Artificial intelligence pioneer says we need to start over - Axios
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Artificial intelligence pioneer says we need to start over

Geoffrey Hinton harbors doubts about AI's current workhorse. (Johnny Guatto / University of Toronto)

In 1986, Geoffrey Hinton co-authored a paper that, three decades later, is central to the explosion of artificial intelligence. But Hinton says his breakthrough method should be dispensed with, and a new path to AI found.

Speaking with Axios on the sidelines of an AI conference in Toronto on Wednesday, Hinton, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and a Google researcher, said he is now "deeply suspicious" of back-propagation, the workhorse method that underlies most of the advances we are seeing in the AI field today, including the capacity to sort through photos and talk to Siri. "My view is throw it all away and start again," he said.

The bottom line: Other scientists at the conference said back-propagation still has a core role in AI's future. But Hinton said that, to push materially ahead, entirely new methods will probably have to be invented. "Max Planck said, 'Science progresses one funeral at a time.' The future depends on some graduate student who is deeply suspicious of everything I have said."

How it works: In back propagation, labels or "weights" are used to represent a photo or voice within a brain-like neural layer. The weights are then adjusted and readjusted, layer by layer, until the network can perform an intelligent function with the fewest possible errors.

But Hinton suggested that, to get to where neural networks are able to become intelligent on their own, what is known as "unsupervised learning," "I suspect that means getting rid of back-propagation."

"I don't think it's how the brain works," he said. "We clearly don't need all the labeled data."

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Scoop: Trump pledges to personally pay some legal bills of WH staff and associates

President Trump has promised to spend at least $430,000 of his own money to defray legal costs incurred by campaign associates and White House staff due to the Russia investigations, a White House official tells Axios.

What we know: The Republican National Committee has paid roughly $430,000 to lawyers representing the president and his eldest son, Don Jr. A White House official told me Trump will not be reimbursing the RNC for these costs. However, the White House official says he has pledged to spend the same amount, from his personal finances, "to defray the costs of legal fees for his associates, including former and current White House aides."

To understand the details of the RNC's payments for Trump and his son's lawyers, read this WashPost report — the substance of which the RNC confirmed to Axios.

What we don't know: The president and his legal team haven't announced the mechanism to make these payments. The arrangement raises a number of questions, none of which the White House official answered:

  • Is the plan to put this money into a general legal defense fund that all of the president's associates could request access to, or will the money be disbursed directly to attorneys?
  • $430,000 is a relatively small amount, given the ballooning legal fees of Trump's associates who are under the most intense investigation. Will Trump's legal fund pay the bills of associates with the most expensive legal fees, including Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort?
  • Who decides which of the president's associates get the money and when they get it?
  • What are the president's intentions regarding future legal bills for the first family? Will the RNC keep paying them?
  • Why isn't the president reimbursing the RNC in addition to partially defraying his associates' costs?

Bottom line: TBD on everything. The official said: "We're working on appropriate legal and ethical approval" — and said the president hasn't ruled out spending more of his own money on these legal fees. It's also unclear what the president will do in the future as he and the first family continue to rack up legal bills.

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Trump: Syrian victory in Raqqa is a “critical breakthrough”

Photo: Gabriel Chaim / AP

The image above from drone video shows damaged buildings in Raqqa, Syria, two days after Syrian Democratic Forces said that military operations to oust the Islamic State have ended, and that their fighters have taken full control of the ancient city on the Euphrates River.

  • The devastation was "caused by weeks of fighting between Kurdish-led forces and the Islamic State group, and thousands of bombs dropped by the U.S.-led coalition," AP writes.
  • Why it matters: "Entire neighborhoods are seen turned to rubble, with little sign of civilian life. ... The U.N. and aid organizations estimate about 80 percent of the city is destroyed or uninhabitable."
  • Now, a humanitarian crisis is escalating.
President Trump issued a statement on the Syrian victory, saying it "represents a critical breakthrough in our worldwide campaign to defeat ISIS."
"Today, we reaffirm that ISIS leaders, and anyone who supports them, must and will face justice."

Go deeper: Axios' Shannon Vavra and Steve LeVine explain how ISIS is scattered, but not gone.

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Blueberry-picking robots' threat to human beings

"Tech Support," by R. Kikuo Johnson

"Welcoming Our New Robot Overlords: Once, robots assisted human workers. Now it's the other way around," by The New Yorker's Sheelah Kolhatkar:

The frontier: "An industrial robot will pick up the same object, in the same location, over and over. The challenge, and the multibillion-dollar business opportunity, [is] to teach a robot to function in an environment that [is] constantly changing."

