Thursday, December 22, 2016

The new frontiers of Virtual Reality

The new frontiers of virtual reality

Virtual reality can change the way individuals and groups interact, and for those interested in experiencing and sharing its powerful benefits

Virtual reality opens the avenues to experience places and time periods otherwise inaccessible to an individual.
Virtual reality (VR) has entered its golden age and now has the potential to help people experience episodes and incidences, across time periods, from a uniquely first-person perspective. While VR continues to make its mark on entertainment, it has immense potential to allow people to experience something ground-breaking. It equips people to experience being in two realities at once, making ‘duality of presence’—being present in two ‘worlds’ at once—a possibility. This extrapolation of VR into reality has an extraordinary potential to create greater empathy, understanding, compassion, and connection to the ‘real world’.
Virtual reality has the capability to make one feel, and the power to make one ‘know’. By immersing in a ‘real’ experience, VR provides a perspective from prime sources and acts as a representation of the real world. It has the potential to positively impact sectors such as healthcare, media and bring immersive experiences to life.
Immersive healing
High-resolution imaging and detection technologies help enable precise, swift, and timely diagnosis, can limit the number of invasive procedures, and support preventive care. As an example, VR is currently being used to help patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Utilizing Bravemind, a clinical, interactive, virtual reality-based exposure therapy tool, an immersive and realistic virtual environment as well as unique interactive scenarios can be recreated. These enable a full-body experience to help normalize the patients’ experiences, thus fast-forwarding the therapy in some cases by as much as two to three years.
Immersive discoveries
VR opens the avenues to experience places and time periods otherwise inaccessible to an individual. This feeds into man’s desire for continuous discovery of the earth, ocean and even the stars. One such example of this is the creation of Cry Out: The Lonely Whale Experience, an underwater VR expedition. It takes the viewer into the depths of the sea where they can witness the underwater life and how pollution has disrupted and injured the delicate ecosystems that create our oceans. This experience educates individuals about the implication of a mere ordinary act on climate change.
Immersive action
VR has also made an impact on journalism, bringing stories closer to life for viewers. With video content fast becoming one of the most popular modes of consumption, many media houses are significantly investing in platforms which enable a video-first content approach. With a firm foundation of traditional journalism, experiences are designed which offer viewers a fully embodied walk-around technology. This offers a virtual but “first-hand” sensation of being an actual witness as a story unfolds.
Many media houses internationally have already ventured into virtual journalism and have produced numerous VR documentaries. With the rapid technological advancements in India, VR stands at the cusp of altering storytelling forever. Indian documentaries such as Cost of Coal (India’s first documentary in VR) and Displaced, planned for release in 2016, are indicative of the potential in the technology.
What’s next?
VR can fundamentally change the way individuals, groups and organizations interact, and for those interested in experiencing and sharing its powerful benefits, it offers an exceptional opportunity, perhaps unlike any other medium. To realise the full potential of VR, pioneering VR headsets and VR-capable hardware and software are required. This is only possible through the partnerships and vision of companies and organizations that bring the most cutting-edge technology to this virtual table. And that’s the reality.
Roy Taylor is corporate vice president of alliances, Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
 

MS MARCO teaches AI to answer questions like humans


Source: Daily News & Analysis dated December 19, 2016

Microsoft releases MS MARCO dataset to train AI systems

Microsoft releases MS MARCO dataset to train AI systems

ranganmajumder
Microsoft Corp. has made yet another big bet in its quest to help lead the development of artificial intelligence with the release of a new dataset containing 100,000 questions and answers.
Called MS MARCO, or Microsoft Machine Reading Comprehension, the dataset is being made available for researchers wishing to train their AI systems. The company says the anonymized data is based on real-world queries typed into its Bing search engine, and that the aim is to make AIs better able to understand questions in a conversational context than they are now.
Microsoft explains that while virtual assistants like Cortana and Siri are already quite adept at reciting facts and figures like the population of certain cities or previous World Series winners, they’re not quite so comfortable with more complex or ambiguous questions. For example, if someone asks Siri what’s the current state of the war in Syria, most virtual assistants will simply provide search engine results that the user then has to comb through to find the answer.
That simply isn’t good enough for Microsoft, which believes its dataset can be used by virtual assistants to provide more definitive answers to such questions. The idea is that instead of simply providing a page of search query results, AIs might be able to analyze those results themselves and come up with an actual answer to the question.
“In order to move toward artificial general intelligence, we need to take a step toward being able to read a document and understand it as well as a person,” said Rangan Majumder (above), a partner group program manager with Microsoft’s Bing search engine division who is leading the effort. “This is a step in that direction.”
Microsoft said the MS MARCO dataset contains questions that its researchers found “interesting.” The answers were based on existing web pages and verified to be accurate by real humans, so as to try and teach AIs to do the same thing themselves. Microsoft said the dataset is available for researchers for free.
The release of MS MARCO came at the end of a busy week on the AI front for Microsoft. Last Monday, the company made headlines with the announcement of a new fund for AI startups, which has already taken a startup called Element AI under its wing. Element AI, is based in Montreal, is working to build commercial-grade AI systems and support the work of local startups trying to apply neural networks in new fields.
Also last week, Microsoft announced a preview of the Cortana Skills Kit and Devices SDK, which are designed for manufacturers that want to integrate Cortana into various smart hardware devices, from cars to home appliances.
With the Cortana Devices SDK, Microsoft is hoping to take on Amazon.com, Inc.’s Alexa-powered Dot and Echo devices, and also Google Inc’s smart home speaker Google Home. To do so, Microsoft is collaborating with Harman Kardon, a brand under Harman International Industries Inc., to create an Amazon Echo-like device that’s integrated with Cortana’s AI capabilities.

