lunes, 29 de septiembre de 2014

Meet Amelia: the computer that's after your job

A new artificially intelligent computer system called 'Amelia' – that can read and understand text, follow processes, solve problems and learn from experience – could replace humans in a wide range of low-level jobs

Amelia aims to answer the question, can machines think? Photo: IPsoft

In February 2011 an artificially intelligent computer system called IBM Watson astonished audiences worldwide by beating the two all-time greatest Jeopardy champions at their own game.

Thanks to its ability to apply 
  • advanced natural language processing, 
  • information retrieval, 
  • knowledge representation, 
  • automated reasoning, and 
  • machine learning technologies, Watson consistently outperformed its human opponents on the American quiz show Jeopardy.
Watson represented an important milestone in the development of artificial intelligence, but the field has been progressing rapidly – particularly with regard to natural language processing and machine learning.

In 2012, Google used 16,000 computer processors to build a simulated brain that could correctly identify cats in YouTube videos; the Kinect, which provides a 3D body-motion interface for Microsoft's Xbox, uses algorithms that emerged from artificial intelligence research, as does the iPhone's Siri virtual personal assistant.

Today a new artificial intelligence computing system has been unveiled, which promises to transform the global workforce. Named 'Amelia' after American aviator and pioneer Amelia Earhart, the system is able to shoulder the burden of often tedious and laborious tasks, allowing human co-workers to take on more creative roles.

"Watson is perhaps the best data analytics engine that exists on the planet; it is the best search engine that exists on the planet; but IBM did not set out to create a cognitive agent. It wanted to build a program that would win Jeopardy, and it did that," said Chetan Dube, chief executive Officer of IPsoft, the company behind Amelia.

"Amelia, on the other hand, started out not with the intention of winning Jeopardy, but with the pure intention of answering the question posed by Alan Turing in 1950 – can machines think?"

Amelia learns by following the same written instructions as her human colleagues, but is able to absorb information in a matter of seconds.
She understands the full meaning of what she reads rather than simply recognising individual words. This involves 
  • understanding context, 
  • applying logic and 
  • inferring implications.
When exposed to the same information as any new employee in a company, Amelia can quickly apply her knowledge to solve queries in a wide range of business processes. Just like any smart worker she learns from her colleagues and, by observing their work, she continually builds her knowledge.

While most ‘smart machines’ require humans to adapt their behaviour in order to interact with them, Amelia is intelligent enough to interact like a human herself. She speaks more than 20 languages, and her core knowledge of a process needs only to be learned once for her to be able to communicate with customers in their language.

Independently, rather than through time-intensive programming, Amelia creates her own 'process map' of the information she is given so that she can work out for herself what actions to take depending on the problem she is solving.

"Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge. If a system claims to be intelligent, it must be able to read and understand documents, and answer questions on the basis of that. It must be able to understand processes that it observes. It must be able to solve problems based on the knowledge it has acquired. And when it cannot solve a problem, it must be capable of learning the solution through noticing how a human did it," said Dube.

IPsoft has been working on this technology for 15 years with the aim of developing a platform that does not simply mimic human thought processes but can comprehend the underlying meaning of what is communicated – just like a human.

Just as machines transformed agriculture and manufacturing, IPsoft believes that cognitive technologies will drive the next evolution of the global workforce, so that in the future companies will have digital workforces that comprise a mixture of human and virtual employees.

Amelia has already been trialled within a number of Fortune 1000 companies, in areas such as manning technology help desks, procurement processing, financial trading operations support and providing expert advice for field engineers.

In each of these environments, she has learnt not only from reading existing manuals and situational context but also by observing and working with her human colleagues and discerning for herself a map of the business processes being followed.

In a help desk situation, for example, Amelia can understand what a caller is looking for, ask questions to clarify the issue, find and access the required information and determine which steps to follow in order to solve the problem.

As a knowledge management advisor, she can help engineers working in remote locations who are unable to carry detailed manuals, by diagnosing the cause of failed machinery and guiding them towards the best steps to rectifying the problem.

During these trials, Amelia was able to go from solving very few queries independently to 42 per cent of the most common queries within one month. By the second month she could answer 64 per cent of those queries independently.

"That’s a true learning cognitive agent. Learning is the key to the kingdom, because humans learn from experience. A child may need to be told five times before they learn something, but Amelia needs to be told only once," said Dube.

"Amelia is that Mensa kid, who personifies a major breakthrough in cognitive technologies."

Analysts at Gartner predict that, by 2017, managed services offerings that make use of autonomics and cognitive platforms like Amelia will drive a 60 per cent reduction in the cost of services, enabling organisations to apply human talent to higher level tasks requiring creativity, curiosity and innovation.

IPsoft even has plans to start embedding Amelia into humanoid robots such as Softbank's Pepper, Honda's Asimo or Rethink Robotics' Baxter, allowing her to take advantage of their mechanical functions.

"The robots have got a fair degree of sophistication in all the mechanical functions – the ability to climb up stairs, the ability to run, the ability to play ping pong. What they don’t have is the brain, and we’ll be supplementing that brain part with Amelia," said Dube.

"I am convinced that in the next decade you’ll pass someone in the corridor and not be able to discern if it’s a human or an android."

Given the premise of IPsoft's artificial intelligence system, it seems logical that the ultimate measure of Amelia's success would be passing the Turing Test – which sets out to see whether humans can discern whether they are interacting with a human or a machine.

