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Algorithmic Intelligence Has Gotten So Smart, It's Easy To Forget It's Artificial

The word itself is derived from the name of a 9th-century Persian mathematician, and the notion is simple enough: an algorithm is just any step-by-step procedure for accomplishing some task, from making the morning coffee to performing cardiac surgery.

But algorithms got harder to ignore when they started taking over tasks that used to require human judgment — deciding which criminal defendants get bail, winnowing job applications, prioritizing stories in a news feed.

You give it a pile of data — posts that Facebook users have engaged with, comments that human reviewers have classified as toxic or benign, messages tagged as spam or not spam, and so on.

We trained an algorithm on a set of texts that were tagged as news articles, editorials, fiction, and so on, and it masticated their words and punctuation until it was pretty good at telling them apart — for instance, it figured out for itself that when a text contained an exclamation point or a question mark, it was more likely to be an editorial than news story.

The University of Toronto computer scientist Brian Cantwell Smith makes this point very crisply in a forthcoming book called, The Promise of Artificial Intelligence, arguing the systems have no concept of spam or porn or extremism or even of a game — rather, those are just elements of the narratives we tell about them.

If you train a credit rating algorithm on historical lending data that's infected with racial or gender bias, the algorithm is going to inherit that bias, and it won't be easy to tell.

You think of the porn filters that block flesh-colored pictures of pigs and puddings, or those notorious image recognition algorithms that were identifying black faces as gorillas.

The New Monopoly Has a Voice Controlled AI Banker That Will Never Cheat

There are few activities that can turn the polite and civil discourse of a family gathering into a shouting match faster than a game of Monopoly.

The latest edition replaces the designated banker with an intelligent, voice-activated top hat that handles all of the game’s financial transactions, giving players an outlet for their frustrations, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Arriving July 1 for $30, which is about $10 more than the basic version of the game, Monopoly Voice Banking features none other than Rich Uncle Pennybags himself as the voice of the virtual assistant—although he’s apparently now simply known as Mr. Monopoly.

Players use one of four buttons on the top hat speaker to identify themselves (it can’t tell different voices apart on its own) and then make verbal requests like “Buy Boardwalk” or “Build a hotel.” All of the financial transactions are handled by Mr. Monopoly electronically.

The Unruly Neighbourhood: A Conversation with Luca Lum and the UTIG

Luca Lum: What kind of work do you do for a living?‍C: I come from a design background and crossed over to engineering, and through this I realised that you can take concepts that are very fuzzy and turn them into something tangible.

We need to be aware of this fact, and make choices based on not just what’s good for us as individuals, or what benefits our company alone, but also take into account what’s good for the greater ecosystem that we are a part of, whether it’s the natural world or society at large.‍For cities, in particular, I’m pretty keen to bring more of a human-centred perspective to how we interpret, design and make recommendations for cities.

I wish we would adopt a more place-based approach, that bears in mind the context of the people who live there, and not just treat communities as blank slates to be paved over.‍Lum: I really like what you said about realising the pre-existing values of the sites.

There’s all this tried-and-tested knowledge — the wisdom of living — that exists in the community already, and if we ignore that and wipe the slate clean, then we’re not building upon the base of that knowledge to inform our designs.‍Lum: It would also mean eradicating multiple ways of living, making things very streamlined —‍H: It creates a very homogenous view of what a city should look like.

They shape everything.‍H: In 20th Century China, as the nation raced to catch up with what were perceived to be the developed countries of the world, planners asked themselves, “What does a modern city look like?” For a substantial period, socialist China was influenced by the Soviet Union, and they implemented Soviet-style housing and city planning.

But to some people, that’s what modernity is — which is a huge problem — because then they have gotten rid of traditional neighbourhoods that were very walkable, places that were vibrant, where people had lots of formal and informal exchanges in the street.‍C: Planners have this idea of a social-collider of sorts, where people get funnelled into a place to interact...‍H: — Instead of realising there are interactions and activities all over the city, not only in designated places.C: Yes, local governments usually just respond to global trends — whatever’s hot right now.‍Lum: There are these general property market trends, but who owns these properties?

Let’s get some money from the local government and rejuvenate the place.”‍I saw this in Belgium and the Netherlands, where the community would then engage architects with a very clearly-stated brief, not to tear down any of their heritage buildings, but to think about new ways to restore the place not so that it would still look the way it did in the past, only with modern construction techniques.

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