Some AI summaries

AI is thrown around a LOT these days. It's probably the third most popular term I hear in conversation, next to machine learning and natural language processing. So given its ubiquity, I thought I'd share an awesome article that speaks more to what it is, differences in AI, and much much more. 

Copied and pasted below is a quick summary ... but the full article is certainly a must read. Enjoy! 

"Finally, while there are many different types or forms of AI since AI is a broad concept, the critical categories we need to think about are based on an AI’s caliber. There are three major AI caliber categories:

AI Caliber 1) Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI): Sometimes referred to as Weak AI, Artificial Narrow Intelligence is AI that specializes in one area. There’s AI that can beat the world chess champion in chess, but that’s the only thing it does. Ask it to figure out a better way to store data on a hard drive, and it’ll look at you blankly.

AI Caliber 2) Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): Sometimes referred to as Strong AI, or Human-Level AI, Artificial General Intelligence refers to a computer that is as smart as a human across the board—a machine that can perform any intellectual task that a human being can. Creating AGI is amuch harder task than creating ANI, and we’re yet to do it. Professor Linda Gottfredson describes intelligence as “a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.” AGI would be able to do all of those things as easily as you can.

AI Caliber 3) Artificial Superintelligence (ASI): Oxford philosopher and leading AI thinker Nick Bostrom defines superintelligence as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.” Artificial Superintelligence ranges from a computer that’s just a little smarter than a human to one that’s trillions of times smarter—across the board. ASI is the reason the topic of AI is such a spicy meatball and why the words immortality and extinction will both appear in these posts multiple times.

As of now, humans have conquered the lowest caliber of AI—ANI—in many ways, and it’s everywhere. The AI Revolution is the road from ANI, through AGI, to ASI—a road we may or may not survive but that, either way, will change everything."

See here for full article. 

Overheard in the valley: Uber tales

My husband and I were riding a bus on Saturday night, heading from Divisadero to the Powell Bart station area (down Market St). Below is the conversation we witnessed (though the exact phrasing escapes me). The characters in this true story are Bus Driver and Man. 

Man gets on bus. Mid 50s. Carrying a skateboard. 

Man: Hey, have you heard about Uber?
Bus Driver: Uh, maybe? Not sure ...
Man: It's like a taxi, but anyone can do it, you should do it! All you gotta do is drive people around, and you get paid. 
Bus Driver: I have a job ... 
Man: No man, you gotta do this Uber thing. You can make so much money. You don't even have to worry about cash or anything. People pay you with their iPhone! 
Bus Driver: Hmm
Man: It's like an iPhone taxi. People just press a button on their iPhone, and you go pick em up and drop em off somewhere else. And they just pay you through their iPhone and at the end of the week you get a check. 
Bus Driver: Hmm
Man: Look look (points aggressively) see that car with the U, they're all over the place, it's the U in the corner, that's Uber. I'm gonna buy a car so that I can be an Uber driver. I'm gonna buy a Prius cuz you gotta have a good car. All I need is $1,800 down, and then I can get the car, and then Uber will help me make the car payments too if I drive for them. 
Bus Driver: You're gonna buy a Prius to be a Uber driver?
Man: Yeah! I just gotta get $1,800, then I can buy a Prius. Toyota has great deals. So, do you want to give me some money so that I can buy the Prius? Oh also, they make you do a background check which I probably won't pass, but you definitely will, so you should do the background check and I'll do the driving and will give you 40%. 
Bus Driver: Uh ... 
Man: All you gotta do is do the background check. I'll give you 40%! It's super easy, you just drive people around and you get paid. 

Not sure if this man's strategy will actually work, but nevertheless, I note 1) the keen interest in the driver supply side, 2) Uber and other on-demand services' propensity for job creation, 3) the security concerns knowing that a driver might have a criminal history that could result in an unsafe ride, and 4) the ethical questions around social responsibility of these emerging tech giants. 

And if you are interested, here are some other articles on drivers getting around the background check.

On the road: Urban slum sanitation in Nairobi

I've been on and off the road since the end of June, it's nearing the end of July, I'm not going to lie, the adventure has been unbelievably amazing, but I am excited for a hot water shower and the comfort of my own bed! The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. I've been in seven different airports, six different countries, and three different continents. I've miraculously avoided getting sick, and have even managed to keep tabs on all my belongings, an overall success I think! The purpose of all this travel, as I've mentioned in other posts, is to get a clear understanding of what our users need as we continue to develop version 3 of the Ushahidi core platform. 

