their education using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), all from the comfort of their own homes. As technology has advanced so too has the methods of education. Online tools such as video chats and social media platforms have enabled online courses to more effectively simulate an on-campus education.

To Competency

Now, competency-based learning is gaining traction in the US and around the world. Competency-based learning is focused on educating people who may not perform well in a classroom environment but are still capable of doing the work that employers require. And employers are responding favorably with competency-based hiring policies.

Now, unaccredited courses and programs are being recognized by employers because of the focus on competency over grades. So, the choice is no longer about whether to take online courses but whether to take accredited courses at all. High school graduates have to decide if getting a traditional, university degree is worth the time, effort and money required for attending an accredited institution. MOOCs offer a more self-guided learning process that is easily adaptable and relevant for the student.

In the Gig Economy

The future of work appears to be steering more and more to a gig economy. In other words, most of us can kiss goodbye any hopes for a permanent position with a reputable company. That may mean your education would need to change as often as your job does. Would anyone really care if your degree is accredited when the direction of your education changes that often?

Employers are already developing relationships with MOOCs, and they may care more about the merits of particular courses and the teachers than the school or its accreditation. So, many students may focus more on attending the courses and schools that a particular company deems worthwhile. At that point, the University of Google might actually accept students from any level with the intention of employing them at Google once their competence is proven.

About Learning

Ultimately, the question of accreditation still boils down to what the student wants to achieve. Every worker – whether they are employees, business owners, or freelance contractors – will require some combination of learning from an institution and from their organization.

  • Business owners need training on a range of topics from a variety of sources. So, MOOCs make sense because they offer the range of topics, and no one cares about accreditation if the business’ products and/ or services are of a high standard.
  • Employees will need specialized training within their organization regardless of how much education they have. In fact, the less time their education takes, the shorter their training will need to be according to one small study.
  • Freelancers who work from home benefit from MOOCs because of the ability to customize their education and narrow their unique selling proposition.

Therefore, your most important skill, no matter who you are, will be learning how to learn. Teaching how to learn is not a strength for most accredited institutions. Perhaps, the most effective way to acquire those skills is to think through multiple futures and how those scenarios should affect your education now.

The above was originally written for Excel4theStreet

The Cultural Lag of Blockchain

Blockchain technology is much like the internet in the mid-90s. They compare because both are complex technologies that have been poorly communicated by experts. The industry needs a good spokesperson who understands the technicalities but can also communicate with the uninitiated. Most importantly, the industry needs someone who can provide a balanced and realistic view of the opportunities and risks.

A Bit of History

Even before Bitcoin was introduced, several organizations had already tried implementing digital currency. Digital currencies attempted to enter the mainstream amid promises of a cashless society versus warnings of malware and digital insecurity. However, credit cards and bank cards were already pushing physical cash out of most consumer wallets and cybersecurity was tightening up.

The mainstream logic is that a cashless society will be more secure. Without cash, petty thieves will stop the violent robberies of convenient stores and even bank heists will become a thing of the past. At least, that’s what digital currency proponents have proclaimed through the years.

A Bit of Coin

Much of the difficulty for previous digital currencies was more political than economic. It wasn’t until Bitcoin introduced the blockchain in 2009 that cryptocurrencies became fully decentralized. With the security and transparency that blockchain offers, the notion of replacing national fiat currency became popular.

The blockchain is a distributed ledger which anyone can read, and it makes Bitcoin more secure and more transparent than cash. It also means the currency never goes through a bank or similar institution. Therefore, the fees are much lower, and no central authority can target your account. However, no central authority can guarantee any goods or services in exchange for a bitcoin.

As strong as proponents want to make Bitcoin sound, it has its weaknesses. The cybersecurity alarms rang loudly recently when both CoinDash and Swarm City were hacked. Bitcoin became associated with drug cartels and other criminals such as human traffickers. Whether these associations between Bitcoin and the black market are fair or not is irrelevant. The key point is how society will adapt to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

A Block of Chain

Now the hype has moved from Bitcoin to its underlying technology, the blockchain itself. Researchers see the role blockchain can play in innovation expanding beyond mere currency. From powering a better internet and keeping better records to trading shares and securing real estate, blockchain is expected to improve much more than just payments. Even Airbnb wants a piece of the action.

In fact, some commentators have said that the blockchain is more promising than the currency. They say the value of the blockchain will exceed the currency that brought it to life. Still others claim that blockchain without Bitcoin is pure folly. These experts claim that this year, 2017, will be the hallmark year when Bitcoin reigns supreme, albeit with blockchain supporting it. In fact, both sides of the debate may be correct. The truth may be somewhere in the middle.

