AI Talk: Curative apps, supercomputers, rats and Libra

June 21, 2019 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

This week’s AI Talk…

Curative apps and business model

I saw a reference to this interesting news article in AMIA Daily Download. It’s about how one digital app called Big Health wants its users to delete its app once they have managed to address their insomnia issue. That’s not a bad suggestion since one’s goal should be curative. Unless, of course, you talk to some investment firms that, according to the article, have a more cynical assessment. Thankfully, companies like Big Health have managed to get their startup off the ground with healthy investments. Of course, it helps to have a supply of new patients—and in this case, there are millions of people suffering from insomnia who need help.


Thirty-four years ago, when I was working for Boeing Advanced Technology Center in Seattle, the building next door had two Cray Supercomputers. They looked like fancy pieces of furniture, each with a big cylindrical core and nice cushioned circular seating area! Until I read a recent issue of MIT Technology Review, I had no idea that this company was still in business and was surprised to find their computers are still among the top-ranked supercomputers! MIT Technology Review featured an article about the International Supercomputing Conference, happening this week in Frankfurt. It turns out there is an organization that tracks the top 500 supercomputers and has been doing so since 1993! Check out their list released this week. The ranking is based on High Performance Linpack (HPL) benchmark. HPL is a measure that involves solving a dense system of linear equations, first specified 40 years ago! Present day supercomputers are all petaflop machines and it should not come as a surprise that these supercomputers are also supporting deep learning computation. Turns out Japan’s supercomputer uses something called the AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) that leverages NVIDIA container technology to deploy machine learning solutions. The top-500 list also shows that China has 219 computers on the list compared with 116 for the U.S., but the U.S. supercomputers are faster. The number one system is from IBM—deployed at Oak Ridge National Lab and clocking in at 148.6 petaflops!


Rats and mice, as it happens, are one of life’s perennial problems. These rodents have survived for millennia and continue to thrive. Just last month I had to put some sticky traps to capture  these pesky pests in my own home. Many big cities like New York, Chicago and Washington DC are home to strong rat populations. I didn’t know that one can call 311 to report rat sightings because the service is not available in Morgantown, WV, the small town where I live. However, big data and data mining technologies are now being applied to study and combat rat populations. DC has launched an effort using the 311 data setThe Lab @ DC. The machine learning algorithm is fed with rat sightings data, property tax records, business license data showing eateries and garbage disposal sites, and data on city sewers. The goal? To predict where rat populations are likely to explode and take preventive action before infestation worsens! This is an ongoing active project: More power to them!


It is all over the news: National news, local news, NPR, WSJ, NYT, USA Today… everywhere! The news? Facebook is planning on introducing a new digital currency called Libra next year. A zodiac sign! According to this site about zodiac signs, character strengths of Libra are “cooperative, diplomatic, gracious, fair-minded, social.” But there are also dislikes: “violence, injustice, loudmouths, conformity.” Will one associate these positive and negative traits with Facebook? It’s currency? Beats me! In any case, this currency uses blockchain technology and is nothing like Bitcoin, but is essentially a private currency sponsored by a growing collection of companies. Whether this will take off, only time will tell. There are billions of potential users…fasten your seat belts for a wild ride!


The rat article was suggested by my colleague, Monika Woszczyna.

I am always looking for feedback and if you would like me to cover a story, please let me know. “See something, say something”!  Leave me a comment below or ask a question on my blogger profile page.

V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is Vice President of Research for M*Modal, with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.