Cities Crave Hyperloop Because It’s Shiny—and Talk Is Cheap

For a thing that doesn’t exist, hyperloop is pretty popular. Representatives from 11 American regions trekked to Washington this week to pitch themselves as the perfect proving grounds for the much-hyped “fifth mode of transportation.”

They’re among the 35 semi-finalists in a competition hosted by Hyperloop One, the company leading the race to bring Elon Musk’s idea for a tube-based transportation network to life.

On Wednesday, each American contender went before a panel of judges, bidding for the chance to host Hyperloop One’s first commercial project. In the end, somewhere between three and seven will “win”—meaning they’ll get to try to push this thing through local legislatures, contractor bidding processes, and environmental review boards.

What’s wild is that those finalists represent just .01 percent of the 2,600 teams that entered the fight. Hailing from all over the world, representing local and state governments, regional groups, universities, and private companies, each is eager to welcome a new kind of technology—one that hasn’t even been publicly demonstrated.

Hyperloop in Brief


They’re not the only ones interested. President Donald Trump has asked about the idea, according to The Wall Street Journal. His leading economic advisor name checked Musk and his fantastical transportation ideas while discussing the administration’s forthcoming $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Hyperloop One global operations chief Nick Earle even intimated the Department of Transportation support its plans, though he declined to discuss details.

You can see why people are excited. American transportation infrastructure is a mess. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it will cost so much to get everything up to an adequate grade, Trump’s $1 trillion will barely get the ball rolling. Commuters in cities like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta spend upwards of 70 hours a year in traffic. What funds the country spends on roads are poured into new highways, instead of the pockmarked stretches of asphalt that give drivers (literal) headaches.

The scope and intractability of the problem makes the siren song of the hyperloop extra alluring. “Hyperloop is faster, greener, safer, and cheaper than any other mode of transportation,” Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd told WIRED last year. Who wants to shore up bridges and fill potholes when you can jump right to the Silicon Valley-born future?

“We have 5.5 million people in Colorado, and we’re going to be 8 million people in the next 20 years. I can’t build my way out of the current congestion, let alone the congestion that will come,” says Shailen Bhatt, Colorado Department of Transportation’s executive director. “We see this as a transformative opportunity to get in early and help prove the concept.”

One problem: Lloyd’s company hasn’t proven any of his claims, and there’s good reason to question them. First, there’s the cost. Land is expensive—California projected more than $770 million in land acquisition costs for just 130 miles of its (over budget) high-speed rail system. Then, there are the people who own that land—and may want to keep it. Putting everything together could be extra expensive, since the hyperloop will likely run underground (greetings from Washington State’s $2 billion tunneling project) or set on elevated tracks. Oh, and those tracks will have to run perfectly straight, unless you’re willing to run the pods slowly so the folks inside don’t barf every time they hit a curve. That complicates planning and construction.

Of course, all that comes after environmental approval, political approval, budgeting approval, regulatory approval—each of which would likely move extra slowly since this is a novel technology. (Hyperloop One acknowledges the red tape, and says it’s a big factor in where it will land. “A key component is the extent to which we could work with regulators to collaboratively create the world’s first regulations for the hyperloop,” says Earle.)

City officials know all this (or they should), but they’re wooing Hyperloop One anyway. Because, despite the doubts, talking hyperloop signals We get it, we’re hip, in a way no bus route can.

“There is an entrepreneurial tech spirit in Colorado,” says Bhatt, who went to DC to represent Team Rocky Mountain’s proposed hyperloop, from Denver International Airport to the city of Greeley, 40 miles to the north. “Between all the millennials that have moved there and all the tech startups that are out there, [the state] wants to embrace new technological solutions.”

For these players, Hyperloop may not be a real solution to problems like congestion, but instead a signal that they’re eager to innovate. “You can seem forward-thinking talking about some futuristic mode of transportation without putting money behind it,” says Paul Lewis, the vice president of policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation. “Notice that no [American] city or regional government has put money into the system. But talking about it is free.”

“Thinking alternatively about transportation is a good thing,” says Lewis. But don’t expect to see the hyperloop anywhere near you until someone actually cuts a check—and starts filling out forms.

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Cities Crave Hyperloop Because It’s Shiny—and Talk Is Cheap

For a thing that doesn’t exist, hyperloop is pretty popular. Representatives from 11 US regions trekked to Washington this week to pitch by themselves since the perfect proving grounds for the much-hyped “fifth mode of transport.”

