Why Google Clips works like our Brains

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It might feel like a deja vu out of a google-glass dream, but there’s now a camera you can install in your house that will capture the most important moments of your family life. Whether or not you agree with the idea, this is certainly a piece of tech that deserves attention. And here is why:

 

A typical trying-to-catch the moment in my books as my son plays with his new Chinese friend.

With Clips, every time something important happens, the camera switches on automatically. It records for however long time the scene takes place, and then, switches off just at the right time to capture the entire moment. So how would it know how to do that? Well, firstly, let’s break it down to the basic tech elements and see how the software works.

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According to product lead, Juston Payne, ‘Clips’s AI is built on convolutional neural network (CNN) and semantic analysis. These tech terms describe a system that works similarly to the human brain and the way we learn to make sense of things. It is also what helps us making a decision about what to film and what not to film in our daily lives.

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The biggest sensory part of the brain, right under your forehead is called cerebral cortex in posh language. This is the part that makes sure that you feel, smell and see things as they happen. It’s also responsible to notify the rest of the brain when and how to respond to a situation. 

It is common sense to organise this complicated system in a simple way. Instead of notifying everyone at all times, you target specific bits of the whole chain. So it triggers the neurons in a specific area – i.e. when someone touches your hand, only neurons  in your hand are affected, and all action the brain takes from then on will be affecting the hand only. 

 

Convolutional neural network system allows the camera to “filter out” important info from things that can be ignored. Basically, only when an object hits particular part of the camera does it start working analysing and acting from that point on.  When Clips sees movement or light, it kicks off in the same way as your brain does when we see movement and lights – basically saying “pay attention, something important might be happening” Machines have been able to do that for a very long time but it’s only recently that it has become possible to do it in a small device like Clips.

 

So, after it has understood that there is something worth seeing, we need context to establish whether or not it’s important. For this, clips’ AI uses semantic analysis – a much less technical term that tells the camera to analyse the situation based on our previous knowledge.

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Of course, to do that, we need to make sure that there is some basic understanding of what the world around us holds.  The same way as humans do, machines get this by picking up as much information as possible, and store it in our brains. We know that a table is a table and a vase is a vase. When the cat jumps on top of that table to knock down the vase, we know that this is a situation that is worth remembering (or not). At the very least, we know that it’s (hopefully) unusual.

The unique feature of Clips is that it knows when to record. Much like a human, machines need a lot of knowledge to do this kind of analysis and this knowledge takes up a lot of processing power. This is based on previous experience and assumption, which is something we learn through feedback about different life situations.

Passing on human perception to machines is, in technical terms, called “training the model”. This, literally, is what it says on the tin. Normally, you give the computer a specific type of data (it could be a comedy script for example) and train it to be funny. In this case, Google hired tons of video editors and “picture monitors” (I would love to see a job description for that). These teams spend their days giving feedback about what looks good and make it as interactive as when one of us pick up a camera to capture the best moments of our cats and babies.

Why is the Gov scared of our Crypto Cash?

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This is not the actual steps. I was way too tired to take a picture. But, I promise, it looks exactly the same. And it is definitely the only way up. I checked. 

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the steep steps. I looked around. No… definitely no escalators. And no elevators. The only option was to drag the 23-kg-suitcase up those steps looking like a mountain goat. I stood there for about a minute, looking at people using all sorts of methods and ways to get to the street level from a station which, by the way, was solely dedicated to the airport express.

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There’s nothing better then seeing the light in the end of the tunnel once you finally get up the steps. 

It was fun for a while. Then, the 6-hour-trip from Shanghai started feeling very long. I sat down on the suitcase and took my time to enjoy my cigarette. That’s when my phone went.

It was a WeChat message to add to my day. It turned out my efforts were all for nothing. The event I have travelled all those miles for, was actually cancelled. And it was not only me. Hundreds of people have travelled to Beijing. It was right then, the value of Bitcoin and Ethereum started to plummet. A few days later it was down by 20%.

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Cryptocurrency shaking hands. Is Ether competition to bitcoin?

A few days past and China banned all ICOs all together. After that, Israel issued a statement that it was going to do the same. It seemed like everyone, except Estonia which actually decided to launch their own cryptocurrency ESTCOIN, saw lines of codes created in bedrooms around the world, as a threat.

