SAN FRANCISCO — In 2004, Geoffrey Hinton doubled down on his pursuit of a technological idea called a neural network.
It was a way for machines to see the world around them, recognize sounds and even understand natural language. But scientists had spent more than 50 years working on the concept of neural networks, and machines couldn’t really do any of that.
Backed by the Canadian government, Hinton, a computer science professor at the University of Toronto, organised a new research community with several academics who also tackled the concept. They included Yann LeCun, a professor at New York University, and Yoshua Bengio at the University of Montreal.
On Wednesday, the Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest society of computing professionals, announced that Hinton, LeCun and Bengio had won this year’s Turing Award for their work on neural networks. The Turing Award, which was introduced in 1966, is often called the Nobel Prize of computing, and it includes a $1 million prize, which the three scientists will share.
Over the past decade, the big idea nurtured by these researchers has reinvented the way technology is built, accelerating the development of face-recognition services, talking digital assistants, warehouse robots and self-driving cars. Hinton is now at Google, and LeCun works for Facebook. Bengio has inked deals with IBM and Microsoft.
“What we have seen is nothing short of a paradigm shift in the science,” said Oren Etzioni, the chief executive officer of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle and a prominent voice in the AI community. “History turned their way, and I am in awe.”
Loosely modelled on the web of neurons in the human brain, a neural network is a complex mathematical system that can learn discrete tasks by analysing vast amounts of data. By analysing thousands of old phone calls, for example, it can learn to recognize spoken words.
This allows many artificial intelligence technologies to progress at a rate that was not possible in the past. Rather than coding behaviour into systems by hand — one logical rule at a time — computer scientists can build technology that learns behaviour largely on its own.
The London-born Hinton, 71, first embraced the idea as a graduate student in the early 1970s, a time when most AI researchers turned against it. Even his own Ph.D. adviser questioned the choice.
“We met once a week,” Hinton said in an interview. “Sometimes it ended in a shouting match, sometimes not.”
Neural networks had a brief revival in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After a year of postdoctoral research with Hinton in Canada, Paris-born LeCun moved to AT&T’s Bell Labs in New Jersey, where he designed a neural network that could read handwritten letters and numbers. An AT&T subsidiary sold the system to banks, and at one point it read about 10 percent of all checks written in the United States.
Although a neural network could read handwriting and help with some other tasks, it could not make much headway with big AI tasks, like recognizing faces and objects in photos, identifying spoken words, and understanding the natural way people talk.
“They worked well only when you had lots of training data, and there were few areas that had lots of training data,” LeCun, 58, said.
But some researchers persisted, including Paris-born Bengio, 55, who worked alongside LeCun at Bell Labs before taking a professorship at the University of Montreal.
In 2004, with less than $400,000 in funding from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Hinton created a research program dedicated to what he called “neural computation and adaptive perception.” He invited Bengio and LeCun to join him.
By the end of the decade, the idea had caught up with its potential. In 2010, Hinton and his students helped Microsoft, IBM, and Google push the boundaries of speech recognition. Then they did much the same with image recognition.
“He is a genius and knows how to create one impact after another,” said Li Deng, a former speech researcher at Microsoft who brought Hinton’s ideas into the company.
Hinton’s image recognition breakthrough was based on an algorithm developed by LeCun. In late 2013, Facebook hired the NYU professor to build a research lab around the idea. Bengio resisted offers to join one of the big tech giants, but the research he oversaw in Montreal helped drive the progress of systems that aim to understand natural language and technology that can generate fake photos that are indistinguishable from the real thing.
Although these systems have undeniably accelerated the progress of artificial intelligence, they are still a very long way from true intelligence. But Hinton, LeCun and Bengio believe that new ideas will come.
“We need fundamental additions to this toolbox we have created to reach machines that operate at the level of true human understanding,” Bengio said.
