Today in Tech: Deep learning, faking news and more

NS Ramnath
Published: 27, Nov 2012

I have been with Forbes India since August 2008. I like writing about ideas, events and people at the intersection of business, society and technology. Prior, I was with Economic Times. I am based in Bangalore. Email:

Deep learning Geeks, science fiction buffs and technology writers have long feared fantasized and feared that machines will become increasingly more intelligent and surpass human beings someday. Today we have voices inside cell phones that can understand what we say, and machines inside cars that can drive miles and miles without a single accident. Yet, outside this lot, not many spend too much time thinking about it. New York Times has a piece that says things are changing fast:

"What is new in recent months is the growing speed and accuracy of deep-learning programs, often called artificial neural networks or just “neural nets” for their resemblance to the neural connections in the brain. “There has been a number of stunning new results with deep-learning methods,” said Yann LeCun, a computer scientist at New York University who did pioneering research in handwriting recognition at Bell Laboratories. “The kind of jump we are seeing in the accuracy of these systems is very rare indeed.”

Not so fast, argues Gary Marcus, Professor of Psychology at New York University in a blog post in New Yorker. Deep learning is important work, with immediate practical applications. But it’s not as breathtaking as the front-page story in the New York Times seems to suggest.

May be so, but should we fear that something like that might happen. I have no idea, but there is only place that I will look to for good, well thought out answer: The Cambridge Project for Existential Risk.  (Also read: Cambridge to study technology's risk to humans &   Artificial intelligence – can we keep it in the box?



Faking news

On the internet, nobody knows you are a dog. And nobody knows what’s fake and what’s genuine - at least for 15 minutes. In the last few days a lot of name-calling, breast-beating (and obligatory line-shooting) happened over what some facebook users believed to be a change in its policy and pasted lengthy posts on their timelines. The best response that captured both the crime and the punishment came in the form of a cartoon (Right: A friend forwarded it, and I don’t know the source.)

But, fake was very much on the prowl beyond facebook too. No one was really surprised to  read reports that said Google was buying a wireless hotspot company called IOCA. But it turned out, the press release on which these were based were fake. PRWeb, which distributed the press release, blamed it on identity theft. An AllThingsD report suggests that whoever was behind it couldn't have made too much money out of the market, if stock manipulation was the motive. This much is clear: someday soon, people will stop taking Onion seriously.

Also of interest

  • iPhone users are about three times more engaged in shopping with their devices than Android users. Two years ago the ratio was two to one. Overall iPad is changing shopping habits, but it has a near monopoly in its form factor at this point. The bigger question is what is causing phone users to behave differently based on the devices they own. The phone market is more mature and has had several years of competition to be able to discern differences in platforms. The pattern is pretty clear with respect to Android: engagement is down as ownership is up.
    The Android engagement paradox  by Horace Dediu


  • We have essentially no patents in SpaceX. Our primary long-term competition is in China—if we published patents, it would be farcical, because the Chinese would just use them as a recipe book. But I can give you one example.
    - One of the many interesting things Elon Musk says in his long interview with Chris Anderson of Wired


  • It’s an approach that, in principle, could make online courses much more powerful. Google and Amazon transformed the Web from a collection of electronic documents into an efficient economic powerhouse by tracking user activity and tweaking design to make pages more useful and consumers more likely to click ads or buy. Promoters of adaptive learning say similar analytic techniques can be applied to teaching.
    Questions Surround Software that Adapts to Students


So What is the New Normal for GE in India?
Aakash II at the UN? Why didn't we send Tata Nano or Mitticool for that matter?