They’re among the 35 semi-finalists in a competition hosted by Hyperloop One, the company leading the competition to create Elon Musk’s concept for a tube-based transportation community to life.

On Wednesday, each American contender went before a panel of judges, bidding for the chance to host Hyperloop One’s first commercial task. Ultimately, somewhere between three and seven will “win”—meaning they’ll get to try to push this thing through neighborhood legislatures, contractor bidding processes, and ecological review panels.

What’s wild is that those finalists represent simply .01 per cent associated with 2,600 teams that entered the battle. Hailing from all around the globe, representing local and state governments, local teams, universities, and personal companies, each is desperate to welcome a new kind of technology—one which includesn’t even been publicly demonstrated.

Hyperloop in Brief


They’re perhaps not the actual only real ones interested. President Donald Trump has expected towards idea, according to The Wall Street Journal. His leading economic consultant title examined Musk and his fantastical transport some ideas while talking about the administration’s forthcoming $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Hyperloop One international operations chief Nick Earle also intimated the Department of Transportation help its plans, though he declined to talk about details.

You can see why people are excited. United states transport infrastructure is really a mess. The United states Society of Civil Engineers estimates you will be charged a great deal getting every thing up to an adequate grade, Trump’s $1 trillion will barely obtain the ball rolling. Commuters in towns and cities like la, ny, San Francisco, and Atlanta spend upwards of 70 hours a year in traffic. Exactly what funds the nation spends on roadways are poured into brand new highways, instead of the pockmarked stretches of asphalt that provide motorists (literal) headaches.

The range and intractability for the issue makes the siren track of hyperloop additional alluring. “Hyperloop is faster, greener, safer, and cheaper than some other mode of transportation,” Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd told WIRED this past year. Who would like to shore up bridges and fill potholes when you are able jump straight to the Silicon Valley-born future?

“We have 5.5 million individuals in Colorado, and we’re going to be 8 million people next two decades. I can’t build my way to avoid it of the present congestion, aside from the congestion that may come,” states Shailen Bhatt, Colorado Department of Transportation’s executive manager. “We see this being a transformative possibility to enter very early which help prove the style.”

One issue: Lloyd’s company hasn’t proven some of his claims, and there’s valid reason to concern them. First, there’s the fee. Land is expensive—California projected more than $770 million in land purchase prices for simply 130 kilometers of its (over spending plan) high-speed train system. Then, you will find the folks whom have that land—and may want to keep it. Putting everything together might be additional expensive, considering that the hyperloop will probably run underground (greetings from Washington State’s $2 billion tunneling task) or set on elevated songs. Oh, and the ones tracks will need to run perfectly straight, unless you’re ready to run the pods gradually and so the people inside don’t barf every time they hit a curve. That complicates preparation and construction.

Obviously, all which comes after ecological approval, governmental approval, budgeting approval, regulatory approval—each that would probably go additional gradually because this actually novel technology. (Hyperloop One acknowledges the red tape, and states it’s a large factor in where it’ll land. “A key component could be the extent to which we’re able to use regulators to collaboratively produce the world’s very first laws for the hyperloop,” claims Earle.)

Town officials understand all of this (or they should), but they’re wooing Hyperloop One anyway. Because, inspite of the doubts, speaking hyperloop signals We have it, we’re hip, you might say no coach route can.

“There can be an entrepreneurial technology nature in Colorado,” claims Bhatt, whom went along to DC to represent Team Rocky Mountain’s proposed hyperloop, from Denver International Airport towards the town of Greeley, 40 miles to the north. “Between most of the millennials that have moved here and all the tech startups that are out there, [the state] wants to embrace new technical solutions.”

For these players, Hyperloop may not be an actual way to dilemmas like congestion, but alternatively a sign that they’re eager to innovate. “You can appear forward-thinking dealing with some futuristic mode of transportation without placing money behind it,” states Paul Lewis, the vice president of policy and finance on Eno Center for Transportation. “Notice that no [American] town or regional federal government has placed money into the device. But discussing it really is free.”

“Thinking instead about transport is a good thing,” claims Lewis. But don’t be prepared to begin to see the hyperloop anywhere close to you until someone in fact cuts a check—and begins filling out kinds.

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The Eternal visit a Gun That Doesn’t Kill

this informative article ended up being posted in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the US unlawful justice system. Join their newsletter, or proceed with the Marshall Project on facebook.

