Historic milestone: Microsoft researchers achieve human parity in conversational speech recognition

Historic milestone: Microsoft researchers achieve human parity in conversational speech recognition

Microsoft has made a major breakthrough in speech recognition, creating a technology that understands a conversation as well as a person does.
In a paper published Monday, a team of researchers and engineers in Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research reported a speech recognition system that makes the same or fewer errors than professional transcriptionists.  The researchers reported a word  error rate (WER) of 5.9 percent, down from the 6.3 percent WER the team reported just last month.
The 5.9 percent error rate is about equal to that of people who were asked to transcribe the same conversation, and it’s the lowest ever recorded against the industry standard Switchboard speech recognition task.

The Digital Age of Data Art

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The digital age of data art

By Maxence Grugier as written on techcrunch.com
Many artists use as material for art the raw data produced by our societies, seeking innovative means of display or transforming it into a work of art. By blurring boundaries between art and information, data art dispels the myth of the romantic artist while offering a fundamental artistic act in a critical commentary of the digital age in which we live.
An age that is supposedly open and yet increasingly obscure or incomprehensible to non-specialists. By re-appropriating these reams of information, or big data, data artists reintroduce fantasy to an age of increasingly abstract data and concepts.
The objective of data art is to create aesthetic forms and artistic works from the digital nature of the data generated from big data (graphics, simulations, worksheets, statistics, etc.). Any virtual data produced by our environment can be transformed into images, objects or sounds. Data art also presents the underlying links that exist between the ubiquitous algorithms in our lives — figures from databases, raw data, data collected by search engines, calculations and statistics (geographical, political, climatic, financial) and artistic creation.

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Art and information technology are still unfortunately widely perceived as evolving in two conflicting worlds, but a new generation of artists working in the field of electronic media cannot afford to consider the world — and art — in these terms. Using media and IT tools is a creative process that is natural for them (this usually involves information technology: software development; programming; data analysis; algorithms; documentation and meta-data retrieval on the Internet, etc.).
This still-emerging aesthetic trend offers a new interpretation of the increasingly “mathematical” and rationalist world in which we live, re-enchanting the everyday life of homo technologicus. For these artists, this techno-scientific vision only touches the surface of another, much more complex, secret and marvelous world — a world that also speaks volumes, a world of data and information.

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Algorithms and data flow

The world in which we live is almost entirely governed by algorithms. An algorithm is a sequence of computer instructions, applied systematically by a machine, or by software. In the past, an operator instructed a computer and commands were performed. With algorithms, the computer carries out automatic tasks alone, unassisted.
Some algorithms are the syndication’s key participants (subscription to a data flow; for example, RSS flow). They search for information and send it to the user registered on a “syndication feed.” Of course, other algorithms pick up the same data. These programs capture — and therefore propose — content, according to prior choices made by the user (on Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.); these are flow aggregators and big data collectors.
The current quantitative explosion of digital data streams requires new ways for this information to be visualized. The processing of the research, retrieval, storage and analysis of this data is still an emerging sector, but it provides work for evaluation and analysis specialists, as well as for artists. Processing this extremely complex and diversified data is responsible for a brand new economic sector emerging in the field of information technology, along with new forms of artistic creation.

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Data visualization, the first step in data art

Data visualization has become a fundamental discipline as more and more businesses, local councils and public services are forced to invent visually amusing and striking ways to classify dig data generated by the movements in populations, their patterns of consumption, communication and travel, etc.
The first step in the world of data art consists of addressing how to view this data. Amongst the pioneers of this discipline, previously solely scientific and devoted to graphical representations of statistical data, are theorist Edward Tufte, responsible for the creation of sparklines (a concise graphic format developed for insertion in text), and Ben Shneiderman, who invented treemap in 1990.
Amongst the other graphical representation techniques and terminology, there are bar charts, pie charts (better known as Camembert or Donut Chart), scatter graphs, lines, bubbles, heat maps, (mapping of “hotspots”), etc. They all refer to the different ways of making visually attractive and, above all, understandable the reams of data (also called “datascapes”) that shape our everyday lives.
Data visualization, often generating extremely complex graphics, sometimes becomes artistic. Matt Willey, for example, draws inspiration from these forms with At This Rate and 2060 Poster, to show the impact of the economy and human activities on the environment.

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The origins of data art

To give a timeline to the origins of what is today known as data art (also called information art or informatism), reference should be made to the minimalist artist Kynaston McShine and his exhibition “Information,” given at the MoMA in 1970.
By choosing to present the combination of science, informatics and information technology with the most classical forms of art (including performance art, visual art, digital art and conceptual art), McShine proposes a first definition of data art. In the MoMA exhibition catalogue, he wrote: “Increasingly artists use mail, telegrams, telex machines, etc., for transmission of works themselves — photographs, films, documents — or of information about their activity.”
For Kynaston McShine, art and information already formed one single progressive movement, in a period literally “made of information.” Other signs of data art are also apparent amongst pioneers of generative art, an artistic form calling upon computer-generated creation via algorithms and computer language.

