Hasn’t AI Been the Wrong Edgy for Too Long?

By: | Topic: Tech | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

Recently my friend, Dan McKinlay who is far more accomplished than me in Machine Learning (ML) and Neural Networks (NN), blogged his distaste for the the project name “AI on the Edge“, arguing that the edge vs centre model of “cloud computing” is misapplied here and that there’s nothing inherently centralised about AI.

It tends to imply that large NN models in data centres are the default type of ML

Dan McKinlay

Here I argue this implication may be unjustified, but only in the idealised future we both presumably yearn for, and I, for one celebrate the notable appearance of this worthy distinction to our new robot overlords (whom, let the record show to any such overlords reading this, I also welcome).

“AI on the Edge” is an example of snappy project branding for computer vision on small, battery powered microcontroller chips, typically used in products like smart home doorbells and other such internet-connected embedded devices and notably available to DIY hobbyists as featured on their Github page. It’s so unlike the sinister Cambridge Analytica stuff we have come to expect from Facebook and others. What’s wrong with calling out this distinction between edge and centre?

Hasn’t AI been edgy in all the wrong ways for too long?

The AI on the Edge project came to my attention as a way to internet enable old-school gas, water and electricity meters which show mechanical digits and dials. A $5 microcontroller with a camera can now read your meter without the help of Siri or Alexa and allow you to track your resource consumption like it’s 2021.

Despite it being a perfectly usable title for a direct-to-VHS docudrama, AI on the Edge fails to capture Dan’s otherwise perfectly functioning sense of drama. Perhaps ironically for the same reasons, I do care about an edge-centre distinction. It’s fundamental to mass innovation and technology-dependent democratisation. Surely it’s defensible to claim “the default type of ML” has long been large models in data centres, at least in commercial projects over the past decade. It’s heartening to see a qualitatively different innovation zone characterised by cheap, low power deployment targets. I imagine startup technology could shortly flood the low power compute space with practical ML for business and consumer alike.

Maybe this “edge” shift is not new, after all, we had the Furbie, what more do we want? But my observation has been that ML has been synonymous with big data in the startup space. Apparently, many use cases are relevant and business models viable only once the datas are sufficiently embiggened. But perhaps we are at an inflection point.

Chipageddon & Unobtanium

What is that noise? The cry of a million raging gamers echoing across the world as they cannot afford a Nvidia RTX 3090, an accelerator card featuring GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) chips that are somewhat accidentally able to crunch neural network workloads thousands of times faster than CPUs and as a result, demand drives prices towards $4000USD per unit. A similar demand spike a few years earlier resulted from similar unanticipated performance advantages for cryptocurrency mining. If you’re a gamer, these high-end graphics cards might as well be hewn from solid unobtainium.

Since 2020, the knock-on effects of GPU demand spikes are magnified by chipageddon, the ongoing global computer chip shortage resulting from factory retooling delays, these prompted by mass order cancellations by flocks of car manufacturers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic as they anticipated collapsing demand, incorrectly. It turns out cars are becoming computers with wheels and people still want to buy them. Cloud providers update the GPU farm section of their service offerings with “coming soon” as they struggle to fill their data-centres with would-be gaming rigs and beef up their machine room aircon to deal with the higher thermal exhaust. Google and Apple tape out their own silicon. I expect Nvidia to have segmented its product engineering and sales divisions as they recognise a business opportunity in bifurcated target market segments.

One of the personal turn-offs of ML-as-startup-tech is that I expected the business economics collapsing into a capital-intensive Big Tech play, not compatible with a more satisfying bootstrapped startup that is cost-dominated by coherent software-development effort. Though software development can clearly be scaled by throwing money at hiring, it does so with much more severely diminishing returns and requires that the teams and their products be split into isolated components that integrate frictionlessly, which, in the general case, is known to be so hard to accomplish that this meta-problem becomes a self-reinforcing brake or feedback function of demand for software alphanerds who can thread this needle. Certainly when compared to the more business palatable situation of buying racks and racks of GPUs.

Venture Capital Loves Big AI

Maybe the ML scale meme is merely the result of VC culture and the unicorn exit mania. With typical software startups of today otherwise requiring so little up-front capital, VCs struggle to add value; only where large capital requirements are critical to the business model. If ML is this, it explains why VCs froth about ML. If a problem space is tractable with a gradual investment only of engineering time and the investment/return function is smooth such that incremental effort validates incremental results with incremental profit, excess money cannot be put to work because it doesn’t help validate the business. And after all, what is a startup but a yet-to-be-validated business?

