What do custom-designed T-shirts and presidential campaigns have in common? Harper Reed, chief technology officer for the Obama campaign, rose to prominence because he knew the answer: They both can benefit from websites that engage users and encourage community participation—and, in the process, gather valuable data. In a profile at Mother Jones, Tim Murphy describes how such potentially powerful and jealously guarded tech strategies—Obama’s go by codenames like “Narwhal” and “Dreamcatcher”—work.
Reed got his start at Threadless, a website that sells quirky T-shirts to hipsters. But as Murphy details, the site didn’t just make shirts and expect people to buy them; it was a social forum that asked for their input every step of the way:
In the 2012 Bot Prize competition, the true winner may be the one who makes the most mistakes. In this match, video game avatars directed by artificial intelligence compete to see which comes across as most human in a fight against real human players. This year, for the first time, human participants mistook the two bots for humans more than half the time, a feat researchers attribute to the fact that these bots were programmed to be less-than-perfect players.
Did you know your face actually turns slightly red each time your heart beats, when fresh blood pumps through it? Neither did I, and that’s because it’s so slight that our visual perception system doesn’t pick up on it. Ah, but what if you could use a computer program to magnify the changes so they become visible? That’s just what computer scientists at MIT did, and the result is fascinating: watch the video above (starting at 1:25) and see how with every heartbeat, a man’s face turns tomato red, then fades to a pallid yellow. The program is so precise that it can accurately calculate a person’s heart rate from the color changes.
[via Technology Review]
Screenshot of Civilization IV, a later version
of the game that MIT’s computer played.
What’s the News: Many video gamers scoff at the idea of actually reading the instruction manual for a game. But a manual can not only teach you how to play a game, it can also give you the basics of language—that is, if you’re a machine-learning computer. Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab have now designed a computer system that can learn the meaning of certain words by playing complex games like Civilization II and comparing on-screen information to the game’s instruction manual.
Diagram of the new DNA circuit
What’s the News: Researchers have built the most complex DNA-based computer yet, a circuit of 130 strands of DNA that can compute the square root of numbers up to 15. The system, reported today in Science, is made of biological logic gates, which do computations using DNA strands’ natural propensity to zip and unzip. This new method is easily adapted for different calculations and can be automated, meaning it could be used to build much larger circuits.
What’s the News: Researchers have simulated the symptoms of schizophrenia using a language-learning computer program, in a recent study published in Biological Psychiatry. The computer started showing schizophrenia-like symptoms when it was set to learn too much and forget too little. This study lends support to the hyperlearning hypothesis, that the brains of people with schizophrenia have trouble forgetting or filtering out irrelevant information.
Today in the journal Nature, researchers led by Charles Lieber report a big step forward in the field of tiny computing: the creation of linked-up logic circuits made of nanowires, which could be used to build itty-bitty processors.
The devices described in the paper layer additional wires across the germanium-silicon ones; charges can be trapped in these wires, influencing the behavior of the underlying nanowires. This charge trapping is nonvolatile but reversible; in other words, you can switch one of the nanowires on or off by altering the charge stored in its neighborhood. This makes it possible to turn the nanowires into a standard field-effect transistor (the authors term them NWFETs for “nanowire field-effect transistors”). [Ars Technica]
Lieber had been able to create simple versions of those NWFETs before, but those were difficult to build on a large enough scale to create logic circuits.