Making Abstract Concrete

Process blog for Project 2, Communication Design Studio, Fall 2016

Image from 9To5Mac

9/20 — What is Artificial Intelligence?

I’ve chosen Artificial Intelligence (AI) as an abstract concept to try and explain. I’ve read a lot of news and heard a lot of people talk about AI in the last two years but have struggled to figure out exactly what constitutes AI and what doesn’t. Everyone seems to have a different definition of it and the constant comparison between AI, as portrayed in science fiction, and as found in reality makes it especially challenging. So, here’s my attempt at answering the question ‘What is AI?


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is broadly defined as the ability of machines to perform cognitive tasks that are comparative to humans — or at least this is the ultimate goal of AI. These cognitive tasks are: reasoning, knowledge, planning, learning, natural language processing (communication), perception, and the ability to move and manipulate objects [1]. Work in this field falls under two broad categories, Applied and Strong AI.

Applied AI (or sometimes referred to Weak AI) is used to described systems that can only function in specific contexts and perform a narrow range of tasks., such as virtual personal assistants (think Siri, Cortana and Google Now), chat bots, recommendation services and driverless cars.

Strong AI, in contrast, is the development of a holistic system that is capable of sensing and learning from its surrounding environment. It brings together software and hardware to create a system that is capable of learning from its experiences and interactions with the world to develop its knowledge, language, etc. [2] similar to a child growing up. While research and development in Strong AI is still relatively nascent, science fiction offers interesting representations of it (think Skynet from the Terminator movies, I, Robot and Her). There is a long way to before Strong AI comes close to being a reality.

References

[1] Universe, Human Immortality and Future Human Evaluation by Alexander Bolonkin

[2]https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~arihuang/academic/research/strongai3.html


9/29 — Feedback on AI description

We did an interesting exercise in class to help us uncover the gaps in our definitions of our chosen abstract concepts. We had to spend 5 minutes explaining our concept to our partner while they sketched out their mental model of what we were talking about.

Mental model by Vikas & Ashlesha based my 5 minute pitch

After this, they gave me feedback on what they thought was clear in my explanation, what could be stronger and where they found gaps that prevented them from fully understanding what AI is and how it works. Here’s a summary of their feedback

What works:

  • Categorization into Applied and Strong AI
  • Drawing parallels between a child’s learning curve and the training of Strong AI systems
  • Examples of Applied AI

What needs improvement:

  • More information on how the technology actually works
  • Define machine/deep learning
  • Pick one example of Applied AI and go into more detail

10/1 — Revised description of AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is broadly defined as the ability of machines to perform cognitive tasks that are comparative to humans — or at least this is the ultimate goal of AI. These cognitive tasks are: reasoning, knowledge, planning, learning, natural language processing (communication), perception, and the ability to move and manipulate objects [1]. Work in this field falls under two broad categories, Applied and Strong AI.

Applied AI (or sometimes referred to Weak AI) is used to AI described systems that can only function in specific contexts and perform a narrow range of tasks., such as virtual personal assistants like Siri. These systems utilize technologies, like Artificial Neural Networks, Computer Vision, Data Mining, Machine Learning and Deep Learning, that attempt to emulate a simplified version of the human brain. These technologies require lots of data even to help the system learn to perform simple tasks.

Strong AI, in contrast, is the development of a holistic system that is capable of sensing and learning from its surrounding environment. It brings together software and hardware to create a unified system that is capable of learning from its experiences and interactions with the world to develop its knowledge, language, etc. [2] similar to a child growing up. An example of this is UC Berkley’s BRETT (Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks). The robot is able to perform tasks like “putting a clothes hanger on a rack, assembling a toy plane and screwing a cap on a water bottle” without prior knowledge of the environment or pre-programming of all possible scenarios. BRETT’s camera watches the movement of its arms while its algorithm provides it with realtime feedback on the action being performed.

Research and development in Strong AI is still relatively nascent. While science fiction offers interesting representations of it (think Skynet from the Terminator movies, I, Robot and Her), there is a long way to before Strong AI comes close to reaching its potential.

References

[1] Universe, Human Immortality and Future Human Evaluation by Alexander Bolonkin

[2]https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~arihuang/academic/research/strongai3.html

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/bridaineparnell/2015/05/26/brett-the-robot-learns-to-do-new-things-just-like-a-kid-does/#773f6465cedd

10/11 — Project update

With my description above, it discusses what AI is, on a general level, but doesn’t go into how it works. I’ve been doing a lot of research into the technologies and techniques behind AI, especially applied AI, and it feels like there’s too much to talk about. It involves artificial neural networks, machine learning, computer vision, to name a few. Each of these technologies are whole other topics in themselves that other people in the class are covering. And in order to illustrate how they co-relate to each other and to AI, I would explain what they are and how they work first. So, right now, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by all the things I need to convey with this topic and not sure if I can cover all of this in under 3 minutes.

11/11 — Project Update

Okay, so it’s official I’m switching my topic to Blockchain! It’s a topic I first came across and got interested during my last job as I worked with startups doing interesting work with new technology. I found the topic interesting because everyone was talking about it — the corporates we worked with, , but it always seemed like few of them actually knew what they were talking about. Adding to the mystery is the idea that no one knows the real identity of founder of blockchain. Curious to find out more, I started reading up on this topic.

