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Monthly Archives: August 2017

OpenAI bot remains undefeated against world’s greatest Dota 2 players

Last night, OpenAI’s Dota 2 bot beat the world’s most celebrated professional players in one-on-one battles, showing just how advanced these machine learning systems are getting.

The bot beat Danil Dendi Ishutin rather easily at The International, one of the biggest eSports events in the world, and remains undefeated against the worlds top Dota 2 players.

Elon Musk’s OpenAI trained the bot by simply copying the AI and letting the two play each other for weeks on end.

“We’ve coached it to learn just from playing against itself,” said OpenAI researcher Jakub Pachoki. “So we didn’t hard-code in any strategy, we didn’t have it learn from human experts, just from the very beginning, it just keeps playing against a copy of itself. It starts from complete randomness and then it makes very small improvements, and eventually it’s just pro level.”

To be clear, a 1v1 battle in Dota 2 is far less complex than an actual professional battle, which includes two teams of five players completing a variety of tasks simultaneously to achieve victory. But OpenAI said that’s working on another bot that could play against and alongside humans in a larger 5v5 battle.

Not shockingly, Elon Musk was watching along and had some thoughts of his own, calling unregulated AI vastly more dangerous than North Korea:

This isn’t the first time Elon Musk has spoken up about the dangers of AI without regulation. He said that the process of setting up a government body to regulate AI should start in the immediate future, speaking at the International Space Station R&D conference a few weeks ago.

Musk has also thrown shade at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Twitter, saying that Zuck’s understanding of AI is limited.

Speaking at TC Sessions: Robotics, Rodney Brooks, founder of iRobot and Rethink Robotics, disagreed with Musk saying that, currently, there isn’t much to regulate.

“If you’re going to have a regulation now, either it applies to something and changes something in the world, or it doesn’t apply to anything. If it doesn’t apply to anything, what the hell do you have the regulation for? Tell me, what behaviour do you want to change, Elon? By the way, let’s talk about regulation on self-driving Teslas, because that’s a real issue.”

At the same event, head of Amazon Robotics Tye Brady said the following:

“I’m not really a fan of regulation. I’m a fan of doing whatever the customer seeks. We have a mission in mind to do order fulfillment in the best way possible. So, yeah, I’m not a fan of regulation.”

Obviously, some of the world’s greatest minds in the fields of robotics/AI/ML are at an impasse, but the maturation of AI waits for no man.

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The subversive genius of Joe Orton – BBC News

Image copyright University of Leicester
Image caption Apart from during the last two weeks of Joe Orton’s life, homosexual acts between men were still illegal

Fifty years ago the playwright Joe Orton was bludgeoned to death by his boyfriend at the peak of his career. What is Orton’s legacy, and what would he have made of the strides towards equality made since his death by gay people in the UK?

Riding high on the success of his latest play, Loot, and waiting for a chauffeur to ferry him to talks about a film he had written for The Beatles, the 34-year-old playwright was attacked as he slept by Kenneth Halliwell at the flat they shared in Islington. Halliwell, who feared Orton had been planning to leave him, then took a fatal overdose.

For Kenneth Cranham, the Olivier award-winning actor and friend of the couple, what happened on 9 August 1967 was hugely personal.

“I still had four grandparents then; I didn’t know anyone who had died. So to have one person that I knew so well die and another commit suicide was a living nightmare,” he said.

“Everything went into slow motion. In the play [Orton’s Loot was being performed at the time of his murder] you were running around with a body in your arms, there were coffins everywhere, and it was [supposed to be] a comedy.

“It was so bizarre.”

Image copyright Other
Image caption Joe Orton (left) and Kenneth Halliwell on holiday in Tangier, Morocco, pictured flanking the Carry On actor Kenneth Williams

Born in 1933 as John Orton, he grew up with his three siblings on a Leicester estate typical of those built for workers in the 1920s.

His sister Leonie Orton Barnett has described their home as “drab, soulless and monotonous”, epitomising the “worst aspects of Leicester’s motto Semper Eadem – always the same”.

Orton, whose parents had an unhappy marriage, would leave his hometown at the earliest opportunity. He caught the acting bug in his teens and successfully auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) in London, moving there to study on a scholarship in 1951.

It was at Rada he encountered Halliwell, a troubled man seven years his senior.

