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Work Futures Daily - Curious AI

Curious AI; Amazon and its robot helpers; Toxic masculinity at work; Working without managers; The mi

Work Futures

November 6 · Issue #1026 · View online
The ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

Curious AI; Amazon and its robot helpers; Toxic masculinity at work; Working without managers; The millennial ‘hole’

Beacon NY - 2018-11-06 — Election day in the US. Go vote.
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Long Takes
How teaching AI to be curious helps machines learn for themselves | James Vincent digs into the backstory of creating an AI that is curious:
Research published this week by artificial intelligence lab OpenAI explains how an AI agent with a sense of curiosity outperformed its predecessors playing the classic 1984 Atari game Montezuma’s Revenge. Becoming skilled at Montezuma’s Revenge is not a milestone equivalent to beating Go or Dota 2, but it’s still a notable advance. When the Google-owned DeepMind published its seminal 2015 paper explaining how it beat a number of Atari games using deep learning, Montezuma’s Revenge was the only game it scored 0 percent on.
The reason for the game’s difficulty is a mismatch between the way it plays and the way AI agents learn, which also reveals a blind spot in machine learning’s view of the world.
Usually, AI agents rely on a training method called reinforcement learning to master video games. In this paradigm, agents are dumped into virtual world, and rewarded for some outcomes (like increasing their score) and penalized for others (like losing a life). The agent starts playing the game random, but learns to improve its strategy through trial and error. Reinforcement learning is often thought of as a key method for building smarter robots.
The problem with Montezuma’s Revenge is that it doesn’t provide regular rewards for the AI agent. It’s a puzzle-platformer where players have to explore an underground pyramid, dodging traps and enemies while collecting keys that unlock doors and special items. If you were training an AI agent to beat the game, you could reward it for staying alive and collecting keys, but how do you teach it to save certain keys for certain items, and use those items to overcome traps and complete the level?
The answer: curiosity.
Vincent goes on to recount that the OpenAI lab recast the reinforcement pattern by rewarding the AI to explore unknown parts of the pyramid, ultimately developing better-than-human performance. In one pay it completed the first nine levels in the game.
Vincent closes by asking the right question:
But why do we need curious AI in the first place? What good does it do us, apart from providing humorous parallels to our human tendency to get ensnared by random patterns
The big reason is that curiosity helps computers learn on their own.
This is why curiosity is perhaps the most critical skill for people in an uncertain and changing world, and so of course, that is naturally true for AI, as well. If we want to learn new ways of dealing with the world, new skills and techniques, the best starting point is curiosity.
Short Takes
Amazon plans to make 20,000 fewer holiday hires this year because robots are “more efficient,” internet analyst Mark May says.This is the “first time on record they’ll actually hire fewer this holiday season than a year ago,” May adds.
How Masculinity Contests Undermine Organizations, and What to Do About It | Jennifer L. Berdahl, Peter Glick, and Marianne Cooper: Companies need cooperative teamwork — not toxic competition.
How To Work Without Managers? Here’s How! | The Corporate Rebels have a good case study about Edalco a cleaning company in The Netherlands that has avoided bureaucracy by being very commonsensical. Someone came up with this aphorism, which I love:
The person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom.
Millennial Men Leave Perplexing Hole in Hot U.S. Job Market | Jeanna Smialek reports on a ‘hole’ in the job market:
Men from ages 25 to 34 are less likely to work than before. About 500,000 young men are missing, and it isn’t clear why.
From the Archives
The anthropology of the future is the study of ourselves. | Claude Lévi-Strauss
Quote of the Day
The fundamental form of domination in our society is based on the organizational capacity of the dominant elite that goes hand in hand with its capacity to disorganise those groups in society which, while constituting a numerical majority, see their interests partially (if ever) represented only within the framework of the fulfillment of the dominant interests. Articulation of the elites, segmentation and disorganization of the masses seem to be the twin mechanisms of social domination in our societies. Space plays a fundamental role in this mechanism. In short: elites are cosmopolitan, people are local. The space of power and wealth is projected throughout the world, while people’s life and experience is rooted in places, in their culture, in their history. Thus, the more a social organisation is based upon a-historical flows, superseding the logic of any specific place, the more the logic of global power escapes the socio-political control of historically specific local/national societies.
Manuel CastellsThe Rise of the Network Society
elites are cosmopolitan, people are local.
Crossposted from
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Stowe Boyd, 17 South Cedar Street, Beacon NY 12508