Monday, June 10, 2013

Let's teach battery perservation in Computer Science

In a society that is increasingly moving towards always-on mobile ubiquity, graduates of computer science degrees can be trained to write code that dramatically saves battery life. Mobile technology is affordable, and it is easy to teach about battery consumption when learning to code.

Apple's OSX Maverick unveiled at WWDC today unveiled a battery preservation technology that has been available in Windows for about 4 years. Timer Coalescing combines disparate background tasks onto the same clock cycle so that the CPU spends more time idling. As explained from Apple's whitepaper, it synchronizes thread processing to increase CPU idle time.

Before Timer Coalescing

After Timer Coalescing

While energy saving hardware has advanced significantly in recent years, software development techniques remain relatively unchanged. Clay Bershear's post on energy efficient programming talks about how programmers can save power with vector operations, limiting loop increment complexity, and simpler code. Power consumption simulators such as ENERJ will allow developers to understand how much power their software consumes during development. Companies are also documenting exactly how much power each operation consumes.
I was once told that a prominent GPU producer had measured the amount of energy that every operation (computation, access to memory, moving data in from off-card, etc.) took on its products.
I could see programming assignments for creating an algorithm that sorts 10K random items with less than 0.1W of power. Or an JPEG compressor that uses less than 0.5W per 15 megapixel bitmap.

I'd love to hear what ideas can you think of.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Have we killed Fundamental Science?

In Canada recent changes to government funding programs has resulted in protests proclaiming the "Death of Scientific Evidence". Adorned with signs, coffins, and white lab coats, many Canadian researchers were protesting against censorship of environmental research results (which I also oppose). However, many academics associate with these sentiments because federal funding programs have placed much more emphasis on academics working with industry in recent years (which I also support). Curiosity driven research funding is much harder to obtain than industry supported research. For example, Industry backed NSERC Engage grants can be submitted any time with over 90% acceptance. This is not only happening in Canada but in other parts of the world as well (e.g. the CDT in UK). So this begs the question:
Are academics are at the mercy of corporations, and no longer able do fundamental science? 
Many academics are surprised when they hear that industry is simultaneously being held to academic standards. Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax incentives requires corporations to resolve scientific or technological uncertainty, adopt hypothesis testing/scientific method, and demonstrate advancement in science and technology. 
It seems as though corporations are being told to be more like academics.
We need academics to lead in fundamental research and industry to lead in delivering customer value. While the novelty focused review process pushes academics towards niche areas of low societal impact, dwindling stock prices drive industry leaders to focus on short term results rather than long term profitability. 

It is simply not true that government and industry direction hinders fundamental research. Consider government directed projects in cyptography and the radar during WWII. The Google Voice and Siri interfaces we use today would not have been possible without directed fundamental research in Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing from ARPA from 1956-1974. 

We hope that in the future the success of a professor will not only be measured by the length of their publication list, or the number of graduate students, but on their ability to listen to the needs of their stakeholders: the taxpayers.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Top Academic and Industry Wants

During EdTech Innovation in Alberta, there was a special session on the wants and needs of industry and academia. We had representatives from Universities across Canada and many industrial companies such as Husky Energy (HSE.TO), Telus (TU), Desire 2 Learn and SMART (SMT).

Top 3 Academic Wants

  1. Government Matched $$
  2. Cooperative Industry-Academia People Exchanges (e.g. internships)
  3. Free Hardware and Software

Top 3 Industry Wants

  1. Teamwork and Communication skills
  2. Real-world studies (compared against the next best alternative)
  3. Return on Investment
Tim Workman from Husky Energy put it best when he gave us two quotes:
"Everybody calls to sell me something. Very few people call to solve my problems."
"An Expert is something who knows more and more about less and less until they know almost everything about nothing"
While I don't agree with the second, the first rings very true.

Dear Academia: We're breaking up.

Dear Academia,

This relationship is not working out so we are going to end it. It's not us, it's you. You have gamed the system making it so exclusive to academics that we no longer feel welcome at your conferences. Your highly tweaked review process has pushed you to ever more niche areas of novelty and customer outcome irrelevance. The result is clear: dismal academic to industry ratios (100:1 in some conferences).

It pains us to hear employees complain about a lack of relevance and return on investment on even the conference fee itself. While we are pleased to hear that the ivory tower of academia is alive and well, we lament that it has fallen so far away from real-world customer outcomes. 

We wish that you would let us talk about real customer outcomes but this doesn't meet the criteria for peer reviewed papers by novelty-seeking computer science graduate students. But here's the thing: customer outcomes don't change over time and are not novel. The iPhone did not change customer outcomes, it made what people wanted to do (phone, email, browsing, music) ubiquitous and simple. Customers don't measure us to related work, they use alternatives that are good enough. We are less concerned with statistical significance and more concerned about cost and value to the next best alternative. 

Clearly, we don't share the same values. We wish you all the best in your future relationships. 


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

ICT for Education Article

The results of an interview that I did with ICT for Education (a UK Education technology magazine) have now been published. See the article here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The story behind the SMART Table

Heather Ellwood wrote a feature article about the invention and innovation process of the SMART Table in this month's EdCompass feature.

It's an interesting story that includes interviews with both the SMART Table development team and the reaction from a Calgary Board of Education Elementary classroom.

We've been thrilled with how quickly the SMART Table has gone from research prototype to shipping product.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Innovation at SMART Technologies

When I started my job search a few months ago, I was looking for a position that would allow me to learn about the process of innovation in a real world setting. In particular, I wanted to learn how to take novel ideas and bring them to product.

