Real progress in artifical intelligence


Finally, however, in the last decade ­Hinton and other researchers made some fundamental conceptual breakthroughs. In 2006, Hinton developed a more efficient way to teach individual layers of neurons. The first layer learns primitive features, like an edge in an image or the tiniest unit of speech sound. It does this by finding combinations of digitized pixels or sound waves that occur more often than they should by chance. Once that layer accurately recognizes those features, they’re fed to the next layer, which trains itself to recognize more complex features, like a corner or a combination of speech sounds. The process is repeated in successive layers until the system can reliably recognize phonemes or objects.

via New Techniques from Google and Ray Kurzweil Are Taking Artificial Intelligence to Another Level | MIT Technology Review.

How Microsoft extends the R&D model in India

Microsoft India Development Center, Hyderabad,...
Image by Marc_Smith via Flickr

Navi Radjou has an interesting post on how Microsoft approaches it’s global R&D over at the Harvard Business blog, excerpt:

Microsoft Reinvents Its Global R&D Model – Navi Radjou –

What impressed me most about TEM is its staff members’ multidisciplinary backgrounds. In addition to computer scientists and engineers, TEM also includes experts in the areas of ethnography, sociology, political science, and development economics, all of which help Microsoft understand the social context of technology in emerging markets like India. For instance, we met with Aishwarya Ratan, an associate researcher trained as a development economist, who is exploring the delivery of financial services to poor and low-literate clients using mobile technologies. Another researcher, Nimmi Rangaswamy, who has a background in social anthropology, is conducting ethnographic research in urban slums to identify the socio-economic needs of micro-entrepreneurs there — many of which can be addressed with technology.

By leveraging its multidisciplinary talent, TEM has developed some amazing solutions designed for emerging and underserved markets, both in rural and urban environments. For example, it has developed the MultiPoint mouse, which allows a single computer to be shared by multiple children in developing nations. My personal favourite is Digital Green (which I nicknamed “American Idol for Farmers”), a Web 2.0 initiative which tapes progressive farmers to disseminate their best practices across agricultural communities. Digital Green just won the 2008 Stockholm Challenge Award in the Culture category.

Undoubtedly Microsoft is pioneering the R&D 2.0 model that I discussed in my last post — an organizational model that relies on anthropologists and development economists to first decipher the socio-cultural needs of users in emerging markets like India and then use these deep insights to develop appropriate technology solutions. And it’s telling that Microsoft picked India as the epicentre of its global R&D transformation.

I don’t think Microsoft is alone in taking this approach in India or elsewhere, but it is notable that Microsoft recognizes that technological advancement alone will not lead to greater success in the future – particularly in emerging markets.

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Target Marketing |

Chris Brogan

Image by CC Chapman via Flickr

I found this fascinating quote today:

Here are some things that are true: people don’t read. And when they pretend to read, they skim. Comprehension and context are at an all time low. We’re snackers, and it’s adding up. Where this hits us the worst is when communications professionals attempt to match their idea of me (and by me, I mean you) with their “target.”Target Marketing |, Nov 2008

You should read the whole article.

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Gartenberg believes that Microsoft’s Zune is nothing to laugh at

 After the lackluster launch of the UMPC (Origami), a failure that had as much to do with the bulky form-factor as price, Microsoft is keying up another personal device for consumers.  Dubbed the Zune, most people have written it off already as an ‘also ran’ against Apple’s iPod.  Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research, however, seems to disagree:

OK, it’s pretty clear that the first iteration of Zune is pretty lackluster given where Apple and the rest of the market is. Underestimating Zune and Microsoft, however, would be a huge mistake. It’s not to say that this is a slam dunk for Microsoft but let’s look at the big picture.

Source: Michael Gartenberg – Underestimating Zune would be a huge mistake

All I can say is that the pictures comparing the two side by side make it obvious that the 1st generation Zune is pretty ugly, and bulkier than the iPod.  Microsoft is using a very aggressive pricing model ($249 for the current Zune), and clearly is willing to pump resources into this device to challenge Apple.  Maybe like the newest UMPCs, the second generation Zune will be attactive enough to own.

