April 14, 2016
They delved deeply into Catmull’s rules for embracing the messiness that often accompanies great creative output, sending subtle signals, taking smart risks, experimenting to stay ahead of uncertainty, counteracting fear, and taking charge in a new environment—as Catmull did when he became the president of Disney Animation Studios. ... The fundamental tension is that people want clear leadership, but what we’re doing is inherently messy. We know, intellectually, that if we want to do something new, there will be some unpredictable problems. But if it gets too messy, it actually does fall apart. And adhering to the pure, original plan falls apart, too, because it doesn’t represent reality. So you are always in this balance between clear leadership and chaos; in fact that’s where you’re supposed to be. Rather than thinking, “OK, my job is to prevent or avoid all the messes,” I just try to say, “well, let’s make sure it doesn’t get too messy.” ... Most of our people have learned that it isn’t helpful to ask for absolute clarity. They know absolute clarity is damaging because it means that we aren’t responding to problems and that we will stop short of excellence. They also don’t want chaos; if it gets too messy, they can’t do their jobs. If we pull the plug on a film that isn’t working, it causes a great deal of angst and pain. But it also sends a major signal to the organization—that we’re not going to let something bad out. And they really value that. The rule is, we can’t produce a crappy film.
An accelerating field of research suggests that most of the artificial intelligence we’ve created so far has learned enough to give a correct answer, but without truly understanding the information. And that means it’s easy to deceive. ... Machine learning algorithms have quickly become the all-seeing shepherds of the human flock. This software connects us on the internet, monitors our email for spam or malicious content, and will soon drive our cars. To deceive them would be to shift tectonic underpinnings of the internet, and could pose even greater threats for our safety and security in the future. ... Small groups of researchers—from Pennsylvania State University to Google to the U.S. military— are devising and defending against potential attacks that could be carried out on artificially intelligent systems. In theories posed in the research, an attacker could change what a driverless car sees. Or, it could activate voice recognition on any phone and make it visit a website with malware, only sounding like white noise to humans. Or let a virus travel through a firewall into a network. ... Instead of taking the controls of a driverless car, this method shows it a kind of a hallucination—images that aren’t really there. ... “We show you a photo that’s clearly a photo of a school bus, and we make you think it’s an ostrich,” says Ian Goodfellow, a researcher at Google who has driven much of the work on adversarial examples.
To traders at the famous Royal FloraHolland flower market near Amsterdam, Vincenzo Crupi was just another businessman helping to make the Netherlands the largest exporter of cut flowers in the world. ... To the police, Crupi was a mafia suspect allegedly concealing drugs worth millions of dollars alongside fragrant bouquets he trucked to Italy. By last year they were hot on his scent. So they bugged his offices at the flower market. ... In conversations recorded by hidden microphones and cameras, the 52-year-old Italian was heard speaking at length about mafia affairs, according to previously unpublished details of the investigation contained in 1,700 pages of Italian court documents reviewed by Reuters. ... Crupi was heard allegedly discussing drug deals, arms shipments and a lethal power struggle between mafia members in Canada. ... Police and prosecutors say the case sheds new light on the ‘Ndrangheta – the Calabrian mafia – and the way it has spread its tentacles from southern Italy into dozens of countries across five continents. ... For much of the last century, the Calabrian mafia made its money from extortion and kidnappings. Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s the group, which consists of about 160 patriarchal clans, bet big on the cocaine trade. ... Its success at drug smuggling catapulted the ‘Ndrangheta past its more storied Sicilian rival, the Cosa Nostra, in both wealth and power. Italian authorities now consider the ‘Ndrangheta to be Europe’s single biggest importer of cocaine.
Titled Breakthrough Listen, this 10-year, $100 million project will comprise what Andrew Siemion, director of Berkeley's SETI Research Center, called "the most sensitive, comprehensive and advanced search for advanced intelligent life on other worlds ever performed." (SETI stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.) The goal is to detect some evidence of distant technology, such as radio communication or a concentrated burst of energy. If it succeeds, Breakthrough Listen will answer an existential and philosophical question that humankind has pondered for millennia: Are we alone in the universe? ... What separates the quest to find extraterrestrial intelligence from X-Files conspiracy theories is statistics, specifically the law of large numbers. Scientists now estimate that there are at least 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and perhaps 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Fifty billion planets in our galaxy alone may be situated in what astrophysicists call the "Goldilocks zone," a region neither too hot nor too cold to host life, and thus potentially habitable. Last year, astronomers found evidence of briny water on Mars and located a distant exoplanet – dubbed Kepler 452b – so similar to Earth that some say the two could be cousins. ... There may be a troubling reason why in the 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang, no aliens have contacted us: The same technological leaps that will allow human beings to explore the galaxy, such as self-upgrading AI, are the genie that betrays its master once released from the bottle. ... Breakthrough Listen will be gathering as much SETI data in a day as was previously possible to collect in a year, using its expanded telescope access to scan at least five times more of the radio spectrum a hundred times faster than before and sucking in the equivalent of 75 Blu-ray movies per second.