Artificial intelligence pioneer says we need to start over - Axios
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Artificial intelligence pioneer says we need to start over

Geoffrey Hinton harbors doubts about AI's current workhorse. (Johnny Guatto / University of Toronto)

In 1986, Geoffrey Hinton co-authored a paper that, three decades later, is central to the explosion of artificial intelligence. But Hinton says his breakthrough method should be dispensed with, and a new path to AI found.

Speaking with Axios on the sidelines of an AI conference in Toronto on Wednesday, Hinton, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and a Google researcher, said he is now "deeply suspicious" of back-propagation, the workhorse method that underlies most of the advances we are seeing in the AI field today, including the capacity to sort through photos and talk to Siri. "My view is throw it all away and start again," he said.

The bottom line: Other scientists at the conference said back-propagation still has a core role in AI's future. But Hinton said that, to push materially ahead, entirely new methods will probably have to be invented. "Max Planck said, 'Science progresses one funeral at a time.' The future depends on some graduate student who is deeply suspicious of everything I have said."

How it works: In back propagation, labels or "weights" are used to represent a photo or voice within a brain-like neural layer. The weights are then adjusted and readjusted, layer by layer, until the network can perform an intelligent function with the fewest possible errors.

But Hinton suggested that, to get to where neural networks are able to become intelligent on their own, what is known as "unsupervised learning," "I suspect that means getting rid of back-propagation."

"I don't think it's how the brain works," he said. "We clearly don't need all the labeled data."

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Tech firms look for staff with security clearances

A Facebook employee in California. Photo: Jeff Chiu / AP

Bloomberg reports that major tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter are interested in hiring workers with top-secret security clearances as they deal with foreign meddling on their platforms and come under increased risk of hacks. Workers with clearances are already in high demand by government agencies and contractors who have access to classified information.

Why it matters: Former government employees, and those who work for government contractors, are becoming more valuable to tech companies that have typically preferred scrappy engineering graduates over those steeped in government bureaucracy. But they companies have realized having better access to government information could help them identify and deal with problematic accounts more effectively. And they need to show Washington policymakers that they're capable of fending off problematic activity on their platforms.

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Lack of affordable housing killing jobs in Bay Area

A view of the San Francisco skyline from Alamo Square. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

The Bay Area saw its worst month for local employment since February 2010, losing 4,700 jobs in September, per Mercury News.

The backdrop: Employers in the Bay Area are finding it hard to fill positions due to limited housing and sky-high prices. Workers who can't find or afford housing close to their offices are pushed out of the area, and many of them don't want to bother with long commutes. "Housing is the chain on the dog that is chasing a squirrel," economist Christopher Thornberg told Mercury News. "Once that chain runs out, it yanks the dog back."

Go deeper: The national jobs picture for September

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Amazon gets hundreds of city proposals to host HQ2

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos at a meeting with Donald Trump in 2016. Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

Amazon has been flooded with pitches from cities and regions that want to host its second headquarters, the company said Monday. The company received 238 proposals from "54 states, provinces, districts and territories across North America."

Why it matters: There's lots of competition for what Amazon is calling HQ2. While the new headquarters could bring 50,000 jobs that pay an average salary of $100,000 to the winning city, there are also potential downsides to hosting, including the possible cost of billions of dollars via tax breaks.

Go deeper: The New York Times recently covered the tactics cities are employing to court the project.

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Will AI kill the era of the big startup?

Robots on display at the World Robot Conference in Beijing. Photo: Mark Schiefelbein / AP

TechCrunch's Jon Evans explores whether the rise of big data and artificial intelligence will kill the era of the big startups in favor of the tech giants in his latest column.

  • On the one hand: Certainly the tech giants have a leg up when it comes to access to massive amounts of customer data and it is hard to see that the shift to AI will hurt those companies.
  • On the other hand: There's also a case to be made that as the tools for AI become democratized we will see a ton of startups emerge with expertise (and data) in specific verticals.
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E-commerce warehouse jobs breathe life into the rust belt

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is well acquainted with the struggles brought on by deindustrialization. The city was once home to America's second-largest steel producer, but its citizens struggled for decades with declining steel employment, before Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt altogether in the early 1990s.

But as the New York Times reports, the city as become a poster child in recent years for the new, e-commerce economy. Its proximity to New York and Philadelphia and its large pool of less expensive labor have made it an appealing place for online retailers to locate their warehouses and fulfillment centers.

Why it matters: Some economists argue that when you account for fulfillment center jobs, the retail industry is actually adding jobs, and that these positions pay better than those in brick-and-mortar stores.

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Many cities hope self-driving vehicles can fix transit gaps

One way we may see autonomous vehicles changing our daily commutes is in the gaps at the edges of public transit systems — what urban planners call the "last-mile" problem. More than three-quarters of cities invested in mobilizing autonomous vehicles anticipate using them to solve "last-mile" transit gaps, such as transporting people between rail stations and employment centers or shuttles circulating within larger corporate campuses, according to a Bloomberg Philanthropies survey of cities out today.

Why it matters: Autonomous vehicles may link public transportation and major employment hubs, something cities often struggle with.While addressing these "last mile" gaps will improve commutes, some predict self-driving cars could add to sprawl as well as traffic.

Data: Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Cities cited the following hurdles to implementing autonomous vehicle projects:

  • Lack of money
  • Lack of capacity to manage pilot projects
  • Lack of private sector interest

Context: According to the survey, autonomous vehicle programs are popping up in 53 cities worldwide on every continent, with Washington, Austin, Paris, Helsinki, and London already piloting projects.

