Rather than worry about robots overtaking us, it's more interesting (and realistic) to consider how we might collaborate with our machines. At Institute for the Future where I'm a researcher, we have forecasted how the real power of automation will come from "humans plus machines." BB pal Ken Goldberg, director of UC Berkeley's People and Robots Initiative, and his colleagues are making that real through their pioneering work on cloud robotics and human-centered automation. Forget the Singularity, Ken says. It's all about the "Multiplicity." From Ken's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:
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Most computer scientists agree that predictions about robots stealing jobs are greatly exaggerated. Rather than worrying about an impending Singularity, consider instead what we might call Multiplicity: diverse groups of people and machines working together to solve problems.
Multiplicity is not science fiction. A combination of machine learning, the wisdom of crowds, and cloud computing already underlies tasks Americans perform every day: searching for documents, filtering spam emails, translating between languages, finding news and movies, navigating maps, and organizing photos and videos...
While scientists still don’t understand Multiplicity very well, they are discovering clear benefits to machine diversity. Researchers have developed a family of techniques known as “ensemble learning,” in which a set of specialized algorithms work together to produce a single result. One variant, known as “random forests,” was developed by Leo Breiman and Adele Cutler at the University of California, Berkeley. They proved that in complex problems with noisy data, a group of “decision trees” will always outperform a single tree—so long as the trees are sufficiently diverse.
As discussed on r/OldSchoolCool, this 1956 photograph depicts either the "world's largest cat dancing with his pet man" or the "world's smallest man dancing with his pet cat."
Further investigation reveals that the fellow is Henry Behrens who at 30 inches tall traveled around with "Burton Lester's Midgets" in the 1950s. Read the rest
These kinds of visualizations are always interesting, and this one by Jack Hagley is a nice layout. It would be better if it had a link with sourced citations for the values in the graphic. At least this one cites sources on the page of origin. Read the rest
See sample pages of Humans of New York at Wink.
Brendon Stanton started photographing random strangers in New York City in 2010. He treated each of them like a celebrity, portraying them in a classy portrait on the street. He then added a little bit of their life story in their own words. These mini-autobiographies were the secret sauce that transformed random snapshots of strangers into a remarkable series of portraits of real people that you could connect with. Brandon posted his photos-plus-bio on his blog, Humans of New York, which quickly went viral on social media until he had millions of followers. The 400 best of his portraits were fan-funded into this printed book.
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Taxonomist Kipling Will tracked a rare beetle through the jungles of the south Pacific ... and almost lost his life in the process. Read the rest
Forget Tesla. Luis Alvarez should be the new object of your science history obsession says Ben Lillie at The Last Word on Nothing. Them's fightin' words. But Lillie backs it up. With his son Walter, Alvarez was the first to suggest that a giant asteroid impact had led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Before that, he won a Nobel for designing a better Bubble Chamber to study electrically charged particles, invented the aircraft blind landing system and night-vision binoculars, found hidden rooms in the pyramids at Giza, investigated the JFK assassination, and was also a creepily outspoken voice in favor of global nuclear armament. (So it's not all awesome stuff.) Read more
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Early 20th century herpetologist Edward Taylor is known for identifying new species of frogs and lizards, for his curmudgeonly personality, and paranoid racism. Turns out, he was also secretly a spy for the US government during World Wars I and II. Read the rest
One of the people who developed the pacemaker is now 86. And he has a pacemaker
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The oldest person in the world died this year. But don't worry if you missed the event. The oldest person in the world will likely die next year, as well.
In fact, according to mathematician Marc van Leeuwen, an "oldest person in the world" will die roughly every .65 years. Read the rest
It's not the work of aliens. Instead, you can chalk these crop circles up to humans + money + time. And, with the help of satellite imaging, you can watch as humans use money to change the desert over the course of almost 30 years.
Landsat is a United States satellite program that's been in operation since 1972. Eight different satellites (three of them still up there and functioning) have gathered images from all over the world for decades. This data is used to help scientists studying agriculture, geology, and forestry. It's also been used for surveillance and disaster relief.
Now, at Google, you can look at images taken from eight different sites between 1984 and 2012 and and watch as people change the face of the planet. In one set of images, you can watch agriculture emerge from the deserts of Saudi Arabia — little green polka-dots of irrigation popping up against a vast swath of tan. In another se, you'll see the deforestation of the Amazon. A third, the growth of Las Vegas. It's a fascinating view of how we shape the world around us, in massive ways, over a relatively short period of time. Read the rest
Amy Shira Teitel has a nice essay about how we grapple with (and awkwardly avoid) the full legacy of Wernher Von Braun
— father of the American space program and a Nazi whose rockets were once built by prison laborers. Read the rest
At the Brainwaves blog, Ferris Jabr writes about a fascinating project. Anthropologist Andrew Irving talked random strangers on the streets of New York City into putting on a headset and speaking their inner monologue out loud as he followed behind them with a camera. The result is something that approximates what it might be like to be able to hear someone else's thoughts.
A woman worries about where she can find a Staples and contemplates her relationship with a friend who has cancer. A man deals with his emotions over two close friends (or, possibly, roommates, or lovers) having a baby together. Another man flits between internal discussions of totalitarianism, speculation about other people on the street, and his own attempts to figure out which direction he's heading. In general, it's all a mixture of engaging and mundane, swirled together.
There are other videos in the series, as well. You can watch them at Brainwaves. Read the rest
Who is Harry Stamps? Excellent question. He was the dean of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, but, as his excellently written and tear-inducing obituary
explains, he was also "a ladies’ man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler" who held the secrets of the world's greatest BLT sandwich and went to his deathbed despising Daylight Savings Time (aka The Devil's Time). A man after my own heart. Read the rest
If you were horrifically fascinated (horrafinated?) by the sinkhole that swallowed Floridian Jeff Bush and his entire bedroom a week ago, you might be interested in some sinkhole science. The US Geological Survey says that sinkholes are a geologic thing. Certain areas of the country are more prone than others (which you probably knew already). But the formation of actual sinkholes in those sinkhole-prone environments can apparently be prompted by human activities, ranging from old mines that weaken the ground above them; to groundwater pumping that destabilizes the soil; to (get this) leaky faucets. The USGS does not say how many leaky faucets, or how bad a leak, it might take to trigger a sinkhole
, but the basic idea is that saturating usually dry soil could cause it to shift, so you'd assume it would have to mean a lot of water leaking into the soil under the house. Read the rest
Tonight, I got to meet Martyn Poliakoff — the fabulously frizzy-haired University of Nottingham chemist who you might recognize from a series of awesome videos about the periodic table that Xeni first blogged about back in 2008.
This is his business card.
It's a microscope image of the world's tiniest periodic table, which Poliakoff's friends inscribed on a strand of his own hair as a birthday gift in 2010. The hair, which Poliakoff keeps in a glass vial, has earned him a spot in The Guinness Book of World Records. Read the rest
As I post this, the National Unwatering Swat Team should be reaching New York City, where it will do what the National Unwatering Swat Team does best
— remove water from places it shouldn't ever be. This is a different mandate than dewatering, in which water is removed from places where it's sometimes okay to have water. (Via Philip Bump) Read the rest
Carl Djerassi, the chemist who first synthesized an effective oral contraceptive, is now an author and playwright. Wired has a really interesting interview with him
about his writing work, his scientific legacy, and why he doesn't like to be called The Father of the Pill. Read the rest