Saturday, January 31, 2015

Lunch With Demis Hassabis-The King Of Artifical Intelligence


January 30, 2015 1:42 pm

Lunch with the FT: Demis Hassabis

The DeepMind founder’s aim is to make ‘machines smart’. Over seafood dim sum, he talks about computers acting like humans, joining forces with Google, and why eating is time wasted
Demis Hassabis illustration by Patrick Morgan©Patrick Morgan
efore we have a chance to order any food, I ask Demis Hassabis whether his work will lead to the extinction of our species. Hakkasan Hanway Place, an upmarket Cantonese restaurant in the basement of a quiet side street in central London, seems an odd place to be worrying about the apocalypse. But the subject comes to mind because Hassabis is the man who, in the not-too-distant future, could bring about humanity’s most powerful creation yet: artificial intelligence.
A modern polymath, the 38-year-old’s career has already included spells as a child chess prodigy, master computer programmer, video games designer and neuroscientist. Four years ago, these experiences led him to start DeepMind, an AI company that, he says, has the aim of making “machines smart”.
For some, this is a utopic idea — a world aided by super-smart digital assistants working to solve humanity’s most pressing problems, from disease to climate change. Others warn of a grim Armageddon, with cognisant robots becoming all too aware of human limitations, then moving to crush their dumb creators without emotion.



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Hassabis, wearing a figure-hugging black top and dark-rimmed glasses, blends in at Hakkasan, where the decor is mostly black and the lighting minimal. He tells me he knows the place well — it’s where he took executives from Google, during a series of meetings that led to the search giant paying £400m for his fledgling company a year ago. Google is betting Hassabis may be able to unlock the secrets of the mind.
“It’s quite possible there are unique things about humans,” he argues. “But, in terms of intelligence, it doesn’t seem likely. With the brain, there isn’t anything non-computable.” In other words, the brain is a computer like any other and can, therefore, be recreated. Traits previously considered innate to humans — imagination, creativity, even consciousness — may just be the equivalent of software programs.
Perhaps the best way to understand DeepMind’s work is to watch one of Hassabis’s entertaining presentations on YouTube. There, you can see him showing off the AI system’s technology and how it is able to play retro arcade games such as Space Invaders. At first, the machine pilot is hopeless but, after just a few hours, it is firing missiles to its targets with uncanny accuracy.
As the video illustrates, the machine learns, adapts, and then solves problems faster and better than any human. But Hassabis is not interested in creating a computer that’s just good at computer games. His ambition is to create “general” AI systems that use “unstructured” information from their surroundings to make independent decisions and predictions. Just as humans do.
The uncertainty lies in whether these artificially intelligent beings will be motivated by a desire to guide and assist us or simply to do away with people like old gadgets that have served their purpose. Also on the YouTube video, Hassabis describes his AI computer playing a boxing game in which, after a few seconds of sparring, it corners the opponent and pummels them into submission. The audience laughs as Hassabis explains that the computer “ruthlessly exploits the weakness in the system it has found”. But perhaps this is an apt analogy. As physicist Stephen Hawking wrote last year, AI would be “the biggest event in human history . . . unfortunately, it might also be the last.”
Hassabis argues that we’re getting ahead of ourselves. “It’s very, very far in the future from the kinds of things we’re currently dealing with, which is playing Pong on Atari,” he says. “I think the next four, five, 10 years, we’ll have a lot more information about what these systems do, what kind of computations they’re creating, how to specify the right goals. At the moment, these are science fiction stories. Yes, there’s no doubt that AI is going to be a hugely powerful technology. That’s why I work on it. It has the power to provide incredible advances for humanity.”
Too soon then, to be worrying about how to wage war with a sentient robot army? “In our research programme, there isn’t anything that says ‘program consciousness,’ ” he says, as a waitress appears. “Shall we order?”
. . .