“Meeting Halliwell was important because he found a collaborator with a shared sense of humour,” said Emma Parker, associate professor in post-war and contemporary literature at the University of Leicester, which houses the Joe Orton Archive and is running a series of events to mark the anniversary of his murder.

“Joe was reading Shakespeare and other writers before he got to London and met Halliwell, so it’s not fair to say he learned it all from him, [but] I think they were kindred spirits and they shared a sense of humour.”

Image copyright Central Press/Getty Images
Image caption Orton wrote letters as pseudonymous characters, among them Mrs Edna Welthorpe, both to satirise criticism of his plays and to draw attention to them

After leaving Rada, they formed a writing partnership but had little success. The pair often went to bed at sunset to save money on electricity.

In 1962, a bizarre court case would land both men in prison – and ultimately provide the spark Orton needed to break though as a playwright.

The pair had spent more than a year altering library books with garish collages and occasionally obscene text, the targets ranging from biographies and volumes of Shakespeare to novels they viewed as low quality.

Their furtive campaign was eventually rumbled by zealous library staff and they were imprisoned for six months for theft and malicious damage, after a trial that attracted tabloid publicity. Orton believed the severity of the sentence was “because we were queers”.

Having gained a degree of separation from Halliwell, after his release Orton began to find success, with The Ruffian on the Stair broadcast on BBC radio in 1964.

Image copyright Islington Local History Centre
Image caption It is not entirely clear why Halliwell murdered Orton, but in a brief suicide note he wrote: “If you read his diary all will be explained”

Entertaining Mr Sloane, a black comedy that touched on homosexuality and hypocrisy, was widely praised on its release, also in 1964, including by theatre heavyweights such as Terence Rattigan and Tennessee Williams.

The actor Dudley Sutton, who was part of the original cast, said he enjoyed being in a play “that was having a go at the established view of things”, and praised Orton’s sensitivity as a writer.

“He was so full of life, and I loved the dialogue,” he said in conversation with Dr Parker last year.

“To fight the demon of homophobia with a West End comedy was brilliant – I’m very proud to have been a part of it.”

Orton’s hallmarks as a playwright were black humour, deliberate bad taste, surreal situations and attacks on hypocrisy. His subversive nature helped him to stand out from his peers, with The Times describing Entertaining Mr Sloane as making “the blood boil more than any other British play in the last 10 years”.

For Bernard Greaves, a Cambridge architecture student in the mid-60s, Orton’s clear-eyed portrayal of aspects of contemporary gay life struck a chord.

“The impact of his plays was enormous,” he said.

“I didn’t have a large circle of gay friends at that time; I was in the closet living a double life – nearly everybody was, because it was still illegal – but Orton put on stage the reality of what it was like for us in an unvarnished way.”

Image caption The playwright’s sister Leonie Orton Barnett believes he helped other gay men to cope with their sexuality

For the playwright’s sister, Orton’s work helped pave the way for other gay men to be more confident in their sexuality.

“I think people who really understood the writing know that this was somebody original and unique,” Ms Orton Barnett said.

“He was so out there with his homosexuality, he was talking about it so frankly, and in such graphic detail, it brought a lot of people out.

“They’d say: ‘Joe Orton said it’s allowed, so I think it’s allowed’, and he was so right in being so direct about things.

“I think Joe liked the idea of it being unacceptable, he liked that idea of him being a rebel and being outside of society.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image copyright University of Leicester/Joe Orton Estate
Image caption Orton’s colourful diaries – this extract documents a holiday in Morocco – contained salacious details about his sex life, as well as outrageous comments about people like Kenneth Williams and Laurence Olivier

Just weeks before his death, the Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised private homosexual acts between gay men over the age of 21, was granted royal assent.

However, with the age limit higher than that for heterosexual sex, and with other restrictions still in place, Ms Orton-Barnett says her brother was not a supporter of the bill.

“I think he liked the mystique about homosexuality, he liked the closeted aspect,” she said.

“He wouldn’t have gone for the modern gay marriage at all.”

Image copyright Evening Standard/Getty Images
Image caption Orton was one of the most celebrated British playwrights of the 1960s

Dr Parker agrees, adding that Orton’s love of subversion underpins his plays and personality.

“He was kind of queer rather than gay – he liked weirdness and deviance, because ‘civilisation’ persecuted homosexuals and he thought it was barbaric and didn’t want any truck with it,” she said.

“It rejected him, and so he rejected it.

