From the Labs of Forward Thinking to Co-Ordinating AI on a Blockchain to Flying Cars

The Outlier Ventures February Brief

1. Manulife’s Labs of Forward Thinking

Blockchain + Artificial Intelligence + Robotics + Mixed Reality

“Manulife’s Labs of Forward Thinking are doubling down on emerging technologies — such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and augmented reality — in search of “Uber ideas” for the financial services industry.”

First, Lab of Forward Thinking is an awesome name. Second, this sort of corporate incubation is becoming more and more popular. In the Convergence Era — or 4th Industrial Revolution — organisations can no longer afford to act as islands. Innovation and new product ideas comes from customers, startups, partners and employees. Setting up a lab is easy. Finding a process that works with organisational buy-in, and can bring new products to market; that is the hard part. If it were easy, every company would be Apple.

2. A New Cryptocurrency For Coordinating Artificial Intelligence on Numerai

Blockchain + Artificial Intelligence

“The most valuable hedge fund in the 21st century will be the first hedge fund to bring network effects to capital allocation.”

One of the most exciting projects to bring the incentivisation capabilities of blockchains and crypto-assets to the financial industry. Numerai are attempting to realise one a key elements of our convergence thesis; using crypto-assets to incentivise the sharing of data for artificial intelligence. They argue that negative network effects are too pervasive in finance, and by issuing a cryptocurrency called Numeraire they can align collaboration with self-interest. It is for exactly this reason that we believe the benefits of artificial intelligence cannot be fully realised with blockchains.

3. How AI and Blockchain Might Make Cars “Free”

Blockchain + Artificial Intelligence

“To succeed in the new ecosystem, organisations must adapt fast — learning new skills, staying abreast of new technology, and developing new models for the delivery of finance to avoid the threat from disruptors.”

The @WhiteClarke_Grp an automotive consultancy, released a report this month on the future of automotive finance. The automotive industry talking about disruption is nothing new. The challenge, as the report points out, is that connected vehicles will shake up the value chain reducing the leverage of traditional OEMs. Autonomy completely upends the value change, potentially reducing car-makers to commodity suppliers to digital fleet managers like Waymo Team or Uber. Some fascinating stuff in here about how blockchains can improve the car leasing process “connecting the manufacturer, a dealer, the lender, leasing companies, the lessees themselves, and others.”

4. Ocado is building a completely autonomous warehouse

Artificial Intelligence + Robotics + Internet of Things

“As the tour was winding down, Alex told me that they see Ocado not as a grocery store, but as a technology company which happens to sell groceries.”

Ocado Technology is a UK-based company best known as an online grocer. But, as these two articles from GizmodoBR show, putting Amazon aside, Ocado is one the most advanced warehousing and logistics companies in the world. The company is at the forefront of robotics and AI. For its new warehouse it has developed an impressive system that communicates with its robot pickers ten times a second and uses machine learning for predictive maintenance. The aim is that these capabilities will one-day be offered as-as-service to other retailers. We have known for a while that warehouse workers were at risk from automation, but again, it seems like we underestimated the speed of automation. Ocado should probably avoid Bill Gates for a while.

5. Uber and Flying Cars

Artificial Intelligence + Robotics

“Kalanick’s bet on Uber Elevate is another indication that while Silicon Valley seems on the surface to be consumed with politics and protests these days, the march into the future continues apace.”

This month Uber hired Mark Moore, a NASA veteran to head up their Elevate program. More commonly known as the flying car program. Mr Moore wrote a paper back in 2010 outlining the viability of a flying car, or VTOL (vertical take-off and landing). Loads of technical, commercial and regulatory considerations before this sees the light of day, but if any company can make the economics of flying cars work, it will be a company that owns transport demand and can bring tremendous amounts of capital to the project.

6. Code-Dependent: Pros and Cons of the Algorithm Age

Artificial Intelligence + Robotics

“Algorithms are aimed at optimising everything. They can save lives, make things easier and conquer chaos. Still, experts worry they can also put too much control in the hands of corporations and governments, perpetuate bias, create filter bubbles, cut choices, creativity and serendipity, and could result in greater unemployment”

Long, but important read. We are at the point now where we can no longer just push through AI developments because it’s ‘better’. Technology is now a part of everything humans do, and to not think about the cultural, political and societal implications is not just unethical, it’s bad business. If Silicon Valley does not want to end up with a public reputation like Wall Street, it must take responsibility for the impact of the technology it creates.

7. DeepMind’s PathNet: A Modular Deep Learning Architecture for AGI

Artificial Intelligence + Robotics

“For artificial general intelligence (AGI) it would be efficient if multiple users trained the same giant neural network, permitting parameter reuse, without catastrophic forgetting. PathNet is a first step in this direction. It is a neural network algorithm that uses agents embedded in the neural network whose task is to discover which parts of the network to re-use for new tasks.”

Heavy on the AI this week, but that’s because progress is happening so fast. This month DeepMind revealed PathNet, a modular deep learning architecture it hopes can be the foundation for artificial general intelligence (AGI) — the ultimate goal for AI. It combines all the hottest approaches in AI from meta-learning to reinforcement learning (also read this interview with Dr. Richard Sutton, one of the founding fathers of reinforcement learning) to adversarial and cooperative learning to transfer learning. It’s just a framework and we still don’t know which new mountains are behind the horizon but this release is sure to force analysts to revised their AGI arrival estimates downwards.

8. AfterNow’s Creative Approach to UX Design & IoT in Mixed Reality

Internet of Things + Mixed Reality

“Enter mixed reality and you have the ability to wrap your local surroundings in an immersive storyline or narrative. Real lights change to match the virtual back-alley jazz club. A Wi-Fi-connected fan kicks in to simulate the breeze as you step outside of the club. The smartwatch on your wrist vibrates to alert you of an in-game clue — which you respond to by making a virtual call from your MR headset.”

Insightful interview with AfterNow, an emerging technology lab, and their work at the convergence of IoT and mixed reality. Very early days with mixed reality with plenty of exploration to be done around different UX and designs. It is still unclear what the dominant UX platform will be for IoT. It will likely be a combination of different interfaces depending on the application. A mixture of voice, gesture, touch and predictive interfaces make sense. But there must be a role for applications that require immersive, interactive and fun environments. For that mixed reality looks to be compelling.

9. BT opens doors on R&D centre as it considers IoT, 3D printing and LiFi for military use

Internet of Things + 3D Printing

“A few miles from Ipswich lies Adastral Park, home of BT’s research and development teams. Some 3,700 staff are based at the site, and over the years the work done here has been instrumental in turning once futuristic ideas into everyday technologies we now take for granted from fibre broadband to mobile phone data.”

Always fun to get a peek into the R&D labs of technology and telecom companies, especially ones like BT which holds an astonishing 4,560 patents and has a track record of commercialising breakthroughs like fibre and IXP. It seems BT are investing heavily in IoT and 3D printing which we track closely. They are also working hard on alternative communications technology (unsurprisingly) like visible light communications (VLC) and Quantum key distribution (QKD) both of which hold the potential for much more secure forms of communication.

10. This Super-Fast 3-D Printer Is Powered by Holograms

3D Printing + Mixed Reality

“A startup called @DAQRI has technology that can print solid objects faster and also powers a new kind of head-up display.”

This is an example of convergence that came out of left-field. Daqri, a startup that builds hardware for augmented reality have found that the very same technology can be applied to 3D printing. Essentially Daqri’s technology can print an object all at once, instead of a laser applying material layer by layer. Massively computationally intensive to do today, but…Moore’s Law. So it’s just a matter of time before we will see commercial holographic 3D-printers.

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