World Bank pushes G-20 to extend debt relief to 2021
World Bank Group President David Malpass has urged the Group of 20 rich countries to extend the time frame of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative(DSSI) through the end of 2021, calling it one of the key factors in strengthening global recovery.
“I urge you to extend the time frame of the DSSI through the end of 2021 and commit to giving the initiative as broad a scope as possible,” said Malpass.
He made these remarks at last week’s virtual G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting.
The World Bank Chief said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the deepest global recession in decades and what may turn out to be one of the most unequal in terms of impact.
People in developing countries are particularly hard hit by capital outflows, declines in remittances, the collapse of informal labor markets, and social safety nets that are much less robust than in the advanced economies.
For the poorest countries, poverty is rising rapidly, median incomes are falling and growth is deeply negative.
Debt burdens, already unsustainable for many countries, are rising to crisis levels.
“The situation in developing countries is increasingly desperate. Time is short. We need to take action quickly on debt suspension, debt reduction, debt resolution mechanisms and debt transparency,” said Malpass.
Kenya’s Central Bank Drafts New Laws to Regulate Non-Bank Digital Loans
The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) will regulate interest rates charged on mobile loans by digital lending platforms if amendments on the Central bank of Kenya Act pass to law. The amendments will require digital lenders to seek approval from CBK before launching new products or changing interest rates on loans among other charges, just like commercial banks.
“The principal objective of this bill is to amend the Central bank of Kenya Act to regulate the conduct of providers of digital financial products and services,” reads a notice on the bill. “CBK will have an obligation of ensuring that there is fair and non-discriminatory marketplace access to credit.”
According to Business Daily, the legislation will also enable the Central Bank to monitor non-performing loans, capping the limit at not twice the amount of the defaulted loan while protecting consumers from predatory lending by digital loan platforms.
Tighter Reins on Platforms for Mobile Loans
The legislation will boost efforts to protect customers, building upon a previous gazette notice that blocked lenders from blacklisting non-performing loans below Ksh 1000. The CBK also withdrew submissions of unregulated mobile loan platforms into Credit Reference Bureau. The withdrawal came after complaints of misuse over data in the Credit Information Sharing (CIS) System available for lenders.
Last year, Kenya had over 49 platforms providing mobile loans, taking advantage of regulation gaps to charge obscene rates as high as 150% a year. While most platforms allow borrowers to prepay within a month, creditors still pay the full amount plus interest.
Amendments in the CBK Act will help shield consumers from high-interest rates as well as offer transparency on terms of digital loans.
Scope Markets Kenya customers to have instant access to global financial markets
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – Clients trading through the Scope Markets Kenya trading platform will get instant access to global financial markets and wider investment options.
This follows the launch of a new Scope Markets app, available on both the Google PlayStore and IOS Apple Store.
The Scope Markets app offers clients over 500 investment opportunities across global financial markets.
The Scope Markets app has a brand new user interface that is very user friendly, following feedback from customers.
The application offers real-time quotes; newsfeeds; research facilities, and a chat feature which enables a customer to make direct contact with the Customer Service Team during trading days (Monday to Friday).
The platform also offers an enhanced client interface including catering for those who trade at night.
The client will get instant access to several asset classes in the global financial markets including; Single Stocks CFDs (US, UK, EU) such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google, BP, Carrefour; Indices (Nasdaq, FTSE UK), Metals (Gold, Silver); Currencies (60+ Pairs), Commodities (Oil, Natural Gas).
The launch is part of Scope Markets Kenya strategy of enriching the customer experience while offering clients access to global trading opportunities.
Scope Markets Kenya CEO, Kevin Ng’ang’a observed, “the Sope Markets app is very easy to use especially when executing trades. Customers are at the heart of everything we do. We designed the Scope Markets app with the customer experience in mind as we seek to respond to feedback from our customers.”
He added that enhancing the client experience builds upon the robust trading platform, Meta Trader 5, unveiled in 2019, enabling Scope Markets Kenya to broaden the asset classes available on the trading platform.