Xnor releases do-it-yourself AI platform

Xnor's Oliver Krengel

Xnor engineer Oliver Krengel works with the AI2GO self-serve software platform. (Xnor Photo)

Now you too can put a little AI on your device, even if you’re not up on the ins and outs of artificial intelligence.

The way to do it is with AI2GO, a newly released self-serve software platform from Xnor.ai, a Seattle AI startup. AI2GO comes with a set of ready-to-go applications and deep-learning models that can be selected and downloaded with just a few clicks.

Ali Farhadi, Xnor’s co-founder and CXO (Chief Xnor Officer), told GeekWire that the platform is designed for developers and small companies that want to take advantage of AI tools such as face recognition or object classification without having to start from scratch.

“The problem of deploying AI is getting harder and harder, and it shouldn’t be that way,” Farhadi said.

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Global Learning XPRIZE gives $10M to tech teams

Global Learning XPRIZE ceremony

Tech billionaire Elon Musk, at center, awards an XPRIZE trophy to KitKit School creators Sooinn Lee and Gunho Lee, with XPRIZE executives Peter Diamandis, Anousheh Ansari and Emily Church in on the picture. (XPRIZE via YouTube)

Two educational companies shared the $10 million top award in the Global Learning XPRIZE, a contest backed by Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla.

Musk provided a total of $15 million in prize money for the project, which is designed to boost open-source educational software. The $10 million grand prize was shared by KitKit School and Onebillion.

The two teams and three other finalists each received $1 million in 2017 to develop their projects.

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SpaceX gets set for 60-satellite Starlink launch

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sits on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, in preparation for the launch of 60 Starlink broadband data satellites. (SpaceX Photo)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says the launch of 60 Starlink satellites is aimed at spreading “fundamental goodness” in the form of high-speed internet access for the billions of people who currently don’t have it.

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Acting FAA chief admits fixes are needed

FAA chief Daniel Elwell

Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell testifies at a congressional hearing. (House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee via YouTube)

The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged during a congressional hearing today that his agency will tighten up its regulatory procedures as a result of the investigation into two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 MAX jets.

Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell said he was concerned to hear that Boeing waited more than a year before informing the FAA that a cockpit indicator known as the AOA Disagree alert didn’t work as designed, due to a software gap. The agency was told about the gap only after a Lion Air 737 MAX crashed in Indonesia last October, killing all 189 people on board.

“I’m concerned that it took a year, and we’re looking into that, and we’re going to fix that,” Elwell, a former airline pilot, told Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., during a hearing before the House Aviation Subcommittee. “It shouldn’t take a year for us to find out that that discovery was made.”

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AI experts look beyond facial recognition ban

AI ethics panel

Cornell University information scientist Solon Barocas, at right, speaks during a panel discussion on the ethics of artificial intelligence at Seattle University, while Carnegie Mellon University’s David Danks and Google researcher Margaret Mitchell look on. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

San Francisco’s board of supervisors took a significant step this week when it voted to ban the use of facial recognition software for law enforcement purposes, but such measures by themselves won’t resolve the ethical issues surrounding surveillance enabled by artificial intelligence.

At least those are the first impressions from a trio of experts focusing on the social implications of AI’s rapid rise.

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50 shades of black holes for 17 years of Cosmic Log

Alan Boyle discusses the weird science surrounding black holes during Infinity Box Theatre’s “Centrifuge” production at Seattle’s Theatre Off Jackson. (Robert Falk Photo)

This week marks 17 years since Cosmic Log was founded, and to celebrate the occasion, here’s the text of a talk I gave this month at Theatre Off Jackson for Infinity Box Theatre’s “Centrifuge” production of science-oriented one-act plays. My talk, titled “Fifty Shades of Black Holes,” set the scene for a three-actor drama about a black hole expedition. To take a walk down Cosmic Log’s memory lane, check out our archives.

