Bits Of Knowledge

A Blog about Machine Learning, Data Privacy and what it takes to make sense of the digital words in the rise of the digital millennium.

Design Thinking at PWN Global

Written By: Corina Ciechanow - Jun• 30•14

Last month was the annual off-site meeting from PWN Global (Professional Women International where I’m a Board member is the Brussels chapter of this federation of networks).  Almost all the citi-networks were represented plus the Board of the federation and we had even the presence of corporate sponsors.
The main objective was to shape the lines for the future:  where do we want to go and what do we expect from the federation?

And in order to do that, Marijo Bos, our president, prepared us a session of ‘design thinking’, a game-based approach to brainstorming:

At the first step of the process we had to follow the rules to come up with as many ideas of our future as we could, to expand the universe of possibilities.  On the second step we exchange all our thoughts, and then the third step was to reduce that universe in order to keep only the shared vision, the most mentioned action proposals.

After 2 days of intensive work, we ended up with agreed objectives and a subset of well-defined actionable points.
PWN Global- Nice 20140619
We did a good job while enjoying the time together!

Citizen Science hits again with EyeWire

Written By: Corina Ciechanow - May• 21•14

Hear of this crowdsourcing success story at EyeWire:

EyeWire

 

Crowd-sourced science isn’t just fun and games anymore; it has produced a scientific discovery new and important enough to be published in the journal Nature.

The social gaming venture EyeWire lured citizen scientists to follow retinal neurons across multiple two-dimensional photos with the chance to level up and outperform competitors. And with their help, EyeWire has solved a longstanding mystery about how mammals perceive motion.

The use of gamification in conjunction with collaboration techniques, and the multiplication factor of reaching a motivated worldwide crowd,  is giving great results! 


Computers are not very good at identifying objects in an image (to see where one object ends and another one begins), something humans do at a glance.  On this particular game, EyeWire, there are more than 120.000 players from 100 countries coloring the presented neuron cells.  Players are doing the job of identifying cell by cell the path from the eye to the brain.

But that’s not the only thing the crowd is contributing with, because the players’ results is also used to train ‘learning algorithms’ in identifying objects in an image.  Learning algorithms are a very special kind of programs that can adapt through feedback. So when we give to the algorithm a positive (or negative) example of output, the program changes some internal parameters in order to adapt and give the desired outcome. With this game, the images with the colored cells that humans are doing in the game are being used as positive examples.  Next generation of image recognition programs will be more powerful also thanks to crowdsourcing.

Information on available European open online courses (MOOC)

Written By: Corina Ciechanow - May• 07•14

Open Education Europa, the EU portal on open education resources just published the scoreboard of the European MOOCs.  Check here for the full information on all the listed MOOCs, Learn and enjoy!

European MOOC scoreboard1

Testing tool for Big Ideas

Written By: Corina Ciechanow - Apr• 30•14

For all of you who have an idea but are not sure it will work, or for the ones that are juggling with many ideas and never concretize any :-) here is a tool that could help you decide if to go further or not: the Pimento Map

 

Pimentochart

[..] the Pimento Map methodology is a fast, easy and accurate way to evaluate the chances of success of your business model. It gives the opportunity to entrepreneurs, business angels or venture capital firms to build an objective opinion on a new business idea.  It also points out in detail where the model can be improved.

The tool was presented on the Tech Startup Day last week, it’s easy of use, the system asks you to answer some questions around a factor, and then shows that slice of pie in Green, Yellow, Orange or Red.  Guess what color you should wish to have?  Yes, green or yellow are ok, if you get the other ones, you found the weak factor of your idea.

If you are afraid of letting Pimento know about it (yes, the question has been clearly asked), as they said: you are the one filling the description :-)

So take action, test you Big Idea … and fine tune it if it needs it. I wish you a big success!

MOOCs: the new learning style

Written By: Corina Ciechanow - Mar• 26•14

Last week I presented MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) at the Professional Women International association in Brussels, Belgium.

I had the pleasure of talking to the participants afterwards.  They told me they were so pleased to learn they had such an easy way of taking good quality courses that they were going to check that same night for their preferred subjects :-)

Happy to have contributed to spread the word about the availability of the MOOCs, putting all their encapsulated knowledge encapsulated at any user’s fingertips!

On the last slide, I just dropped words  with the main implications of this trend;  I encourage you to put a comment if any of the subjects I mention resonates with you:

A philosophical view on hyperconnectivity

Written By: Corina Ciechanow - Feb• 02•14

Last week I had the pleasure to hear Nicole Dewandre talk about Hyperconnectivity at the Rotary club of Waterloo.  Nicole works as advisor for societal issues for the Director General of the DG CONNECT at the European Commission.

NicoleDawandreSlide

Her presentation was about the impact hyperconnectivity has on our human condition from a philosophical point of view. I was very interested in hearing her view on the impacts of the new information technologies.

