Under the Spotlight:

Tom Nicholson

Prowler are making big waves in the ocean of Artificial Intelligence. We caught up with Machine Learning Engineer Tom Nicholson, a well travelled sooth-sayer with a penchant for cheap fizz...

You spent a three and a half years living in China, what was the most difficult thing to adjust to?

The pointless bureaucracy. Getting anything done would require getting a number of red stamps from lots of different people. It became quite frustrating. Even buying something in the shop, you can't just go to the check out; you'd have to go somewhere else, they'd give you a red stamp and you'd take that somewhere else etc! It sounds really boring, but we underestimate how efficient things work here. 

Who is your favourite on-screen robot, and why?

Probably the T-800 from the first Terminator film. His menacing nature gave me nightmares! Even though he's a bad guy, he's just amazing; scary in indicating just how powerful artificial intelligence can be... but that's not's official company line!!!

What is the Turing Test?

An outdated method for testing whether a machine has true intelligence. Essentially, it's a blind test where a trained human judge is allowed to communicate with a machine or human via text only. They then have to decide whether they are communicating with a machine or a human. It was actually passed quite recently by a machine pretending to be a 13-year old using "text speak". It's gone out of fashion really, because it's easy to trick people (the judge in this case) rather than actually testing a machine's intelligence.  

Prowler's bots use "Reinforcement Learning", can you describe that in layman terms?

A lot of recent AI has been trying to directly predict stuff. It's given lots of examples of how a machine should behave, and then tries to replicate that. Reinforcement Learning allows a machine to learn in an interactive way. Essentially, it has an environment where it can interact and it gets feedback on it's performance within that environment. It's an interactive learning method where the machine isn't told explicitly what it should be learning, rather it experiments and tries things out and learns from feedback.

What do you enjoy most about working at the Eagle Labs?

It's just cool! It's a cool working space, not a sterile office environment. It sounds like a broad stroke but it's just a cool environment with cool people!

Why do we call it GLM (Generalized Linear Model) when it's clearly non-linear?

Oh no; I guess I don't get the job! Can I see the equation for it?!

One Google search and a few minutes later...

It's still linear with respect to the parameters.

What is the most ridiculous thing you've told someone to impress them?

Easy. It goes back to my teenage years! There was a girl I really liked and I'd just recently joined the school, and so to try and impress her, I told her I'd once kissed a boy... which got out of hand! It really backfired and I didn't get the girl.

If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?

That's a very good question, and one that I'll hopefully never have to answer... apart from now! I would say, a bowl of really good noodles. There's a type of noodles called huimian which essentially has everything tasty in it; dumplings, meat, vegetables. It's basically like a load of meals combined into one. To drink I would have the cheapest bottle of Sainsbury's prosecco because it brings back happy memories. And for dessert, I'd probably go with a really good banana. Really good bananas are underrated!

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