woensdag 6 april 2016

OpenBazaar als teken van een bredere ontwikkeling

Gisteren startte OpenBazaar, ik raad iedereen aan te lezen hoe hun concept in elkaar zit ( https://openbazaar.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/208020193-What-is-OpenBazaar- ) Los van de vraag of deze specifieke startup een succes wordt, het illustreert een bredere ontwikkeling naar meer gedistribueerde, P2P vormen van informatie-uitwisseling. Zonder een derde partij die toezicht kan houden, belasting kan innen, wetten kan handhaven e.d. Dat zien we ook in de financiĆ«le sector waar gevestigde partijen flink in Blockchain technologie investeren juist omdat ze zelf ook bevreesd zijn voor een dergelijke disruptie. Daarnaast zijn er diverse initiatieven/startups zoals https://www.ethereum.org/ die ook volop inzetten op een gedistribueerde, P2P toekomst. Niemand weet wat succesvol wordt en hoe dit afloopt. Maar disruptie komt eraan.

(picture by Eric Parker https://www.flickr.com/photos/ericparker/2098566729 )

dinsdag 2 februari 2016

Artificial Intelligence will not arrive with a bang but with a whimper

Artificial Intelligence is a hotly debated trend. A lot of discussion is about the question what “true intelligence” is. And whether that could be artificial. Not the most interesting of discussions in my view. In my personal definition Artificial Intelligence is anything done by machines that you would expect could only be done by humans. This means that the definition is sliding. In the middle ages a chess playing machine would probably be called “intelligent”. Just as a self-driving car in the fifties. In general it seems that everything that is seen as normal /accepted is not viewed as “artificial intelligence” anymore. The fact remains that the combination of smart algorithms, machine learning/deep learning is changing our lives in a fundamental way. Not with a big explosion. But in small steps, gradually. An example is the fact that according to Google 10% of Gmail replies in the US is a smart reply. A sign of the digital assistant creeping into our lives. 

vrijdag 29 januari 2016

Legislation alone will not protect our privacy




Privacy is an important subject in our times. Regardless where you stand on this subject. Everybody wants some level of protection with regard to their personal space. The problem is that the level varies with context and situation we are in. The traditional government approach  is to make legislation which provide the norms in this respect. Both on a national and european level regulations are made to protect the citizen. However alone they will fail. As I encounter in my work everyday,complexity of the information society is growing exponentially. Big Data, Internet of Things, Mobile, Artificial Intelligence are just some parts of this.

Current laws are not compatible with those developments. They are in a different mindset, in a different industrial age if you want. The concept of platforms is not acknowledged nor accomodated. They overestimate the role the small nationstate can play in the global information context. There is no concept with regard to personal data that can actually protect the citizen. The difference between personal and non-personal data is usually made which is not as clear in reality as the legislators describe. Finally the role of decisionmaking machines, systems and algorithms as a separate entity is not recognised enough.

All this makes a fundamental rethink of the legal framework with regard to privacy and data protection necessary. Some elements of that are adressed in coming EU regulation but not all.
In my view we need more protection embedded in technology and data. Which functions regardless of third parties, legislation, governments etc. This goes farther than encryption and various known traditional Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PET). More people recognise that fact and that's the reason blockchain, smart contracts and everything around it, get a lot of attention, also in government circles. It's all embryonic but it offers a glimpse of promising future with regard to privacy protection. The way forward is start experimenting, failing and learning with these technologies.

zaterdag 5 september 2015

Alsof Digitaal niet persoonlijk kan zijn

In de media zie ik een oude discussie telkens weer opduiken. Zodra (overheids)dienstverlening slecht en ongemakkelijk is wordt in de strijd geworpen dat een persoonlijke aanpak nodig is. Er wordt dan veelal geduid dat een fysieke persoon de dienst moet leveren. Liefst aan een balie vrees ik.... Eens, dienstverlening moet zoveel mogelijk op maat gesneden zijn, aansluiten bij belevingswereld en context van de persoon. Dat impliceert echter niet dat er in alle gevallen moet worden overgeschakeld op een fysieke persoon en/of balie. Natuurlijk zijn er gevallen dat persoonlijk, menselijk contact nodig is en de beste vorm. Mijn stelling is echter dat we technologie nog niet optimaal inzetten om persoonlijke dienstverlening ook digitaal te leveren. Bovendien vervaagt het onderscheid volledig. Een skype gesprek met een ambtenaar over mijn aanvraag, is dat nu digitaal en/of persoonlijk ? Kortom, laten we onze energie zetten op het personaliseren en verbeteren van de dienstverlening. Met een mix van kanalen en middelen. Niet in discussie over persoonlijk versus digitaal.

zaterdag 20 juni 2015

Over hoe we met betrekking tot privacy vaak het gevecht van gisteren voeren

Als je een enthousiast volger bent van nieuwe technologische ontwikkelingen denken mensen vaak dat je privacy niet belangrijk vindt. Niets is echter in mijn geval minder waar. Ik hecht veel aan de bescherming van mijn persoonlijke levenssfeer en alles wat daarbij hoort. Tegelijk zie ik  in Nederland een maatschappij die zich met betrekking tot privacy richt op incidenten en zich veelal richt op de problemen van gisteren. Overigens zeg ik niet dat die problemen niet relevant zijn of moeten worden aangepakt maar het frustreert dat de echt strategische vraagstukken, die ook al geruime tijd zichtbaar zijn, niet pro-actief worden geadresseerd door politiek of overheid. Neem bijvoorbeeld de combinatie van spraakherkenning en artificiele intelligentie in de "cloud". Dit recente artikel beschrijft een ontwikkeling die al minimaal een jaar aan de gang is. Cognitoys en Watson zijn er echt al een tijdje. Evenals Google Now en Siri. Dit leidt tot technologie:

  • waarmee je in spreektaal kan converseren
  • die van je leert, zich helemaal aan jouw wensen aanpast en je beter kent dan wie dan ook
  • beschikt over een steeds grotere collectieve intelligentie
  • op gespecialiseerde gebieden beter zal worden dan vrijwel alle menselijke experts
  • die zich weinig gelegen laat aan landsgrenzen of jurisdicties
Het gaat dus allang niet meer over het lekken van je persoonlijke data, cookies etc. Het gaat over een veel strategischer vraagstuk, hoe ga je om met intelligente systemen die ons leven potentieel kunnen bepalen maar geen vanzelfsprekende binding hebben met ons land, democractie en wetgeving. Ik doel hierbij niet eens op "superintelligente" systemen maar het simpele gegeven dat straks voor elk specialisme of discipline er altijd een in de "cloud" functionerend intelligent systeem is dat slimmer is en meer kennis heeft dan elke individuele expert en waarmee je binnenkort ook nog in redelijk normale taal kunt communiceren. Zelfs als er een mens "in de loop" blijft dan is het als hulpje van een superieur systeem. Hoe zorg je er nu voor dat dergelijke systemen niet worden gemanipuleerd ? Wanneer is een dergelijk systeem objectief en wie bepaalt dat ? Wie gaat de spelregels bepalen, nationale overheid, EU, VN ?
Er is veel te doen en er gebeurt nog te weinig.

bronvermelding afbeelding: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HAL_9000

donderdag 26 februari 2015

Unsupervised learning with unstructured data, why it changes everything

Recently I red an interview with Demis Hassabis from Deepmind, a company that Google
acquired.  The co-founder mentioned in that interview his main focus, "It’s also called unsupervised learning— you just give it data and it learns by itself what to do with it, what the structure is, what the insights are. We are only interested in that kind of AI.". The progress that has been made is published in Nature , read The Verge for the non-scientific version. The exciting thing as described in the mentioned articles is that the system does not "know" what a certain Atari game was. It let itself be trained by playing where a high(er) score was a reward. Just as with humans. In that way the system learned itself to play and win most old Atari games. With technology things becoming exciting when they become "general-purpose" , when you can use one system for different tasks and assignments. The PC is the ultimate example but also the smartphone. In software terms Deepmind/Google are trying to build a system that can learn, adapt and handle multiple situations. This first step is small, this application can only learn to play Atari games. But the next steps are more advanced selflearning systems in other domains like medicine, finance, logistics etc. After that systems will start combining their learning experience in various domains.
Google Now is an obvious candidate for this technology, it will become a system that learns to "play" us, let us buy things and let us behave in a way that Google wants us to. The most negative scenario. Formulated in positive terms it will be able to perfectly anticipate our behaviour, assist us in the best way possible, provide services which perfectly satisfy our needs. All of the above is not new for people who like to be informed about this subject. However for the majority of politicians, managers, citizens etc. a computer program is still something that can only do what it is programmed to do. It's behaviour and actions are predetermined, controllable and auditable.Our laws, checks and balances in society with regard to technology are based on that premiss. If that premiss is no longer true. It changes everything. There should be more discussion about this in society and politics. Instead people focus on the rather limited subject of privacy and personal data. That's the reason i keep stressing the importance of this and related subjects in my blogs. I am in good company with several technology guru's telling us the same thing. However in parliament and politics it's still too quiet.

donderdag 12 februari 2015

If Google becomes our digital assistant, regulating it becomes necessary.

The dominant company in search is further developing it's product it's famous for. In the beginning it was the possibility to search with keywords on the web. You would get the "best" results based on algorithms such as Pagerank among others. Also we would receive some advertising/commercial links with our query. But time has passed and what started as something relatively simple may be evolving into something we could call a digital assistant with "artificial intelligence". In human terms an entity I can talk with, ask questions in normal language, who knows what I like, who I have met, where I have been etcetera . Google is quite open that this is their goal. People like Kurzweil and others have been hired , companies with AI technology have been acquired to accomplish this. If you observe Google you can see that they are getting there. With Google Now, improvements in Google Translate, added intelligence to Google Hangouts and so on.
With normal search there is already discussion about how Google ranks the results. In the described future scenario objectivity, transparancy and accountability becomes even more complex to realise. Let alone to monitor it as a "user". Google, Apple but also other companies who will offer this kind of functionality will be tempted to nudge us, to steer our behaviour in certain directions. The complexity of artificial intelligence but also the principal "black box" character of technology used, like artificial neural networks , makes it difficult or sometimes impossible to example the inner workings. Therefore oversight , checks and balances are harder to accomplish. They are needed however. Companies are driven by profit not by the common or individual interest of people. In my view there are oversight platforms / frameworks necessary which are non-profit, where people, companies and government participate in, who can make rules and regulations with regard to these digital agents or assistants. Rules about how they should work, procedures for protecting, privacy and how oversight and auditing is possible. Also regulation by government alone is possible. This is however less desirable in my view. Because trust in government is not that high. Also it's something in which people, companies and government should have a common goal. To let this promising technology improve our lives while at the same time guard are principal values.
And can "the market" not take care of this ? Personally I don't think so. This market seems a "winner takes all" environment where maybe 2-3 dominant players will emerge. Not a vibrant market with many players changing position is my guess.

Picture source:
"Colored neural network" by Glosser.ca - Own work, Derivative of File:Artificial neural network.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.