Udacity spins out self-driving taxi startup Voyage

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One example of how fast the field of AI is moving: Udacity’s “school for robo-cars has been so successful that it’s now spinning out of Udacity into its own company, Voyage.” Here’s a snippet from Business Insider:

(…snip…) The new spin-out will be lead by Oliver Cameron, a Udacity VP that was spearheading a lot of its self-driving car curriculum. The company broke the news to its employees Wednesday morning.

Udacity will have a stake in the newly-formed company as part of the deal, said the Udacity’s CMO Shernaz Daver. Voyage also recently closed a seed round of funding that included Khosla Ventures, Initialized Capital, and Charles River Ventures.

Voyage has been hot in Silicon Valley investor circles because of one big name linked to Udacity: Sebastian Thrun. Thrun, who founded the education startup, is also nicknamed the “Godfather of self-driving cars” for the work he did at Google and helped launch the self-driving car nanodegree program at Udacity.

Thrun, though, says he’ll have no connection with Voyage even though it’s spinning out of his company. “Because of personal conflicts, I have excused myself from any involvement in Voyage. I wish Oliver and his team all the best,” Thrun said in a statement to Business Insider.

The autonomous taxi startup wants to bring about the end goal where autonomous cars can carry people anywhere for a very low cost, Cameron said. It already has permission to deploy its self-driving cars to ferry passengers in a few places over the next few months, but Cameron declined to specify where.

“We want to deploy these not within five years, but very soon. We think in terms of weeks, not in terms of years or months,” he told Business Insider in an interview.

Pure guess: one reason Oliver Cameron decided to take this risk is because Udacity is open-sourcing it’s own self driving car project. All the code is there for all of us to use and improve. Including the new startup Voyage. And Oliver Cameron has a pretty good idea how successful the Udacity project is going to be.

Update: this week BMW has announced they plan to ship self driving cars in four years, in 2021. That’s similar to plans already announced by GM, Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes, Volvo and Chinese ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing.

2017 Udacity Intersect: the future is closer than you think

We meat-bodies generally over-estimate short-term progress (one to three years) and underestimate medium-term technology progress (ten to twenty years). My particular interest is AI. That is partly because five decades ago Artificial Intelligence was my academic field at Carnegie Mellon. The logic-based AI that I was investigating with Herb Simon and Allen Newell is now known as GOFAI (good old-fashioned AI, that’s the AI that didn’t work very well). What motivates my current interest is that Machine Learning (ML), is starting to be really useful, and the rate of progress in narrow AI applications of ML is accelerating. You can see for yourself the rate of progress in ML in the explosion of speech recognition gadgets like Amazon Alexa, the voice service that powers the home Echo device. Now any of us can access voice and image recognition. In perhaps five years we will begin benefiting from Self Driving Cars (SDC) if we live in the right places.

I think that open-source, low-cost initiatives like Google’s release of TensorFlow mark a major inflection point in the rate of ML progress. A teenager can now prototype her ML-based idea to see if it really works. She doesn’t need to go to Sand Hill Road to raise venture capital. In fact, the VC community isn’t going to pay any attention to you unless you have already built your project to a level where it can be tested.

Another powerful indicator of the inflection point thesis is Udacity’s Nanodegree offerings. Outstanding example: the Self-Driving Car Engineer Nanodegree. For $800/term you can graduate with a qualification that dozens of leading companies are eager to hire. Here’s some of the hiring-partners of this SDC Engineer Nanodegree [they helped build the course]:

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How can you learn more? Well, I suggest having a look at videos from the March 8th 2017 Udacity Intersect conference. This was a remarkable event, opening the window so all of us can get visibility on what is happening. The Computer History Museum was vibrating with the energy of companies recruiting Udacity students and Nanodegree graduates. Pretty much every panel and keynote of the Agenda was packed with tech industry insiders exchanging views about their projects, priorities and especially the people they want to hire.

I’m highlighting Udacity Intersect 2017 because the conference offers a concise and fun way to get a look into the future and behind the curtain. What are the leading tech companies thinking and doing? Where are we likely to be in 10 to 20 years?

