AI Demonstrates Superiority in "Imperfect Information" Gaming

This post forms a trilogy of sorts with previous articles written on advancements in machine intelligence.  In July 2017, I wrote an article entitled "Being More Human" which chronicled improvements in computer bots enabling machines to successfully pass the Turing Test.   Then, in December, "Rise of the Machine" talked about the remarkable achievements in machine learning which allowed the AlphaZero algorithm to defeat the best purpose-built computers in chess, shogi and Go after only a few hours of self-study.  (These posts can be found in this News thread by scrolling down.)

This article highlights another win for AI in the field of gaming and is based on info from the MIT Technology Review article here.  This time, computer algorithms were teamed together to beat experienced DOTA 2 players.  DOTA 2 is an online game developed by the makers of the Warcraft gaming system (DOTA 2, Wikipedia). 

Indeed, games like chess are difficult to master.  An argument currently among chess enthusiasts is not whether computers are better at chess than humans, but whether chess can be "solved" by a computer.  In this sense, "solving" the game means, with best play on both sides, you know the outcome of the game with certainty from the beginning.  An example of a solved game is Tic-Tac-Toe.  (You know the first player can only draw at best if the second player plays perfectly.)  People who argue chess can never be solved this way say we will never have the computing power definitively to solve chess because chess has as many legal variations in the first 20 moves as the grains of sand in...wait for it...the universe!  State of the art AI dominance in chess is achieved through neural networks, which don't do brute force calculation, but narrow to "best moves" closely mirroring the skill humans refer to as intuition. 

What's different in this latest chapter of the Man vs. Machine saga is that DOTA 2 features "imperfect information" in a game where a number of potentially successful strategies are dependent upon how other teammates (and the opposition) approach the game.  (An analogy is the tuning dial on your stereo system versus presets.  Depending on the fidelity of your sound system, there is nearly an infinite number of adjustments you can make.)  By adding teammates and their varying strategies and reactions to opponents, DOTA 2 presents an entirely different set of problems for machines working collaboratively than the machine will encounter in a turn based game like chess.

Of course, the most interesting aspect of all of this is the machines are able to learn optimal strategies through self-learning, not by someone writing purpose-built programs to automate them.  

With machine learning, we are getting to the point where if winning strategies exist - even if they are abstract,  they can be mastered by a machine (and much faster than we would have imagined even a few years ago).  It reminds me of the 1983 "Wargames" movie where the computer decides chess is a better game to play than global thermonuclear warfare because you can win at chess.  But what if computers in the next generation determine global thermonuclear warfare (or some other catastrophe to humans) is winning (for them, at least)?  

I will conclude my comments on AI, with some notable quotes about the potential and dangers of Artificial Intelligence:

  • Stephen Hawking:  “AI is likely to be either the best or worst thing to happen to humanity...The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.  It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded.” 
  • Larry Page: "Artificial intelligence would be the ultimate version of Google. The ultimate search engine that would understand everything on the web. It would understand exactly what you wanted, and it would give you the right thing. We're nowhere near doing that now. However, we can get incrementally closer to that, and that is basically what we work on.”
  • Elon Musk: "The pace of progress in artificial intelligence (I’m not referring to narrow AI) is incredibly fast.  Unless you have direct exposure to groups like Deepmind, you have no idea how fast—it is growing at a pace close to exponential. The risk of something seriously dangerous happening is in the five-year time-frame. 10 years at most...We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” 
  • Bill Gates: “A breakthrough in machine learning would be worth ten Microsofts...I am in the camp that is concerned about artificial intelligence.  First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent.  That should be positive if we manage it well.  A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern.  I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.” 

It is my sincere hope the machines will not hold this thread against me in the near future...

 

 

 

Collaborate18

Collaborate18 was a tremendous event for us this year.  Besides the once-a-year opportunity it provides to meet with many of our clients and consultants, it feels like our branding as a staffing company providing consultant-level expertise in the JD Edwards marketplace is really resounding with our clients.

We came home with several new openings, a new strategic partnership with a large Oracle Business Partner and many, many leads to pursue this year.

As an aside, I was also able to visit SuiteWorld, the NetSuite conference, which was running concurrently with Collaborate the week we were in Vegas.  Compared to the Collaborate venue, I have to admit the energy and vibe in their exhibitor area was quite electric.  No doubt, there is a lot of buzz as vendors scramble to align with Oracle's Cloud strategy.

