This was another one of those weeks where two stories – Google’s machine learning system AlphaGo and the Obama administration’s push for computer science in schools – seemed to be covered everywhere. Along with those two big stories, there were interesting pieces about Netflix and Amazon’s continuing push into original content, cities’ growing interest in and use of open data, and Google’s plans for virtual reality.
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Google announced a breakthrough in machine learning, tackling the Chinese game Go with a system called AlphaGo that reduces the game’s enormous search space to something more manageable by using a state-of-the-art tree search with two deep neural networks, the “policy network” that predicts the next move and the “value network” that reduces the depth of the search tree and estimating the winner in each position in place of searching all the way to the end of the game (Google Research “AlphaGo: Mastering the Ancient Game of Go with Machine Learning”). The search algorithm is more human-like than previous systems used to win in games like chess. Having defeated the reigning European Go champion, AlphaGo’s next challenge will be to play the top Go player in the world later this spring. See also…everywhere - ArsTechnica, BBC, CNET, The Economist, GeekWire, Marginal Revolution, Motherboard, Scientific American, Slate, TechCrunch, Wired, and The Verge.
In a rapidly shifting economy where educators and business leaders recognize the importance of computer skills for ensuring economic opportunity, the White House focused the President’s weekly address on computer science, highlighting the Computer Science for All Initiative, which would provide $4 billion for states and $100 million for districts to advance computer science instruction as well as $135 million for the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service to support teacher training in computer science (The White House “Weekly Address: Giving Every Student an Opportunity to Learn Through Computer Science For All”). See also Fast Company, GeekWire, Re/Code, TechCrunch, The Verge, and Wired.
More news from the White House, the President is proposing a requirement for companies with more than 100 employees to submit salary data by race, gender, and ethnicity - a new rule to address unequal pay practices by collecting and sharing more data, already a trend among smaller businesses and tech startups, to make their wage data open to all staff members (NPR “To Shine A Light On Salary Gaps, Obama Wants Companies To Disclose Pay Data”). See also Fast Company.
Always a great source of inspiration, the winners of the latest Knight Foundation Knight News Challenge on Data address data literacy, transparency, crowdsourcing, privacy, and data visualization as further evidence of how communities can use data to help people make better decisions that affect their lives (Knight Foundation “17 Ideas Win Knight News Challenge on Data”). See also Neiman Lab.
Books, Media, and Publishing
If you’ve followed any news out of the Sundance File Festival this week, it’s become clear that Netflix and Amazon are becoming bigger players in the movie business, especially for independent film makers. With millions of viewers, unlimited bandwidth, and greater room for experimentation and risk (not everything has to be a blockbuster and any user can turn on or off depending on their mood), these companies are changing how films come to audiences, splitting theatrical and streaming rights and getting content to users faster (Wired “Netflix and Amazon Offer Indie Filmmakers Hope (And Lots of Money)”). See also The Daily Dot.
Not to be outdone, Apple is rumored to be speaking with television producers and studios about producing programs for its iTunes platform (CNET “Apple Could Pull a Netflix, Start Creating Original TV Shows”).
And just an indicator of the reach of streaming media, Amazon has provided information indicating that they have at least 46 million Prime members worldwide – that’s a lot of people with access to Amazon’s streaming content and two-day delivery (Re/Code “Amazon Has at Least 46 Million Prime Members Worldwide”). See also GeekWire.
Faster technology and a push for open data are driving more and more cities – and not just big cities – to use data maps to help government services and the communities they serve (Government Technology “7 Ways Local Governments Are Getting Creative with Data Mapping”).
One example from a big city, Chicago, is the new OpenGrid, which takes 80 spatially relevant information sets (pothole location, building permits, road closures) and charts them to a map that users can filter by type and location by drawing a boundary around a specific area (Wired “Conquer Chicago's Mountain of Data With This Powerful Tool”).
Boston University’s Initiative on Cities and the United States Conference of Mayors released the 2015 Menino Survey of Mayors showing city leaders’ increasing interest in bicycles, police reform, inequality and poverty, housing, and an overwhelming concern for aging and underfunded infrastructure (NextCity “U.S. Mayors Name Their Biggest Infrastructure Wish”).
A quick and easy infographic to help you better understand millennials' experiences with and perspectives on housing, relationships, ownership, shopping, and other preferences (Goldman Sachs “Millennials Coming of Age”).
It’s getting easier and easier to connect innovations in drone delivery to possible use in libraries. Hopefully it’s helpful to look at some of what Google is planning for Project Wing, the drone delivery service it hopes to launch in 2017 (Fast Company “This is How Google’s Project Wing Drone Delivery Service Could Work”). A new patent indicates that Google has developed "mobile delivery receptacles" (wheeled boxes on the ground) that communicate with and guide aerial drones to allow package transfers into the mobile delivery receptacle, which then move the package to a secure holding location.
Coursera announced a new selection of courses and specializations with a twist – learners have to pay for the course (not just a verified certificate) or else be limited to exploring the course, with access video lectures, discussion boards and practice quizzes, but view-only access to graded assignments (Inside Higher Ed “The Limits of Open”).
On-Demand, Gig, and the Future of Work
The Secretary of Labor announced a survey of “contingent workers,” individuals who labor outside the traditional structure of full-time employment, would be part of a supplement to the May 2017 Current Population survey – the first government count of this sector since 2005 (Fast Company “How Big Is The Gig Economy? The Government Is Finally Going To Find Out”).
For those interested in a side gig in delivery, Uber will expand its API for the UberRUSH delivery service to allow vendors to integrate UberRUSH's one-hour delivery service directly into their digital products (The Verge “Uber Wants To Be Your Express Delivery Service for Everything”).
Libraries with print subscriptions to the New York Times might remember receiving Google’s Cardboard virtual reality viewer a couple of months ago. Well, that was just a fraction of over 5 million Cardboard sets the company has shipped as it make VR more accessible to users (TechCrunch “5 Million Google Cardboard VR Viewers Have Shipped”). See also Fast Company and The Verge. And there are several indicators that Google won’t stop with Cardboard as its only VR viewer (The Verge “Google Might Be Gearing Up to Challenge Samsung and Oculus with VR Hardware”).