Hakkasan Hanway Place

8 Hanway Place, London W1T 1HD
Sweetcorn soup £9.00
Vegetarian hot and sour soup £11.50
Dim sum platter x 2 £30.00
Sesame prawn toast £13.50
Organic pork ribs £13.50
Sorbet x 2 £10.00
Mineral water £4.60
Jasmine green tea £3.80
Total (inc service) £108.28
Hassabis chooses sweetcorn soup to start, and I opt for vegetarian hot and sour soup. For mains, he recommends the seafood dim sum platter, so I follow suit. He also orders a side of organic barbecue pork ribs as a side; I go for some sesame prawn toast. We both ask for jasmine green tea to accompany the meal.
Born to a Chinese-Singaporean mother and a father of Greek-Cypriot descent, Hassabis grew up in north London, close to where he currently resides with his wife and two children. By the age of 13, he was a chess master. Fascinated by games, he was a regular competitor at the Mind Sports Olympiad, whose organisers described him as “probably the best games player in history”. When he grew tired of playing, he started to make games too. As a teenager, he helped design Theme Park, a cult video game that simulated the experience of creating an amusement park.
In 1994 he went to Cambridge university to study computer science but he was unconvinced by some of the teaching that focused on “narrow” AI, which relies on programmers to attach “labels” to data in order for a computer to make sense of information. “I remember distinctly one lecture, where I said to my friends around me, ‘We shouldn’t listen to this, they’re brainwashing us.’ I said that slightly too loud and the lecturer called me out and said, ‘If you think you know everything, you shouldn’t come here.’ ” Hassabis walked out of the lecture hall.
It was around this time he decided to create DeepMind, a research project-cum-tech start-up. Hassabis says that, even then, he was aware this was a 20-year plan. First, he would need to gather the experience necessary to found such a group and thus, in 1998, he set up a video games company, Elixir Studios, to begin his education in the business world. In 2005, he returned to academia, aged 28, to earn a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at University College London. His research focused on the hippocampus, the brain region crucial for navigation, memory recall and imagining future events.
He took this long route, he explains, because he wanted to learn the lessons of his heroes, such as Charles Babbage (1791-1871), the English genius who first conceptualised a programmable computer. “Babbage is one of the most tragic examples,” says Hassabis. “He thought of computers a hundred years before [their time]. His machine worked but he never saw it built.”
With the protection of Google, Hassabis seems likelier to avoid Babbage’s fate. DeepMind has expanded to around 100 employees. Unlike many youthful start-ups, the average age of the group is in the mid-thirties. Typically, most of these workers have one or more PhDs. As a result, DeepMind’s London offices are, he says, “a little more sophisticated” than Google’s. There are no coders slumped on colourful beanbags, he says, just “serious sofas for serious thinking”.
In a reference to Nasa’s efforts to put men on the moon, Hassabis says he is trying to create an “Apollo programme” for AI, by creating an organisation stuffed with some of the greatest minds on earth. “In any normal start-up, just one of our senior researchers is someone you’d build a whole company around,” he says.
But how does Hassabis lead a group of people like this? “You can’t just say, ‘I’m the CEO, so you do this.’ You’ve got to lead by example and respect for your own work. It’s not why I did a PhD . . . but to lead a team like this, I need academic qualities . . . ” For once, he struggles to explain himself. You need credentials that are unimpeachable, I say? “Unimpeachable. That’s the right word.”
. . .
The soup arrives. I wonder aloud whether his mission is more personal than he lets on. How much of it is an effort to understand his own exceptional mind?
I realised a couple of years ago, that trying to build AI while trying to build a multibillion dollar company at the same time, was probably impossible
He leans down to the bowl, so the steam drifts in front of his face, lifts the spoon to his lips and sips carefully. Then he says: “If you take a kid who is fairly thoughtful and introspective, then train them professionally from the age of four to 13, playing adults and grandmasters at chess, they can’t help but think hard about what their brain is doing when coming up with these moves.
“You’re thinking about how to improve that mechanism because you’re trying to get better at chess. Chess is an extremely deliberative process. You’re consciously planning out everything, which is why it’s such a fascinating game. It really encourages me with my type of thinking and brain, to think very hard about what intelligence is.”
But, he says, unlike that of other chess masters, his attention was soon drawn to things away from the board. Aged eight, he bought a Spectrum computer with his winnings from chess tournaments and started programming. “I realised that this machine was an extension of the mind, in the way that cars allow us to move faster, planes allow us to fly. Computers allow to enhance our minds in the same way.”
