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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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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IRS will decline tax returns without proof of health insurance

The IRS will reject tax returns filed without information about health insurance. Photo: Brennan Linsley / AP

The IRS said it will decline any tax returns submitted online if the filer does not fill out the forms about whether you have health insurance, per NYT. You could be denied your refund without this information.

Why it matters: The tax penalty for lack of health insurance has been controversial and this is the first time the IRS will enforce this rule. Also, it's a small sign that Trump's administration is keeping some parts of the Affordable Care Act alive, despite Trump's repeated claims that it's dead.

Think back: Trump's very first Executive Order suggested his admin could halt the tax penalty for insurance. And he has flip-flopped on health care numerous times this month alone. He rolled out another Executive Order earlier this month advocating for the sale of skinnier health plans to small businesses and individuals — on the same day that he announced he'd end subsidies for low-income people. And he changed his mind on the bipartisan proposal to provide "short-term stability to insurance marketplaces under the law," NYT notes.

Why now: The IRS wanted to assess the effects of Trump's EOs before rejecting returns without insurance information. Families can face up to $2,085 penalty and individuals could pay as much as $695 each year for the tax penalty without providing insurance information.

More tax news, from NYT: tax news, from NYT: Republicans are considering decreasing the amount individuals can contribute to 401(k) before taxes to help their tax reform plan.

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Trump out-of-bounds

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Donald Trump is now well-recognized as the president who hasn't been bound by the same niceties as his predecessors — whether on Twitter or in public remarks. He sparked controversy again this week, when he impugned past presidents for not calling families of service members killed in combat — the latest incident where his inclination to speak off the cuff went beyond the normal remarks of prior presidents.

Bottom line: It was assumed that after taking office Trump's rhetoric would become more mild, but he's proven that he will continue to say what he wants. As Axios wrote in March, Trump is Trump, "the one guy who's NOT CHANGING is a 70-year-old billionaire with his name on the building."

  • Trump accused Obama of "wiretapping" him without providing any evidence, and suggested Obama had broken the law in a crime of Watergate proportions— March 4
  • He attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan in the hours after a terror attack struck the city, calling him "pathetic" for telling residents there is "no reason to be alarmed." Note: Trump's claim was highly misleading. Khan actually said Londoners shouldn't be alarmed by the increased security. — June 4 and 5
  • After learning of negative media reports from "Morning Joe's" Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, Trump tweeted: [H]ow come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came... to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve... She was bleeding badly from a face-lift" — June 29
  • He suggested that "many sides" were responsible for the racist carnage at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., drawing intense backlash, including from members of his own administration — Aug 12
  • He retweeted a a meme of a train crashing into a human embodiment of CNN, with the words "FAKE NEWS CAN'T STOP THE TRUMP TRAIN" above it — Aug 16
  • Trump blamed the damned dishonest reporters for racial tension in America by accusing them of fanning the flames of racist protest, being anti-American, and trying to erase the country's heritage — Aug 23
  • In private, Trump physically mocked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's posture (slumped shoulders; lethargic body language) and Sen. John McCain, who was recently diagnosed with malignant brain cancer, by imitating the thumbs-down of his historic health-care vote — Sept 27
  • In the days after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico and left its residents without food, power, water, Trump attacked the Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who had begged for more help. "Such poor leadership ability... They [Puerto Ricans] want everything to be done for them" — Sept. 30
  • He suggested to associates that health problems would cause Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to retire (or die) soon. Trump on Ginsburg: "What does she weigh? 60 pounds?" and on Sotomayor: "Her health. No good. Diabetes." — Oct. 15
  • Trump falsely claimed that Barack Obama and other presidents didn't make calls to the families of fallen soldiers. They did. — Oct. 16
Go deeper with Axios' Mike Allen on Trump's actions:


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Democrats' progressive push is starting in California

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Young Democrats in California are calling for new, more progressive party leaders, and state Senate president Kevin de León is leading the charge by running against Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. "The D.C. playbook is obsolete," De León said at his first official campaign event Thursday night. "Now is the time for a senator who is willing to stand up and be heard, not from the sidelines, but loud and proud from the front lines."

Why it matters: De León's progressive push is perhaps not surprising in a state like California, where Democrats control every statewide office and the state legislature. But it represents a coming wave against Democrats that could appear in other states and at every level.

Another example: A conservative Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski, has held Illinois' 3rd District seat since 2005, and he has only been challenged in a primary once — until the upcoming 2018 race, in which a self-described progressive Democrat will run against him.

Context: Before De León's first senate campaign event, Rep. Linda Sanchez, a prominent California Democrat, called for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to step down to make way for "a new generation of leaders." Now, De León is quickly gaining notable endorsements from progressive Democrats (and even some California state senators who praise Feinstein) who want to replace "establishment" lawmakers like Feinstein and Pelosi.

