Poker, Bifocals, and You

Every now and again I like to provide examples of cool things that are happening.  Without further ado, let’s dive in….

This might be my 3rd grade picture

This might be my 3rd grade picture

Say No to BifocalsThe reason people don’t usually see me with eyeglasses isn’t because I have perfect eyesight. It’s because I wear contact lenses made for the preposterously near-sighted. Lately however I’ve been wearing reading glasses in restaurants, my theory being that restaurants have recently decreased both their lighting and the font size used in their menu and receipts. It must be their fault, somehow. 
 
Researchers at the University of Utah have developed eyeglasses that can sense when you’re looking at something close or far and adjust the lens strength accordingly.  They do this with a little infrared sensor embedded in the bridge of the glasses to detect where your eye is focusing and the glasses can alter the lens correction within 14 milliseconds.
 
One potential advantage is that users will only need to change their settings as their prescriptions change.
 
The trick here is not so much the Big Discovery, but turning the innovation into a mass-market product. Despite my poor eyesight, I see this as inevitable.  
 
(Hat tip to The Hustle for the info, which you can read here).
 
Poker Players Fold. Software developed at Carnegie Mellon was able to recently trounce a group of world-class poker players at Texas Hold ‘EmIn the era of Watson/Jeopardy and Deep Blue/Chess victories, this might not pass as shocking news anymore.
 
But the big breakthrough here is that unlike chess, poker is a game where participants have imperfect information. You only know your hand – not the other person’s.  The resulting computing task is therefore more difficult. (Fun fact: the developers leveraged the game-theory work of Nobel laureate John Nash, he of the Beautiful Mind movie).
 
The speed of this breakthrough stunned even the experts. Said one scientist: “Such an event was prognosticated to be at least a decade away.”
 
(Hat tip to The Powersheet for the info).

Thoughts:

  • This may seem like a broken record (millennials: this means “repetitive”), but the rate of change in technology is increasing, and will continue to increase.  It’s one thing for you and I to be amazed.  The fact that the researchers closest to these leaps are so amazed tells us a lot.
  • The poker story isn’t about “technology”.  It’s about machine learning (the ability for computers to use massive amounts of data to get smarter faster) and AI (artificial intelligence, which executes the resulting tasks in a “smart” manner).
  • While I leave the politics out of this blog (I have a few columns I have written for a local newspaper under Published Columns, above), it is obvious that manufacturing job loss in recent decades has largely been driven by greater productivity (driven largely by automation and supply chain efficiencies), not poorly negotiated trade agreements.  AI is coming fast, and will exert a massive impact on employment.
  • Note this is not a U.S. thing.  This will affect all countries.  I read this article where deportees from the US are being recruited to staff call centers in El Salvador due to their US backgrounds and ability to use/understand common idiomatic English.  Yet when you look at the rise of chatbots and other forms of AI, you can see a future where we will need to call customer service much less than we do today.  Thus, jobs in El Salvador are reduced.

Change is happening faster everyday.  There’s no need to panic, but there is need to prepare.

Good luck!