Technology: From not working to neural networking

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The return of the machinery question Fly Title:  Technology Main image:  20160625_SRD002_0.jpg Rubric:  The artificial-intelligence boom is based on an old idea, but with a modern twist HOW HAS ARTIFICIAL intelligence, associated with hubris and disappointment since its earliest days, suddenly become the hottest field in technology? The term was coined in a research proposal written in 1956 which suggested that significant progress could be made in getting machines to “solve the kinds of problems now reserved for humans…if a carefully selected group of scientists work on it together for a summer”. That proved to be wildly overoptimistic, to say the least, and despite occasional bursts of progress, AI became known for promising much more than it could deliver. Researchers mostly ended up avoiding the term, preferring to talk instead about “expert systems” or “neural networks”. The rehabilitation of “AI”, and the current excitement about the field, can be ...

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Education and policy: Re-educating Rita

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The return of the machinery question Fly Title:  Education and policy Main image:  20160625_SRD004_0.jpg Rubric:  Artificial intelligence will have implications for policymakers in education, welfare and geopolitics IN JULY 2011 Sebastian Thrun, who among other things is a professor at Stanford, posted a short video on YouTube, announcing that he and a colleague, Peter Norvig, were making their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course available free online. By the time the course began in October, 160,000 people in 190 countries had signed up for it. At the same time Andrew Ng, also a Stanford professor, made one of his courses, on machine learning, available free online, for which 100,000 people enrolled. Both courses ran for ten weeks. Mr Thrun’s was completed by 23,000 people; Mr Ng’s by 13,000. Such online courses, with short video lectures, discussion boards for students and systems to grade their coursework automatically, became known as ...

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Ethics: Frankenstein’s paperclips

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The return of the machinery question Fly Title:  Ethics Main image:  20160625_SRD005_0.jpg Rubric:  Techies do not believe that artificial intelligence will run out of control, but there are other ethical worries AS DOOMSDAY SCENARIOS go, it does not sound terribly frightening. The “paperclip maximiser” is a thought experiment proposed by Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University. Imagine an artificial intelligence, he says, which decides to amass as many paperclips as possible. It devotes all its energy to acquiring paperclips, and to improving itself so that it can get paperclips in new ways, while resisting any attempt to divert it from this goal. Eventually it “starts transforming first all of Earth and then increasing portions of space into paperclip manufacturing facilities”. This apparently silly scenario is intended to make the serious point that AIs need not have human-like motives or psyches. They might be able to avoid some kinds of human ...

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Artificial intelligence: March of the machines

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  March of the machines Fly Title:  Artificial intelligence Main image:  20160625_LDD001_0.jpg Rubric:  What history tells us about the future of artificial intelligence—and how society should respond EXPERTS warn that “the substitution of machinery for human labour” may “render the population redundant”. They worry that “the discovery of this mighty power” has come “before we knew how to employ it rightly”. Such fears are expressed today by those who worry that advances in artificial intelligence (AI) could destroy millions of jobs and pose a “Terminator”-style threat to humanity. But these are in fact the words of commentators discussing mechanisation and steam power two centuries ago. Back then the controversy over the dangers posed by machines was known as the “machinery question”. Now a very similar debate is under way. After many false dawns, AI has made extraordinary progress in the past few years, thanks to a versatile technique called “deep ...

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Babbage: What history might tell us about AI

UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Babbage Byline:  Economist.com Main image:  20160625_mma902_107.jpg Rubric:  Concerns abound about the impact of artificial intelligence, but could history suggest a brighter future? A new algorithm is designed to hunt down hateful videos on the Internet. And we hear from two scientists, Mauro Costa-Mattioli and Shelly Buffington, whose new study links obesity to autism. Hosted by Kenneth Cukier Published:  20160622 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Artificial intelligence: The return of the machinery question

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The return of the machinery question Fly Title:  Artificial intelligence Main image:  20160625_SRD001_0.jpg Rubric:  After many false starts, artificial intelligence has taken off. Will it cause mass unemployment or even destroy mankind? History can provide some helpful clues, says Tom Standage THERE IS SOMETHING familiar about fears that new machines will take everyone’s jobs, benefiting only a select few and upending society. Such concerns sparked furious arguments two centuries ago as industrialisation took hold in Britain. People at the time did not talk of an “industrial revolution” but of the “machinery question”. First posed by the economist David Ricardo in 1821, it concerned the “influence of machinery on the interests of the different classes of society”, and in particular the “opinion entertained by the labouring class, that the employment of machinery is frequently detrimental to their interests”. Thomas Carlyle, writing in 1839, railed against ...