Some of De León's endorsements:

  • Democracy for America, a grassroots progressive group with more than 1 million members.
  • Dean Florez, former Senate Majority Leader and a member of the California Air Resources Board.
  • Lorena Gonzalez, a San Diego Assemblywoman who advocates for labor force and women's issues.
  • Kevin McCarty, a Sacramento Assembly member who advocates for free community college and gun regulation.
  • State Sen. Toni Atkins, who said Feinstein's work "can't be questioned," but that "we are in a new day and a new time" ripe for a candidate like De León.
  • Freshman House Dem Ro Khanna called for Feinstein to retire after she announced she'd run for re-election, and De León was one of the people he said should challenge her.
What to watch: This Dem-on-Dem fight is happening in other states, similar to California, that are already represented by Democrats but want more progressive representation after Trump's election. Both De León and Marie Newman (Illinois' 3rd District primary challenger) advocate for progressive issues, like immigration and liberal reproductive rights, that resonate with their respective states and that they want reflected in the Democrats' "D.C. playbook."
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Abortion clinics & pro-choice orgs are getting cyber hacked

Brennan Linsley / AP

Pro-choice organizations and abortion clinics are seeing a new trend in the long-running political battle over abortion — cyberattacks on their websites, apparently from pro-life activists, Wired reported earlier this week.

Why it matters: Roe v. Wade may have been decided almost a half century ago, but the anti-abortion movement is becoming increasingly aggressive — both in legislatures around the country, and online. Pro-life organizations are used to dealing with protests. Now they're having to invest in cyber security.

  • Whole Women's Health: In 2013, shortly after Whole Woman's Health VP Fatimah Gifford testified in front of Texas' Health and Human Services committee, the organization saw a surge in cyber hacking attempts to their website. The hacks eventually cut off access to the website for workers for a week.
    • A month later, hackers were able to shut down the website for an entire month, by hacking through Whole Women's Health's blog.
    • In April, 2014, the organization participated in a lawsuit initiated by the Center for Reproductive Rights. Every time Whole Women's Health CEO Hagstrom Miller went on TV to talk about the case, Whole Woman's Health again saw a surge in hacks — one of which led to customers being rerouted to a pornographic page.
  • Planned Parenthood: In 2015, after the Center for Medical Progress released their secret footage claiming Planned Parenthood employees were talking about selling fetal tissue, Planned Parenthood's website was hacked along with the National Network of Abortion Funds and Abortion Care Network.
  • Preferred Women's Health Center: The organization which oversees four abortion clinics in North Carolina and Georgia recently had its internet and phones shut down due to a cyber attack. Its website has also been shut down on multiple occasions, APWHC administrator Calla Hales told Wired.
Go deeper with the full Wired piece.
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Twitter CEO retweeted suspected Russia propagandist account

Jack Dorsey. Photo: Richard Drew / AP

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey retweeted a Twitter account that was identified as being created by the Kremlin, according to the Daily Beast.

The account, @Crystal1Johnson, tweeted mostly positive and encouraging stories, but then would occasionally tweet "inflammatory stories about Hillary Clinton," the Beast reports. This played into the method of other Russian propaganda accounts, in which they would build an audience with shareable content, and were then "weaponized for divisive political messages."

Why it matters: This follows a string of instances in which Russia created fake accounts on Twitter for influence. Dorsey's retweets prove "just how pervasive Russian propaganda became on major American social media platforms," per the Daily Beast.


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Cellular internet service in Puerto Rico now available via Project Loon

A Project Loon balloon being readied for deployment to Puerto Rico. Photo: Alphabet

AT&T and Alphabet said late Friday that they have begun to offer limited mobile Internet service using the Google parent company's Project Loon balloons.

Apple is issuing a cellular settings update that will allow iPhones to activate the currently unused Band 8 to access the Loon-based service. It's the second time Project Loon has been activated to assist with an emergency (the first was in Peru) and the first time Loon has been used in the U.S. The FCC earlier granted temporary approval for Loon to operate in Puerto Rico.

Why it matters: Connectivity and power remain major challenges for Puerto Rico and communications are seen as a necessary starting point for other parts of recovery and rebuilding to move forward. Without cellular service, even first responders and humanitarian groups are forced to use pricey satellite phones.

"We've never deployed Project Loon connectivity from scratch at such a rapid pace, and we're grateful for the support of AT&T and the many other partners and organizations that have made this possible," the Loon team said in a blog post.

In general, Loon is designed to bring Interest service to remote and rural areas not easily served with cell service, though aid groups say they are excited to have more options for disaster relief efforts.

What's covered: Project Loon supports basic internet communications including text messaging, basic web access and e-mail. AT&T said there is no added cost to its customers for the service.

The downside: Because they are solar powered, the Loon balloons only offer service during the daytime.

Separately, AT&T said Friday that more than 60% of the population in Puerto Rico and 90% of the population in the U.S. Virgin Islands has cell service.

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Mattis met with McCain about the Niger ambush

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham on Friday after the ambush in Niger more than two weeks ago that resulted in the death of four American soldiers, according to CBS.

Why it matters: There are still several unanswered questions about the ambush, and the FBI has joined the investigation. Sen. McCain said on Thursday that the investigation may "require a subpoena," but Sec. Mattis maintained that didn't prompt their meeting.

In Mattis' meeting with Graham, per the Washington Post, Graham supported Mattis' new rules of engagement that were presented in their meeting. The new rules includes putting "decision-making authority in the hands of commanders in the field," and expanding "the ability to use lethal force against suspected terrorists."