Here's a brief glimpse into my experience in Nairobi, Kenya. Nairobi is a city that has seen drastic change in the last three years, both for the better and unfortunately, the worse. I was there in 2011 and walked freely, felt comfortable downtown, and had an overall sense of security. This has vanished in recent times. Militant and terrorist groups ravage the coast, my friends warn me to stay away from malls because you never know when one will be turned into a hostage situation, and petty thieves are baldly stealing laptops and cell phones in broad daylight by gunpoint. I'll be honest, I was on edge the whole time I was there.

That being said, Nairobi has seen unprecedented growth over the last couple years. From new housing developments to a thriving tech scene. The Bishop Magua building on Ngong Road, where Ushahidi is located, is a technology campus housing companies, co-working spaces, accelerators, tech education focused groups, and even VC funds. The Ushahidi office is tucked into a sunny corner of the building, and it was a short but incredible experience to be there for a week. Other than the Ushahidi office, which was obviously my favorite part of the building (and no one is paying, forcing, or coercing me in any way to say that!), I really loved the iHub, Nairobi's innovation hub for it's burgeoning tech community, its many subsidiaries (UX lab and research facilities), and its events (I was fortunate to attend a packed house for a "Fail Faire"). In addition to that, I was blown away by an awesome mobile QA (quality assurance) lab that the building boasts -- this is definitely missing in many Silicon Valley companies and startups!

During my time in Nairobi I visited on of our partners, Sanergy. They are building sustainable sanitation solutions for urban slums. I visited their waste disposal facility and the Mukuru slum where they have several toilets installed. They've built a franchise model for what we would call a "port-o-potty" in the US. The franchise owner decides the pricing and is responsible for the overall upkeep of the toilet. The slum dwellers now have clean, safe solutions for their toilet needs, something they desperately lacked before. Past toilet installations have lacked any investment from the residents. Now, since the toilet is owned and operated by a community member, they've seen better maintenance, and much higher standards for the overall quality of the toilet experience.

We certainly take for granted the convenience of having one, if not many, flushable, clean, sheltered toilets within the comfort of our homes. NPR recently did a piece on how a lack of easy access to a toilet (mostly in the home) puts women at risk for rape and assault. In the slums, many of the Sanergy toilets are for a community, as in several families will get together and purchase it. They'll place it in the center of a cluster of their homes so that it is equidistant and easily accessible to all. Solutions like this are a step closer to providing safety as well as sanitary waste solutions for slum communities. Feces and urine that once could easily find their way into food from people relieving themselves on the slum streets, are now being contained and even recycled.

Sanergy collects the waste everyday and does various things with it from manure sales to biogas generation, all backed by a strong R&D program. Ushahidi is helping them with their data management and visualization. The data could be anything from average liters of waste collected per location per day, or shortest route between two toilets for optimal waste collection.

We are also placing a strong focus on helping them come up with a ticketing or case management system. Oftentimes the users of the toilets or the toilet owners need to report a problem or provide a suggestion. Currently, they don't have a very clear or efficient way to note down these pieces of information or to track their progress, i.e., did someone fix the broken toilet, was it noted that one location needs emptying more than once a day, etc. When we were visiting the Mukuru slum a man said that he would appreciate a toilet that supports those with physical disabilities. Insights like this are immensely valuable and we hope that our system will allow Sanergy to track and act upon them.

Overall, it was truly remarkable to be a part of the Nairobi tech landscape for a few days, and I'm excited to see it grow. The organizations in the Bishop Magua Centre have a very symbiotic relationship, and I appreciated the shared resources and ideas. My only wish and hope for Nairobi and for Kenya as a whole is that it finds peace and safety during these tough times.

That's it from me now, if you want some more realtime updates, feel free to follow me on Twitter or Instagram. More to come on the other locations!


On the road: Self-sustaining school in Paraguay

On Thursday I traveled an hour out of Asuncion, Paraguay to a small town called Cerrito where I spent the day learning about Fundacion Paraguaya's financially self-sufficient school. Since we are developing V3 of the Ushahidi platform with Fundacion Paraguaya as a partner and deployer of the product, I wanted to get a stronger understanding of all their initiatives to understand their technology needs and how we can help the most.

There are about 150 enrolled students in the school, ages 15-19, who study the core subjects (math, science, history, Spanish, English, etc.) but who also get an in depth education in vocational topics such as agriculture, hotel management (hospitality), and culinary arts. In addition to vast amounts of farmland, the campus boasts dorms, offices, outdoor gathering areas, banquet halls, a large kitchen, a canteen, and even comfortable lodging for 150+ visitors. 