She first described the characteristics of our human psychology, I picked some nuggets like ‘On passe sa vie derrière son visage’, meaning that we have only our inside view point, we don’t know  how we look like from outside, to the others. This is why we need the other’s reflection to complete our identity.  Before the hyper-connectivity era, we could choose the limit of exposure of our inner-world, we could say or not where we had been, what we did, what we thought depending on the context :  is the person we are talking to a friend or a working colleague?

With all the electronic traces and information we leave behind, the online and offline distinction is blurring, that’s why they came up with the term ‘OnLife’ :-).  And with the existing Big Data techniques we are revealing so much more about ourselves, that the needs of opacity each person has  is being challenged.

The Onlife manifesto proposes to create a new digital literacy:  as language is not only being able to put words on a sentence,  but consists also of  a code of conduct: what can be said, in which context? (for example ‘secretos en reunión es mala educación’ which means it’s bad manners to whisper in public) , we have to create awareness in all digital users of a code of conduct, a ‘Netiquette’ of the digital world.  What can be posted and to which public? Posting pictures of a trash party on Facebook:  is it OK to publish it open to all public without the consent of each person in the picture?  Is it OK for your phone company supplier to publish or sell your whereabouts?

The manifesto points also out the problem of attention:  everybody wants to capture our attention, but as we can only focus on one thing at a time, our attention is a limited asset as time.

We believe that societies must protect, cherish and nurture humans’ attentional capabilities. This does not mean giving up searching for improvements: that shall always be useful. Rather, we assert that attentional capabilities are a finite, precious and rare asset. In the digital economy, attention is approached as a commodity to be exchanged on the market place, or to be channelled in work processes. But this instrumental approach to attention neglects the social and political dimensions of it, i.e., the fact that the ability and the right to focus our own attention is a critical and necessary condition for autonomy, responsibility, reflexivity, plurality, engaged presence, and a sense of meaning.

This ‘Onlife Manifesto’ seems an interesting initiative.  I’ll look more into it.

As New Services Track Habits, the E-Books Are Reading You

Written By: Corina Ciechanow - Dec• 28•13

Scribd

In this article of The New York Times David Sreitfeld is discussing a new service ScribD is beginning to offer. Scribd is a subscription-based library, where you can read books through their interface.  They are now collecting information from their readers, like how long they stay on a page, the pace on specific chapters, do they reach the end of the book?.. The idea is to offer this insight to the authors, for them to improve their future deliveries.

Last week, Smashwords made a deal to put 225,000 books on Scribd, a digital library here that unveiled a reading subscription service in October. Many of Smashwords’ books are already on Oyster, a New York-based subscription start-up that also began in the fall.

The move to exploit reading data is one aspect of how consumer analytics is making its way into every corner of the culture. Amazon and Barnes & Noble already collect vast amounts of information from their e-readers but keep it proprietary. Now the start-ups — which also include Entitle, a North Carolina-based company — are hoping to profit by telling all.

“We’re going to be pretty open about sharing this data so people can use it to publish better books,” said Trip Adler, Scribd’s chief executive.

Quinn Loftis, a writer of young adult paranormal romances who lives in western Arkansas, interacts extensively with her fans on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads, YouTube, Flickr and her own website. These efforts at community, most of which did not exist a decade ago, have already given the 33-year-old a six-figure annual income. But having actual data about how her books are being read would take her market research to the ultimate level.

Here are some results they could extract from their data:

Scribd is just beginning to analyze the data from its subscribers. Some general insights: The longer a mystery novel is, the more likely readers are to jump to the end to see who done it. People are more likely to finish biographies than business titles, but a chapter of a yoga book is all they need. They speed through romances faster than religious titles, and erotica fastest of all.

They are “reading us” while we read :-) but let’s not be paranoid, we will be getting more attractive books… Let’s hope it doesn’t limit our choices in the future.

Global Brain and Crowdsourcing

Written By: Corina Ciechanow - Nov• 30•13

253370main_image_1114_full

Are you familiar with the concept of the Global Brain ?

The concept is that we humans (and also computers) can be considered as neurons, connecting to each other through Internet, creating a super entity that acts as a global brain.

I discovered this idea, some years ago on the First Global Brain Workshop here in Belgium.  Since then this group has been following the technological and societal evolutions, analyzing this complex system, observing how it self-organizes and trying to identify the emergence of a ‘global brain’, maybe also a collective consciousness.

At the beginning of 2012, under the direction of Francis Heylighen,  The Global Brain Institute, has emerged ( :- ). Institution to which I am affiliated.  Every year the institute organizes a new season of seminars and workshops, and lately we have been listening to amazing presenters from different disciplines, most of them following the same line of reasoning even if from another angle.  That shows us that this subject is becoming mainstream in many fields.

Scientific, thinkers, philosophers are observing the appearance of new patterns of specific behaviors that arise from our interactions through Internet, and slowly they are beginning to see  the structures they form.  We are witnessing the emergence of another level of complexity, another ‘entity’.

