Category Archives: Artificial Intelligence

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.


Fiction and Wide Variability

In the preface to Artificial Intelligence and Literary Creativity: Inside the Mind of BRUTUS, a Story-Telling Machine, Selmer Bringsjord and David Ferrucci argue that a good story, whether generated by man or machine, needs "wide variability."

There are many dimensions over which a story can vary. Plot is only one of them. Characters, settings, literary themes, writing style, imagery, etc.–these are other dimensions, and there are many more. Generally speaking, belleteristic fiction has very wide variability across these dimensions. Mark Helprin’s latest novel is likely to have a rather unpredictable plot traversed by rather unpredictable characters in rather unpredictable settings tossed by unpredictable mixtures of  love, revenge, jealousy, betrayal, and so on, as reported in prose with a cadence and clarity rarely seen. One of the chief effects of it all is to conjure unforgettable images in the reader’s mind. (One of us is haunted weekly by the image of the lost gold in Helprin’s Memoir from Antproof Case.) At the other end of the spectrum fall formulaic fiction and film; here the variability is narrow. Some romance novels, for example, fail to offer wide variability of plot and characterization: It’s the same character types time and time again, dancing hot and heavy to the same choreography. If Brutus^n, some refined descendant of Brutus^1, is soon to find employment at the expense of a human writer, in all likelihood it will be as an author of formulaic romance and mystery.)

The preface is available as a pdf file on Bringjord’s web site.

Search and the Need for Editors

More commentary on why we are going to continue needing human intercession in the parsing of information.  Peter Norvig, Director of Quality Seach at Google, speaks on the problem of how to ensure proper "tagging" of information.

One challenge is ensuring consistency, even in seemingly minor issues on spelling, style (for instance, how names are written and presented), "correct" transliteration from one alphabet to another and the "proper" handling of abbreviations. Any one trained at the grindstone of a newspaper know how such style, grammar and spelling rules are knocked into heads. Not everything published on the Web goes through that same vetting process.

Somebody’s got to do that kind of canonicalization. So the problem of understanding content hasn’t gone away; it’s just been forced down to smaller pieces between angle brackets. […]

Another, is battling intentional deception on the part of some people tagging the information on the Internet.

The last issue is the spam issue. When you’re in the lab and you’re defining your ontology, everything looks nice and neat. But then you unleash it on the world, and you find out how devious some people are. What this indicates is, one, we’ve got a lot of work to do to deal with
this kind of thing, but also you can’t trust the metadata. You can’t
trust what people are going to say. In general, search engines have
turned away from metadata, and they try to hone in more on what’s
exactly perceivable to the user. For the most part we throw away the
meta tags, unless there’s a good reason to believe them, because they
tend to be more deceptive than they are helpful. And the more there’s a
marketplace in which people can make money off of this deception, the
more it’s going to happen. Humans are very good at detecting this kind
of spam, and machines aren’t necessarily that good. So if more of the
information flows between machines, this is something you’re going to
have to look out for more and more.

Hold that Grammar: Rules and Expression

Posting Philip Pullman’s recent column on the Zoetrope discussion boards seems to have stirred debate on grammar and its proper role in both creative expression and the teaching of language. Where do rules help expression, and where do they hinder it? Along these lines, I have been following Clay Shirky’s discussion on "tagging" (and other ways of classifying and ranking the reliability of text and images) with interest, especially his entries in which he debates "top-down" versus "bottom-up" hierarchies. In a recent entry, he talks about language as an emergent system. He mentions John Marks, who writes:

Human languages are spontaneous
orders which have many important similarities with science – particularly if we
accept the view of science as a redescription of the world. Natural languages
are not designed; they are the products mainly of evolutionary rather than
constructive rationalism. The artificial languages for which this is not true –
mathematical and computer languages – are special cases, which lack many of the
essential characteristics of natural languages.

Languages deal with and describe the natural world, a world which is so complex that any individual
attempt to describe it, and make sense of it, can only capture part of it. In
order to survive, each individual must make some sense of his environment, most
fundamentally by acquiring a language. But the language of each individual (his
idiolect) only functions effectively if it forms part of a wider structure such
as the language of a group, a region or a nation. So our languages are complex
decentralised mechanisms for transmitting information. And we use them
confidently without much explicit understanding of their structure or of how
they develop. A framework of rules governs the forms which natural languages
take. But these rules are concerned with the structure rather than the content
of what we say.

