Author Archives: wayneyang

Launchpad.AI founder talks AI, Russian lit and film

Arshak Navruzyan is the founder of Launchpad.AI, a provider of artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions to enterprises. He founded Fellowship.AI an applied machine learning fellowship program, and is a cofounder of Platform.AI. He has delivered AI solutions for some of the largest enterprises in the world and multi-billion dollar quantitative hedge funds. Previously, Arshak served as the Chief Technology Officer at Sentient Technologies. He has also been in technology leadership roles at Argyle Data, Alpine and Endeca (Oracle). He attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied Russian literature and art history.

Q. Your family is originally from Armenia. What brought your family to the United States, and where did you settle and grow up?

A. I knew there was no real future for me in Soviet Armenia. I was rather precocious for my age, and it was my initiative that brought us to the U.S. That was 1988 just as the Soviet Union fell apart.

Q. What were your first impressions of Los Angeles?

A. Disappointment, I sort of expected the U.S. to be more futuristic, high tech and livable. 

Yerevan [the family’s hometown in Armenia] is a proper city with architecture, stone buildings, parks…  LA is a hodgepodge of random buildings, malls, designed for cars and only has Griffith Park. But shortly afterwards, I discovered the public libraries and would spend most waking hours there. I was starved for books. In the Soviet Union, everything was contraband. People passed around hand-copied versions of books. Here you could read whatever you wanted. I basically learned English by spending all my time at the L.A. and Glendale public libraries. 

Q. What were you reading? Was there anything systematic about how you discovered books?

A. I was an adolescent so top of my list were books you absolutely couldn’t read in the U.S.S.R. that were considered “degenerate” for political and moral reasons like Camus, Sartre, Beckett, Joyce, Jean Genet. I don’t read any of these authors now, it’s not my taste. I prefer Chekhov, Turgenev, Gogol, but you know how it is with forbidden fruit.

Q. I note some existentialists among your early reading. How much of the thrill of reading them was that they were forbidden back in the U.S.S.R. versus how they might have resonated with the fact that you were in your adolescence, meaning, a lot of us seem to go through an existentialist phase when we are young. Why have you gravitated back towards Chekhov, Turgenev, Gogol?

And I know that you developed a love for visual arts. What did that stem from? What art and films were you into in your younger years?

A. I was thinking about this recently, if you want to do something sophisticated with your audience you need to have a good shared frame of reference (to get jokes, speak shorthand,). My frame of reference matches these authors.

Scorsese and Coppola talk about it in this interview. They said their frame of reference was classic Hollywood, today’s generation has a frame of reference based on TV sitcoms (which makes it challenging for them to make good movies that the audience will get)

Even in the visual arts I gravitated towards things that I am somewhat indifferent to now. As an adolescent I think you look for things that are very different, so at that time I was into Peter Greenaway, Sergei Paradjanov, [Andrei] Tarkovsky, in other words, visually striking, postmodern narratives–the cinematic equivalent of the purple and pink mohawk.

My taste has evolved to filmmakers like Eric Rohmer, Yasujirō Ozu, Louis Malle and to a certain extent Fellini and Antonioni that tell ordinary human stories, but with the subtlety and depth of understanding of Chekhov. 

Q.  Yes! Like how indebted to Japanese samurai films and WWII movies George Lucas was! And to Flash Gordon too…!

A. So I think as with most things, my love for the visual arts started with a really good teacher. Someone that made paintings and sculptures seem really significant like the key to unlock a past or even present civilization. 

If you’ve seen Simon Schama’s “Power of Art” series, I think Schama does this very effectively. You want to understand the French Revolution, all you need is to hear Schama talk about Jacques Louis David

I started watching this BORIS play yesterday. It’s amazing, unbelievably original. I would love for everyone to see it to really understand Putin. But it won’t work because outside of Russia. No one reads Pushkin, so the jokes will be missed, and they don’t know Russian history, so the context doesn’t exist. This is something we can say about [AI] LLMs [large language models], they don’t have enough context.

Q. Who was the teacher who influenced you, and was there a sudden event, like a specific work that struck you?

A. I forget his name now. It was at university, I was taking Greek / Roman art and architecture as an elective. I didn’t have high expectations of the class. He basically had this idea that Roman art was propaganda, statues of Augustus, and this completely changed my viewpoint.

Q. I was surprised to learn that you were not a computer science major back in school–but that you studied art history and literature? What were you originally planning to do with a college degree?

