Ask Hackaday: Google Beat Go; Bellwether or Hype?

We wake up this morning to the news that Google’s deep-search neural network project called AlphaGo has beaten the second ranked world Go master (who happens to be a human being). This is the first of five matches between the two adversaries that will play out this week.

On one hand, this is a sign of maturing technology. It has been almost twenty years since Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov, the reigning chess world champion at the time. Although there are still four games to play against Lee Sedol, it was recently reported that AlphaGo beat European Go champion Fan Hui in five games straight. Go is generally considered a more difficult game for machine minds to play than chess. This is because Go has a much larger pool of possible moves at any given time.

Does This Matter?

Okay, the news part of this event has been covered: machine beats man. Does it matter? Will this affect your life and how? We want to hear what you think in the comments below. But I’m going to keep going with some of my thoughts on the topic.

You're still better at Ms. Pacman [Source: DeepMind paper in Nature]
You’re still better at Ms. Pacman [Source: DeepMind paper in Nature]
Let’s look first at what AlphaGo did to win. At its core, the game of Go is won by figuring out where your opponent will likely make a low-percentage move and then capitalizing on that choice. Know Your Enemy has been a tenet of strategy for a few millennia now and it holds true in the digital age. In addition to the rules of the game, AlphaGo was fed a healthy diet of 30 million positions from expert games. This builds behavior recognition into the system. Not just what moves can be made, but what moves are most likely to be made.

DeepMind, the company behind AlphaGo which was acquired by Google in 2014, has published a paper in Nature about their approach. They were even nice enough to let us read without dealing with a paywall. The secret sauce is the learning process which at its core tries to mimic how living entities learn: observe repetitively while assigning values to outcomes. This is key as it leads past “intellect”, to “intelligence” (the “I” in AI that everyone seems to be waiting for). But this is a bastardized version of “intelligence”. AlphaGo is able to recognize and predict behavior, then make choices that lead to a desired outcome. This is more than intellect as it does value the purpose of an opponent’s decisions. But it falls short of intelligence as AlphaGo doesn’t consciously understand the purpose it has detected. In my mind this is exactly what we need. Truly successful machine learning will be able to make sense out of sometimes irrational input.

The paper from Nature doesn’t go into details about Go, but it explains the approach of the learning system applied to Atari 2600. The algorithm was given 210×160 color video at 60Hz as an input and then told it could use a joystick with one button. From there it taught itself to play 49 games. It was not told the purpose or the rules of the games, but it was given examples of scores from human performance and rewarded for its own quality performances. The chart above shows that it learned to play 29 of them at or above human skill levels.

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Tindie Opens a Flea Market for Tools, Components, and other Gear

We like to pop into electronics flea markets and swap meets at every chance we get. Last month [Brian] made it to the ham swap meet at Northrup Grumman held in Redondo Beach. I had a great time a couple of years back at the Electronics Flea Market held at De Anza College. Physical proximity to one of these nearly-mythical events is, unfortunately, required. If only the Internet offered a solution to this problem…

The fact that you’re reading Hackaday puts you into one of three categories: you wish you had a lot more tools, you’re on the way to a well-stocked workshop, or you’re trying to pass on your shop surplus to someone who will love it like you do. There’s now a perfect solution for the buy-upgrade-horde cycle we all inevitably fall into: the Tindie Flea Market. If you use something to make hardware, this is going to be the place to buy or sell it.

tindie-flea-market-thumbHas that starter scope been collecting dust since you picked up not one, but two better models? We know you can’t part with it unless you know it’s not going to be thrown out, and this is the chance to find not just a good home, but an owner that will use and cherish it. This goes for all kinds of great tools. After all, how do you find someone to take that pick and place off of your hands?

At launch, the Tindie Flea Market categories will include Adapters and Cables, Audio and Video, Batteries and Power, Bulk Components, Equipment, Fasteners, RC, and Small Tools. Maybe I’ll finally be able to find a home for that tube of power transistors I ordered years ago in the wrong package — and maybe even that long tape of EEPROM that I ordered in 1.8v instead of 3.3v. Time to start my listings and keep good stuff out of the landfill. Yet another great reason we were so happy to welcome Tindie to the Hackaday family.

Hackaday at SXSW

It’s that time of year again. In March, Austin Texas transforms itself into a nexus of art and technology and holds a celebration of Music, Film, and something called Interactive. It turns out that we’re Interactive: Hackaday will once again be at SXSW and we want you to join us there — Austin is excellent at showing everyone a fun time (as long as you don’t need to drive anywhere).