So what was going on? Why did everyone panic? And why is everyone chasing all these tokens no-one heard of only a few years back. To understand why, I thought of looking at the winners and losers of digital tokens. Let’s walk into this with an open mind.

So, first things first. What are all these ICO’s, Bitcoints, Blockchains smart contracts and Ether?

You may or may not know about it yet, but these are the most fundamental tech developments of our generation. ‘Blockchain’ and ‘smart contracts’ have become signatures for the most famous digital currencies: Bitcoin and Etherium. In essence, it creates a record of all trades between people and, most importantly, makes it impossible to change or alter any records. In other words, all the politicians’ expenses are visible and track-able all the way to the source.

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In practice, it is a way to exchange cash and goods. As long as someone is accepting your ‘Bitcoins’ or ‘Ethers’, you can trade them for products and services of your choice using those two digital currencies.

Now, an ICO, is a short for Initial Coin Offering. It’s a way to start a digital currency and get as many supporters as possible. Effectively, it’s a crowdfunding campaign of a mass scale. And the numbers just keep on growing to an astronomic scale, as the new ICO Filecoin clearly showed us by raising 257 million in only two months.  

An ICO is a currency that comes about when a group of people decide that it should come about. It is a system of trust, much like any currency. But there’s a fundamental difference between ‘any’ government currency and a crypto coin. The crypto is cancelling out the middleman – the central point of management which, in all countries with the exception of North Korea, is the central bank and by proxy also the government, leaving many countries in the void of currency without meaning. It might not seem surprising then that the government is not ecstatic over this massive ICO boom, for the exception of the Estonians, who have proven to be the most open minded nation in the world in this area when it comes to this.

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With crypto currencies, there’s no central bank. There is no centre at all. This means that the value of a digital coin is assigned by the amount of people believing in it and by that only.

It’s true that this technically true for all currencies. Imagine you have a bag full of cash and decide to go out and spend it. You go to the ice cream van, and order a proper Italian gelato. You watch the ice cream man make it for you and pour strawberry sauce all over it. He hands it over to you and you pass him a 5 euro note. He looks at it in disapproval. I’m not accepting that money anymore, he says. There’s this other alternative that makes me a lot more money and makes my life a lot easier. So then what? What happens to all your savings? Not to mention the investments? What happens to the establishment if we stop using the money it prints?

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What can I eat if no-one takes my money. 

This suddenly changes things. We go back to associate value to the trade. Value of the pot to what’s actually being produced. Whatever we pay for is decided by the market valueof the crypto currency itself, which is associated with the amount of people who invested in it. This is very different from the current market, because the value of goods and services is limited to the amount of real money in the system. There’s no way to assign a virtual value to, say, a place to live, which, in 90% of the cases has to be dealt with through a bank.

ICO on the other hand depend on the collective view of people’s perspective of life and their ideas. This gives us choice about what to support and a transparency of what the currency actually does. The record, which is created in blockchain is impossible to change. That means that anyone can see trade in weapons supporting various wars, and you don’t support that type of trade, you can take the money out of and put it into a different one. In this case, you actually know what your money does.

It goes without saying that this is a concept that affects ICO and the government as a whole. The more people believe in cryptocurrencies and, by proxy, also a decentralised society – one without banks and governments –  the less people see the government as a necessary part of the big picture. Loss faith in the government and rise support for cryptocurrencies may not be linked directly, but even if they happen in parallel, the outcome is the same; the idea of us living without a government has gone too far to be stopped now – and the support is higher than ever before.

 

 

Test Organic – Scan your food to see where it comes from

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I love Shanghai at night… when the sun goes down and the lights turn on. There’s something mysterious about the multi-coloured neon covered by the steam coming through the minuscule corner shops; all cooking their own dishes in their own style. But behind this fog covering piles of dumplings, the real secret is still to be unveiled – the secret of the actual ingredients of the everyday meal.

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Dumplings in all shapes and forms in Shanghai

China is particularly dodgy when it comes to food. Not knowing the ingredients can, at best, leave you eating something you didn’t know was eatable and, at worst, cost you your life.

This is actually this is a worldwide problem. It starts with the horsemeat scandal and escalates into poverty, inequality, wages, fraudulent fair-trade and organised crime. In Italy, many types of olive oils are being spread out by the mafia so, unless you know the exact growth chain, there’s no way to find out the quality.