He is also intrigued by how humans interact. For that reason, he likes playing poker and, perhaps unsurprisingly, has won thousands of dollars in professional tournaments. “A lot of chess players can’t handle poker,” he says. “In chess, if you play the right moves, you win. But life is more like poker than chess, in that there are unforeseen and unknown things in life you can’t cater for. We’re trying to build something that can expect the unexpected gracefully. That’s much more like poker.”
. . .
Our next set of dishes arrives. The dim sum are piping hot, gorgeous balls of prawns, scallops and vegetables wrapped in rice flour. I attack them with my chopsticks, drowning them in soy sauce. Hassabis begins by picking up his pork ribs with his fingers and nibbling at the edges. Hakkasan is a Michelin-star restaurant but he complains that the process of eating is time wasted and would not mind if it involved no more than swallowing tubes of paste. “I like eating out as an experience,” he says, “But day-to-day eating? It would be good if there was something more efficient.” Out of politeness, I leave a couple of my dim sum untouched. Not as many, though, as Hassabis leaves behind.
I ask him why he chose to sell his company to Google. DeepMind had plenty of money in the bank, including funding from Peter Thiel, the first major backer of Facebook, and Elon Musk, who leads the commercial space flight group SpaceX. Hassabis says that, before joining Google, he pushed for a number of safeguards to ensure his group was “semi-autonomous” from its corporate paymasters. DeepMind remains in London, not Silicon Valley. It is also creating an ethics board — he is currently interviewing philosophers and experts, though won’t say who — which will govern how its technology can be used. It will, for example, rule out any military uses.
“All these technologies are neutral in themselves,” he says, “but it depends on how we use them. We need to make sure we understand how we use them and use them in the right way. I don’t want it to be neutral. I want it to be good.”
In the end, though, Hassabis has to report to Google’s executives. Surely staying independent would have ensured better control of his creation? “My plan wasn’t to sell the company,” he says. “I wanted to build a Google ourselves. I realised a couple of years ago, that trying to build AI while trying to build a multibillion dollar company at the same time, was probably impossible. I’d have to do one or the other. I care much more about the research.”
He continues: “Larry [Page, Google’s chief executive] persuaded me by saying, ‘Look, I’ve spent the past 15 years building Google. It was hard. There were a lot of things that had to happen, both lucky and skilful. Why don’t you take advantage of all that infrastructure and hard work and short-cut all of that, so you can concentrate on the mission?’ I thought about this a lot and didn’t have a good argument against that.”
The benefits for Google are clear. DeepMind’s technology will become incorporated into its products, says Hassabis, such as making sure it can better predict a person’s search results. It’s easy, too, to see the more sophisticated uses, from integrating AI into Google’s self-driving cars to providing the brains to the robotics under construction at “Google X”, the company’s advanced technologies arm.
Waiters whisk away our plates and, after some gentle persuasion, Hassabis agrees to order a dessert. He asks which sorbets are available, choosing pear and passion fruit. I go for the same.
Life is more like poker than chess, there are unforeseen things you can’t cater for. We’re trying to build something that can expect the unexpected, gracefully
What motivates him? Is it money? The Google deal reportedly netted Hassabis around £80m. He argues, convincingly, that being rich is of little concern. “It’s important to have money so it frees you to make the correct choices for your goals. But it should never be an end itself.”
Perhaps then, his legacy is what drives him? After all, if he becomes the father of artificial intelligence, Hassabis would be held in the same regard as the likes of Babbage, or another one of his heroes Alan Turing, the British cryptographer who designed the machine that broke the Nazi Enigma code.
He ponders this, a scoop of luminous green sorbet on his spoon. “You know how you asked me, when I played chess, is it important for me to win? It is massively important, from my own point of view of fulfilling my own potential. Legacy is important in that, one day, I will hope to have done something significant enough with my life, and with the technology, that will have made a profound change to society for good.”
He is late for a meeting, so I ask for the bill. Before he leaves, I ask how long it will take to create general AI. When will Hassabis’s lines of computer code, his algorithms, start writing their own lines of code, their own algorithms? He says that, just like humans and all life that came before, his AI is evolving. “We’re building systems that are able to reconfigure themselves in new ways that we haven’t preprogrammed. I don’t know if you’d call that writing itself. It’s more like how the brain works. Even this lunch conversation we’re having. It’s changing some synapses in both of our brains.” He laughs, before adding: “Whether we like it or not.”
Murad Ahmed is the FT’s European technology correspondent
Illustration by Patrick Morgan
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Boost To Earnings From MBA Programs Fall