The students rotate through the various vocational tracks their first two years and select an area of concentration in the third year. The students are also immersed in entrepreneurial classes where they learn how to run a small business. When I asked about some of the difficulties the organization faces in running the school, one of the directors said, "There are challenges. You're dealing with teenagers. Also, pigs die, chickens die, crops rot. But these are real world problems and these kids get to experience them in a safe, controlled environment."

Many of the students at the school are children of Fundacion Paraguaya's micro finance clients. In most instances, the kids do not have access to proper education in their villages, and come to the Escuela Agricola San Francisco for an opportunity to escape long term poverty.

I spent the day walking around the 97 acre campus, interacting with and watching students garden, care for chickens, wash pig pens, and lay traps for insects. The harvest vegetables, and spend equal time in the classroom and in the field learning the ins and outs of sustainable farming, from crop rotation techniques to environmentally friendly fertilizer recipes. 

The students sell the fruits of their labor every Tuesday in an Asuncion market, learning how to price items and balance accounts, in addition to gleaning sales skills. Upon returning from the city they analyze the day's sales, delving into market trends based on seasonality. The students also gain several other marketable skills in this endeavor around sales, communication, and confidence.

Like this, the school generates its own revenue through product sales and lodging/hotel facilities. I was lucky enough to have lunch on campus, a meal that was entirely comprised of foods from the school, including a delicious cheese cake with honey for dessert.

Fundacion Paraguaya recently introduced a computer science program and the organization is excited to involve interested students in the Ushahidi deployment. Students are already eagerly pursuing engineering projects on campus, such building chicken feeders and solar powered grills for cooking. 

I was personally very excited about the school as I am a strong proponent of practical, sustainable education. "One size fits all" doesn't work when it comes to growing and developing young minds. Fundacion Paraguaya has recognized a void in their community and is tailoring education to best meet those needs. The graduates from Escuela Agricola go on to pursue a variety of professional paths, from attending university to opening small businesses back in their hometown. Fundacion Paraguaya has expanded this self-sufficient school model to Tanzania and is eager to spread the methodology to any region that needs it. Students flock to Escuela Agricola from not only neighboring countries, but from as far as Haiti. With the growing demand, they've opened two more schools in Paraguay and continue to inch closer and closer to their goal of tackling poverty from all sides. 

Is poverty an emergency?

I met with Martin Burt, the Executive Director and founder of Fundacion Paraguaya a few days ago and he said two things that left me contemplative. The first was that poverty is an emergency, and the second was that perhaps the most important factor in achieving something is a belief that you can.

Consider the first point. The widely accepted understanding of an emergency is something that is urgent and needs to be addressed immediately. At Ushahidi we pride ourselves in being able to provide the technology that can assist in that moment of need. If I asked you to give me a few examples of emergencies you would probably refer to natural disasters or life threatening medical situations. Very infrequently do people consider poverty as an emergency.

But when Martin said it, it immediately made sense to me. Poverty is a life threatening, society threatening phenomenon that must be addressed immediately. If treated and prioritized like the bleeding gun wound it is, maybe we'd be faster to eliminate it. Chronic, festering poverty has become a standard all over the world. Martin and his team are unwilling to accept the status quo. I'm excited to be implementing an instance of the Ushahidi platform in this new and necessary definition of emergency, and look forward to other similar usages of the product. 

Martin's second point, said with reference to his methodology of empowering the poor with the tools and perspective they need to help themselves fight poverty, resonated with me when thinking about women and underrepresented minorities in tech. Many of us have heard stereotypes stated as facts ... Men are more logically wired, Asians are really good at math, women are better at the soft skills, etc. Imagine a little girl, told from an impressionable age that it's okay for her to be mediocre in math and science because that's what nature intended. It is highly unlikely that this girl ever believes that she could be good at those subjects, and very likely that she will be alienated from them for life.

I was honored to think and talk through these ideas with Martin and his team, and am eager to see the far reaching implications and effects of his work.

On the road in Asuncion Paraguay

Well, I'm off! Saturday was the beginning of several weeks of UX research as I traverse across the globe in preparation for Ushahidi's V3 platform launch. The Ushahidi platform is an open source tool for data management and visualization. It's highly customizable and we've seen people use it for a variety of different instances, from election monitoring to water point tracking. You can see some examples here.

We're developing technology to enable local developers, community leaders, and organizations to manage information most effectively leveraging the existing technological infrastructure. So as we consider the V3 feature set, we find getting feedback from the people who will be using it a no brainer :) I'm not going to pretend that one week with users gives deep insight into the social, cultural, and technological fabric of a community. But that's exactly why we work with the community and with those who work, live, and experience the reality on a daily basis. We're building tools for them.