Image from strategy+business; A strategist’s guide to Blockchain

Blockchain Basics

Key terms explained:

  • Distributed database — information is stored in multiple physical locations
  • Block — list of transactions
  • Blockchain — multiple blocks linked together
  • Miners — people who solve complex math problems to add blocks to blockchains. Miners are incentivised to tackle these problems with bitcoins.
  • Blockchain network — all the ‘nodes’ (computers/organizations) with permission to access to the blockchain
  • Transaction — The act of sending and receiving units of bitcoin or other unit assigned to blockchain.

Key points:

  • Distributed digital ledger that keeps track of all transactions that take place on a network.
  • Today, we tend to rely on “trusted third-parties” or centralized large organizations to maintain a ledger of our transactions. The issue is that this tends to result in “walled gardens” that keep important data from the public.
  • Secure, yet open. Can help build trust over the internet.
  • Decentralized.
  • Every ‘node’ / computer has a copy of the blockchain — all are equal.
  • Every transaction contains a timestamp, record of the participants and transaction value and is updated across all copies of blockchain → no discrepancies.
  • Before the blockchain on each node is updated, the validity of the transaction is verified against other nodes.
  • Works via consensus → transactions are validated via other nodes
  • Once verified, it is grouped along with other blocks and added to the blockchain.
  • Every new block created has a reference to the previous block’s header.
  • Blockchain miners always work on the longest version of the blockchain
  • Creating a new block earns the miner 25 bitcoins (roughly $7,500) — not too shabby!
  • Allows permissions to be set so that participants only see what’s relevant to them → encryption
  • Difficult to commit fraud as all ledgers are synced. One would have to tamper with ledgers across many locations at the same time.
  • Helps reduce risk, time and cost while increasing efficiency.
  • Blocks can be programmed with a set of rules. So, that only those transactions that comply with the rules are validated and added to the blockchain.
  • Ground-up approach.
  • Most famous use of blockchain technology is bitcoin
  • But has other applications — verifying and upholding contracts, supply chain, election votes, etc. E.g. Everledger, Mycelia.

[1] http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21677228-technology-behind-bitcoin-lets-people-who-do-not-know-or-trust-each-other-build-dependable

[2] http://www.ibm.com/blockchain/what_is_blockchain.html

[3] http://www.ted.com/watch/ted-institute/ted-bcg/mike-schwartz-the-potential-of-blockchain

[4] https://medium.com/@micheledaliessi/how-does-the-blockchain-work-98c8cd01d2ae#.vbja4wlw4

10/13 — Script

Recently, blockchain has been making waves in the technology and startup scene as a truly disruptive technology with the potential to change the way digital transactions are made, in a way that is secure, transparent and low cost. In this video, we’ll talk about what blockchain is, how it works, and some examples of how it can be used. So, if you’ve come across blockchain and are curious to find out more or want to sound smart when you talk to your friends by being knowledgable about the “most disruptive technology since the internet”, or just want to learn something new and awesome, this video is for you.

Okay, so let’s start with the basics. What is blockchain? Blockchain is a digital ledger or record of transactions that is stored across computers in a network. Each computer in the network has a copy of the ledger stored locally that is kept up-to-date. Each copy is treated equally and is essential when validating new transactions. With blockchain, there is no central authority that controls an “official” version of the ledger. This is one of the things that make blockchain appealing.

So.. how does blockchain work?

When a transaction is initiated between blockchain users, their transaction must first be validated by the blockchain network. For example, say Ben wants to send Liz five bitcoins. He, first, needs to broadcast a transaction request that contains the following:

  1. An encrypted private key (a password that allows him to access his digital assets)
  2. Links to previous transactions attached to his wallet to prove that he has a sufficient bitcoin balance
  3. Liz’s public key, which is basically his “send-to” address.

This information is verified by members of the blockchain network who check that all previous transactions and ensure that Ben indeed has enough Bitcoins to spare. Like Ben’s transactions, there are hundreds of other transactions taking place at the same time. These transactions are grouped together to form a block. Each block contains the following:

  1. A block ID
  2. The block ID of the previous block in the blockchain
  3. List of transactions
  4. Answer to a complex mathematical problem.

Members of the blockchain network compete to be the first to answer the math problem in return for a reward (this process is also known as mining). Once they solve the problem, this block is added to the blockchain and is updated on all nodes across the network, becoming the newest kid on the block(chain).

Why blockchain?

Because of its distributed nature, anyone attempting fraud would need access to ledgers across many locations at the same time. This makes blockchain secure. It’s decentralisation and transparency of transactions help build trust over the internet, especially useful when doing business with strangers.

While the most famous use of blockchain technology is in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, companies in a variety of industries are exploring blockchain as a means of verifying and upholding contracts, supply chain management and managing election votes to name a few.

10/18 — Clarifying the process

One of the pieces of feedback I got from Stacie was to be clearer on what the process looks like. So I’m writing down the steps on how blockchain works to help me breakdown the process.