Source: http://siliconangle.com/blog/2016/12/18/microsoft-releases-ms-marco-dataset-train-ai-systems/

Android App Lets Visually Impaired in India Listen to Texts in Native Languages

Carnegie Mellon and Hear2Read Make Free Software Available

A visually impaired boy in India uses open-source software developed by CMU and the Hear2Read project that converts electronic text written in Indian languages into messages he can hear.
BY Byron Spice - Thu, 2016-08-04 09:30  Printer-friendly version
Millions of visually impaired people in India may benefit from free, open-source software for Android devices that converts electronic text written in Indian languages into messages they can hear.
The text-to-speech (TTS) software, developed by Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with the Hear2Read project, can now be downloaded free of charge from Google Play. Tamil is the first language offered, with subsequent releases of seven major languages — Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, Punjabi and Telugu — expected over the remainder of the year.
Four out of five people in India speak one of those eight languages. India has 22 official languages in all. More than 62 million Indians are visually impaired.
"We're looking to create speech output for as many languages as possible," said Suresh Bazaj, a serial entrepreneur in the San Francisco Bay area and founder of Hear2Read.
TTS software is commonplace in the United States and many parts of the world, but Bazaj said good quality TTS for Indian languages is difficult to find, difficult to use or unaffordable. Yet the need is great — only 10 percent of blind children in India get any education, and 90 percent of visually impaired Indians live in poverty.
"Making it available as free, open-source software thus was a key goal," said Alan Black, a professor in the School of Computer Science's Language Technologies Institute (LTI). "People should be able to download this and it should just work. We put a lot of effort into making this accessible and easy to use."
Bazaj met Black, a scientist internationally known for his work in speech synthesis, through Alok Parlikar, a former student of Black's, two years ago and recruited him to the project. While the LTI had a wealth of knowledge and tools for creating TTS software, the Hear2Read project inspired Black and his students to develop a system for doing so repeatedly, efficiently and for producing user-friendly software.
"Each language is different, and historically TTS systems have been done one at a time," Bazaj said. "We looked at commonalities of Indian languages and developed tools to apply the same technology to multiple languages."
The system developed by Black's research team enables creation of a baseline TTS system after recording 2–3 hours of clear, consistent speech from a native speaker. The open-source text read by the speaker comes from various sources such as Wikisource, books and periodicals. (Check out the video below.)
Though the machine learning process used to create voice databases requires large-scale computing, the resulting database for each language is relatively small and can run on low-end Android phones or tablets that retail for less than $100 (7,000 Indian rupees). That cost threshold is within guidelines established by the Government of India's Assistance for Disabled Persons program, which helps people with disabilities purchase assistive devices based on income.
The conversion from text to speech is done in real-time without internet access, as most people in India either do not have continuous internet access or cannot afford it.
The Hear2Read app works with the Android Talkback accessibility option that allows people with low vision to use applications such as web browsers, email, SMS (texting), phone calls, word processors, spreadsheets and book readers.
For Bazaj, this project has personal meaning. He has had retinal detachments in both eyes that were successfully repaired. He was fortunate to have access to excellent medical care, which is not the case for most people in India. He believes the ability to read is directly related to a good quality of life, and so his mission began.
"Like any startup, I jumped into it not knowing how deep the pool was," Bazaj recalled. After meeting Black, he began supporting a CMU student to develop TTS for Indian languages. In addition, he has recruited more than 50 native Indian speaking volunteers based in the United States and India.
"This project couldn't have been accomplished without the dedication and support  provided by our selfless volunteers," Bazaj said. The San Francisco Bay Area non-profits Access Braille and Indians for Collective Action have provided funding to support the project.
###
Carnegie Mellon University is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 13,000 students in the university's seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation.
Hear2Read is a volunteer organization dedicated to bridging the digital divide for blind and low-vision Indic language populations. Our mission is to open doors to all education, employment and business opportunities for the visually challenged.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uy2iGCwmgbw&feature=youtu.be

