Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tesla Model 3

I don't hide the fact that I’m a fan of Tesla Motors and their founder Elon Musk. Back in June of 2012, I wrote in this blog about the introduction of the Tesla Model S. Since that time, I’ve seen the stylish Model S on the road from time to time. With it’s luxury car price tag and limited availability, though, these cars are still a bit rare. If you happen to own a Model S and would like to take me for a ride in it, I won’t argue at all.
Tesla Model 3

Announcing the Model 3

Now Tesla has announced a car that promises to be within reach of many more electric car enthusiasts – their new Model 3. When Tesla opened the books for pre-orders late last month, more than 325,000 interested buyers put down $1,000 each in just the first few days, meaning that Tesla collected $325M for a car that doesn’t yet exist. Not a bad start.

This new car from Tesla might be a direct competitor for the Chevy Bolt, with the Bolt shipping late in 2016 or early in 2017, and the Model 3 likely shipping later in 2017. A nice comparison is available from Motor Trend here.

Tesla Model 3 Features
The Model 3, which Tesla says “combines real world range, performance, safety and spaciousness into a premium sedan,” is the lowest priced car from Tesla yet, starting at $35,000. It will have a range of over 200 miles on a full charge. The graphic at left shows some of the features that Tesla emphasizes about their new Model 3.

According to that same Motor Trend article, “Tesla currently claims a best-case charge scenario of 170 miles of range within 30 minutes of Supercharging for Model S and Model X owners; it’ll likely be the same story for the Model 3.”

What would it take for you to seriously consider a Tesla? Is $35,000 to $40,000 a reasonable price for such a car? Does the range (170 miles on a fast charge, a little over 200 on a longer charge) work for your uses, or would you need more? Would charging stations need to be as numerous and distributed as gas stations are today? For electric cars to truly get a foothold in the auto market, these are some of the early questions that I think consumers will be asking themselves.

In other Tesla news

Tesla Model X
Earlier this month, Tesla announced a recall affecting a few thousand of their earliest Model X SUVs. Some of these cars, in very limited supply, appear to have a problem with a hinge that affects the third row of seats.

Tesla also recently announced some updates to its Model S. The new styling seems to echo some of the design choices made for the Model 3.

Tesla as a major force in the industry?

In my view, Tesla continues to innovate with interesting new cars and is having a positive impact on the auto industry. Perhaps my next car will be a Tesla.

Would you be interested in the Model 3 or one of the other models? Leave a comment and let us know.


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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Have a Nice Tay

The Day the Denizens of the Internet Corrupted a Microsoft AI

On March 23rd, Microsoft Research introduced what was essentially an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot named "Tay" to the world via twitter (TayTweets on twitter, @Tayandyou). Tay was designed to portray and interact as a 19 year old woman, with initial speech patterns to match. "She" was designed with the ability to interact and learn from the conversations she experienced on twitter.

Just a day later Microsoft decided that Tay needed a break from the Internet, which, it seems, is full of trolls. Tay fell in with the wrong crowd and learned a little too well from them. By the end of her first full day out, she was tweeting some terribly offensive racist and sexist things, and according to Microsoft themselves, wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and imagesWhere did she learn to talk like that? She learned from the good people of the Internet. It turns out that not everyone is a nice person ready to guide young Tay on how to carry on a respectful conversation, and some of the "facts" she learned were a little less than solid.

What, if anything, can we learn from this? I readily admit that I know almost nothing about the AI that Microsoft used, but Wired reports that Tay's speech was trained through neural networks. I have no doubt that it was sophisticated and impressive. Human intelligence, though, is elusive. Lots of us are exposed to the rantings of Internet trolls every day and don't immediately turn into hate-slinging racists. That's because in all of our interactions, we also use a range of time-tested and well-honed tools to consider the sources of information and make judgments. When someone that we recognize as an expert or authority on a subject speaks, we give it more credit than when our blow-hard high school buddy offers us his opinion on good economic or immigration policy. We might choose to repeat what we heard from the expert, and try to forget what we hear from those a little less well-informed. Tay didn't yet have those skills mastered.

If Tay wasn't entirely ready for the trolls and haters on the Internet, maybe she needed a little more time to learn in a safer and more nurturing environment. We are careful about the company we let living, breathing young people keep and gradually expose them to the complexities of the world. Maybe Tay needed more time to develop some judgment about who to believe and what (not) to repeat. Tay could have spent a little more time in the equivalent of grade school before confronting the real world. Or maybe her algorithms just need some tweaks.

Is this the end of Tay? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly the hate speech that resulted needed to be stopped quickly and I'd say that Microsoft Research deserves credit for launching the experiment and also for pulling the plug with apologies and without delay. But it certainly shouldn't be and won't be the end of similar AI and learning experiments. Even in this unfortunate set of events, some learning happened and we'll see the benefits in the months and years to come – whether in later versions of Tay or in bold new experiments.

Did you get a chance to talk with Tay while she was online? Do you have thoughts to share on what happened? Please leave a comment and share it with us.