Within the brand new cop drama APB, an Elon Musk-type billionaire engineer purchases a beleaguered Chicago police precinct to avenge his buddy’s murder. He re-outfits the station with wizardry including drones, a biometric interrogation seat and guns that immediately (and nonlethally) stop crooks aided by the range and precision of the old-fashioned pistol. We’ll leave it to your solicitors to argue if a civilian could obtain a precinct. When it comes to technology material, especially the pimped-out stun weapon, issue is prompt: Given the present high-profile fatal police shootings of civilians—roughly 1,000 a year—it is reasonable that law enforcement officials and victim advocates alike take an ongoing search for a unit that can neutralize a risk without causing permanent harm. “It’s shout or shoot. There aren’t some intermediate choices,” says Sid Heal, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department commander whom consults internationally on the utilization of force. And since most police division protocols allow officers to respond to threats by using a more impressive range of force than they’re confronting, an officer whom faces off against a foe holding a lethal weapon—which could be a hammer or baseball bat—is almost certainly going to react with all the solution revolver. For 800 years, the only effective way to stop an adversary is weapon, set to kill. However the pursuit of a nonlethal alternative hasn’t been more urgent.

Tom Swift’s Electrical Rifle

Exactly what, then, in regards to the Taser? is not your solution—a tool that can surprise a subject into distribution, leaving no lasting damage? That’s the idea the theory is that, and since first introduced by Taser International in 1993, the product has become a mainstay in nearly every police department. But concept and training are two different things. Tasers are both less efficient than guns at stopping some body charging you at you with no guarantee of making them unscathed.

It’s not just a quick fix, but it stops a danger. Steve Tuttle, Taser Overseas

Named the 1911 youth guide Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle (it’s an initialism), Tasers work by shooting two electrically charged probes—one negative, one positive—delivering a 5 to 30 2nd surprise of 50,000 volts, although the voltage drops significantly upon effect. Both probes need to make close contact with your skin working. Yet often they don’t: Heavy clothing can repel them, therefore the further the length that they’re shot, the wider the space, or spread, between your two probes. “The spread is one base for every single seven legs they travel. Basically deploy it at you at 14 feet, the spread is going to be two legs,” states Taser Global spokesperson Steve Tuttle. “It’s not a magic pill.” But, he adds confidently, “It prevents a hazard,” and much more effortlessly than many other less-lethal options such as batons, pepper spray or disorienting blinking products. (Taser Global virtually has industry, though a small number of competitors have actually introduced comparable stun devices. The business won a patent infringement lawsuit against one, Karbon Arms, in 2014. Karbon Arms web site has since shut down as well as its Facebook web page says “closed for company.”) While Tasers are clearly less deadly than mainstream firearms, arguments carry on over whether they can surprise someone to death. A Washington Post investigation of police killings in 2015 found around one death per week associated with authorities utilization of Tasers, but no-one could definitively attribute those deaths to electric surprise. Some topics might have dropped and hit their heads after being shocked. In terms of range, in 2009 Taser introduced the XREP stretched range shotgun, which may reach up to 100 foot. However with only limited circumstances of practical usefulness and rounds costing $125 each, Tuttle claims, “It had been too costly. We pulled it.” Tuttle notes FBI data show that many officers fire their guns from seven to 10 feet away, well inside a Taser’s reach. Nevertheless, some officers won’t trust a Taser except up close. On TV, the number problem is solved simply by writing it into the script. In APB’s pilot episode, a detective is directed by the precinct’s brand new owner to shoot at a lady being held hostage by a perp having a weapon to the woman mind. “The Taser won’t kill the girl, but he can,” the rich employer whispers. The detective takes the shot additionally the woman falls, stunned but unharmed. Then your detective shoots once again and immobilizes the theif.

State i simply had an encounter with somebody threatening committing suicide in which you’ve got the less-lethal option. Now I go on the next task and I also have someone shooting at me personally. Am I going to make sure to switch the mode? John Folino, Chicago Police Department

Exactly how that scenario would play away into the real world, who knows? Sergeant Detective John Folino, the show’s technical adviser plus 19-year veteran for the Chicago Police Department, discusses practical issues over ethics. “Right now, you’ve got officers having a weapon plus Taser. It is possible to only have a great deal on your own duty belt,” impeding flexibility and causing straight back discomfort, he claims. Like Star Trek’s phasers, the fictional weapons on Fox’s APB have stun and destroy settings—which could also cause issues. “Say i recently had an encounter with somebody threatening committing suicide in which you’ve got the less-lethal choice,” Folino states. “Now we go on another work and I also have actually someone shooting at me personally. Am I going to be sure you switch the mode?” That’s a real-world concern tragically responded a year ago whenever Tulsa reserve deputy Robert Bates drew their gun as opposed to his Taser and killed Eric Harris, the unarmed topic of the sting procedure. Bates stated he’d gotten confused, and ended up being sentenced to four years for manslaughter. “That’s the reason why once we train, we put the Taser in the opposing part,” Folino claims. “It’s called your help part. Your actual gun is on your own strong part.”