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Watergate II: The Donald’s dirty linen

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Divided we fall Fly Title:  Watergate II Location:  WASHINGTON, DC Main image:  Washington’s most interesting book club Rubric:  Russian hackers infiltrate the Democratic Party’s computer system Washington’s most interesting book club DONALD TRUMP says he would “get along very well” with Vladimir Putin. He must now be hoping the Russian government hackers who appear to be in possession of some of his most embarrassing secrets will reciprocate that good will. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) revealed on June 14th that two groups of Russian hackers had infiltrated its computer systems and snooped on its communications for almost a year. One had stolen an “opposition file”, containing research on Mr Trump’s vulnerabilities going back many years. Given that Mr Trump has so far been accused, with varying degrees of certainty, of hiring illegal immigrants, paying no tax, driving his ...

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Babbage: Escaping black holes

UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Babbage Byline:  Economist.com Main image:  20160604_mma902_107.jpg Rubric:  Stephen Hawking revises his theory of black holes and argues that everything may not be lost at the "event horizon" after all. And new sensors made by inkjet printers can tell when a new layer of sunscreen is needed to prevent sunburns. Hosted by Kenneth Cukier Published:  20160601 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Difference engine: Why upgrade to Windows 10?

UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Difference engine Location:  LOS ANGELES Main image:  20160521_stp501.jpg Rubric:  Microsoft’s free upgrade to its latest operating system is about to expire TIME is running out for PC users who have delayed taking advantage of Microsoft’s free offer to upgrade their computers from Windows 7 or 8.1 to the latest all-singing-and-dancing version of the Redmond company's operating system. Doughty souls who have stuck with Windows 8 will first have to upgrade to Windows 8.1 before being able to participate in the deal. However, come July 29th, anyone wishing to upgrade to Windows 10 will have to pay upwards of $119 for the privilege. To avoid the expense, registered users of Windows 7 or 8.1 (Windows XP or Vista do not qualify) should download a free copy of Windows 10 from microsoftstore.com before the cut-off date. Alternatively, they can finally respond to the pop-up message that has been nagging recalcitrant users to do so for the better part of a ...

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The Economist explains: What APIs are

A FEDERAL jury has handed Google a huge victory in its long-running battle with a rival, Oracle, over Google’s Android software. The two software giants have been at legal loggerheads for years over Oracle’s allegation that Google illegally copied parts of its software—specifically, 37 “Java APIs”—in its Android phones. Oracle has already announced it plans to appeal. But what is an API?An API (short for “Application Program Interface”) is a standard way for programmers to work with code written by others—a bit like a postbox is a standard way for sending letters. To use a postbox, you drop your addressed, stamped envelope into it, and expect the post office to take care of the rest. The addresses and stamps are standard. You don’t mind how the letter gets from the postbox to its destination, only that it does so. The system saves you the trouble of figuring out how to get the letter there yourself. APIs perform much the same function: they let programmers perform common tasks. APIs generally perform a group of related tasks: for example, the “java.io” API, one of those at issue in Oracle’s suit, has pieces to read and write files, and to perform other file-related tasks.APIs are important because without them developers would have to write a lot of routine code on their own. Java programmers would each have to write (or find) their own script to read and write files. ...