Source: http://www.hear2read.org/press.php

For More Information: 
Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 | bspice@cs.cmu.edu

Teachers are backbone of our society: Dev Lahiri

According to data tabled in the Lok Sabha by the Human Resources Development Minister on December 5, 2016, 18 per cent positions of teachers in government-run primary schools and 15 per cent in secondary schools are vacant nationwide. Educationist Dev Lahiri talks about whats plaguing the system.

What’s the biggest problem our education system is facing?

Our teachers. It’s the last choice for most, for various reasons. They just want to get the job done with and make money from tuitions. Most teachers have very little connect with students and don’t know, for instance, how to keep them engaged on days they are ‘switched off’ and don’t want to know Maths or Science. Good teachers link curriculum to life in a very imaginative way.

How do we get the right kind of people on board?

We need to put out the message strongly that teachers are the backbone of society. Thanks to the Nehruvian ethos, right after independence the emphasis was on engineering and medicine, then as corporate world took over, MBA became big, then IT and finance. But school teaching was never given priority, and so even today we don’t have a single teacher-training institution with the brand equity of an IIT or IIM. We need to make teaching a prestigious, well-paying, aspirational profession and have an elite examination like IAS for it. Teachers must be held accountable with stringent assessment and accordingly promoted. Pride (with substance) needs to be built into the profession. In Finland to become a good teacher is like getting into an IIT!

You’ve worked with several schools. Do you see a flaw in the mindset?

Schools are obsessed with certifications and not education. The system itself is flawed. Students have to choose between Commerce, Science and Arts as early as Class 9. At that level you should be able to do physics and Shakespeare, music and Maths, Humanities, Sociology and Political Science, and understand the connection between all diciplines. The US offers this even at university level. Our system is repressive. CBSE has a range of wonderful subjects, but it’s so difficult to find teachers, especially for the Humanities, because it has no tuition market. The Humanities are largely scoffed at and we (the nation) are paying a heavy price for it.

Wouldn’t it be better at boarding schools?

Boarding schools have a great opportunity for non-curricular activities, value building and citizenship and it does wonders to kids. But they too are facing competition from the tuition market. Post Class 10, parents want to remove their kids and get them seriously involved in professional exams. Therefore, some boarding schools have started outsourcing that part to tuition academies. Ironically, that’s pushing corporates to take employees for group and outdoor activities to develop their leadership skills and out of the box thinking.

No board seems to be doing well, including the once-prestigious ICSE. What’s the reason?

CBSE is constantly working towards upgrading and the NCERT’s doing good research for text books. But there’s no support and there’s a lot of heterogeneous activity thanks to our numbers. Moreover, it often becomes a political tool in the hand of governments; it should be neutral. As for ICSE, it’s become the preserve of a very small community that in the past gave us amazing teachers, but has no new thinking going on today thanks to brain drain. State boards are the greatest concern, 80% in some states is equivalent to 40% in others.

Is there any attempt to standardise scores with mechanisms like GPA?

No, but there should be. The focus is entirely on higher education; no one talks about schools even though they preparing you for it.

And what about contemporary issues pertaining to students?

Bullying is a big problem, but heads try to push all issues under the carpet, increasing the danger. We need honest dialogue between all stakeholders on substance abuse, atheism and gender issues, but our schools have no place for it. Hence, even today, in co-ed schools, when girls make requests regarding their periods, a titter goes around the class and ill-equipped, embarrassed male teachers end up tackling it ham-handedly.

You’ve been advocating student-led solutions. Can they help?

I have great faith in young people, but how will their creative juices flow, when they are so busy trying to get that 99%? With students at the university I work in, I’ve created a peer counselling programme to rescue kids who are getting drunk and putting themselves in danger; they can call the university for help or to be picked up when in vulnerable situations.
Source: Daily News and Analysis dated 20 December 2016

Active users of the LIRC - October 2017

ACTIVE USERS OF THE LIRC (October 1 - 31, 2017) Following   Active Users are eligible for one extra library card for the mont...