My plan was to become a museum curator and for a while I worked and volunteered at LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum of Art]. I quickly figured out the career opportunities were very limited, and so I pivoted to tech, which I also loved. 

Q. Why did you want to become a museum curator?

I wanted to be a curator because I thought I have good taste and continue to privately curate, books, music, films for a circle of friends.They say if you love something don’t do it professionally.

Q. What kind of things are you curating for your friends?

A. Mostly Russian and French cultural artifacts that aren’t available in translation. (YouTube [Closed Captions] CC auto translate is only like 30 to 40 percent  accurate.) Also, having some background information helps. I’ll sort of set the scene why I’m excited about a particular director and writer and watch it with them so they get it. It’s rewarding for me because trying to explain it to others deepens your own appreciation and understanding.

Last few examples have been Vakhtangov Theatre’s production of Eugene Onegin, the moral tales of [French film director / writer] Eric Rohmer, Harold Pinter’s Victoria Station

Unless you’re my friend, chances are you will live your entire life not realizing how great these works are.

Q. How strong were you on the science and quantitative side? How challenging was the pivot? Did you bother to change your majors or was it mostly changing your coursework? What were your interests on the computer science (CS) side in and coming out of school?

A. I never took CS classes. Didn’t find them interesting. I taught myself, playing around with early versions of the dialup bulletin board systems (BBSes) and (“worldwide web”) www before browsers were invented. I got a job at the UCLA Office of Academic Computing doing dialup internet support for students and faculty. That was the turning point. From there I went to EarthLink Network.

Q. How did you get from the early BBSes to where you are today in AI? 

A. I went from BBSing to where I am today in both a linear and nonlinear way. BBS had forums, not unlike what Slack has today. They had app share features, not unlike that of the Apple App Store. What’s amazing is how far things have progressed in my lifetime. 

Q. What common thread, if any, do you see between your interest in art and what you do in AI? Where is the line between your interest in curating art and creating art?

A. I was in Business Intelligence for a while working with Endeca, Qlik, Tableau and realized that manually sifting through data will not scale, and you need something intelligent–that isn’t just a business analyst drawing conclusions from data. I don’t have much interest [nor] probably the talent and courage for creating. I’m happy to be an advocate for others.

Q. Tell us about Launchpad.AI. What is it, and how and why did you start it? How is Fellowship.AI part of it?

A. Launchpad is the commercial arm of the Fellowship. Fellowship started in 2015 with the agenda of expanding the community of qualified [AI] practitioners through the hands-on experience of real world use cases, Launchpad was created in 2017 to commercialize some of the research work we had done. The initial focus was on trading through an exclusive partnership with a hedge fund. We pivoted to enterprise when we added Launchpad.

Today Launchpad is largely an AI consultancy focused on delivering resources and solutions to large enterprises. We continue to stay deeply engaged in research through the Fellowship, which is a further differentiator. Our people stay more cutting edge because of the research.

Q. How hard a “sell” has AI been when enterprises generally are still on the ground floor of understanding what is capable with AI?

A. We don’t hard sell, because we tend to work with industry leading organizations that clearly recognize the value of AI. 

Q. Please talk about some of the more interesting projects / applications of AI you have executed?

Production AI is still fairly complex, and often there is a mismatch between what an organization wishes to do versus what they can realistically afford to do. We’ve been around for 7+ years now. There is no lack of interesting use cases: systemic trading strategies, EV battery lifespan prediction, optimizing medical claims, asset management signals from earnings calls, discovering the next blockbuster athletic shoes from consumer preferences… 

Between commercial and Fellowship research, it might be easier to list what we haven’t worked on (military and sin industries). 

Q. I know you are very familiar with OpenAI and its projects, but what was your reaction to ChatGPT when it became more generally available?

This is what keeps me so excited about Launchpad, I’m always learning. ChatGPT is a pivotal moment in that it takes AI out of the hands of researchers and engineers and invites the individual to experience its power directly–similar to the PC revolution that democratized compute. OpenAI is not Apple, however, they are throwing off interesting and useful artifacts on their [artificial general intelligence] AGI quest. The name of the prototype already tells you that they’re not a consumer products company. 

Enterprises are starting to be concerned on many levels about depending on ChatGPT, about what information leaks into these models during inference. I think enterprises will be inspired to move more quickly because of what ChatGPT instigated, but they’ll probably look to instructionally fine tune open source models like LLaMA

Q. What does the curator in you think of how generative AI is going to change the creation of art? What will the role of humans be?