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However, before the advent of today’s extremely complex forms of data art, there were works like those by the artist Mark Napier, part of the generative art movement, who produced Black and White, a work based on the stream of information captured by “Carnivore,” a software program developed by the FBI in the 2000s.

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An increasing number of facets of our existence interact with each other through the multiple flow networks forming today’s information landscape. A historical and technological context that inspired Julian Oliver, for example, with Packet Garden, a project depicting our movements on the web portrayed as incredible engineered gardens, and Jason Salavon who, with American Varietal, offers a creative view of American ethnic plurality.

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These intricately linked communication and movements are then assembled in huge databases by the algorithmic machine. This is what, for example, inspired one of the pioneers of data art, Aaron Koblin, with Flight Patterns (2009), a data art classic visualizing air traffic, a material representation of worldwide communication.

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Others, like the German artist Stefan Sagmeister, wish to resume the immaterial and abstract appearance of figures, streams and data recovery program. Move Your Money is a humorous, 3D inflatable metaphor — based on children’s bouncy inflatable castles — to make international monetary flows tangible.

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In a more amusing — and rock ‘n roll — way, with The Long Black Veil, the artist Jeffrey Docherty creates an intangible map of the 1980s Punk and New Wave scene. Love Will Tear Us Apart Again by Peter Crnokrak is a diagram of the emotional impact of the resumption of Joy Division hit Love Will Tear Us Apart in different countries and by different interpreters. With Serendipity in 2014, Kyle McDonald proposes a map connecting people listening to the same piece at the same time on Spotify.

Poetic flows

Creative apps and imagination are considerable in this field. The goal of data art, inspired by very down-to-earth techniques to visualize data, is above all to make the invisible visible. However, by formatting these reams of data, data artists are not content with making legible the mesh of information from which it is formed, they also take a critical look at our society.
By appropriating this intangible flow of data, data artists position themselves as observers and testify to behaviors, inferring details about mankind, the eternal demiurge — whether artists or sociologists, mathematicians or business men — for whom data collection indicates a compulsive need to control their even most abstract environment.

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However, with the evolution of generative graphics and data capture techniques, contemporary data art artists sometimes go beyond criticism to deliver instantly beautiful works of art that speak for themselves… almost.
This is the case with Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar, with We Feel Fine, an exploration of human emotions, or Reynald Drouhin with Internet Protocol City, a generator of “ghost towns” transforming the IP addresses of Internet users into monochrome buildings, when abstract and cold data changes into the pure state of metaphoric beauty.


Microsoft announces teacher-inspired updates for Windows, Office, ‘Minecraft’

Microsoft announces teacher-inspired updates for Windows, Office, ‘Minecraft’ - managed solution

Microsoft announces teacher-inspired updates for Windows, Office, ‘Minecraft’

By Tony Prophet as written on blogs.microsoft.com
At Microsoft, we’re all in on education!
Our company mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. In education, it’s to empower every student. Today, we’re proud to share the latest on what’s coming for Back-to-School 2016/2017.
Introducing Microsoft Classroom and Microsoft Forms, OneNote Class Notebook now with Learning Management System (LMS) integration, new experiences for Windows 10 and the dawn of “Minecraft: Education Edition” – Get ready!

First, we are announcing all new education features coming in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, features specifically inspired by teachers and focused on students.

Faster, easier set-up:

Shared devices in the classroom are the norm – in the U.S., nearly 90 percent of schools report using shared devices. We also know that nearly 50 percent of teachers serve as their own tech support in their classroom. Until now, setting these devices up has been complex and getting students productive often takes too long.
With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update we are introducing a ”Set Up School PCs” app that allows teachers to set up a device themselves in a simple three-step process – in minutes. We’ve also made significant performance improvements for affordable devices. We expect the average first login to take 26 seconds, with subsequent logins of 6 seconds when the student uses that machine again.

Secure assessments:

Testing is going digital — teachers consistently tell us they want a simple way to set up quizzes or standardized tests digitally. The Windows 10 Anniversary Update brings a new ‘Take a Test’ app – simple and more secure standardized testing for the whole classroom or the whole school, where teachers or IT can lock down the testing environment, or enable simple quizzing.

Education-ready Windows Store:

Nearly 60 percent of teachers purchase and load apps themselves. With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the Windows Store will enable teachers to access thousands of apps, and schools can purchase and deploy them in bulk.

Free upgrade and affordable devices:

More and more, educators are asking us about affordable devices. We have a great portfolio of affordable, durable and innovative Windows 10 devices starting at $199, designed for the demands of education.
So you can see, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update brings a huge range of education-specific features that teachers and students are going to love. Learn even more about these new updates, and more, over on the Windows blog!

microsoft announces teacher 2 - managed solution

Second, we are announcing some big improvements to Office 365 Education.

