AI Beats Poker Pros: Skynet Looms

There have been a few “firsts” in AI-versus-human gaming lately, and the computers are now beating us at trivia, chess and Go. But in some sense, none of these are really interesting; they’re all games of fact. Poker is different. Aside from computing the odds of holding the winning hand, where a computer would obviously have an advantage, the key to winning in poker is bluffing, and figuring out when your opponent is bluffing. Until recently, this has helped man beat the machine. Those days are over.

Chess and Go are what a game theorist would call games of perfect information: everyone knows everything about the state of the game just from looking at the board, and this means that there is, in principle, a best strategy (series of moves) for every possible position. Granted, it’s hard to figure these out because it’s a big brute-force problem, but it’s still a brute-force problem where computers have an innate advantage. Chess and Go are games where the machines should be winning.  Continue reading “AI Beats Poker Pros: Skynet Looms”

Yes/No Neural Interface Partly Works

It sounds like something out of a sci-fi or horror movie: people suffering from complete locked-in state (CLIS) have lost all motor control, but their brains are otherwise functioning normally. This can result from spinal cord injuries or anyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Patients who are only partially locked in can often blink to signal yes or no. CLIS patients don’t even have this option. So researchers are trying to literally read their minds.

Neuroelectrical technologies, like the EEG, haven’t been successful so far, so the scientists took another tack: using near-infrared light to detect the oxygenation of blood in the forehead. The results are promising, but we’re not there yet. The system detected answers correctly during training sessions about 70% of the time, where the upper bound for random chance is around 65% — varying from trial to trial. This may not seem overwhelmingly significant, but repeating the question many times can help improve confidence in the answer, and these are people with no means of communicating with the outside world. Anything is better than nothing?

journal-pbio-1002593-g001It’s noteworthy that the blood oxygen curves over time vary significantly from patient to patient, but seem roughly consistent within a single patient. Some people simply have patterns that are easier to read. You can see all the data in the paper.

They go into the methodology as well, which is not straightforward either. How would you design a test for a person who you can’t even tell if they are awake, for instance? They ask complementary questions (“Paris is the capital of France”, “Berlin is the capital of Germany”, “Paris is the capital of Germany”, and “Berlin is the capital of France”) to be absolutely sure they’re getting the classifications right.

It’s interesting science, and for a good cause: improving the quality of life for people who have lost all contact with their bodies. (Most of whom answered “yes” to the statement “I am happy.” Food for thought.)

Via Science-Based Medicine, and thanks to [gippgig] for the unintentional tip! Photo from the Wyss Center, one of the research institutes involved in the study.

Fail of the Week: GitLab Goes Down

Has work been a little stressful this week, are things getting you down? Spare a thought for an unnamed sysadmin at the GitHub-alike startup GitLab, who early yesterday performed a deletion task on a PostgreSQL database in response to some problems they were having in the wake of an attack by spammers. Unfortunately due to a command line error he ran the deletion on one of the databases behind the company’s main service, forcing it to be taken down. By the time the deletion was stopped, only 4.5 Gb of the 300 Gb trove of data remained.

Reading their log of the incident the scale of the disaster unfolds, and we can’t help wincing at the phrase “out of 5 backup/replication techniques deployed none are working reliably or set up in the first place“. In the end they were able to restore most of the data from a staging server, but at the cost of a lost six hours of issues and merge requests. Fortunately for them their git repositories were not affected.

For 707 GitLab users then there has been a small amount of lost data, the entire web service was down for a while, and the incident has gained them more publicity in a day than their marketing department could have achieved in a year. The post-mortem document makes for a fascinating read, and will probably leave more than one reader nervously thinking about the integrity of whichever services they are responsible for. We have to hand it to them for being so open about it all and for admitting a failure of their whole company for its backup failures rather than heaping blame on one employee. In many companies it would all have been swept under the carpet. We suspect that GitLab’s data will be shepherded with much more care henceforth.

We trust an increasing amount of our assets to online providers these days, and this tale highlights some of the hazards inherent in placing absolute trust in them. GitLab had moved from a cloud provider to their own data centre, though whether or not this incident would have been any less harmful wherever it was hosted is up for debate. Perhaps it’s a timely reminder to us all: keep your own backups, and most importantly: test them to ensure they work.

Thanks [Jack Laidlaw] for the tip.

Rack server image: Trique303 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

These Five Hackaday.io Members Just Won Fancy New CircuitPython Boards

Just a few hours ago, we had a HackChat over on Hackaday.io with Adafruit discussing CircuitPython, their new extension to the MicroPython codebase. During the chat, the folks at Adafruit took questions and asked participants in the chat what they’d like to build with some cool new hardware. These CircuitPlayground M0 Express boards are brand new, unreleased hardware. Really cool stuff.