A. I go to a lot of contemporary art museums and see [something like an] artist who has quilted a provocative slogan into a blanket. This is commercialization of work that belongs on a freeway overpass not in a modern art museum! It’s not mind expanding, shocking, inspiring, terrifying, the way real art is.

As [Martin] Scorsese argues, movies based on Marvel comics are not cinema. I argue that word art isn’t art. Maybe generative [AI] can get us out of this rut, maybe it will get us even deeper into it. If I knew the answer I would be the next [art dealer] Larry Gagosian–who coincidentally has a succession problem because great taste isn’t easy to pass on. 

Q. How possible is artificial general intelligence (AGI)? How far or close are we to achieving something like it?

Depends what we mean by AGI. If the definition is accurate and instantaneous retrieval and summarization of knowledge, I think we are only 5 to 10 years out. If our definition is more broad–that includes scientific discovery, real creativity, real-world decision making, I think it will take much longer, 50 to 100 years, perhaps. 

To train AIs with these advanced capabilities we need to give them a lot more access to the real world (let AI run labs and blow things up) and rethink our notions of privacy (let AI listen to your dinner conversations and even difficult arguments with your spouse). Otherwise, AIs trained on the Internet will continue to exhibit the intelligence of the Internet. 

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Hello World!

This blog has been dormant for too long! I would write a more composed entry and keep editing this until I had something more polished, but then I would never get it written… So here goes…

Why is it that whenever I am looking to be more productive, my first instinct is to buy a new tool or device to help me? That said, the best tool is the one on hand, and this year I plan to be much better at keeping things within reach.

Writing

Journal / Index Cards. (I need a good index card wallet. When I was younger, I coveted the Levenger model. I have an inexpensive, faux leather one that I found years ago on Amazon.)

Cell Phone / Tablet and External Keyboard and / or Laptop. (I have been binge watching device repair videos and I have revived an old Dell XPS 13 and a Mid-2012 MacBook Air).

Reading Material (Kindle App). Hardcopy book? Hemingway supposedly always keep a paperback in his pocket. His A Moveable Feast would be a good (re)read and one to have on hand…

Photography

Camera / Cell Phone / Pocket Camera. Seeing all the many articles about the death of single-lens reflex cameras, I am alarmed by how many I still own. Like everyone, I almost always have my cell phone on me, but though cell phone cameras have become more responsive and better through their AI engines, I still find them slow. Would love a Fuji X100 because I would like to have a good fixed lens pocket camera, but the latest version, the Fuji X100V, seems to be hard to find in inventory and who wants to spend more than $1,000 when surely there must be a perfectly good earlier version that I can find secondhand?

Why should we care about the Waste land?

“The most revolutionary and influential poem of the last 100 years was written by an American banker in the City of London. When TS Eliot published ‘The Waste Land,’ his forbiddingly difficult work in five parts — full of parody, pastiche and allusion — in 1922, Time magazine wondered whether it was a hoax.”

Why should we care about TS Eliot’s The Waste Land? via @FT

T. S. Eliot at Lloyds Bank

The unseen archives of Dorothea Lange

Artist Sam Contis has uncovered a “trove of unseen work” by the photographer Dorothea Lange, best known for her photos of the Great Depression:

The result is Day Sleeper, a collection of pictures so contemporary in feel, it’s difficult to reconcile them with the Lange we know. The volume features more than 60 of Lange’s photographs, scanned mostly from contact sheets and negatives licensed by the Oakland Museum, with a smaller number deriving from the Library of Congress and the National Archives. Contis believes 90 percent of the images have never been seen or published. [The Wall Street Journal]

Kevin Scott’s “Behind the Tech”

In his photographic project “Behind the Tech,” Kevin Scott portrays the “relatively unknown” technologists who “make our modern lives possible.” “The Behind the Tech project’s singular purpose is to acknowledge the makers of technology and what they do.”

What is the genesis of your project? I read that you started by photographing a number of women with whom you have worked over the years? What was the seed? How has the project expanded?

With Behind the Tech, I had been thinking for a while about how important role models are for us as we imagine what we could be in the future. Role models have always been important to me. Just seeing someone who at some point was like me, who could do something I thought was hard or impossible, always gives me hope that I could do that thing too. For little kids in particular, technology can be this very abstract thing, but showing them that there are folks who look like them, who make the technology that they use, I think is a very powerful thing. But when you think about the people in tech who we celebrate, whose faces are well known, they are interesting, but not representative of the faces actually behind the technology. I wanted to do something that showed the diverse faces, and that shared the diverse stories of the folks who I see on a day-to-day basis trying to make the world a little bit better with technology. And by doing so, I hope that I can help a few people find role models, inspiration, and their own path to a better future.

