Thursday, 29 September 2016

Google machine learning is smart, but not intelligent (yet)


Google's Senior Vice-President of Search John Giannandrea explains to us why true Artificial intelligence is still far away.
Artificial Intelligence has been the holy grail of Computer Science for over a hundred years and we are finally starting to scratch the first layer of this incredibly complex system. Currently, all the major players in the Technology business are investing heavily in the R&D of AI systems, but it would seem we are still very far away from the development of a true AI.

To truly get a good grasp on where the industry stood in its quest for intelligent machines, we sat down with John Giannandrea, the former Head of Machine Learning and currently the SVP Search at Google, for a one-on-one. From the conversation, it became clear that we have had the latest developments in automation all wrong, and here is the real picture.

John was quick to clarify that there are three distinct levels of Machine Intelligence; Machine Learning, Machine Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence. Machine Learning is what we have just started to get right and it’s a system where an algorithm can be written to train a machine to behave in a certain way, given certain kinds of inputs.

Machine Learning, a higher version would be where the machine is able to take what it has learnt and adapt it to a new concept and a true AI would be the kind which is able to teach itself new concepts and evolve, just like humans. We have just started to be able to get really good at generating Machine Learning algorithms, but John said we are still very far from having a system that can take what it has learnt, and adapt it to a new situation.

We’re Not in the AI Age, but the Machine Learning Era

John was quick to clarify that there are three distinct levels of Machine Intelligence; Machine Learning, Machine Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence. Machine Learning is what we have just started to get right and it’s a system where an algorithm can be written to train a machine to behave in a certain way, given certain kinds of inputs.

Machine Learning, a higher version would be where the machine is able to take what it has learnt and adapt it to a new concept and a true AI would be the kind which is able to teach itself new concepts and evolve, just like humans. We have just started to be able to get really good at generating Machine Learning algorithms, but John said we are still very far from having a system that can take what it has learnt, and adapt it to a new situation.

At the very core of any machine resembling the simplest levels of intelligence, is “training.” Every machine has to first be “trained” to process information a certain way.

Neural Networks, the Digital Training Grounds

At the very core of any machine resembling the simplest levels of intelligence, is “training.” Every machine has to first be “trained” to process information a certain way. For example, if you show a machine a photo of a Dog, it should be able to correctly label it as a dog. To be able to get that result, Google runs thousands upon thousands of training material through a neural network. A neural network is essentially multiple layers of digital filters that mimic the human brain.

Each layer has “ports” of sorts and they connect with corresponding ports just like the neurons in our brains, depending on the stimulus they carry. So on the input side, they will feed the neural network hundreds of thousands of images of dogs (and only dogs) and check that the output is “dog” for all images. Every instance there is an error, it is sent backwards into the neural network so it can “learn” from the mistake and adjust the recognition pattern. Google has managed to get some really great results from this and the proof lies in the Photos app, which is able to segregate photos based on their content.

You can type “cat” in the search bar in the Photos App and it will show you all the photos in your library with cats in them. That is Machine learning, and it is fairly limited as John pointed out that while you will get all the photos of cats, the “machine” would not be able to segregate them based on breed.

The True Limits of Machine Learning

While it may seem “really intelligent” for a piece of software to be able to separate your photos into albums based on their content, or suggest when you should leave for work based on traffic conditions (and the time by when you need to clock into work), Machine Learning at this stage, is extremely limited.

As pointed out by John, it may be able to distinguish cats from dogs, but it cannot identify breeds of cats yet. Machine Learning works only in a very limited scope of variables and the minute even a single variable changes, it will fail to execute perfectly. For example, if you were to dress up a cat as a dog, would the Photos app consider it a dog or a cat?

The Current State of Intelligent Affairs

Google’s Machine Learning API are, as per John, in their nascent stages, but are developing at a rather rapid pace. Google is using Machine Learning to augment their Search (auto complete), YouTube (suggested videos), Inbox and Allo just to name a few. Inbox has a feature where it generates automatic responses for emails based on its contents and as per John, 10 per cent of mails being sent out using Inbox are using auto-responses.

Allo takes this one step further where the machine learns the way you communicate and then makes suggestions for responses based on what it has learnt. The pinnacle of this technology, however, is the Google Assistant which is able to detect language and even separate commanding voice from ambient noise. Google Now uses Machine Learning to generate relevant information for you, based on your usage patterns.

The Privacy Issue

It is no secret that Google is collecting a lot of user data, and one way it uses this data to it train their Machine Learning APIs. When asked just how secure this was, John said that all data that is used for training, is aggregated into one large pool and is hence anonymised. None of that can really be traced back to where it came from. However, once the API is trained and implemented into a service, then it is able to read the information you have agreed to share with Google and make suggestions based on that.