Why it matters: "Harvesting fruit and other produce ... is the kind of job that Americans are increasingly reluctant to do ... Yet the implications extend beyond agriculture. A robot that could efficiently pick blueberries could probably do a lot of things that are currently the exclusive province of human beings."

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300 people have been killed in U.S. disasters this year

Home destroyed from fires in the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, California. Photo: Jeff Chiu / AP

Damage from California wildfires is now estimated to exceed $1 billion, giving the U.S. 16 separate billion-dollar disasters so far this year, tying 2011 for the most in one year, per the Weather Channel.

Why it matters: The disasters, combined, have killed over 300 people, the Weather Channel reports. There have been 218 climate disasters since 1980, which has cost the U.S. over $1.2 trillion, not including the hurricanes last month or the wildfires in California.

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A new North Korea problem

Kim Jong-un speaks to the central committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on Oct. 7. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

"[A]nalysts ... see signs that Mount Mantap, the 7,200-foot-high peak under which North Korea detonates its nuclear bombs, is suffering from 'tired mountain syndrome,'" the WashPost reports on A1:

Why it matters: "Chinese scientists ... have warned that further nuclear tests [by North Korea] could cause the mountain to collapse and release the radiation from the blast."

P.S. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Thursday a Foundation for Defense of Democracies forum that North Korea is months away from perfecting its nuclear weapons capabilities, AP reports:

  • Pompeo: "They are close enough now in their capabilities that from a U.S. policy perspective we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving" their objective of being able to strike the United States.
  • John Brennan, Pompeo's predecessor as CIA director, said at Fordham University in New York on Wednesday that the prospects of a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula "are greater than they have been in several decades": "I don't think it's likely or probable, but if it's a 1-in-4 or 1-in-5 chance, that's too high."
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Trump: Rep. Wilson is "killing" the Democratic Party

Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump sent a series of tweets Saturday morning regarding Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, the new budget passed in Congress on Thursday, and more.

Go deeper: Chief of Staff John Kelly misrepresented a story about Rep. Wilson earlier this week, which further intensified a feud between Trump and the Florida Congresswoman, evidenced by his tweet this morning. Yesterday Wilson raised the issue of race, suggesting that the animosity from Kelly is racially charged and called him a liar. "The White House itself is full of white supremacists," she said.

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Big Tech's new Wall Street problem

Photo courtesy of Barron's

Just as Big Tech has begun to seriously worry about Washington, now Wall Street is waking up to possible government threats to the market dominance of the Silicon Valley giants.

While the "biggest companies don't face an immediate threat of being broken up ... just the possibility creates a risk factor in the stocks," Barron'sreports in its new cover story:

  • "More than antitrust issues are in play. The huge amounts of personal data that Google, Facebook, and Amazon are amassing is just as troubling to some."
  • Why it matters: "Taken together, these challenges threaten the stock valuations of the group. To get an idea of the worst-case scenario, take a look at two of tech's dominant players from previous eras: IBM [1969] and Microsoft [1998]."
  • "If these giants get sideswiped, it could be because of the fatal flaw in large tech companies that's often drawn social ire and regulation — the will to exploit their dominance."

Possible hits to the platforms' business models are blossoming in Europe, and the contagion could spread across the Atlantic. An AP takeoutfrom London points out that the giants "are increasingly facing an uncomfortable truth":

  • "[I]t is Europe's culture of tougher oversight of companies, not America's laissez-faire attitude, which could soon rule their industry as governments seek to combat fake news and prevent extremists from using the internet to fan the flames of hatred."

Be smart: My conversations with tech execs show they're skeptical that Congress will figure out the mechanics of inhibiting the platforms in a way that would do serious damage to the bottom line.

  • It's true that potential D.C. action is in the early stage. And there are huge impediments to doing anything radical. But the companies are now such tempting targets, this is a rising passion in both parties.
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Those "puppy eyes" are all for you

Photo: Alan Diaz / AP

"Puppy dog eyes" — the pleading look a dog gives by lifting its inner brow and widening its eyes — has become synonymous with a sad pup hoping for a scrap of food off its owner's plate. However a new study published Thursday in Scientific Reports suggests "puppy dog eyes" may not be meant to be manipulative, but are simply a reaction to human expression.

Key findings: The study, conducted by researchers in Britain who closely monitored dogs' facial expressions, found that dogs were much more expressive when a person was paying attention to them as opposed to when they were turned away. The presence of food didn't make a difference in the dogs' reactions.

Why it matters: "This study is the first to show evidence that dogs adjust their facial expressions when humans are looking at them," Angie Johnston, a graduate student at Yale university working in the Psychology Department's Canine Cognition Center, told Axios. "This suggests that the methods dogs use to communicate with us may be more nuanced than we previously thought."

