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Chris Hadfield
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Teaching Robots with Minecraft

Researchers use Minecraft as a testing ground for a new algorithm that will help robots make better decisions.

Humans can walk into an environment with unlimited possibilities and make intuitive choices when they have a goal in mind. They can ignore the noise, but robots, not so much. So, researchers from Brown University decided to develop an algorithm that would allow robots to learn how to approach these real-world spaces, using Minecraft as a study aid.


The researchers highlighted the problem in their paper:

“Robots operating in unstructured, stochastic environments such as a factory floor or a kitchen face a difficult planning problem due to the large state space and the very large set of possible tasks...”

They explain that robots lack the intuition to ignore possible actionable objects when given these expansive environments. The array of choices becomes too large for a robot to handle. Stefanie Tellex, assistant professor of computer science, explained in a press release:

“It’s a really tough problem. We want robots that have capabilities to do all kinds of different things, but then the space of possible actions becomes enormous. We don’t want to limit the robot’s capabilities, so we have to find ways to shrink the search space.”

So, why Minecraft?

Tellex explains that the sandbox computer game “is a really good model of a lot of these robot problems. There’s a huge space of possible actions somebody playing this game can do, and it’s really cheap and easy to collect a ton of training data. It’s much harder to do that in the real world.”

The researchers worked to outfit the robot with the proper algorithms to plan and assess which actions and object would help it reach a particular goal. Tellex was happy to report that the robot made significant progress in this arena.

“It’s able to learn that if you’re standing next to a trench and you’re trying to walk across, you can place blocks in the trench. Otherwise don’t place blocks. If you’re trying to mine some gold under some blocks, destroy the blocks. Otherwise don’t destroy blocks.”

The researchers then moved the robot into a real-world space, giving it the task of baking brownies. It got so good at anticipating certain priors that when a carton of eggs appeared in the workspace, it knew to hand the cook a whisk. Clever bot.

Looking to the future of machine learning is Microsoft Director of Search Stefan Weitz; he explains that its success will ride on teaching artificial intelligence to identify patterns. There's a major difference between a search engine that can critically analyze your search queries rather than simply scouring the web's index of results.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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10 of the best new games according to geniuses at Mensa

Kick off your next game night with these Mensa-recommended board and card games.

Photo by Robert Coelho on Unsplash
Gear
  • Mensa members judge an annual competition to determine which games are the best on the market.
  • Hundreds of board, card, and party games are considered each year but only a select few can win.
  • These 10 top games are available to purchase and play right now.
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Creativity: The science behind the madness

Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.

Creativity: The science behind the madness | Rainn Wilson, David Eagleman, Scott ...
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  • An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
  • According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
  • Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.

Dinosaur bone? Meteorite? These men's wedding bands are a real break from boredom.

Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.

Sex & Relationships
  • Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
  • Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
  • The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
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Politics & Current Affairs

How #Unity2020 plans to end the two-party system, bring back Andrew Yang

The proposal calls for the American public to draft two candidates to lead the executive branch: one from the center-left, the other from the center-right.

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