Wireless communication: In a whole new light

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The low-rate world Fly Title:  Wireless communication Print section Main image:  Once upon a time Rubric:  Lighting fixtures that also transmit data are starting to appear Once upon a time FLICKERING lamps are normally a headache-inducing nuisance. But if the flickering happens millions of times a second—far faster than the eye can see or the brain respond to—then it might be harnessed to do something useful, like transmitting data. That, at least, is the idea behind a technology dubbed Li-Fi by its creators. Li-Fi works with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), an increasingly popular way of illuminating homes and offices, and applies the same principle as that used by naval signal lamps. In other words, it encodes messages in flashes of light. It can be used to create a local-area network, or LAN, in a way similar to the LANs made possible by standard, microwave-based Wi-Fi. Such LANs would, Li-Fi’s supporters believe, have two advantages over standard ...

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Aviation safety: Flight response

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Britain’s one-party state Fly Title:  Aviation safety Print section Main image:  Just relax and enjoy the view, Captain Rubric:  An artificially intelligent autopilot that learns by example Just relax and enjoy the view, Captain ON JUNE 1st 2009, an Air France airliner travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris flew into a mid-Atlantic storm. Ice began forming in the sensors used by the aircraft to measure its airspeed, depriving the autopilot of that vital data. So, by design, the machine switched itself off and ceded control to the pilots. Without knowing their speed, and with no horizon visible in a storm in the dead of night, the crew struggled to cope. Against all their training, they kept the plane’s nose pointed upward, forcing it to lose speed and lift. Shortly afterwards the aeroplane plummeted into the ocean, killing all 228 people on board. French air-accident investigators concluded that a lack of pilot training played a big part in the tragedy. ...

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Daily chart: Excel errors and science papers

THREE years ago Thomas Herndon, a young graduate student from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, made a splash among economists. Given an assignment to replicate the analysis behind a published academic paper, he pored over the data used for an influential study on government debt written by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, both professors at Harvard. Much to the authors’ embarrassment, Mr Herndon found the most elementary of mistakes: they had accidentally omitted five rows of their spreadsheet when calculating an average. When included, the missing figures weakened the paper’s conclusion substantially.Unsurprisingly, spreadsheet snafus are not unique to economics. A recent study in the journal Genome Biology looked at papers published between 2005 and 2015, and found spreadsheet-related errors in fully one-fifth of articles on genomics that provided supplementary data alongside their text. Although the papers themselves were not necessarily affected, such bugs can create complications for other scientists trying to replicate or build on previous work.The syntax of genomics makes it particularly difficult for off-the-shelf software to digest. First, spreadsheets often confuse gene symbols for dates. The authors found that Microsoft Excel would often interpret “SEPT2”, which corresponds to the gene Septin 2, as “September 2nd”. The programme also tended to ...

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Linux and AWS: Cloud chronicles

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Brave new worlds Fly Title:  Linux and AWS Print section Main image:  20160827_WBD001_0.jpg Rubric:  How open-source software and cloud computing have set up the IT industry for a once-in-a-generation battle AS BOSSES go, Linus Torvalds and Andy Jassy couldn’t be more different. Mr Torvalds works, often in his bathrobe, out of his home in Portland, Oregon. He leads an army of volunteer developers whose software can be had for nothing. The office of Mr Jassy, who usually sports business casual, is in a tower in Seattle. His employees operate dozens of huge data centres around the world and work to create new online services that his firm can charge for. Yet their organisations share an anniversary and an intertwined history. On August 25th 1991 Mr Torvalds asked other developers to comment on a computer operating system he had written, which became known as Linux. It has since become the world’s most-used piece of software of this type. On the same day ...

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Babbage: Exploring the final frontier

UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Babbage Byline:  Economist.com Print section Main image:  20160827_mma902_107.jpg Rubric:  An E​arth-like planet has been discovered orbiting the nearest star to our solar system, reveals astronomer Richard Nelson. Oliver Morton discusses the new space technology closer to home, and Tom Standage describes the state of the art in — and the worries about — facial-recognition software Published:  20160824 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Canvassing: Is hacktivism art?

WHEN Donald Trump stated that he wanted to stop Muslims from entering America, Anonymous, a cybergroup, responded by hacking his website. They disabled the Trump Towers site, and posted a video on YouTube asking Mr Trump to think before he speaks. In June, they hacked 250 Facebook and Twitter accounts associated with Islamic State (IS), replacing jihadist messages and images with LGBT rainbow flags and pro-gay slogans. “Hello World. It’s time I share with you a little secret…I’m Gay and I’m Proud!!” read one. “#GayPride.” 20160824 15:02:29 Comment Expiry Date:  Thu, 2016-09-08

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Game on: The travel industry has been quick to jump on the Pokémon Go bandwagon