Directed Energy: Feeling the Burn

Just what exactly else is offered? The next closest thing on evasive phaser on stun may be a directed energy system developed by Raytheon that fires waves of power that penetrate a paper-thin layer regarding the epidermis, creating an intolerable burning sensation. But it’s scarcely handheld and contains become mounted on a flatbed trailer. Initially created for the armed forces, it was implemented in Afghanistan this year before being recalled by the Air Force, apparently as a result of concerns about Geneva Convention violations. Raytheon couldn’t return requires comment. Jail guards tested a model for law enforcement use—mostly for crowd control—at la’ North County Correctional Facility this season. Heal, the retired LA sheriff’s commander, had been a consultant on that contract. “We wear it the top the prison where we simply had two murders. And also the ACLU objected,” he complains, by having a tone of exasperation.“Why don’t we simply use the material we’ve been utilizing since 1820, like billy groups and night sticks?”

There isn’t any such thing as perfect tool, and tools made to be non-lethal can find yourself having deadly effects or infringe on people’s liberties to talk out and construct. Rohini Haar, Physicians for Human Rights

The ACLU referred me personally to Physicians for Human Rights. “Our prevailing issues about weapons—either genuine or hypothetical—is both the risk they pose and their possibility of being used to break people’s legal rights,” writes Rohini Haar, a crisis medication physician utilizing the team, in a email. He states the beam’s results haven’t been completely studied. “Certainly an alternative solution to reside ammunition is warranted, but the problem let me reveal that [less-lethal weapons] are often deployed with no complete comprehension of their possible health impacts. … there’s absolutely no such thing as a perfect weapon, and weapons made to be non-lethal can find yourself having life-threatening impacts or infringe on people’s legal rights to talk out and assemble.” And so the search continues. Robert Afzal of Aculight Corp., a subsidiary of Lockheed in Bothell, Washington, is developing high-powered lasers to shoot straight down missiles. A bit of a Trekkie, he poses having a movie prop in a Smithsonian documentary that likens their laser up to a phaser. Both are beam tools, all things considered. But like Raytheon’s ray weapon, Afzal’s must be installed on a big automobile. Additionally utilizes intense heat to shoot straight down missiles, maybe not repel humans. “The phaser as stun weapon or Taser continues to be in realm of good technology fiction,” Afzal says. “We would want significant improvements in technology, including batteries, to make a useful handheld laser gun.” Size, then, still matters. The technology to pack all that energy in a holster-ready device merely is not right here yet. Additionally, the various shocking as well as heat tools currently available or in development follow a fundamental paradigm: Those that submit impulses instantaneously with a beam burn their topics rather than surprise them; those who surprise, like the tethered Taser probes, don’t usage beams. APB‘s only doing so-so into the ranks, therefore it’s not likely to spark the imagination of weapons designers. Nevertheless the most useful device was conceived above 300 years ago. In “The Tempest,” Shakespeare’s Prospero declares:

I’m able to right here disarm thee using this stick. While making thy gun fall.

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I Took the AI Class Facebookers Are Literally Sprinting to Get Into

Chia-Chiunn Ho was eating lunch inside Facebook headquarters, at the Full Circle Cafe, when he saw the notice on his phone: Larry Zitnick, one of the leading figures at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab, was teaching another class on deep learning.

Ho is a 34-year-old Facebook digital graphics engineer known to everyone as “Solti,” after his favorite conductor. He couldn’t see a way of signing up for the class right there in the app. So he stood up from his half-eaten lunch and sprinted across MPK 20, the Facebook building that’s longer than a football field but feels like a single room. “My desk is all the way at the other end,” he says. Sliding into his desk chair, he opened his laptop and surfed back to the page. But the class was already full.

Internet giants have vacuumed up most of the available AI talent—and they need more.

