Deep Learning and the Ordinary Citizen

I career shifted from startup founder (and before that equity portfolio manager) to tech. Yes, I drank the koolaid and learned how to code.

For me it was an obvious choice. It’s like coming from a different country and not learning the language in a new one. Sure you can get by without speaking it. I’ve known a few people who still speak terrible English (or none at all) despite having lived here for decades.

Sure, it’s a personal choice whether to ‘go native’ or not. But imagine the inconvenience of having to ask someone else to decipher an official notice, or a letter from a new friend. Or being the only witness to an incident that requires the attention of emergency officials, but unable to describe it in the new language, you desperately resort to hand gestures.

Most importantly, not taking up the skill will close off so many opportunities that will open up in the span of a lifetime.

Still, some people make do.

I bring this up because the changes — political, climate-wise, financially — seem to have come at us in rapid succession. Time seems to have compressed these events into a smaller and smaller timeframes.

The question is: is there a point of saturation where we cannot cope with any more changes? Perhaps that is one reason why our immigrant above chose to cocoon. Many, having to deal with new stresses, have taken this option. Harkening back to a simpler time.

Because I drank the tech koolaid, I am find myself tuning in to changes and advances happening in that world. And I want to report to you what I see, from the eyes of a former non-techie.

I especially want to alert you to something that some have called Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence, more specifically, Deep Learning. And how it may impact the ordinary citizen.

One piece you should definitely check out is by Tim Urban[1] which he called The AI Revolution: the Road to Superintelligence. Read it. If only for the very revealing images. Like this one, where he very unscientifically graphs where the ordinary citizen is on the line that depicts human progress through time:

Source: Tim Urban

What was striking to me was that the tech community has excitedly taken in these changes.

Google for example, had replaced a translation algorithm the industry had used for over 30 years with a Deep Learning algorithm in a few months, after it had shown dramatic progress:

At the time, the best BLEU scores for English-French were in the high 20s. An improvement of one point was considered very good; an improvement of two was considered outstanding.
The neural system, on the English-French language pair, showed an improvement over the old system of seven points.
Hughes told Schuster’s team they hadn’t had even half as strong an improvement in their own system in the last four years. (New York Times [2])

In fact Google had reorganized itself around AI, and together with Microsoft, Baidu, Facebook, Salesforce, IBM had begun to remake themselves around AI [3]

These changes have been happening with increasing velocity since, say 2014. They first manifested in the number of AI companies had been bought since then. Also, in the the sudden dearth of technologists who have a unique set of skills . These skills may include some combination of: a higher understanding of maths (Ph.D level is quite ordinary), a facility for writing programming code, the knowledge to use these in tandem with advanced hardware called graphic processing units (GPUs) and the ability to understand and apply knowledge of advanced learning algorithms to vast datasets.

Let’s recap what I’ve covered today —

  1. The ordinary citizen has been suffering stresses in their lives through increasing and more volatile changes in multiple spheres: livelihood /employment prospects, climate, political, financial (among others).
  2. There may even be a growing sense of overload from these stimuli, not dissimilar to what someone who has been thrown into a completely alien culture might feel.
  3. Underneath these external changes might be some more, larger changes coming that may affect a wider swath of the population. This is due to recent startling advances in the technologies called Artificial Intelligence and more specifically Deep Learning.
  4. One indication of these coming changes is the way the biggest companies have reorganized themselves around these technologies.

Could other of the biggest companies be reorganizing themselves also around these technologies?

If it is only early innings in this technology, are the companies just learning how to utilize it?

How will these changes affect our jobs, our way of living?

More importantly, how soon and how fast will these changes occur?

What do these technologies portend for the ordinary citizen?

I will want to talk about my journey from a non-techie, to somewhat a techie, to someone helping a Deep Learning company navigate this new environment. I hope to bring an approachable voice to these changes as they are occurring, and delve more deeply into the business, societal and commercial applications of Deep Learning.

I write about Deep Learning for the ordinary citizen. If you want to learn more about Deep Learning, and step up the conversation to more hard core, read our blog at, or visit us at

[1] Tim Urban:



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