My first stop is Asuncion, Paraguay. I arrived on Sunday and spent the day getting acquainted with the city and with the oh so elusive goddess of sleep. I left my notebook (the paper kind ;)) at home and had to purchase one in a local store with my broken Spanish. I successfully walked away with a child's notebook that poignantly describes me as 'sweet and innocent' ;) 

I spent yesterday working with a partner organization that identifies and maps poverty in Paraguay, Fundacion Paraguaya. I am impressed with their understanding of poverty as a multi faceted problem, and inspired by their approach of working with individuals to find sustainable solutions. We're excited to build them software and to supplement their existing tools as we humbly become a part of their journey as they work on reducing poverty.

Yesterday I also observed some interviews with workers at a tea production factory. The company has partnered with Fundacion Paraguaya to better understand its workforce. The survey was in Spanish so I spent most of the time observing and paying attention to physical response and application interaction. Today I was in rural Paraguay to shadow more interviews and look forward to really digging into their software pain points.

More from me later, ciao! 

Who, what, why? Oculus Rift

The Valley was yet again speechless when Facebook announced the Oculus Rift acquisition yesterday. Why Facebook, why gaming, why this, questions flew in all directions and people took to social media expressing their disbelief and concern. 'Bubble' was thrown around. 'There goes that Snapchat money' was also mentioned. But what does this Oculus Rift acquisition really mean for Facebook? 

Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset and they've supposedly had phenomenal success in building something that gives the user a truly immersive experience. Current use case = games. Potential future use case? Immeasurable. As Zuck said in his post, the device could be used in any situation that would have traditionally required an in person experience. Be that sporting events, doctor's office visits, heck, even dates. 

Facebook has built an empire around a social network. With Oculus Rift Facebook can begin experimenting with virtual social experiences. People can go from posting on walls and having Facebook message threads to donning this headset and having an entirely immersive, intimate, social experience. 'Sharing' a post could suddenly shift to actually sharing a moment. 

So while people threw fits and pounded their fists, I think that this has the potential to be a very strategic acquisition for Facebook. Having access to the mothership's bank will certainly help a hardware company develop and scale, but it remains to be seen whether Oculus Rift can maintain their startup agility and keep building an amazing product within a large corporate setting.

What a start up is and is not

Working in the startup world frequently begets the question, “so what’s startup life like?” Here’s a quick bulleted summary for your perusal. Short answer, startup life is incredible and incredibly tough. You learn a lot in a short period of time, and are encouraged, nay, forced, to take on an enormous amount of responsibility. A startup is great for people who are self-motivated, able to thrive in ambiguity, and unafraid of drastic changes. And while most people self-diagnose themselves with these traits, an honest introspection is required before confirming that you do indeed possess these qualities. Caveat, you may not know you have these characteristics until you’re thrown into the deep end and forced to swim.

With that, I’ll begin. Note that these things are true, as per my experience, for a non-engineering role.

What a startup is:

  • A setting where you will learn many things very quickly without a clearly defined teacher

  • An opportunity to dabble in a little bit of everything

  • The ideal place to learn a thing or two about what to do when building a company

  • The idea place to learn a thing or two about what NOT to do when building a company

  • An environment where you shoulder more responsibility than you would at a larger company with your level of experience

  • A company that feels more like one close knit team

  • A place where every hour counts

What a startup is not:

  • A place to get rich quick

  • A surefire bet to professional success

  • An environment where you will find mentors and guidance

  • A company where the future is clearly defined

  • A work environment where processes are already established

  • A lifestyle where weekends actually mean something

Disagree? Have anything to add? Shoot me a note!

Pinning pains

I am not an avid user of Pinterest. I felt pressured to love the product, what’s not to love, cupcakes and puppies, and all things good! Don’t get me wrong, some of the top Pinterest genres resonate with me deeply, I am an active consumer of content related to health and fitness, cooking, and fashion. My lack of Pinterest usage also doesn't translate into my sentiments towards the viability of the product. I think Pinterest is, and will continue to be, hugely successful. Nevertheless, I simply have not been able to declare my undying love for the product, and here are the reasons why:

