Monthly Archives: January 2015

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This Guy Beat Google’s Super-Smart AI—But It Wasn’t Easy Andrej Karpathy knows what it’s like to compete with artificial intelligence. He first went head-to-head with an artificial intelligence algorithm in 2011. A team of Stanford University researchers had just built the world’s most effective image-recognition software, and he wanted to see how well his very real brain stacked up against their digital creation on what was, at the time, a standard image recognition test. The Stanford software analyzed a pool of about 50,000 images, slotting each into one of 10 categories, such as “dogs,” “horses,” and “trucks.” It was right about 80 percent of the time. Karpathy took the same test and completely smoked the AI code, scoring 94 percent. Karpathy, himself a graduate student at Stanford, thought humans would beat machines on this type of test for a long time. “[I]t will be hard to go above 80 percent,” he […]

It’s Time to Fix America’s Infrastructure. Here’s Where to Start President Obama believes America must build “21st century infrastructure—modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet,” and in his State of the Union this week he asked the Republican-controlled Congress to pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan, likely the trillion-dollar legislation Senator Bernie Sanders proposed earlier this month.It’s an ambitious plan that many agree is desperately needed. The American Society of Civil Engineers says the US needs massive investments in all essential infrastructure, from bridges and airports to dams and railways. According to the society’s most recent infrastructure report card, the US earns a D+ for its infrastructure. It is, in a word, a mess. This is about much more than potholes. This is about keeping the economy, literally and figuratively, moving. Much of the economic boom the United States has experienced over the last 50 years is because the network of highways […]

A Key Issue in Obama’s State of the Union: Advocating for Women at Work President Obama covered a wide range of topics during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, from cybersecurity to international relations to education. But between discussion of immigration, climate change, and foreign relations, another big idea kept popping up. Many of the President’s proposals involved improving the lives of women, particularly in the workplace, something he believes will be critical to ensuring the country’s economic strength.This isn’t an altogether new thing for this President or the Democratic party. Winning favor with female voters has been a key mission of President Obama’s tenure in office from the outset, starting with the passage of The Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act just days after his inauguration in 2009. That piece of legislation, the first President Obama signed in office, made it easier for people to challenge their […]

The Civil Rights Legend Who’s Inspiring a New Generation With Comic Books Congressman John Lewis has a dramatic life story: Born the son of Alabama sharecroppers, he joined the Civil Rights Movement, became one of the original Freedom Riders, marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma and spoke at the 1963 March on Washington before King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Now, the last living member of the legendary Big Six civil rights leaders is sharing his story with the next generation through a trilogy of graphic novels titled March. Comics have played an important role in communicating the message of the Civil Rights Movement to young people before—including Lewis himself. When he was 18, Lewis read a comic book titled Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Story published by the civil rights group Fellowship for Reconciliation, something that he says changed his life. The comic was […]

The Nonprofit That’s Giving Underprivileged Kids Jobs in Tech Companies When Luis Almendarez was a junior in high school, he wasn’t interested in technology—or much of anything else he encountered in the classroom. The way he remembers it, he went to class not because he was excited by what he might learn, but because it was expected of him. He was shy, he says, and unwilling to speak up. He had come to California from Honduras as an undocumented immigrant. Under the DREAM Act, he earned the right to keep studying here in the U.S., and somewhere along the way, he developed vague notions of becoming a civil engineer. But as a student at Oakland High School in Northern California, he wasn’t all that motivated. “Where I came from,” he says, “a good education doesn’t matter very much.” But then, in his junior year, he came face-to-face with a nonprofit […]

What Are Quantum Dots, and Why Do I Want Them in My TV? If you look at the CES 2015 word cloud—a neon blob of buzz radiating from the Nevada desert, visible from space—much of it is a retweet of last year’s list. Wearables. 4K. The Internet of Things, still unbowed by its stupid name. Connected cars. HDR. Curved everything. It’s the same-old, same-old, huddled together for their annual #usie at the butt-end of a selfie stick. But there at the margin, ready to photobomb the shot, is the new kid: quantum dot. It goes by other names, too, which is confusing, and we’ll get to that in a minute. Regardless of what you call it, QD was all over CES this year, rubbing shoulders with the 4K crowd. You may have heard people say it’s all hype. Those people can go pound sand. Quantum dot is gonna be the next big thing in TVs‎, bringing better image […]

AI Has Arrived, and That Really Worries the World’s Brightest Minds On the first Sunday afternoon of 2015, Elon Musk took to the stage at a closed-door conference at a Puerto Rican resort to discuss an intelligence explosion. This slightly scary theoretical term refers to an uncontrolled hyper-leap in the cognitive ability of AI that Musk and physicist Stephen Hawking worry could one day spell doom for the human race. That someone of Musk’s considerable public stature was addressing an AI ethics conference—long the domain of obscure academics—was remarkable. But the conference, with the optimistic title “The Future of AI: Opportunities and Challenges,” was an unprecedented meeting of the minds that brought academics like Oxford AI ethicist Nick Bostrom together with industry bigwigs like Skype founder Jaan Tallinn and Google AI expert Shane Legg. [amazon template=banner easy&asin=0500543178] Musk and Hawking fret over an AI apocalypse, but there are more immediate threats. In […]