He’d been shut out the first time Zitnick taught the class, too. This time, when the lectures started in the middle of January, he showed up anyway. He also wormed his way into the workshops, joining the rest of the class as they competed to build the best AI models from company data. Over the next few weeks, he climbed to the top of the leaderboard. “I didn’t get in, so I wanted to do well,” he says. The Facebook powers-that-be are more than happy he did. As anxious as Solti was to take the class—a private set of lectures and workshops open only to company employees—Facebook stands to benefit the most.

Deep learning is the technology that identifies faces in the photos you post to Facebook. It also recognizes commands spoken into Google phones, translates foreign languages on Microsoft’s Skype app, and wrangles porn on Twitter, not to mention the way it’s changing everything from internet search and advertising to cybersecurity. Over the last five years, this technology has radically shifted the course of all the internet’s biggest operations.

With help from Geoff Hinton, one of the founding fathers of the deep learning movement, Google built a central AI lab that feeds the rest of the company. Then it paid more than $650 million for DeepMind, a second lab based in London. Another founding father, Yann LeCun, built a similar operation at Facebook. And so many other deep learning startups and academics have flooded into so many other companies, drawn by enormous paydays.

The problem: These companies have now vacuumed up most of the available talent—and they need more. Until recently, deep learning was a fringe pursuit even in the academic world. Relatively few people are formally trained in these techniques, which require a very different kind of thinking than traditional software engineering. So, Facebook is now organizing formal classes and longterm research internships in an effort to build new deep learning talent and spread it across the company. “We have incredibly smart people here,” Zitnick says. “They just need the tools.”

Meanwhile, just down the road from Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters, Google is doing much the same, apparently on an even larger scale, as so many other companies struggle to deal with the AI talent vacuum. David Elkington, CEO of Insidesales, a company that applies AI techniques to online sales services, says he’s now opening an outpost in Ireland because he can’t find the AI and data science talent he needs here in the States. “It’s more of an art than a science,” he says. And the best practitioners of that art are very expensive.

In the years to come, universities will catch up with the deep learning revolution, producing far more talent than they do today. Online courses from the likes of Udacity and Coursera are also spreading the gospel. But the biggest internet companies need a more immediate fix.

Seeing the Future

Larry Zitnick, 42, is a walking, talking, teaching symbol of how quickly these AI techniques have ascended—and how valuable deep learning talent has become. At Microsoft, he spent a decade working to build systems that could see like humans. Then, in 2012, deep learning techniques eclipsed his ten years of research in a matter of months.

In essence, researchers like Zitnick were building machine vision one tiny piece at time, applying very particular techniques to very particular parts of the problem. But then academics like Geoff Hinton showed that a single piece—a deep neural network—could achieve far more. Rather than code a system by hand, Hinton and company built neural networks that could learn tasks largely on their own by analyzing vast amounts of data. “We saw this huge step change with deep learning,” Zitnick says. “Things started to work.”

For Zitnick, the personal turning point came one afternoon in the fall of 2013. He was sitting in a lecture hall at the University of California, Berkeley, listening to a PhD student named Ross Girshick describe a deep learning system that could learn to identify objects in photos. Feed it millions of cat photos, for instance, and it could learn to identify a cat—actually pinpoint it in the photo. As Girshick described the math behind his method, Zitnick could see where the grad student was headed. All he wanted to hear was how well the system performed. He kept whispering: “Just tell us the numbers.” Finally, Girshick gave the numbers. “It was super-clear that this was going to be the way of the future,” Zitnick says.

Within weeks, he hired Girshick at Microsoft Research, as he and the rest of the company’s computer vision team reorganized their work around deep learning. This required a sizable shift in thinking. As a top researcher once told me, creating these deep learning systems is more like being a coach than a player. Rather than building a piece of software on your own, one line of code at a time, you’re coaxing a result from a sea of information.

But Girshick wasn’t long for Microsoft. And neither was Zitnick. Soon, Facebook poached them both—and almost everyone else on the team.

This demand for talent is the reason Zitnick is now teaching a deep learning class at Facebook. And like so many other engineers and data scientists across Silicon Valley, the Facebook rank and file are well aware of the trend. When Zitnick announced the first class in the fall, the 60 spots filled up in ten minutes. He announced a bigger class this winter, and it filled up nearly as quickly. There’s demand for these ideas on both sides of the equation.