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Product design: The replicator

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  A nuclear nightmare Fly Title:  Product design Location:  LANCASTER Main image:  20160528_stp501.jpg Rubric:  Designing in the digital and physical worlds at the same time WHEN great designs are turned into products compromises are made. The beautifully sculpted “concept” cars that regularly appear at motor shows never get built, at least not in the form they left the design studio, because they are inevitably too difficult and expensive to engineer for mass production. For decades this has meant products have had to be “designed for manufacture”, which essentially means their components must incorporate features that can be readily shaped by machines in order to be glued, screwed or welded together by people or robots. Now a combination of powerful computer-aided design (CAD) software and new manufacturing methods is changing the game. Instead of being created with technical drawings and ...

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Cash in, cash out: Google could face billion-dollar fines in two court cases

UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Cash in, cash out Main image:  20160528_wbd002.jpg Rubric:  Other online giants will be watching closely, too THIS spring may go down as the most expensive season in Google’s history. On May 24th French prosecutors raided the firm’s Paris office to collect evidence as part of an investigation in pursuit of an estimated €1.6 billion ($1.8 billion) in back taxes. (The firm says it is co-operating fully.) The tech giant also faces two other, more costly legal imbroglios. As The Economist went to press, a jury in California was deliberating whether Google had used copyrighted material in Android, its mobile operating system, without a licence from the owner, Oracle. If guilty, Google may have to pay the software-maker up to $8 billion in compensation. And the European Commission will shortly announce its decision on whether the firm harms consumers by using its dominance in online search to steer them away from rival shopping-comparison services and towards its own. The commission may hit Google with a record fine of €3 ...

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Office communication: The Slack generation

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The war within Fly Title:  Office communication Location:  SAN FRANCISCO Main image:  20160514_WBD001_0.jpg Rubric:  How workplace messaging could replace other missives STEWART BUTTERFIELD, the boss of Slack, a messaging company, has been wonderfully unlucky in certain ventures. In 2002 he and a band of colleagues created an online-video game called “Game Neverending”. It never took off, but the tools they used to design it turned into Flickr, the web’s first popular photo-sharing website. Yahoo bought it in 2005 for a reported $35m. Four years later Mr Butterfield tried to create another online game, called Glitch. It flopped as well. But Mr Butterfield and his team developed an internal messaging system to collaborate on it, which became the basis for Slack. In Silicon Valley, such a change in strategy is called a “pivot”; anywhere else it is called good fortune. Today Slack is one of ...

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Quantum computing: Now try this

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Trump’s triumph Fly Title:  Quantum computing Main image:  A handful of qubits Rubric:  IBM is making a quantum computer available for anyone to play with A handful of qubits USING the rules of quantum mechanics to carry out computations far faster than any conventional machine can manage is an idea that goes back decades. It was proposed in the early 1980s, but was confined to the blackboards of theoreticians until the late 1990s, when experimentalists gave it life by building simple machines which proved that the equations on those blackboards worked in practice. Now it has bloomed into a corporate project. Google, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and IBM each have dedicated quantum-computing research groups. What quantum computing has not done, though, is make much impact on the outside world. And in some part that is because those quantum computers which do exist are still confined to laboratories. Only researchers have been able to tinker with them. Until ...

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Babbage: Will your surgeon be a robot?

UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Babbage Byline:  Economist.com Main image:  20160507_mma902_107.jpg Rubric:  Surgical operations become more akin to driverless cars. And users try out IBM's quantum computer Published:  20160504 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Difference engine: The great computer stick-up

UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Difference engine Location:  LOS ANGELES Rubric:  Why ransomware is now the biggest online threat of all BE WARNED. Cybercrooks are changing their modus operandi and widening their nets for snagging the unwary. Now that banks, retailers and online services generally have started taking extra precautions to protect their customers’ data, online thieves have been focusing less on breaking into computer networks to pilfer credit-card details and the like. The most pernicious malware today immobilises an infected computer, encrypts its files and then demands a ransom to release them. If not paid within 12 hours or so, the computer’s content gets obliterated. To make sure the hapless victim gets the message, a bright red clock begins the count down. In America, the demand often appears to come from the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or some other official body, claiming the computer has been used for an illicit activity, and a “fine” has to be paid to avoid prosecution. Such ...

