October 18, 2016

Fortune - Why Deep Learning is Suddenly Changing Your Life 13min

The most remarkable thing about neural nets is that no human being has programmed a computer to perform any of the stunts described above. In fact, no human could. Programmers have, rather, fed the computer a learning algorithm, exposed it to terabytes of data—hundreds of thousands of images or years’ worth of speech samples—to train it, and have then allowed the computer to figure out for itself how to recognize the desired objects, words, or sentences. ... Neural nets aren’t new. The concept dates back to the 1950s, and many of the key algorithmic breakthroughs occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. What’s changed is that today computer scientists have finally harnessed both the vast computational power and the enormous storehouses of data—images, video, audio, and text files strewn across the Internet—that, it turns out, are essential to making neural nets work well. ... That dramatic progress has sparked a burst of activity. Equity funding of AI-focused startups reached an all-time high last quarter of more than $1 billion, according to the CB Insights research firm. There were 121 funding rounds for such startups in the second quarter of 2016, compared with 21 in the equivalent quarter of 2011, that group says. More than $7.5 billion in total investments have been made during that stretch—with more than $6 billion of that coming since 2014. ... The hardware world is feeling the tremors. The increased computational power that is making all this possible derives not only from Moore’s law but also from the realization in the late 2000s that graphics processing units (GPUs) made by Nvidia—the powerful chips that were first designed to give gamers rich, 3D visual experiences—were 20 to 50 times more efficient than traditional central processing units (CPUs) for deep-learning computations. ... Think of deep learning as a subset of a subset. “Artificial intelligence” encompasses a vast range of technologies—like traditional logic and rules-based systems—that enable computers and robots to solve problems in ways that at least superficially resemble thinking. Within that realm is a smaller category called machine learning, which is the name for a whole toolbox of arcane but important mathematical techniques that enable computers to improve at performing tasks with experience. Finally, within machine learning is the smaller subcategory called deep learning.

Ai glossary
Wall Street Journal - The Most Dangerous Cup of Coffee in the World 7min

Congo is one of the last frontiers in a global scramble for the world’s best-tasting coffee. The rise in demand for specialty coffee, which accounts for one of every two cups sold in the U.S., has encouraged exporters, roasters and retailers to go places where the potential is huge—and so are the risks. ... The many challenges of doing business in Congo include death threats, kidnapping and extortion. Government officials often concoct new taxes on the spot or forge documents to demand more money than what is owed. Last year, at least 175 foreigners and Congolese, many working for aid organizations, were abducted and held for ransom, according to Human Rights Watch. ... Most of the kidnappings happened in areas near where specialty coffee is grown, though no Western coffee prospectors have been abducted. ... Specialty coffee is a fast-growing segment of the approximately $175 billion-a-year world-wide coffee market. Specialty coffee is made from the highest-quality arabica beans, sells at a premium and has gone from the fringe to mainstream. In the U.S., 31% of adults drink specialty coffee every day, up from 16% in 2006, the National Coffee Association trade group estimates. ... Congo’s best beans regularly get at least an 85 and fetch a wholesale price of about $3 a pound, about double the price on the ICE Futures U.S. exchange in New York.

Wsj coffee
Men's Journal - Elon Musk, Lyndon Rive, and the Plan to Put Solar Panels on Every Roof in America 13min

Since launching in 2006, it has raised billions of dollars and installed hundreds of thousands of home solar systems, more than anyone in America. But lately SolarCity is in deep trouble. Customers aren't signing up in the numbers they did two years ago, back when oil was trading at more than $100 a barrel. U.S. lawmakers are investigating the company's financial practices. Earlier this year, in the span of two months, the company's stock lost 70 percent of its value. ... The company, in fact, could be one of the most risk-laden in operation today. To install solar systems across 27 states and Mexico, SolarCity takes on gobs and gobs of debt — billions of dollars a year. The eventual goal is to create a massive network of home solar systems. The problem is, if customers stop paying their SolarCity energy bills or investors stop lending, the company will blow up like the subprime housing bubble. ... As they built solar systems on one rooftop after another, they also burned through more and more cash. To attract more lenders, the company packaged and resold the debt to banks as complex bonds and other financial products that handed the financiers shares of SolarCity's tax credits.

Bloomberg - How the World’s Biggest Costume Maker Cracked Halloween 12min

If you’ve ever dressed up as a movie or television character for Halloween, the costume you bought was probably made by Rubie’s. The odds drop a little with generic characters like witches or vampires—plenty of smaller companies make those—but with more than 20,000 costumes and accessories for sale at retailers like Walmart, Amazon, and Party City, Rubie’s has probably played a part in your Halloween festivities. What started in 1951 as a soda shop/novelty store in Queens has, over the past 65 years, grown into an international business that earns hundreds of millions. (It doesn’t disclose figures, but the analytics firm IbisWorld estimates $251 million in revenue in the U.S.) Rubie’s has 3,000 employees, contracts with 12 factories in China, owns four factories in the U.S., and runs six large warehouses, four on Long Island, one in Arizona, and one in South Carolina. Rubie’s has also spawned 15 subsidiaries in countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, and the U.K. It sells Carnival costumes in Brazil, Day of the Dead dresses in Mexico, and Easter Bunny and Santa Claus suits around the world. But in America its bread and butter is still Halloween. ... Americans will shell out a record-breaking $8.4 billion on Halloween candy, costumes, and decorations this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That figure has jumped almost 70 percent in just 10 years, making Halloween the second-largest holiday in terms of decoration sales, behind Christmas. ... Rubie’s tries to anticipate Halloween trends a year in advance, but it’s constantly adjusting its plans as expected blockbusters flop (The Legend of Tarzan), beloved actors die (Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka costume will be popular this year), or millions of people get swept up in the Pokémon Go craze and Beige finds himself mass-manufacturing last-minute Pikachu costumes to fill thousands of back orders. ... unlike regular clothes, which are subject to high import duties, most costumes are considered “festive apparel” and can be imported duty-free.