Earlier this year, a chatbot named Eugene Goostman became the first machine to pass the Turing Test by convincingly imitating a 13-year-old boy. In a five-minute keyboard conversation with a panel of human judges, Eugene managed to convince 33 per cent that it was human.

Interestingly, however, IPsoft believes that the Turing Test needs reframing, to redefine what it means to 'think'. While Eugene was able to immitate natural language, he was only mimicking understanding. He did not learn from the interaction, nor did he demonstrate problem solving skills.

"Natural language understanding is a big step up from parsing. Parsing is syntactic, understanding is semantic, and there’s a big cavern between the two," said Dube.

"The aim of Amelia is not just to get an accolade for managing to fool one in three people on a panel. The assertion is to create something that can answer to the fundamental need of human beings – particularly after a certain age – of companionship. That is our intent."

ORIGINAL: Telegraph
By Sophie Curtis
29 Sep 2014

jueves, 25 de septiembre de 2014

Beijing Hosts Debut of Formula E as Engines Whir Rather Than Roar

The first carbon free, fully-electric racing championship is held in Beijing. Video Credit 
By Jonah M. Kessel on Publish DateSeptember 13, 2014. Image CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

BEIJING — The world’s first fully electric motor racing series, featuring battery-powered racecars that can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in three seconds, opened here Saturday.

Known as Formula E, this 10-stop international circuit is approved by the International Automobile Federation and aims to inspire developments in electric car technology and attract a new generation of fans.

The inaugural race, the Beijing ePrix, was unexpectedly dramatic. A crash at the last turn of the final lap involving the leading cars allowed the Brazilian driver Lucas di Grassi of the Audi Sport ABT team to win.

Nicolas Prost had long been in the lead when his car touched Nick Heidfeld’s. Heidfeld’s vehicle flew end over end and landed upside down in pieces. He emerged unscathed.

The Beijing ePrix took place in Olympic Park, site of the 2008 Olympics. The cars made 25 laps on the 3.44-kilometer course (about two miles), weaving between the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest.

Among the 75,000 people reportedly on site were a large number of local residents who were pleasantly surprised to find an international sporting event to attend as long as they paid the park entrance fee. 
Lucas Di Grassi of Audi Sport ABT won the first Formula E electric motor race on Saturday at the Olympic Park in Beijing.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

The series was the brainchild of the federation’s president, Jean Todt, and a Spanish businessman, Alejandro Agag, who came up with the idea in 2011.

We expect this championship to become the framework for research and development around the electric car, a key element for the future of our cities,” Agag told the event’s website.

The championship has strong backing — it took $100 million to get the project off the ground — and a number of Formula One veterans like Jarno Trulli strapped into racecars. Sir Richard Branson, the four-time Formula One champion Alain Prost and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio are among the team owners.

Unlike other racing series, Formula E schedules practice rounds, qualifying and races into a single day’s program instead of three, making it less disruptive to the host cities where the street circuits have been built.

To engage spectators, a gimmick called the FanBoost allows fans to vote for their favorite drivers; the top three get a chance to bump their car’s power for two and a half seconds.

We have 1.4 billion people,” said Steven Lu, chief executive of the China Racing team. “If even .0001 percent of them vote, that’d be enough to win.

The fan favorites proved to be di Grassi, Bruno Senna and Katherine Legge, one of two women in the 20-car race.

For the series, Michelin designed an 18-inch all-weather tire intended to last an entire race. Each Formula One car receives 52 tires per race weekend; Formula E cars receive 10.

All drivers drove a version of the Spark-Renault SRT_01E, equipped with a battery weighing nearly 800 pounds. It has enough power for 20 to 30 minutes of hard racing, so drivers switched cars midway through, substituting the poetry of Formula One pit stop tire changes for a hop into another vehicle.

Ho-Pin Tung, a Dutch driver of Chinese descent on the China Racing team, said that the best drivers in this series would be those who mastered the ability to manage the battery’s energy.

In race mode, we will be playing around with the power all the time,” he said. “We have six different engine mappings on the steering wheel, which we have to adjust while driving.

The local fans were disappointed by China Racing’s finish, as Tung placed placing 16th and his teammate Nelson Piquet Jr. placed eighth. What caught Tung by surprise the first time he drove the SRT_01E was the sound of the wind in his helmet.

It’s always there of course, but normally there’s a screaming loud engine behind you,” he said.

The electric car’s motor emits an 80-decibel whir, about the same as a garbage disposal, compared with Formula One cars that sound like jet engines.

I had no idea electric cars could be so fast,” said Wang Zhigang, 60, a Beijing native who had seen racing only on television. He added, however, that he would not buy one soon.

The government gives subsidies for them,” he said, “but there are just too few charging stations. What would you do if you ran out of battery here?

But China is seeking to put five million electric cars on the road by 2020 in an effort to cut pollution. Indeed, Lu, whose team played a crucial role in bringing the race to Beijing, said that the Chinese government was willing to host because it wanted to promote electric cars.

Speaking of government officials, Lu said: “They said: ‘Wow, this is really new. It’s a golden opportunity. Let’s do that.’

Stops on the Formula E circuit include Miami and Long Beach, Calif. The final race is in London in June.

A few years ago, few believed this series could come to fruition. Standing on a hastily built viewing platform, Lu was optimistic, saying, “It’s real, it’s fast, and it’s the future.