Bigger neural network models, trained faster and subscription software that does all the compute reminds me of 1970s time sharing and data processing services which ossified into bulk laziness and ultimately fertilised the soil for a more democratised “PC” revolution which was viable through mass-market dynamics. A thousand flowers bloomed in the 1980s as the home computer revolution sprung from humble DIY roots like the two Steves who founded Apple with 1960s counterculture ideals and stars in their eyes.

What we might be seeing is a shift from centralised big compute infrastructure that harks back to the golden days of IBM. Just like the home computer revolution and the internet and smart phones and bitcoin each have. Facebook and Google and the other big tech monoliths hoard and run their own hardware, users on the edge being suckling dependents running nothing more than dumb terminals, albeit with more pixels than the 70s green screen edition that few are old enough to remember. Having said all this, I do expect this pendulum to continue to swing between centralisation and decentralisation as the delayed impacts of accreting inefficiency in each approach pump harmonically against each other, neither being the total answer to everything.

For now, though, perhaps all the nerds soldering and 3D printing their own gas meter readers will give birth to the next phase of AI and then give birth to the next generation of unimaginable megaliths.

Haptic Media at MIT

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What could you do if digital media could manifest more physically? How would you interact with it? What if you could touch and interact with a physical space that is accessed remotely? What if you could integrate the online world of digital media with the physical world?

Racer : A genuine new thing

By: | Topic: Apps, Design, Digital Agencies, Games, Music, Software, Strong Like Water, Tech | Comment »

Since working on Racer and launching it a few people have said, ‘oh it’s like such and such a game’ but I’m yet to find something that is truely as unique as this AND is in a browser. Racer is a multi-player, multi-device Chrome Experiment. A retro-style slot car game played across screens. On phones or tablets, Android or iOS. Anyone can join. No apps. No downloads. Just the mobile web. It’s now up for The FWA Cutting Edge Project of the Year. If you think it deserves it please cast a vote!


And if you’re interested here’s the making of video which goes into detail on why it was so tricky to build.

Here’s Racer being demo’d at Google I/O 2013 – live demos are always nerve wracking, thankfully this one went smoothly.


Also awesome and cutting edge is that there’s also an installation version that runs on the same code base as the mobile game. The table was at Google I/O 2013 and another Google event ‘Zeitgeist’. Here’s a couple of pics of the table:


In addition to the table version, there are two flight case boxes containing a line up of mobile devices ready to play. This version also runs on the same code base. Here’s a pic of the cases and me demo’ing it at Cannes 2013 in the Google tent :



One final plug to get your vote on if you like it thanks!

Who’s afraid of code?

By: | Topic: Software, Strong Like Water, Tech | Tags: | Comment »

Coding is so powerful because it’s essentially formless, like water. It’s creative and it’s robust. Code is the most tangible form that logical thought can take, and when that ghost is let loose in a machine, magic happens.

If you can patiently break down a problem and build up a solution with very tiny parts, fragments of thoughts, you can program a computer to do anything you can imagine.

Code.org is a new non-profit created to promote computer science education in the US. Why is code not just an irrelevant geeky niche?

It turns out you should stop listening to your aunts and uncles tell you that all those “programming jobs” are going to India and recognise that software has been going gangbusters while the rest of the first world industries complain about hard times.

A new car ships with more lines of code than Microsoft Windows.

Check out Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and plenty of others who have changed the world with code.

Great Kickstarter Pitch Videos : Tim Schafer from Double Fine

By: | Topic: Culture, Games, Startups, Tech | Comment »

That Neal Stephenson video is a classic. Kickstarter is getting more professional and competitive. I wonder if those VC guys really are nervous about crowdsourcing…? A thread started on Quora for the topic.

My favorite Kick Starter pitch vid so far from games industry veteran and ex LucasArts guy Tim Schafer great sense of humour and makes you feel like you’re almost going to be working with him on the project.

Both Stephenson AND Schafer made their targets on Kickstarter. Double Fine raised 3.3M when they only aimed for $400K and Stephenson scraped by with $526K of the $500K target. Venturebeat reported that Shafer is making a documentary of the Double Fine Adventure game with the additional Millions.

