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YouTube / IBM

How IBM Watson Learns

YouTube / IBM
YouTube / IBM

Most of us know IBM's Watson computing system from its breakout performance on Jeopardy! a few years back; I covered that earlier today.

But Watson is significant not because it can win at Jeopardy! -- it's significant because it embodies a fundamental shift in how humans interact with computer systems. The new model is that we ask questions, Watson makes connections based on its ability to understand human language, and then it suggests possible answers...along with showing its work.

The fact that we can see the work behind Watson's answers is critically important -- that's not something you get from a simpler system like a search engine. Most interesting is that, because a human selects from among the best answers, humans can teach Watson in a positive feedback loop. Watson can even ask clarifying questions, allowing it to learn yet more about the world, and improving future performance. Watson works in tandem with humans, and sometimes the top answer is not the most useful to us -- it's the second, third, or fourth answer that may hold the key for a rare medical diagnosis, or an obscure connection. By deploying Watson in health care, IBM is helping doctors explore and improve medical care. Let's take a peek inside the IBM Watson Solutions Lab:

IBM calls Watson a "Learning System," and suggests it's the way we will interact with big data in the future. It's an intriguing notion, and it feels right to me. Especially when we talk about applications like health care, the ability for a human to help teach the computer is crucial. Got three and a half minutes to dig into how Watson learns? Watch this video.

If that piqued your interest, here's Manoj Saxena in a longer TEDx talk adding more context, including the tidbit that IBM is training Watson thoroughly enough that it's "within striking distance" of passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (!):

I'll be digging deeper into Watson later today -- stay tuned for more Watson goodness.

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Trash Talk: 7 Ways to Recycle Your Tech Gadgets
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iStock

Our tech gadgets’ lifespans are short. New smartphone models come out at least once a year, and it’s easy to want the latest and greatest computer, gaming console, or 4K TV—without considering what happens to our used devices.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans generated nearly 3.4 million tons of consumer electronics waste in 2014 [PDF] and that only around 40 percent of that waste was recycled—the rest went to landfills or incinerators. The U.S. is also a top destination for e-waste from other countries [PDF]—and in turn, we export much of our e-waste to places like China and India. However, more manufacturers and recycling companies are now taking steps to ensure the e-waste they collect is handled responsibly.

To do your part, don’t simply dump the old model in the trash—use one of these methods to resell or recycle.

1. DROP IT OFF AT A RETAIL STORE.

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Home and office suppliers often have in-store recycling programs that offer cash back or trade-in options. For instance, Best Buy accepts everything from appliances to car GPS units. (Not all products are accepted, though, so check before you go.) Staples offers trades on phones and tablets and will also take most other electronics, from fax machines to shredders, for recycling. Take your rechargeable batteries and cell phones to Lowes.

2. HOST AN ELECTRONICS DRIVE.

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Work with your employer or a group to put on a tech recycling event. It’s easy enough for people to bring in old TVs, audio equipment, and laptops. Then, you can collect all the items over the course of a few days or weeks and recycle them in bulk with a local organization. A good place to start: the EPA's list of certified electronics recyclers.

3. TRADE IT IN.

Several sites allow you to swap used electronics for cash. These companies refurbish, resell, or recycle old devices. To get started, enter your device’s details to receive a quote, then ship it in using a prepaid label and get money via PayPal, check, or gift card. Amazon’s Trade-In service accepts phones, tablets, speakers, and gaming equipment, provided the items are in good condition; Gazelle takes smartphones, tablets, and Apple computers; and NextWorth buys back tablets, smartphones, and wearables.

4. DOWNLOAD LETGO OR GONE.

Of course, there’s an app for that. Letgo is a free mobile marketplace for a variety of goods, including electronics, and all you have to do is take a picture of your old computer or TV, upload it, and then communicate with potential buyers within the app. Gone deals specifically with used tech, and the app does all the work, including pricing and generating shipping labels, for you—which means you don’t have to limit your sale options to your local area or meet strangers face to face.

5. SELL IT ON CRAIGSLIST, FACEBOOK, OR EBAY.

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Go old-school: List your old electronics on Craigslist, Facebook’s Marketplace, eBay, or your local classifieds. It’s not uncommon to find people who buy and refurbish gadgets for resale or to repurpose parts—or parents looking for a cheap used iPhone or laptop for their child. This way, you can negotiate the sale price and get cash on the spot. While there’s no guarantee that the buyer will dispose of your old phone or tablet responsibly once they’re done with it, selling does give the device a second (or third) life and hopefully will replace the purchase of a new product.

6. DONATE IT.

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While a new phone or gaming console seems like a no-brainer to some, there are many who can’t afford to purchase tech gadgets at all—new or used. If you aren’t able to find a recycling or donation center locally, consider one of these mail-in donation options:

Computers and peripherals: Goodwill has a partnership with Dell called Dell Reconnect. The program takes old computers—and anything you can connect to them, from keyboards to scanners—and refurbishes them for resale. Any parts that can’t be fixed are recycled. The National Cristina Foundation connects consumers to local nonprofits that need computers, and the World Computer Exchange accepts most computer equipment through a local chapter or by mail.

Cell phones: Several organizations collect old cell phones to refurbish, re-sell, and recycle in bulk and then use the funds to support their programming. The National Coalition for Domestic Violence will provide a prepaid shipping label for your phone, laptop, or gaming system, as will Lifecell —the latter purchases Lifestraws for those who lack access to clean water. Cell Phones for Soldiers takes gently used phones to provide communication services to troops and veterans.

Gaming gear: AbleGamers, which provides accessible gaming technology to people with disabilities, accepts donations of used consoles and games via mail. Gamers Outreach and Charity Nerds will take your donated gaming equipment to children who are hospitalized.

7. SEND IT BACK TO THE MANUFACTURER.

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Many companies, including Apple, Dell, HP, and IBM, offer branded recycling programs, which means they’ll take back used devices, recycle them responsibly, and often give you a gift card or a credit towards the purchase of a new device. Take your Apple products to your nearest store or create a prepaid shipping label online. IBM facilitates shipping of its branded products to preferred recyclers in certain states. Because Dell’s recycling program is in partnership with Goodwill, their take-backs aren’t limited to branded devices.

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IBM Unveils the World's Smallest Computer
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IBM

The latest piece of technology to be zapped by the shrink ray of progress was recently revealed during IBM Think 2018, the computer giant’s conference that offers a sneak preview of its latest hardware. According to Mashable, IBM’s newest computer is so small that it could disappear inside a salt shaker.

An IBM computer on a motherboard and atop a pile of salt
IBM

That tiny black speck on the right? That’s the one. (It's mounted to a motherboard on the upper left of the left photo.) IBM claims the computer has several thousand transistors and has roughly the same kind of operating power as a processor from 1990. While that may not sound impressive, any kind of artificial intelligence in a product that small could have big implications for data management. IBM believes it has a future in blockchain applications, which track shipments, theft, and non-compliance. Its tiny stature means it can be embedded into materials discreetly.

As an example, IBM noted that the processor could be injected into a non-toxic magnetic ink, which can then be stamped on a prescription drug. One drop of water could make the ink visible, letting someone know it’s authentic and safe to take.

The tiny little motherboard and its processors are still in the prototype stages, but IBM predicts it could cost less than 10 cents to manufacture. The company hopes it will be commercially available in the next 18 months.

[h/t Mashable]

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