iCog Labs Articles

Beauty and the Beast: Hong Kong in Black and White

By: Hruy Tsegaye

It’s like your first love relationship. There are some aspects you want to forget and some to cherish. This is almost universal for those who are lucky and blessed with a much better second, third, fourth love or for those who are not capable of letting their first one go.

Hong Kong is just like that, Hong Kong is beauty, and Hong Kong is beast! Ethiopian landed in Hong Kong on the 14th of March 2018 around 11:45 AM, and I was among the weary passengers rushing out hoping to hit the bed as soon as possible. Yet, I was clueless about the beauty and the beast and simply assumed the city is nothing more but like all the other cities I knew; maybe super fancy and big but just another city.

Yet Hong Kong is different, you will love and hate the city and, at some point, you will not know which is which!

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Ethiopia: U.S. Embassy Announces Solve IT! – A Nationwide Innovation Competition

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa is sponsoring a nationwide innovation competition, “Solve IT!” for Ethiopian youth. “Solve IT!” promotes STEM, entrepreneurship and encourages a new generation of young Ethiopians to solve problems in their communities using technology, software and hardware. The competition is implemented by the U.S. Embassy in collaboration with partners iCog Labs and Humanity+.

Solve IT! will involve nine city hubs in seven regional states and two city administrations: Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Jimma, Bahir Dar, Mekelle, Gambela, Semera, Hawassa and Jigjiga are the selected cities.

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How Decentralized AI Can Change the Lives of Millions

By: Hruy Tsegaye

For thousands of years, social inequality has been arguably the most important question in need of an immediate answer. Ironically the question that needs an immediate answer has been with us, unanswered, since the dawn of history. It is one of the major causes of humanity’s integral problems like war, crime, disease, racism, irrationality, etc. Name the problem and you will find inequality either at the root of it, or the fertilizer.

The inequality question is difficult not because of its ideological complexity, rather it becomes the headache of our time, just as it was for our predecessors, because of its impracticability.

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Silent China, Loud China: iCog Makers’ Long March

By: Hruy Tsegaye

The first thing I thought after I left the airport in Guangzhou was that Evolution Theory must be ridiculous! The mainstream evolution theory affirms that the skin colour of humans has changed from black— darker skin— to white— lighter skin— over the past 75,000 years as they migrated from the mother continent—Africa— to the rest of the continents suggesting the lesser the intensity of the sunlight, the lighter the skin colour becomes.

When I left the airport and the comfort of its shade and the air conditioner, the sun over Guangzhou welcomed me with unforgiving burning rays and the scourge of the heat was worse than some of the deserts in Africa are. Evolution my foot! I cursed while covering my head with Selamta Magazine– Ethiopian’s complimentary in-flight magazine. Under such a sun, why aren’t the Chinese pitch black? Before I reach to a conclusion, I remembered some of my lessons from my high-school days about UV radiation. Okay maybe this sun, even though it is burning my skin more than the sun in Africa, has a lesser UVR.

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Humanoids: the new era in robotics

By: Selam Temesgen

Humanoids, as their name gives it away, are robots that look like humans. We all have seen them in movies where they do everything human beings can, and sometimes more, while appearing positively indistinguishable from people. Currently, science, although still way behind, has come a long distance in terms of achieving that aspiration.

iCub, the humanoid designed by Tony Prescott, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, is an exemplar of this. The robot has a sense of sight, hearing and feeling. It also has a sense of position power and movement enabling it to use its 53 degrees of freedom, which refers to the number of specific movements or displacements the robot can make, in a coordinated way.

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AI and Ethiopia

By: Yoseph Berhanu

One can easily argue humanity’s primary mission on earth is to learn, discover what is hidden, and make life a little bit easier than it was before. Moreover, sharing of what
one has learned has been at the heart of this learning endeavor.

The advent of electronic computer and the Internet has helped in both the discovery and sharing efforts significantly. It has also changed the way people acquire, analyze and disseminate information. Starting from the use of search-engines to fully automated class rooms experiences and even artificial intelligence tutors; the teaching learning world has changed considerably.

This impact of computing has been felt beyond the world of academics and research. From agriculture to military applications, from healthcare to finance, one can hardly find an industry not leveraging the powers of computing.

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The Future of Chatbots: Will they break the ‘illusion approach’?

