Monday, February 8, 2016

News Briefs 2.8.16

Go! Google!

In an amazing turn of events and development in artificial intelligence technology, Google may have cracked the code for creating AI that can beat the best players in the ancient Eastern game of Go.

Go is a strategy game that takes place on a 19-by-19 grid system where two players place stones on a board in order to assume control over territories. We've had advancements in AI technology in other strategy games where computers have been programmed to beat grand masters in their sports, Chess being one of the biggest achievements in this field, but we've never been able to beat the some of the greatest human masters of Go until now. 

The thing about creating artificial intelligence for strategy games like Go and Chess is that programmers want to have the computer figure out the most likely moves a player will make, and continue to do so for several moves in advance. This involves a whole mess of graphs upon graphs and analysis. The problem that arises with this method is that the time it takes for the computer to figure out its next move needs to be reasonable; we don't want to wait a year for a computer to figure out which piece to move and where in a game of chess. Fortunately that's not a problem with chess where the average number of moves a player has at any given time is 35 (a computer need only worry about [35 * 35 * 35 * 35 *...* 35] different situations depending on how far they're looking in advance), but a game of Go gives the player an average of 250 different moves at any given turn. The exponential growth of the number 250 is huge and is unreasonable for a computer to work with, even though the average computer of today executes billions of instructions per second.

So how does this AI do it? Well, instead of analyzing every possible configuration of a board, Go having more than there are atoms in the universe, the computer, named AlphaGo, learns to play from human players and itself. This means that rather than computing every move, AlphaGo takes the techniques that it's observed from other players and emulates and improves upon them. AlphaGo does this through a process called deep learning which relies on networks of hardware and software that are created to approximate the neurons of the human brain.

This sounds all super science fiction double feature, but here we are with computers that can learn by observation much like how we as humans learn, except with a much more massive capacity of processing power than we do. It's safe to say that this is only a game that a computer is learning, but it has already beaten Go's European reigning champion and is scheduled to go against the world champion in March which will be streamed on YouTube. Despite this only being a game, it's a taste of what computers will be capable of in the future.


                                       An End to Conversion Therapy in New York

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday executive action to eliminate “conversion therapy,” a practice which claims to “reverse” same-sex attraction in LGBTQ individuals. The executive action will bar insurance companies in New York from covering such practices on people under 18 years of age, as well as preventing Medicaid from funding the practice altogether. Medical centers overseen by The State Office of Mental Health will also be prevented from providing conversion therapy to minors. The governor’s actions come after measures to ban conversion therapy practices were continually met with roadblocks in the Republican-led state senate over the last year.

“We will not allow the misguided and the intolerant to punish L.G.B.T. young people for simply being who they are,” said Cuomo. “Conversion therapy is a hateful and fundamentally flawed practice” [that punishes people] “for simply being who they are.” He was expected to outline the plan at a dinner on Saturday sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group. “Governor Cuomo continues to cement his role as one of the LGBT community’s strongest allies by taking this enormous step to end a practice that is tantamount to child abuse,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “No young person should be coerced or subjected to this dangerous so-called therapy, which has been linked to youth substance abuse, depression, homelessness, and even suicide.”

While there is clear evidence that conversion therapy practices exist in the state, it is unclear how prevalent the practice is. Studies made by New York mental health organizations as to the exact number of cases and practices performed have not been made public. Conversion therapy functions on the premise that homosexual desire is a mental illness that can be corrected or cured through a variety of “therapeutic practices.”  While we know of past conversion therapy practices (i.e. the administration of nausea inducing drugs to individuals while being exposed to homoerotic images and situations, electro-shock “therapy” which targeted hands and genitals, chemical castration, and lobotomies), today’s conversion therapy varies (see the documentary Vice below). 