“I think his sexuality is really important to his writing and his worldview,” adds Dr Parker, who cites Orton as an influence on, among others, contemporary playwrights such as Martin McDonagh and Jez Butterworth, the novelists Jonathan Coe and Jake Arnott, and musicians including Morrissey and the Pet Shop Boys.

“He was a funny writer and full of life, but he was furious about society and sexual inequality; we know that from his diaries and his plays.”

Image copyright Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Olivier award-winning actor Kenneth Cranham featured in productions of Ruffian on the Stair and Entertaining Mr Sloane, as well as playing Hal in the 1966 London production of Loot

Cranham – who said appearing in Ruffian on the Stair aged only 19 “completely changed everything for me” – played Hal in the 1966 West End production of Loot, Orton’s satire on the Catholic Church and attitudes to death. (Kenneth Williams had starred in the play’s initial, unsuccessful, run in Cambridge the year before.)

“Paul McCartney said that to him theatre meant a sore arse, but he wanted Loot to go on for longer,” the actor said.

“It shows Joe wrote plays for all people, and there was a connection between them and him.

“Joe always used to say he was from the gutter, but he just knew what real life was like.”

Image copyright Curve Theatre
Image caption What the Butler Saw, which was first staged in London two years after Orton died, has been performed in his hometown of Leicester to mark the 50th anniversary of his murder

Orton’s star continued to rise after his death, with his final play What the Butler Saw – a farce that turns its guns on power and a psychiatric profession that treated homosexuality as a mental illness – becoming a stage success (although Up Against It, a film written for The Beatles, never reached the screen).

What the Butler Saw has been performed in Orton’s hometown to mark 50 years since his murder, and several revivals over the years have helped to maintain his status as an iconic figure in British theatre.

Ms Orton Barnett argues that her brother’s plays and posthumously published diaries give him a similar standing to some of the giants of literature.

“I always say the equivalent of Shakespeare in the 1960s was Harold Pinter, and Joe was the Christopher Marlowe – he died a violent death, but he was really important culturally,” she said.

“He didn’t conform at all – he always said that he writes the truth.”

For Cranham, who was among stars including Pinter and Donald Pleasance to attend Orton’s atheist funeral service, the playwright’s unerring brilliance as a writer of farcical satire remains a loss keenly felt by British theatre.

“I wish we could have known what would have happened to him as an older writer,” he said.

“He was a great writer, and could have done so much.”

Joe Orton, select bibliography

  • The Ruffian on the Stair, radio play (1964)
  • Entertaining Mr Sloane, stage play (1964)
  • Loot, stage play (1965)
  • The Erpingham Camp, television play (1966)
  • The Good and Faithful Servant, one-act television play (filmed in 1967)
  • Funeral Games, television play (1968)
  • What the Butler Saw, stage play (1969)

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South Korea could be the first country in the world to implement a ‘robot tax’

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

Amid fears about robots replacing human jobs, South Korea could become the first country in the world to introduce a “robot tax.”

A new proposal could see the country reduce the amount of tax benefits for companies that invest in automated machinery.

So while it’s not exactly a direct tax on robots, it looks like the government is making investment in robotics less appealing for companies.

South Korea has the highest concentration of robots in the world, with 531 multipurpose industrial robots for every 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry.

“Though it is not about a direct tax on robots, it can be interpreted as a similar kind of policy considering that both involve the same issue of industrial automation,” an industry source told news outlet The Korea Times.

Currently, South Korean companies that invest in automation equipment can have up to 7 percent of their corporate tax rate deducted. The new ruling however, will see this cut by up to 2 percent.

But does South Korea really have a reason to be worried?

Perhaps so. The country’s unemployment rate hit a 17-year high earlier this year, with some 1.17 million jobless people.

It’s difficult to say if the increase in unemployment rate is actually linked to an increase in automation, but at the very least, the money saved from reducing the tax incentives could be channelled to welfare programs.

But this isn’t the first time the idea of a “robot tax” has been suggested.

In February, Bill Gates came out in favour of introducing similar measures, saying that working robots should be taxed at a similar rates to their human counterparts.

“For a human worker who does $50,000 worth of work in a factory, the income is taxed,” Gates had told news outlet Quartz.

“If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.”

Gates was later criticised for his comments, with some saying he was “holding back progress.”

South Korea’s current tax laws are set to expire at the end of the year, after which the new proposals are expected to take effect.

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