SEPT. 13, 2014

DNA: The Software of Life

J. Craig Venter

J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., is a biologist renowned for his contributions in sequencing the first draft human genome in 2001, the first complete diploid human genome in 2007 and construction of the first synthetic bacterial cell in 2010. He is founder, chairman and CEO of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). He is also a co-founder and CEO of Synthetic Genomics Inc (SGI), a privately held company focused on developing products and solutions using synthetic genomic technologies; and a co-founder and CEO of Human Longevity Inc (HLI), a privately held genomics and cell therapy-based diagnostic and therapeutic company focused on extending the healthy, high performance human life span. He and his teams are focused on a variety of projects and programs including: 
  • synthetic genomic research and the application of these advances to develop new vaccines and food and nutritional products, new biofuels and biochemicals; 
  • continued analysis of the human genome including the human microbiome, and discovering and understanding genetic diversity in the world's oceans. 
Dr. Venter is a recipient of the 2008 National Medal of Science and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the author of "Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life" (Viking, 2013) and "A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life" (Viking, 2007).

ORIGINAL: Zeitgeist Minds

miércoles, 24 de septiembre de 2014

Made With Code

We started Made with Code because even though technology runs more and more of our lives, women aren't represented in the companies, labs, research, creative arts, design, organizations, and boardrooms that make technology happen

If girls are inspired to see that Computer Science can make the world more beautiful, more usable, more safe, more kind, more innovative, more healthy, and more funny then hopefully they will begin to contribute their essential voices. 

As parents, teachers, organizations, and companies we're making it our mission to creatively engage girls with code. Today, less than 1% of girls are interested in CS. Tomorrow, we can make that number go up.

India makes history with successful maiden voyage to Mars

Indian space agency's low-cost mission to Mars has successfully entered the red planet's orbit, crowning India as first country to execute such a project in its maiden attempt

India has triumphed in its first interplanetary attempt by successfully putting a satellite into orbit around Mars.

Scientists broke into wild cheers on Wednesday morning as the orbiter's engines completed 24 minutes of burn time and maneuvered into its designated place around the red planet.

The rocket launch (DD)

The success of India's Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately nicknamed MOM, brings India into an elite club of Martian explorers that includes United States, the European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union.

The success of the Mars Orbiter Mission, lauded for its low price tag of $74 million, will boost India's five-decade-old space programme that newly-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to expand with better infrastructure and technology.


Hacked photosynthesis could boost crop yields

Algal enzyme can speed up rate at which plants make food.


Rice is one of the crops that could increase their yields by converting solar energy more efficiently.

It is difficult to find fault with a process that can create food from sunlight, water and air, but for many plants, there is room for improvement. Researchers have taken an important step towards enhancing photosynthesis by engineering plants with enzymes from blue-green algae that speed up the process of converting carbon dioxide into sugars.

The results, published today in Nature1, surmount a daunting hurdle on the path to boosting plant yields — a goal that is taking on increasing importance as the world’s population grows.

With the limited ability to increase land use for agriculture, there’s a huge interest in trying to improve yield across all the major crops,” says Steven Gutteridge, a research fellow at chemical firm DuPont’s crop-protection division in Newark, Delaware.

Researchers have long wanted to increase yields by targeting Rubisco, the enzyme responsible for converting carbon dioxide into sugar. Rubisco is possibly the most abundant protein on Earth, and can account for up to half of all the soluble protein found in a leaf.

But one reason for its abundance is its inefficiency: plants produce so much Rubisco in part to compensate for its slow catalysis. Some have estimated that tinkering with Rubisco and ways to boost the concentration of carbon dioxide around it could generate up to a 60% increase2 in the yields of crops such as rice and wheat.

Light speed
Plant geneticist Maureen Hanson of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and her colleagues decided to borrow a faster Rubisco from the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus.

Related stories
Solar energy: Springtime for the artificial leaf
Experiment aims to steep rainforest in carbon dioxide
Life found deep under the sea

More related stories

A team including Hanson and plant physiologist Martin Parry of Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, UK, shuttled bacterial Rubisco genes into the genome of the chloroplast — the cellular organelle where photosynthesis takes place — in the tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabacum), a common model organism for genetic-engineering research. In some of the plants the researchers also added a bacterial protein that is thought to help Rubisco to fold properly. In others, they added a bacterial protein that structurally supports Rubisco.

Both lines of tobacco were able to use the bacterial Rubisco for photosynthesis, and both converted CO2 to sugar faster than normal tobacco1.

The work provides an important foundation for testing the hypothesis that a faster Rubisco can yield a more productive plant, says Donald Ort, a plant biologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. But Hanson is quick to note that her team will need to do more before that hypothesis has been proven.

Although the bacterial Rubisco works faster than the tobacco enzyme, it is also more prone to wasting energy by reacting with oxygen rather than CO2. Photosynthetic bacteria overcome this problem by creating specialized structures called carboxysomes, which enclose the enzyme and create a CO2-rich environment, discouraging wasteful reactions.

Without carboxysomes, Hanson’s engineered plants — which also express much less Rubisco than normal plants — must be grown in chambers that can maintain artificially high CO2 concentrations.

There is hope, however, that they may soon be weaned off this requirement. In June, Hanson’s team reported3 the creation of tobacco that could generate structures resembling bacterial carboxysomes. The next step, says Hanson, will be to try this experiment in plants that express the turbocharged bacterial Rubisco.

Ort says that it may be possible to generate tobacco plants with functional carboxysomes in the next five years. Naturedoi:10.1038/nature.2014.15949
Read the related Editorial and News & Views.