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100% organic coffee, salt, beer, prosecco and olive oil  

Point is that there’s no way you can find out where the packet you picket off the shelf actually comes from.

This is technologically possible though and, if implemented on a large scale, could change the way we eat forever. This is something a food lover like me, cannot resist participating in, which is why I, a week ago, got on the plane in Shanghai.

 

Our two cases at the TASICC (The Annual Shanghai International Expo Convention) shows that we can make it possible to see the exact source of the food. We used blockchain tech to build a system that works locally to China and internationally. We wanted to make it easy to understand, something that anyone can do and relate to. To do that, we settled for a scanning process where all you need to do is grab the product and scan it either through a reader or a phone.

 

This will give you a world map, showing the exact route of the product, a live stream feed of the farm, all the organic certificated, ways of production and the exact stages of the process.

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Our stand at The Annual Shanghai International Expo Convention

Focused on the two areas gave us enough products while we really explore each stage of the two environments. Our stands were full of rice, wine (from both countries of course), honey, sea salt, olive oil and prosecco.

 

Judging from the feedback, this seems to be a feature people been waiting for a while. Along with all the attention our team got, we signed almost a hundred MOU’s. We had conversations with all types of industries, all wondering how and it would work for them. It seemed to be that the need for transparency is here if not long overdue.

 

Fields across the world are now going through their own challenges. Some are burning while others are drowning. It could possibly leave us with less food than before and, if we want to maintain the quality, the most important part is to use the resources we have and the tech that’s given to us. In the end of the day, there’s no steam without fire, but we made the fire and we’re more than capable of putting it out again.

Does your supermarket see your photos?

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We all know we’re being spied on, but we’re not sure when and to what extent. Can people access your location and your personal data while you walk the streets?

Online shopping may seem to be taking over the world and that it’s all traceable. Although 90% of retail business is still done offline, traditional retailers are worried about the speed and the success of companies which they, only a couple of years back, considered insignificant. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that every single traditional shopping executive is looking for an answer and that answer has to be digital.

Reality is that online portals know something traditional retailers don’t. They can track every single transaction and link it to an individual. The new guys on the block have get a the full profile of their customers, which gives the old guy (with a lot of cash) a clear disadvantage. This, very important building block, is what brought the new guys an unbelievable success.

According to McKinsey Global Institute, the data collected and additional producs recommendations, is what made Amazon the company they are today. As the study noted, “Amazon reported that 30 percent of sales were due to its recommendation engine.”

To match that, offline retailers started implementing systems that could follow their customers behaviour. Some of them feel a bit more controversial than others. Here are some popular ways for retailers to check what you’re doing in the shop:

 

  • Track your movement around the shop: This was previously done through bluetooth and, if you switched your phone off, you we relatively incognito. These days however, wifi connectivity tends to be the preferred method. Most companies that provide these services swear blind that these data collected is not linked to individuals. All the other data is collected separately and analysed as a part of the bigger picture.
  • Camera face recognition, tracking and analysis: Face recognition software is pretty much mainstream these days. This, together with CCTV, means that it’s possible to know what types of people are visiting which space. Variables such as skin type, movement and style, can give a lot of data about the person’s life and occupation.
  • Social media apps and photos say a lot about a person’s location and movement. If you bring up your latest photo metadata you will see that it includes the exact latitude and longitude of where it was taken. This info can then be linked to a profile. It is biding it to a general profile, the retail can get a very good picture of not only who you are, but also where you move and what you take pictures of.

 

 

 

 

Why food trackig is so hard

 

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An orange travels approximately 1500 km from farm to plate. The distance increases significantly when it comes to other products such as juice. 

THE TECH SECTOR is working hard on tracking what we eat. Jack Ma claims to be solving the ‘fake food problem’, using blockchain to track the goods and see if, and, where, it has been modified.

Whether or not he will be successful, I cannot fault him for trying. It is a great challenge. Blockchain itself is a great system. Famous for being the building block of Bitcoin, it has now got a trace in almost all markets while still in its infancy. Instead of a massive central storage, where all data is gathered and managed (like a bank or central authority), blockchain creates a contract between two parties. These are normally referred to as ‘smart contracts’, and their smartness lies in the de-centralised system allowing anyone anywhere to complete a real-time transaction.