I think it is a great time for client's using ERP platforms, for consultants that run them and for companies like mine that focus in these technologies.  On the one hand, you have a loyal customer base that is relying on the established ERP platforms.  At the other end of the spectrum, there is disruption and innovation happening with the Cloud tools.  I suspect for the foreseeable future that a blend of both kinds of solutions will give the most functionality and leverage to the end-client.

We have a number of openings (contract and perm) which I have pasted below.  You can also review our openings here.  

Development/Technical

  • JDE Development Manager – New York – This is a hands-on E1 Lead Developer role managing a small team in Queens, NY.
  • JDE E1 Development Lead, work remotely – Perm – Work with a leading Oracle Business Partner.
  • JDE E1 Developer, Georgia – Perm – We have two current openings with Atlanta based clients, one on the south side of Atlanta, and one on the north side.
  • JDE E1 Developer, Indiana – Perm – Staff Developer for heavy mfg. client.
  • JDE E1 Developer, Colorado – Perm – Client in the Denver area needs an experienced Developer.
  • JDE E1 Developer , Montana – Perm – E1 Developer needed for post go-live enhancements and maintenance.
  • World Developer, South Carolina – Contract – Must have strong Mfg. experience.  We have three consultants in a similar role with this client.  This is a long term contract assignment.
  • World Developer, Michigan – Perm and/or contract – We have two clients in Michigan undertaking World A9.4 upgrades.  They need Developers with strong MRP/Mfg. experience.  One client prefers to engage a contractor for their need.  The other client wants to hire a Developer outright. 
  • ReportsNow Developer, Georgia – Contract – We need two ReportsNow Developers for 4-6 month assignment.
  • Data Migration Lead, New Jersey – Perm – Lead efforts to move data from legacy ERP system to JDE 9.2
  • C++ Developer, work remotely – Contract or Perm – Oracle Business Partner needs someone with multiplatform (Windows, Unix, i-Series) integration experience.
  • AWS Developer, work remotely – Contract or Perm – Amazon Web Services (AWS) integration experience required.  This position can be remote to candidates based in the U.S.

Applications

Finance

  • JDE Finance Business Analyst, Nevada – Perm – Client has recently completed their E1 9.2 upgrade, needs experienced Finance Analyst.
  • JDE Implementation Support Analyst, Georgia – Perm – High volume Oracle installed client needs people with 2-5 years’ experience with JD Edwards to assist in rollout to global clients added through acquisition.
  • JDE User/Super-user level Finance candidates, work remotely – Our client, a large Oracle Business Partner, has engaged us to identify bright Accounting and Finance people with JD Edwards experience.  You will be trained/certified in JDE and NetSuite software as part of a support organization.  This is an excellent stepping-stone opportunity for Finance people who want to move into software consulting.

Distribution

  • JDE Distribution Business Analyst, Minnesota – Perm – Client moved from World to E1 is looking for strong Distribution/Supply Chain Analyst.  
  • JDE Distribution Business Analyst, Indiana – Perm – Corporate location for multi-site client with E1 9.2 rollout. 
  • JDE Distribution Business Analyst, Pennsylvania  – Perm – Needs strong Sales Order Management exp. in a global environment.  
  • JDE Distribution Business Analyst, Colorado – Perm – Assist in global E1 application support.
  • JDE Order-to-Cash Lead, New Jersey – Perm – Our client is undertaking an E1 9.2 upgrade and is looking to hire a strong Order to Cash person.
  • JDE Distribution Analyst (with Capital Assets Management exp.), Nevada – Perm – Las Vegas based client is looking for a candidate with strong Distribution experience including CAM.  
  • JDE SWM Consultant, Atlanta, GA – Contract – Consultant experienced with JD Edwards Service Warranty Mgt. applications needed  for industrial mfg./distribution client.
  • (Proprietary) Supply Chain Consultant, Georgia, Perm – Our client has developed a modular supply chain solution applicable to ERP systems.  We help them find highly educated, early career candidates that they train on their software.

Manufacturing

  • World Manufacturing Consultant, Michigan – Contract – We have two clients in Michigan undertaking World A9.4 upgrades seeking a Mfg. Consultant to lead in MRP best practices.  These assignments may go long-term if the client then decides to further upgrade to EnterpriseOne.
  • JDE Manufacturing Business Analyst, California – Perm – Aerospace industry client seeking an E1 Business Analyst to manage Mfg/Dist applications.