Boost to earnings from MBAs falls

The MBA degree, once seen as the quickest route to a fat salary, no longer delivers quite the financial fillip it once did.
In spite of a return to economic growth, the financial returns from completing a full-time MBA have fallen over the past three years and while a graduate can still expect to nearly double their salary, the average boost to earnings is down by almost a third from the qualification’s heyday. This is particularly true in the US, home to 50 of the world’s top 100 business schools, where there is growing disaffection with the qualification on the part of both employers and potential students.
Since the financial crash of 2008, many would-be MBAs have been reluctant to give up a secure job in order to go to business school, which frequently costs well over a hundred thousand dollars in terms of fees, living costs and lost salary. Many believe the returns no longer justify the investment.
The result has been that while the top few business schools go from strength to strength — Stanford Graduate School of Business in California, for example, admits just 6.5 per cent of applicants — those lower down the rankings, with fewer resources, are floundering. “Students say that if they can get into a top school they will go. If not, they won’t,” says Garth Saloner, dean of Stanford, ranked fourth in the world this year, behind Harvard Business School, London Business School and the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania.
The past year has already seen several second-tier schools close down their full-time programmes as application numbers dwindle. More are expected to follow, says Alison Davis-Blake, dean of Michigan Ross business school, as programmes become economically unviable. “The segment of the market that is healthy is quite small.”
Recruiters are increasingly hiring more people from pre-experience masters programmes, whereas MBA students typically have several years’ professional experience under their belts and expect to command higher salaries. According to the 2014 recruiter survey from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), those who have studied on specialised programmes in finance, accounting and management are particularly in demand.
MBA table
Data collected by the Financial Times as part of its 2015 Global MBA rankings shows that three years after finishing their degree, those who graduated with a full-time MBA in 2011 earned an average 92 per cent more than they did before starting their course. At the MBA’s zenith in 2002 and 2003, the increase was 153 per cent, and as recently as 2012 it provided an average 110 per cent step-up to earnings.
In 2003, alumni from 82 per cent of schools in the ranking saw their salaries increase by more than 120 per cent over a four to five year period. In 2015 just 7 per cent saw the same increase.


Generic podcast
The Financial Times has published its global MBA rankings for 2015. Della Bradshaw, business education editor, and Laurent Ortmans, the statistician in charge of the rankings, discuss the key trends the data reveal with Jonathan Moules, business education correspondent.
Two factors that have played into the trend of diminishing returns are the increase in women graduating from MBA programmes and a decrease in the number of graduates moving into high-paying finance jobs.
A decade ago, 23 per cent of respondents to the FT survey were women, compared to 26 per cent for the 2015 ranking. In the data collected for the latest ranking, women report an average salary of $120,000, compared to $138,000 for men.
Similarly, 29 per cent of the FT sample worked in finance and banking a decade ago; today the figure is 25 per cent. Finance salaries have traditionally outstripped those in other sectors, and the data collected for the 2015 shows no exception. On average respondents from the top 100 business schools earned $133,000, but those in the finance sector earned $152,000.


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Friday, January 23, 2015

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South San Francisco Dental Care Does A Great Job!