Details of the study and other findings:

  • Juliane Kaminski, a psychologist at the Dog Cognition Centre at the University of Portsmouth, U.K. and her colleagues studied 24 pet dogs of various breeds from ages 1-12 years.
  • The researchers filmed the dogs' facial expressions while a woman was a) facing the dog and displaying food in her hands; b) facing it and not displaying food; c) facing away and displaying food; and d) facing away and not displaying food.
  • The dogs were found to be much more expressive when the woman was facing them, and stuck out their tongues and barked more when they got attention.
  • Meanwhile, the presence of food didn't seem to make a difference. "This kind of 'dinner table effect' that dogs try and look super cute when they want something is something we did in fact not find," wrote Kaminski, "meaning, there was no effect of food being visible or not."
  • Take note: Kaminiski underscored that the team doesn't know dogs' intentions for making certain faces. "We cannot in any way speculate what dogs might 'mean' with whatever facial movement they produce," she wrote.

What they're saying:

  • "That the dogs raised their eyebrows and flicked their tongues more when people are looking at them... suggests that dogs might be using the actions communicatively, just as people do with facial expressions," Alexandra Horowitz from Barnard University's Dog Cognition Lab told Axios.
  • Looking forward: "This study represents a promising new frontier in canine science... I was surprised that dogs made 'puppy dog eyes' at the person regardless of whether she had food in her hands or not. This makes me wonder exactly what it is that dogs are trying to communicate," says Johnston. "More work is going to be needed to pin down exactly what dogs are trying to tell us, if anything, when they make these facial expressions."

Go deeper:

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Spain PM to remove Catalonia's leader

Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants to stop Catalonia from seceding. Photo: John Thys, Pool Photo via AP

Catalonia has been fighting for independence from Spain for years, but last month held an Independence Referendum in which the majority of Catalans voted in favor of secession. Now, Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced today that he plans to remove Catalonia's president and separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont, from office to stop their secession, per NYT.

What's next: The Spanish government will move to invoke Article 155 of their constitution, which has never been used before, and would allow them to stop any regional government from ruling in any of Spain's 17 autonomous regions (like Catalonia). The Article specifically allows for the Spanish government to "adopt the measures necessary to oblige that [region] to forcibly comply with said duties or to protect the aforementioned general interest" of Spain.

What they're saying: "We've done this the right way: we've worked peacefully, we've organized, we've demonstrated in the millions in a peaceful manner, and we've sat down and tried to negotiate," said a representative of the Catalonia government. He added that "none of us expected the extraordinary lengths" that the Spanish government would go to stop the region from seceding. But Rajoy maintains the referendum was unconstitutional and will now move to take control of Catalonia.

The day before the Independence Referendum, the Catalonia government rep told me of the "flimsy justifications" Spanish authorities were using to stop the vote from even taking place — they demanded a shutdown of any Catalan website with mentions of the Independence Referendum, threatened members of the press who reported on it, removed millions of paper ballots, arrested at least 14 Catalan government officials, and sent in hundreds of civil guards in riot gear to Catalans' protests.

Why this matters: With so much political chaos happening in the U.S., it can be easy to overlook what's happening in a relatively small region like Catalonia. But "it's a model for peaceful change that we should pay attention to rather than ignore," the representative said. And Catalonia is a case study in what a years-long effort for progressivism and independence looks like when democracy is stifled. "There has been a long road of attempted negotiation and Catalonia has been forced to do this [referendum] a result of Madrid's unwillingness to even discuss Catalonia's grievances," said the rep.

Battle lines:

  • The Spanish government is ending "a unilateral process, contrary to the law and searching for confrontation," Rajoy said, per NYT, because "no government of any democratic country can accept that the law be violated, ignored and changed."
  • Spain's Constitutional Court has always said that Catalonia's Independence Referendum is illegal, but Puigdemont was determined to go through with it anyway.
  • The vote wasn't just symbolic. The Catalonia Government representative said it would show the Spanish government that Catalans "have legitimately made every effort to negotiate within the constitution, and now international law and law regarding self-determination gives us that ability to hold this vote and make it binding."
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My 6 big things: Fox's Maria Bartiromo on Twitter as a life hack, hiking and her iPhone

I chat with industry leaders about their quirks and life hacks for Axios' My 6 Big Things series. This week features Maria Bartiromo, host of Mornings with Maria on Fox Business Network, who shares everything from the importance of her iPhone to using Twitter as a life hack.

Earlier this month, Fox Business Network celebrated its 10th anniversary and Bartiromo's exclusive interview with President Trump airs tomorrow.

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