HR/Payroll

  • HCM Consultant, Georgia – Contract – Consultant needed to assist with cleanup of HR/P issues and Kronos integration.
  • HR Consultant, Pennsylvania – Contract – Construction-oriented client needs HCM consultant.  (Experience with Job Cost is a plus skill.)

Please note we have another ten openings for JDE applications consultants we are staffing along with another Business Partner.  By agreement, these are perm positions not posted here or on our website.  For more info, please contact us to see if we might have a good match for you.

Systems/Technology

  • JDE CNC Analyst, work remotely – Perm – Our client, a Managed Services provider is interested in hiring two experienced CNC Analysts.  Multi-platform experience (Windows, Unix/Linux, i-Series) is desirable.
  • VCP Solutions Architect, New Jersey – Perm – Client needs an Analyst experienced in Oracle’s Value Chain Planning tools (like Demantra) to lead this aspect of their upgrade.
  • Dynamics CRM Manager, Georgia – Perm – Seeking Analyst with strong Dynamics CRM experience to manage a small team.

Leadership

  • JDE Applications Manager, Connecticut – Perm – Work in player/coach capacity leading a team of Business Analysts.
  • JDE Applications Manager, Maryland – Perm – Good compensation package for Manager overseeing an experienced JD Edwards team.
  • NetSuite Lead, work remotely – Perm – Work with an established Business Partner as a Solutions Architect building their NetSuite Practice.
  • SAP Director of Applications, Ohio – Perm – Manage a team of Analysts and Consultants with the goal of creating a SAP single-sign for all corporate ERP applications.
  • IT Director, Maryland – Perm – Client is seeking an experienced Technology Manager to lead a team of six with plans to implement JD Edwards later this year.

Why Enspire?

A loyal customer recently asked me for a summary of Enspire Partners' capabilities so she could tell some of her colleagues about us.  The bullet points below highlight the reasons many of our clients work with us.

We are the most experienced JD Edwards staffing firm in the United States.

Our leadership team has worked exclusively in this domain for the last 17+ years.  Our span of customers includes over 100 end-client firms running Oracle software, other Oracle Business Partners and Managed Services firms supporting EnterpriseOne and World clients.  We are the only JD Edwards staffing company that regularly exhibits and presents at Collaborate. 

Enspire Partners has been in business since 2011.  We are an Oracle Business Partner headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

We combine Business Partner experience with staffing firm pricing and flexibility.

We fit into a niche between Business Partners who sell project/integration services and traditional IT staffing firms.  Traditional Business Partners are expensive and want to “own” your project and change your processes.  Traditional staffing firms do not understand JD Edwards’ requirements and talent.  We do.

We offer turnkey services in the JD Edwards staffing arena – providing both experienced contractors and perm/direct employee candidates.

We are happy to staff your contract, perm or contract-to-hire needs.  You keep our contractors only as long as you need them.  Our perm candidates come with an unconditional 90-day guarantee.

No one owns all of the talent in the JDE marketplace, but we are very well-connected.

Most Business Partners win your business by presenting their best people, but they staff your project based on who is available from their bench.  We are talent focused (working with JDE Applications, Development, CNC and Leadership candidates), but we do not payroll a bench.  Our approach is to connect you with the best talent available in the marketplace when you need them.

We typically bill our clients $20-25 less per hour than other Oracle Business Partners, sometimes for the same resources.

Because of our lower overhead approach, we charge $20-25 less per hour than other Business Partners for similar services.  (Surprisingly, we also are able to pay our consultants more.)  We know this to be true because other Business Partners often engage our contractors and re-brand them to their customers with no additional value in their markup.

Working with us does not require exclusivity, and we appreciate competition.

Most of our clients blend our services along with a traditional Business Partner (or a Managed Services provider) to get the best coverage for their needs.  We want to give you options without wasting your time.  In the end, you should select the best resource for your opening.

We also can help in other areas.

JD Edwards is an area of specialty of ours, but our recruiting team also is experienced in related areas like infrastructure, support, custom development/testing and Business Intelligence.

Getting the 411 on COLLABORATE 18!

