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Alphabet Program Beats the European Human Go Champion

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Demis Hassabis, a former child chess prodigy, is vice president of engineering at Alphabet’s DeepMind and leads Alphabet’s general A.I. efforts.Credit Alphabet

Artificial intelligence researchers are closing in on a new benchmark for comparing the human mind and a machine. On Wednesday, DeepMind, a research organization that operates under the umbrella of Alphabet, reported that a program combining two separate algorithms had soundly defeated a high-ranking professional Go player in a series of five matches.

The result, which appeared in the Jan. 27 edition of the journal Nature, is further evidence of the power created when a class of A.I. machine learning programs known as “deep neural networks” is combined with immense sets of data.

Go is seen as a good test for artificial intelligence researchers because it is more complex than chess, with a far larger range of possible positions. This makes strategy and reasoning in the game more challenging.

Go is played with round black and white stones, and two players alternately place pieces on a square grid with the goal of occupying the most territory. Until recently, software programs had not been able to do better than beat amateur Go players. In the Nature paper, engineers at DeepMind described a program, AlphaGo, that had achieved a 99.8 percent winning rate against other Go programs. It also swept five games from the European Go champion, Fan Hui.

The match between the AlphaGo program and Fan Hui was in October, and the DeepMind program has continued to train since then, said Demis Hassabis, a researcher who founded DeepMind Technologies, which was acquired by Google in 2014. Google changed its name to Alphabet last year, though the company’s traditional ad-based businesses still operate under the Google label.
“The machine has continued to get better. We haven’t hit any kind of ceiling yet on performance,” he said.

The Alphabet approach relies on the newest so-called deep learning approach combined with a more traditional type of algorithm known as a Monte Carlo, which is designed to exhaustively explore large numbers of possible combinations of moves. The researchers said they had also trained their program using input from expert human Go players.

The research and the game have created a rivalry among the public relations departments of companies like Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook.

The day before the Alphabet paper was published, Facebook republished an earlier paper the company had posted on the arXiv.org website. At the same time, Facebook issued blog posts from Yann LeCun, one of its artificial intelligence researchers, and one from the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg.

The statement by Mr. Zuckerberg resulted in a swift response from one Facebook user that may express a deeper human concern than the narrow results of the research: “Why don’t you leave that ancient game alone and let it be without any artificial players? Do we really need an A.I. in everything?” wrote Konstantinos Karakasidis.

Those concerns are not likely to be heeded. In a blog post Wednesday morning, Alphabet stated that, in an effort to reprise the winning IBM Deep Blue chess playing program that defeated the chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1996, Alphabet will match its AlphaGo program against Lee Sedol, the current Go champion, for a five-game match in March.

There will be a $1 million prize for the winner, and Mr. Hassabis said that Alphabet would donate the prize to charity if AlphaGo won. The match will be streamed live on YouTube.

Mr. Hassabis, who is a skilled chess player and has been a professional gamer as well, said that Go was a beautiful game, but that “building an A.I. is also a human endeavor and a kind of ingenious one, too. The reason games are used as a testing ground is that they’re kind of like a microcosm of the real world.”

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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