Lin, M. T., Occhialini, A., Andralojc, P. J., Parry, M. A. J. & Hanson, M. R. Nature (2014).
PubMed Show context

McGrath, J. M. & Long, S. P. Plant Physiol. 164, 2247–2261 (2014).
ChemPort Show context

Lin, M. T. et al. Plant J. 79, 1–12 (2014).
ChemPort Show context

By Heidi Ledford
17 September 2014

domingo, 14 de septiembre de 2014

Colombia: Minsalud ya firmó el decreto sobre medicamentos biotecnológicos

Si el Presidente lo suscribe, contenido de la controvertida norma se daría a conocer este miércoles.

Foto: Archivo / el tiempo

Biotecnológicos son aquellos que resultan de la manipulación de organismos vivos (células, bacterias y tejidos).

El ministro de Salud, Alejandro Gaviria, le aseguró a EL TIEMPO que el decreto de regulación de medicamentos biotecnológicos ya tiene su firma y está a la espera de la del presidente Juan Manuel Santos para ser expedido. Si supera este requisito, el contenido de la controvertida norma se daría a conocer este miércoles. (Lea también: Estados Unidos, preocupado por biotecnológicos, camiones y etanol)

El texto es fruto de varios años de debate y cinco borradores que han sido debatidos ampliamente por las partes interesadas; pese a eso, las multinacionales farmacéuticas siguen inconformes con algunos puntos, fundamentalmente con la llamada ‘ruta abreviada’.

Para entenderlo hay que decir que los biotecnológicos son aquellos que resultan de la manipulación de organismos vivos (células, bacterias y tejidos), mediante tecnologías muy avanzadas, y que se usan para tratar enfermedades como cáncer, artritis y otros males degenerativos. (Lea también: Proponen que bloqueo a genéricos sea delito de lesa humanidad).

Se trata de fármacos innovadores y costosos, cuyo mercado durante el primer semestre del 2014 representó el 20 por ciento del gasto farmacéutico nacional, aun cuando solo representan el 1 por ciento de todos los registros de fármacos vigentes en Colombia.

Quienes los crean aseguran que por sus características (derivados de organismos vivos) es imposible obtener medicamentos exactamente iguales, razón por la cual no podrían copiarse, sino obtener, a lo sumo, biosimilares.

Al no ser idénticos a los de la referencia, los biosimilares deben demostrar, con estudios clínicos comparativos, que tienen perfiles parecidos –en eficacia, potencia y seguridad– a los innovadores. Y esos no son procedimientos sencillos.

Para todos los biotecnológicos, el Ministerio de Salud propone en el decreto tres vías de registro: 
  • la del innovador, que debe presentar evidencia clínica completa sobre sus beneficios, eficacia y seguridad; 
  • la de los medicamentos altamente parecidos al fármaco de la referencia, cuyos fabricantes deben probar su biosimilitud, y 
  • la ‘ruta abreviada’.
Esta ruta permite caracterizar moléculas al punto que se puede decir si una es similar a la otra mediante un proceso técnico, sin tener que hacer estudios clínicos en humanos. Se parte del hecho de que la molécula ya está estudiada.

Las multinacionales son contrarias a esta vía, porque consideran que por ella pueden colarse fármacos que no ofrecen la misma eficacia y seguridad. En el extremo opuesto están quienes aseguran que este argumento solo busca mantener el monopolio sobre los biotecnológicos y los precios altos.

Las dudas sobre la ‘ruta abreviada’ o ‘tercera vía’, y otros aspectos del decreto, fueron resaltadas por la Administración de Medicamentos y Alimentos de Estados Unidos (FDA), en una carta al Ministerio de Salud a la cual respondió Alejandro Gaviria, con otra misiva, dirigida a Margaret A. Hamburg, comisionada de la FDA.

En ella, el Ministro aclara las dudas de la agencia reguladora de ese país y acepta hacer algunos ajustes. No obstante, hace énfasis en que la ‘ruta abreviada’ responde a procesos que se ajustan al rigor técnico científico –de manera que evitan cualquier riesgo para la población– y en que, en términos generales, el decreto coincide con las perspectivas que sobre el tema tiene la propia FDA.

14 de septiembre de 2014

viernes, 12 de septiembre de 2014

Scientists find mysterious species that defy all classifications of life

Marine biologists from the University of Copenhagen have discovered two new species that "defy all existing classifications of life." They are rather cute and pretty—like some monsters from a Mario Bros. game.

Found in the sea southeast of Australia, the research paper published in PLOS ONE describes two asymmetrical mushroom shaped beings found at a depth of 400 to 1000 meters:

A new genus, Dendrogramma, with two new species of 
  • multicellular, 
  • non-bilaterian, 
  • mesogleal 
  • animals with 
  • some bilateral aspects, 
D. enigmatica and D. discoides, are described from the south-east Australian bathyal (400 and 1000 metres depth). A new family, Dendrogrammatidae, is established forDendrogramma.

The enigmatic beings have scientists puzzled because they don't fit in the current classification of life. The paper's abstract says that their relation to other species is a "question still under debate," so they have left their classification as incertae sedis. The scientists who made the discovery say that new specimens should be recover to make molecular analysis to find the relation with other existing species—if any.

The other question still under debate is this: Can I eat them, perhaps deep fried with a light batter?

By Jesus Diaz
Sept 10, 2014

Danko Nikolic on Singularity 1 on 1: Practopoiesis Tells Us Machine Learning Is Not Enough!

