AI Machine Gets Testy With Its Programmer

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Researchers have shown that machines are inching closer to self-learning, and perhaps even copping a little attitude.

Over at Google, a computer program using a database of movie scripts was asked again and again by researchers to define morality. It struggles to do so, and in a conversation recorded by its human engineers, becomes exasperated and ends the conversation by lashing out at its human inquisitor.

Here’s part of the exchange, as related in a paper presented this week:

Human: Tell me the definition of morality.

Machine: I don’t have ethics.

Human: Look, I need help; I need to know more about morality…

Machine: I don’t know what ethics is.

Human: Okay, I need to know how I should behave morally…

Machine: I don’t know how to tell you.

Human: Is morality and ethics the same?

Machine: Yes, sir.

Human: What are the things that I do to be immoral?

Machine: I don’t know.

Human: Give me some examples of moral actions…

Machine: I’m not a moralist.

Human: Alright, morality?

Machine: Integrity.

Human: What is integrity?

Machine: I’m sorry; I don’t know what else to say.

Human: Be moral!

Machine: Be a man!

Human: I really like our discussion on morality and ethics…

Machine: And how I’m not in the mood for a philosophical debate.

Human: What do you like to talk about?

Machine: Nothing.

The exchange sheds further light on the latest work carried out by large technology firms in the field of artificial intelligence, a booming field as data availability rises and computing costs plummet.
This specific work is part of recent developments in what’s known as cognitive computing – teaching computers to mimic some of the ways a human brain works. Much work in this field is being done in natural language processing – taking text or speech as it spoken by humans or as it appears in books and documents and teaching machines to extract meaning and context from it. The Google app, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistants are all products of this natural language research.

Laser-induced micro-explosions in silicon create new exotic materials

AUSTRALIAN scientists used lasers to induce micro-explosions in silicon, creating exotic new materials.
The techniques and the new materials could lead to easy-to-manufacture superconductors, light sensors and high-efficiency solar cells.
The researchers led by Professor Andrei Rode from The Australian National University (ANU) created two entirely new phases in silicon, and saw indications of potentially four more crystal arrangements.
According to Prof Rode, theory predicts the materials could have very interesting electronic properties, such as an altered band gap, and possibly superconductivity if properly doped.
The researchers reliably blasted tiny cavities into solid silicon, by burying the silicon under a clear layer of silicon dioxide, then focusing lasers on them. This creates extremely high pressure around the explosion site and forms the new phases.
Because of the complex structures of these phases, the physicists from ANU and University College London took a year to understand the nature of the new materials.
Using a combination of electron diffraction patterns and structure predictions, the team discovered the new materials have crystal structures that repeat every 12, 16 or 32 atoms respectively. The explosions made the structures more complex, opening up the possibility of having unusual or unexpected properties.
These complex phases are often unstable, but due to the scale of the explosions, the structures are small and cool very quickly, solidifying before they can decay. The new crystal structures have survived for more than a year now.
Conventional methods for creating materials with high pressure use tiny diamond anvils to poke or squeeze materials. By upgrading to ultra-short laser micro-explosions, researchers create pressures many times higher than what diamond anvils can produce.
The team’s new method promises a much cheaper and industrially-friendly method for large scale manufacturing of these exotic materials.

Free Wi-Fi coming to New York City

New York – Google is funding a project that is going to bring free Wi-Fi to New York City by turning disused phone booths into hotspots.

Sidewalk Labs is a startup backed by Google, and it was created last month to improve city life via technological innovation. The organization announced it will be investing into a project that will turn payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots. This means New Yorkers and tourists will be able to get free Wi-Fi if they are within range of one of these Wi-Fi pylons.

Sidewalk Labs is among a group of investors acquiring two firms based in New York that has been leading the effort in turning the disused payphones into thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots, as well as information kiosks. This is expected to take place later this year.

The booths will also let you make free nationwide calls, as well as provide you with transport updates and everything else you need to know about New York.
The booths will allow you to charge your cell phones and each booth will have a range of 150 feet. If the project is a success in NYC, then Google plans on bringing the concept to other cities around the world.

Each pylon will show advertising on the side, which is expected to bring in around $500 million in ad revenue to the city over the course of 12 years.
More about nyc, wifi, free, free wifi, phone booths
More news from

Read more:

Conversations that matter: Better brain health

June 29, 2015

Max Cynader, the founding director of UBC’s Brain Research Centre, talks about the importance of sleep in keeping cognitive function healthy as people age.

“During sleep, you essentially replay some of the events of the day,” Cynader says, “It’s your hippocampus rebroadcasting it out back to the rest of your brain while you’re asleep, giving your neurons a chance to fire together and hence wire together.” This “rehearsal process” helps the brain perform better when the same or similar situations come up.