The information sharing here is twofold, one to train the API itself, wherein your data is anonymised and then once the service is ready, it makes suggestions to you based on your activity. This is how Google is able to give us traffic information on Maps. It collects data from thousands on users who are commuting and displays it on the app, but you cannot identify which pixel on that red line corresponds to your car.

Future Prospects

While Google uses the ML algorithms across various of its products, it has also made various APIs available to many businesses and developers. What is interesting, however, is the medical potential the system holds. For example, if a voice assistant is able to identify extreme stress or depression in the voice of the speaker, it may be able to help by either automatically connecting the user with a loved one or suggesting various counsellors in the area.

The next step, which would be Machine Intelligence, is where the phone itself is able to offer suggestions for things even before you think of doing them. For example, if you’ve just managed to land a new job, the machine intelligence in your phone should be able to suggest that you buy a new wardrobe. If you are planning on hosting a party, it could generate a suggested guest list based on the people you’ve been interacting with, factoring in how you truly “feel” about them.

The best part about Google efforts is that they have made their Machine Learning resources available for free under the name of Tensor Flow and anyone can start using the tool to train machines for specific tasks.

Google truly is trying to make significant efforts into providing us a convenience that can have far reaching consequences in our daily lives. With the hectic lifestyles that have become commonplace, having a digital assistant who can keep track of your daily affairs is a rather helpful tool.

We take hundreds of photos every month and it is nice to see them get separated and organised into various categories by themselves. The most exciting thing is that we are just starting to scratch the surface of the convenience this new technological breakthrough can bring to our lives and better products are not very far into the future.

Access Link | http://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/google-machine-learning-is-smart-but-not-intelligent-yet/

Nine email service providers that offer more features than Gmail


Even though instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have gotten immensely popular, Email still remains the preferred choice when it comes to proper communication. And when it comes to email services, Gmail is undoubtedly the most popular out there.
Gmail offers numerous features such as smart search, label support, tight integration with other Google services like Drive and Hangouts, as well as a large amount of storage. But as powerful as it is, Gmail is not the only email service out there. In fact, there are quite a few email service providers that are almost equally (or at times, even more) feature-laden as Gmail.

Interested to know more? Here are 9 hot Gmail alternatives that we think are definitely worth trying out.
Outlook.com

If you're heavily invested in the Microsoft ecosystem, Outlook.com is a no brainer. It is granularly integrated with other Microsoft products such as OneDrive and Office Online and thus, provides a seamless experience. It comes with advanced calendar, tasks and contacts sub-modules for easy management of your daily workflow.

Outlook.com also has features like Sweep, Pin, Aliases and built-in Chat that help in better collaboration and organization of email. It can automatically sort email based on user-specified parameters. The availability of apps across all platforms ensures that you can manage your email effectively regardless of the OS you use. There's unlimited storage as well.

Zoho

Although Zoho has quite a few features, what makes it stand out from the rest is that the email service doesn't display any ads in the interface at all, not even in the free account. It provides a minimalistic user interface with multiple layouts that let you configure the display as per your preferences.

Zoho mail fully supports all modern email protocols such as IMAP and Exchange ActiveSync. It even comes with a full-blown online productivity suite that can be used to create/edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations. It was co-founded by India-based Sridhar Vembu.

At the free level, Zoho provides 5GB of email storage and 5GB of document storage space. These can be easily upgraded through one of the paid plans.

Yandex

While its name might seem a little unfamiliar, the fact is that Yandex mail is backed by its namesake company, which operates the largest search engine in Russia. The service provides 10GB of free email space. Interestingly, the company claims that the email storage automatically increases by 1GB everytime the free space falls below 200MB.

Among the many features of Yandex mail are the ability to group messages into conversations, labels, file preview/playback support and antivirus scanning for incoming messages. It also supports email protocols such as POP and IMAP. Oh, and creating a free account also gives you access to the companion Yandex Disk cloud storage service, which offers 10GB of free cloud storage.

Mail.ru

Another popular email service coming from Russia, Mail.ru is backed by its namesake internet company, which operates numerous other websites that are claimed to have the largest audience in Russia. The email service itself is pretty feature laden, with everything from folders to rule-based message sorting to themes included in the package.

Mail.ru supports popular email formats and can pull emails from other email services like Gmail as well, making transition even simpler. Its companion cloud storage service provides 25GB of free cloud storage space, and companion apps exist on all major platforms. Some other important features of Mail.ru include two factor authentication, multiple aliases and calendar support.

