Our Lady, Waffles and Cake

According to my Mum, I was due already in February. However, there was no doctor around when the labour started why the nurses gave her some sedatives to slow it down. Not only did it slow down but it stopped completely why they send her back home. After a month she called them and asked if they perhaps should do something about it. While they were thinking about what to do, the situation suddenly got serious and in the end they had to make an unplanned caesarean. Obviously, both mother and child survived but I'm a bit sad that I caused her so much trouble. I think that few mothers would like to go an extra month.

It's a mixed blessing to have March 25 as your birthday. In Sweden it coincides with the celebration of the Waffle Day. The story goes that the Swedish term "våffeldagen" sounds like "vårfrudagen" which is the equivalent of "Our Lady's Day". Not only is this day nine months after Midsummer, it is also nine months before Christmas. It should be noted that Swedish waffles (often soggy and shaped like hearts) do not look like Belgian ones (crisp squares) and should be eaten with whipped cream and jam made by raspberries, blueberries and/or strawberries.
I've always been envious of my sister who was born in July (and some years ago she got the best birthday present ever, namely her son David but that's another story). It's much easier to have a birthday party in summer. So this year I've decided that I'll have that too. Well, perhaps not so much a party as a traditional Swedish "fika", with coffee and tea, biscuits and cake. I've booked the clubhouse Finnsjögården in Mölnlycke Sunday August 21 and hope for a warm and sunny afternoon. Bring your walking/running shoes and swimsuit and I'll provide you with some energy to use them. Send me an email to let me know you're coming. Welcome!
From Mölnlycke Winter 2016
This photo was taken at Finnsjön. Let's hope the snow will be gone by August!


Deep Learning

When I was a PhD student in Educational Research, one of the most important pedagogical concepts imprinted on us (for both theoretical and practical reasons) was the notion of "deep learning". This concept was developed by professors Marton and Säljö in the late 70-ies and I believe it's spread among at least Swedish teachers. They noticed two different approaches to learning among students: those who adopted a "deep" approach to learning and engaged in an active search for meaning, and those who choosed a "surface" approach focusing on memorizing the parts of the material they thought they might be questioned about later.

The Wikipedia entry for deep learning leads to the more recent concept of a certain part of a broader family of machine learning methods based on learning representations of data. The approach is founded on going through heaps of data, through using multiple levels of representations in order to find patterns. This is very far from the pedagogical concept, why it makes me a bit confused.

What the two uses have in common is the association with depth as a positive aspect when it comes to learning. To have a deep knowledge of something is often considered good, even if it sometimes can lead to you becoming a nerd. However, very few people I know would like to be considered as shallow.
From Berlin 2015
Some consider "deep learning" to be nothing more than a re-branding of neural networksWired stated that 2015 was the year when Artifical Intelligence finally entered the everyday world, pointing at examples such as Facebook’s face recognition, Microsoft’s Skype translation, Google’s Android voice recognition and improvement of it's search engine, and Twitter's pornography identification (to give the users a chance to block it).

The hype was reinforced by Google going on a shopping spree buying the London-based DeepMind and the Oxford University spin-off companies Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory in 2014. It's collection of many machine learning researchers made several people raise their eybrows, among them Antonio Regalado, senior editor for biomedicine for MIT Technology Review:

"Certainly, large companies wouldn’t be spending so heavily to monopolize talent in artificial intelligence unless they believed that these computer brains will give them a powerful edge. It may sound like a movie plot, but perhaps it’s even time to wonder what the first company in possession of a true AI would do with the power that it provided." 

At least one prominent researcher has kept a foot in academia: Yann LeCun. He is the head of the Artificial Intelligence Research Lab at Facebook and professor at New York University. He takes his role as “public intellectual” seriously and often speak about his work, as in this interview for the IEEE Spectrum journal. 

What might become a nice combination of the two uses of "deep learning" is the recent development when it comes to open source in this area. Google has provided access to the software engine that drives its deep learning services and Facebook has open sourced designs for the custom-built hardware server that drives its deep learning work. Elon Musk has launched the nonprofit initiative OpenAI.

Google is also offering a free online class about deep learning. It would of course be interesting to see what kind of learning approach the students take on that subject and what kind of teaching approach is used.

Meanwhile the debate is still ongoing regarding to what extent machine learning should try to mimic human learning and if it's possible to make computers truly understand human language. Well, since it's not obvious if we humans understand anything at all or each other, it may take a while.
From Berlin 2015


A Short Story About Long Reads

I'm the first person to admit that my PhD thesis was way too long. I've not met one single person who has read it in total (including the evaluation committee and my supervisor) with the possible exception of my very thorough opponent Professor Mike Spector.

Already robots are creating short pieces for newspapers. An article from The Guardian in 2014 lists quite a number of various softwares providing this kind of service such as Quill, WordsmithYseop and Labsense. With journalists being laid off (as a result of the difficulty of finding good business models handling free journals and the online generation) it's no wonder the future for in-depth material looks glum.
From Stråvalla 2015
However, it seems to me that the material the robots provide is focusing on well-structured settings such as reporting on sports, ratings, finance and so on. It would be rather fun to create software that takes annual reports from companies and cut through the corporate bullshit and presents the material in a way that makes sense and really spells out what's going on. Another application would be software that checks what politicians say and compares it to what they claimed some years ago, especially the difference between pre and post election statements. Perhaps another area would be gossip reporting from events such the Academy Awards (congratulations Alicia Vikander!). I shouldn't have given up my career in computational linguistics...

As an antidote it good to see that websites focusing on collecting and distributing in-depth material is on the rise. One of them is Longreads and another one is Longform. Here you can find new material such as "Life and Death in the App Store", but also old classics like Harper Lee's first article "Love - In Other Words" from 1961. However, wouldn't it be just cynical if the compilation of the long reads was made by a robot!?! Of course, you could argue that editing is a dirty, dull and dangerous job.

However, in our stressed-out world with activity-based offices and time to read only on the bus and using your smartphone, how can we submerge ourselves in a long read? Maybe this new kind of café is the answer, where you are not allowed to speak. I wonder if we'll get something like that at Chalmers, now that our new President has declared that all new offices will have an activity-based design.
From Copenhagen 2015


Friends and Photos

The photo competition is over for this year and the winner is Anette Carlsson! Congratulations! She voted for the picture of me standing in a field of wheat on the island Ven, which also was the one that most people liked.

From Photo Competition 2015
My mother took the photo and I must point out that I didn't damage any of the crops, since I stepped in the tractor tracks. When we biked around the island, I saw this opportunity for a shot a bit similar to the Gladiator movie when Maximus dreams about his home in Spain. However, I don't claim any other similarities between Russell Crowe and me. Unless you count a love for Australia. The country, not the movie, although I like that too but I don't know about him. That is, I don't know if he likes the film. I like him though. And Hugh Jackman.

I'm very grateful for my friends all over the world and all the fun things we've done together: skiing, going for walks and to the beach, camping, dinners, canoeing, traveling, visiting museums and gardens, singing, playing volleyball, and much more. I wish I had more photos from such occasions! Here is one at least from the walk at Billingen last year with my Mum and Anette.
From Easter 2015
It's rather popular to tag your friends in Facebook but you might want to be careful. Automatic face recognition software is not only becoming more sophisticated, but also more common (cheap). Facebook and Google are at the forefront. Casinos, airports and the police have been using it for a while, next it catches your shopping spree. Even if it would be nice to get more photos of me together with my friends using this kind of technology, I'm not prepared to give up that much privacy. What do you think?