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How to Achieve Business Goals and Holiday Bliss this Season

hour glass with red sand

Business owners and busy professionals struggle year-round to achieve the elusive work-life balance, but their struggle becomes more difficult to overcome as the holidays approach. They are pulled in what seems to be a million different directions, especially as they are under intense pressure to achieve their year-end goals and spend the holidays with friends and family (and lose valuable work time in the process). While there is not a single easy fix, we offer some suggestions for achieving business goals and holiday bliss that should make this balancing act a little easier to manage.

Look for Free Time

Of course, we all say that we just don’t have time, but if you sit down and honestly think about how you spend your day, you more than likely will find at least one thing that is stealing time from you. Common minute stealers are commuting, meetings, using social media, watching television, or responding to email. Then, find a solution to eliminate or change your minute stealers.

For example, you may be able to work from home for a few hours a day to avoid the busiest travel times. You may download an app that helps you stop spending so much time on your smartphone. Or, you may carve out a certain time each day to check and respond to email so you force yourself to keep your replies short and to the point.

One other way to use your free time more wisely is to take advantage of your commute or holiday travel time to be more productive. If you aren’t the one driving, you can work while you ride by using that time to reply to emails, make to-do lists, adjust your calendar, or even get your social media fix for the day so you’re less tempted to take a peek at work.

Set a Designated Time for Work at Home

If you do take off for a couple of weeks to travel to visit with loved ones for the holidays, you most likely will need to take some of that time to tie up loose ends and achieve your final year-end goals. Sometimes, family members don’t understand why you need to work, or there are too many family members around for you to be very productive, so in those cases you should take your work elsewhere. Find a quiet coffee shop or local library and designate a corner as your workspace.

You will feel less guilty about working if you set boundaries and designate time to work and let everyone know that you must work during those times so you can focus on them and the holiday fun when you are together. The key to this strategy is to hold yourself accountable and work only during your designated time. Set your voicemail and email reply to a holiday greeting when you’re not working and keep your phone out of sight to avoid temptations to check messages and email when you are spending time with loved ones.

Take Care of Yourself

As the stress builds because you are trying to do it all to achieve the work-life balance during the holidays, it is important that you take care of yourself so you can enjoy the holidays when you finally get your break from work. Don’t put off sleeping just to make more time in your day. When you don’t get quality rest, you can’t be as productive or as festive as you’d like to be. And, sleep relieves to your physical and psychological stress so you can be reenergized to start again fresh the next morning. Getting enough sleep also helps you stay healthy; the last thing you want is to come down with something as you are trying to reach your goals and enjoy the holidays.

It’s also important to eat well while you’re trying to achieve your business goals and holiday bliss this season. It may be tempting to live on coffee and Christmas treats, but you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you are not eating healthy foods and drinking water to give your body the fuel it needs to keep up with your chaotic year-end schedule.

By taking advantage of every minute, setting a designated time to work, and taking care of yourself, you will have a better chance of meeting your year-end goals and having time to spend with your loved ones to enjoy the holidays.

Image via Pixabay by nile

Should we fear killer robots?

(CNN)Physicist Stephen Hawking recently warned of the dangers of artificial intelligence and “powerful autonomous weapons.” Autonomous technology is racing forward, but international discussions on managing the potential risks are already underway.

This week, nations enter the fourth year of international discussions at the United Nations on lethal autonomous weapons, or what some have called “killer robots.” The UN talks are oriented on future weapons, but simple automated weapons to shoot down incoming missiles have been widely used for decades.

The same computer technology that powers self-driving cars could be used to power intelligent, autonomous weapons.

Recent advances in machine intelligence are enabling more advanced weapons that could hunt for targets on their own. Earlier this year, Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov announced it was developing a “fully automated combat module” based on neural networks that could allow a weapon to “identify targets and make decisions.”

Whether or not Kalashnikov’s claims are true, the underlying technology that will enable self-targeting machines is coming.