You can find links to videos of every segment of the conference at the main Intersect page. If you’re not sure this is for you, please check out the final session Fireside Chat: Astro Teller and Sebastian Thrun. These 33 minutes gives you access to two of the leading innovators who have convinced me that “the future is closer than you think”.

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Update: Udacity spins out self-driving taxi startup Voyage. Also, this week BMW has announced they plan to ship self driving cars in four years, in 2021. That’s similar to plans already announced by GM, Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes, Volvo and Didi.

Gene drive technology is too powerful to obtain the social license to deploy – is the Daisy Drive a solution?

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Gene drive technology has the potential to eliminate scourges like malaria – if we can develop the technology without provoking social license problems. It’s the lack of social license that has hobbled bioengineering to a small fraction of what we could have accomplished in the last couple of decades. Similarly, it’s the lack of social license that has hobbled global deployment of nuclear power.

Making gene drives practical is not yet a solved problem, though Bill Gates has said publicly that he thinks the foundation will be ready for trial releases in “a couple of years”. But how do we test the design of a CRISPR gene drive without a whole series of test releases? If people fear that testing means global impacts we will never be able to complete the initial tests.

That’s why I think the general category of gene drive inhibitor techniques are so important. Gene drive innovator Kevin Esvelt has a clear view of the social problem so he is investing effort to develop community support for the very first tests. Kevin is working with the community of Nantucket to suppress Lyme disease by releasing genetically engineered white-footed mice (the principal reservoir of Lyme disease).  Bringing the community to a “let’s proceed” consensus is a slow process, but I’m sure Kevin is right. If we don’t do this right we risk losing access to a valuable technology.

Michael Specter did a terrific New Yorker article on the topic “Rewriting the Code of Life”. And don’t miss Kevin Esvelt’s nuanced interview with Joi Ito on the realities of developing practical gene drives and social license.

Follow Kevin Esvelt on Twitter @kesvelt.

Update: Here are my sources documenting the public position of Bill Gates on gene drive research and deployment:

Bill Gates: Some People Think Eradicating Mosquitoes With Genetics Is Scary, But I Don’t Think It Will Be

Gates noted that the regulatory path for the technology is “unclear,” and that it’s not certain what will need to be done from a legal perspective before exterminating some species of mosquitoes in this way. However, he said, “I would deploy it two years from now.”

(…snip…) “I have to always show respect for people who think it is a scary thing to do,” Gates said. “I don’t think it will be. I think the way we’re doing the construct will make it a very key tool for malaria eradication.”

Bill Gates Doubles His Bet on Wiping Out Mosquitoes with Gene Editing

The new money will help Target Malaria “explore the potential development of other constructs, as well as to start mapping out next steps for biosafety, bioethics, community engagement, and regulatory guidance,” says Callahan. “It’s basically a lot of groundwork.” The Gates Foundation views the technology as a “long shot” that won’t necessarily work but, if it does, could effectively end malaria.

The foundation previously said it plans to have a gene-drive approved for field use by 2029 somewhere in Africa. But Gates, the founder of Microsoft, offered more enthusiastic prognostications in comments made this summer, saying the technology might be ready in just two years

This Analysis Shows How Viral Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook

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Up until those last three months of the campaign, the top election content from major outlets had easily outpaced that of fake election news on Facebook. Then, as the election drew closer, engagement for fake content on Facebook skyrocketed and surpassed that of the content from major news outlets.

…All the false news stories identified in BuzzFeed News’ analysis came from either fake news websites that only publish hoaxes or from hyperpartisan websites that present themselves as publishing real news. The research turned up only one viral false election story from a hyperpartisan left-wing site.

Transparency kudos to Buzzfeed for releasing the data behind the above graphic-bait. There is a good bit of detail in the Buzzfeed analysis.

Carole Cadwalla: how big data technology influences what we see and how we vote

Jonathon Albright’s network graph of fake-news in relation to real-news websites

If you are looking for a carefully researched but readable accounting of this complex topic I recommend Carole Cadwalla’s Guardian index. Researching the fake news issue I found her December article “Google, democracy and the truth about internet search”. That reporting led me to some of the researchers in the field like Martin Moore at the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Jonathan Albright at Elon University. In the December article Carole asks my initial questions:

Did such micro-targeted propaganda – currently legal – swing the Brexit vote? We have no way of knowing. Did the same methods used by Cambridge Analytica help Trump to victory? Again, we have no way of knowing. This is all happening in complete darkness.