Product insufficiency

There is no easy and obvious way to provide feedback to tailor your homepage to your liking. There are many friends that I don’t mind following on Pinterest, but sometimes their pins are to my dislike, which is a huge turn off as a user. For example, I don’t mind follow this particular friend, but I do not want to see pins related to tattoos. I can click on the pin and unfollow the board entirely (thanks to this article for providing some insight with regards to cleaning up your homepage). But what if I like a board, but just don’t like some pins on it? What if I hadn’t discovered the workaround of unfollowing the board? Why not put a feedback loop right there on the pin? Thumbs up and thumbs down paradigms are well established, Pinterest could take advantage of that in order to provide the user a more pleasant and tailored experience. Perhaps Pinterest has some business reason for not allowing pin dislikes (I have a few hunches on this, I think the main reason is because a “dislike” on a pin is harsh criticism on what is otherwise seen as a benevolent creative outlet, crushing creative confidence might drastically alter the free flow of pinning), but at the same time, learning about your users is probably the most important thing a product can do. Additionally, the Pinterest experience is not limited to an individual’s home feed. Being able to provide feedback on other pages, such as the Popular page, allows a user a more relevant experience, especially since it’s impossible to see everything. Why not see what you care most about? So Pinterest, please oh please, let me do two things: 1) dislike certain pins (learn from this and don’t show me related pins!), and 2) let me give you a list of negative categories, i.e., topics I don’t want to see, even if it’s from people I follow.

Oral tradition dynamics

Quickly dwindling are the days of calling your mom, grandma, aunt, etc. to ask for a recipe or household idea. My friends instead jump onto Pinterest. I personally find great value in giving my mom a quick ring to ask her for a recipe idea. I’ll even ask her for full menu suggestions if I’m having friends over for a dinner party or an evening of appetizers. How is Pinterest changing this inter-generational dynamic? To be fair, I could point fingers at the Internet as a whole, but I’m faulting Pinterest as the primary culprit since it has taken curation of these topics to a whole different level.

Creative pressure

How many times have I heard “ah, I couldn’t get it to look exactly like how it was on Pinterest”. Media already places enough pressure on women to achieve flawlessness, Pinterest is just another platform for inadequacy, a place where weddings, birthdays, honeymoons, outfits, nails, and household decorations are just not good enough. Those of us in our twenties and beyond have at least had a stab at pure, unadulterated, creativity. But what about the younger girls? They grow up with a sense of Pinterest perfection. When do they get to make their creative discoveries independent of a curated board?

Girls girls girls

Now I appreciate a product such as Pinterest which originated and continues to be a female dominated application. How often do we see products dedicated to someone other than the twenty-something white male? But at the same time, it’s frustrating that the most prominent technological product associated with females is one so stereotypically female! Women care about more than beauty, fashion, and cooking.

Pinterest has stated an interest in getting a larger male demographic interested in the product and certainly some topics appear more directed at them. I have seen product interest in the gay community, but have only ever heard heterosexual men claim a lack of understanding toward or dislike for the product.  

Pinterest has stated that 2014 will mark the year when they start generating revenue through advertising, an endeavor that will no doubt be successful due to the fact that advertisers want to be discovered and people on Pinterest want to discover, leading to a match made in heaven. Pinterest advertising can perhaps fill a happy medium between Google search and Facebook as people are not exactly going to Pinterest with the intent of purchasing (Google search), but are not completely closed off to a purchase (Facebook).

The challenge will come because of Pinterest’s highly aspirational tendencies, it’s zero-commitment to create beautiful boards full of expensive things, purchasing them might be out of the question for many people. How Pinterest translates these aspirations into value for advertisers will be an interesting exercise and I look forward to seeing the ad types, who knows, maybe there’ll be a Pinterest board about.

Not possible is not an option

I was asked to speak about product management at the SF Uncubed event a couple weeks ago. I will share some of the technical sides of product management (specifically with regards to tools) in a different post, so this one's a little more on the fluffy side. Here are a few thoughts from the hour-long talk I gave. 

A product manager is the person sitting at the intersection of business and technology, the one who precisely understands the whyhow, and when behind the product. All companies and teams have their ups and downs. Product managers must bear the privilege and weight of being tied to each team, which means experiencing these emotional roller coasters tenfold. Passion, and a deep love for the product, in addition to being entirely bought into the vision is what carries a PM through the turbulence. A product manager owns the product from conception to market. 

A few notes for product managers: 

  1. Take physical notes (digital or paper, don't trust your mind to house everything)
  2. Ask the right questions often
  3. Focus on your users 
  4. Be the most organized person ever (there really is no eloquent way of saying this) 
  5. Not possible is not an option 
  6. Inspire and motivate the team 
  7. Nail the dismount
  8. Be the hunter or huntress of time

If you're looking for more detailed reading on product management, I highly recommend Inspired by Marty Cagan. 

A personal favorite, courtesy of Horowitz

I read this piece by Ben Horowitz back in my undergraduate years, before I had even considered a career in product management. I remember thinking then that the qualities and habits of a good product manager resonated with me, though still not thinking of it as a career option. Some years later, after having worked in the PM world, this document still aligns strongly with my professional and personal opinions. Have a read.