For our fifth consecutive year, Enspire Partners will be attending COLLABORATE April 22-28 at the Mandalay Resort in Las Vegas!

To get the real scoop on all things Collaborate, please stop by Booth 411 and say hello!  Josh, Brian and I will be meeting with clients and consultants throughout the conference. Quest attendees can also register to win a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones we will be giving away in our Questopoly drawing.  

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Enspire Partners is in Booth 411 of the Exhibitor Showcase

COLLABORATE 18 is the premier, user-led, technology and applications forum for the Oracle community. Produced by three independent user groups, IOUG, OAUG and Quest, COLLABORATE 18 is created by users for users. • 1,200+ sessions and panels packed with customers sharing their stories, case studies and practical “how-to” content • Community-sourced education led by experts – for everyone, at every stage of their technology journey • Breaking product news, roadmaps and insider information from Oracle executive management and developers • Education and training for functional, technical and hybrid users • Access to hundreds of other customers across industries to build your personal and professional network, including special interest group (SIG) meetings, geographic networking events and receptions • An Exhibitor Showcase packed with products and solutions providers who can help you solve your specific challenges • Unique events such as the Women in Technology Forum—connect with key women who are examples of success in a fast-changing environment

Ready to access a wealth of information to help you navigate your technology journey? COLLABORATE 18 takes place April 22-26, 2018, at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Register by March 8 to save big! Select the user group most closely aligned with your interests at www.attendcollaborate.com.

 

JD Edwards Jobs Trends

We are seeing a steady stream of work for both contractors and perm candidates in the JD Edwards channel. 

  • Demand is higher now than we have seen in our previous seven years as a company. Better still, clients are acting more decisively when qualified candidates are brought forward versus the "hurry up and wait" approach many companies adopted in early/mid 2017. 
  • In addition to upgrade activities, we are working with a couple of domestic clients undertaking net-new installations of JD Edwards. This is encouraging to the entire ecosystem and drives both contract and perm requirements.
  • Contract opportunities are typically covered within 48 hours. Let us know when you will be available in advance to avoid downtime. We pay our consultants every two weeks – well in advance of when we are paid by the client.
  • Lately, there has been a notable increase in requirements for Distribution/Supply Chain skill sets. We interpret this to mean companies are selling/moving their products – and that’s a good thing!

The message to both clients and candidates is the economy seems solid and lining up the right people for your team and the right role for yourself is NOW.

I have highlighted some of our JDE openings below. You can see all our current openings HERE.   Click on the links below – or simply call us at 678-730-6966 – for more information.

Financials

Distribution

Manufacturing

Development

Leadership

CNC/Infrastructure

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Rise of the Machine!

In July, I wrote an article entitled:  “Being More Human”, which talked about some of the advancements in cognitive computing, and also, about how we – as humans – need to find new ways of contributing in our increasingly machine-driven society.

One example cited was the vast computing power demonstrated by computer mastery of games like chess, where the real champion of our planet is a machine, not a man.  The World Computer Chess Championship was held November 13-16, featuring the ten strongest chess programs (“engines”) in the world.  “Stockfish 8”, an open source, purpose-built chess engine won the November tournament, narrowly beating “Houdini” with a score of 3 wins, 2 losses and 15 draws.  Stockfish also won similar tournaments in 2016 and 2014.  More information on this tournament can be found here

As a chess enthusiast, I watched as a human grandmaster played “with odds” against Stockfish in an exhibition game while this tournament was underway.  The handicap given to Stockfish was that it had to play from the beginning of the game with only one knight.  In addition to human observers, other chess engines were scoring the game, and we all watched in amazement as Stockfish intrepidly overcame the deficit of a knight to the point where accepting a draw was the welcome response of the human GM (and playing on any longer may have resulted in a loss).

Grandmasters heralded this event as the apex of chess computing.  Chess was effectively “solved” as these engines, relying on massive “tablebases” addressed both the opening moves of the game and the endgame, while deep computational power allowed programs like Stockfish to score millions of positions per second in selecting moves in the middlegame.

Then, something altogether unexpected happened. 

On December 5, AlphaZero, an algorithm developed by Google’s DeepMind division defeated not only the top programs in chess, but also similar programs in shogi and Go.