Today we are announcing Microsoft Classroom

– a new experience in Office 365 Education. Microsoft Classroom is designed to be the one place students and teachers come to manage their day – from Class Notebooks, assignments and grades to conversations, calendars and to announcements!
We’re piloting this with Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska. Let me just share with you what they had to say . . .
“It simplifies our digital classroom management and frees up our teachers so they can spend more time with students and less time managing administrative access to class materials.” – Rob Dickson, Executive Director, Information Management Services of Omaha Public Schools.

Today we are also announcing Microsoft School Data Sync (SDS)

– a powerful complement for Microsoft Classroom. SDS connects Microsoft Classroom to a School Information System (SIS), so teacher, student and classes information is automatically populated in Microsoft Classroom and OneNote Class Notebooks. School Data Sync will be included in Office 365 Education. Think of it as a super simple process that quickly provisions a set of classes and rosters from many School Information Systems already used.

Also being announced: Microsoft Forms

– a simple way to quickly assess student progress and get feedback with easy-to-create surveys and quizzes. It’s in public preview starting today for Office 365 Education here.
OneNote Class Notebooks are the heart of our education experience and they just keep getting better and better. We have seen incredible momentum – with millions of student notebooks created just this school year. On top of the millions, we are currently seeing an additional new 10,000 student notebooks created per day!
To hear one educator describe it: “It’s your whole classroom (lesson plans, materials, assignments and student work) in a digital binder with tools for communication and collaboration!”

We’re also announcing Class Notebook assignment and grading integration is now available with more than 25 Learning Management System partners

– including leaders like Canvas, Edmodo, Schoology, Brightspace and Moodle. Learn more here.
We’re really excited about all of these improvements for Office 365 Education coming for the new school year! Learn more about all of the updates to Office happening for education – check out the Office blog here.

microsoft announces teacher 3 - managed solution

Finally, we’ve got some great news about “Minecraft: Education Edition”! June begins an early access program of “Minecraft: Education Edition.” It will be available for any educator to download and try for free on Windows 10 and OS X El Capitan.
This program is a great way for educators and administrators who are interested in “Minecraft: Education Edition” to give it a test run in the summer months and give us more feedback and suggestions.
If you are new to “Minecraft” in the classroom, check out education.minecraft.net for resources to help prepare, including lesson plans and a new “Minecraft” mentors program to connect with amazing teachers already using “Minecraft.”
What’s the next step? Upgrade your devices to Windows 10 or OS X El Capitan, and sign up for an Office 365 Education account.

minecraft education - managed solution

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Project Kakuma: Educating refugees via Skype

By Koen Timmers as written on blogs.skype.com
In April 2015 a dozen global educators had a Skype call with refugees in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. The camp houses 179,000 refugees and 55% are children. It has 30 schools, each containing 20 classrooms. We set up a project in which teachers from around the world would teach the Kakuma students using Skype.
During a second call, I taught a group of 10 Kakuma teachers how to install and use Skype. We soon discovered that the schools had very little resources: textbooks were only available at a ratio of 1:10; there were no computers and no power supply. An outreach assistant brought his computer to the class he was teaching and 150 students looked onto the small screen. This made me decide to send them my own laptop with the help of a colleague educator who brought it to the camp himself.

skype refugees - managed solution

I created a website for Project Kakuma set up with crowd funding, as well as a game called “Jump to Kakuma” which is available on Windows 8, 10 and iOS. All returns from the game are invested in textbooks and devices for the camp. Two months ago I had enough funding to send a laptop, a projector and a sound system.
We are now conducting classes every week through three to five Skype calls. During the calls a global teacher teaches science, math, art, etc. to the student refugees. These past two months the students have had lessons taught by teachers from the USA, Brazil, New Zealand, Belgium, Austria, Portugal, Denmark, India, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Israel and many other countries.
During our 2-day Skype-a-Thon back in December, we managed to connect with Kakuma from all over the world. Our 24 Skype calls resulted in an astonishing 137,833 virtual miles—the equivalent of 5 times the circumference of the earth. Check out our Sway presentation to find out more.

skype refugees 2 - managed solution

Some fun facts about Project Kakuma:
Why is it so important to do all we can to educate these students? The Kakuma refugees are not able to leave the camp. Through Skype calls, we are unlocking their world. We show that we care and increase their level of education, which then leads to greater chances of a new life away from the camp.
We are currently serving five schools with the help of three outreach assistants. The schools are able to host one call each day until April 2016. If you are an educator and you or your classroom would like to have a call with them, you can schedule it on the Microsoft Educator Community.
This project was created through the collaboration of motivated teachers from all over the world. Without the hard work of Kelli (US), Lena (Denmark), Paula (Finland), Koen (Belgium), Joao (Portugal), Kurt (Austria), Ovi (Spain), and many others, there would be no Project Kakuma.