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The Artificial Intelligence Arms Race In Silicon Valley Is On

Self Driving Car

On Tuesday Facebook announced it hired NYU professor and machine learning pioneer Yann LeCun to run its newly created artificial intelligence lab. Scooping up one of the biggest names in the field is a major move for the company, but it’s not a surprising one. If anything, Facebook is late to enter to the AI arms race that’s underway in Silicon Valley.

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, IBM, a spattering of startups, and even Baidu, the “Chinese Google,” have been eager to invest chunks of their research and acquisitions budgets into artificial intelligence lately, specifically deep learning, LeCun’s specialty.

More at Motherboard

Explaining The Horrific Christmas Devil


Krampus isn’t exactly the stuff of dreams: Bearing horns, dark hair, and fangs, the anti-St. Nicholas comes with a chain and bells that he lashes about, along with a bundle of birch sticks meant to swat naughty children. He then hauls the bad kids down to the underworld.

We wondered: What are the origins of this “Christmas Devil”?

Krampus, whose name is derived from the German word krampen, meaning claw, is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. The legendary beast also shares characteristics with other scary, demonic creatures in Greek mythology, including satyrs and fauns.

The legend is part of a centuries-old Christmas tradition in Germany, where Christmas celebrations begin in early December.

More at National Geographic

Dirty Money Makes The World Go Round

Dirty Money

When it comes to dirty money, private bankers with keys to Swiss vaults storing paintings and jewels for American doctors and lawyers are barely contenders. The real players — accounting for nearly $6 trillion — are crime syndicates, cartels and organized tax dodging in developing countries, led by China and, increasingly, Russia.

Nearly $947 billion in illicit money flowed out of some 55 developing countries in 2011, a 13.7 percent increase over 2010 levels, according to Global Financial Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy organization that works to stem flows of illegal money. Their findings put the total amount of tainted money to have leached out of developing countries at over $5.9 trillion between 2002 and 2011.

More at Newsweek

Can A Human Fall In Love With A Computer?

Computer Love

The film Her, which opens across the country this month, tells a love story between a man and some software. It may seem far-fetched, but researchers say it’s plausible. If so inclined, they could stitch together existing systems into one irresistible romance algorithm. Here’s how a lovebot could seduce you.


A program that asks lots of questions stays more in control of the conversation and is more likely to produce convincing, relevant replies. Software that attempts to answer a person’s questions risks revealing just how little it knows about the world (and human emotions)—ruining the effect. That’s why inquisitiveness is one of the most common and successful cheats for chatbots, dating back to Eliza, a program built at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the ’60s. Its persistent queries were modeled on those of a therapist.

More at Popsci

How Many Drones Would It Take To Replace Santa?

Amazon Drone

Father Christmas needs to move his operation into the twenty-first century and start using military drones to make his deliveries.

Mathematics teachers have long enjoyed using Santa Claus and Christmas Eve as an opportunity to talk about the travelling salesman problem (TSP). In this problem, you are given a list of cities and asked to determine the most efficient route that visits every single city exactly once and returns home.

The Christmas version of this problem asks: what is the most efficient route for Santa Claus to take that allows him to start at the North Pole, visit every household in the world that celebrates Christmas exactly once, and return home safely?

More at The Kernel

Insisting Jesus Was White Is Bad History And Bad Theology


Fox News television host Megyn Kelly told viewers on her December 11 broadcast that Jesus and Santa are both white men.

“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change,” Kelly said. “Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?”

More at The Atlantic

How Tight Jeans Almost Ruined America’s Money


Fashion comes at a price. But who knew that it would claim our entire system of money?

Since American money was consolidated into a single system of currency in the late 1800s, U.S. dollars have been printed on a unique cotton blend paper. That paper has been supplied by a single company, Crane, for more than a century. And Crane relied on scraps of denim sold in bulk by the garment industry for its cotton.

The company bleached and processed the unwanted fabric, then rewove the fibers into the George Washingtons and Benjamins that graced our wallets. About 30 percent of Crane’s cotton came from leftover denim, making it one of the largest single source of the fibers, according to Jerry Rudd, managing director of global sourcing. The rest of the cotton came from a hodgepodge of other textile wastes.

More at Wonkblog

Edgar Allan Poe Quote

Edgar Allan Poe

Things You Eat All The Time That Could Poison You

Poisoned Food

Some foods can totally transform you from a cold-addled snot monster to the picture of health. But there’s a surprising number of everyday foods that, if you’re not careful, could straight-up wreck your day. Or slightly worse, end your life! Don’t worry, getting poisoned by them is gonna take some effort. And most of them are veggies anyway, and we all know you don’t eat those.

More at Thrillist

How To Have A Brain Orgasm

Brain Orgasm

I am sitting at my desk in a nearly empty office on a December evening, feeling the sort of directionless melancholy that tends to take hold as the holiday season sets in, listening to a video of a gentle Russian woman whispering in my ear about how much she cares about my relaxation.

“You are appreciated,” she says, making scratching noises into a microphone so it sounds like she’s scratching my head. “I would like to protect you, to comfort you, to help you relax and forget about your trouble, whatever it is.”

I’ve got to be honest, it feels like a pretty weird and lonely thing to do.

But the video doesn’t work on me the way it’s supposed to. For many of her fans, Maria’s voice causes a sensation the Internet has dubbed ASMR—autonomous sensory meridian response. Those who get ASMR describe the experience as a tingling inside their heads, or a head rush. Sometimes the sensation extends down their backs or limbs. It’s often referred to as a brain-gasm, but counterintuitively, it’s also supposed to be relaxing, a mellow feeling. Some people watch the videos to help them sleep at night. And even without the tingles, it is sort of relaxing, if you can get past the dissonance of someone whispering in your ear while you scroll through Twitter in your cubicle, or whatever.

More at The Atlantic