If there’s ever been a case when I just wanted to jump on a plane and go interview someone in person, not because they are famous but because they have created a totally unique and arguably seminal theory, it has to be Danko Nikolic. I believe Danko’s theory of Practopoiesis is that good and he should and probably eventually would become known around the world for it. Unfortunately, however, I don’t have a budget of thousands of dollars per interview which will allow me to pay for my audio and video team to travel to Germany and produce the quality that Nikolic deserves. So, I’ve had to settle with Skype. And Skype refused to cooperate on that day even though both me and Danko have pretty much the fastest internet connections money can buy. Luckily, despite the poor video quality, our audio was very good and I would urge that if there’s ever been an interview where you ought to disregard the video quality and focus on the content – it has to be this one.

During our 67 min conversation with Danko we cover a variety of interesting topics such as:

As always you can listen to or download the audio file above or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.

To show your support you can write a review on iTunes or make a donation.

Who is Danko Nikolic?

The main motive for my studies is the explanatory gap between the brain and the mind. My interest is in how the physical world of neuronal activity produces the mental world of perception and cognition. I am associated with

  • the Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research
  • Ernst Strüngmann Institute
  • Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, and
  • the University of Zagreb.

I approach the problem of explanatory gap from both sides, bottom-up and top-down. The bottom-up approach investigates brain physiology. The top-down approach investigates the behavior and experiences. Each of the two approaches led me to develop a theory: The work on physiology resulted in the theory of practopoiesis. The work on behavior and experiences led to the phenomenon of ideasthesia.

The empirical work in the background of those theories involved

  • simultaneous recordings of activity of 100+ neurons in the visual cortex (extracellular recordings), 
  • behavioral and imaging studies in visual cognition (attention, working memory, long-term memory), and 
  • empirical investigations of phenomenal experiences (synesthesia).
The ultimate goal of my studies is twofold.

  • First, I would like to achieve conceptual understanding of how the dynamics of physical processes creates the mental ones. I believe that the work on practopoiesis presents an important step in this direction and that it will help us eventually address the hard problem of consciousness and the mind-body problem in general. 
  • Second, I would like to use this theoretical knowledge to create artificial systems that are biologically-like intelligent and adaptive. This would have implications for our technology.

A reason why one would be interested in studying the brain in the first place is described here: Why brain?

This Drivable Car Was Just 3D Printed In 44 Hours

At the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, Local Motors 3D printed a plastic car called the Strati in front of thousands of attendees.

Local Motors took the chassis, seats, door panels, and thousands of other components, and 3D printed all those parts into just one piece. The first phase of the process, completed on Tuesday, took just 44 hours. 

"A 3D printed car like ours will only have dozens of components," Local Motors engineer James Earle tells Business Insider. In the near future, he says, it could cost only about $7,000 to manufacture, perhaps the start of what will become a niche market for customized cars.

"You can make a vehicle for yourself that's basically a one-0ff, do the entire design," he says. "You could create custom-fit seats that conform to your shape, things like that, that you couldn't do with cars now."

ORIGINAL: Business Insider
By Will Wei.
SEP. 10, 2014

jueves, 11 de septiembre de 2014

Datos científicos cambian el papel de los desarrolladores

Anant Jhingran no es fan del término ‘científico de datos’. 

Actualmente es el vicepresidente de productos de la empresa especializada en gestión de API Apigee y anteriormente se desempeñó como vicepresidente y director de tecnología de Información de Gestión en IBM, donde desarrolló el sistema Watson, un sistema de computación cognitiva que acompañó a las supercomputadoras IBM.

Durante los últimos años he estado practicando lo que realmente significa el permitir una gran escuela de los desarrolladores, crear aplicaciones mejores y más inteligentes”, dice Jhingran.

Me he dado cuenta que el científico que trabaja con datos, tiene que pasar de ser el nerd a convertirse en quien resuelve los problemas muy difíciles; es decir de ser el facilitador de la creación de aplicaciones a ser la cabeza de los desarrolladores”.

He visto la transformación en mí mismo”, añade Jhingran. “He pasado de ser un desarrollador común y corriente de datos, que se centró en la solución de problemas difíciles. Ver el éxito que he obtenido es la razón que me motiva a que otras personas también lo obtengan”.

No me llame un ‘Científico de datos’
Jhingran dice que su malestar se centra “cuando se crea un aura que caracteriza como inabordables a los científicos de datos. También, en mi mente, se da una salida fácil para los desarrolladores, y es decir que los datos son muy volubles y trabajar con ellos es difícil”.

Este sentimiento es parte de un cambio importante que según Jhingran está sucediendo en el campo de la ciencia de datos hoy en día, como la capacidad de utilizar datos grandes que se vuelve más dominante en la empresa y una ventaja competitiva clave para las organizaciones capaces de hacer uso de análisis de operaciones y análisis de inteligencia de negocios.

Ese cambio es que los científicos de datos son magos que ya no operan detrás de una cortina; que están empezando a trabajar mano a mano con los desarrolladores para ofrecer un valor empresarial a los usuarios finales.

Todas las empresas de éxito ven que el análisis de apalancamiento está en una línea superior masiva, que además mejora los resultados, y los que no lo ven o no lo entienden es porque ellos han hecho estas cosas la corriente principal”, dice.

Realmente tiene que ser en ese nivel de importancia lo que hace que esto tenga éxito. Obviamente la tecnología es importante y el científico de datos tiene que evolucionar con ésta. Si estamos de acuerdo con el hecho de que grandes datos se van a la corriente principal, en mi mente hay una entidad que se sienta entre la obra del científico de datos y el usuario final, y es el desarrollador”.