My PhD has focused mostly on invention: coming up with novel ideas and pushing the boundaries of what can be done with computers. While I had taken courses on innovation, starting a business, and marketing ideas I wanted a venue where I could apply these skills in practice.

After a long period of deliberation and negotiation with people from companies all around the world (including U.S.A., Holland, Japan, and Finland) I have decided to accept a position at Smart Technologies. I strongly believe that Smart Technologies will provide an excellent opportunity for me to learn how to transition novel ideas from conception to actual product. Check out this post by Executive Chairman David Martin on innovation.

In addition, I have decided to accept the Alberta Ingenuity Research and Development Associates award. As reflected in my previous post, we already have significant external validation about our future collaborations.

Dr. Gerald Morrison (External Research Manager at Smart) was instrumental in collaborating with me on the Alberta Ingenuity award and the job offer from Smart. I would like to express my deepest thanks to him for his support.

On that note, Gerald was interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) today. When asked about the benefits of Smart's collaboration with our lab, Gerald mentioned the recent hire of Edward Tse. If they use this clip on national television, this will be a very public announcement of my new position!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

AI Research Associate Approved!

Good news! I just got my Alberta Ingenuity Industrial Research Associate application approved with glowing results. Alberta Ingenuity uses the ProGrid evaluation system to rank candidates who apply for a particular scholarship. I learned that my scholarship was one of the top ranked in terms of benefits and initiative. Chart 1 is a 2D plot of my ranking (square) to all other applications of this scholarship. It is the highest in terms of benefit and tied for second in terms of initiative.
When I looked at the proposal profile I found that all four categories relating to the candidate (letters of reference, academic record, career track record, and candidate suitability) were given the maximum possible relative strength.
A quote from an Evaluator's comment on my application:
Edward has glowing letters of refrence commenting on the knowledge, skills, and ability relevant to this opportunity. He is an outstanding, award-winning researcher with numerous competitive awards and independent media response to presentations and achievements. He is quickly emerging as a star player in this field and is a strong match for this opportunity.
Now I need to decide if I will accept this grant or not...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Herr Doktor Tse

I'm happy to annouce that I've successfully defended my doctoral dissertation! The defense presentation and question rounds went surprisingly smoothly. After my defense friends from the Interactions Lab presented me with a little surprise.

I received a custom made hat with a scene depicting my PhD research on speech and gesture interaction over digital tabletop displays. Apparently this is a tradition done in many German Universities and started in our by some of our graduate students from Germany.

The theme of my hat is focused around speech and gesture interaction around a table. It has a tabletop display with two chairs (made of foam core) and a wooden mannequin attached connected to a series of strings. Pulling the strings on the tassle causes the mannequin's arms to move and also plays a sound.

Sound was achieved by using a Napolean Dyanmite gift card. The hat says a quote from the movie whenever the tassle is pulled "So like, nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills". Some matching text was added around the base of the hat that says "critics agree, you got flippin sweet PhD skillz!"

This was certainly a very pleasant surprise, thanks iLab!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Digital Tables as a Disruptive Technology

I've been reading The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen of Harvard Business School and I've been thinking about how the lessons of his book would apply to disruptive technologies such as interactive wall and table displays.

Essentially, this book argues that companies (such as the Hard Drive industry) are exceedingly good at listening to their customer base and sustaining innovations in their products to meet their client's needs. Disruptive technologies (e.g. smaller hard drives, solid state disks) are usually first developed and marketed by large corporations. However, these technologies usually do not meet the needs of existing clients (e.g. too small size, too expensive, too slow) thus these projects are shelved until the technology becomes more viable in the marketplace.

Microsoft Surface
On the flipside, startup companies focus on niche markets (e.g. laptops, mp3 players) and ignore the needs prized by current vendors. Often the rate of improvement of these technologies greatly exceeds the demand by their niche market. This happens until the technology improves to a point that it can compete with the sustaining technologies of the large corporate vendors (e.g. 3.5" disk drives).

Hewlett Packard
At this time we see a huge shift in the industry, people start migrating towards the disruptive technologies and the large corporations are continually catching up to the latest advancements of the startup companies. This continues to happen in many areas such as the Internet, PCs, GUIs, industrial hauling, cell phones, portable audio, PDAs, laptops and much more.

Digital tables are a disruptive technology, right now they are not as efficient as using a keyboard and a mouse. Speech and gesture recognition have years of improvement ahead of them before they become viable for everyday use. However, the rate of improvement of interactive surface technology is significantly faster than the rate of improvement of desktop interaction technologies.

Eventually the performance of interactive (small and large) surfaces will rise to challenge the efficiency of desktop computers. This will not happen overnight, it could be decades before we see such a transition. Nonetheless it will happen. And when it does I wonder if the existing companies will rise to deliver these next generation technologies, or if it will be startup companies that will once again lead the way in technology innovation.

Smart Technologies
As I enter my second and third round of job applications, I have applied to many large corporations that are adamant about making sure they are on top of the large display interaction trends. Large corporations such as Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Panasonic, Hitachi, Smart Technologies, Philips, Mitsubishi, Accenture, and Sony have already created demonstration systems of interactive large displays.

Several startup companies have also been created to market large display interactions to niche audiences. These companies include Perceptive Pixel, Lemur Jazz Mutant, and Fingerworks which was recently acquired by Apple for the development of the iPhone which was later replicated by Nokia).

The billion dollar question is: will it be the startup companies or the large corporations that deliver these next generation interactive touchscreen technologies. I'm really not sure, but I intend to find out by apply to each of these companies.



Perceptive Pixel

Jazz Mutant