Breezing through my Outlook Inbox with Speefiler

A few months back, I wrote about a slick Outlook add-in called Speedfiler (over at Download Squad). I had just started using it back in March, and instantly found it to be very useful in clearing my Inbox. I’ve tried many Outlook add-ins over the years, and ultimately I end up uninstalling them because of inherent flaws, or performance issues, that result from them. Well, three months after I started using it, I’m happy to report that Speedfiler is still a critical part of my Outlook experience. It even works with Outlook 2007 Beta, which is my Outlook weapon of choice now.

One of the key aspects of the Getting Things Done approach to productivity is keeping a clean inbox…driven through a rigorous process workflow. David Allen writes about eliminating as many of the barriers to processing as possible. As I wrote back in March, Outlook allows you to drag and drop your email into the folder of your chosing, but trying to do that quickly for dozens of inbox emails can really slow you down. It’s just easier to use a keyboard command to popup a selection window, start typing a folder name, and have it auto-populate in the entry field. Press enter, and the email is filed.

Outlook already does this, but it doesn’t have a ‘smart’ folder selector. In traditional Outlook, you can use a keyboard command to open a folder selection window, and as you start typing Outlook will find a folder you are looking for. But it will only look at the current level of folders, missing subfolders, and does not return options that contain your typed entry anywhere within the folder name. For example, if you maintain two folders one named ‘Support Management’ and the other ‘Services Management’, and were to type ‘mana…’, traditional Outlook won’t find these two folders at all. Speedfiler actually finds both, no matter where they reside in the folder structure. This allows you to maintain many subfolders, and you don’t have to ‘hunt and peck’ to find the one that you were looking for.

One other huge plus to Speedfiler is the ability to file sent messages as they are sent. This was one feature that I thought would slow me down significantly. In practice, it hasn’t. Now my sent messages are filed as quickly as by inbox messages.

Speedfiler doesn’t solve for Outlooks bigger flaws, but it certainly tweaks Outlook enough that its worth hanging on to.

Rob Bushway does a video review of the Gateway convertible notebook

The Aircraft carrier of Tablet PCs, Gateway’s M280 is probably one of the most reasonably priced ink ready laptops available today.  I first got a glimpse of this behemouth when I saw Marc Orchant‘s Gateway late last year.  It is certainly a big, powerful tablet.  I don’t know if I’d ever go for it, but in case you are interested, Rob Bushway, over at has done an excellent video review.  You might want to take a look here.

So, that’s how Bill Gates works

Bill Gates in the OfficeIt is safe to assume that Bill G. would have a technologically advanced work environment, but still is cool to read and see what his office looks like in the recent issue of Fortune (here).  As you’d expect, the article is chock-full of Microsoftie stuff, from Outlook to Sharepoint, and from a Tri-screen mega desktop to his trusty Tablet PC.  What I found most interesting about his setup is how similar it is to mine.  In the two years since I made the switch to a TabletPC, I’ve become a convert to the idea that we can function in a nearly paperless environment.  My Toshiba M200 is the workhorse of my setup, giving me the power of a laptop, with the agility of a tablet.  Like Bill, OneNote is a central part of my day.  My notes all go there, with rare exception.  OneNote has become an even greater part of my core application set with OneNote 2007–beta (I’m beta testing the Microsoft Office 2007 suite).  Bill’s article doesn’t say how he synchronizes his computers, but for me Foldershare has become the gold standard; I’m now always in synch with my office and home desktops, and my Tablet PC.  Given the chance, I think many business users today would switch to this approach, but Tablet PCs have not made major inroads in the corporate culture.  Of course, I don’t expect anybody but a big time executive having the monitor array that Bill incorporates into his workday!

Signs of trouble at Microsoft?

Late last night Microsoft announced that it would delay shipping the highly anticipated Vista operating systems for consumer use until after the holiday season.  That was pretty surprising, given that all indications were for Vista to be selling in time for Christmas ‘06.  Apparently this delay has also forced the hand of Steve Ballmer to do an internal re-org, and place a long time Office division veteran on top of the Vista hierarchy.  The WSJ is reporting the details here.