Pensar como un desarrollador
Los desarrolladores son los nuevos hacedores de reyes”, añade. “Están en el puesto de más valor del negocio, mediante la creación de aplicaciones. El científico de datos tiene que tener un nuevo modo de pensar, y no se trata sólo de resolver los grandes problemas de manera aislada ya. La mentalidad tiene que ser: ¿Cómo habilito a estos desarrolladores?”.

Por su parte, Jhingran dice que está trabajando para impulsar esa forma de pensar en Apigee. Los científicos de datos ya no están en equipos o en grupos aparte de los demás. En cambio, ahora se sientan con los desarrolladores en las líneas de negocio.

Hicimos que estos científicos de datos en realidad se sienten en los equipos de trabajo con los desarrolladores”, dice. “Viven y respiran sus problemas. Eso ha hecho una gran diferencia en la comprensión de los científicos de datos, que su trabajo es permitir a la gente tener éxito”.

El resultado es que el análisis científico de los datos ahora está habilitando productos que facilitan el acceso a los APIs, que los desarrolladores pueden aprovechar para hacer funcionar sus aplicaciones.

Todo sucede, porque los científicos de datos no sólo han hecho el trabajo duro en los problemas difíciles, sino que avanzan a la siguiente milla para que los desarrolladores continúen su trabajo”, dice.

Sin embargo, señala que los desarrolladores, como los científicos de datos, tienen que cambiar su mentalidad cultural, más si van a ofrecer el mejor valor a los usuarios finales.

“Los desarrolladores han pensado típicamente en sí mismos al desarrollar la programación, ya sea la interfaz de usuario o la aplicación o la lógica del negocio”, dice Jhingran. “Siempre que se habla de datos, se habla de éstos como algo persistente, en comparación con la analítica. Creemos firmemente que el desarrollador del futuro no será un revelador de la habilidad individual, más bien será capaz de jugar con las necesidades de datos para convertirse en un habilitador muy importante”.

El desarrollador del futuro” –dice- “tendrá que ser multifacético, capaz de construir una aplicación en la mañana, y luego construir una API en apoyo de esa aplicación. Más tarde ese día, ese mismo desarrollador debe ser capaz de probar la aplicación para determinar si se está creando un beneficio”.

En cinco años, los desarrolladores tienen que ser lo más cómodo jugando con los datos como están con la lógica del negocio y la lógica de la interfaz de usuario”, añade.

ORIGINAL: PulsoSocial
por Pulsosocial+
agosto 25, 2014

Smart Phones for Smart Kids

Smart Phones for Smart Kids

This article first appeared on the Wall Street Journal Aug. 21, 2014 7:37 p.m. ET

This year more than 750 million educational apps for mobile devices will be installed world-wide.”

In the coming weeks, 55 million U.S. students in grades K-12 will go back to school. In their backpacks they will carry pens, No. 2 pencils, 3-ring binders and calculators. But most students will also carry something that their parents’ generation could never have imagined: a smartphone.

And that changes everything. The mobile technologies that have revolutionized the American workplace are now transforming our education system.

For years entrepreneurs and educators have been pushing to bring education technology into the classroom, but adoption has often been slow. Now the education tech landscape is shifting toward mobile devices and new, free and easy-to-use services. The impact is enormous: This year more than 750 million educational apps for mobile devices will be installed world-wide.

Teachers can choose from an array of educational content to create learning experiences that are more accessible, personalized and engaging. If emails to students or phone calls home go ignored, teachers can meet families where they live—on their mobile devices. A remarkable 70% of teenagers age 13-17 have smartphones, according to a 2013 report by the market-research firm Nielsen.

And teenagers are not casual users: The average teenager sends 60 text messages a day, with many sending more than 100 a day, according to a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center. For students, parents and teachers, mobile devices are central to everyday life.

The nonprofit online Khan Academy is one of the strongest examples of how new technology can create more personalized and engaging education. Its free, interactive video lessons allow K-12 students to learn at their own pace, with an individual dashboard for recommended lessons. Khan Academy began with the founder Sal Khan helping his niece with her math homework. There are now 10 million monthly users with nearly 500 million total views on the Khan Academy YouTube channel.

Another gem is the free mobile language-learning app Duolingo. It offers custom exercises based on a student’s progress. Each month, nine million users complete 150 million lessons across six languages. Yet another leader in personalized content is Quizlet, an online library that provides 22 million monthly users with flashcards, tests and games. Quizlet’s library of 50 million study sets covers every subject from Mandarin to Advanced Placement art history.

In addition to these innovations in curriculum, new smartphone apps enable simple, intuitive and powerful communications. A 2012 report from Harvard University’s Matthew Kraft and Shaun Dougherty found that teacher-family communication made it 40% more likely that students would complete their homework. When teachers, students and parents communicate, learning improves.

A leader in the field is Remind, a free service that allows teachers to safely and securely text students and parents without disclosing personal phone numbers. Remind turns text messaging into a broadcast channel for each class, saving teachers time while informing students and families. One out of every five teachers in the U.S. is already using Remind, judging from the number of Remind teacher accounts and Labor Department teacher data. In Texas, more than 40% of teachers use the service.

Other applications, such as Edmodo, allow collaboration on assignments and curriculum. Edmodo is a social learning platform similar to Facebook, with millions of users.

For a long time we have known that strong teachers, motivated students and engaged parents are building blocks for a successful education. Now we know more: Free, powerful mobile apps are improving that learning.