I started Behind the Tech in July of 2016. I had a free chunk of time for the first time in a decade, and I decided that I was going to start by asking a bunch of folks I knew if they would sit for a portrait for this project. I then asked the AnitaB.org Institute, which runs the Grace Hopper Celebration, if I could set up a temporary portrait studio on the GHC exhibition floor to do some portrait sittings for conference attendees. After that I had a pretty long list of folks to photograph. I contracted with a recent Stanford Classics Ph.D. graduate to help write some of the profiles. Now that we’ve got a bunch of interesting content, we’re starting to try to promote the project a bit.

How did you decide on your lens and lighting choices for this project? Why did you choose to shoot it in black and white? Are there any photographers from whom you got inspiration for those choices? How would you say it differs from your usual shooting choices?

There are a bunch of portrait photographers I admire. Arnold Newman, Peter Lindbergh, and Platon might be my three favorites. I love how Newman was able to use environment in this incredibly graphical way in his portraits. Lindbergh is a genius at getting people to relax, and I love how organic and natural all of his portraits seem. And Platon is my favorite photographer. He uses the face and the human body in such strikingly graphical ways.

I think that a lot of my shooting choices are influenced by these three. I always shoot black and white to accentuate the graphical nature of face and form. I tend to favor lighting and processing that creates contrast, again to try to give portraits a graphical quality. But I also try really hard to capture the subject as they are, not an idea of who they should be, which means no hair and makeup, no major retouching, and spending a lot of time getting the subject comfortable before and during shooting.

These photos were shot with a 120mm macro lens on a Phase One Medium format camera. It’s a brilliantly sharp lens that allows for close focus, and a comfortable space between me and the subject. I had a couple of lighting setups, although I almost always try to shoot with one light. The setup I used most often was an Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa modifier positioned above and angled down toward the subject, just out of the shot.

You are said to speak to your subjects as you photograph them. How much of that is your interest in them as technologists, and how much of that is your way of working as a photographer (making them feel at ease)?

It’s both. I always chat with my subjects as I’m photographing them to try to capture glimpses of their real selves, not a conception of how I think they should look. When I set up I’ll frame the subject, then move out from behind the camera, and chat with them while I’m firing shots with a remote trigger. Every 10 frames or so I’ll recheck framing and focus and continue this way until I think we’re done with whatever conversation that we’re having. Keeping them focused on me rather than the camera has made my portraiture a lot better, IMO. And on top of that, I’m genuinely interested in everyone I photograph. I wouldn’t photograph them if I weren’t interested in learning more about them.

What kind of technical training have you had as a photographer, and what have you taught yourself along the way?

I’ve done some workshops [Ralph Gibson] and online courses over the years, but most of what I’ve learned has been through reading, talking with photographers when I get the chance, looking at a lot of photography and trying to imagine how photographers made the images that I admired, and then a lot of trial and error.

Which documentaries have been influential on you?

In terms of documentaries, the Salgado biopic “Salt of the Earth” was really influential, as was “Finding Vivian Maier,” “Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light,” and “Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens.”

It is interesting that one of your motivations to do “Behind the Tech” is because you wanted to highlight people in technology whom you believe deserve more attention, especially when Platon, of your inspirations, is known for a project like “Power: Portraits of World Leaders.” Platon has said that one of the reasons why he chooses the lighting he does is due to the limits of time he has with his subjects. Similarly, you have had short periods of time with some of your subjects, for instance, when you caught some of them during the Grace Hopper Celebration. Beyond that practical consideration, though, why do you like, what you called the “strikingly graphical” approach of Platon?

I really admire Platon for a bunch of reasons. The portraits themselves are striking: the contrast; the posing; the interesting use of perspective; the things that he does with hands. I’m a big fan of the work that he does with Human Rights Watch and in furtherance of human rights in general. The work that he’s done with Dr. Denis Mukwege and Panzi Hospital in the Congo is heartbreaking and a powerful call to action for all of us.

On lighting, I wonder if Platon’s choices were of necessity in the beginning, and are now his preference because of the simple beauty of single-light setups. In the Netflix documentary of his work, Abstract: The Art of Design, he was shooting a portrait of Colin Powell in his studio in New York City, where he could have used any setup he liked, and was using the same black backdrop and overhead, shoot-through umbrella keylight that he seems to use so often. I definitely feel that affinity with my single-light setup, even when I am in the studio with every tool imaginable at my disposal it’s the thing I most often go to.