ProtonMail

If you're looking for a secure email service, ProtonMail is arguably one of the best you can find. Created by scientists and researchers from institutions as renowned as MIT and CERN, ProtonMail is an encrypted email service that's hosted in Switzerland, which has strict privacy laws.

It features end-to-end encryption and is based on open-source code. ProtonMail achieves bi-layered security by associating not one, but two passwords with user accounts - one for logging in and another for encrypting/decrypting the email contents. Its mobile apps are available on iOS and Android as well.

Tutanota

Want a secure email service that does the basics right without becoming too complicated? Tutanota might just be what you need. All of the emails sent or received between Tutanota email addresses are end-to-end encrypted, and those sent to regular email addresses can be optionally encrypted with user specified passwords.
Even the email subject and attachments are encrypted. Tutanota is open-source and thus enables security experts to fully verify the code that's used to protect email messages. Tutanota has native apps available on both iOS and Android, and is based in Germany.

Scryptmail

Scryptmail is another really good secure email service that features end-to-end encryption. It doesn't store any data (not even metadata) on its servers. Its code can be verified by anyone and no third party scripts are allowed. The company claims that all communication is secured with a user-specified passphrase that stays on the source machine only.

It comes with strong HTTPS encryption and is fully compatible with standard protocols to exchange public encryption keys among users. Regular messages sent to common email services can be encrypted using PIN codes. You can create disposable email accounts as well.

Vivaldi

Vivaldi mail comes from its namesake Vivaldi Technologies, a company founded by Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, who also happens to be the co-founder and former CEO of Opera Software (yep, the developer of popular Opera browser).

What's interesting about Vivaldi is that it has a really clean and minimal user interface, devoid of extra things like chat, ads or anything like that. The contacts sub-module lets you easily manage all your contacts, and there's a calendar sub-module for managing appointments included in the mix too. You can also manually create and manage folders.

iCloud

Do you use one or more Apple devices (eg iPhone, iPad) on a regular basis, iCloud mail is definitely worth giving a shot. It comes with companion Apple services such as Contacts, Calendar, iCloud drive and of course, iWork suite of web-based productivity applications.

An advantage of iCloud mail is that it doesn't contain any ads in the interface and is quite minimal. However, there are some disadvantages too. iCloud is quite bare bones and doesn't have many advanced features. Moreover, you need to have your iCloud email account set up on an Apple device in order to access it on web.
Link | http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/nine-email-service-providers-that-offer-more-features-than-gmail/articleshow/54508166.cms

How to choose the best password



Use a password generator app or software

Passwords generating apps or software are especially designed to create highly secure passwords that are difficult to crack or guess. Users are given the option to select from the criteria they want and the passwords are generated automatically. The number of options you choose from the criteria can be increased for tougher security of passwords.

Use passphrases and convert them to passwords

Users can even consider generating their passwords from a sentence or pass phrase. For example, one can select a book, a page number and a sentence of up to 8 words or more. The best part about pass phrases is that they are easy to remember and only unique to the individuals that select them.

Use non-English passwords where possible

Translate the least expected language for example Sanskrit, into English and use them as passwords. The chances of hackers predicting your password is minimized.

Never use the same passwords for all accounts

It can get annoying to keep a track of different passwords for different accounts but it is most advisable to do so. The reason is fairly simple; if the hacker is able to figure out the password for one account, he/she will be able to access all the other accounts, as well.

Extracted from | http://www.asianage.com/technomics/what-should-you-change-your-password-999

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Why is it that most institutions are reluctant to spend on faculty development and teaching competencies?


The government of India has been encouraging the growth of tertiary education institutions across the country to facilitate accessibility. However, establishing quality institutions has become a missed focus. With 55,000 doctors graduating from 426 medical colleges in the country, the demand for medicos is far above the ground considering the doctor-patient ratio. Though there is urgency on the part of the government to establish more medical colleges, curbing dilution of quality is a big challenge. Vacant seats, in he last few years, in engineering colleges show failure in establishing effective quality standards and assessment systems. The outcomes of other university courses are also not fully gratifying. While there are many factors that play a role, the area of faculty development is central and requires immediate attention. Here are a few areas where we are in dire need of quality teachers to educate youth.

Meaningful outcome-based teaching and learning:

The focus of guiding private engineering colleges to define outcomes in concurrence with national goals, has been a persistent failure over the last few decades. Most private players intentionally remain ignorant of the accountability of producing employable and responsible citizens. Even if government machineries are established with the best intent, if the representing officials monitoring bodies are weak, all efforts are in vain. Such cases are quite prominent in Tier II and III towns.