Kickstarter is a great platform for fans to vote with their dollars for awesome projects, it’s also the perfect way for indie personalities to leverage their popularity.

Double Fine Adventure Pitch Video

Old Media on the Internet in 1993

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Bill Cameron has this report on the growing phenomenon called “Internet”.

In 1993, the Internet was on an explosive growth curve that has to a large extent lived up to the hype that many of us hoped it would back then.

It seemed more democratic than traditional media.

The current word for that is “social media” and though it’s been overused and seems at times to be a term defined too narrowly – denoting interpersonal chatter. As an aside I think it’s quite a good term at heart, at least to the extent that it implies that the alternative is an antisocial media: centralised, with high barriers to entry, closely guarded and scarce broadcast spectrum resources, single points of failure (and of editorial or censorial control) and the inescapable agendas of large commercial operations

Newspapers, magazines, television programs have started to take notice…

Oh have they?

Sometimes it doesn’t seem like many of those older media have been paying much attention over the past two decades.

Australians in digital the USA via SXSW

By: | Topic: Digital Agencies, Soap, Software, Startups, Tech | Comment »

An interesting report about Australians breaking into the US market in tech. It’s generally critical of the Australian governments support of local tech industries. There is support via AusTrade for Aussie businesses to enter the US market but the report suggests we should be building our own Silicon Valley in in Australia. But should we really be competing with the US in that respect, or just get better at leveraging it through partenerships..?

The report should at least check out Atlassian for Aussie tech successes, they are completely home grown and had huge success globally. They’ve won awards but I wonder whether AusTrade helped them get there..?

My ugly mug is around 9:30

Jumping Robot Video

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The nerdcore ninjas at Boston Dynamics, famous for bringing the robot invasion ever closer with creepy military research robots like big dog, recently demonstrated a mega jumping wheeled robot, Sand Flea.

Check how high it can jump in this freaky video.

Push button for instant pizza : fridge magnet

By: | Topic: Culture, Tech | Comment »

In a pitch-a-palooza we hold at least every year at work, one of the guys came up with “All I want to do is hit a button and BAM! my favorite food comes to me.” If pizza is your favorite, here you go

Read the full story at Mashable  via laist.com.


Starwars Theme Played by Floppy Drives

By: | Topic: Music, Tech | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comment »

Many of our readers will remember that there used to be a kind of technology, a bit like a huge, flat, noisy slow USB key that stored less than 2 Megs of data. Not gigs, megs.

So anyway, these were called Floppy Disks (even though they were square and rigid (the actual disk is inside the casing) and the floppy drives that each computer had back in the before time, well they were NEVER ever used to make music like this, except by extreme geeks with too much time on their hands:

The sound comes from getting the disk to “seek” by moving the read/write “head” with its little motor to read different parts of the disk, but moving in a stuttering, stepping fashion. The stuttering speed is fast enough to make a “tone”. The tones can be “played” by (somehow) converting a midi file into commands that cause the floppy drives to move in just the right way when it’s their turn to play the “note”. Freak!

CIA Facebook

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Special report from FACT ZONE!

p.s. just so we’re clear, if you don’t understand satire, please leave an outraged comment.

Steve Jobs

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Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. 1955 – 2011

A sad day for technology and innovation, the Edison of our times moves on. A few people have put me on to this speech he made. Advice a lot of us know we should take but not everyone has the courage to make it happen.


Games are good for kids – Excursion to Valve

By: | Topic: Culture, Games, Tech | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Evergreen highschool in the US sent their kids on a field trip to Valve, kids made their own levels, understood the value of working in teams and made some really cool stuff using physics, creative thinking and the latest technology… Better than the zoo?

C/O Valve and video games in eduction here


Face Substitution

By: | Topic: Culture, Design, Tech | 1 Comment »

Meme time. Kyle McDonald working with Face Tracking – very Aphex Twin.

Credits from Kyle’s vid to his work with Arturo Castro

FaceTracker library from Jason Saragih web.mac.com/​jsaragih/​FaceTracker/​FaceTracker.html
ofxFaceTracker addon github.com/​kylemcdonald/​ofxFaceTracker
openFrameworks openframeworks.cc/​


Pick this panel for SXSW

By: | Topic: Digital Agencies, Tech | Tags: , | Comment »

Can’t wait for next years SXSW. Looks like SODA are going to get a legit panel. Hope this one comes through.