The winners of these unreleased boards, and the projects they’ll be using them for are: [RaidDude8] for a light painting system, [gelatinousslime] for a ‘magic wand’ for his daughter that reacts to gestures, [Neon22] for a multiuser game using Neopixels, [turbinenreiter] for a gravity demonstrator using Neopixels and the accelerometer, and [todbot] for a Powermate knob USB HID clone.

During the chat, The folks at Adafruit talked about their additions to MicroPython. It’s a rework of the API, provides better support for more platforms, and extends the entire thing to microcontrollers.  If you like Python and want to get into microcontrollers, this one is for you.

If you missed the chat, you can still check out Adafruit’s live stream right here, or the transcript right here. Below, you can check out Lady Ada awarding the new boards after the break.

We have a few more HackChats coming up in the next few weeks, one with [Sprite_TM], inevitably discussing why he won’t do a crowdfunding campaign for his tiny, tiny Game Boy, an RF talk with [Jenny List], and a chat with Sparkfun. You can check out the upcoming HackChats here. Want to get in on the action? Request to join the HackChat and you’re in.

Continue reading “These Five Hackaday.io Members Just Won Fancy New CircuitPython Boards”

Stadium Sized Cellphone Light Show Is Controlled By Sound

18 months ago, [Jameson Rader] didn’t know how to code. He had an economics degree and worked for a minor league hockey team. He did have a dream, though. Broadcasting data through sound. When we say broadcast, we mean broadcast – as in one sender and thousands of receivers.

[Jameson] didn’t have the money to hire a team to build his application. So he did what any self-respecting hacker would do. He bought a few books and taught himself to code. We’re talking about a smartphone app here, so Java and Objective-C were necessary to cover Android and iOS devices. The result is XT Audio Beacons.

[Jameson] has created a light show for stadiums which requires no new hardware infrastructure. Ultrasonic cues are added to a pre-recorded soundtrack and played over the PA system. Fans attending the show simply run an app and hold up their smartphone. The app listens for the cues and turns on the camera flash. The result is a light show which can be synchronized to music, sound effects, or whatever the event calls for. Since the system relies on sound, the App only needs permissions to access the microphone. The system would still work even if the phones were in airplane mode.

Transmitting data to smartphones via ultrasonics isn’t exactly new. Amazon uses it in their Dash Buttons, and Google uses it in their OnHub. Using it as a broadcast medium in a stadium is a novel application, though. [Jameson] also has demos showing XT Audio Beacons being used for more mundane purposes – such as troubleshooting electronics, or even as an acoustic version of an iBeacon.

Most important here is that [Jameson] isn’t keeping all this new knowledge to himself. He’s published the source to his application on Github under the MIT license.

You can see the system in action – and even try it yourself, in the video after the break.

If you want to learn more about [Jameson] and his journey, definitely check out his AMA on Reddit.

Continue reading “Stadium Sized Cellphone Light Show Is Controlled By Sound”

Japanese ISS Supply Ship Dual-Purposed As Tether Experiment

When a rocket sends a capsule up with supplies for the International Space Station, they usually send a bunch of their trash back down with it, all of which burns up in the atmosphere on re-entry. But as long as you’ve got that (doomed) vehicle up there, you might as well do some science with it along the way. And that’s exactly what the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) is doing with their Kounotori 6 supply ship that just left the ISS on Friday.

The experiment is with an electromagnetic tether that can be used to either turn electrical energy into kinetic or vice-versa. When you string a long conducting wire outwards from earth, the two ends pass through the earth’s magnetic field at different altitudes and thus pass through magnetic fields with different strengths, and an electrical potential is generated. In the KITE experiment (translated), a resistive load and an electron emitter on the supply ship are designed to burn up this electrical energy, lowering the ship’s kinetic energy, and dropping its orbit down to earth.
Continue reading “Japanese ISS Supply Ship Dual-Purposed As Tether Experiment”

Riddle: What Metal Conducts Electricity, But Not Heat?

If you can’t answer the riddle, don’t feel bad. Metal conductors usually conduct electricity and heat. Usually, that’s true, but researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that vanadium dioxide can conduct electricity without conducting heat.

The Wiedemann-Franz Law states that good conductors of electricity are also good conductors of heat. Vanadium dioxide not only switches from an insulator to a conductor at 67C (152F), but it appears that it also doesn’t conduct as much heat as that law predicts while it is in its electrically conductive phase.

Continue reading “Riddle: What Metal Conducts Electricity, But Not Heat?”