I am also asking “is there a positive-feedback servo loop where Cambridge Analytica [CA] exploits the fake news ecosystem to reinforce the dark posts that CA sends to micro-targeted Facebook accounts?” This excerpt from Google, democracy and the truth about internet search got my attention, beginning with Jonathon Albright’s comments: 

And the constellation of websites that Albright found – a sort of shadow internet – has another function. More than just spreading rightwing ideology, they are being used to track and monitor and influence anyone who comes across their content. “I scraped the trackers on these sites and I was absolutely dumbfounded. Every time someone likes one of these posts on Facebook or visits one of these websites, the scripts are then following you around the web. And this enables data-mining and influencing companies like Cambridge Analytica to precisely target individuals, to follow them around the web, and to send them highly personalised political messages. This is a propaganda machine. It’s targeting people individually to recruit them to an idea. It’s a level of social engineering that I’ve never seen before. They’re capturing people and then keeping them on an emotional leash and never letting them go.”

Cambridge Analytica, an American-owned company based in London, was employed by both the Vote Leave campaign and the Trump campaign. Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of Vote Leave, has made few public announcements since the Brexit referendum but he did say this: “If you want to make big improvements in communication, my advice is – hire physicists.”

Steve Bannon, founder of Breitbart News and the newly appointed chief strategist to Trump, is on Cambridge Analytica’s board and it has emerged that the company is in talks to undertake political messaging work for the Trump administration. It claims to have built psychological profiles using 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters. It knows their quirks and nuances and daily habits and can target them individually.

“They were using 40-50,000 different variants of ad every day that were continuously measuring responses and then adapting and evolving based on that response,” says Martin Moore of Kings College. Because they have so much data on individuals and they use such phenomenally powerful distribution networks, they allow campaigns to bypass a lot of existing laws.

“It’s all done completely opaquely and they can spend as much money as they like on particular locations because you can focus on a five-mile radius or even a single demographic. Fake news is important but it’s only one part of it. These companies have found a way of transgressing 150 years of legislation that we’ve developed to make elections fair and open.”

Did such micro-targeted propaganda – currently legal – swing the Brexit vote? We have no way of knowing. Did the same methods used by Cambridge Analytica help Trump to victory? Again, we have no way of knowing. This is all happening in complete darkness. We have no way of knowing how our personal data is being mined and used to influence us. We don’t realise that the Facebook page we are looking at, the Google page, the ads that we are seeing, the search results we are using, are all being personalised to us. We don’t see it because we have nothing to compare it to. And it is not being monitored or recorded. It is not being regulated. We are inside a machine and we simply have no way of seeing the controls. Most of the time, we don’t even realise that there are controls.

There is no question that micro-targeted ads were deployed in the Brexit and Trump campaigns. We know there are controls on this machine. Who is operating those controls? Who built and operates the fake news ecosystem? If you have sources or insights, please comment. I plan to post anything definitive that I’m able to find. As I write Carole has published eight articles on this general topic. And Jonathan Albright has published a number of articles that delve into the machinery of behavioral micro-targeting and fake news propaganda. These are some of Jonathan Albright’s Medium articles I’m studying:

What’s Missing From The Trump Election Equation? Let’s Start With Military-Grade PsyOps

The #Election2016 Micro-Propaganda Machine

#Election2016: Propaganda-lytics & Weaponized Shadow Tracking

Data is the Real Post-Truth, So Here’s the Truth About Post-#Election2016 Propaganda

Left + Right: The Combined Post-#Election2016 News “Ecosystem”

FakeTube: AI-Generated News on YouTube

“Fake News” Sites: Certified Organic?

How to be an Errorist: if anti-nuclear content was factually true it wouldn’t be anti-nuclear

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I see far too many anti-nuclear press reports. It truly looks like all the big media journos have their favorite UCS and Greenpeace contacts in their Rolodex. And it is a fact that “Fear Sells”, whether clicks or newsprint. So I had a chuckle today when I read this little essay How to be an Errorist from the Northwest Energy folks. They were motivated to write this June 17, 2015 by the satirical New Yorker piece “Scientists: Earth Endangered by New Strain of Fact-Resistant Humans.”

