Innovation

Super Curious Mario: Teaching AI to Keep Asking Questions

In the ongoing quest to build artificial intelligence (AI) that more closely mimics the human brain, some computer scientists at Berkeley are focusing on one crucial piece of the puzzle: curiosity.

For the last three years Deepak Pathak and Pulkit Agrawal, Ph.D. students in the Berkeley computer science department, have worked to create software that can learn on its own. Now the team is looking at creating systems that can not only learn, but keep asking questions.

From the Winter 2017 Power issue of California.

No Rest for the Wikied

You’ve probably been told, “Wikipedia is not a source. Don’t cite it. Don’t use it.”

Many high school and university instructors warn students against using Wikipedia, but new research illuminating the online encyclopedia’s impact on academia might prompt teachers to reconsider.

From the Winter 2017 Power issue of California.

Big Science in Action: Nobel Laureate Barry Barish Helped Open a New Window on the Universe

The year was 1956. Barry Barish was a junior at Cal doing research at the California Radiation Laboratory, or Rad Lab (known today as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory). When his professors were too busy to see him, he’d wander into the 184-inch cyclotron—a larger sequel to Ernest Lawrence’s fabled particle accelerators—invented at Berkeley and famous for blasting into existence an array of new heavy elements, including plutonium, berkelium, and californium.

From the Winter 2017 Power issue of California.

More Than Survival: FreeFrom Helps Domestic Violence Survivors Become Entrepreneurs

When Donna fled her abusive marriage with her two toddlers in tow, she left with nothing but dreams for a better life.

Finding refuge at a domestic violence shelter, Donna—who agreed to be interviewed under a pseudonym—learned about FreeFrom, a non-profit startup founded by UC Berkeley School of Law graduate Sonya Passi, that helps domestic violence survivors become entrepreneurs.

All That Glitters: Uncovering Sardis, Ancient City of Gold

Many famous names from the ancient world are mythical figures who probably never lived, like Hercules or Odysseus. Not Croesus (pronounced KREE-sus), King of Lydia, a fabulously wealthy region of Anatolia (now part of western Turkey), who ruled from 561 to 547 BCE. He was the richest man in the world and his wealth was built on gold that was present in abundance in the waters of the Pactolus River, which flowed through his capital, Sardis. The Lydians were the first people to mint coins of gold and silver and were the inventors of coinage itself during the reigns of previous kings.

We Know Russia Used Big Tech to Meddle In the Election. Now What?

Representatives from three of Silicon Valley’s most powerful tech firms—Facebook, Google, and Twitter—trooped up to Capitol Hill last week and told senators they were really, really sorry the Russians hacked their platforms and may even have influenced the recent presidential election. But their contrition wasn’t followed by substantive plans to remedy the situation.

Meet the “Pro-Piracy” Professor Who Studies ‘Game of Thrones’ Downloads

It wasn’t long ago that we all watched television on a bulky, cathode-ray TV connected to a pricey cable or satellite service. Now televisions are flat and the pay-TV industry is fading fast as consumers switch to online streaming on a plethora of digital devices. But the companies that pump out the content are still dependent on outdated business models and stubbornly ignore the transformational effects that fan fiction and even piracy could bring, says Abigail De Kosnik, an associate professor of new media studies at UC Berkeley.

Antidote to Fake News: The Investigations Lab Teaches Digital Skepticism

For criminal investigators, seeing is not believing. The keys to their work are skepticism, multiple hypotheses, and guarding against bias. It takes specialized training to apply that mindset in the digital world where yearly, a trillion photographs and videos are uploaded. Teaching students how to rigorously verify open source material found on social media is the mission of the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center’s Investigation Lab at Berkeley Law.

Didn’t Win a Nobel? The Honors and Prestige Don’t End There.

On April 13, 1888, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who made millions turning his invention into munitions and selling them to the armies of the world, was aghast to read a story in a Paris newspaper that mistakenly reported his death.

It was actually his older brother, Ludvig, who had died, but Alfred was horrified by the headline: “The merchant of death is dead.”

The story went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever, died yesterday.”

What’s the Deal with Gravitational Waves? An Explainer

After much speculation and bated breath, two-time UC Berkeley alumnus Barry C. Barish (BA ‘57, PhD ‘62)  has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics.

Barish shares the prize with fellow Caltech physicist Kip Thorne and MIT physicist Rainer Weiss. The trio earned the recognition for their groundbreaking detection of gravitational waves—ripples in the fabric of space that spread through the universe.

Dust in the Machine

Hear the letters BMI and the first thing you probably think of is “body mass index.” Keep your eyes peeled because “brain-machine interfaces” could soon hijack more than just the acronym.

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Debugging the Novel

When Vikram Chandra started writing his best-selling novel, Sacred Games (2006), he knew it was going to be a big book. And he was right: All told, the novel is 947 pages, includes over 100 characters, and spans a 60-year timeline. To make the writing process smoother, Chandra set out to find a software program he could use to store, organize, and keep track of the details of his novel. But no off-the-shelf program met his needs.

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Knotty Circumstance: How That Shoelace Study Went Viral

The study that would become a media sensation started innocently enough. It was about ten years ago, when a 4-year-old naively asked her father, “Why do shoelaces come untied?” and said father, who happens to be Oliver M. O’Reilly, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, couldn’t come up with a good explanation, even after watching myriad YouTube tutorials. “It seemed like a great mechanics problem and no one had solved it.”

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

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