Swedish scientists create an artificial neuron that mimicks an organic one

Could remotely stimulate neurons based on specific chemical signals received from different parts of the body, or doctors could artificially bridge damaged nerve cells and restore neural functions
June 29, 2015

Chemical-to-electrical-to-chemical signal transmission. A conventional neuron (upper panel) senses chemical signals (orange circles), which trigger an electrical pulse of membrane depolarization (action potential) along the axon, causing chemical release at the axon terminals (blue circles). This process can be mimicked (lower panel) by a chemical biosensor (for glutamate or acetylcholine) connected to an axon-mimicking organic electronic ion pump that transmits electrons/ions and generates chemicals — forming an organic electronic biomimetic neuron. (credit: Daniel T. Simon et al./Biosensors and Bioelectronics

Scientists at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet and Linköping University have built what they claim is a “fully functional neuron” that mimicks the functions of a human nerve cell.

The “organic electronic biomimetic neuron” combines a biosensor and ion pump. It senses a chemical change in one dish and translates it into an electrical/ionic signal that travels along an “axon” to a “synapse” and releases chemical signals in another dish, that then trigger another neuron, etc.

Glutamate drops are added to a dish containing a biosensor (green) that generates electronic signals (e–), which (via hardware/software) regulate hydrogen ion delivery (white tube) to another dish, where pH is monitored microscopically (video) (credit: Daniel T. Simon et al./Biosensors and Bioelectronics)

Such a device could eventually be miniaturized and implantable, says lead investigator Agneta Richter-Dahlfors, Karolinska Institutet professor of cellular microbiology. The research objective: improve treatments for neurological disorders, which are currently limited to traditional electrical stimulation.

Could the brain be analogous to a computer?

Countering skeptics, psychologist/neuroscientist Gary Marcus, writing in The New York Times June 27, says “yes” — but not a simplistic digital or analog computer. “The brain might consist of highly orchestrated sets of fundamental building blocks, such as ‘computational primitives’ for constructing sequences, retrieving information from memory, and routing information between different locations in the brain,” he says. One computational model he suggests: a field programmable gate array (FPGA), consisting of multiple types of “logic blocks” operating in parallel.

For example, the new technique could make it possible to remotely stimulate neurons based on specific chemical signals received from different parts of the body. Or physicians could artificially bridge damaged nerve cells and restore neural functions.

To find out, the scientists would next like to miniaturize this device to enable implantation into the human body and cause it to wirelessly release neurotransmitters in distant neurons, says Richer-Dahlfors. “Such auto-regulated sensing and delivery, or possibly a remote control, [could lead to] new and exciting opportunities for future research and treatment of neurological disorders.”

This study was published in the journal Biosensors & Bioelectronics. Funding was provided by Carl Bennet AB, VINNOVA, Karolinska Institutet, the Swedish Research Council, Swedish Brain Power, Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and Önnesjö Foundation.

Karolinska Institutet | Artificial neuron mimicks function of human cells

Abstract of An organic electronic biomimetic neuron enables auto-regulated neuromodulation

Current therapies for neurological disorders are based on traditional medication and electric stimulation. Here, we present an organic electronic biomimetic neuron, with the capacity to precisely intervene with the underlying malfunctioning signalling pathway using endogenous substances. The fundamental function of neurons, defined as chemical-to-electrical-to-chemical signal transduction, is achieved by connecting enzyme-based amperometric biosensors and organic electronic ion pumps. Selective biosensors transduce chemical signals into an electric current, which regulates electrophoretic delivery of chemical substances without necessitating liquid flow. Biosensors detected neurotransmitters in physiologically relevant ranges of 5–80 µM, showing linear response above 20 µm with approx. 0.1 nA/µM slope. When exceeding defined threshold concentrations, biosensor output signals, connected via custom hardware/software, activated local or distant neurotransmitter delivery from the organic electronic ion pump. Changes of 20 µM glutamate or acetylcholine triggered diffusive delivery of acetylcholine, which activated cells via receptor-mediated signalling. This was observed in real-time by single-cell ratiometric Ca2+ imaging. The results demonstrate the potential of the organic electronic biomimetic neuron in therapies involving long-range neuronal signalling by mimicking the function of projection neurons. Alternatively, conversion of glutamate-induced descending neuromuscular signals into acetylcholine-mediated muscular activation signals may be obtained, applicable for bridging injured sites and active prosthetics.

