Big Data

“The best or worst thing to happen to humanity” – Stephen Hawking launches Centre for the Future of Intelligence


Artificial intelligence has the power to eradicate poverty and disease or hasten the end of human civilisation as we know it – according to a speech delivered by Professor Stephen Hawking this evening.



Alongside the benefits, AI will also bring dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many.
Stephen Hawking



Speaking at the launch of the £10million Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence (CFI) in Cambridge, Professor Hawking said the rise of AI would transform every aspect of our lives and was a global event on a par with the industrial revolution.

CFI brings together four of the world’s leading universities (Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley and Imperial College, London) to explore the implications of AI for human civilisation. Together, an interdisciplinary community of researchers will work closely with policy-makers and industry investigating topics such as the regulation of autonomous weaponry, and the implications of AI for democracy.

“Success in creating AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation,” said Professor Hawking. “But it could also be the last – unless we learn how to avoid the risks. Alongside the benefits, AI will also bring dangers like powerful autonomous weapons or new ways for the few to oppress the many.

“We cannot predict what we might achieve when our own minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one – industrialisation.”

The Centre for the Future of Intelligence will initially focus on seven distinct projects in the first three-year phase of its work, reaching out to brilliant researchers and connecting them and their ideas to the challenges of making the best of AI. Among the initial research topics are: ‘Science, value and the future of intelligence’; ‘Policy and responsible innovation’; ‘Autonomous weapons – prospects for regulation’ and ‘Trust and transparency’.

The Academic Director of the Centre, and Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, Huw Price, said: “The creation of machine intelligence is likely to be a once-in-a-planet’s-lifetime event. It is a future we humans face together. Our aim is to build a broad community with the expertise and sense of common purpose to make this future the best it can be.”

Many researchers now take seriously the possibility that intelligence equal to our own will be created in computers within this century. Freed of biological constraints, such as limited memory and slow biochemical processing speeds, machines may eventually become more intelligent than we are – with profound implications for us all.

AI pioneer Professor Maggie Boden (University of Sussex) sits on the Centre’s advisory board and spoke at this evening’s launch. She said: “AI is hugely exciting. Its practical applications can help us to tackle important social problems, as well as easing many tasks in everyday life. And it has advanced the sciences of mind and life in fundamental ways. But it has limitations, which present grave dangers given uncritical use. CFI aims to pre-empt these dangers, by guiding AI development in human-friendly ways.”

“Recent landmarks such as self-driving cars or a computer game winning at the game of Go, are signs of what’s to come,” added Professor Hawking. “The rise of powerful AI will either be the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which. The research done by this centre is crucial to the future of our civilisation and of our species.”

Transcript of Professor Hawking’s speech at the launch of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, October 19, 2016

“It is a great pleasure to be here today to open this new Centre. We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity. So it is a welcome change that people are studying instead the future of intelligence.

Intelligence is central to what it means to be human. Everything that our civilisation has achieved, is a product of human intelligence, from learning to master fire, to learning to grow food, to understanding the cosmos.

I believe there is no deep difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer. It therefore follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence — and exceed it.

Artificial intelligence research is now progressing rapidly. Recent landmarks such as self-driving cars, or a computer winning at the game of Go, are signs of what is to come. Enormous levels of investment are pouring into this technology. The achievements we have seen so far will surely pale against what the coming decades will bring.

The potential benefits of creating intelligence are huge. We cannot predict what we might achieve, when our own minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one — industrialisation. And surely we will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty. Every aspect of our lives will be transformed. In short, success in creating AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation.

But it could also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks. Alongside the benefits, AI will also bring dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It will bring great disruption to our economy. And in the future, AI could develop a will of its own — a will that is in conflict with ours.

In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity. We do not yet know which. That is why in 2014, I and a few others called for more research to be done in this area. I am very glad that someone was listening to me!

The research done by this centre is crucial to the future of our civilisation and of our species. I wish you the best of luck!”

[University of Cambridge]

October 21, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
Watch a fully autonomous Tesla drive through the city and find a parking spot

Fully autonomous Teslas are getting closer to reality. Yesterday, the electric carmaker announced that all new vehicles will come with extra hardware to support “full self-driving capabilities,” and this morning, the company posted a video showing exactly what that hardware can do.

