Artificial Intelligence, Thinking Machines and the Future of Humanity (Gerd Leonhard)

Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.

Since I have come back to the UK I have started studying Stanford University’s Machine Learning course on Coursera, presented by Andrew Ng. I’m currently three weeks in to the eleven week course. It is well presented, with some good materials and the coursework is challenging me intellectually.

Apart from the above, there are a number of other reasons for me doing this:Continue reading

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Peekaboo

Being ‘open’ and more informal in arranging events gives many of us the impression that traditional power structures are also being broken down. While this may be true, to an extent, organisers of open space events are increasingly making attempts to be more actively inclusive.

Now, I do love a good unconference. The energy and enthusiasm of people being given the chance to swap ideas is enthusing in itself. There is an excitement in starting the day with no set agenda and deciding it amongst ourselves before we start. However, unconference organisers, with good reason, are increasingly looking at different ways to set the agenda so that more people feel comfortable taking part.Continue reading

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I previously wrote up my experiences when attending the AbreLatam and ConDatos conferences in San Juan, Costa Rica in August. One of the sessions I attended was the Open Contracting Partnership workshop, which was moderated by Juan Pane from Paraguay.

At the start of 2017, while I was travelling, I did a piece of work with the Open Contracting Partnership and so I have an interest in their current work in Latin America.

I recall it being an interesting discussion, with many issues, opportunities and projects that people raised and were involved in. At the end of the session I took the following photo of the worksheet that was produced, my apologies to the scribe as I don’t recall their name. Underneath the photo I have translated the text, as best I can. I’m happy to take suggestions for improvements in my translation.

There is also a write up of another OCP session at ConDatos on their blog

Open Contracting Partnership workshop at Abre Latam 2017

Open Contracting Partnership workshop at Abre Latam 2017

English Translation

Name of the session

Open ContractingContinue reading

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On Saturday I went to Cardiff with Dan Slee for Gov Camp Cymru, an unconference for government types in Wales.

On Friday night I looked up the different options for getting to New Street train station in Birmingham city centre. City Mapper gave me the expected times and calories burned for walking, cycling and driving. It also showed me a range of options for taking the bus.

Opendata

I had a few things to do on the way back in the evening and so I decided to take the car. I took a look on Parkopedia for the best car parks and on street parking close to the city centre. I ended up parking on the street in Digbeth and walking to New Street.

I met Dan at the station. He had checked the price of tickets using one of the many Split Ticketing sites that offer to find you cheaper fares than those that are on standard sites such as National Rail or The Trainline.Continue reading

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Last week I attended the AbreLatam and ConDatos events in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was the fifth edition of this regional conference on open data for Latin America and was held over three days at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in central San Jose. What follows is a round up of the the days along with some of my impressions.

Day One – Abre Latam Unconference

The first day was an unconference event, with the agenda being decided by the participants at the start of the day. There was a sizeable proportion of attendees who were at their first unconference. The format went down well, with a number of people saying how much they enjoyed the more collaborative style both during the day and at the end of the event.

One difference to other unconferences I’ve attended was that, instead of asking people to come up and pitch their ideas for sessions at the front, we were all given three Post-It notes. We wrote down three topics, ideas or thoughts and stuck them on the giant blank agenda.

Collaborative Agenda at AbreLatam 2017

Collaborative Agenda at AbreLatam 2017

One of the topics of conversation that came up both on this day and subsequent ones was the need to pursue and prosecute laws where they already exist. For instance, in the first session I attended on privacy, a number of attendees said that their country had strong privacy laws but that they were often ignored with impunity by the authorities.

There was also a conference on human rights in San Jose last week and a lawyer attending that told me something similar, that in many cases in Latin America it is not that the law does not confer human rights, but that people’s access to exercising those rights are unequal.
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Last week saw the publication of the Harris Review, Changing Prisons, Saving Lives. It was prompted by the large number of young adults and children who take their own lives in our prisons – there were 101 such deaths over the seven-year period that the report covers – but its scope extended to also examine such things as the purpose of prison, the nature of rehabilitation and the treatment of all people within the prison estate.

I read it, as I imagine most people with at least a passing acquaintance with our prison system did, with recognition, and with a mixture of anger and frustration. Anger, because, as the report states, our “prisons and young offender institutions are grim environments: bleak and demoralising to the spirit”. Frustrated, because this report could have been published, pretty much word for word, at any point in the past thirty years.

barbed-wire

Lord Harris describes a prison system populated by young people with high rates of mental ill-health. They are often disturbed by their experiences of childhood, with many having backgrounds of abuse and/or of living in the care system. Healthcare services in prison are too stretched and inadequate to treat any but the most severely ill and, even when accepted for treatment, appointments are often missed. This is in no small part due to the staff shortages that also mean that many prisoners, especially in local prisons such as Birmingham, spend most of their days locked behind the doors of their cells.

There are some good people working in our prisons, but they are restricted by the system they work in. It’s one that contains a dispiriting work culture with a fatalistic approach towards its failure to create positive change for the people within it. In fact, we think so little of the work that prison staff do that they are provided with just eight weeks of initial training. We seriously undervalue the profession of prison officer and we get the results you might expect from this.