A Lag of Culture

Bitcoin, Ethereum, and all the other blockchain based cryptocurrencies have their strengths and weaknesses. Yet, amid both the positive and negative hype, it is often difficult to tell what the reality of the situation is. Proponents are naturally biased, and detractors have their own agendas.

The reason for this is a phenomenon known as cultural lag. Every time a new technology is released to the world, its introduction is accompanied by idealist utopian promises and reactionary dystopian warnings. However, the reality is always somewhere in the middle.

All of this plays out while the technology rolls through four key stages: technology developers, the industrial sector, government, and society as a whole. The truth is often lost in the translation between each of the four stages. The cultural lag of both cryptocurrency and blockchain is still playing out. Governments are still trying to decide what to do with the cryptocurrencies. Society will need government to address the challenge before the masses start to understand it.

The above was written for Excel4theStreet

I've got mail from MyPostcard

Scanning hit for the future of postal services and customer experience

I’ve been working on a bit of research about the future of mail and couriers. One of the coolest bits of research I found is MyPostcard.

MyPostcard is actually a scanning hit for a trend I’ve been following for a hospitality company. The hospitality industry has been focused on customer experience, experience design, and the role tech plays in curating these experiences. Especially with luxury brands, the success is in the details.

People are buying tailored suits. They are buying more hand-made products. Bespoke products and services are the leaders at the moment. Customers are wanting concierge service from personal butlers. There are modern accommodations that are treating the staff like servants from an upstairs/ downstairs drama. Nostalgia is a key driver, but so too is the desire for high-quality, personalized experiences that technology just doesn’t quite deliver.

MyPostcard is a perfect example of how tech can enable and even drive this trend. First, the app for Android or Apple has a great user experience. It’s easy to upload images, write text, and even sign the card.

You can choose from postcards, greeting cards, XXL greeting cards, or photo prints. You can also order them in bulk. The XXL cards are very cool. I sent two to my parents in the states from here in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. They print photos of the kids all the time, but the cards of our own design featuring photos of the kids and the kids’ signatures/ drawings gave them a special thrill. It was an inexpensive gift that will pay dividends in maintaining relationships between my parents and their grandchildren. My kids love the postcards I sent them too. The app is so easy, even my parents have learned how to use it and send some to my kids.

This is the kind of experience that is both nostalgic and modern. Although society is still pushing toward being completely paperless for all the bills and correspondence that used to flood the mail services, customers still need mail and courier services. This need is expected to continue until Amazon Prime Air can handle all of our delivery needs. By then, it will be the United States of Amazon, right? Until then, little touches like these will add value to personal relationships, client relationships, etc.

I should also include that businesses have long offered personalized cards and gifts. Moonpig is one example that has offered online orders since their launch to deliver anywhere in the world. However, MyPostcard is less expensive, and it has a much easier and pleasant UX. MyPostcard offeres the typical greeting card templates if that’s what you want, but their focus is on sharing your images and helping you create your own card from scratch.

I’m working on a more professional post, but I wanted to share my unique code. If you want to try out MyPostcard, enter my code, TVHESH, after creating a new account. You’ll get $3 and I’ll get $3 too. It’s a great way to stay in contact with people.

I've got mail from MyPostcard
I’ve got mail from MyPostcard

More than Money: Get the (Free) Gist on the Future of Blockchain

Our latest Gist report briefly looks at the future of Bitcoin and its related technologies – blockchain, smart contracts and distributed autonomous organizations. Proponents say Bitcoin will decentralize power away from banks and other institutions while distributing it across whole communities. If these promises hold true, Bitcoin will only be the beginning.

Download the whole report for free.

What is changing?

Financial institutions are investing in the blockchain to make their job easier and more secure. R3 CEV is a company specifically set up to help banks trial blockchain technology. They lead a consortium of 42 banks who want to see how blockchain technology could change their industry, the potential of which R3 compares to how the internet changed the music and media industries.

However, the blockchain could be useful for so much more than just financial transactions. Ubitquity has developed a blockchain platform specifically for the real estate industry. The company says the new platform will improve the title transfer process by making it faster, more accurate, and more transparent for fraud prevention. And they say it will improve the due diligence process for the industry.

Multiple organizations are working to use blockchain tech to make voting more secure, and anonymous. In 2014 a major political party in Denmark, the Liberal Alliance, used blockchain tech for its own internal party voting. Since the blockchain relies on consensus anyway, it is inherently a voting platform and could one day be modified by government entities for such purpose.


Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies offer a libertarian ideal that could destabilize the current infrastructure of banks and other powerful institutions. The blockchain offers distributed, secure, trusted and highly scalable architectures that conventional technologies cannot compete with. Although the banking industry is pre-empting disruption by investing in this new technology, many of their business models and revenue streams will be affected especially with increased competition from the tech industry. The opportunity for the financial industry is high, but the potential risks are also large especially for smaller players in the industry.