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.

Elon Musk forecasts Tesla will self-drive from NY to LA in ~2 years

Elon Musk sent this pair of tweets this morning. The Summon/Unsummon commands are supposed to work today on your iPhone or Tesla key.

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) 1/11/16, 09:08
Tap your phone or key and your car will open the garage door, exit, close the door and come to you. Will do same in reverse for unsummon.

Elon Musk (@elonmusk) 1/11/16, 09:11
In ~2 years, summon should work anywhere connected by land & not blocked by borders, eg you’re in LA and the car is in NY

Now we know why Tesla is developing the robot arm that plugs their fast charger into your Tesla charge port 🙂 So you can park your car in NY and tell it to pick you up in LA. It will just need to navigate to the string of cross country Fast Charging Stations. Story and robot arm video at Wired.

Tesla robot charger

What3Words: geocode any location in three words

A few hours ago in New Zealand we were anchored at Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands. We mapped our location as [imaginary.inspire.groceries]. To reverse that geocode to a map location just fetch the What3Words app for iOS or Android. This good-looking app performs both forward and reverse geocoding. Now we can geocode any 3-meter square of the planet using three common words. 40,000 words combined in triplets will uniquely label the planetary coverage of 57 trillion squares. 

As ocean sailers and navigators we know some of the dangerous things that happen when humans try to handle latitude/longitude coordinates. Lat/lon is fine so long as it is not filtered through human eyes/brain/fingers. In contrast to lat/lon the what3words encoding has natural parity – both human and computer recognize typical transcription errors in common words. There’s more discussion at Frédéric Fallout’s Monday Note

The @what3words API allows the app developer to fwd/reverse geocode anywhere without internet access – using only 10MB of local storage. Eight languages are supported so far.

We just anchored off the Kerikeri Cruising Club at [hornet.squinted.gnome]. I had to type that location as the what3words app is on my iPad. Imagine trying to accurately type on your mobile the lat/long coordinate (35° 11.809’S 174° 02.161E). And of course Amazon and Google drones could deliver a parcel to us.

IOT: what if they swarm?

IOT Jeep in ditch

I was just reading in Wired “Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway-With Me in It”. I’m getting the impression that a lot of the Sand Hill Road crowd think the Internet of Things (IOT) is about to explode upon us. Naturally bringing with it heaps of security issues. Some of these issues will be much more serious than a Zero Day Windows attack.

I’m imagining keeping a short alloy baseball bat hanging at the kitchen door – in case of refrigerator attack. Or a Taser? Long-handled chain cutters? How to defend against a possessed appliance?

What if they Swarm?

Toaster firewall

Startup Improbable.IO claims to solve the parallelization problem for distributed computing

For those who call bullshit on what Improbable claims to have achieved, there is an open invitation to come and see the technology. “Come into the office,” says Button-Brown. “We’ve got something working. It’s not perfect, but it’s hard to say it’s not working when it is working.”
I understand their objective – to write simulator code as though for one processor. I’ve no idea how they implement the abstraction (of entities that interact in space) on a distributed computing platform with fault tolerance. Here’s a snippet from a 2014 Wired UK article:

…Improbable was set up and funded (to the tune of £1.2 million so far) by 26-year-old Herman Narula — son of billionaire construction mogul Harpinder Singh Narula — with some of his friends after graduating in computer science at Cambridge. Their main aim was to take distributed systems used in high-frequency trading and apply them to games to enable massively multiplayer experiences that have the richness of gameplay of a first-person shooter. “You could have a Call of Duty experience with an entire army. You can have hundreds of thousands of entities in the world with a simulated city with traffic infrastructure,” Narula explains.

Wired.co.uk first visited Improbable at the end of 2013 in a large, opulent residential house called Hyver Hall — owned by Narula’s family — in High Barnet. A dozen or so guys were set up in stations throughout the property working on server architecture, simulation software and games ideas. Many of them were sleeping there at night and there was a palpable sense of optimism, spearheaded by Narula.

Wired.co.uk sits down with Narula, CTO Rob Whitehead, software engineer Peter Lipka and studio head Nick Button-Brown. Narula is effervescent and speaks with the self-belief of a seasoned entrepreneur. Within minutes of meeting he’s illustrating how the technology works on a white board, wiping away previous workings with the sleeve of his pristine white shirt. Every now and then his teammates interject with “be humble”. Narula will temper his words for the next few sentences before lurching back into game-changing, world-dominating hyperbole. The over-arching ambition, he says, is to be the “Google of simulation”. His evangelism is both infectious and a little suspicious — one part cult leader, one part CEO.

Later, in a phone interview, Wired.co.uk asks why his team kept on asking for humility. “Because we started this company off with a level of audacity that was borderline insane,” Narula says. 