Platon and Lindbergh both often seem to work fairly tightly in their portraiture, choosing to focus on face and posture to convey character. Lindbergh backs out sometimes to show some scene, though it often seems to be as a way of accenting the person he is portraying rather than conveying anything thematically. However, you said you also like the way that Arnold Newman uses the environments of his subjects when he portrays them. Any favorite Newman works? And in what ways might we see the influence of Newman’s approach in this project, or in your future work?

Newman’s portrait of Stravinsky at his piano is one of my absolute favorite pieces of art. I don’t know that I’m so much influenced by Newman as inspired by him. I’ve tried to shoot environmental portraits before and can’t even begin to approach his genius in getting subject and environment to reinforce and complement one other. Whenever I try, the background invariably distracts from the individual. But I’m going to keep trying. I love this idea that a portrait can be a bit of a self-contained biography of a subject, and that subject accompanied by environment might make you ask a different set of questions about an image.

Besides your motivation to do this “Behind the Tech” project, how else has your background in technology [Scott is the Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft] informed and colored your choices as a photographer? In what ways, if any, for instance, does it make you a more technically-inclined photographer, and how has that both helped and hindered your photography? You mentioned that you like to shoot subjects whom you like or admire, but how else do you make sure to overcome the “gadget (camera) freak” mentality of some technologists to properly focus on your subjects?

I think that having a background in math and physics and engineering has helped with thinking about the tools and technical bits of photography as a system, and for me at least has made it quick to ramp up on new things and understand how things work. Which is great because honestly I want all of the technical bits to disappear into the background and to be able to focus my attention on the subject. One of the reasons that I do photography is for the conversation with the subject, thinking about a composition, visualizing the image I would like to capture without having my eye at a viewfinder, all of that is like a release from the technical stuff that I do for my day job.

I haven’t always been this zen. Focusing too much on gadgets and gear has definitely been a distraction in the past. I still enjoy the tools of photography. But, I was in a workshop with Ralph Gibson once and just blown away by what he was able to do with a Leica M, a 50mm lens, natural light, and his eye. And if you look at the amazing images that my three photography heroes make, it’s not because they are shooting with peak technology and complex setups. I think that for some folks, perhaps especially techies, it’s hard getting to the point where you understand that you, not your gear, is the most significant factor in making an image. In a way it makes you very vulnerable. But if you can’t get past it, you will always be focused on the wrong thing. (No pun intended.)

Why are you drawn to portraiture?

Among Arnold Newman, Peter Lindbergh, and Platon’s works, are there specific images that stand out for as inspirations and/or for your admiration and why?

Newman’s Stravinsky portraits, his portrait of Kurt Goedel, and the one of Leonard Bernstein I think are really amazing. The Stravinsky and Goedel portraits are spare, beautifully composed, with both of these geniuses sitting with the instrument of their art: Stravinsky at the piano where he would compose; Goedel in front of a literal blank slate where he might prove his next great theorem. The Bernstein portrait begs so many questions. What is Bernstein thinking? He’s perhaps known most for his conducting, but it’s just him, a score, and empty orchestra in the image. Is that a reflection on his disappointment that he wasn’t better known for his work as a composer? It just seems to capture something about Bernstein’s inner conflict that we know from the historical record was a real thing.

I love so much of Peter Lindbergh’s work. His 2017 Pirelli Calendar is really great in my opinion. I’m not a huge fan of the Pirelli Calendar in general, but Lindbergh’s 2017 I think is really powerful, and shows these rare glimpses of these celebrated women with little or no makeup, no retouching, no ridiculous wardrobe. They are just themselves, and for many of them, who have been photographed countless times, these are my favorite portrayals of them in portraiture.

I’ve already talked a bit about Platon, but some of my specific favorite portraits are the one of Willie Nelson hugging his guitar, the one of the mother at the grave of her son, a Muslim-American soldier killed in Iraq, the one of Jon Snowden with the US Flag, and the one of Sylvester Stallone smoking the cigar. The images of the grieving mother and of Snowden with the flag are just extremely well-done images of the juxtaposition of extremely emotional elements, and are obviously intended to provoke a strong emotion in the viewer. The other two are harder to explain, but both in addition to their technical qualities which I think are remarkable, also convey this sense of raw emotion.