The self-driving software is not finished and has yet to be approved by regulators, but the four-minute clip is nonetheless impressive, showing a Tesla leaving a garage, driving across town, and finding its own parking spot — all autonomously. There is someone sat in the driver’s seat, as per current legal requirements, but they never touch the wheel. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who posted the clip to Twitter, notes that the car is even smart enough to driver past a disabled parking spot, knowing it’s not allowed to park there. He also highlighted the car’s summon function:




All of this technology is a long way from being implemented, but it does raise some interesting questions. Like, what happens if you summon a Tesla on your phone then get on a train — will the car follow you round indefinitely, or will it only drive to the initial summon location? And when is someone going to mod this function so owners can whistle to call their Tesla, like summoning a horse in a video game? It’s all to come.

[The Verge]

October 21, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , , ,
Bendable electronic color ‘paper’ invented

Chalmers’ e-paper contains gold, silver and PET plastic. The layer that produces the colors is less than a micrometer thin. (credit: Mats Tiborn)

Chalmers University of Technology researchers have developed the basic technology for a new kind of reflective electronic “paper” that is micrometer-thin and bendable. It can display all colors displayed on an LED display, but with ten times less energy than a Kindle tablet.


This Chalmers logotype shows how RGB pixels can reproduce color images. The magnification shows which pixels are activated to create elements of the image. (credit: Kunli Xiong)

The technology is based on electrically controllable optical absorption of a conducting polymer, which is used to modulate the reflected light from ultrathin nanostructured plasmonic metasurfaces. (KurzweilAI has covered a number of research projects using reflective plasmonic designs, such as this one and this one.)


The plasmonic metasurfaces. (a) Schematic of the plasmonic metasurface, which has three layers. A 150 nm silver film was first deposited on the substrate to provide a high base reflection. The next alumina spacer layer tuned the reflective color by Fabry–Pérot interference. (b) Then 150 nm nanoholes in a 20 nm gold film were prepared on alumina by colloidal self-assembly and tape stripping. (c) The color palette was created by varying the alumina thickness for the primary colors red, green, and blue, corresponding to an alumina thickness of 48, 93, and 83 nm respectively. (d) A photo of samples with the primary colors under ambient light. (credit: Kunli Xiong et al./Advanced Materials)

“The ‘paper’ is similar to the Kindle tablet,” says Chalmers researcher Andreas Dahlin. “It isn’t lit up like a standard display, but rather reflects the external light which illuminates it. Therefore it works very well where there is bright light, such as out in the sun, in contrast to standard LED displays that work best in darkness. At the same time it needs only a tenth of the energy that a Kindle tablet uses, which itself uses much less energy than a tablet LED display.”

The material is not yet ready for production. One obstacle is that there is gold and silver in the display, which makes the manufacturing expensive, Dahlin explains.

He says optimal applications for the displays will be well-lit places such as outside or in public places for displaying information. This could reduce the energy consumption and at the same time replace signs and information screens that aren’t currently electronic today with more flexible ones.


Abstract of Plasmonic Metasurfaces with Conjugated Polymers for Flexible Electronic Paper in Color

A flexible electronic paper in full color is realized by plasmonic metasurfaces with conjugated polymers. An ultrathin large-area electrochromic material is presented which provides high polarization-independent reflection, strong contrast, fast response time, and long-term stability. This technology opens up for new electronic readers and posters with ultralow power consumption.

October 21, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , , , ,
Robot babies from Japan raise all sorts of questions about how parents bond with AI



Driven by a declining population, a trend for developing robotic babies has emerged in Japan as a means of encouraging couples to become “parents”. The approaches taken vary widely and are driven by different philosophical approaches that also beg a number of questions, not least whether these robo-tots will achieve the aim of their creators.

To understand all of this it is worth exploring the reasons behind the need to promote population growth in Japan. The issue stems from the disproportionate number of older people. Predictions from the UN suggest that by 2050 there will be about double the number of people living in Japan in the 70-plus age range compared to those aged 15-30. This is blamed on a number of factors including so-called “parasite singles”, more unmarried women and a lack of immigration.

So, what are the different design approaches that are being taken to encourage more people to become parents? These have ranged from robots that mimic or represent the behaviour of a baby through to robots that look much more lifelike. Engineers at Toyota recently launched Kirobo Mini, for example, as a means of promoting an emotional response in humans. The robot does not look like a baby, but instead models “vulnerable” baby-like behaviours including recognising and responding to people in a high-pitched tone and being unstable in its movements.

At the other end of the spectrum is Yotaro, a robotic baby simulator that uses projection technology for its face so it can simulate emotions and expressions. The simulator also models reaction to touching, mood and even illness through an in-built runny nose.



