Navigating the risks of artificial intelligence and machine learning in low-income countries

How do you ensure your technically interesting project is truly a force for good, not merely further entrenching existing biases, stereotypes, and social problems? This great set of rules, based on experiences working on AI solutions in low-income countries, can help, regardless of where you're working:
1. Ask who's not at the table – are you truly inclusive?
2. Let others check your work – fairness is subjective
3. Doubt your data – does your data suffer from collection bias?
4. Respect context – a model developed in one context may fail in others
5. Automate with care – take baby steps, don't take people out of the loop too soon
On a recent work trip, I found myself in a swanky-but-still-hip office of a private tech firm. I was drinking a freshly frothed cappuccino, eyeing a mini-fridge stocked with local beer and standing…

Facebook Is Designing Its Own Chips to Help Filter Live Videos

I find it fascinating that there are companies out there large enough, and with specific enough use cases, to justify creating custom hardware to solve their problems. Facebook's recently confirmed that they're working on chips dedicated to analyzing live video, to allow them to respond more quickly to unacceptable or inappropriate content (such as suicide or murder being streamed live). Such analysis requires "a huge amount of compute power", but is certainly an interesting technical, and ethical, challenge. Who helps Facebook determine what content to flag? What happens if it gets it wrong?
Facebook Inc. is working on designing computer-chips that are more energy-efficient at analyzing and filtering live video content, its chief artificial intelligence scientist Yann LeCun said.

Stitch Fix: The Amazing Use Case Of Using Artificial Intelligence In Fashion Retail

Further demonstrating that just having the technology isn't enough – you have to keep innovating to stay relevant – Stitch Fix first started using AI and machine learning back in 2011, and it's given them a significant "first mover advantage" – but the commoditisation of these capabilities means that the things they once held as their own are now readily available to anyone who can code and who can collect the data. Trunk Club, Amazon Wardrobe and The Chapar are all hot on their tail.
Online styling subscription service Stitch Fix uses AI in many aspects of its operation. In collaboration with human stylists, Stitch Fix’s algorithms aim to get relevant fashion into the hands of…

Nvidia unveils the HGX-2, a server platform for HPC and AI workloads | ZDNet

While "replacing 300 CPU-only servers on deep learning training" is hardly a benchmark, 15,500 images per second on ResNet-50 is – just a couple of years ago, training throughput would be 1-2 orders of magnitude slower. Also of interest is the approach that Nvidia is taking here – a single compute "node" will be capable of delivering both AI and HPC workloads with extreme performance (the reference implementation claims two petaflops).
The platform’s unique high-precision computing capabilities are designed for the growing number of applications that combine high-performance computing with AI.

To train robotic servants, scientists built a virtual world where chores never end

While not the first to develop a virtual world to provide suitable simulations to accelerate reinforcement learning, this world certainly seems to be one of the most complex. It'll be interesting to see how effective these simulations actually are in the real world; so far though, there are no robots complex enough to actually fully enact what they've "learnt".
The goal of VirtualHome is to help robots learn tasks by first experiencing them in a virtual system. In the current system, an avatar can perform 1,000 separate actions, broken down as subtasks, in…

How Amazon’s robot warehouses swing into action the moment you press ‘buy’

In further evidence of the "automation increases jobs" argument, Amazon has recently released footage showing how robots in their warehouses make it quicker and easier for "associates" (=people) to pick and pack your order. This increased productivity means that the warehouses with the most robots are the most profitable, and hence employ the most people. The article does not mention whether Amazon's staff are profiting from this increased productivity the way UPS' did ( when they massively increased instrumentation on their trucks to achieve a similar level of improved efficiency.
If you’re like us, you probably spend a little too much time on Amazon buying stuff you may or may not need. But what happens after you click the “buy” button? How does Amazon get you your stuff so…

USGS Volcanoes

In further evidence of the way the reducing cost of technology is saving lives, USGS posted a video showing unmaned drones sent to map and monitor lava flows following the eruption of Kīlauea in Hawaii. Analysis of the drone footage picked up a previously unknown but fast moving flow heading towards an as-yet unevacuated residential area. After notifying the Emergency Operations Centre, it became clear that a resident was stranded in the danger area, and he was instructed to "follow the drone" to safety. In addition to this sort of direct assistance, the drone allowed teams to track lava advancement rates to prioritise further rescue efforts.
A USGS UAS mission in Kīlauea volcano’s lower East Rift Zone on May 27, 2018, helps prompt and guide evacuations and leads to the successful rescue of a resident after a lava pond outbreak sent a…

Chinese President Xi Jinping calls blockchain a ‘breakthrough’ technology

In his (very, very long) book 'The Rise and Fall of American Growth' (, Robert Gordon lays out an argument that not only is growth slower than than people think, but that the growth spurt from 1870 to 1970 was, by all accounts, a one-off, and growth today is reverting back to the long term mean. Xi Jinping doesn't buy that, arguing that IOT, blockchain, AI, quantum and mobile computing are poised to drive a new spurt of growth which will exceed even that triggered by the industrial revolution. Only time will tell who's right.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech this week that blockchain — the technology underlying bitcoin — has “breakthrough” applications.

Weed-killing robots are threatening giant chemical companies’ business models

Using technology for good – in this case to reduce the amount of pesticide and the cost of seed-stock (you no longer need to buy the special seed which is only available, at a premium, from the manufacturer of the herbicide or pesticide you plan to use) – is what many of us enter the technology industry for.
AI-powered weed hunters could soon reduce the need for herbicides and genetically modified crops.