By: Eskender Tamerat

At first, it was all about creating illusions. Asking questions endlessly was the golden trick back when a computer parody by the name of Eliza kick-started the era of computers conversing with human beings in the 1960s. With a restricted set of scripted rules, the bot had no clues to grasp the user input, let alone being a good friend of a human.

The next few decades saw the rise of a meaning-based human text interaction. It reduced the trouble of indulging in a heartfelt communication for mere machines responding to a set of choices waiting for human instructions. This facet evolved to what we could see in the modern video games, in which a user gets visual feedbacks by controlling an avatar using a mouse or joystick.

Returning to the topic on hand, more than half a century later, illusion still fits the bill to describe the current state of chatbots. The domain of knowledge base showed rapid progress – with all the data out there via internet, sentence parsers using natural language processing, and changes in hardware causing machines to be faster and massive in storage – but we are still lagging behind in achieving the grand goal of simulating intelligent conversation between a machine and a human.

Instantiated by the Turing Test, the Loebner competition takes place annually with four finalists battling for the big prize. Unlike the strict requirements of fooling the judges set by Alan Turing all those years ago, the judges will look for the “most human” from the participants, who make it into the final round after dealing with a set of human knowledge questions in the qualifiers.

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March 3, 2017

By: Taika Alemu

The long awaited grand event for the Makers Initiative was underway at the premises of Ministry of Science and Technology on March 3, 2017. While I was watching the little cute toys on the pitch, it occurred to me that they never get tired; lifeless expressions! Then I saw the competing students and ah and I saw the familiar signs, weary, worried, but determined. How did we get here?

The organizers of this event have spent a couple of weeks perfecting all the small details for the event. Yet, nothing is ever perfect my friends, especially when it is the event of the year; the single most important defining moment that can place iCog Makers and iCog Labs on the map.

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Technology: The Last Frontier in Economic Challenges

By: Hruy Tsegaye

“Poverty can put you in a difficult state of mind, and a difficult state of mind can make it more difficult to escape poverty”. Jamele Rigolini.

1) The weak link in Economics

The science of Economics had always been a mystery for the layman, but the strange thing is Economics has never been an unambiguous discipline even for those who trained to be professional Economists. To make matters more complicated, regardless of our insight into economics, we still live by it!

Let us begin with the weak link of Economics principles. Most principles of economics are built on a simplified model of human behaviour, which the economists call the “homo economicus”. Although John Stuart Mill did not coin the term, the concept of the economic man was first introduced through his famous book, “The Principles of Political Economy”. Moreover, he even defines what the Economic Man is in his essay titled, “On the Definition of Political Economy; and on the Method of Investigation Proper to it”.  According to Mill, Political Economy perceives humans from one, a bit narrower, angle: “It is concerned with him [man] solely as a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end”. (Mill, 2000, p. 137)

It is a concept in many economic theories, which assumes humans as agents with narrowly well-defined self-interest and who have the ability to make judgments toward their subjectively defined ends. The most notable element in this assumption is that the choices of the economic man are marked by rationality. Hence, to most economists and economic principles, the economic man is a rational and profit motivated man.

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Artificial Intelligence for the Developing World

by: Ben Goertzel

The commercial value of artificial intelligence technology is now increasingly obvious across the board, with large companies in multiple sectors investing billions upon billions. But the importance of AI goes well beyond its direct financial value; there is a fundamental transformative potential here, which cuts at the core of human society, human life and human values.

Major governments and corporations around the world, alongside academic scientists and philosophers, are beginning to ask questions like: Will AIs eventually be more generally intelligent than humans? Will AIs eventually be conscious in the same sense as humans?   Will AIs and robots eventually take over all, or nearly all, human jobs? And will this “eventually” perhaps be, not centuries but only decades ahead?

And if we do have powerful, intelligent, self-aware AIs taking on most or all of the tasks now carried out by humans– what values will these AIs use to guide their actions? Will these values be human values, or something different? And if human values– what  variety of human values?

High-profile conferences have been convened to address these issues, e.g. the Asilomar AI conference held in California in early 2017 (organized by leaders of the US and UK tech and academic communities), and the UN conference on Beneficial AI, to be held in Europe in mid-2017. All this attention has not provided any definitive answers to these complex and thorny matters, but it has sharpened the issues involved and brought a wider variety of voices into the discussion.

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