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IBM AI fails to beat human debating champion

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Each side was given 15 minutes to prep for the debate, after which they presented a four-minute opening statement, a four-minute rebuttal, and a two-minute summary. The 100-strong audience, meanwhile, was comprised of top debaters from Bay Area schools and more than a hundred journalists.

Miss Debater (formerly known as Project Debater) pulled arguments from its database of 10 billion sentences taken from newspapers and academic journals. A female voice emanating from the human-sized black box spouted its answers, while three blue balls floated around its display.

The face-off was the latest event in IBM’s “grand challenge” series pitting humans against its intelligent machines. In 1996, its computer system beat chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, though the Russian later accused the IBM team of cheating, something that the company denies to this day — he later retracted some of his allegations. Then, in 2011, its Watson supercomputer trounced two record-winning Jeopardy! contestants.

In the lead-up to Monday’s bout, Natarajan suggested that debating may prove a harder battleground for AI than Go and video games. “Debating is…more complicated for a machine than any of those, however. At its core, successful debating involves three components,” he wrote in a LinkedIn post.

“First, a debater needs to process large amounts of information and construct relevant arguments. Second, debating involves [explaining] complicated arguments in a clear and structured way. Third, you need to make those arguments matter to the audience. This requires the careful use of language, emotions, rhetoric, and examples. While a machine should excel in the first, the latter two may be challenging.”

But he also conceded that “there will come a point soon where AI will be better than humans at all three.” Does that mean, he’d be game for a rematch?

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Amazon’s Echo Wall Clock is back on sale after connectivity fix

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The Echo Wall Clock was first announced by Amazon in September and started shipping just before the holidays in December. Just over a month after the clock was first made available to buy, Amazon decided to pull it because of problems with Bluetooth connectivity. That feature is essential to the device’s function, as it needs to connect to another Echo device in order to operate with voice controls. With the fix, users will once again be able to set alarms and timers via Alexa that will be displayed on the 60 LED lights around the edge of the clock’s face.

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Audi helps you avoid red lights by suggesting speeds

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Speed suggestions and TLI are available as part of an Audi Connect Prime feature on 2017 and newer models outside of the A3 and TT. You’re still limited to using them in certain areas, however. TLI is currently available in 13 urban regions, including Dallas, Denver, Gainesville, Houston, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York (White Plains), Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area (Palo Alto and Walnut Creek) and Washington, DC.

The technology could become more useful in the future, though. Future TLI upgrades might use a car’s automatic stop/start system to restart the engine when a red light is turning green, and a navigation tie-in could plan routes that minimize stops. Think of this as another small step toward autonomous cars. You might still have to take the wheel, but computers are minimizing many of the little annoyances.

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SoftBank and Mubadala grow closer – TechCrunch

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SoftBank and Mubadala grow closer – TechCrunch

The Japanese conglomerate SoftBank and Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi state investment company, have a closely intertwined relationship, and it’s one that the two are further cementing. According to the Financial Times, SoftBank has just committed half the capital for a new $400 million fund from Mubadala that aims to back European startups.

Industry observers might remember that Mubadala committed $15 billion to SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund as it was first being put together in 2017. Soon after, Mubadala opened a San Francisco office, as well as structured a $400 million fund designed to invest in early-stage startups to which SoftBank committed some capital.

The pact was understandable, including because Mubadala’s early-stage fund could theoretically provide SoftBank with a better idea of what’s happening at companies that are earlier in their trajectories than SoftBank typically sees. The move was also meant to better enable Mubadala to oversee the money it committed to SoftBank.

The newer fund appears to be raising questions, however.  At least, the FT notes that the timing is “unusual” given that SoftBank is currently saddled with $154 billion in gross debt. The new fund also “raises the prospect that Mubadala’s influence with the Vision Fund will only grow by allowing it to shape SoftBank’s tech investments,” as suggest the FT’s sources.

Yet SoftBank may not have much choice but to work increasingly closely with Abu Dhabi. As the company’s CEO, Masayoshi Son, said earlier this month, the Vision Fund has spent about $50 billion of its approximately $99 billion in capital. Given the rate at which it has been investing (it just plugged nearly $1 billion into a company last week), its remaining funds might not last through 2020.

Meanwhile, it isn’t clear whether SoftBank enjoys the solid relationship that it once did with the Vision Fund’s biggest anchor investor, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which provided SoftBank with a $45 billion commitment for its current fund and that SoftBank was largely counting on to be its biggest backer in a second Vision Fund.

On October 3rd of last year, Bloomberg journalists talked with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS), and he said he planned to invest a further $45 billion in SoftBank. Yet what few knew then was that five days earlier, journalist and Saudi regime critic Jamal Khashoggi had vanished after going into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. As questions, and concern, began to spread over MBS’s involvement in the disappearance, many business executives canceled plans to visit Riyadh, where Saudi Arabia hosted an investment conference in the middle of October. Son was among them, even as he tried hedging his bets by visiting privately with MBS in Riyadh the night before the event began.

Whether that move angered MBS remains to be seen. It also isn’t clear whether the CIA’s eventual findings that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s murder, or the unflattering attention paid to Saudi Arabia because of that murder, is impacting where SoftBank is able to invest its capital.

Son, for his part, declined to say earlier this month whether he would consider taking more money from Saudi sources — which is perhaps telling in itself.

In the meantime, it’s barreling ahead with Mubadala, which will reportedly use its new fund to write checks to European startups of between $5 million and $30 million.

As with Mubadala’s San Francisco-based team, the idea appears to be to act as a funnel for SoftBank’s Vision Fund, steering it deals that Mubadala’s team sees as the most promising in its portfolio.

Mubadala’s European venture fund will be run out of a new office in London, which is expected to open this spring. The Vision Fund is currently also headquartered in London, with another office in San Francisco and soon, offices expected in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

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