Category: Science

Human drivers will bully self-drive cars

classic car, wikimedia commonsTechnology experts are starting to worry that human drivers will bully self-drive cars – simply because they can.

While self-driving cars promise to bring increased safety, comfort and speed to our roads. The rest of the road will be populated by men in white vans, BMW drivers and Italians who will make life hell for automated roadsters.

The London School of Economics and Goodyear conducted a study into social attitudes to self-driving technology. Drivers who are more “combative” will welcome the adoption of self-driving technology, because they assume it will be easier to “bully” self-driving cars than actual humans.

Self-driving cars will be programmed to avoid accidents, just as they should be. So given the choice between driving timidly or causing an accident just to prove a point, the self-driving car will slam on the brakes every time. The more aggressive drivers in this survey said that they’d treat self-driving cars like “learner drivers” and mess with their automatic heads.

One respondent he would be overtaking all the time because they’ll be sticking to the rules,” one Another said robot cars are going to stop. “So you’re going to mug them right off. They’re going to stop and you’re just going to nip around.”

So those who really should be self-driving are exactly the sort of people who should not be behind the wheel.  It is only a matter of time before self-driving will require a psyche-test to see if they should be allowed to drive.


Humans make better quacks than computers

rubber-duck-robotWhile the tech world gets enthusiastic about computers working out what is wrong with your health, a new study suggests that it is probably better to let a human decide.

There are lots of apps or other symptom based checkers to help self-diagnose diseases. Over the last 20 computer-based checklists and other fail-safe digital apps have been increasingly used to reduce medication errors or streamline infection-prevention protocols.  Yet the first direct comparison shows human doctors outperform digital ones in diagnostic accuracy.

A new study led by researchers at Harvard Medical School show that physicians’ performance is vastly superior and that doctors make a correct diagnosis more than twice as often as 23 commonly used symptom-checker apps.

Diagnostic errors stem from failure to recognize a disease or to do so in a timely manner. Physicians make such errors roughly 10 to 15 percent of the time, researchers say.

In the study, 234 internal medicine physicians were asked to evaluate 45 clinical cases, involving both common and uncommon conditions with varying degrees of severity. For each scenario, physicians had to identify the most likely diagnosis along with two additional possible diagnoses. Each clinical vignette was solved by at least 20 physicians.

The physicians outperformed the symptom-checker apps, listing the correct diagnosis first 72 percent of the time, compared with 34 percent of the time for the digital platforms. Eighty-four percent of clinicians listed the correct diagnosis in the top three possibilities, compared with 51 percent for the digital symptom-checkers.

The sicker you are the more likely the quack will be to spot it over a computer. Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor of health care policy at HMS said that while the computer programs were clearly inferior to physicians in terms of diagnostic accuracy, it will be critical to study future generations of computer programs that may be more accurate.

Physicians still made mistakes in about 15 percent of cases. Researchers say developing computer-based algorithms to be used in conjunction with human decision-making may help further reduce diagnostic errors.

Tech billionaires want out of the matrix

matrixTwo billionaires with more money than sense are spending a fortune to get scientists to help us break out of the matrix.

The theory that we might all be living in a computer simulation has gotten so popular among Silicon Valley’s tech elites that two unnamed billionarres are stumping up the cash to help boffins prove and come up with ways of escaping it.

Elon Muskand and Peter Thiel  have been suggested as the two billionarres who are investing in the break out plan, forgetting for a moment that if they are right they could be cashless nobodies if the theory is true.

According to The New Yorker in an article about Y Combinator’s Sam Altman is the source of the theorys and is convinced that we are controlled by technology. His idea delves into the simulation theory, which is the idea that human beings are unwittingly just the characters in someone else’s computer simulation.

Musk and Thiel are likely candidates as they are mates with Altman. According to Musk, it’s the most popular topic of conversation right now.

“…it got to the point where basically every conversation was the AI slash simulation conversation and my brother and I finally agreed that we’d ban any such conversations if we’re ever in a hot tub. Because that really kills the magic,” Musk said on stage at Vox Media’s Code Conference in June.

Apple claims to have invented the white paper bag

20140517100203708Fruity tax-dodging cargo cult and inventor of the rounded rectangle Apple, claims to have just invented the white paper bag.

In its patent Apple, which uses a lot of white paper bags points out that paper bags made of recycled material tend to be flimsy due to the amount of bleach used.

To fix this problem Apple has come up with a solution  by  holding the bag together with such a high proportion of recycled material.  Apple has apparently come up with a bundle of alterations that should help its bags remain white and environmentally friendly.

Those alterations include fancy reinforcements at the folds and gussets of the bag, another one at the bottom that sticks to the sides, and a handle “formed entirely of paper fibre yarn knitted in an 8-stitch circular knit pattern”.

Of course you can expect that one day Apple will make the “brave step” of removing the handles and moving to something more wireless.