 

Cindy Chin Interview

Cindy Chin: Interview

Cindy Chin is CEO and founder of CLC Advisors. Cindy is an advisor to several startups. She is a member of NASA’s 2016 Datanauts class, one of NASA’s Women in Data open innovation program initiatives. She is a former consultant for McKinsey & Company, Coopers & Lybrand, LLC (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) and Strategic Hotels & Resorts.

From when and where does your interest in technology stem?

My interest in technology actually began at home. Both my parents worked in semiconductors and telecommunications. As a child, I got to witness the birth of the Internet and navigate it at its introduction into the marketplace. I remember a time when there were very few web pages, and it’s been exciting to see how technology has grown and the various cycles it has undergone.

Who are your favorite science and science fiction writers, and why?

I used to love C.S. Lewis as a kid. Then I graduated to J.R.R. Tolkien, whose writings are still relevant today. I feel like every time you re-read his books in the context of life experience and different stages of your life, you learn something completely new. Or at least your understanding of life and its placement in time.

I am also a Dan Brown fan. He puts adventure into his fiction, which can sometimes be construed as science fiction because of his use of time in the stories. History, religion, and science are deeply intertwined, and he has a way of writing relevant big human challenges into his narratives.

Again, I want to revisit Douglas Adams, Stephen Hawking, some of Brian Cox‘s books, and a few other scientists. Also, non-scientists, including Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto on Industrial Society and Its Future. He was also known as the Unabomber but apparently he wrote this wild manifesto about the dangers and consequences of technology and mobile phones on the human race, relevant topic matters today. I am not condoning the hurt and actions of what he did to lead to the ending of human life, but understanding the psychology is of great interest. It’s only 33 pages.

Why your interest in space exploration?

Interest in space exploration began when I was a girl—and from the books I read. I used to sketch the schematics of the Space Shuttle, and my Dad and I would have conversations about astronomy, quantum physics and all things related to the universe.

As an adult, the interest and passion was reintroduced by an invitation from NASA during its transition and [the] end of the 35-year Space Shuttle program. I was invited to join NASA Social in the Mojave Desert in Southern California at NASA Armstrong Flight Space Center (known as NASA Dryden at the time) at Edwards Air Force Base on the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavor from Kennedy Space Center to California. It started with that, then the Space Shuttle Atlantis transition at Kennedy Space Center and several other NASA Social events.

Currently, I am a member of the NASA’s open data initiative called NASA Datanauts that operates out of the office of NASA’s CIO [Chief Information Officer.]. The initiative is to encourage the education and exploration of data science through the use of NASA’s 32,000+ open datasets.

How did you become involved in NASA Datanauts, and why do you remain involved?

I learned about the NASA Datanauts after hearing about them during the White House State of Women Summit that First Lady at the time Michelle Obama hosted. I had read about the panel of women in STEM, which included NASA’s Beth Beck, who works out of the NASA CIO’s Office. I thought about the need of women in tech, but in particular data science and coding. My daughter codes at school, and I thought that if I wanted to continue to keep up with her and her education, I should learn coding. She’s a huge inspiration for me.

I recently gave a presentation about the future of space travel with NASA Johnson’s Chief Knowledge Architect David Meza on board a Lufthansa 747 flight [Lufthansa Flying Lab video]. LH405 from JFK to Frankfurt while traveling to the dmexco Conference in Cologne. Giving a talk at 33,000 feet or 10,000 meters up in the air is an experience that I will never forget and even more exciting that it was about space and its digital transformation! [dmexco panel on digital transformation of the space industry  (video) Cindy organized and co-created with German astronaut Dr. Thomas Reiter and David Meza (NASA Johnson. dmexco TV interview (video).]

Which technologies around Big Data most excite you right now and why?

I’m just beginning to learn about all the technology and tools that are available right now. It can be overwhelming to decide where to start, but having an understanding of where your fundamental strengths are is very helpful. For instance, I am a visual person, and photography is one of my passions. So, it would be natural that data visualization or modeling is pretty cool. When you’re working with space data, it’s incredibly inspirational.

Currently, I am learning about repositories like GitHub, coding languages like Python and R, and also data taxonomies and tidy data. They’re all tools to help organize over 32,000 data sets that NASA has opened up, and I am excited to see what people around the world will do with that data. It’s only a subset in learning how to navigate the dataverse, not to mention that sometimes data will “lie” to you, as fellow Datanauts and guru Karen Lopez reminds us, but to really look at where the sources come from. Keywords, or in social media what we would call “hashtags,” are integral in sourcing the data. Now, let’s add Blockchain into the mix and AI—it becomes almost three-dimensional and that is just super cool to me.