While the story is made-up, many of these fact-resistant folks seem to be radically opposed to nuclear energy. This normally wouldn’t be of great concern, anyone can believe what they want. But when that ignorance (deception?) is given legitimacy through public policy discussions, then it can create a problem for society as a whole (impeding the development of new nuclear energy resources to combat climate change comes to mind).

So, I have a challenge for you Dear Reader: please email or Tweet me if you have encountered an anti-nuclear article that is factually correct. I’ve been scratching my head trying to remember such an instance — but I can’t think of a single case. If the content was factually true it wouldn’t be anti-nuclear.

South Australia’s tattered environmental remains

ConservationBytes.com

State budget percentage expenditures for health, education and environment South Australia State budget percentage expenditures for health, education and environment

Yesterday I gave the second keynote address at the South Australia Natural Resource Management (NRM) Science Conference at the University of Adelaide (see also a brief synopsis of Day 1 here). Unfortunately, I’m missing today’s talks because of an acute case of man cold, but at least I can stay at home and work while sipping cups of hot tea.

Many people came up afterwards and congratulated me for “being brave enough to tell the truth”, which both encouraged and distressed me – I am encouraged by the positive feedback, but distressed by the lack of action on the part of our natural resource management leaders.

The simple truth is that South Australia’s biodiversity and ecosystems are in shambles, yet few seem to appreciate this.

So for the benefit of those who couldn’t attend, I’ve uploaded the…

View original post 959 more words

#SavetheNukes Saving Illinois’ Nuclear Plants: We must act NOW!

From the comments:

Stephen Maloney asks:

If nuclear plants cannot compete anymore with other energy sources of which there is an abundance, why is it fair and right to force people to pay corporate welfare and prop up an uncompetitive and aging technology?

Gene Grecheck replies (Gene is Immediate Past President of ANS)

Stephen, because that competition is not on a level playing field. Wind and solar, for example, are so heavily subsidized (by all of us taxpayers) that they can often push their electricity into the market a negative prices, that is, they can afford to pay the market to take their electricity. They can only do that because their subsidy is greater than that payment. Subsidization of intermittent electricity sources then results in the need for heavy reliance on backup power to be available when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. That backup is usually natural gas fired: meaning that once again we are relying on power sources that pollute the air and add CO2 to the atmosphere. Every time a nuclear plant shuts down, emissions go up….negating years of efforts to reduce emissions.

There are many implications of energy choices; they must all be considered, and not just focus on short term prices.

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The plethora of wind and solar subsidies and mandates, plus cheap natural gas, is forcing abandonment of existing US nuclear plants. It is the most remarkably stupid energy policy that I can imagine, but that is the way US politics is playing out. Somehow we have to get the attention of Illinois state legislators to pass the Next Generation Energy Plan before the end of November. Otherwise Excelon will shutter the Clinton and Quad Cities plants — resulting in the loss of over 20 percent of Illinois’ clean energy and approximately 1,500 jobs.

In today’s ANS Nuclear Cafe Gene Grecheck and Brett Rampal explain how urgent it is to take action:

If you think someone else is going to stop nuclear plants from closing, it’s time to take off the blinders and take action. That was the message being touted during the #SavetheNukes Summit in Chicago on October 22-24, organized by Environmental Progress with the American Nuclear Society (ANS) Young Members Group (YMG), among others.

The summit was not held in Illinois by coincidence. After success in New York, those who were involved in the passage of the Clean Energy Standard and associated Zero Emissions Credit that saved the Fitzpatrick, Ginna, and Nine Mile Point plants felt invigorated to bring the fight to the next battlefield.

More than 70 nuclear advocates from diverse backgrounds (environmentalists, leaders of nuclear professional groups, nuclear advocacy groups, nuclear professionals, students, etc.) attended, including many ANS members, especially students!

Moving and inspirational are not usually the words used to describe nuclear meetings, but the understanding in the room was that time is short, and we need unity, organization, and fast action to save Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants,, which are slated for closure (or as one summit attendee put it, abandonment). Without the Next Generation Energy Plan that must be passed by the Illinois legislature in November  (just three weeks from now), the abandonment of the Clinton and Quad Cities plants would result in the loss of over 20 percent of Illinois’ clean energy and approximately 1,500 jobs!

