iCog Labs Articles

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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Journals from Nairobi: Boda Bodas, iCog Makers and Terrorism

by: Hruy Tsegaye

From where shall I begin? My six hour jail time in Juja Police station, my dramatic door to door salesman experience with Kenyan Universities, or how the Ethiopian Government officially advises its travelling citizens to buy dollar from the black market instead of providing it through its commercial banks? Though it’s customary to follow the chronological order, I think I will start from the middle.

Nairobi, adorned with the dying sun’s reddish light, looked a little less scary this time. On my first visit in 2016, I was so startled at the site of the city’s monstrous traffic jam; the entire freeway from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to the city centre, with hundreds of cars stuffed, looked like a graveyard built for cars in the middle of a swamp.

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Nanotechnology

By Senayt Nur

Nanotechnology: could it actually solve our problems or turn out to be a new one?

Nano is 100 nm in size, one Nanometer is 10-9 meters or about 3 atoms long. By definition, the nano world is placed between the atom and the solid molecules. “Nano-technology mainly consists of the processing of separation, consolidation, and deformation of materials by one atom or one molecule.” This interface has been used by chemists for a while, and currently with the assistance of physicists, they [chemists] are able to understand and even manipulate it in order to create manageable and more complex structures than the ones found in nature.

According to The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, nanotechnology is defined as: “The science, engineering, and technology related to the understanding and control of matter at the length scale of approximately 1 to 100 nanometers. However, nanotechnology is not merely working with matter at the Nanoscale, but also research and development of materials, devices, and systems that have novel properties and functions due to their Nanoscale dimensions or components”.

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Data Mining: how it can be utilized in Ethiopia’s health sector

By Senayt Nur

Data mining: the future of the health care system

Collecting data that can be analyzed using patterns and trends dates back to the Bayes’ theorem and ‘regression analysis’ that were used in the 1700s and 1800s respectively. For decades, supercomputers have been used to collect data, analyze market research reports, determine patterns of customer preferences, product usage, and the general demand and supply patterns in order to increase revenue and decrease unnecessary costs.

In plain terms, “data mining is a process of analyzing data from different perspectives and summarizing it into useful information”. Although the technology have been around for a while, advancements in computer’s processing power, disk storage, and statistical software have dramatically increased the accuracy of ‘data analysis’ while driving down it’s cost.

Before digging any deeper into data mining, let me first explain the difference between data and information. Data is collection of any facts, numbers, or text that can be processed by a computer.

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Inspiring a Generation of Technology Enthusiasts!

By Scheherazade Goertzel

I’ve been living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the past three months, during which time I’ve been able to spend a lot of time at iCog-Labs’ office and observe what type of work they are doing. Yesterday I visited iCog-Labs’ first Anyone-Can-Code (ACC) lesson, where iCog staff began to teach simple coding to selected High School girls.

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A Transhumanist World

By Senayt Nur

The rapid technological progress of our time is obvious to anyone with an observing eye. The changes that happened in the past few years were not even dreamt a few decades back. If we get the chance to bring back a person who died fifty years ago, he wouldn’t know what to do with a lot of the changes and honestly our dead friend would have been bewildered beyond words. I have been blessed to see the changes firsthand since many of the vagaries occur in my generation, and I have seen instruments get more portable and more efficient through time.

Nowadays the changing technology  have given me  devices for education and entertainment that weren’t even ideas a century, and diseases that would have been a death sentence a few decades back could now be diagnosed rapidly and have a straightforward treatments. This influx of technology has led to economic growth – and everywhere in the world, everyday people workout how to do things a little bit better and a little bit easier.

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