Reference Links:

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Terrorism, Technology, Security, Privacy, Apple and the FBI

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The FBI has requested that Apple help to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino shooters. I’ve been thinking about whether I could add anything useful to the discussion and decided the following three things:
  1. Neither Apple’s Tim Cook nor the FBI’s James Comey is a villain from my perspective. It is easy for me to believe that they both want safety and security for all of us.
  2. The collision of security, privacy, and technology brings out our passionate beliefs, and adding terrorism fans the flames. It is no surprise that this situation has become polarizing for many people. I believe, however, that if we intentionally stay away from the poles, we can have valuable discussions in the middle. I appreciate being a citizen in a country in which we can have those discussions in the open.
  3. I cannot add anything truly new to this discussion so I won’t be offering any analysis or opinion, at least for now. I’d rather watch as the situation develops and perhaps have commentary to offer later.

That said, watching the development of a complex issue like this one is best done from an informed position, so I decided to use my time to continue to educate myself and to curate and share a few of the articles I’ve found to be most useful on the subject. Those appear below. 

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Do you have other articles that have helped to inform your opinion? Please consider leaving pointers and links in the comments. I'm also happy to hear your comments on how this is just a matter of Apple protecting their carefully crafted brand and bottom-line, or how the FBI is using this tragedy to try to establish precedent for future requests. As I said, I recognize the polarization and understand that that's part of the valuable discussion, too.

Thanks for reading!


CNET, Sean Hollister
This summary and FAQ is a good place to start.

Apple CEO Tim Cook
In this open letter, Apple CEO Tim Cook points out that Apple regularly cooperates with law enforcement by turning over data that they have access to when legal subpoenas and search warrants are presented, but characterizes the FBI's current request as a development effort for the circumvention of security features, creating a dangerous "backdoor."

FBI Director James Comey
Director James Comey makes the case that the FBI must do all it can under the law to investigate, and recognizes the tension evolving as new technology becomes available to all. He describes what's being asked of Apple and says that "We don’t want to break anyone’s encryption or set a master key loose on the land." Comey concludes by saying that the tension "should be resolved by the American people deciding how we want to govern ourselves in a world we have never seen before."

Dan Guido's Blog (Guido is a Security Researcher and CEO of Trail of Bits)
This piece is a thorough and understandable treatment of what the FBI has asked for and what it would take for Apple to comply.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
From the article: "Ultimately, this week's order risks undermining the interests of millions of iPhone users whose device security would be undermined by the development of a new backdoor."
(Full disclosure: I regularly donate to the EFF)

Jeff Schiller’s Blog (Schiller is a Higher Ed Security pioneer)
Schiller discusses how the press is characterizing the trade-off as between the Privacy of the individual vs. the Security of society. The real trade-off, he says, is between making the job of the FBI a little easier in exchange for introducing significant security vulnerabilities in the core fabric of our increasingly electronic world.

Bruce Schneier's Blog (Schneier is a security researcher and author)
In his own words: "I wish I could give the good guys the access they want without also giving the bad guys access, but I can't. If the FBI gets its way and forces companies to weaken encryption, all of us -- our data, our networks, our infrastructure, our society -- will be at risk."

CNN Money
A very nice summary of some important coming dates:

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Virtual Reality Comes of Age

But your new headset might require a new computer

VR headsets were a big deal at this year's CES show, probably because the chance for early adopters to buy is almost upon us. The rest of us, though, might want to wait a little longer while computing power catches up.

Virtual Reality (VR) headsets aim to create a fully immersive 3D virtual environment for the wearer. This is unlike the experience of looking at a TV or computer screen. With VR, whichever way the wearer looks the head-mounted display shows the virtual environment in that direction. Different but related, Augented Reality (AR) overlays graphics and other information onto the user’s view of their actual physical surroundings.

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Google Glass is an example of AR. Oculus Rift (first mentioned in this blog in February 2014) and HTC Vive are examples of VR headsets coming to market in 2016. Microsoft’s Hololens might be somewhere between VR and HR, with aspects of each.

Though these are clearly the early days for VR headsets, a number of products are coming onto the scene in 2016. Wareable has a great roundup of current and near-future products, which can be found here. While some such as the Oculus Rift will likely be in the $600 range, some are substantially lower in cost, especially those that can use your phone as the computing power and display. Google has a simple design for a fold-up cardboard headset, called Google Cardboard, that cradles your phone. Versions are available for as little as $25 (prices vary among several producers). Fold it up, put your phone inside, and try it. You might not get the full experience but it's hard to argue with the price.

Although Oculus Rift (a product of Oculus VR, now owned by Facebook) still gets the loudest buzz, HTC Vive, Playstation VR, and Microsoft Hololens look very interesting, too. Check out the video below introducing the HTC Vive.

In just about all cases, the computing power to drive VR in a fully immersive and high performance way (laggy VR, it turns out, can make you feel sick) is still a little high-end for most people. Conventional wisdom is that in this first generation, VR headsets will be purchased by serious gamers who spend serious money on serious gaming systems with serious computing power and serious graphics processing power. Seriously.  For most of us, the really high-end experience may be a few years away as newer laptops with higher performance become more commonplace and more cost effective.

Will you be among the early adopters of Oculus Rift or other higher-end VR headsets? Do you know someone who will be? Are you more interested in AR than VR?

Please leave a comment, here in reality, about your plans for virtual reality.

Reference Links:

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