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Car emissions: Exhaustive analysis

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How to measure prosperity Fly Title:  Car emissions Main image:  20160430_wbp504.jpg Rubric:  The gulf between test results and the real world widens CARMAKERS have two methods for dealing with the gases that belch from exhaust pipes. One is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide (NOx) and other nasties by spending heavily to develop cleaner engines. Another is to devise methods to game emissions-testing systems but keep polluting the atmosphere on the road. Volkswagen and Mitsubishi opted for the second method, using means illegal in some countries. But many other carmarkers bend the rules: after VW’s deception came to light, for instance, independent tests showed that across the board, official NOx figures in Europe were a far cry from expectations. This persistent gap between test results and what can be achieved in practice undercuts limits imposed by governments to curtail greenhouse gases and air pollution. Enforcement regimes are in ...

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The case against Google: Tie breaker

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Can she fix it? Fly Title:  The case against Google Rubric:  The EU’s case that Google has abused its dominance in mobile operating systems has merit TECH moguls look upon the European Commission with as much enthusiasm as does the average Tory MP from the English shires. Europe has no successful technology companies of its own, they whisper, which is why Eurocrats spend their time hassling American tech giants instead. Not for the first time Google finds itself in the commission’s crosshairs. This week, the head of the EU’s trustbusting division, Margrethe Vestager, issued charges against the internet-search firm (see article). Its “preliminary view” is that Google is guilty of unfairly using its control of Android, the operating system that powers over 80% of the world’s smartphones, as a means to get its apps and services preferred over those offered by rivals. Europe trying to protect its own? Perhaps. Nevertheless, Google has a case to answer. The commission’s claim has echoes of antitrust battles against Microsoft, ...

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Europe v Google: Android attack

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Can she fix it? Fly Title:  Europe v Google Main image:  20160423_wbd001.jpg Rubric:  The European Commission is going after Google again—this time with a better chance of success IN 2001—aeons ago in internet time—the European Commission sent a sternly worded missive to Microsoft. It accused the software maker of having illegally extended its dominance in operating systems for personal computers (PCs) into adjacent markets, for instance by tying Windows to programs that play music and videos. The legal action lasted more than a decade and took many turns, but Microsoft eventually had to unbundle its Windows monopoly from other software, in particular by giving consumers the choice of which web browser they want to use. On April 20th the commission presented Google, one of the brightest stars in the modern tech firmament, with a similar “statement of objections”, as the charge sheet in European Union (EU) antitrust cases is called. Google, it argues, ...

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The Economist explains: The difference between virtual and augmented reality

IF COMPUTING companies have their way, then 2016 will be the year in which virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)—two closely-related but very different technologies—become widely popular. Firms such as Facebook, Sony and Microsoft are getting ready to launch a raft of high-tech headsets designed either to layer computerised information on top of the real world, or to replace it entirely with a simulated, computer-generated alternative. What is the difference?Start with a film analogy. If virtual reality is "The Matrix", then augmented reality is "The Terminator". As the name suggests, the point of VR is to persuade users that they have entered an entirely new reality. The headsets—such as Sony's Morpheus, or Facebook's Oculus Rift—block out the surrounding world and, making use of an old trick called stereoscopy, show slightly different images of each to a user's eyes. That fools his brain into creating an illusion of depth, transforming the pair of images into a single experience of a fully three-dimensional world. Motion trackers, either mounted on the headset or externally, keep track of the users head, updating the view as he moves it around; optional hand controllers allow him to interact with virtual objects. The result is a reasonably convincing illusion of being somewhere else entirely. Augmented reality, by contrast, does not dispense with the real ...