Where do you stand on the Elon Musk vs. Mark Zuckerberg divide on the potential benefits and dangers of AI?

The conversations and debate on artificial intelligence are just beginning. We are on the surface of a deep exploration of the cause and effect of AI in technology, and it is a natural progression for there to be contrary or opposing views and debate. It only shows responsibility as leaders in technology.

Personally, I don’t have a position on AI yet, because I am still learning, researching, and acquiring information, but media tends to amplify or exaggerate hot topics to bring it into the news cycle. I have to commend both Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg for participating in the debate and adding to the engagement of others. AI will also be democratized like the Internet.

I do recommend watching this video of Dr. Anastassia Lauterbach in her interview about being a board director and her viewpoints on AI in her upcoming book that will be out later this Fall.

Why was it important to you to go to Juilliard to study piano as an adult student? How has it impacted you professionally as well?

Music has been in my life since a very young age. It’s something that I’ve carried with me coming to the United States as an immigrant and learning how to adapt to my new homeland and expression. I was classically and competitively-trained. I stopped playing when I was 17 years old, and I found that even after I stopped to pursue more scientific and academic pursuits, I missed it. I would listen to music all the time, especially studying for exams. I work best with classical music, and I have had some of the most productive moments and best ideas sitting in on a New York Philharmonic rehearsal.

Studying at Juilliard came to me in the most fascinating of stories. It pretty much involved Daniel Barenboim, The Metropolitan Opera House, High Society patron Mercedes Bass, and The New York Times. It’s a story that’s told much better in person, and I am looking for a venue to give it. At the end, there were placement auditions, I auditioned and got accepted in the intermediate-advanced piano masterclass where we studied Beethoven and Chopin with professor Lisa Kovalik, and it was the most creative, artistic, and rewarding thing I could have done of myself as a young mom. Again, music was there when I needed it.

Juilliard itself has not impacted me professionally in a direct way, but my involvement with music and the performing arts has. The study of music gave me a foundation, fundamental knowledge, and language to describe the importance of the arts to society. It’s simply from my own love of all types of music that has led me to opportunities to serve on steering committees or boards on both coasts and overseas, or the years of training helped to really understand it at the highest levels. That time of service and engagement has opened doors professionally and, more importantly, the ability to leave a legacy in the work and conversations over the years. My daughter’s generation and beyond will benefit from it.

Who are your favorite pianists and piano composers?

My favorite pianists are Vladimir Horowitz, Yefim Bronfman who is incredibly kind and lovely. (I envy his big fingers!), Manny Ax whose equally generous and kind, and Alfred Brendel. But of all, I would wish to see Martha Argerich play Schumann one day.

My favorite piano composers are Mozart, who is like visiting with a childhood friend of mine when I hear his music, the “3 B’”s: Beethoven and his depth, Bach and his structure, and Brahms in his romantic period expressions, Chopin, and Schubert. Rachmaninoff is a beast, but my hands are too small to ever perform his music. And who doesn’t love Tchaikovsky? So many choices, but I also love jazz and pop music too. It’s universal, and it’s in my nature to be curious.

Tell us about the technology entrepreneurs whom you admire most.

Honestly, there are few tech entrepreneurs whom I truly admire. I respect them and their abilities to create and grow a company, but I admire more the scientists who created the foundations in which we can operate our tech. The Internet pioneers, some of whom I know and are friends or colleagues. So I guess Bill and Melinda Gates fall under that category and they’ve moved beyond tech to really make a difference with humanity. They also have true character. Entrepreneurs are people like everyone else. They are not gods. And if the U.S. Air Force decides to take down global GPS, then our smartphones would stop functioning as it is. Let’s just say, I’m grateful that we live in another age of creation and innovation across several sectors, energy, technology and humanity.

Please tell us about CLC Advisors. What kind of companies do you target, and what services do you provide? What would be an ideal client or investment for you?

So what is strategy? It is choosing a unique and valuable position rooted in systems of activities that are more difficult to match in the economic basis of competitive advantage to the level of the specific activities that a company performs. At CLC Advisors, our advisory and strategy consulting practice operates in strategic partnerships and knowledge sharing, we produce case studies, white papers, create bespoke innovation workshops and private salons globally during conference events bringing business and thought leaders together, social media consulting services, and I am often asked to speak at conferences across the globe from Boston to Beijing to Bulgaria.

