Robofix: AI stories to keep you up to speed on the robot revolution

Here’s your weekly guide to the robot and AI news you should be paying attention to:

A computer won the New Yorker cartoon contest (Bloomberg)

The idea for the project arose at a different convention about a year ago. Dafna Shahaf, a researcher at Microsoft, attended a speech by Mankoff about the cartoon archive, and she left feeling excited. Shahaf wondered whether she could teach a computer to accurately assess how funny a caption might prove to be — and in the process, crack one of the most difficult challenges in machine learning. Sarcasm, wordplay, and other tools of humor have perplexed AI systems for decades. At Microsoft, teaching machines and software to get the joke is important for things like the Skype Translator, which is designed to let users speak to each other in different languages and hear translations on the fly.

Inside the Instagram bot farm (Motherboard)

People want Instagram followers so much, they don’t care if they’re bots — because when it comes to social media, appearances are reality. The businessmen who are happy to oblige those desperate for fake followers are rolling in the monies but at the same time, they’re locked in a weird arms race of algorithms — one where the bot farmers and social media platforms are constantly trying to outsmart the other.

Algorithmic trading, DIY edition (Wall Street Journal)

“DIY’s newest frontier is algorithmic trading. Spurred on by their own curiosity and coached by hobbyist groups and online courses, thousands of day-trading tinkerers are writing up their own trading software and turning it loose on the markets.”

San Diego police are using facial recognition tech (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

The story confirms concerns EFF raised two years ago, when we obtained a stack of records from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) about the regional facial recognition program it manages called “Tactical Identification System” or TACIDS, for short. Under a federally funded pilot program, law enforcement agencies around San Diego County were provided with smartphones that could run photos taken in the field against the sheriff’s mugshot database.

‘Machine teaching’ and the future of personalized curricula (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison say they are getting closer to designing a system to deliver the ideal lesson plan for each student, through a process they call “machine teaching.” If the idea of machine learning, a popular area of artificial-intelligence research, is to let computers learn from data to detect patterns and better deal with large data sets, machine teaching looks for the best way to share particular information with a student, says Jerry Zhu, an associate professor of computer science at the university who is leading the project. Eventually, the approach could create the best lesson for a particular student, Mr. Zhu says.

Playing games might help AI get better (MIT Tech Review)

One company hopes to come up with something a lot smarter by providing a platform that lets software learn how to behave within a game, whether in response to basic stimuli or to more complex situations. The hope is that this kind of learning will eventually allow complex behavior to emerge in game characters — and make for better AI in a range of applications.

AI needs to be designed with a heart (New Scientist)

Two new books examine whether humans should be designed out of robotics. “Neither alarmist nor affirmative, both books contain urgent, compelling and relevant calls to consciously embed our values in the systems we design, and to critically engage with our choices.”
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