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Artificial intelligence needs your data, all of it

Mike Elgan | Feb. 23, 2016
Today's concerns about giving up privacy will seem quaint in the coming years. A.I. will need everything, and we'll happily give it.

Second, a free dashcam is something everyone will want, so such a scheme would put these cameras in a huge number of cars.

Third, because Rubin is talking about an A.I.-generated real-time map, it's probably an idea comparable to Google's Ground Truth, which takes data from satellites, StreetView cars and many other sources and combines them into a coherent 3D, information-rich picture of the world. (If you choose the "Earth" view in Google Maps and zoom all the way in, you can see that it's not a satellite photo, but something that looks like a kind of digital clay.)

Imagine a StreetView and Ground Truth type system that updates the information on a street every time a car drives down. You could theoretically get real-time weather reports, real-time traffic reports, counts on the number of pedestrians, information on whether lines are forming in front of businesses, available parking spots and much more.

A.I. could do all that, but it needs the data. And users will willingly give it up.

Microsoft's SwiftKey

We learned earlier this month that Microsoft plans to acquire the UK-based startup SwiftKey, which makes a keyboard app for Android and iOS used by some 300 million or so people.

The average user may see SwiftKey as a small thing -- a handy keyboard that lets you either type every letter, type until SwiftKey guesses the word you're intending to type, or write by swiping your finger across the letters. In reality, SwiftKey is a marvel of big-data A.I.

SwiftKey uses a neural network system to predict the next word you'll type. It's not just a guess based on probability. It actually tries to understand the context of the sentence.

The brainy software and massive computers behind SwiftKey are hungry for data. They need to know everything every user types every time. In fact, that's a necessary component of what makes SwiftKey so good -- especially if you opt into their cloud-based personalization.

Google's Smart Reply

Google last year rolled out a new feature of the mobile version of its Inbox email app. Called SmartReply, the system offers short, canned replies to your email. By choosing one, the reply is inserted into the reply email, and then you can send it.

SmartReply works, in principle, like SwiftKey. But while SwiftKey predicts what you'll type based on what you're actually typing, SmartReply predicts the words or even complete sentences you'll type based on the email you got.

For example, my brother recently sent me an email talking about how he might like to place a camera on some land he owns some two hours from his house. We had been knocking around ideas about the camera. Google's SmartReply suggested three responses: "Sounds like a plan," "I like that idea" and "I agree." Any of these replies might be good ones. SmartReply also sometimes generates three responses that completely miss the mark.


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