AlphaZero Masters Chess in Just 24 Hours

DeepMind, the same outfit that built AlphaGo, the AI platform that learned Go through supervised study of the game and went on to famously beat the top ranked player Lee Sedol has built an algorithm that now plays chess.

What is even more incredible about this new “AlphaZero” AI is that it learned how to play chess through unsupervised learning. Instead of teaching it chess by feeding in key games and tactics, the designers just taught it the rules and let the algorithm figure out the best moves all on its own, by playing itself.

Because it no longer needed to wade through and analyze historical data and also because it developed it’s own approach which was ruthlessly efficient. When AlphaZero was applied to Go, it surpassed AlphaGo within 3 days. AlphaZero was beating the strongest chess computer programs within 24 hours.

instead of a hybrid brute-force approach, which has been the core of chess engines today, it went in a completely different direction, opting for an extremely selective search that emulates how humans think.

Chess News writes about the development after reading a scientific paper published about the research accomplishment.

In the diagram above, we can see that in the early games, AlphaZero was quite enthusiastic about playing the French Defense, but after two hours (this so humiliating) began to play it less and less.

Chess News goes on to write about the broader impact of this breakthrough and what this means for the future of a generalized AI that can learn on its own.

So where does this leave chess, and what does it mean in general? This is a game-changer, a term that is so often used and abused, and there is no other way of describing it. Deep Blue was a breakthrough moment, but its result was thanks to highly specialized hardware whose purpose was to play chess, nothing else. If one had tried to make it play Go, for example, it would have never worked. This completely open-ended AI able to learn from the least amount of information and take this to levels hitherto never imagined is not a threat to ‘beat’ us at any number of activities, it is a promise to analyze problems such as disease, famine, and other problems in ways that might conceivably lead to genuine solutions.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Rochester have figured out a way to inject information into a monkey’s brain.

The week that was (12/8/2017)

A 77-year old man in Japan has taken up a new hobby, painting . . . with Microsoft Excel.

A researcher at Yale has figured out the secret to turn conservatives into liberals.

A 5-pound avocado grown in Hawaii has broken the world record, “We just cut giant slices out of it like avocado steaks and served them around” says Pamela Wang, the proud owner.

For the first time ever, the Olympic torch will be passed to a South Korean robot.

The last Blockbusters in the world is about to close.

It’s called a “tube scarf” in the fashion world but to me it looks like they just made off with the sleeve of the Jolly Green Giant’s sweater.

 

 

Encore Gig : Camperforce

Migrant workers in 2017 now work for Amazon and live out of an RV. The Guardian reports that older workers, unable to afford rising rent and medical expenses, hit the road to work at Amazon distribution centers in exchange for a place to park their RV and water, sewage and electrical hookups. They call them the camperforce.

In other news, Amazon appears to be working their drivers so hard they don’t have time to relieve themselves. In this one instance in Sacramento, the driver ended up delivering a very different kind of package.

“The delivery company supervisor came out in his personal car and was not prepared for cleanup,” Bautista posted on Facebook. “He was in shock when he saw the size of ‘it.’ He ended up scooping it up with a plastic bag, but didn’t want to take it with him (it smelled really bad).”

Amazon said in a statement, “This does not reflect the high standards we have for delivery service providers.” and gave Bautista a Amazon gift card for her troubles.

Maybe that’s the long term play for Amazon Key.

Reuters Tracer combs Twitter for news

According to internal research, Reuters determined that 10-20% of news broke first on Twitter.

Reuters, the news agency that first scooped its rivals with the use of carrier pigeons, is seeing good results from an algorithm to sift through Twitter (over 12 million tweets/day,  2% of total volume) to search for signal in the noise. Reuters Tracer is the system summarized in MIT’s Technology Review, How Reuters’s Revolutionary AI System Gathers Global News

The first step in the process is to siphon the Twitter data stream. Tracer examines about 12 million tweets a day, 2 percent of the total. Half of these are sampled at random; the other half come from a list of Twitter accounts curated by Reuters’s human journalists. They include the accounts of other news organizations, significant companies, influential individuals, and so on.

The next stage is to determine when a news event has occurred. Tracer does this by assuming that an event has occurred if several people start talking about it at once. So it uses a clustering algorithm to find these conversations.

Of course, these clusters include spam, advertisements, ordinary chat, and so on. Only some of them refer to newsworthy events.

So the next stage is to classify and prioritize the events. Tracer uses a number of algorithms to do this. The first identifies the topic of the conversation. It then compares this with a database of topics that the Reuters team has gathered from tweets produced by 31 official news accounts, such as @CNN, @BBCBreaking, and @nytimes as well as news aggregators like @BreakingNews.

At this stage, the algorithm also determines the location of the event using a database of cities and location-based keywords.

Once a conversation or rumor is potentially identified as news, an important consideration is its veracity. To determine this, Tracer looks for the source by identifying the earliest tweet in the conversation that mentions the topic and any sites it points to. It then consults a database listing known producers of fake news, such as the National Report, or satirical news sites such as The Onion.

Finally, the system writes a headline and summary and distributes the news throughout the Reuters organization.

