XPRIZE names two grand prize winners in $15 million Global Learning Challenge

XPRIZE, the non-profit organization developing and managing competitions to find solutions to social challenges, has named two grand prize winners in the Elon Musk-backed Global Learning XPRIZE .

The companies, KitKit School out of South Korea and the U.S., and onebillion, operating in Kenya and the U.K., were announced at an awards ceremony hosted at the Google Spruce Goose Hangar in Playa Vista, Calif.

XPRIZE set each of the competing teams the task of developing scalable services that could enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills within 15 months.

Musk himself was on hand to award $5 million checks to each of the winning teams.

Five finalists including: New York-based CCI, which developed lesson plans and a development language so non-coders could create lessons; Chimple, a Bangalore-based, learning platform enabling children to learn reading, writing and math on a tablet; RobotTutor, a Pittsburgh-based company which used Carnegie Mellon research to develop an app for Android tablets that would teach lessons in reading and writing with speech recognition, machine learning, and human computer interactions, and the two grand prize winners all received $1 million to continue developing their projects.

The tests required each product to be field tested in Swahili, reaching nearly 3,000 children in 170 villages across Tanzania.

All of the final solutions from each of the five teams that made it to the final round of competition have been open-sourced so anyone can improve on and develop local solutions using the toolkits developed by each team in competition.

Kitkit School, with a team from Berkeley, Calif. and Seoul, developed a program with a game-based core and flexible learning architecture to help kids learn independently, while onebillion, merged numeracy content with literacy material to provide directed learning and activities alongside monitoring to personalize responses to children’s needs.

Both teams are going home with $5 million to continue their work.

The problem of access to basic education affects more than 250 million children around the world, who can’t read or write and one-in-five children around the world aren’t in school, according to data from UNESCO.

The problem of access is compounded by a shortage of teachers at the primary ad secondary school level. Some research, cited by XPRIZE, indicates that the world needs to recruit another 68.8 million teachers to provide every child with a primary and secondary education by 2040.

Before the Global Learning XPRIZE field test, 74% of the children who participated were reported as never having attended school; 80% were never read to at home; and 90% couldn’t read a single word of Swahili.

After the 15 month program working on donated Google Pixel C tablets and pre-loaded with software, the number was cut in half.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and we are so proud of all the teams and their dedication and hard work to ensure every single child has the opportunity to take learning into their own hands,” said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, in a statement. “Learning how to read, write and demonstrate basic math are essential building blocks for those who want to live free from poverty and its limitations, and we believe that this competition clearly demonstrated the accelerated learning made possible through the educational applications developed by our teams, and ultimately hope that this movement spurs a revolution in education, worldwide.”

After the grand prize announcement, XPRIZE said it will work to secure and load the software onto tablets; localize the software; and deliver preloaded hardware and charging stations to remote locations so all finalist teams can scale their learning software across the world.

Safe artificial intelligence requires cultural intelligence

Knowledge, to paraphrase British journalist Miles Kington, is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing there’s a norm against putting it in a fruit salad.

Any kind of artificial intelligence clearly needs to possess great knowledge. But if we are going to deploy AI agents widely in society at large—on our highways, in our nursing homes and schools, in our businesses and governments—we will need machines to be wise as well as smart.

Researchers who focus on a problem known as AI safety or AI alignment define artificial intelligence as machines that can meet or beat human performance at a specific cognitive task. Today’s self-driving cars and facial recognition algorithms fall into this narrow type of AI.

But some researchers are working to develop artificial general intelligence (AGI) – machines that can outperform humans at any cognitive task. We don’t know yet when or even if AGI will be achieved, but it’s clear that the research path is leading to ever more powerful and autonomous AI systems performing more and more tasks in our economies and societies.

Building machines that can perform any cognitive task means figuring out how to build AI that can not only learn about things like the biology of tomatoes but also about our highly variable and changing systems of norms about things like what we do with tomatoes.

Humans live lives populated by a multitude of norms, from how we eat, dress, and speak to how we share information, treat one another, and pursue our goals.

For AI to be truly powerful will machines to comprehend that norms can vary tremendously from group to group, making them seem unnecessary, yet it can be critical to follow them in a given community.

Tomatoes in fruit salads may seem odd to the Brits for whom Kington was writing, but they are perfectly fine if you are cooking for Koreans or a member of the culinary avant garde.  And while it may seem minor, serving them the wrong way to a particular guest can cause confusion, disgust, even anger. That’s not a recipe for healthy future relationships.

Norms concern things not only as apparently minor as what foods to combine but also things that communities consider tremendously consequential: who can marry whom, how children are to be treated, who is entitled to hold power, how businesses make and price their goods and services, when and how criticism can be shared publicly.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Successful and safe AI that achieves our goals within the limits of socially accepted norms requires an understanding of not only how our physical systems behave, but also how human normative systems behave. Norms are not just fixed features of the environment, like the biology of a plant. They are dynamic and responsive structures that we make and remake on a daily basis, as we decide whether or when to let someone know that “this” is the way “we” do things around here.

These normative systems are the systems on which we rely to solve the challenge of ensuring that people behave the way we want them to in our communities, workplaces, and social environments. Only with confidence about how everyone around us is likely to behave are we all willing to trust and live and invest with one another.

Ensuring that powerful AIs behave the way we want them to will not be so terribly different.  Just as we need to raise our children to be competent participants in our systems of norms, we will need to train our machines to be similarly competent. It is not enough to be extremely knowledgeable about the facts of the universe; extreme competence also requires wisdom enough to know that there may be a rule here, in this group but not in that group. And that ignoring that rule may not just annoy the group; it may lead them to fear or reject the machine in their midst.

Ultimately, then, the success of Life 3.0 depends on our ability to understand Life 1.0.  And that is where we may face the greatest challenge in AI research.

Here are the frontier startups that presented at Singularity University’s third demo day

 The nine startups participating in Singularity University’s accelerator program presented this afternoon at Moffett Federal Airfield just outside Mountain View, CA. Singularity University, founded in 2008 by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil, aims to make it more feasible for people to address hard science problems and those that require a global reach. Startups backed by… Read More

Humans must become cyborgs to survive, says Elon Musk

Humans must become cyborgs and develop a direct high-bandwidth connection with machines, or risk irrelevance and obsolescence, says Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Musk’s latest cheery thoughts were imparted at the World Government Summit in the UAE. “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence,” Musk said, according to CNBC.

The main thrust of Musk’s argument seems to hinge on the limited bandwidth and processing power of a single human being. Computers can ingest, transfer, and process gigabytes of data per second, every second, forever. Meatbags, however, are severely limited by an input/output rate—talking, typing, listening—that’s best measured in bits per second. Thus, to risk being replaced by a robot or artificial intelligence, we need to become machines.

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Man creates “invisible headphones” by implanting magnets into his ears

A man has implanted magnets into his ears to use as invisible headphones in a remarkable example of DIY transhumanism.

Rich Lee, a self-described transhumanist and body modification fan (or “grinder”), was inspired by a similar idea posted on the Instructables site that featured two small in-ear magnets stimulated with a magnetic coil necklace connected to an amplifier (you can see the video with this piece). The difference is that Lee actually implanted his inside his fleshy lobes.

The coil necklace is completely hidden by his clothing, and the scars from the implants are also unnoticeable. It’s unlikely you’d realize that as he was standing in front of you he could be listening to music. In a way it’s reminiscent of the bone vibration Google Glass uses instead of conventional earphones.

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