Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

11 MARCH, 2011

Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine & the Quest to Know Everything

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What the perceived masculinity of robots has to do with the future of human knowledge.

Earlier this month, we looked at the superhuman capacities of the human brain, from the quest to hack memory and remember everything to the extraordinary mind of an autistic savant. For the past four years, IBM scientists have been putting their own very human minds together to build the ultimate superhuman artificial intelligence: A supercomputer known as Watson. In an ultimate litmus test for Watson’s computational cognition, they set out to prep and pit it against the world’s best players in a round of Jeopardy. And they granted one man rare access to document it all: Journalist Stephen Baker.

In Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything, he captures the fascinating process of trying to teach a machine language, knowledge and common sense, wrapped in a narrative that reads part like a sports story, with its riveting championship ups and downs, and part like the living incarnation of yesteryear’s science fiction, but is at its heart about the passion for and future of human knowledge.

Jeopardy is just a showcase for a new type of machine. Look, we’re going to be living with these things, working with them, and using them as external lobes of our brains. Final Jeopardy follows the education of one such machine. Readers, I’m hoping, will get a feel for its potential as well as its limitations. And that will help them understand what skills and knowledge they’ll need to carry around in their own heads. Of course, I’m also hoping they’ll enjoy the story.” ~ Stephen Baker

Watson and Google are very different animals. Google uses your brain to help you find an answer. It asks you for really, really clear instructions that a computer can understand, and then it leads you to a webpage and leaves it up to you to find the answer. Watson, on the other hand, has to make sense of the English itself, the really complex English of a Jeopardy clue. Then it has to hunt, find an answer, and determine if it has confidence that it’s the right answer or not, and whether it has enough confidence to bet on it. It’s a much more sophisticated process.” ~ Stephen Baker

Amazon has a revealing Q&A with the author and Omnivoracious has an excellent two-part podcast, where Baker talks about the fascinating ins-and-outs of this monumental quest.

There was lots of debate within IBM about Watson’s name and image. How human should it be? Many worried that the public would view Watson as scary: a machine that learns our secrets and steals our jobs. So they decided to limit Watson’s human qualities. They would give its friendly, masculine avoice a machine-like overtone. And its face, if you could call it that, would simply be a circular avatar—no eyes, nose or mouth, just streaming patterns representing flowing data. Despite these choices, I’ve noticed that fellow Jeopardy players immediately start to respond to Watson as another human — and not necessarily a friendly one. It’s playing the game, after all. And it usually beats them.” ~ Stephen Baker

Absorbing, dynamic and just the right amount of uncomfortable, Final Jeopardy is as much a rigorously researched lens for the process of sicence and technology as it is a subtle yet palpable moral and philosophical inquiry into the future of humanity.

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03 MARCH, 2011

TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder, Day 3

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Embracing chaos, 57 things Google knows about you, and how to 3D-print a kidney.

This week, we’re reporting live from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder. So far, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s speakers, synthesized highlights from Day 1 and Day 2, and spotlighted an inspired urban intervention by designer and TED Fellow Candy Chang. Today, we’re back — on the brink of our sleep budged — with highlights, photos and notable soundbites from Day 3 — dig in.

Historian Edward Tenner

Culture and technology historian Edward Tenner showed statistical evidence that the greatest time for game-changing innovation in modern history was actually The Great Depression, which had a paradoxically stimulating effect on creativity. He argued that one of the grand questions of our time is how to close the gap between our capabilities and our foresight.

Our ability to innovate is increasing geometrically but our capacity to model those innovations is linear.” ~ Edward Tenner

Tenner’s excellent 1997 book, Why Things Bite Back: Technology & the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, will change the way you think about adversity, opportunity and innovation.

Chris Anderson presenting the winners of the Ads Worth Spreading contest.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

TED announced the 10 winners of the inaugural Ads Worth Spreading contest, seeking to reframe commercial communication from an interruption to inspiration.

Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org fame, author of the excellent forthcoming The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, delivered a stride-stopping and timely curtain-pull on our modern information diet and what we’re being force-fed by the powers of the Internet. Google, apparently, looks at 57 data points to serve us personally tailored search results.

We’ve moved to an age where the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.” ~ Eli Pariser

Which raises the question of responsibility: Is the responsibility of those who serve information to give us more of what we already like and believe, or to open our eyes to new perspectives? And if it’s all algorithmically driven, is there even a place for such responsibility? Our key takeaway from Pariser’s talk, one particularly relevant to our own credo, is that human information curators will have an increasingly important role as moral mitigators of algorithmic personalization efficiency.