Mr. Doerr is a co-founder of the New Schools Venture Fund and a funder of education technology entrepreneurs at AltSchool, Chegg, Coursera, DreamBox, Duolingo, Khan Academy and Remind. He is a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.


August 22, 2014
By John Doerr

I Contain Multitudes

Our bodies are a genetic patchwork, possessing variation from cell to cell. Is that a good thing?

Olena Shmahalo for Quanta Magazine

Even healthy brains harbor genetic diversity, though scientists disagree over the extent.

Your DNA is supposed to be your blueprint, your unique master code, identical in every one of your tens of trillions of cells. It is why you are you, indivisible and whole, consistent from tip to toe.

But that’s really just a biological fairy tale. In reality, you are an assemblage of genetically distinctive cells, some of which have radically different operating instructions. This fact has only become clear in the last decade. Even though each of your cells supposedly contains a replica of the DNA in the fertilized egg that began your life, mutations, copying errors and editing mistakes began modifying that code as soon as your zygote self began to divide. In your adult body, your DNA is peppered by pinpoint mutations, riddled with repeated or rearranged or missing information, even lacking huge chromosome-sized chunks. Your data is hopelessly corrupt.

Most genome scientists assume that this DNA diversity, called “somatic mutation” or “structural variation,” is bad. Mutations and other genetic changes can alter the function of the cell, usually for the worse. Disorderly DNA is a hallmark of cancers, and genomic variation can cause a suite of brain disorders and malformations. It makes sense: Cells working off garbled information probably don’t function very well.

Most research to date has focused on how aberrant DNA drives disease, but even healthy bodies harbor genetic disorder. In the last few years, some researchers report that anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of brain cells and between 30 and 90 percent of human liver cells are aneuploid, meaning that one entire chromosome is either missing or duplicated. Copy number variations, in which chunks of DNA between 100 and a few million letters in length are multiplied or eliminated, also seem to be widespread in healthy people.

Scientists Create Solid Light

photo credit: Princeton University, Engineering School. 
By creating a "self-trapping regime" scientists have made light behave like a crystal

On a late summer afternoon it can seem like sunlight has turned to honey, but could liquid—or even solid—light be more than a piece of poetry? Princeton University electrical engineers say not only is it possible, they’ve already made it happen.

In Physical Review X, the researchers reveal that they have locked individual photons together so that they become like a solid object.

"It's something that we have never seen before," says Dr. Andrew Houck, an associate professor of electrical engineering and one of the researchers. "This is a new behavior for light."

The researchers constructed what they call an “artificial atom” made of 100 billion atoms engineered to act like a single unit. They then brought this close to a superconducting wire carrying photons. In one of the almost incomprehensible behaviors unique to the quantum world, the atom and 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.

As some of the photons leaked into the surrounding environment, the oscillations slowed and at a critical point started producing quantum divergent behavior. In other words, like Schroedinger's Cat, the correlated photons could be in two states at once.

"Here we set up a situation where light effectively behaves like a particle in the sense that two photons can interact very strongly," said co-author Dr. Darius Sadri. "In one mode of operation, light sloshes back and forth like a liquid; in the other, it freezes."

As cool as it is to produce solidified light, the team was not acting out of curiosity alone. When connected together the photons of light behave like subatomic particles, but are in some ways easier to study. Consequently, the team is hoping to use the solid light to simulate subatomic behavior.

Attempts to model the behavior of large numbers of particles usually use statistical mechanics, and often simplify by assuming no interaction between particles and a system at equilibrium. However, in a point we can all relate to, Houck and his colleagues note, “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.

The system created so far is very simple, with the light entangled with the atom at two points. However, it should be possible to increase this, greatly expanding the complexity and range of possibilities of what is being constructed.

As well as providing an easy-to-study model of atomic systems that actually exist, Houck and his team hope the frozen light could be made to behave like materials that do not exist, but have been hypothesised by physicists, allowing them to explore how these things would react if they were real.

by Stephen Luntz
September 11, 2014

domingo, 7 de septiembre de 2014

Scientists Create Simple Artificial ‘Cell’ Capable Of Spontaneous Movement

photo credit: Vesicle shapes created through osmosis. Image credit: Christoph Hohmann, Nano Initiative Munich
The cells that make up all living things are in constant interaction with their environment. Most cells perform complex chemical processes to ensure the cell and the organism remain healthy. Scientists have not yet been able to replicate a fully-functional synthetic cell, but it now appears they are off to a good start. A team of biophysicists have developed basic artificial vesicles capable of changing shape and moving spontaneously. 

The vesicles created in this study will be used in future design of increasingly-complex artificial cellular structures, capable of interacting with the environment and carrying out the same processes as a natural biological cell. The research was led by Andreas Bausch from Technische Universität München, and the paper appeared on the cover of Science.

Bausch’s team went back to the basics of cell biology and used biomolecules to build the most fundamental cellular structures from the protein level up. A rudimentary cytoskeleton was constructed by adding tiny tube-shaped polymers called microtubules inside the lipid bilayer membrane that served as the vesicle’s casing. Proteins called kinesins were also added to push along the microtubules, providing movement. Kinesins require coenzyme adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to function, which was added as a source of fuel.

Within the vesicle, the microtubules formed a constantly moving flat layer of liquid crystal. Liquid crystal is a state of matter that is neither liquid nor solid, yet has properties similar to both states. 

"One can picture the liquid crystal layer as tree logs drifting on the surface of a lake," lead author Felix Keber said in a press release. "When it becomes too congested, they line up in parallel but can still drift alongside each other.