There is reluctance on the part of these institutions to spend money on faculty development. Only stringent regulations will place such private players on quality track. Faculty must have a deeper understanding of the expected programme and course outcomes and facilitate learning, keeping in mind learners’ profile. The outcomes have to be clearly defined. Orienting the faculty to the same will help them appropriately design the teaching-learning processes.

Emphasis on teaching competencies:

Due to unprecedented proliferation of institutions, the demand for teachers is significant across the county. The need for the establishment of professional faculty development in medical education was strongly felt in 1974 and National Teacher Training Institute Centre was established, though the need for the same was spelt out by the Bhore committee as early as 1946. UGC and other councils have taken a number of measures in this area.

Through Medical Education Units (MEUs), continuous education of doctors, most of the time is spent on developing clinical competencies rather than competencies for teaching. While the number of engineering college is 3,470, there are only four National Institute of Technical Teachers’ Training and Research (NITTTRs) and the functioning of their nodal centres is feeble and not clearly defined.

M.Phil and PhD degrees familiarise teachers on research. However, they don’t contribute to developing teaching competencies. In such a scenario, the government must evolve a definite policy for faculty development. Newly establishing institutes must fulfil the criteria of having full-fledged in-house faculty development centres and allocation in the annual budget must be made mandatory.

Platforms for intellectual capital:

The diversity in the type of institutions hampers effective pooling and use of resources to create strong intellectual capital. With regulations diverse for different types of institutions, they are caught up in their own compartments, forgetting the need of the overall-perspective and purpose.

Private institutions may not appreciate the same as they think that their USP is lost. Though one school of thought encourages complete commercialisation of education where only the fittest survive, the lesson from history is that in the race for profit-making, the purpose has gone astray. The recent sharing of knowledge through MOOCs by IITs and IISCs is a historic development in the country. The private players who encourage development of common platforms for education sector empowerment need to be identified and encouraged.

Though PhD is made mandatory at a certain level of teaching, the number and quality of PhDs are dwindling. The outcome of research is supposed to have some definite contribution to industries and society around. While there is fund shortage on one prong, there is complete lack of interest to siphon fund for research is at another prong.

Teaching tech-savvy and first generation graduates:

The interest of Indian youth for gadgets is high compared to their counterparts in the world. Learning inside a classroom where the teacher is ill- equipped with contemporary knowledge, trends, technology, teaching-learning methods and research and instead delivers lessons through highly teacher-centered lecture method, elicits least interest. There is a chasm between teachers and students in the knowledge of handling IT gadgets. Though many IT companies have ventured into academia and reached students in an impressive manner, leveraging the same inside classes for faculty members remains an unachieved agenda.

India is in the 120th position among 144 countries on tech-readiness as rated by World Economic Forum in 2015-2016. Even when internet users in India is the second largest in Asia (28percent), only six percent use the internet for learning management. Though digitalisation is at a nascent stage in education, its is significant with its current pace of adoption. Faculty development and empowerment will play a pivotal role in the Make in India, Digital India, Swachh Bharath and Smart cities projects.

Source| http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-educationplus/faculty-matters/article9148794.ece

Readers listen to audiobooks as e-book sales slip


Sales of paperback books are up. Independent bookstores are thriving again. The threat of a digital apocalypse has subsided, as e-book sales have tumbled.

So why did publishers have a wobbly first quarter of 2016? Revenue was down 2.7 per cent in the first three months of 2016, compared with the same period in 2015, according to a recent report from the Association of American Publishers, which tracks sales data from more than 1,200 publishers.
Sales of adult books fell by 10.3 per cent in the first three months of 2016, and children's books dropped by 2.1 per cent. E-book sales fell by 21.8 per cent, and hardcover sales were down 8.5 per cent. The strongest categories were digital audiobooks, which rose by 35.3 per cent, and paperback sales, which were up by 6.1 per cent.

Though the numbers look bad, they're not all that surprising. For many publishers, the first quarter is often the weakest period of the year. Publishers often save their biggest books for the summer, timed for vacation reading, and the fall, for the holiday shopping period. Typically, publishers make about 20 per cent of their profits during the first quarter of the year, according to Michael Cader, a book industry analyst and the creator of Publishers Marketplace.

But there are several factors that might have made book sales at the beginning of this year slightly worse than those in the same period last year. Like the movie business, publishing depends heavily on a few outsize hits each season to drive profits. In the early part of this year, there wasn't a huge, breakout best-seller, certainly nothing like 2015's The Girl on the Train, which came out in January and sold two million copies in just over four months.