There’s also demand among tech reporters. I took the latest class myself, though Facebook wouldn’t let me participate in the workshops on my own. That would require access to the Facebook network. The company believes in education, but only up to a point. Ultimately, all this is about business.

Going Deep

The class begins with the fundamental idea: the neural network, a notion that researchers like Frank Rosenblatt explored with as far back as the late 1950s. The conceit is that a neural net mimics the web of neuron in the brain. And in a way, it does. It operates by sending information between processing units, or nodes, that stand in for neurons. But these nodes are really just linear algebra and calculus that can identify patterns in data.

Even in the `50s, it worked. Rosenblatt, a professor of psychology at Cornell, demonstrated his system for the New Yorker and the New York Times, showing that it could learn to identify changes in punchcards fed into an IBM 704 mainframe. But the idea was fundamentally limited—it could only solve very small problems—and in the late ’60s, when MIT’s Marvin Minsky published a book that proved these limitations, the AI community all but dropped the idea. It returned to the fore only after academics like Hinton and LeCun expanded these system so they could operate across multiple layers of nodes. That’s the “deep” in deep learning.

As Zitnick explains, each layer makes a calculation and passes it to the next. Then, using a technique called “back propagation,” the layers send information back down the chain as a means of error correction. As the years went by and technology advanced, neural networks could train on much larger amounts of data using much larger amounts of computing power. And they proved enormously useful. “For the first time ever, we could take raw input data like audio and images and make sense of them,” Zitnick told his class, standing at a lectern inside MPK 20, the south end of San Francisco Bay framed in the window beside him.

‘We have incredibly smart people here. They just need the tools.’ Larry Zitnick

As the class progresses and the pace picks up, Zitnick also explains how these techniques evolved into more complex systems. He explores convolutional neural networks, a method inspired by the brain’s visual cortex that groups neurons into “receptive fields” arranged almost like overlapping tiles. His boss, Yann LeCun, used these to recognize handwriting way back in the early ’90s. Then the class progresses to LSTMs—neural networks that include their own short-term memory, a way of retaining one piece of information while examining what comes next. This is what helps identify the commands you speak into Android phones.

In the end, all these methods are still just math. But to understand how they work, students must visualize how they operate across time (as data passes through the neural network) and space (as those tile-like receptive fields examine each section of a photo). Applying these methods to real problems, as Zitnick’s students do during the workshops, is a process of trial, error, and intuition—kind of like manning the mixing console in a recording studio. You’re not at a physical console. You’re at a laptop, sending commands to machines in Facebook data centers across the internet, where the neural networks do their training. But you spend your time adjusting all sorts of virtual knobs—the size of the dataset, the speed of the training, the relative influence of each node—until you get the right mix. “A lot of it is built by experience,” says Angela Fan, 22, who took Zitnick’s class in the fall.

A New Army

Fan studied statistics and computer science as an undergraduate at Harvard, finishing just last spring. She took some AI courses, but many of the latest techniques are still new even to her, particularly when it comes to actually putting them into practice. “I can learn just from interacting with the codebase,” she says, referring to the software tools Facebook has built for this kind of work.

For her, the class was part of a much larger education. At the behest of her college professor, she applied for Facebook’s “AI immersion program.” She won a spot working alongside Zitnick and other researchers as a kind of intern for the next year or two. Earlier this month, her team published new research describing a system that takes the convolutional neural networks that typically analyze photos and uses them to build better AI models for understanding natural language—that is, how humans talk to each other.

This kind of language research is the next frontier for deep learning. After reinventing image recognition, speech recognition, and machine translation, researchers are pushing toward machines that can truly understand what humans say and respond in kind. In the near-term, the techniques described in Fan’s paper could help improve that service on your smartphone that guesses what you’ll type next. She envisions a tiny neural network sitting on your phone, learning how you—and just you in particular—talk to other people.

For Facebook, the goal is to create an army of Angela Fans, researchers steeped not just in neural networks but a range of related technologies, including reinforcement learning—the method that drove DeepMind’s AlphaGo system when it cracked the ancient game of Go—and other techniques that Zitnick explores as the course comes to a close. To this end, when Zitnick reprised the course this winter, Fan and other AI lab interns served as class TAs, running the workshops and answering any questions that came up over the six weeks of lectures.