As the 2D arrangement of the microtubule liquid crystals are trying to completely line a 3D spheroid, it cannot be done flawlessly. Think of it like trying to gift wrap a basketball. The paper can pressed mostly flat, but eventually there will be unavoidable creases and faults. The faults within the microtubules caused some to be packed in a different orientation to fit in. 

The microtubule faults had not impacted the shape or integrity of the vesicle under normal circumstances, but that changed when the vesicles were subjected to different environmental conditions. As water was extracted from the vesicle due to osmosis, the bilayer membrane deflated. Movement from the microtubules in the faults caused the sagging membrane to adopt new shapes, including some with spike-like protrusions.

"With our synthetic biomolecular model we have created a novel option for developing minimal cell models," Bausch states. "It is ideally suited to increasing the complexity in a modular fashion in order to reconstruct cellular processes like cell migration or cell division in a controlled manner. That the artificially created system can be comprehensively described from a physical perspective gives us hope that in the next steps we will also be able to uncover the basic principles behind the manifold cell deformations."

by Lisa Winter
September 5, 2014

Neurons in human skin perform advanced calculations

[2014-09-01] Neurons in human skin perform advanced calculations, previously believed that only the brain could perform. This is according to a study from Umeå University in Sweden published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

A fundamental characteristic of neurons that extend into the skin and record touch, so-called first-order neurons in the tactile system, is that they branch in the skin so that each neuron reports touch from many highly-sensitive zones on the skin.

According to researchers at the Department of Integrative Medical Biology, IMB, Umeå University, this branching allows first-order tactile neurons not only to send signals to the brain that something has touched the skin, but also process geometric data about the object touching the skin.

- Our work has shown that two types of first-order tactile neurons that supply the sensitive skin at our fingertips not only signal information about when and how intensely an object is touched, but also information about the touched object's shape, says Andrew Pruszynski, who is one of the researchers behind the study.

The study also shows that the sensitivity of individual neurons to the shape of an object depends on the layout of the neuron’s highly-sensitive zones in the skin.

- Perhaps the most surprising result of our study is that these peripheral neurons, which are engaged when a fingertip examines an object, perform the same type of calculations done by neurons in the cerebral cortex. Somewhat simplified, it means that our touch experiences are already processed by neurons in the skin before they reach the brain for further processing, says Andrew Pruszynski.

For more information about the study, please contact Andrew Pruszynski, post doc at the Department of Integrative Medical Biology, IMB, Umeå University. He is English-speaking and can be reached at: 
Phone: +46 90 786 51 09; Mobile: +46 70 610 80 96

ORIGINAL: Umeå University

jueves, 4 de septiembre de 2014

The girl with three biological parents

Alana Saarinen loves playing golf and the piano, listening to music and hanging out with friends. In those respects, she's like many teenagers around the world. Except she's not, because every cell in Alana's body isn't like mine and yours - Alana is one of a few people in the world who have DNA from three people.

"A lot of people say I have facial features from my mum, my eyes look like my dad… I have some traits from them and my personality is the same too," says Alana.

"I also have DNA from a third lady. But I wouldn't consider her a third parent, I just have some of her mitochondria."

Mitochondria are often called the cell's factories. They are the bits that create the energy all of our cells need to work, and keep the body functioning. But they also contain a little bit of DNA.

Alana Saarinen is one of only 30 to 50 people in the world who have some mitochondria, and therefore a bit of DNA, from a third person. She was conceived through a pioneering infertility treatment in the USA which was later banned.

But soon there could be more people like Alana, with three genetic parents, because the UK is looking to legalise a new, similar technique which would use a donor's mitochondria to try to eliminate debilitating genetic diseases. It is called mitochondrial replacement and if Parliament votes to let this happen, the UK would become the only country in the world to allow children with three people's DNA to be born.

The structure of a cell

Nucleus: Where the majority of our DNA is held - this determines how we look and our personality

Mitochondria: Often described as the cell's factories, these create the energy to make the cell function

Cytoplasm: The jelly like substance that contains the nucleus and mitochondria

Alana was born through an infertility treatment called cytoplasmic transfer.

Her mum, Sharon Saarinen, had been trying to have a baby for 10 years through numerous IVF procedures.

"I felt worthless. I felt guilty that I couldn't give my husband a child. When you want a biological child but you can't have one, you're distraught. You can't sleep, it's 24-7, constantly on your mind," she says.

Cytoplasmic transfer was pioneered in the late 1990s by a clinical embryologist Dr Jacques Cohen and his team at the St Barnabus Institute in New Jersey, US.

"We felt that there was a chance that there was some element, some structure in the cytoplasm that didn't function optimally. One of the major candidates that could have been involved here are structures called mitochondria," he says.

Cohen transferred a bit of a donor woman's cytoplasm, containing mitochondria, to Sharon Saarinen's egg. It was then fertilised with her husband's sperm. As a little bit of mitochondria was transferred, some DNA from the donor was in the embryo.

Seventeen babies were born at Cohen's clinic, as a result of cytoplasmic transfer, who could have had DNA from three people.

But there was concern about some of the babies.

"There was one early miscarriage, considering there were twelve pregnancies that is an expected number," says Cohen.

He and his team believed that miscarriage occurred because the foetus was missing an X chromosome.

"Then there was another twin pregnancy, where one [of the twins] was considered entirely normal and the other had a missing X chromosome.

"So that's two out of the small group of foetuses that was obtained from this procedure. This did worry us and we reported that in the literature and in our ethical and review board that oversees these procedures," he says.