My friends I want to thank the incredible team at South San Francisco Dental Care for the wonderful job they did on my teeth. My treatment began with a root canal done by Dr. Victor Peritore. We all know that a root canal is the nightmare of any one going to the dentist. Some people claim that it is more painful than giving birth to a child. (Being a male I cannot confirm or deny this!) Dr. Peritore did an excellent examination and proceeded to do the actual root canal. We had a huge crisis during surgery. He was concerned that my tooth might have been cracked. If he had not been able to save the tooth, it would have had to be extracted. Putting in a replacement tooth would have been a very painful process costing thousands of dollars and not generally covered by dental insurance. Dr. Peritore worked for two hours and saved the tooth. I was then seen by Dr. Lucinda Hall. She did an excellent job of doing the build up on the crown above the root canal and filling six cavities. When I came home and the pain medicine wore off I did not suffer pain or discomfort. I have been with this dental practice for almost seven years. They have always given excellent treatment and treated me like a wonderful and a special person.

Space X Claims $10 Million Value On New Funding

Last updated: January 21, 2015 1:00 am

SpaceX claims $10bn value on new funding

The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket launched by SpaceX on a cargo resupply service mission to the International Space Station lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, January 10, 2015. REUTERS/Scott Audette (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TRANSPORT)©Reuters
SpaceX has raised a new $1bn round of financing from Google and Fidelity that values Elon Musk’s rocket company at just over $10bn, it said on Tuesday.
The funding will fuel Mr Musk’s ultimate ambitions to colonise Mars, building on its current focus on reusable rockets. It will also provide capital for a new venture, building a network of communications satellites that can provide internet access to remote areas, an increasing priority for Google.
“This funding will be used to support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability and satellite manufacturing,” SpaceX said in a statement.
Together, Google and Fidelity own 10 per cent of the company following the deal. SpaceX’s existing backers, including Founders Fund and Draper Fisher Jurvetson, have also participated in the funding.
Don Harrison, Google’s vice-president of corporate development, will join SpaceX’s board as part of the deal, under which it is investing $900m for a 7.5 per cent stake.
That sum exceeds Google’s substantial investments last year in Uber, the car-hailing service, and Magic Leap, a virtual reality start-up, as it becomes more active in forming financial and strategic partnerships with other companies.
“Space-based applications, like imaging satellites, can help people more easily access important information, so we’re excited to support SpaceX’s growth as it develops new launch technologies,” Google said.
Google’s attempts to harness wireless internet capabilities delivered from the skies have included Project Loon, a prototype system using high-altitude balloons, and the acquisition of drone maker Titan Aerospace last April. Facebook is also experimenting with drones and satellites to bring internet access to remote areas.
Mr Musk announced SpaceX’s new satellite venture in Seattle on Friday, just days after a rival plan from former Google employee Greg Wyler’s OneWeb revealed an unspecified amount of funding from Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and chipmaker Qualcomm.

Analysis: Space race

Start-ups and their funders shoot for the stars
A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral
A rush of new fundraising in the private space sector shows that investors are still prepared to back the start-ups behind the private space race if the potential reward is big enough.
The financing means that California-based SpaceX — short for Space Exploration Technologies Corporation — is the latest private technology company to achieve a valuation above $10bn in the past year, alongside Uber, Airbnb, Xiaomi, Snapchat and Dropbox.
Increased availability of private funding has meant that tech companies have been able to delay going public, something Mr Musk has said he is not keen to do because of SpaceX’s long-term goals.
SpaceX is one of only two suppliers — alongside Orbital Sciences Corporation — chosen in a competitive process to provide launch services to Nasa, the US space agency. The pair have broken the monopoly on US government launches that United Launch Alliance — a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin — had previously enjoyed.
Space-basedapplications, like imaging satellites, can help people more easily access important information, so we’re excited to support SpaceX’s growth as it develops new launch technologies
- Google
Nasa last year showed its confidence in SpaceX when it chose the company as one of two operators — alongside Boeing — to take US astronauts to the International Space Station from 2017 onwards.
However, SpaceX is under pressure to reduce the delays to its launch programme. The company is due this year to launch around one satellite every month and accepts that it has been running behind schedule.
The company is seeking to reduce the cost of launches by recovering the first-stage rockets that are normally allowed to drop into the Atlantic after launch. However, the first such attempt this month failed. It plans to make another test in the coming weeks.


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