  1. The blockchain is a digital records of transactions that is stored across computers in a network. Each computer has a copy of the blockchain stored locally that is always kept up-to-date.
  2. The record of transactions enable us to track the ownership of digital assets. So, at any point we can work out who owns what.
  3. To initiate a transaction, users must first broadcast a transaction request to be validated by the blockchain network.
  4. The request contains the encrypted private key of the sender, links to his previous transactions, and the receiver’s public key. The private key gives the sender the right to transfer the asset in his ownership. Links to previous transactions serve as a balance sheet to ensure that the asset being transferred is still in his ownership. It stops people from sending the same asset to multiple people. The public key is basically the “send-to” address of the receiver that ensures the asset reaches the receiver.
  5. The information on the transaction request is verified by the network of miners against their own copies of the blockchain to ensure that the information is the same.
  6. There are hundreds of such transactions taking place simultaneously. The transaction that take place in one second are grouped together to form a block.
  7. For a block to be created and added to the blockchain, miners need to first solve a complex math problem.
  8. Each block contains a unique block ID, the block ID of the previous block in the blockchain, list of transactions, and the answer to the math problem.
  9. The first miner to complete the math problem gets his or her block added to the blockchain. The blockchain is then updates across all computers across the network.

10/24 — Key frames for Storyboard

To stop myself from getting too detailed with my storyboard and focusing on every single change in frame, I decided to go through my script and identify out the key points in the narrative. Then I took a shot at sketching them out.

(1) Traditional method of recording transactions

(2) Blockchain’s distributed method of recording transactions

(3) Initiating a transaction request

(4) Validation of block

(5) Block added to blockchain

(6) Difficulty in hacking record

(7) Applications of blockchain

Key (digital) frames for storyboard

11/3 — Feedback during class

We used today as a work session. I showed Stacie the key frames above for feedback. Here are some things she suggested working on:

  • Look at use of contrast carefully, especially the thick black lines, orange people, turquoise highlights. Make sure visual elements, like colours and line weights, are used to help viewers focus on the things I want them to focus on.
  • Make the people more recognizable
  • Consider whether the comparison between the two network structures are necessary.
  • Keep language of key, history, user ID, etc. consistent. It might also be beneficial to have them appear on screen one at a time.
  • Movement of three transactions not necessary. Better if they just appear. Change text “Send Peter $100”.
  • Visualize the fact that every ten minutes a new block is created. Show time.
  • The current contrast brings focus to existing blocks rather than the new block. Switch this so that the new block is highlighted.
  • Visualise unique block ID and linking between blocks.
  • Remove side bar for flow of money and ownership.
  • Show block being sent for validation. Push yourself to visualize the difficult parts.
  • Pay close attention to verbs to understand what can and cannot move. E.g. transfer, nested, etc.

11/6 —Revised graphics

I wasn’t entirely happy with the look and feel of the graphics. They felt very dense and clunky and fought against each other for attention. So, I decided to spend the weekend re-working them to look more like what I was aiming for. Below are the final actors for the video.

Colour

I wanted yellow to represent the default state, teal for transaction elements and therefore the flow of information, and red to represent errors, hacking, or anything else that meant something was wrong.

Nesting/Hierarchy

A lot the visualization involves showing how one thing makes up another, or how actors are grouped together to form something new. This meant required continuity between the elements. E.g. the shape of a single transaction should be suitable of being grouped together to form a block. Or, the sub-elements that reside within a transaction should be reflected in the transaction element (done here through colour).

Shape

I wanted to include forms that were accessible to the audience, and so used elements like the miner hat, file, magnifying glass, and skull to help people make the connection between the actors and their roles.

Timing

Although I had my script recorded, I was proving to be challenging to get the timing of the animation to sync well with it. To do this, I went back to sketching storyboards and divided the narrative into smaller sections, sketched out the related scenes and assigned durations for each scene. This gave me a better indication of the time I had to work with for transitions as well as all the things that need to take place within a certain time frame.

[sketches of storyboard with time]

11/8 — Final video

Here’s the final version of the video that I presented in class today. I was happy with the overall flow of the graphics and most of the transitions, but definitely felt like the story could have been simplified further.

Unlike some other technologies, Blockchain is one that most people don’t come across in their daily lives. Due to this, my explainer video had to start from scratch in helping them understanding the basics of blockchain. I felt like my video could have been simplified further for the benefit of those who had never come across blockchain before — in line with some of the feedback I got from the class. A few people also mentioned that it would be useful to have a concrete example of blockchain in use to help them see blockchain in action. Apart from this, in general, the class found that the visuals worked and were easy to understand.

11/9 — Reflection

This project was an interesting challenge that pushed me to consider my audience’s mental model and design in relation to it. It helped me realize the importance of storyboarding and helped me improve my storyboarding skills; thinking beyond merely the actors in the frame to cognitive gaps that lie between frames. Working with AfterEffects was a great way to delve into the details of storyboarding as it forced me to consider the role of every actor, their animation across every second and their relationships, using space, form and movement.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Manya Krishnaswamy’s story.