ONLY readers living under a rock for the past two months will be unaware of Pokémon Go. The smartphone game, which overlays augmented-reality onto real-world locations, has been downloaded some 100m times on Google Play alone. Players hunt for their favourite characters at “Pokéstops” and send them into gladiatorial battle in “Pokégyms”. Some Pokémon are only found in certain parts of the world. As a result any player dedicated to the game's mantra of “Gotta catch them all” needs to travel. This has made the travel and hospitality industry sit up and take note. Without warning, a host of businesses and landmarks have found themselves swarming with eager gamers staring at iPhones. Initially, bars and cafes lucky enough to be assigned as Pokéstops paid for “lures”, a feature of the game that allows them to attract more Pokémon (and therefore players). Now the travel industry has ramped things up and Pokémon tourism is the fad. Cities are selling themselves based on the concentration of Pokéstops and Pokégyms they have. Guided tours have sprung up to allow tourists to hunt rare monsters. Hotels are promoting themselves by claiming guests do not even need to get out of bed to catch a passing Bulbasaur. Gamers, it seems, are even adapting their travel plans to accommodate gameplay.This may seem irrelevant to business travellers, ...

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Aviation and robots: Flight fantastic

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Nightmare on Main Street Fly Title:  Aviation and robots Print section Main image:  20160820_STP001_0.jpg Rubric:  Instead of rewiring planes to fly themselves, why not give them android pilots? THE idea of a drone—an aircraft designed from scratch to be pilotless—is now familiar. But what if you want to make pilotless a plane you already possess? Air forces, particularly America’s, sometimes do this with obsolete craft that they wish to fly for target practice. By using servomotors to work the joystick and the control surfaces, and adding new instruments and communications so the whole thing can be flown remotely, a good enough lash-up can be achieved to keep the target airborne until it meets its fiery fate. The desire for pilotlessness, though, now goes way beyond the ability to take pot shots at redundant F-16s. America’s air force wants, as far as possible, to robotise cargo, refuelling and reconnaissance missions, leaving the manned stuff mostly ...

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Data analytics: The power of learning

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Nightmare on Main Street Fly Title:  Data analytics Print section Main image:  20160820_LDD003_1.jpg Rubric:  Clever computers could transform government IN “Minority Report”, a policeman, played by Tom Cruise, gleans tip-offs from three psychics and nabs future criminals before they break the law. In the real world, prediction is more difficult. But it may no longer be science fiction, thanks to the growing prognosticatory power of computers. That prospect scares some, but it could be a force for good—if it is done right. Machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, can generate remarkably accurate predictions. It works by crunching vast quantities of data in search of patterns. Take, for example, restaurant hygiene. The system learns which combinations of sometimes obscure factors are most suggestive of a problem. Once trained, it can assess the risk that a restaurant is dirty. The Boston mayor’s office is testing just such an approach, ...

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Machine learning: Of prediction and policy

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Nightmare on Main Street Fly Title:  Machine learning Print section Main image:  20160820_FND001_0.jpg Rubric:  Governments have much to gain from applying algorithms to public policy, but controversies loom FOR frazzled teachers struggling to decide what to watch on an evening off, help is at hand. An online streaming service’s software predicts what they might enjoy, based on the past choices of similar people. When those same teachers try to work out which children are most at risk of dropping out of school, they get no such aid. But, as Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University notes, these types of problem are alike. They require predictions based, implicitly or explicitly, on lots of data. Many areas of policy, he suggests, could do with a dose of machine learning. Machine-learning systems excel at prediction. A common approach is to train a system by showing it a vast quantity of data on, say, students and their achievements. The software chews ...

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Tasting menu: Highlights from the August 6th 2016 edition, in audio

UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Tasting menu Print section Main image:  20160806_mma904_107.jpg Rubric:  This week: Taiwan’s canine couture, the world develops a sweet tooth for posh chocolate and artificial minds edge a little closer to our own Published:  20160806 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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Artificial neurons: You’ve got a nerve

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The ruining of Egypt Fly Title:  Artificial neurons Print section Main image:  20160806_stp003.jpg Rubric:  Narrowing the gap between biological brains and electronic ones SINCE nobody really knows how brains work, those researching them must often resort to analogies. A common one is that a brain is a sort of squishy, imprecise, biological version of a digital computer. But analogies work both ways, and computer scientists have a long history of trying to improve their creations by taking ideas from biology. The trendy and rapidly developing branch of artificial intelligence known as “deep learning”, for instance, takes much of its inspiration from the way biological brains are put together. The general idea of building computers to resemble brains is called neuromorphic computing, a term coined by Carver Mead, a pioneering computer scientist, in the late 1980s. There are many attractions. Brains may be slow and error-prone, but they are also robust, ...

