Google’s Deep Mind masters the game of Go and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

Just to punctuate my love for all things Google (or Alphabet, it will take awhile before I get used to that), Nature magazine just published a paper describing Alphabet-owned artificial intelligence company Deep Mind’s* system which used deep learning to beat the top player in the game of Go. Beating a human in the 2,500 year-old game of Go has long been considered an important milestone in artificial intelligence.

Unlike other strategy games such as chess and checkers, Go has never been beaten by a computer – until now. We all know the famous match between Deep Blue and Kasparov in 1996. Less well known (at least to me anyway) is Chinook, which mapped every possible move in Checkers – 500 billion moves in all – making sure that it can never be beaten by a human.

The game of Go however cannot be beaten by brute force alone. There is simply not enough computing power that exists that can map out every possible move.

In chess, at any given turn, there are an average 35 possible moves. With Go—in which two players compete with polished stones on 19-by-19 grid—there are 250. And each of those 250 has another 250, and so on. As Hassabis points out, there are more possible positions on a Go board than atoms in the universe. (Wired)

The very best human players also rely on intuition, looking at the board and just “knowing” that it “looks” good.

“It’s something subconscious, that you train through years and years of playing. I’ll see a move and be sure it’s the right one, but won’t be able to tell you exactly how I know. I just see it.” (Redmond in Wired)

And that’s sort of what Deep Mind did. They trained the system to learn the game by looking at 30 million Go moves from expert players. And in order to beat those expert players, they then matched the system against itself, coming up with even more winning moves.

So anyway, exciting times to be had. And maybe scary too. Because even if it’s a baby step for AI, who’s to say that the progress from here on out will be limited to baby steps? For more on AI in general, here’s a lengthy, but wonderful read on it, from my favorite blog: The AI revolution: The Road to Superintelligence. And if you want to understand more on deep learning, here’s a great read (haven’t finished it but as a “poet” and non-hacker, I find it very readable): Neural Networks and Deep Learning.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Scientists make a ‘true’ neural network using brain-like chips
  2. Apple Reports Slowing Growth in iPhone Sales
  3. Walgreens won’t use “unsafe” Theranos lab for tests
  4. SpaceX: Nickelodeon is sponsoring a team in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop competition; SpaceX unfurls its astronaut parachutes for the first time
  5. Oracle’s finally killing its terrible Java browser plugin

In retail:

  1. Amazon: Amazon stock plunging after earnings but analysts predict 27% gain; Your impulse buys are costing Amazon a fortuneAmazon to delivery companies: Yes, we’re building our own service but don’t worry
  2. Under Armour shares jump 17%
  3. Coach: Upbeat 2Q earnings but revenues disappoint
  4. Uber partners with Nordstrom, Google, T-Mobile, SAP for UberRush package delivery service
  5. Chanel CEO Maureen Chiquet leaving company

*Acquired by Google in 2014 and is now part of Alphabet

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Artificial Intelligence and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

My thoughts have been a lot on artificial intelligence lately. It started when I read Elon Musk’s quick take on AI:

“With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out…”

Musk is in fact, putting his money where his mouth is – recently donating $10M to Future of Life and Institute to help keep AI and robots of the future beneficial.

I realized that I have very little understanding of AI other than thinking of Google Now and Siri as “dumb” AI’s and the Terminator as an inflated view of AI’s future capabilities. I’ve been meaning to read more on it and from Elon Musk’s tweet, found this article on AI concise, easy to read and informative.

What we do know is that humans’ utter dominance on this Earth suggests a clear rule: with intelligence comes power. Which means an ASI*, when we create it, will be the most powerful being in the history of life on Earth, and all living things, including humans, will be entirely at its whim—and this might happen in the next few decades. 

It’s a long read but if you also find yourself wondering about AI, it’s definitely worth it. The article ends with:

…if an ASI comes to being, there is now an omnipotent God on Earth—and the all-important question for us is:

Will it be a nice God?

I, for one, look forward to their next post.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Earnings: Apple reports largest profit of any public company in history; Google Q4 revenues continue to disappoint as desktop ad business slows down; Amazon beats analysts’ EPS expectations for the first time in six quarters, reports earnings of $0.45/share for Q4
  2. Android-based smartphone shipments in 2014 pass the 1 billion mark, accounting for 81% of the global market
  3. IBM joins food manufacturing giant, Mars in founding Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain, using genomics to better understand food safety 
  4. Formerly Kickstarter-backed Android-console manufacturer, Ouya gets $10M investment from Alibaba
  5. Tesla Model S P85D (which I talked about in the past here) is getting a software update that will improve 0-60 MPH acceleration by a tenth of a second making that “Insane” mode even more insane

In Retail:

  1. Alibaba Group’s Ant Financial Services launches Sesame Credit, a credit scoring service that uses data from Alibaba’s e-commerce sites
  2. Earnings: Coach report Q2 earnings of $0.66/share in line with forecasts but revenues continue to drop; Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) missed quarterly earnings forecasts as expansion plans continue
  3. New research shows Amazon Prime members spend $1500/year, more than twice spent by non-Prime shoppers
  4. Rebekka Bay exits Gap as company eliminates Creative Director role
  5. Closings: Gap shutters Piperlime website, store and brand; Kate Spade to close Kate Spade Saturday and Jack Spade stores to focus on flagship brand; Jones New York to close stores and discontinue wholesale business

*Artificial Superintelligence defined as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.”