Encouraging or off-putting?

Past evidence might suggest that giving couples robotic baby simulators would encourage population growth. Recent educational experiments with robotic babies and teenagers in the US and Australia, for example, found that although robotic babies were tested as a means of deterring teenage pregnancies actually increased among those groups that were allocated robotic babies compared to control groups.

However, it would be too simplistic to say that this might be the same result for all adopters of robotic babies. Ages and cultural differences would play a significant part in any outcome.

As well as aiming to promote a growth in population, researchers are also aiming to prepare young couples for the longer term needs of a child as it grows. Robots have been developed to represent children in a range of age groups, from “nine-month-old” Noby to “two-year-old” toddlers such as CB2 (although the latter is the output of research exploring the development of a biometric body).



While much focus has been on what goes into a baby robot, there are potential emotional issues for “parents”. There have been a number of studies that have examined the relationship between humans and robots. Researchers have discovered a high degree of bonding can form between the two, a bond that is strengthened when the device is a social robot which may have a human-like appearance or portray human-like behaviours.

There are some interesting caveats to this rule of thumb, such as the “uncanny valley” identified by Mashiro Mori, which suggests there is a range of realistic human qualities that humans find repulsive rather than appealing.

At present, development is very much a one-way relationship; one in which the human projects human qualities onto the robot. But there are currently a number of projects underway to develop robots that make use of Artificial Intelligence techniques so that they can form their own relationships with humans.

This then leads to the ethical implications of using robots. Embracing a number of areas of research, robot ethics considers whether the use of a device within a particular field is acceptable and also whether the device itself is behaving ethically. When it comes to robot babies there are already a number of issues that are apparent. Should “parents” be allowed to choose the features of their robot, for example? How might parents be counselled when returning their robot baby? And will that baby be used again in the same form?

These problems may persist throughout the lifespan of the “child”. If a point in time arrives when parents need to swap their robot baby for another due to defects or because they want an older “child”, for example, how might the emotional attachment to the first “child” migrate to the replacement given that this really should be the evolution of the same “person”? In practical terms, this may be possible through software updates similar to updates to apps on smartphones today – or even transplanting components to allow the evolved “child” to retain characteristics and memories, similar to replacing a hard disk drive in a computer.

Even taking Asimov’s “three laws” of robotics into account becomes problematic depending upon the interpretation of the laws. For example, the first law states that a robot should not harm a human being. What if harm can be considered as emotional or psychological? You could argue that a human may be emotionally harmed when bonding with a robot baby as a result of the robot’s actions.

The use of social robots in general raises many issues, both ethical and technical. The problem of declining birthrates is, however, a real and growing problem in a number of nations. Robot babies may not directly prove to be a solution, but it may lead to research that offers better understanding and insight into the problem of birthrate decline. [The Conversation]

October 18, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , , , , ,
How ‘delayed Proof of Work’ will secure other blockchains with Bitcoin’s hashrate



In this whitepaper we discuss a completely new cryptocurrency consensus mechanism, that is as secure as the proof-of-work blockchain to which it attaches itself to (In this case: Bitcoin), but does not require computing power and energy to be wasted.

This system is called Delayed Proof of Work (dPoW) and is achieved by notarizing blocks created in the initial blockchain on the Bitcoin blockchain, ensuring that once the information is engraved on the Bitcoin blockchain, it would be required both blockchains in question to be compromised.


October 15, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
FinTech Is Not a Niche Anymore, It’s a Powerful and Highly Disruptive Industry

Hong Kong skyline, Victoria Harbour between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, view from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong


Declaring the death of FinTech… As a niche

In February this year, Matt Carey, Co-Founder of Abaris, the first direct-to-consumer online marketplace for retirement products, declared the death of FinTech as a niche, saying, “Financial technology (FinTech) as a niche is dead. No, it’s not going away. Rather, financial technology is on the cusp of becoming so entrenched in every aspect of global finance that we’ll stop thinking of it as a niche and start thinking of it as the core of how financial services are delivered to consumers, corporations and institutional investors.”

Catalysts of FinTech establishment as an industry

There are plenty of reasons why FinTech was able to go from being a niche in the financial services industry to a massive industry with highly disruptive potential – customer-centricity, simplicity and scalability, freedom from legacy systems and more. Explaining the FinTech revolution, the Economist has also emphasized such factors as cost efficiency, the absence of the need to protect existing business and lack of regulatory burden along with above-mentioned legacy IT systems/branch networks.