This Google Motherboard Means Trouble for Intel The Intel chip factory in Chandler, Arizona was christened by President Barack Obama. In 2012, while it was under construction, the President made a pit stop at the plant, known as Fab 42, painting it as a symbol of American optimism. “The factory that’s being built behind me is an example of an America that is within our reach–an America that attracts the next generation of good manufacturing jobs,” Obama said. It was a noble vision, but for Intel, things didn’t exactly work out as planned. The chip giant eventually mothballed the $5 billion factory, and the construction site is now a symbol of a different kind. Fab 42 represents an Intel in transition, a company that’s struggling to evolve with a changing world. The big online companies, including Google and Facebook and Amazon, are now looking to run their operations on computer […]

Today’s Apps Are Turning Us Into Sociopaths While I am far from a Luddite who fetishizes a life without tech, we need to consider the consequences of this latest batch of apps and tools that remind us to contact significant others, boost our willpower, provide us with moral guidance, and encourage us to be civil. Taken together, we’re observing the emergence of tech that doesn’t just augment our intellect and lives — but is now beginning to automate and outsource our humanity. In places designated ‘no bro zones,’ the app is automatically disabled. But let’s take a concrete example. Instead of doing the professorial pontification thing we tech philosophers are sometimes wont to do, I talked to the makers of BroApp, a “clever relationship wingman” (their words) that sends “automated daily text messages” to your significant other. It offers the promise of “maximizing” romantic connection through “seamless relationship outsourcing.” Now, […]

The Magical Bulletproof Material That Made Iron Man Give Up Iron Graphene is a fascinating material, consisting of a layer of carbon only one atom thick. As such, it’s not unusual for scientific journals to make it the subject of research articles. However, last month brought two vastly different publications that made an identical, dramatic point about the mechanical properties of graphene. Science featured an article by scientists and engineers at Rice University and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst that described the results of targeting micro-bullets at graphene. And in Marvel Comics’ Superior Ironman #2, someone shot Tony Stark in the face. In the latest adventures of the armored Avenger, Tony Stark has undergone a serious personality change thanks to a magic spell cast by the Scarlet Witch and Dr. Doom (seriously, don’t ask): he’s reverted to the self-centered arrogance that he exhibited before he escaped terrorists by creating an iron […]

Central Command’s Twitter Account Hacked…As Obama Speaks on Cybersecurity Twitter and YouTube accounts belonging to the military’s US Central Command were hacked on Monday. Hackers supportive of the terrorist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, took credit and issued a warning to the US military. “AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS,” the hackers tweeted through the account for the US Central Command, which is the military command for the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. The tweet included a link to a statement that read in part: [amazon template=banner easy&asin=0945506562] “While the US and its satellites kill our brothers in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan we broke into your networks and personal devices and know everything about you,” it read. “You’ll see no mercy infidels. ISIS is already here, we are in your PCs, in each military base. With Allah’s permission we are in CENTCOM now. […]

I Rode 500 Miles in a Self-Driving Car and Saw the Future. It’s Delightfully Dull [amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&asin=0945506562] [amazon template=banner easy&asin=0945506562] We spent two days driving in an autonomous Audi A7, from Palo Alto to Las Vegas, for CES. I was a few hours outside of Los Angeles, tooling down I-5 at the wheel of a sleek Audi A7 on a gorgeous day when a little girl in an SUV smiled and waved. I waved back. With both hands. This immediately freaked her out, and she started jumping up and down. All I could do was laugh, knowing my vigorous wave was in no way a safety hazard. In fact, I hadn’t touched the steering wheel in more than an hour. What that little girl didn’t know, despite the stickers on the car, was that I was piloting Audi’s latest autonomous vehicle, a prototype designed specifically to handle the monotony of […]

And the Winner of Gadget Lab’s Off-the-Grid CES Competition Is… CES has been a lot of fun, and we hope you got a fever for that flavor from our liveblog. We wrote nearly 300 posts, showing you everything from the gear of your dreams to the weirdest stuff Kyle could dig up from the fringes of the show floor. Christina had a mini mental breakdown and Tim’s body broke down completely. Faced with so much hard work, it’s really tough to choose a winner of the Off the Grid competition, which, among other things, required everyone to work only on a cellphone that couldn’t be charged from a wall outlet. But somebody’s gotta walk away with that fancy dinner. [amazon template=banner easy&asin=0945506562] Here goes: 3rd Place: Kyle VanHemert Kyle’s wonderful taste, keen trend-eye, and ability to get weird in the most charming way added great texture to the liveblog, making us […]

The Biggest Security Threats We’ll Face in 2015 As the clock strikes midnight on the new year, so begins the countdown to a new round of security threats and breaches that doubtless will unfold in 2015. But this year will be a little different. In the past, when we’ve talked about threat predictions, we’ve focused either on the criminal hackers out to steal credit card data and banking passwords or on the activist hackers out for the lulz (and maybe to teach corporate victims a lesson).But these days, no threat predictions are complete if they don’t address the looming threats posed by nation-state attacks, like the ones exposed by Edward Snowden. It’s been said repeatedly that when a spy agency like the NSA undermines a system to gain access for its own use, it makes that system more vulnerable to attack by others. So we begin this list with that […]

2015 Resolution: Accept that Diseases Hop Borders, Don’t Dismiss Them, and Don’t Panic Happy New Year, constant readers. There’s no question that the big public health story of 2014 was Ebola. The African epidemic has now racked up more than 20,000 cases, according to the World Health Organization, which has put together a useful map and timeline of developments since March. If you’d like to look back on the year, the best sum-up by far is the New York Times’ long and beautifully told “How Ebola Roared Back,” and for a sense of what we learned this year — and what we still don’t know — consider reading Helen Branswell’s account, published at the Winnipeg Free Press. The international health community still must focus on Ebola; the disease is by no means contained. But my New Year’s wish, for those of us outside that community, is that we begin 2015 […]