  • Testing areas include technology parks, college campuses, urban renewal districts, and former Olympic sites—places that make it easier to separate self-driving cars from the rest of the city. That means that, while the trials are happening within city limits, they aren't yet tackling the challenge of navigating complex urban environments.
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Indianapolis startup tries to disrupt on-demand food delivery

Clustertruck founder Chris Baggott shows Revolution CEO Steve Case how the food-delivery software works at the company's headquarters in Indianapolis. Photo / Patrick Gavin

INDIANAPOLIS — In 2013, software industry veteran Chris Baggott sold two companies he helped start. Salesforce bought ExactTarget for $2.5 billion, and Oracle bought Compendium, a business blogging software program. His newest software company, called Clustertruck, aims to disrupt the third-party food delivery companies like UberEats and GrubHub.

How it works: Unlike other food delivery services that pick up orders at restaurants all over town and deliver them to your door, Clustertruck owns the whole operation. Its kitchen makes 160 items, from pad Thai to pizza, and employs its own delivery team. Deliveries are free and are made within 21 minutes, Baggott said.

Middle America strategy: Clustertruck started in Indianapolis and opened in Columbus last week. It plans to be in Cleveland, Kansas City, Denver and Charlotte by the end of the year. Focusing on Midwestern states is the same expansion strategy Baggott used in building his other software companies: "While everyone else is killing themselves to conquer New York and San Francisco, we're focusing on the rest of the country," he said.

  • Baggott says Clustertruck has low driver turnover while competitors like Doordash spend millions on recruiting drivers. And drivers make good money — as much as $100,000 a year in some cases.
  • He developed the idea after meeting a Lyft driver who helped him to see the pitfalls of on-demand services. Many of his drivers are former Uber and Lyft drivers.
  • "I said, let's design a system that can be the best gig economy job in America," he said "We've designed software and an algorithm that maximizes revenue" and allows high volume food production and delivery.
  • During the 17 months since it opened with one kitchen, Baggott says it's "put over a million dollars in the pockets of 38 drivers."

The big question: Will consumers like the food enough to give up meals from their favorite restaurants? Other third-party delivery services are banking on other restaurants' loyal customers who are willing to pay to have it delivered. Clustertruck, on the other hand, has to make a variety of food hoping to suit all tastes.

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New York opens drone testing ground

Mike Busutil of Navmar Applied Sciences preps for flight tests with a Tigershark drone in Rome, N.Y. Photo: Mary Esch / AP

"Envisioning a day when millions of drones will buzz around delivering packages, watching crops or inspecting pipelines, a coalition is creating an airspace corridor in upstate New York where traffic management systems will be developed and unmanned aircraft can undergo safety and performance testing," AP's Mary Esch reports:

  • "The [Rome, N.Y.] airport is one of seven places around the country designated by the [FAA] as an unmanned aircraft systems test site. Other sites are in Virginia, North Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada and Alaska."
  • What's next: "Like self-driving cars, unmanned aircraft will ultimately need onboard sensors allowing them to detect and avoid obstacles including other aircraft."
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In a bet against college, WeWork acquires a coding bootcamp

WeWork will open coding academies within all its office spaces. (Photo: Flatiron School)

WeWork, the office leasing giant, has acquired the New York-based Flatiron School, a private coding academy, in a gamble on 15-week, $15,000 vocational education as opposed to far more expensive four-year college degrees. The companies did not disclose the precise value of the cash-and-stock deal. At $20 billion, WeWork is tied for the sixth most-valuable startup in the world.

Why it matters: At a time many experts and politicians are questioning the assumption that college is for everyone, the deal bets on a fashionable form of vocational education — coding — as a route to well-paying software jobs. The plans are to expand Flatiron from its single location in New York's financial district into most of WeWork's approximately 170 offices, which would further test the growing idea of bypassing college, at least in the U.S. tech world.

The deal fits WeWork's cultural play: WeWork rents out exquisitely designed and operated office spaces with the feel of boutique hotels. Adam Enbar, co-founder of Flatiron, said the deal, which was signed Oct. 11 but announced only today, aligns with a cultural shift to which WeWork is marketing. "More than prior generations, people want community at work," Enbar told Axios. "When you imagine education in a space, it starts to make sense. One of the most powerful forms of community is learning."

Six days after the agreement, Flatiron signed a settlement with the New York Attorney General in which it agreed to more clearly disclose its hiring and salary rates. Almost all graduates find jobs within six months, but they range from full-time positions to internships. The settlement included a $375,000 payment. The school appears now to be in full compliance.

Artie Minson, WeWork's CFO, said the deal was in the works for nine months. Enbar said that many on-line schools were failing to teach effectively because most students need to be with other students while they learn, and not just learning content at home alone. That is why the physical school is important. "We forget about that," he said. "Something is lost when you remove a physical community."

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The future of Wall Street

Traders on the NYSE. Richard Drew / AP

Bloomberg has a job-by-job look at Wall Street functions that could be wiped out by automation — machine learning, natural-language processing, robotic-process automation and predictive analytics:

  • Why it matters: "The tools will relieve staff of routine tasks and offer an edge to those who stay. But one day, machines may not need much help."
  • For example: "Firms are trying to build economists. They're toying with natural-language processing to sift central bank commentary for clues on future monetary policy. They're also experimenting with algorithms that scour far-flung data, like oil-tanker shipments from the Middle East or satellite images of Chinese industrial sites, to forecast growth."