For the past several years, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations have called for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons before they can be built. One of their concerns has been that robotic weapons could result in greater civilian casualties. Opponents of a ban have countered that autonomous weapons might be able to more precisely target the enemy and avoid civilians better than humans can, just as self-driving cars might someday make roads safer.

Machine image classifiers, using neural networks, have been able to beat humans at some benchmark image recognition tests. Machines also excel at situations requiring speed and precision.

These advantages suggest that machines might be able to outperform humans in some situations in war, such as quickly determining whether a person is holding a weapon. Machines can also track human body movements and may even be able to catch potentially suspicious activity, such as a person reaching for what could be a concealed weapon, faster and more reliably than a human.

Machine intelligence currently has many weaknesses, however. Neural networks are vulnerable to a form of spoofing attack (sending false data) that can fool the network. Fake “fooling images” can be used to manipulate image classifying systems into believe one image is another, and with very high confidence.

Moreover, these fooling images can be secretly embedded inside regular images in a way that is undetectable to humans. Adversaries don’t need to know the source code or training data a neural network uses in order to trick the network, making this a troubling vulnerability for real-world applications of these systems.

More generally, machine intelligence today is brittle and lacks the robustness and flexibility of human intelligence. Even some of the most impressive machine learning systems, such as DeepMind’s AlphaGo, are only narrowly intelligent. While AlphaGo is far superior to humans at playing the ancient Chinese game Go, reportedly its performance drops off significantly when playing on a differently sized board than the standard 19×19 Go board it learned on.

The brittleness of machine intelligence is a problem in war, where “the enemy gets a vote” and can deliberately try to push machines beyond the bounds of their programming. Humans are able to flexibly adapt to novel situations, an important advantage on the battlefield.

Humans are also able to understand the moral consequences of war, which machines cannot even remotely approximate today. Many decisions in war do not have easy answers and require weighing competing values.

As an Army Ranger who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, I faced these situations myself. Machines cannot weigh the value of a human life. The vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Paul Selva, has repeatedly highlighted the importance of maintaining human responsibility over the use of force. In July of this year, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “I don’t think it’s reasonable for us to put robots in charge of whether or not we take a human life.”

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The challenge for nations will be to find ways to harness the benefits of automation, particularly its speed and precision, without sacrificing human judgment and moral responsibility.

There are many ways in which incorporating more automation and intelligence into weapons could save lives.

At the same time, nations will want to do so without giving up the robustness, flexibility and moral decision-making that humans bring. There are no easy answers for how to balance human and machine decision-making in weapons.

Some military scenarios will undoubtedly require automation, as is already the case today. At the same time, some decision-making in war requires weighing competing values and applying judgment. For now at least, these are uniquely human abilities.

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Facebook apologizes after translation fail leads to false arrest

No translation service is perfect, but you wouldn’t expect it to get you arrested.

Facebook admitted that an error in its artificial intelligence-based auto-translation feature led to the arrest of a Palestinian man who posted “good morning” on his social profile.

The man, a construction worker in the West Bank near Jerusalem, posted a picture of himself leaning against a bulldozer with the caption “يصبحهم”, or “yusbihuhum,” which means “good morning” in Arabic.

Facebook’s translator replaced his pleasant greeting with “hurt them” in English or what translates to “attack them” in Hebrew.

No Arabic-speaking authorities got a look at his post in time and police arrested the man later that day on suspicion that he was planning an attack using the bulldozer, a vehicle that had previously been used in hit-and-run terrorist attacks. He was released after several hours of questioning.

Arabic speakers tell Haaretz that the transliteration produced by Facebook isn’t a real Arabic word, but looks a lot like “to hurt.” A native Arabic speaker would reportedly have spotted the error.

Facebook apologized and said it would investigate the problem in a statement to Gizmodo.

“Unfortunately, our translation systems made an error last week that misinterpreted what this individual posted. Even though our translations are getting better each day, mistakes like these might happen from time to time and we’ve taken steps to address this particular issue. We apologize to him and his family for the mistake and the disruption this caused.”

H/T the Guardian

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