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Babbage: When AI meets reality

UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Babbage Byline:  economist.com Print section Main image:  20160730_mma902_107.jpg Rubric:  How can artificial intelligence leave the lab and get down to business? Kenneth Cukier explores an innovative method with Tractable founder Alexandre Dalyac. Also, a new way to measure ancient oxygen is changing our understanding of evolution, and we crunch the numbers to reveal the long-term risks of air pollution   Published:  20160727 Source:  Online extra Enabled

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The Economist explains: Why artificial intelligence is enjoying a renaissance

THE TERM “artificial intelligence” has been associated with hubris and disappointment since its earliest days. It was coined in a research proposal from 1956, which imagined that significant progress could be made in getting machines to “solve 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 rather optimistic, to say the least, and despite occasional bursts of progress and enthusiasm in the decades that followed, AI research became notorious for promising much more than it could deliver. Researchers mostly ended up avoiding the term altogether, preferring to talk instead about “expert systems” or “neural networks”. But in the past couple of years there has been a dramatic turnaround. Suddenly AI systems are achieving impressive results in a range of tasks, and people are once again using the term without embarrassment. What changed?The current boom is based on an old idea, with a modern twist: so-called artificial neural networks (ANNs), modelled on the architecture of the human brain. A biological brain consists of interconnected cells called neurons, each of which can be triggered by other neurons, and which can then trigger other neurons in turn. A simple ANN has an input layer of neurons where data can be fed into the network, an output layer where results come out, and a few ...

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When science goes wrong (I): Computer says: oops

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Maytime Fly Title:  When science goes wrong (I) Print section Main image:  20160716_STP002_0.jpg Rubric:  Two studies, one on neuroscience and one on palaeoclimatology, cast doubt on established results. First, neuroscience and the reliability of brain scanning NOBODY knows how the brain works. But researchers are trying to find out. One of the most eye-catching weapons in their arsenal is functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI). In this, MRI scanners normally employed for diagnosis are used to study volunteers for the purposes of research. By watching people’s brains as they carry out certain tasks, neuroscientists hope to get some idea of which bits of the brain specialise in doing what. The results look impressive. Thousands of papers have been published, from workmanlike investigations of the role of certain brain regions in, say, recalling directions or reading the emotions of others, to spectacular treatises extolling the use of fMRI to ...

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Schumpeter: Be nice to nerds

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Maytime Fly Title:  Schumpeter Print section Main image:  20160716_WBD000_0.jpg Rubric:  Forget the cool kids. Geeks are now shaping new products and services FIVE years ago Zach Sims, a sprightly, striving 21-year-old, launched Codeacademy, a startup, to offer online courses about how to write software. He remembers pitching his idea to prospective investors only to hear a “chorus of no”. At the time, the naysayers thought coding was a weird, fringe activity for computer-science geeks. They were wrong. Since 2011, more than 25m people have signed up for Codeacademy. Meanwhile, in-person crash courses that teach computer programming, called coding boot-camps, have spread worldwide, as more people aspire to tech jobs or running their own startup. This year tuition fees at these boot-camps will reach around $200m in America alone. “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you may end up working for them,” wrote Charles Sykes, author of the book “50 Rules Kids Won’t ...

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If financial systems were hacked: Joker in the pack

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Maytime Fly Title:  If financial systems were hacked Print section Main image:  20160702_WID002_0.jpg Rubric:  Recent attacks give a glimpse of the sort of cyber-assault that could bring the world economy to a halt. Better defences are needed THIS May Anonymous, a network of activists, briefly hacked into Greece’s central bank and warned in a YouTube message that: “Olympus will fall…This marks the start of a 30-day campaign against central-bank sites across the world.” The warning struck a raw nerve. The financial system is little more than a set of promises between people and institutions. If these are no longer believed the whole house of cards will collapse and people will take their money and run. That happened in 2008 because of bad credit decisions; but the same could unfold via a sophisticated cyber-attack. Processes designed to make banking safer have created new vulnerabilities: large amounts of money flow through certain key bits of ...

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Geolocation: Addressing the world

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Anarchy in the UK Fly Title:  Geolocation Print section Main image:  20160702_STP003_0.jpg Rubric:  How to find anywhere on the planet LAST year, a brush fire threatened the home of Ganhuyag Chuluun Hutagt, who lives in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. Instead of giving the fire brigade his address, though, Mr Ganhuyag had to guide them to the blaze by describing a series of landmarks along the way. That was because, like most buildings in Mongolia, his house does not have an address. Road names and building numbers are so sparse there that fewer than 1% of Mongolians do. But Mr Ganhuyag, who is on the board of the country’s post office, Mongol Post, proposes to do something about it. Thanks to his urging, Mongol Post is adopting an ingenious new system of addresses that can locate any place in the country—and, indeed, in the world. Instead of house number, street name, town, province and so on, or the unwieldy co-ordinates of latitude and longitude, ...

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Technology: From not working to neural networking

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The return of the machinery question Fly Title:  Technology Print section 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 ...

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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 Print section 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, ...

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Ethics: Frankenstein’s paperclips

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The return of the machinery question Fly Title:  Ethics Print section 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 ...

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Artificial intelligence: March of the machines

UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  March of the machines Fly Title:  Artificial intelligence Print section 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 ...

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Babbage: What history might tell us about AI

UK Only Article:  standard article Fly Title:  Babbage Byline:  Economist.com Print section 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 Print section 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 ...

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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 Print section 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, ...

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