  • After being given the rules of chess and nine hours to “teach itself” chess, AlphaZero demolished Stockfish by the astonishing score of 28 wins, 0 losses and 72 draws. 
  • In 100 shogi games, AlphaZero defeated elmo (the World Computer Shogi 2017 champion) winning 90 games, losing eight times with two draws.
  • AlphaZero had similar results in Go, except this time it was matched against an earlier version of AlphaZero, which was already the World Champion of Go.

The natural reaction is to assume AlphaZero won because it was able to search deeper or faster, but in reality, it taught itself to search better.  AlphaZero searches just 80,000 positions per second in chess, compared to the 70 million per second Stockfish can evaluate, but AlphaZero compensates by using deep neural network technology to focus on more optimal variations over Stockfish's brute force approach.

Most interestingly, AlphaZero won by playing more like a human (or maybe a superhuman) – using intuition when the event horizon for brute force calculation fails.  AlphaZero often sacrificed material against Stockfish to gain persistent, but less concrete positional advantages. Grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen said:  “I always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on earth and showed us how they played chess. Now I know.”

For more info on how AlphaZero plays chess, read this article.

If computers can beat chess after only a few hours of self-study, they may be able to do many things – good and bad – if given a little more time.  How long until they develop self-awareness?

Be kind to your computer, and (hopefully) it will be kind to you.

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Enspire Partners Achieves 2017 Revenue Targets

One year ago, we committed to taking our internal staff on a trip if we exceeded last year's revenues by $1,000,000. We achieved our goals earlier this month and took our team, spouses and children to Destin, Florida from September 21 - 24.

In six years, Enspire Partners has grown from concept to one of the strongest ERP staffing firms in North America. Every customer and consultant we work with is part of our success story. 

We work in a very competitive and dynamic marketplace.  This year, we've seen many changes, but we are committed to this space for the long haul.  Whether we are able to help today, or if it takes longer to find just the right fit for you, we will continue to work hard to match good clients to good consultants.

 View from our balcony

View from our balcony

 Dinner at The Crab Trap

Dinner at The Crab Trap

Oracle's Execs Working Under Highly Leveraged Bonus Plans

 

Oracle is moving its CEOs (Hurd and Katz) and Founder/CTO (Ellison) to a 100% results-based incentive program.

http://www.businessinsider.com/larry-ellison-no-new-equity-unless-oracle-stock-80-dollars-2017-9

Their bonuses will be dependent upon raising Oracle's stock from $50 to $80 and quadrupling Cloud sales this year. (Oracle’s fiscal year ends in May.) These are people who want to get paid – a lot, so you can expect that they will do everything possible to achieve these targets.

The easiest way to achieve this would probably be to do the second thing first (i.e. blow out their Cloud sales), because by doing this, the stock price will automatically rise.

Pushing Cloud is not a new thing for Oracle, but I think we can expect Oracle to offer even stronger incentives for customers to move to Cloud even on a temporary basis to pump these numbers. 

We already are seeing one way they are growing Cloud participation is by offering deep discounts in traditional offerings (like JD Edwards or EBS) for clients who buy Cloud as an add-on.  (These discounts are available even to use Cloud on a limited basis.)

 

Me or We?

I heard a comment today on sports radio that made me think.

Tom Herman is the new football coach at the University of Texas. He was hired to turn around the Texas program which used to be one of the strongest in the country, but has underperformed for several years. 

On Saturday, Texas lost their first game of the season to Maryland 51-41. After the game, Herman said: “If we thought in nine months that we were going to sprinkle some fairy dust on this team and think we’ve arrived, we were wrong.” To be sure, he was frustrated with the results, but by implication, he was throwing his players under the bus, by saying he couldn’t perform miracles with the crappy players he had inherited. 

Urban Meyer, who is a much more accomplished coach than Herman (and was his boss when Herman coached at Ohio State), took issue with Herman’s “pixie dust” comment and said Herman should stop making excuses as the head coach of the team.

The truth is, we all get dealt certain hands in life. One day, you may become the dealer and can change your game, but today all you can do is play the hand you are dealt the best way you can.

Most of us work in jobs where we depend on others and others depend on you. Some of you are very good at your job, but working well with others becomes a force multiplier.

 Being a good teammate and a good leader involves taking responsibility for what you can do – within the team setting – to make things better.

Being a good teammate and a good leader involves taking responsibility for what you can do – within the team setting – to make things better.