Facebook isn’t just trying to beef its central AI lab. It’s hoping to spread these skills across the company. Deep learning isn’t a niche pursuit. It’s a general technology that can potentially change any part of Facebook, from Messenger to the company’s central advertising engine. Solti could even apply it to the creation of videos, considering that neural networks also have a talent for art. Any Facebook engineer or data scientist could benefit from understanding this AI. That’s why Larry Zitnick is teaching the class. And it’s why Solti abandoned his lunch.

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Don’t Worry, There’s Plenty of Great Iron Fist—It’s Just Not on Netflix

The critical pile-on of Iron Fist has officially reached comedy status. The fourth of Netflix’s Marvel shows (and the final lead-in to next year’s Defenders teamup) premieres today, and the reception to the first few episodes has not been kind. While that’s largely the fault of dull writing and plodding plotting, though, Iron Fist himself hasn’t been helping. From the moment that Netflix announced the casting of Finn Jones as the titular hero, there’s a been a steady drumbeat of complaints about a white guy playing the greatest martial artist in the world—a complaint that has only become louder as Jones has waded intro the fray, getting defensive on Twitter and suggesting that people are only complaining because Donald Trump is President.

To be fair, many comic book fans have come to the defense of Jones’ casting. Sure, they argue, it might be racially insensitive to have a white guy be Marvel’s best martial artist; and yeah, it’s another example of Marvel’s reliance on the “white savior” trope, one more troubling after last year’s Doctor Strange turned The Ancient One from an Asian to a Caucasian role. But, they insist, it’s canon, because Iron Fist was actually white.

That’s true: Danny Rand, the Iron Fist on the show, is indeed the primary Iron Fist in comic book continuity. But that doesn’t mean that Danny Rand is the only Iron Fist in Marvel’s comic book mythology. As early as his second comic book appearance (in 1972’s Marvel Premiere #16), there was the implication that Iron Fist wasn’t an individual’s identity as much as a shared mantle that had been worn by different people throughout history. It would take decades for that idea to come into focus, but when it did—courtesy of the 2006 Immortal Iron Fist series by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja—it revolutionized Iron Fist as a concept, and as a superhero identity.

Rand, Immortal Iron Fist revealed, was the sixty-seventh Iron Fist to that point. Although the series only introduced readers to seven of his 66 predecessors, all but one of them was of Asian descent. Beyond Quan Yazou, the original Iron Fist, there were Li Park, Bein Ming-Tian, Wu Ao-Shi, Bei Bang-Wen and Kwai Jun-Fan—and none of them were a hipster version of Bruce Wayne.(Though it’s telling that the series spent more time with the seventh predecessor, a white dude named Orson Randall, than any of the others.)

Nor was Iron Fist’s Asian legacy only in the past; in both Immortal Iron Fist and subsequent series Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, the writers established that the future of the Iron Fist was distinctly un-Caucasian. The former series flashed-forward to the year 3099 to introduce Wah Sing-Rand, while The Living Weapon showed a young female monk called Pei possessing the Iron Fist.

In many ways, this is in keeping with Marvel’s general direction with regards to comic book representation over the last few years. Once upon a time, the company’s catalog of heroes who were women or people of color was limited to sidekicks, supporting characters, and the occasional team-member. More recently, though, more familiar superhero identities have been turned into franchises with an aim of more accurately reflecting the world outside your window. The half-Black, half-Latino Miles Morales became a second Spider-Man; Sam Wilson—formerly the high-flying Falcon—signed on as a new Captain America; Thor was replaced as god of thunder by his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster.

While that trend seems to be continuing to this day—Invincible Iron Man was recently relaunched with a teenage girl taking the place of Tony Stark—there remains a horde of traditionalists for whom there can only be one version of any given character. More often than not, that means the original version, when almost everyone was a white dude. It’s worth noting that Marvel is seeing historically low sales of its monthly titles, leading to rumors of a relaunch later this year that will restore the white male versions of its big names in hopes of appealing to long-term fans.

Is that conservative impulse among fandom the reason that Marvel didn’t try to switch things up when selecting a TV version of Iron Fist? It’s unclear. The company’s movies and TV adaptations tend to hew towards the “classic” takes on characters, but not always: Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Agents of SHIELD‘s Ghost Rider were based on later incarnations rather than the original (white) ones. But if you’re convinced that Netflix’s Iron Fist should be white because of “canon,” forget it: A full 80% of the comic book Iron Fists to date haven’t white. There’s more than enough material available to support an alternative take. Perhaps those concerned with fidelity to the source material should ask themselves why Marvel didn’t really go with canon in the first place.

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