Supporters of the therapy say prohibiting it limits treatment options and undermines religious liberty. Minors “should have access to professionally based, ethically directed care that assesses, clarifies and aligns with their deeply-held values, faith and life goals,” Carrie Gordon Earll, the public policy vice president of the conservative Christian ministryFocus on the Family, said by email Saturday. She said the group opposes efforts like New York’s.
Vice documentary on conversion therapy can be found here:


                                           Commercialism Takes On New Meaning

In case you somehow missed it, or have blocked it from your memory as a bitter-hearted Panthers fan, last night was Super Bowl 50. The average Sunday night homework scramble kept me from really enjoying the game, however one thing I did try to keep my eyes open for were the commercials. That’s right – commercials, particularly trailers from upcoming geek fests and anything funny that didn’t have the M&M’s in them (those commercials tend to guilt me out). It would appear “commercial”ism has taken on a whole new meaning in the last five to ten years, with the Super Bowl being famous for filling their many breaks between plays with a plethora of words from their sponsors.

Last night was no exception. One of the most popular advertisements of the night was a Coca Cola advertisement featuring two of Marvel’s most popular cinematic superheroes: Ant-Man and the Hulk. The latter has yet to have current actor, Mark Ruffalo, play him in a solo movie. As such, many are calling this minute long commercial the very best Hulk movie to date. Why? Because Coca Cola spent three million dollars for this one commercial and it pays in all its CGI glory. 

This commercial is a masterpiece, and it takes the best out of both characters, while still letting its product shine. Partnering with Marvel (who had multiple trailer spots as per usual this year) was one of the best things they could do, as it helped them capitalize on the profit of superhero nerd-dom that has swept our nation, of which I gladly partake. But the initial desire to even advertise in such a dramatic way is questionable. There is no need for Coca Cola to advertise the way they do. Every human being on the planet, as long as they have taste buds, eyes or ears, has heard of their product. It is staple to many American diets – yay America!

This is why this is news – companies that have no real need to advertise are still willing to give millions away, and now more than ever. This three million dollar budget allotted to a minute of screen time is nothing compared to some of the highest paid advertisements to date, notably an average four million dollars for thirty seconds of screen time, bought by dozens of companies. Anheuser-Busch InBev has spent $145.9 million dollars since just 2009, in an effort to radically connect its Budweiser beer products to what many call America’s most prestigious holiday.  

The answer as to why they do this goes to the power us millennials have on their markets – the result is always publicity. Outlets vastly increase in social popularity on all forms of media, as do the actors and products that are displayed in their commercials. To stay on top of the game, they have to remind everyone that they are on top. They remind us that we are…well, slaves for the most part. We will continue to look up our favorite commercials, especially when humorous, endearing or exciting. And we will continue to accidentally promote their products with every search, with every share and with every like. In the mean time, as they make more money, here am I ready to give up this saved, crumpled twenty dollar bill to see movie characters they weren’t even trying to really promote, and possibly consume a product that they were, as my subconscious parties with the idea of a sugary Coca Cola mini.

This is not at all a pessimistic post. I am your number one Marvel Cinematic Universe fanboy. I LOVED the commercial – I just know that the intention at the end of the day was not for me. And as we become more self aware of the increasingly scary and complicated advertising market, we may possibly for a few seconds reconsider that economists are right when they talk about how our tendency to be distracted by what’s shiny is exactly all that advertisers need.

-       -Mike
What do We Want? Election Day Off. When do We Want it? Preferably before Election Day

Like always, here is your friendly reminder to vote. I don't care who you vote for but make sure you're registered long before Election Day. My main man Bernie Sanders sent out this tweet that had me thinking:

Why is this not already so?

Bernie is absolutely positively right. Election day should be a national holiday. 
As a kid, I remember my mom waking me up almost two hours early so she could get to the polls before making her almost two hour commute to work which included dropping me off to school. For my entire life she has almost always worked ten to twelve hours a day so I'm sure the extra two hours standing in line, waiting to vote, was not her idea of a good time and might have deterred a less motivated person, i.e: me. I didn't vote last Election Day. I know, I'm sorry but I now have my own two hour commute and it just wasn't possible. The polls weren't open by the time I had to leave and they were closed by the time I got home. 

Clearly, this is a class issue. Very few people in this country have the ability to show up to work when they want to, leave when they want to, break when they want to. Many people in this country work two jobs at a time with just thirty-minutes in between so on November 8th why should they have to choose between voting and eating?

If the problem is that it would be "too many" National Holidays, I suggest we all show up to work on Columbus Day instead, even if work/school is closed, show up until Election Day is an off-day and any establishment that doesn't abide will have to pay time and a half to wage workers. 

Who's with me?

1 comment:

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