Boffins make light solid

mad scientistResearchers have worked out a way of knitting light atoms together to make it “solid”.

In Physical Review X, which we get for the “Find Schroedinger’s cat puzzle”,  Princeton University electrical engineers have locked individual photons together so that they become like a solid object.

Dr. Andrew Houck, an associate professor of electrical engineering, said that it was something that we have never seen before and a new behaviour for light.

Basically they made an “artificial atom” from 100 billion atoms engineered to act like a single unit. They then brought this close to a superconducting wire carrying photons. The photons became entangled so that properties passed between the “atom” and the photons in the wire. The photons started to behave like atoms, correlating with each other to produce a single oscillating system.

What was weird was that the photons could be in two states at once – a bit like a US murderer with a good alibi.

Dr. Darius Sadri said the team had set up a situation where light effectively behaves like a particle in the sense that two photons can interact very strongly

“In one mode of operation, light sloshes back and forth like a liquid; in the other, it freezes.”

The team is hoping to use the solid light to simulate subatomic behaviour which is jolly useful for  statistical mechanics, and often simplify by assuming no interaction between particles and a system at equilibrium.

“The world around us is rarely in equilibrium.” The solidified light offers a chance to observe a subatomic system as it starts to diverge from equilibrium, with potential for a basic understanding of how these systems operate.”

Baidu and Nvidia steal your voice

lost voiceChinese internet giant Baidu and its chum Nvidia claim to have developed an artificial intelligence system which it claims, can successfully imitate your voice after hearing you speak for only thirty minutes.

At Baidu World, the company’s annual tech expo, CEO Robin Li launched the AI project entitled ‘Baidu Brain’, a tripartite initiative which it has undertaken in partnership with Nvidia. Baidu Brain is concerned with AI algorithms, computing power, and big data.

Li said that the system had extensive speech synthesis capabilities and could imitate you completely:

“Anyone just records 50 sentences as required in 30 minutes, and our speech synthesis technology could simulate the person’s voice. We could let everyone have their own voice model.”

We have heard this before. AT&T Labs once promised to bring dead celebrities back to life with a “custom voice” product called Natural Voices. The technology was acquired by speech synthesis specialists Nuance who abandoned it.

However it could have more spooky uses. You could, for example, mimic a general giving orders on the phone by building a database of his public speeches.

So far Baidu has not said what it can do in terms of voice cloning but it might be that in a few years you may been to share some passwords so that you know who you are talking to on the phone.


Zuckerburg snarks at SpaceX

pigs in spaceMark Zuckerberg was clearly gutted after SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad destroying one of Facebook’s satellites and he was not backward at snarking at Elon Musk’s company for stuffing it up.

SpaceX  suffered a huge setback when one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral. The accident — described by SpaceX as “an anomaly” that occurred during the fuel loading process — also resulted in the destruction of Facebook’s Amos-6 satellite.

Zuckerberg a bit hacked off with SpaceX, and Musk and focused only on Facebook’s loss. “As I’m here in Africa, I’m deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX’s launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent,” wrote Zuckerberg.

He said that Facebook had developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well, implying that SpaceX hadn’t. “We remain committed to our mission of connecting everyone, and we will keep working until everyone has the opportunities this satellite would have provided.”

The Amos-6 satellite marked the first step in Facebook’s plans to bring internet capability to parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. It was valued at between $95-200 million.



Google using AI to spot cancer

google-apple-maps-eric-schmidtGoogle has teamed up with some British researchers to come up with a way of using AI to  automatically differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissues on patient scans.

The partnership brings together leading clinicians and researchers at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) with some of the UK’s top technologists at DeepMind Health, which specialises in using machine learning to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems.

At present, it can take clinicians up to four hours to identify and differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissues on CT and MRI scans of head and neck cancer patients. This process, known as segmentation, is particularly difficult in head and neck cancer patients because their tumours are situated in extremely close proximity to healthy structures such as the eyes and nerves.

Before treatment can begin, clinicians identify the cancerous areas on the scans, and the areas that must be protected from radiation. It is essential that cancerous and healthy tissues are identified accurately so that radiotherapy treatment can be effectively targeted, giving the highest radiation dose possible to the tumour, while preserving healthy, surrounding structures and reducing possible side effects.

The purpose of the research collaboration between UCLH and DeepMind is to develop artificial intelligence technology to assist clinicians in the segmentation process so that it can be done more rapidly but just as accurately. Clinicians will remain responsible for deciding radiotherapy treatment plans but it is hoped that the segmentation process could be reduced from up to four hours to around an hour.

The research involves anonymised radiotherapy images of up to 700 former head and neck cancer patients who have consented to their data being used for research purposes.

Dr Yen-Ching Chang, clinical lead for radiotherapy at UCLH, said: “This is very exciting research which could revolutionise the way in which we plan radiotherapy treatment.