I look for private investors, VCs, LPs, investment banks or private equity firms who are interested in investing in the global startup ecosystem, and I strategically align them with established entrepreneurs and founding teams of startups who are doing things with frontier technologies with the ability and talent to start, grow and scale great companies, all with a social impact component for the betterment and benefit of humanity. The startup stages are usually pre-seed, who have already raised $500,000 in capital in a “Friends & Family” round to Series B, often who are missing business management experience and need the expertise to bring them to the next level. Many startups lack the longer-term view on strategic growth and the ability to execute on business plans. That’s where we step in, and we also hold a board position as well.

The verticals that I operate in are under the Smart Cities umbrella, which can touch upon sustainability, green tech, energy, IoT and Big Data, as well as aerospace and aviation. Imagine, what would it take to get to Mars and then to survive on it? Can any of those things be done here on our own planet? There are a lot of big problems to solve before we get there, and thanks to Elon Musk—he is really driving new markets and another wave of entrepreneurship on a completely different level.

Lastly, diversity is a key criteria that I also look for. If there are no women or minorities in the company, I will pass on the startup or investor unless they demonstrate an earnest desire to change that ratio.

An ideal client is a private investor, group of investors, or VC who is interested in this space and who does not yet have the sector expert knowledge on what to look for. Many corporate VCs have entered into the venture capital realm and have a long runway time to learn, observe and research in the markets. I’ve been in this for years now and have spent the time in researching which geographical locations are working on these frontier technologies and are ahead of the rest. I hope to release a case study or white paper for clients on this soon.

Sally Mann on the Thrill of Photography

In her memoir Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs“>Hold Still, Sally Mann writes about the thrill she gets from photography.

There is nothing better than the thrill of holding a great negative, wet with fixer, up to the light. And here’s the important thing: it doesn’t even have to be a great negative. You get the same thrill with any negative, with art, as someone once said, most of what you have to do is show up. The hardest part is setting the camera on the tripod, or making the decision to bring the camera out of the car, or just raising the camera to your face, believing,  by those actions, that whatever you find before you, whatever you find there, is going to be good.

And, when you get whatever you get, even if it’s a fluky product of that slipping-glimpser vision that de Konning celebrated, you have made something. Maybe you’ve made something mediocre–there’s plenty of that in any artist’s cabinets–but something mediocre is better than nothing, and often the near misses, as I call them, are the beckoning hands that bring you to perfection just around the blind corner.

U-Ram Choe’s kinetic sculptures

Juxtapoz features Korean artist U-Ram Choe, who creates extraordinary kinetic sculptures, “charting a path between art, science and cybernetic technologies.  Finely engineered stainless steel, aluminium, and acrylic ‘bones’ provide the skeletal scaffolding for the ‘brains and muscles’ – CPUs and motors – which are assembled into captivating forms reminiscent of otherworldly flora and fauna.” (Hat tip: Gizmodo.)

Anna Karenina, Found in Translation

Masha Gessen reviews two new translations of Leo Tolstoy’s literary classic Anna Karenina for The New York Times Book Review.

This is an exercise millions of native Russian readers of the novel perform several times in a lifetime. Teenage girls read the novel as melodramatic; adult readers of both genders begin to perceive irony — its amount seems to vary from reading to reading. The author’s sympathies, too, invariably appear to shift between characters with every reading; this, combined with ironic distance that is always contracting and expanding, makes the book endlessly rich — and endlessly difficult for the translator, who can never hope to keep pace with the author. How earnest, ironic, condescending, moralistic and simply funny a Tolstoy should the translator inhabit? Perhaps the only way to render Tolstoy’s variable voice is to continue producing ever-varying translations.

Mario Testino: your camera phone is good enough

The New York Times asked fashion photographer Mario Testino what camera he uses for personal shots when he travels.

NYT: What advice do you have for travelers who want to make sure they get the best pictures from their trip? Are good shots about having the right camera?

Mario Testino: You don’t need a fancy camera to be able to capture anything. The one on your phone is good enough; that’s what I use when I’m not working. Getting the right pictures is about opening your eyes to see what’s magical about a place. I just photographed the city from a window on this floor and saw all these buildings lit in a beautiful way, which is so New York. But the magic is different depending on where you are. It could be the people, the landscape, the animals or even the candle in the room. You just have to be curious, and you’ll find it.