I bet you never thought you’d be learning about black holes, the holographic principle and digital consciousness theory tonight. But you’ll be getting a taste of all of that in just a few minutes, in Harold Taw’s play about the Primrose Protocol.

My name is Alan Boyle. I’m the aerospace and science editor at GeekWire, and you can consider this a prologue to set the scientific scene.

I actually write about black holes every so often – for example, I was in Washington, D.C., last month for the unveiling of the first-ever image of a supermassive black hole. This one is in M87, a galaxy that’s about 55 million light-years away. But our own Milky Way galaxy also has a black hole at its center, a mere 26,000 light-years away.

If you’re up on your science fiction, you probably know that a black hole is a gravitational singularity so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape its grip. But that’s just one of the ways in which black holes bend our conception of reality.

Light waves from stars behind a black hole are bent by its gravitational field, which produces the aura you see around the circular edge of the event horizon.

Oh, the event horizon … This is important. That marks the edge of the region where anything that falls in can’t get out. But if you were heading toward the event horizon, you wouldn’t necessarily know when you crossed it – at least at first. You could keep falling toward the center of a black hole for hours before bad stuff starts happening.

Eventually, though, the gravitational field would become so strong that if you were falling feet first, your feet would be pulled in faster than your head. Your whole body, and all the atoms in it, would be stretched out like a noodle. Stephen Hawking is credited with coming up with the technical term for this effect: spaghettification.

Once an object falls past the event horizon, it’s gone. But for physicists like Hawking, that’s a big problem. In science class, you’ve probably heard it said that energy can neither be created nor destroyed – it can only be transferred or changed in form. Theoretical physicists say the same thing about information: It can neither be created nor destroyed.

So what happens to the information about things that fall in a black hole? Some physicists say that the information is somehow encoded on the surface of the event horizon, perhaps as tiny fluctuations in a black hole’s gravitational field.

It’s similar to the way the information for a 3-D object can be encoded on a 2-D hologram – like the shiny square that’s on the back of a credit card. Physicists call this idea the holographic principle. Some even suggest that at its most basic level, the universe we live in just might be an encoded two-dimensional surface that we decode into our perception of three dimensions.

If that’s the case, it’s not hard to imagine that everything in our reality – including ourselves – can be translated into the code of a deeper reality. And if our descendants ever figure out that code, maybe millions of years from now, could our shades be re-created from the fluctuations we left behind? What is real?

I’m going to stop right here, at the edge of the event horizon. I’ll leave it to the actors of “The Primrose Protocol” to plunge ahead, into the void.

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Moonshot funding gets tangled up in politics

NASA town hall

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, at left, discusses the plan to send astronauts to the moon by 2024 as three of his associate administrators — William Gerstenmaier, Jim Reuter and Thomas Zurbuchen — look on during a town hall at NASA headquarters. (NASA Photo / Joel Kowsky)

Will NASA’s plan to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 fly with Congress? The Artemis program’s implications are still sinking in on Capitol Hill, but there’s already a political problem having to do with where the money’s supposed to come from.

Trump administration officials confirmed that the $1.6 billion being sought as a “down payment” for accelerating the push to the moon would be taken from a roughly $8 billion reserve account for the popular Pell Grant program, which funds education for millions of low-income students annually.

Due to the economy’s rebound from the 2008-2009 Great Recession, the number of Pell Grant recipients has been declining in recent years, leading to a buildup in reserves. Because of that, taking money from the reserves would not affect current recipients, who will be receiving up to $6,195 for the 2019-2020 academic year..

“This does not cut any spending for Pell Grant programs as the budget continues to ensure all students will get their full Pell Grant and keeps the program on sound fiscal footing,” Office of Management and Budget spokesman Wesley Denton told The Associated Press in a statement.

However, that glosses over the fact that the carryover reserve is meant to buoy the Pell Grant program through hard times, and avoid the multibillion-dollar shortfalls that were experienced during the last recession.

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