If it passes with the nuclear component intact, the plants will get the small price support necessary to remain competitive in a market flooded with cheap natural gas and subsidized wind and solar.  “This is just smart energy policy,” said ANS member Lenka Kollar, who was representing the International Youth Nuclear Congress (IYNC) at the summit. “Keeping these valuable assets online is crucial for mitigating climate change and ensuring energy security for the future.”

Gene Grecheck with summit organizer & nuclear advocate Rachel Pritzker on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.

Gene Grecheck with summit organizer & nuclear advocate Rachel Pritzker on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.

The summit was intended to motivate everyone in attendance to reach out to their networks of colleagues, friends, and family and get them to take action. After hearing about some lessons learned from other powerful and successful social movements (woman’s suffrage, gay rights, AIDS, etc.), summit attendees universally agreed that drastic and novel action was needed and could help us achieve our goals.

Everyone reading this article needs to take this message to heart and use social media to flood Illinois legislators with messages about the critical importance of both the Clinton and Quad Cities plants in terms of maintaining Illinois’ position as a clean energy leader. It is particularly vital that those who live in Illinois send letters and op-ed pieces to their local newspapers, and blast supportive messages out via their social media. Direct communication from ANS members in Illinois to their legislators is especially important to make the needed legislation possible. Don’t let the legislators only hear from the fossil energy interests and the tired old anti-nuclear arguments.

(…snip…)

If you have never considered actively advocating for nuclear energy before, we urge you to do it now. And we do mean NOW. Today. Before we lose two more large sources of clean energy and reverse any efforts to improve our air quality. Thank you for your action! And be sure to tag @ans_org and @ans_YMG on Twitter!

A Primer on How to Avoid Magical Solutions in Climate Policy

Roger Pielke Jr. summarizes the most critical points from his work on climate and energy policies that work. Hint, Kyoto is not one of these policies. Any proposed policy should be analyzed in the context of the Kaya Identity. Which of the four factors does the policy act on?

Carbon emissions = C = P x (GDP / P) x (TE / GDP) x (C / TE) [where TE is total energy]

In the following excerpt Dr. Pielke examines why effective decarbonization must be grounded on accelerating energy innovation (C / TE)): 

By now there is really no excuse for any professional involved in climate policy not to understand the implications of the Kaya Identity. The risks of not understanding the Kaya Identity is that one can get caught out proposing magic as the main mechanism of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Developed by Yoichi Kaya, a Japanese scientist, in the 1980s as means of generating emissions projections for use in climate models, the identity is also an extremely powerful tool of policy analysis, because it encompasses all of the tools in the policy toolbox that might be used to reduce emissions. The identity is comprised of four parts:

  • Population
  • Per capita wealth
  • Energy intensity of the economy (energy consumption/GDP)
  • Carbon intensity of energy (carbon dioxide emissions/energy consumption)

If we wish to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide with the goal of stabilizing its concentrations in the atmosphere, then we only have four levers, represented by each of the factors in the Kaya Identity.

In The Climate Fix, I simplify even further by combining population and per capita wealth, the result of which is simply GDP, and by combining energy intensity and carbon intensity, the product of which is carbon intensity of GDP.

That means that there are only two ways to reduce emissions to a level consistent with stabilization of concentrations at a low level (pick your favorite number, 350, 450, 550 ppm — the policy implications are identical). One is to reduce GDP. The second is to reduce the carbon intensity of GDP — to decarbonize. While there are a few brave/foolish souls who advocate a willful imposition of poverty as the remedy to accumulating carbon dioxide, that platform has not gathered much political steam. (See discussion of the Iron Law in TCF).

Instead, the only option left is innovation in how we produce and consume energy. That is it — innovation is the only game in town. Consequently, the correct metric of progress in innovation is a decrease in the ratio of carbon to GDP. For those who wish to stabilize carbon dioxide emissions, the proper policy debate is thus how do we stimulate energy innovation?

Read the rest of Roger’s essay, then please buy The Climate Fix. It’s a keeper:-)