To John’s point about structure versus content: I recently read McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy, which argues that grammar and spelling did not become "important" until the advent of movable type, largely because they helped replicability. Prior to that–in the "manuscript" age, writers were a lot more "flexible" in their writing so that they could explore different meanings. It’s no surprise that McLuhan was a huge fan of James Joyce, who exploded some of these conventional notions about how the writer and reader interacted. (Reading McLuhan has given me newfound appreciation for Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake).

I agree with Philip Pullman. I think too many teachers over-emphasize doctrinaire writing over creative expression. It’s important to teach grammar and spelling, too, of course, since for better or worse, they are the mark of an "educated" person, but too much grinding of the rules also results in stilted expression.

Fellow Zoer Kirsten Snipp gives her perspective as an ESL (English as Second Language) teacher.

I don’t think that most people would argue with the general idea that
the basics are necessary for survival in society. The perfect example
of this comes from McLuhan as you pointed out. The more systematized a
system becomes, the more necessary it is to follow the system in order
to be generally understood by others using that same system. In other
words, it isn’t that creativity isn’t important, but before quantum
physics, there’s balancing a checkbook. Still, as Pullman points out, a teacher’s slavish adherence to
(grammatical) structures can be destructive. I pointed to studies which
show (red pen marks crossing out bad grammar) don’t even do anything to
improve bad grammar in the first place. (Though to be fair, I’m talking
from my experience about second language writing.)


BUT it seems a little bell-the-cat-ish. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in
this thread, the biggest question for me as a teacher is HOW to do
that, given the constraints inherent in most classroom situations. AND
– even if you can achieve that goal (which I think I manage to do
sometimes in a few wonderful transcendent moments every now and
then;-)) how do you further protect that budding creative voice from
the RULES, e.g. ‘don’t use passive voice,’ ‘first person narratives are
amateurish,’ even when these structures are used grammatically?

I asked Kirsten whether she thought Asian students tended to be more rules-based (given how the education system has evolved). She said it rankles her when people complain about how the grammar of the ESL students is "atrocious."

The students DO know the grammar. They do, do, do, DO KNOW
the grammar. The problem is, they aren’t taught how to apply it to
their own writing, nor are they taught a systematic approach for
analyzing their own written productions. They simply spew and the
teacher is meant to pick through the gunk for undigested grains […]. There simply
isn’t any level of evaluation on content, because the reining idea
seems to me to be – don’t bother to even THINK about content until the
form is perfect. If that isn’t a life-sapping method for approaching
anything, let alone writing, I don’t know what is.

When I taught classes in Beijing, I found that my students really craved grammatical rules, as if that were the secret to communicating in English. Thinking too much about grammar (and spelling) too early can get in the way of communicating, however. My father’s grammar is probably much better than my Mom’s (certainly his written English is better), but my Mother is the extrovert of the two and fearless about speaking to people. It’s interesting to me that many people thus consider my Mom’s English "better." Additionally, a lot of Taiwanese I know have decent written English skills, but have trouble communicating via spoken English (even though as I talk to them more, I realize their vocabulary is reasonably extensive. English teaching in Taiwan has traditionally focused on written and rules-based English, though, and very little on the colloquial). Another thing I noted is how some people change personalities as they shift from language to language. I used to have students who were confident and talkative in their native language, who would become shy and quiet as they shifted into English or another foreign language. Again, another real-life example of how people change given the context. How then does language affect place within the network hierarchies that Clay and others have been analyzing?

Translating Photography, Part III

Another part of the dialogue between J.S. Oppenheim and me on the cultural and technological barriers that keep still photography from being more easily “translatable.”

J.S. Oppenheim:
Without question, the interpretive engine for all that we experience, music included, is the verbal part of language. In college academics, “comparative literature” has been around formally for more than half a century and pursued without being so defined from the moment the first scholar translated an ancient text to a modern language (or the first time a war chief intercepted a message from the enemy camp with the strange language).  At this juncture, it sounds like the field — Eastern semiotics with a branch in photography — is wide open for The English, lol,  at the primary level and ready for translation at the secondary.  I can pull one or two volumes by, for example, writer Yasunari Kawabata from my shelves: why shouldn’t I similarly see the works of Japanese photographers and others on the shelves at Barnes & Noble? I look forward to the day when the world that is becomes the world fully represented on my shelves. The double fate of English fits its people’s political predicament: how to have a dominant distributed tool or two without in fact dominating the diverse language cultures that access them for discourse, diplomacy, and trade.In that XP OS accommodates diverse language platforms, I suspect the search engines able to respond in kind and possibly in response to traffic. However, the greatest suspension of disbelief in the Star Trek shows so popular in the U.S. has been always the convenience of having other species speak English (and enjoying too the tools called “universal translators” that could find equivalence from any grammatical signal from any source in the infinitely multidimensional universe). In reality, it’s a tortuous issue with so much of every culture’s identity and value expressed through its language. We want a world better fit together.  While part of that may entail working through or sharing a common and expedient language–without evidence to the contrary, I believe it is indeed English–we do not want it to have the one outlook, political system, religious faith, or aesthetic drift imbedded in that language.

