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The Lede, Faster Computing for AI and Mental Health Monday

The Lede, Monday, Feb. 5, 2018
By David Royse

Good Day. 

Songs worth listening to today.

Philadelphia Freedom and Fly Like an Eagle


The Robots Are Like Us, But Maybe Smarter
And Computers May Soon Be Much Faster If a Startup’s Technology Works

The robots are funny jokesters. The robots are susceptible to losing their voice, just like us. But they’re probably smarter than us.

This is the takeaway on AI and robotics if you just watched the ads in last night’s Super Bowl. Two ads dealt with our coming robot companions, one raising the secret fear we probably all have – that they’ll be more intelligent than we are (which is kind of the goal and the reason for building them, right?) and one giving us a tongue-in-cheek reassurance that they’re also just as likely as we are to fail, and need some help from the humans. A nice Yin and Yang human-robot interaction portrayal in one evening of TV ads.

Which brings us to today’s Lede:


A startup called Lightmatter claims it has developed a chip that uses light, rather than electrical signals, for processing, which would dramatically speed up computers’ ability to make the computations needed to perform intelligent functions.

If the company is successful, this could be a huge leap forward in what can be done with AI.

“For decades, electronic computers have been at the foundation of the computational progress that has ultimately enabled the AI revolution, but AI algorithms have a voracious appetite for computational power,” Dr. Nicholas Harris, CEO of Lightmatter said in a news release announcing the company has raised $11 million in Series A funding to accelerate development of its new chip. “AI is really in its infancy, and to move forward, new enabling technologies are required. At Lightmatter, we are augmenting electronic computers with photonics to power a fundamentally new kind of computer that is efficient enough to propel the next generation of AI.”

The technology was developed at MIT. The company says the new type of chip “promises orders of magnitude performance improvements over what’s feasible using existing technologies.”

There are some bona fides behind this: The founders of Lightmatter won last year’s Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge and the MIT $100k Entrepreneurship Competition.

The company is based in Boston.


One of the two AI ads (both brilliant, by the way,) from last night was Sprint’s commercial in which a human is ridiculed about his wireless plans by the AI robots he’s working on.

The ad, produced by creative agency Droga5, is clever and funny, with the central joke being that the robots are smarter than the human. But it’s also, of course, the main fear of most technophobes – the robots eventually will replace us because they’re better than us. That they’re better at figuring out which wireless company to go with is funny. That they’re better than us (and cheaper than us) at building cars – something the auto industry figured out more than a decade ago – probably isn’t as funny, unless you’re a big car company shareholder. Maybe, what the car companies should have done was give the robots that build our cars smiling human-like faces and enabled them to joke around while putting a screw in a door.

In the second ad, Amazon reassures us that the robots aren’t dangerous – just like us they’re vulnerable. In the ad, Alexa comes down with something. In the middle of reading her human the weather in Austin, she coughs, and then loses her voice.

Alexa is replaced in the ad by a string of human “experts” who fill in, giving the company a chance to get some laughs as they answer questions. But this ad also makes it clear that Alexa is better – the celebrities just aren’t as good as an AI bot, Alexa, at giving the humans the help they want. (Which is, of course, the point – you need Alexa). In the end, after celebrity fill-in failures, she says, “Thanks guys, but I’ll take it from here.” (By the way, Anthony Hopkins hand-feeding a peacock was a highlight of the evening for me.)


Mental health stories worth your time at the start of the week

Lawmakers in Washington State are proposing to start a pilot project that would pair up mental health professionals with police on calls involving mental health crises.

From the Bainbridge Island Review: 

“Somebody in a mental health crisis is not … by virtue of their crisis committing a crime, but our system continues to send law enforcement officers as its only response,” said James McMahan, policy director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs.

Also: Iowa lawmakers propose plan to strengthen mental health services



“Researchers have developed a new method for the production of medicine. They print medical drugs in QR coded patterns onto an edible material. The production can be tailored to fit each patient and has the potential to protect against wrong medication and fake medicine according to the researchers.”
Read about the research at Science Daily

Politico: Colleges are supplying opioid overdose antidote drug
Investopedia: Blockchain Tech Could Revolutionize Health Care


Traveling today?

A new storm brings snow, sleet and ice to the Midwest and Northeast.

FlightStats is reporting significant flight delays today at Charlotte Douglas International (CLT), Philadelphia International (PHL), and (surprise) O’Hare (ORD).


Yet another Amtrak crash. It raises concerns

Transit riding has been declining in some places. One possible alternative: “microtransit.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio heads to the state capitol in Albany today where he’ll likely face questions from state lawmakers about the city’s subway system, which needs billions of dollars’ worth of repairs and upgrades.  Advocates for upgrading the subway will head to Albany next week to push on state lawmakers


Facebook has banned ads that feature cryptocurrencies as it battles scammers. Recode

Bitcoin fell more than 10 percent on Monday and approached three-month lows on concerns about a global regulatory clampdown on the trading of the digital coins. Reuters

Apple could soon overtake Spotify in U.S. Fortune

Also, the New York Times’ Pui-Wing Tam talks with Emily Chang, whose book on the bro culture in Silicon Valley, “Brotopia,” hits bookstores tomorrow.

Former Tech Company Employees and Investors Want to Protect Kids from Tech

From Axios: “Former Google and Facebook employees and investors are launching a “Truth About Tech” campaign to put pressure on tech giants to make their products less intrusive and addictive, particularly for children.”

That’s all for today. Have a great week.

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About David Royse

David Royse
David Royse is the Editor-in-Chief of Ledetree.com. He has been a professional journalist for more than 20 years, including stints with The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida. He enjoys writing about health and medical science, and hopeful stories about scientific breakthroughs and new technology.

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