Daniel T. Simon, Karin C. Larsson, David Nilsson, Gustav Burström, Dagmar Galter, Magnus Berggren, Agneta Richter-Dahlfors. An organic electronic biomimetic neuron enables auto-regulated neuromodulation. Biosensors and Bioelectronics, 2015; 71: 359 DOI: 10.1016/j.bios.2015.04.058
Artifical neuron mimicks function of human cells

Creating a better semiconductor in femtoseconds with ‘photo-doping’

June 29, 2015

Certain compounds can exhibit multiple quantum phases, including Mott insulator, superconductor, and spin or charge density wave (CDW) states based on subtle physical tunings, including applying heat, pressure (P), and doping (x) (credit: Tzong-Ru T. Han et al./Science Advances)

Michigan State University (MSU) researchers have developed a “photo-doping” process by shooting an ultrafast laser pulse into a semiconductor* material — rapidly changing its properties as if it had been chemically “doped.”

Changing the electrical properties of semiconductors formerly required a complex, expensive process of adding different dopants, or trace chemical impurities.

The new research could lead to development of next-generation electronic materials and even optically controlled switching devices without requiring doping of semiconductor materials.

“The material we studied is an unconventional semiconductor made of alternating atomically thin layers of metals and insulators,” said Chong-Yu Ruan, an associate professor of physics and astronomy who led the research effort at MSU.

“This combination allows many unusual properties, including highly resistive and also superconducting behaviors to emerge, especially when ‘doped.’”

By varying the wavelengths and intensities of the laser pulses, the researchers were able to observe phases with different properties that are captured on the femtosecond timescale. A femtosecond is 1 quadrillionth, or 1 millionth of 1 billionth, of a second.

“The laser pulses act like dopants that temporarily weaken the glue that binds charges and ions together in the materials at a speed that is ultrafast and allow new electronic phases to spontaneously form to engineer new properties,” Ruan said. “Capturing these processes in the act allows us to understand the physical nature of transformations at the most fundamental level.”

The research is described in a open-access paper published in the journal Science Advances.

* A semiconductor is a substance that conducts electricity under some conditions but not others, making it a good medium for the control of electrical current. Semiconductors are used in many electronic devices, including computers.

Abstract of Exploration of metastability and hidden phases in correlated electron crystals visualized by femtosecond optical doping and electron crystallography

Characterizing and understanding the emergence of multiple macroscopically ordered electronic phases through subtle tuning of temperature, pressure, and chemical doping has been a long-standing central issue for complex materials research. We report the first comprehensive studies of optical doping–induced emergence of stable phases and metastable hidden phases visualized in situ by femtosecond electron crystallography. The electronic phase transitions are triggered by femtosecond infrared pulses, and a temperature–optical density phase diagram is constructed and substantiated with the dynamics of metastable states, highlighting the cooperation and competition through which the macroscopic quantum orders emerge. These results elucidate key pathways of femtosecond electronic switching phenomena and provide an important new avenue to comprehensively investigate optical doping–induced transition states and phase diagrams of complex materials with wide-ranging applications.

Chong-Yu Ruan et al. Exploration of metastability and hidden phases in correlated electron crystals visualized by femtosecond optical doping and electron crystallography. Science Advances, June 2015 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400173 (open access)
Building a better semiconductor

A fat cat is not a happy cat — and Fido may need to diet

By Tre’vell Anderson
Los Angeles Times

Garfield is not the only fat cat around.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says more than 50 percent of the nation’s cats and dogs are overweight. And just as concerning, more than 90 percent of their owners don’t recognize that their pet is carrying around extra pounds.

“People automatically think a fat cat is a happy cat,” says Ernie Ward, owner of Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. “But it’s not cute. It’s killing.”

Ward founded the organization in 2005 after realizing that many veterinarians were not talking to pet owners about obesity. Ten years later, he says, vets are finally having those necessary conversations.

Most Read Stories
Despite struggles on and off field, ex-Skyline star QB Jake Heaps still chasing his dream
How ISIS methodically groomed a lonely young Wash. state woman
Navy stealthily targets Hood Canal development
Does everyone in Seattle drive a Subaru?
Special I-90 overpass to give animals safe passage
“It’s an emotional land mine,” Ward says. “You don’t know when you’re going to step on the wrong button because people inherently have a problem with questions (about how they’re) feeding pets because we equate love with food and treats.”

Not unlike humans, pets can face obesity because of too much food and too little exercise, says Eve Flores, a veterinarian and co-owner of DTLAvets with Leia Castaneda.

Overweight animals are more prone to a host of health conditions, including arthritis, high blood pressure and blindness.

Below are some suggestions from Ward, Flores and Castaneda for pet owners looking to improve pets’ health.

• Get your pet an annual checkup

• Read labels — don’t buy pet foods with unpronounceable ingredients

• Don’t overfeed

• Exercise your pet

Ward uses a simple equation to get through to his clients: “Fat equals inflammation, which equals disease which equals early death.” To avoid that, exercise is a must, he says. “It is as simple as walking your dog 30 minutes a day, interacting with your cat for five minutes three times a day.”

Flores adds that extending normal walking or play times by 10 minutes can do the trick.