Three recent events and their corresponding Tracer’s and Reuters alerts.

More details (and attached screenshots) sourced from the paper, Reuters Tracer: Toward Automated News ProductionUsing Large Scale Social Media Data

The week that was (12/1/2017)

Trying something new. A weekly wrap-up of sorts.


The Austin headquarters for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission was overrun by “several hundred” rats.

A Russian rocket launch went awry when the wrong directions were loaded into it’s flight plan and sent it to the bottom of the ocean.

Meanwhile, the Voyager team dusted off the thruster controls to spacecraft now 21 billion kilometers away. After waiting 20 hours for the instructions to get there and waiting another 20 hours for the response, the damn thing worked!

Finally, Mike Hughes’ rocket launch into the “atmosflat” where he planned to take photographs to prove the earth is flat and “expose the conspiracy” has been delayed until next week.

Los Angeles’ free street paper, the LA Weekly, has a post asking if anyone can tell them who owns them. The next day, the paper answered it’s own question.

And for another year, Kate Dries has still not made it into Hendrik Pöhler’s Erotic Carp Fishing Calendar. The Amazon reviewers are not pleased.

The World We Live In

Things have gotten so crazy and divisive lately that it’s now increasingly obvious that people are living in alternate realities. Our filter bubbles have become so completely isolating that they are impervious to commonly understood baseline facts such as science and reason. Some examples:

And today Vox has a terrifying piece which imagines a world where even a well-documented case of malfeasance by the current administration might be rejected out of hand by a misinformed and untrusting public.

That insular partisan far-right media is also full of nonsense like Pizzagate that leaves the base continuously pumped up — outraged, infuriated, terrified, and misled. At this point, as the stories above show, the conservative base will believe anything. And they are pissed about all of it.

At least the stock market is still breaking new records. I shudder to think what will happen if the economy takes a turn for the worse.

Carl Bernstein at ONA 17

Recently, SmartNews (my employer) hosted Carl Bernstein, the distinguished, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, at the Watergate Hotel during the annual Online News Association conference in Washington, DC.

Under a full moon on a warm DC evening, Mr. Bernstein inspired us all to strive harder to make use of the powerful “reportorial platform” the digital era provides us to seek out, “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

Mr. Bernstein reminded us that it is not the job of the press to undo a candidate or knock a one out of office. The mission of the press is to uncover the truth, in context and developed through great investigative reporting so that the people may make the important decisions that drive our democracy.

But lately the press has been,

disfigured by celebrity, celebrity worship, gossip, sensationalism, manufactured controversy (particularly in the press), denial of our society’s real conditions (good and bad), and by a political and social discourse that we (the press) the politicians, and the people have allowed to devolve into a cacophony of name-calling, idealogical warfare and, especially, easy answers to tough questions

He pleaded for all journalists to keep their focus on the larger story. Even with the new tools available today, it is the unique perspective and context that comes from knocking on doors and “shoe leather” reporting that will unearth the truth required by our democracy. To gather that truth we all needed to be better listeners.

His remarks concluded with a quote from his editor at the Washington Post, the late Ben Bradlee.

The more aggressive our search for the truth, the more some people are offended by the press. So be it. I take great strength knowing that in my experience the truth does emerge. It takes forever sometimes but it does emerge. Any relaxation by the press will be extremely costly to democracy.

Amen to that.

Perspective

When your job brings you in regular contact with tragedy on a mass scale (as it does when you work in a newsroom) the rush & tumble of getting the news out gets in the way of stopping to feel the personal impact of these events. As I’m certain will happen with the Napa/Sonoma fire situation, I am now reading personal stories out of Las Vegas.

This from the NY Times’ Reporter’s Notebook hit me hard.

I checked out of that Mandalay Bay suite on Saturday morning, excused from reporting duties, and flew home in the hopes of making my daughter’s soccer game. I found the red rose from the vigil, starting to fade and wilt, in a vase on the kitchen counter. When we got to the game, we and the other parents were somewhat surprised to see Stacee’s husband and extended family there, too. Warming up with the girls was No. 8, with her long ponytail.

We all wore orange ribbons, attached by safety pins, including the girls on both teams. The Novato team wore orange armbands with the initials “S.E.” Before kickoff, both squads came across the field to the spectator side and lined up in straight lines. Our team’s coach asked the parents to stand for 30 seconds of silence. And then two of the league’s better teams played a rather meaningless soccer game, only this one felt about as meaningful as anything I’ve ever watched.

And it was late in the second half when the ball suddenly swung from one end to the other, and Stacee’s daughter gave chase through three retreating opponents and beat them all to the ball. And in one blink-and-you-missed-it moment, she booted the ball into the corner of the net for what held on as the winning goal.

Her teammates chased her and swarmed her, and they and she looked as free and happy as girls can be on a sunny fall Saturday afternoon with their friends. The parents jumped and cheered as loudly as I’ve heard parents cheer at a kids’ soccer game. Behind my sunglasses, I was bawling. It was the first time I’d cried all week.

The Girl in the No. 8 Jersey