We are still far from perfect language translators, but they have come a long way. I marvel at what translation engines such as those on Google allow you to do, for instance: you can read through many European-language newspapers and get the gist of the articles. The stumbling block, of course, is that language is living and breathing:
ever changing as we invent new uses for existing words, incorporate slang and import words from other languages. Words, like people, change with context and time. Translation engines don’t yet cut it, because the AI behind them work on fixed meaning and context. (You get the gist, but grammar and nuance are garbled.) Because of those
challenges, we will continue to see friction in our lingual, textual–and it seems visual border crossings.

(I just finished reading Marshall McLuhan’s The Gutenbery Galaxy, and one of his themes is that the invention of movable type pushed us into nationalism as language became more easily homogenized (repeatable). Readers and writers–and governments–came to demand standardization. Grammar and spelling became doctrinaire, where they used to change quite flexibly to suit the meaning the writer was trying to convey. The
book gave me newfound respect for James Joyce’s experiments in works like Ulysses. So I guess good literature gets us to think differently, and good photography gets us to see differently?)

What will get us to view images (and text) more readily across such lingual and textual boundaries, I think, is the serendipity that the Internet brings as it pulls us into contact with people who are able to navigate borders with which we would otherwise be unfamiliar.

[See also Translating Photography, Part I] and Translating Photography, Part I.]

Blink and See the Wisdom of Crowds

Ross Mayfield points us to an article that appeared last week in Slate: a conversation" between Malcolm Gladwell and James Surowiecki.

Gladwell about his book Blink,
which posits that snap decisions are better than carefully considered
judgements.  Especially when made by experts who have developed a muscle memory of the brain.  […] Gladwell’s theories seemed to run counter to those of another popular book these days, The Wisdom of Crowds
by James Surowiecki, which holds that group decisions are better than
those of individual experts.  But not only are these two views
complimentary, Surowiecki and Gladwell are having an open conversation about it this week.

In his post, Ross goes on to talk about how emergent intelligence can be made more effective as the presence of strong (and weak) ties create connections that more closely resemble "muscle memory." (For those who are interested, Jeff Hawkin’s new book On Intelligence nicely summarizes a lot of current thought on the brain–and his thoughts on where artificial intelligence is headed.) That is a line of thought that I have been planning on further exploring when it comes to new media connections.

10,000 Monkeys Typing

How soon will it be before computers can write novels? In "Computers as Authors? Literary Luddites Unite!" (NYT) Daniel Akst says that "They are perfectly capable of nonfiction prose, and while the reputation of Henry James is not yet threatened, computers can even generate brief outbursts of fiction that are probably superior to what many humans could turn out – even those not in master of fine arts programs."

Fortunately, flesh-and-blood writers are nowhere near having to hang up their turtlenecks. When I called Steven Pinker, the Harvard University psychologist whose research focuses on language and cognition, he pointed out that the human brain consists of 100 trillion synapses that are subjected to a lifetime of real-world experience. While it is conceivable that computers will eventually write novels, Dr. Pinker says, "I doubt they’d be very good novels by human standards."

Computers are just as subject as humans to Simon’s "bounded rationality." Computers cannot create narratives by using brute computational force to mindlessly try every alternative. It may be fun to think that 10,000 monkeys typing for 10,000 years will sooner or later randomly produce "Paradise Lost," but evidently this is no more plausible for silicon than simians. Computers don’t even play chess this way, Dr. Pinker told me, having noted elsewhere that the number of possible sentences of 20 words or less that the average person can understand is perhaps a hundred million trillion, or many times the number of seconds since the universe was born. "The possibilities boggle the mind very quickly," he says.

The article mentions Selmer Bringsjord and David Ferrucci’s Brutus 1 project (check out their paper "Artificial Intelligence and Literary Creativity" [pdf]) and Charles Callaway and James Lester’s StoryBook, a "narrative prose generator" (see these papers on natural language generation).