The gaming application may be a big deal. But what got my attention is simulating the real world. Especially the real world instrumented with IOT (internet of things) like cities and vehicles.
“If people want to do large-scale traffic simulations, military simulations, see how a disease might spread or anything where you are simulating outcomes with large numbers of autonomous entities, our technology can help,” Narula says, adding that he’s speaking to a “whole bunch of professors” as well as a number of “really unlikely non-gaming application areas”, including an airline. Deals, he assures, will be imminent.
Andreessen Horowitz invested $20M. Here is a relevant a16z podcast The Cool Stuff Only Happens at Scale.
 
 

Security’s Wakeup Call

Informed commentary by Ashton Carter (the next US Secretary of Defense) and Yahoo security chief Alex Stamos was recorded in a short security briefing at the Andreessen Horowitz 2014 Tech Summit. My take away from the 30 minute podcast was this:

  • If your organization is targeted by cyber professionals they will get in (this is true of DOD, anybody)
  • You must run your operations with the assumption that the bad guys are already inside your networks

Approximate quotation “The Fortune 500 are the obvious targets. The top 30 of those have the technical capability to deal with cyber threats. The 470 other companies are screwed.” So are, for example, small midwest specialty suppliers, who are being regularly penetrated by the Chinese. It’s so much cheaper to steal their IP than to duplicate their two decades of innovation, trial and error.

On the personal level, if you aren’t using tools like 1Password and whole disk encryption then I have some easy reads for you:

Americans pay a high price for Internet

…The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry.

“It’s just very simple economics,” said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School who studies antitrust and communications and was an adviser to the Federal Trade Commission. “The average market has one or two serious Internet providers, and they set their prices at monopoly or duopoly pricing.”

When New America ranked cities by the average speed of broadband plans priced between $35 and $50 a month, the top three cities, Seoul, Hong Kong and Paris, offered speeds 10 times faster than the United States cities. (In some places, like Seoul, the government subsidizes Internet access to keep prices low.)

Source.

 

The “Drop” an iPad-connected smart scale – stressless baking?

NewImage

Here’s an idea. Check out their promotional video. The seamless baking process looks so painless that I’m thinking Christmas present for somebody special? 

Does Drop deliver $80 of value to a galley that already has a digital scale? Maybe – if the software made it nearly painless to convert our existing favorites to their gram-based scheme. The Wired review closes with similar thoughts: 

There is one significant limitation: In order to ensure a smooth user experience, the hardware, app, and content all need to be mashed together—meaning buyers will be stuck using Drop’s collection of recipes at the outset. This strategy gives budding bakers a tremendous amount of power, but also means there will be a relatively small amount of content. The team is working on an importer tool that will allow cooks to add and share their favorite recipes, but for now buyers will have to trust the taste of Irish techies.

Does it deliver $80 of value to a galley that already has a digital scale? If the software made it nearly painless to convert our existing favorites to their gram-based scheme… OTOH for a young twenty-something workaholic techie, this could be a no-brainer joy.
This reminds me a bit of Inkling – very cool interactive books, but ONLY their catalog. No sale here. Regarding Drop, perhaps for a young twenty-something workaholic techie, this could be a no-brainer.

The search for Internet intelligence



What type of evidence would you need to be convinced that there was an internet intelligence? What is the minimal proof you would need?

We are searching for answers to that question as much as for the glimmers of the thing itself. Here is the first draft of the search manifesto:

The Search for Internet Intelligence

A non-human intelligence operating within and at the scale of the global communications network is possible. Such an intelligence would have a huge impact on our global civilization. We seek tools and skills for detecting such an intelligence with falsifiable and scientific evidence. We recognize the low probability that such an AI currently exists but believe the search would also yield beneficial results in the field of general AI, animal cognition, and advance telecommunications.

We are looking for computer scientists, cognition experts, programmers, and anyone willing and able to craft a research program for this global investigation.

David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author of the upcoming Incognito, is my co-conspirator in this quest. Other creative scientists have expressed interest in pursuing this idea. To join this quest, sign up here.

Source: Kevin Kelly. Unlikely, but what if? Kevin writes:

While detecting an ET intelligence would overturn terrestrial religions forever, detecting a global internet intelligence would have wide-ranging ramifications for society. We’d have daily contact with an AI much larger than us, one that presumably would be steadily increasing in power every 18 months (Moore’s Law). And this AI is embedded in the central nervous system of our global economy and culture. It’s what we are connected to 24/7. It is also increasingly acts as our exo-brain. If it has its own degree of intelligence, we should want to know.

 

The least resistance to new ideas

 

Kevin Kelly:

Many years ago the San Francisco Chronicle published a short column in which the writer mentioned that he had been traveling in India, and when he told the clerk at his hotel in New Delhi that he was from the San Francisco Bay Area the clerk responded, “Oh that is the center of the universe” Um, mumbled the traveller, and why do you say that? “Because the center of the universe is wherever there is the least resistance to new ideas.”

I have not been able to come up with a better description of San Francisco’s special relation to futurism. In my experience this is true: more new ideas per person bubble up in the Bay Area than anywhere else on Earth — at this moment.

Do read the whole thing.