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The Economist explains: Why firms are piling into artificial intelligence

SOMETIMES it is perceived as a figment of the far future. But artificial intelligence (AI) is today’s great obsession in Silicon Valley. Last year technology companies spent $8.5 billion on deals and investments in artificial intelligence, four times more than in 2010. Nearly all of the world’s technology giants, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and Baidu, are competing fiercely to hire the best AI experts, snap up start-ups and pour money into research. What accounts for the tech elite’s sudden AI-phoria?The technology has not always been so popular. The field was largely ignored and underfunded during the “AI winter” of the 1980s and 1990s. At that time AI research conducted at universities proved to be disappointingly slow and irrelevant to companies’ bottom lines. Now, however, the chill is gone. Progress in AI is accelerating. Recently Google generated lots of headlines when DeepMind, a start-up it acquired in 2014, helped train a computer to repeatedly beat the world champion at Go, a board game. This has sparked both fear and hope for the future of AI: hope for fat profits and improving people’s lives through technology; fear about how society will cope with the dislocation AI could bring.  AI is already starting to generate big financial gains for companies, which helps explain firms’ growing investment in developing AI capabilities. ...

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Artificial intelligence : Million-dollar babies 

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Beware the cult of Xi Fly Title:  Artificial intelligence  Location:  SAN FRANCISCO Main image:  20160402_WBD001_0.jpg Rubric:  As Silicon Valley fights for talent, universities struggle to hold on to their stars THAT a computer program can repeatedly beat the world champion at Go, a complex board game, is a coup for the fast-moving field of artificial intelligence (AI). Another high-stakes game, however, is taking place behind the scenes, as firms compete to hire the smartest AI experts. Technology giants, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Baidu, are racing to expand their AI activities. Last year they spent some $8.5 billion on deals, says Quid, a data firm. That was four times more than in 2010.  In the past universities employed the world’s best AI experts. Now tech firms are plundering departments ...

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Software engineering: Of more than academic interest

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The new normal Fly Title:  Software engineering Location:  Oxford Main image:  20160326_std501.jpg Rubric:  Professors’ unprofessional programs have created a new profession SOME programmers call it “spaghetti code”. Though error-strewn, it works—most of the time. It is likely to have been written in an out-of-date language, possibly more than one of them. It has grown by accretion, as different graduate students and postdocs, many long since departed to other institutions, have tweaked it, fixed it and patched it. And it is, of course, unannotated, so nobody really knows what is going on inside it. In the rarefied atmosphere of academia, where enthusiasm is all and budgets are tight, that is generally good enough. For commercial applications, though, it is intolerable. Yet academic spaghetti code frequently contains commercially useful ideas that might be sold to outside companies or ...

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Quantum computing: Harnessing weirdness

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Double, double, toil and trouble Fly Title:  Quantum computing Main image:  20160312_TQD005_0.jpg Rubric:  Quantum computers could offer a giant leap in speed—but only for certain applications THE D-Wave 2X is a black box, 3.3 metres to a side, that looks a bit like a shorter, squatter version of the enigmatic monoliths from the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Its insides, too, are intriguing. Most of the space, says Colin Williams, D-Wave’s director of business development, is given over to a liquid-helium refrigeration system designed to cool it to 0.015 Kelvin, only a shade above the lowest temperature that is physically possible. Magnetic shielding protects the chip at the machine’s heart from ripples and fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field. Such high-tech coddling is necessary because the D-Wave 2X is no ordinary machine; it is one of the world’s first commercially available quantum computers. In fact, it is not a full-blown computer in the ...

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New designs: Taking it to another dimension

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Double, double, toil and trouble Fly Title:  New designs Main image:  20160312_TQD003_0.jpg Rubric:  How to get more out of existing transistors STRICTLY speaking, Moore’s law is about the ever greater number of electronic components that can be crammed onto a given device. More generally, though, it is used as shorthand for saying that computers are always getting better. As transistors become harder and harder to shrink, computing firms are starting to look at making better use of the transistors they already have. “Managers in the past wouldn’t want to invest a lot in intensive design,” says Greg Yeric at ARM. “I think that’s going to start shifting.” One way is to make the existing chips work harder. Computer chips have a master clock; every time it ticks, the transistors within switch on or off. The faster the clock, the faster the chip can carry out instructions. Increasing clock rates has been the main way of making chips faster over the past 40 ...

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