“Developing machine learning which can automatically differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissue on radiotherapy scans will assist clinicians in planning radiotherapy treatment. This has the potential to free up clinicians to spend even more time on patient care, education and research, all of which would be to the benefit of our patients and the populations we serve.

“This collaboration also means our patients continue to benefit from the most cutting-edge developments in healthcare technology.”

Professor Kathy Pritchard-Jones, chief medical officer of London Cancer, the integrated cancer system that serves a population of more than 3.5 million, said: “Head and neck cancer is rare and is one of the most complex tumour sites to treat. Therefore, if we can develop technology to assist in planning radiotherapy treatment for these tumours, we would expect that such a breakthrough would be transferable to other types of cancer. This would not only benefit UCLH patients, but patients across the country.”

DeepMind Co-Founder Mustafa Suleyman said: “This real-world application of artificial intelligence (AI) technology is exactly why we set up DeepMind. We’re incredibly excited to be working with the radiotherapy team at UCLH to explore how AI can help to reduce the time it takes to plan radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer patients. We hope this work could lead to real benefits for cancer patients across the country and for the clinicians who treat them.”

Princeton boffins come up with open source super-chip

mad scientistPrinceton University researchers have emerged from their smoke filled labs with a new open source computer chip that promises to boost the performance of data centres.

Dubbed “Piton” after the metal spikes driven by rock climbers into mountainsides to aid in their ascent the chip was shown off at the Hot Chips conference.

The Princeton researchers designed their chip specifically for massive computing systems. Piton could substantially increase processing speed while slashing energy usage. The chip architecture is scalable — designs can be built that go from a dozen to several thousand cores.

The architecture enables thousands of chips to be connected into a single system containing millions of cores.

David Wentzlaff, a Princeton assistant professor of electrical engineering and associated faculty in the Department of Computer Science said that Piton was based on a new thinking about computer architecture.  It was built specifically for data centers and the cloud.

“The chip we’ve made is among the largest chips ever built in academia and it shows how servers could run far more efficiently and cheaply.”

The current version of the Piton chip measures six millimetres by six millimetres and has 460 million transistors, each of which are as small as 32 nanometres.

The bulk of these transistors are contained in 25 cores. Most personal computer chips have four or eight cores.

In recent years companies and academic institutions have produced chips with many dozens of cores — but the readily scalable architecture of Piton can enable thousands of cores on a single chip with half a billion cores in the data centre, Wentzlaff said.

“What we have with Piton is really a prototype for future commercial server systems that could take advantage of a tremendous number of cores to speed up processing,” Wentzlaff said.

At a data centre, multiple users often run programs that rely on similar operations at the processor level. The Piton chip’s cores can recognise these instances and execute identical instructions consecutively, so that they flow one after another. Doing so can increase energy efficiency by about 20 percent compared to a standard core, the researchers said.

Piton chip parcels out when competing programs access computer memory that exists off of the chip so they do not clog the system. This approach can yield an 18 percent increase in performance compared to conventional means of allocation.

The Piton chip also gains efficiency by its cache memory management. In most designs, cache memory is shared across all of the chip’s cores. But when multiple cores access and modify the cache memory it is less efficient. Piton assigns areas of the cache and specific cores to dedicated applications. The researchers say the system can increase efficiency by 29 percent per chip.

Wentzlaff said. “We’re also happy to give out our design to the world as open source, which has long been commonplace for software, but is almost never done for hardware.”

Data based law investment is with us

stupid-lawyer1Two Harvard undergraduates have come up with an evil service which uses data to work out if a civil litigation is worthwhile fighting.

The process allows investors to cover the cost of a lawsuit in exchange for a share of the financial settlement which was what billionaire Peter Thiel did when he secretly funded a lawsuit from Hulk Hogan against Gawker Media.

The new start-up is called Legalist and uses an algorithm  to look at civil lawsuits to predict case outcomes and determine which civil lawsuits are worth investing in.

Legalist cofounder Eva Shang has received a $100,000 investment from Thiel’s foundation to build the startup. She told Business Insider that the Gawker lawsuit is something that the company would be staying away from. Instead, the company will be focusing on commercial and small-business lawsuits.

Legalist says it uses an algorithm of 58 different variables including, the presiding judge is and the number of cases the judge is currently working on. The algorithm has been fed cases dating back to 1989 and helps people figure out how long a case will last and the risks associated with it.

In a presentation at Y Combinator’s Demo Day on Tuesday, the founders claimed that the startup funded one lawsuit for $75,000 and expects a return of more than $1 million. Shang says the $1.40 is earned for every $1 spent in litigation financing, which can prove to be a profitable enterprise when you’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So it looks like there will be a world where investors can invest in lawsuits and clean up.  Has the world gone stark raving mad? [Yes.ed]