The adult colouring-book fad, which provided a huge boost to publishers and booksellers last year, has started to fizzle, possibly driving down sales this year. (In 2015, some 12 million colouring books were sold in the US, up from one million in 2014.) And the surge in downloadable audiobook sales might account in part for the decline in hardcover and e-books, if more people are listening to books instead of reading them.

But perhaps the biggest factor affecting publishers' revenue, and one that is not likely to go away soon, is the decline in e-book sales, Cader said. While publishers once fretted that digital book sales were eroding more profitable categories like hardcover, they now are finding that e-books - which cost next to nothing to produce and zero to ship and which can't be returned as unsold merchandise by retailers - are critical profit engines. But e-book sales have fallen precipitously for months, in part because many publishers have raised their prices after negotiating with Amazon and gaining the ability to set their own prices.

The decline of digital sales and stabilisation of print may have also led to higher returns of unsold merchandise from booksellers, reducing revenue. And while some book buyers may have traded e-books for print books, others may be buying cheaper, self-published e-books on Amazon.

Source | http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/readers-listen-to-audiobooks-as-e-book-sales-slip-116092500746_1.html

A library Kindles students’ interest in e-readers


Visitors to Vizianagaram library get to use 20 of the gadgets funded by MP.
Libraries in Vizianagaram and Srikakulam are attracting visitors in droves, as job-hunting candidates prepare for tests and interviews advertised by government, banks and public sector organisations.

At Gurajada Library in Vizianagaram, there is an added attraction for those doing such intensive preparation: Kindle e-readers with downloaded books and resource material.
The Andhra Pradesh government recently supplied 20 Kindle e-readers to Gurajada Library to help candidates prepare for job recruitments using books and other literature. Union Minister for Civil Aviation P. Ashok Gajapati Raju sponsored the devices using his MP Local Area Development Fund. E-readers can store a large number of books, offering a wide choice.

The e-readers have become popular with candidates who aspire to become constables and Sub-Inspectors, with the A.P. government recently launching a recruitment drive for 1,300 of these posts. Traditional books are already in demand, as banks have announced recruitment to fill 16,700 posts. Some candidates are also preparing for 1,032 Group-2 posts in the Telangana government.

To many of the aspirants, the APPSC notification for Group-A, Group-2 posts is a challenge and they spend over 8 hours in libraries for study and data collection using both books and the internet. The government then decided to try out the e-readers to help candidates access the most relevant material readily.

Pre-downloaded books

In the normal course, the aspirants would spend considerable time on the Internet to locate and collect the literature. That task has already been handled by the library, and they have taken to the e-readers readily. The gadgets also make reading easier since the display is in black and white.

Looking at the response, the authorities say they plan to supply e-readers to all libraries in a phased manner. “We may get a concession for bulk orders, as each gadget costs around Rs. 6,000,” said Gurajada Memorial Vizianagaram District Library secretary K. Kumar Raja.

The candidates and students are thrilled. “Normally, we would have to depend on the Internet for information. But it is not possible for all of us to use computers at the same time, given the limited number of systems available to the public. The e-readers are handy and help us study in a smart way,” said Y. Rajkumar, a degree student.

Source | http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/a-library-kindles-students-interest-in-ereaders/article9147698.ece

Birth of the device-age librarian


Armed with a handheld device, Mohammed Salim scans the book rack to record books available in his library. The young librarian feeds the details about new members in the computer and issues an RFID (radio frequency identification) card. Students pick books of their choice by making an entry in the electronic self-service kiosks using the card without any intervention of the librarian.

Digital technology has transformed the traditional librarian into a tech-savvy professional handling a range of machines, replying to queries through emails, apart from his daily chores. Several private educational institutions and corporate offices have modernised their libraries to give the reader a new experience. At the touch of a button, readers visiting these libraries can check the availability of their preferred titles through online public access catalogue. They need to just swipe the book to borrow it.

Mohammed Salim, an alumni of the University of Madras and employed in a college in Malappuram in Kerala, says new libraries use sensors to prevent book thefts. At the same time, he says the automated system has reduced the interface between the users and librarian.

Former librarians argue that dialogue between users and librarians is essential. Former director of the American Library in Chennai M K Jagadish said librarians in the bygone years knew the "highways and byways" of all the subjects. "Libraries have the advantage of authentic information.An interaction with the librarian would help you get the right book that has the information you are looking for," he said.

Browsing through the pages his 36-year career as a librarian, he recollects the fond memories of dealing with a variety of queries. "The circulation librarian, who sits at the desk lending books, is the first contact point for the users. Some librarians were extremely sharp in getting the right book even as the user will approach them with vague information about the book," he said.

Source | http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/Birth-of-the-device-age-librarian/articleshow/54494208.cms