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This squid came from the sea. I know because I caught it

When it comes to food, blockchain allows the suppliers and customers to track products real-time and, through its de-centralised nature, also builds a trust system that allows farms and producers to take part in. In other words, you as a consumer, can find out how the flour in your supermarket basket got to you, the conditions its grown in and the places it’s travelled to.

This is pretty advanced and robust but, in my opinion, the real problem we have to tackle still lies with the people.  While it brings business to the supplier, the consumer is looking for the best possible quality. The problems often arise in warehouses and with middlemen who, due to the low profit margin or pure greed, dilute the product, or replace  with God-knows-what.  Maybe change bottles and manipulate the food. For this reason, whatever goes into a warehouse in China, is not always the same that leaves the warehouse in China (and this applies to many other countries too of course).

It is this behaviour and fundamental building block of our very nature, that must be tackled. We have been able to see our food grow and be produced since we (as humanity) settled down to agriculture. Still, many centuries and leaps of tech, it seems like the only way to know where our food comes from, is to see it grow in front of our eyes. I really hope this changes in my lifetime.

Shower… more expensive than an ounce of Silver

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A human is 60% water, so the news about less water on the planet inevitably means trouble. As the earth gets hotter, many wealthy countries now struggle with a poverty problem; a simple but brutal drought.

The 15 hottest years ever recorded are all in the naughties. This, together with decrease in water, brings empty and dry terrains – an environment only cactus plants can cope with.

California, Australia and Italy now rarely see rain and, instead, are ploughed by wildfires local authorities struggle to fight. At the same time, lack of water means higher maintenance of agriculture and simple necessities, like shower and cooking.

Source: NASA

Only if you believe in raindance can you bring cloud onto clear skies. Unlike other problems such as electricity, education, technology, development (you name it), this one, completely leaves us in the hands of Gods. The only way we can bring more freshwater in is through desalination – a process even the driest islands turn their back on.

I visited a saltern together with a startup a few days back to explore the possibility of turning the expensive desalitation process into a cheaper option. The saltern, located in some of the driest areas of the planet, makes salt but never implemented a desalination process for water, because of its astronomic cost.

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A single tomatoe needs 12 litres to grow while an avocado tree needs at least 1200 mm rainfall a year

A litre of desalinased water costs on average $0.2 to produce – 10 times the cost of regular, fresh water. If we heat that water, the cost grows to $0.32 a litre, adding onto the total bill.

For example, a normal shower lasts for an average of 8 minutes, using 62 litres of hot water. That would bring the cost up to nearly $20 per shower, more than an ounce of silver.

So, if we want to continue cooking, washing and cleaning our clothes, we better make it rain again.

If you Run away from Tech, it will chase you

hermit's house.pngRight on the top of a Monte Gallo, near Palermo, lives a hermit who decided to leave the civilisation behind and head to a lighthouse overlooking Mondello Beach – some of the most expensive areas of the Mediterranean.

The bricklayer called Antonio lived a peaceful life in the nearby village with his wife and four daughters until God told him to go to live in the mountains. Leaving everything behind, they headed to an lighthouse on top of the nearby cliff, which stood abandoned after the World War II.

Knowing that he was on a road with no return , he decided to make the most of it and built some of the most beautiful house one can imagine. Soon the rumour spread among the local and tourists. Everyone wanted to know why he left our modern way of life and how on earth one can live in this lighthouse 500 metres above sea level with no roads or facilities.

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Image: checkSicily

Soon, both tourists and locals started climbing the mountain to get answers to their questions. People were flocking around his house, interviewing him about his life and taking pictures of his family. The view of a secluded part of the world seen from the mountains, suddenly changed to the exposed lighthouse seen from the sea.

Traveling by boat off the Sicilian coast makes me think how this hermit’s house has become a metaphor for the world we live in. In a world full of technology, this has become a common practice. The more we try to protect our data, the more data we generate and the more visible we are. With everyone  being hooked up to the www, it is easier than ever before to work our who’s not and then ask why, instead of analysing the terabytes of data we generate each second. So, if you’re shut down all things digital, you would stick in a second, much like this bricklayer on top of the mountain.