The scalability advantage was possible to gain due to a clever approach to risk assessment and use of smart data to profile potential clients. Smart data represents a more sophisticated approach to data collection and analysis, focusing on meaningful pieces of information for more accurate decisions. Coupled with advanced capabilities of AI and machine learning solutions, smart data opened an opportunity for startups to efficiently derive deeper insights from limited, but relevant data points. As a result, FinTech startups were able to build better solutions based on a better understanding of consumer behavior and needs.

The interest in FinTech from major financial institutions and collaborative efforts also shaped the ground for FinTech to gain attention, traction and growth opportunities. Bank of England, Scotiabank, JPMorgan, Axis Bank, RBC, Barclays, Capital One and a range of other financial institutions have been actively working with FinTech startups to harvest the potential of disruptive technologies that invaded their market.

FinTech is no longer a niche in the financial services industry also because it is no longer necessarily dependent on a core banking service – an account. Challenger banks that have obtained their banking licenses have ended the monopoly on bank accounts. Bank account was one ‘thing’ that made FinTech dependent on the banking system, but no longer – we now can say that there is a FinTech startup for any bank service.

It’s not FinTech that moves into banking business, it’s the other way around

In 2016, it’s not FinTech that moves to ‘copy’ and make banking services better, its banks that are trying to move into FinTech space. Financial institutions have been developing proprietary digital currency, creating alliances to work with the technology brought into the scene by FinTech.

Financial institutions even launch dedicated innovation labs/joint projects/trials/VC funds that allow corporations to source ideas, the latest technological advancements, international talent and provide a chance to improve banking infrastructure by implementing solutions developed by legacy-free startups.

Moreover, a few governments are also taking steps to acknowledge and smoothen up the integration of FinTech into national ecosystems.

The financial scale of the industry

In 2015, global FinTech investments grew 75% (from $9.6 billion in 2014 to $22.3 billion in 2015) and are expected to maintain the trend in 2016. So far, the global investments in financial technology ventures in Q1 2016 were reported to reach $5.3 billion, representing a 67% increase over the same period last year. The percentage of investments that went to FinTech companies in Europe and Asia-Pacific nearly doubled to 62%.

Within FinTech, as the Citi data suggests, 73% of the investments in 2015 were dedicated to personal and small business banking, including 23% into payments and 3% into money transfer.

[Let’s Talk Payments]

October 15, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , , ,
China is setting up a VR industry alliance


China has been at the forefront of the VR industry lately. Earlier reports ths year, indicated that the virtual reality market in China is expected to reach $860 million in 2016 and accelerate to $8.5 billion by 2020.

Today, China is making a significant step to realize these expectations.

The Industry of Virtual Reality Alliance (IVRA) is launched in Beijing as the only official, government-endorsed VR organization in China.

More than 170 enterprises and institutions will jointly promote the development of the VR ecosystem under the guidance of the Electronic Information Division of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

In an official press release Cher Wang, Chairwoman and CEO of HTC Corporation said, “We are honored to work with many excellent industry partners to promote the development of China’s VR ecosystem.”

“With the establishment of the IVRA, we will continue to play to our strengths, while actively assisting MIIT and other relevant departments, in formulating industry standards.” she added.

China is known to be promoting high-end technologies at a state level.

In May, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council issued the National Innovation-driven Development Strategy Outline, highlighting the need to develop a new generation information network technologies, enhance VR technology research and industrial development, strengthen the IT Infrastructure for economic and social development, promote the innovation of industrial technology system, and form new development advantages. The establishment of the IVRA is in line with the country’s VR and innovation-driven development strategy.

More than 170 enterprises and institutions have confirmed their partnership with the IVRA including HTC, Alibaba, Huawei, JD, Netease, Sohu, Perfect World, Enlight Media, Letv, iQiYi, Samsung, Nokia, AMD, Ubisoft, NVIDIA, ARM, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, BEIHANG University, Beijing Institute of Technology, Beijing Normal University, Peking University, Zhejiang University, Shandong University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Columbia University, Stanford University, and the University of Washington.

Local industrial parks and investment institutions such as Laoshan District of Qingdao, China Nanchang VR Industrial Base, Shanghai Jinqiao Economic and Technological Development Zone, VR Venture, and Makers Global also back the Alliance’s aims.


October 14, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , , , ,
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