MACHINE LEARNING

All right, we know that someday the robots are going to take over. So you might as well get with the program. Make it a partnership. We don’t mean robots like you see in sci-fi movies, walking around with shiny metal limbs. Anything that’s controlled by a program is a robot. So most robots aren’t visible in the ordinary sense of the word, they’re just part of the system.

A machine can respond to body movements, facial gestures, or just leaving the scene. The very fact that you’re not there can be an instruction. Bob recalls talking to an engineer who had just come from an automated factory in Kentucky. It made small electric motors, like the kind in vacuum cleaners and sewing machines. The factory floor was all dark. You could just see red and blue tiny lights blinking. After all, the machines didn’t need light, why waste money on lighting?

This kind of thing is increasing and there’s a joke about it that goes like this: The factory of the future will only need two attendants: a man and a dog. The man is there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to bark when the man falls asleep.

So Google is going to teach us how to operate machinery without even going to the factory. The dog will be out of a job. Go to TeachableMachine.withGoogle.com. They’ll teach you how to do it. No charge. It’s a great introduction to “machine learning,” which is already a hot career field.

Machine learning powers supercomputers such as IBM’s Watson. It’s used in facial recognition software and you see it in photo apps. Other areas include robotics and medicine. Then there’s Siri, Alexa and Google Home, or any system that uses voice recognition. It’s all machine learning.

To create your own machine learning demo, you don’t need to install anything. Just go to “Google’s Teachable Machine” and start. You will need a computer that has a built-in camera, which most do now, or you can buy a clip-on camera for older machines; they’re cheap.

In less than a minute, we trained Google’s website to show a photo, play a sound, or talk to us. When Joy moved her arm across her computer screen, she got a white cat waving its paws. When she was still, she got a fluffy Pomeranian dog. When she pulled her bangs back, a rabbit appeared. We played the air guitar to get a music clip, drummed on the desk to do a drum solo and put a thumb to our lips to get a trombone.

Now all of these results are pretty useless, but their point is they could just as easily be a result that produced some other action or even many actions. But we had to “train” the machine first. That meant holding down the “train” button on the website while waving our arms or whatever gesture we wanted to associate with a photo, a music clip or a voice. We made the voice say “Way to Go!” when we flexed our muscles.

As an aside here, it struck Bob that this could be an immediate response to danger. When they bad guys come in pointing a gun at you, just throw up your hands in surrender and that action will immediately call the police, seal the doors, release the sleeping gas or whatever.

If you want to go further, there’s Wekinator.org. They offer a free online course, “Machine Learning for Musicians and Artists,” from Goldsmith University in London. (It’s $20 a month if you want college credit.) It’s quite techie, but it might just launch a new career. They say it’s the only such class oriented towards art and music.

Internuts

Photographing the Unseen: Winners of the Nikon Small World 2017.” It’s astonishing to see what the hologram on a credit card looks like when you bend the card, and the eye of a Daddy Long Legs, the skin of a sea cucumber, a bit of mold on a tomato. The world of the small is magical and beautiful, in most cases.

NextDoor.com allows people in your neighborhood to post items for sale, small jobs, and so on. For instance, when we looked, someone was looking for a driver to take their car to Arizona — a nice way to avoid rental cars on vacation.

The Numbers Report

Healthline.com claims there are 156,000 apps dealing with health and wellness. Start now and you may live long enough to check them all. The Food and Drug Administration regulates around 200 health sites. This reminds Bob that they also annually check about the same number of possibly dangerous chemicals in everyday use. There are roughly 81,000 of those, so it may take a while.

Given the situation, it’s really going to be up to your own judgment. Fox News reported that developers of three wellness apps, including the popular Runtastic, created by an Adidas subsidiary, as well as MIT’s spinoff “Cardiio(sic) and “My Baby’s Beat,” by Matis, paid combined fines of $30,00 for overstating their claims.

BMC Medicine, a medical journal, reported that apps claiming to determine the right insulin doses for diabetics provide no protection against, and may even contribute to, errors. Remember: Doctors don’t know everything, and neither does the web.

Oreo Cookies

The new Android system, called Oreo, is rolling out to phones over the next several months. Nexus and Pixel phones get it first. Is there anything worth getting excited about? Techlicious.com has a great article on this, with all the details. Here are the highlights we think worth mentioning.

“Dots.” In the corner of each app icon, such as the Facebook logo, you’ll see a dot if there are notifications for you. If you’re tired of seeing the same notification when you swipe down from the top of the screen, you can snooze it for 15 minutes or longer. You also get more control of how you’re notified. You might want Facebook alerts to vibrate, rather than show on the so-called “lock screen” of your phone, the screen you see when the phone has been idle for awhile. Or your app might ping you. Or you can just tell it to shut-up.

Set the Wi-Fi Assistant to automatically connect to the highest quality and safest Wi-Fi networks. Suspect Wi-Fi areas, such as airports, won’t connect automatically.

Wherever you connect, your data is protected because its transmitted through a Google-operated virtual private network. To enable this feature once your Oreo update has arrived, go to “Settings,” then “Google,” then “Networking,” then “Wi-Fi Assistant.”

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