There are also many third sector organisations who work inside prisons and with people on release. Samaritans is one such organisation. It trains and supports prisoner Listener Schemes – where serving prisoners are the equivalent of Samaritans inside. These Listeners?deliver much needed emotional support to their peers in the most difficult of circumstances. They do it in a prison system where distress and mental ill-health are prevalent and where?far too many people are incarcerated, for too long and often with scant attempts at rehabilitation.

To have a child go into prison is an awful experience for any parent. For them to die?while inside causes the sort of heartbreak that most of us can only begin to imagine. The Harris Review tells us, in detail, of the circumstances that lead to many young adults taking their lives in prison. Many of the recommendations it makes?would lead to significant improvements in the lives of people inside our prisons.

There are a lot of recommendations in the Review. If any of them are going to be implemented successfully then the fundamental recommendation in the chapter on the purpose of prison will need to be addressed. It states that:

A prison should provide to those in custody a regime whose primary goal is rehabilitation. The penalty of imprisonment is the removal of liberty; all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for their human rights (including the European Convention on Human Rights) and their individual protected characteristics (as defined by the Equality Act 2010). Restrictions placed on persons deprived of their liberty shall be the minimum necessary and proportionate to the legitimate objective for which those restrictions are imposed. Life in prison should approximate as closely as possible the positive aspects of life in the community.

Once we’ve decided to send somebody to prison we should then do the best we can to help them lead a crime-free life upon release. A prison system that was truly focused on rehabilitation would undoubtedly lose fewer prisoners to suicide.

It’s really worth writing to your MP if you feel strongly about this and ask them how they are going to support the review. It is an issue that seldom gets much publicity and politicians often have to be especially convinced that prison reform is something their constituents want to see them involved in.

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This summer Young Rewired State are bringing their hugely successful Festival Of Code back to Birmingham.

Young Rewired State | Festival of Code 2015

Young Rewired State | Festival of Code 2015

 

Happening over the week of 27th July to 2nd August, The Festival of Code brings together young developers, all of them under the age of 18. During the week they attend centres around the country and build web and mobile applications that attempt to solve real world problems, with each project using at least one piece of open government data.

Then, over the weekend, up to 2000 young people will descend upon Birmingham to present their projects and get feedback on how to take them further.Continue reading

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This year, if everything goes to plan, I am going to do something I’ve wanted to do for some time and live and work abroad.

Lake Titicaca from Wikimedia - I want to go there

As of next week I’ll be studying on a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course for two days a week at Gloucester College. CELTA is one of the more widely recognised qualifications that prepare people to teach English as a foreign language. The course lasts?five months, finishing towards the end of June.

There are some significant birthdays (the kind that end in a zero) amongst family and friends in July and so my plan at the moment is to be heading off for Central or South America around early August time.

Hopefully by then I’ll have narrowed it down to a more specific locality.Continue reading

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After Tim Harford Tweeted the link to it, I spent a fair bit of time yesterday wrestling with what XKCD reckon to be

The Hardest Logic Puzzle in the World

Here’s how it runs:

‘A group of people with assorted eye colors live on an island. They are all perfect logicians — if a conclusion can be logically deduced, they will do it instantly. No one knows the color of their eyes. Every night at midnight, a ferry stops at the island. Any islanders who have figured out the color of their own eyes then leave the island, and the rest stay. Everyone can see everyone else at all times and keeps a count of the number of people they see with each eye color (excluding themselves), but they cannot otherwise communicate. Everyone on the island knows all the rules in this paragraph.

On this island there are 100 blue-eyed people, 100 brown-eyed people, and the Guru (she happens to have green eyes). So any given blue-eyed person can see 100 people with brown eyes and 99 people with blue eyes (and one with green), but that does not tell him his own eye color; as far as he knows the totals could be 101 brown and 99 blue. Or 100 brown, 99 blue, and he could have red eyes.

The Guru is allowed to speak once (let’s say at noon), on one day in all their endless years on the island. Standing before the islanders, she says the following:

“I can see someone who has blue eyes.”

Who leaves the island, and on what night?’

Now, it’s possible to Google the answer but I thought it would be interesting the explain how I worked it out.Continue reading

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Back in June I had the pleasure of helping out at Interactivos Birmingham. This was a fortnight-long workshop for people to develop projects that used?new technologies such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino to make art. In particular, these were pieces of art that responded to the world and people around them. The workshop was hosted and supported by Midland Arts Centre and run in partnership by Birmingham City University, Sampad, the BBC and Medialab Prado.

Nearly all of the projects that took part were using free and open software, and were also making the code that they wrote openly available for other people to see, contribute to and reuse. There is a set of repositories on Github for anybody who is interested in getting into the technical details of the projects.

What I really enjoyed about the workshop was the energy and enthusiasm that all of the participants brought with them. At the start of the fortnight I sat down with some of the project leads who, quite frankly, scared me with the scale of the projects they were hoping to deliver. While not everybody achieved all?they set out to do, each project achieved?lots in the relatively short time scales they had.

rainingData

You can read all about the individual projects over at the Interactivos Birmingham website, which has loads of different content courtesy of Tim Wilson and BCU social media students.Continue reading

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