In this entity, I think we could make the analogy of crowdsourcing sites as specific ‘organs’.  Crowdsourcing sites are sub-networks of people interconnected for a specific purpose, which can be providing a design, solving a complex problem, micro-funding a project and many other goals.

sna

They participate in this new entity by providing a new type of connectivity between cells, an intermediate level of abstraction, like our organs.

Last Friday, Wolfgang Hofkirchner has presented his view of the Future to which we must evolve that he called the Global Sustainable Information Society (GSIS).  In his presentation he talked about the actual situation, and what he sees is still missing to get to that future society, the GSIS.
One of the problems he has identified of the actual social media networks is that there is no ‘bonding’, people can quickly be grouped, but can ‘opt-out’ at any time.  If we want to move altogether for the common-good and be able to solve the global challenges of our world, we must have a common view of our future, we must at least agree on some common objectives, like lowering the greenhouse effect to stop the temperature rise.  He is right, being able not to put your shoulder on some crucial global challenges is not a good thing.  We must move all towards those agreed common goals, and not be able to ‘opt-out’ of a challenge that will affect our sustainability, our survival.  The way to go is making it crystal clear the cost of opting-out: the end of humanity as we know it.

The ‘new deal on data’ for personal data protection.

Written By: Corina Ciechanow - Oct• 31•13

A few days ago I went to Italy, and look what caught my eyes in the airport coming back:

Pub-DataPrivacy

So I cannot but get into the ‘new deal on data’ for personal data protection of Alex Pentland that I mentioned on the previous post :-)

His idea is to treat personal data as an asset, and each of us would ‘own’ the data about ourselves.  He makes an analogy with a bank account, see how he explains it:

 …In 2007 I suggested an analogy with the English common law tenets of possession, use and disposal:

You have the right to possess data about you. Regardless of what entity collects the data, the data belongs to you, and you can access the data at any time. Data collectors thus play a role akin to a bank, managing the data on behalf of their “customers”.

You have the right to full control over the use of your data. The terms of use must be opt-in and clearly explained in plain language.  If you are not happy with the way a company uses your data, you can remove those data, just as you would close your account with a bank that is not providing satisfactory service.

You have the right to dispose of or distribute your data.  You have the option to have data about you destroyed or redeployed.

There are still some details to think about and see how we deal with them.   I find it fair his proposal of the ‘full control’ through an opt-in method.  But is it covering all the situations?  Is it feasable?  Can you contact everybody to be sure they allow you to use the data in a particular context?  What if we are facing a catastrophe scenario?

And what if before you withdraw data from a company, they had used it to do statistics, obtaining aggregated results based on your data?  Would it be reasonable to ask them to take it out from there?  Would it be even feasible or just too much costly or complex?  It may not be possible to draw it back entirely, but if your data has served to a calculation, well, the calculation may be wrong now if they go back again to their ‘raw’ data as yours is not there anymore, but you’re not ‘loosing privacy’ either.  So I think it we can live with this situation.

It gets complicated when we talk about private data not about a person, like a company’s data.  Or even more complicated when it’s difficult to identify a natural ‘owner’.

There are still issues we need to go through, even though I see many in the same line of Alex’s proposal that we should have the ownership over our personal data.

 

Alex Pentland’s article on Data-Driven Society

Written By: Corina Ciechanow - Sep• 30•13

I recently got the new issue from Scientific American (October 2013), and in the front page was announced the article ‘The Data-Driven Society’ by Alex Pentland.  I just had to read it :-)

He co-leads the World Economic Forum on Big Data and Personal Data initiatives.  He was talking about all the digital bread crumbs we leave behind on our daily life (like gps and gsm info, or electronic payments) and what can be done with it.

With his students of the MIT Human Dynamics Laboratory, he is discovering mathematical patterns through data analytics that can predict human behaviour. ‘Bread crumbs record our behaviors as it really happens’ he says, it is more accurate than the information from social media, where we choose what we want to disclose from ourselves.  Alex and his team are in particular interested in the patterns of idea flows.

Among the most surprising findings that my students and I have discovered is that patterns of idea flow (measured by purchasing behavior, physical mobility or communications) are directly related to productivity growth and creative output.

Analysing those flows, he uncovered 2 factors that have a positive pattern of healthy idea flow:

  • engagement: connecting to others, usually in the same team or organisation, and
  • exploration: going abroad to exchange ideas.

Both are needed for creativity and innovation to flourish.  To find those factors, he based his research on graphs of different types of interactions, like person-to-person, emails, sms..

We may not have the tools he used (like an electronic badges for tracking person-to-person interactions) but intuitively this is something we know, a good communication is essential for the success of a team, but talking to an external person may provide a new insight.  It’s always good to be proved right, isn’t it?

Check my next post, I’ll continue with his article, there are a lot of great concepts he is presenting as the ‘new deal on data’ for personal data protection.