Eli Pariser 'We need the new information gatekeepers to encode a sense of civic responsibility into algorithms.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We need the Internet to introduce us to different ideas and different perspectives.” ~ Eli Pariser

Virginia Tech’s Dennis Hong is building the world’s first vehicle for the visually-impaired. and recently made history with the Blind Driver Challenge.

Dennis Hong 'We need the new information gatekeepers to encode a sense of civic responsibility into algorithms.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

High-functioning autistic savant Daniel Tammet opened the door to his fascinating view of the world. He used synesthesia, the strange neurological crossing of the senses, as an example of how the world is often richer than we think it to be.

Daniel Tammet shows us the world through the eyes of an autistic savant.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Tammet’s Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant is one of the most fascinating perspective shifts you’ll ever read.

Google's Sebastian Thrun 'We took a driverless car from San Francisco to LA, and no one even noticed there was no driver.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The idea behind the Stuxnet worm is quite simple: We don’t want Iran to get the bomb.” ~ Ralph Langner

Security consultant Ralph Langner 'Mossad is responsible for Stuxnet. But the real force behind that is not Israel, it is the only cyber force: The U.S.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

In one of the day’s most jaw-dropping demos, the kind that restores one’s faith in humanity, Berkley BionicsEythor Bender showcased the incredible eLEGS exoskeletons, which enable the paralyzed to walk again, and HULC, which enables ordinary people to carry up to 200 lbs. Bender was joined onstage by a soldier, who demoed HULC, and a paralyzed woman who walked for the first time in 18 years thanks to eLEGS.

Eythor Bender on stage with paraplegic Amanda Boxtel, ecstatic in her new non-invasive exoskeleton legs.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Biomedical engineer Fiorenzo Omenetto is developing amazing non-invasive implants made of silicon and silk.

Fiorenzo Omenetto shows a disposable cup made of silk, a biodegradable, biocompatible alternative to the highly unsustainable styrofoam.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

There was no shortage of astounding demos today. Anthony Atala, whose work in 3D organ printing is an unbelievable next frontier in medicine, literally “printed” a kidney on the TED stage as 1,700 of the world’s smartest people gasped in awe, speechless.

Anthony Atala 'prints' a kidney to a collective gasp.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The remarkable papercut artist Béatrice Coron, whose stunning artwork we’ve spotted on the New York subway, echoed some of our own beliefs about combinatorial creativity:

I’m influenced by everything I read, everything I see. In life and in paper cutting, everything is connected: One story leads to another.” ~ Beatrice Coron

Watch Coron’s creative process and swoon like we did:

Keep an eye on our live Twitter coverage and come back here tomorrow evening for highlights from the final day.

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28 FEBRUARY, 2011

The Wisdom of TED in Kinetic Typography

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What cross-disciplinary self-actualization has to do with motion graphics remix.

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be reporting live from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder. Last week, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s TED speakers. Today, we’re revisiting a Brain Pickings remix culture original, part of the TEDify project, celebrating what we most love about TED: The incredible cross-pollination of ideas across different disciplines that radically alters how we see the world and what we make of our role in it.

 

Previously on TEDify: The secret of happiness, as articulated by a collage of TED perspectives.

For complete coverage of this year’s event, keep an eye on the Twitter feed and swing by here starting tomorrow for exclusive soundbites and photos.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

07 FEBRUARY, 2011

American Maker: A Manifesto for Hands-On Creativity from 1960

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In 1960, the Chevrolet division of General Motors and the Handy (Jam) Organization produced American Maker a half-hour film about craftsmanship, creativity and how Americans build. More than a mere vehicle of patriotic propaganda, the film is beautifully shot and offers stunning footage of life and work in that era for a fascinating cultural contrast to the “Swinging London” of the 1960, going on at the same time across the pond.

Of all things Americans are, we are makers. With our strengths and our minds and spirit, we gather and form and we fashion. Makers and shapers and put-it-togetherers. We start young, finding out early in life what it’s like to feel something grow and take shape beneath our hands.”

As makers of today and shapers for tomorrow, we Americans seem to share an inborn understanding of how to go about making the things we want. Whether we’re reaching for the moon, hobbying in the home, doing our part on a convenience to be enjoyed, or preparing a tasty tidbit, we’re — all of us — makers.”

So successful was the film that it was played in tandem with Hitchcock’s Psycho, the blockbuster of its day, in select theaters in the Detroit area — the automaker’s prime target of patriotic pep.

The film is available as a free download in multiple video formats from The Internet Archive and offers a priceless, timeless, nationless ode to the art of hands-on innovation, as well as a timely nod at the recent groundswell of the shut-up-and-make-something ethos.

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