We’ll be on site starting this Friday (3/11/16) and we want you to come party with us at the Hardware House starting at 6pm. This is the third year that Hardware House has hosted, and last year the party was packed with a ton of interesting people, including some Hackaday alums who were there by coincidence. This year you can expect the same, but the fun doesn’t stop on Friday. [Sophi Kravitz] will be hosting a panel on Sunday at 5pm about Technology and Social Change.

Our main event is on Monday (3/14) at noon: Lunch with Hackaday as we launch the world premier of the 2016 Hackaday Prize film. On hand for the SXSW events are [Sophi Kravitz], [Chris Gammell], [Aleksandar Bradic], [Amber Cunningham], [Michael Guilfoil], and [Ivan Lazarevic].

But even after SXSW, we’re not done with the Lone Star State. [Brandon Dunson] and [Mike Szczys] will be at Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Dallas the following weekend at the Dallas Makerspace. Get excited Texas, we certainly are!

GuardBunny Active RFID Protection Going Open Hardware

There are two sides to every coin. Instead of swiping or using a chip reader with your credit card, some companies offer wireless cards that you hold up to a reader for just an instant. How convenient for you and for anyone who might what to read that data for their own use. The same goes for RFID enabled passports, and the now ubiquitous keycards used for door access at businesses and hotels. I’m sure you can opt-out of one of these credit cards, but Gerald in human resources isn’t going to issue you a metal key — you’re stuck hauling around that RFID card.

It is unlikely that someone surreptitiously reading your card will unlock your secrets. The contactless credit cards and the keylock cards are actually calculating a response based on a stored key pair. But you absolutely could be tracked by the unique IDs in your cards. Are you being logged when passing by an open reader? And other devices, like public transit cards, may have more information stored on them that could be harvested. It’s not entirely paranoid to want to silence these signals when you’re not using them.

One solution is to all of this is to protect your wallet from would-be RFID pirates. At this point all I’m sure everyone is thinking of a tin-foil card case. Sure, that might work unless the malicious reader is very powerful. But there’s a much more interesting way to protect against this: active RFID scrambling with a project called GuardBunny. It’s a card that you place next to whatever you want to protect. It’s not really RFID — I’ll get that in a moment — but is activated the same way and spews erroneous bits back at any card reader. Kristin Paget has been working on GuardBunny for several years now. As of late she’s had less time for active development, but is doing a great thing by letting version 1 out into the world for others to hack on. In her talk at Shmoocon 2016 she walked through the design, demonstrated its functionality, and shared some suggestions for further improvement.

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It’s Alive! — Badge for Hackaday Belgrade

Hackaday Belgrade — our first ever conference in Europe — is coming up fast. One of the really exciting things for me is the hardware badge which [Voja Antonic] designed for the conference. He’s done a great job with hardware choices and I think we’ve hit the sweet spot for badge hacking. Let’s jump into the hardware and firmware details after the break.

Get your ticket now for ten hours of talks and workshops, evening concerts, and of course badge hacking the entire time. Earlybird sales close Monday. We’re still in the process of going through talk proposals but we’ll publish a post next week announcing all of the speakers.

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Microchip Unveils Online MPLAB IDE and $10 Board

Today, Microchip released a few interesting tools for embedded development. The first is a free online IDE called MPLAB Xpress, the second is a $10 dev board with a built-in programmer. This pair is aimed at getting people up and running quickly with PIC development. They gave us an account before release, and sent over a sample board. Let’s take a look!

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We’re Hiring

Hackaday has been expanding into all kinds of new areas. We find ourselves stretched a bit thin and it’s time to ask for help. Want to lend a hand while making some extra dough to plow back into your projects? These are work-from-home (or wherever you like) positions and we’re looking for awesome, motivated people to help guide Hackaday forward!

Contributors are hired as private contractors and paid for each post. You should have the technical expertise to understand the projects you write about, and a passion for the wide range of topics we feature. If you’re interested, please email our jobs line, and include:

  • Details about your background (education, employment, etc.) that make you a valuable addition to the team
  • Links to your blog/project posts/etc. which have been published on the Internet
  • One example post written in the voice of Hackaday. Include a banner image, at least 150 words, the link to the project, and any in-links to related and relevant Hackaday features

What are you waiting for? Ladies and Gentlemen, start your applications!