In the world of competitive spellers, Sylvie Lamontagne is known as a juggernaut. She placed fourth in last year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, and ninth in 2015. Last summer, she traveled to California and won the Spelling Bee of China’s North America Spelling Champion Challenge, a contest for kids in the United States and China.
Now that the 14-year-old from Denver is no longer eligible to compete in this week’s National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland — which is televised on ESPN and often turns kids like Sylvie into momentary celebrities — she’s focusing on a new vocation: spelling bee coach.
Sylvie’s rate? $200 an hour.
Hiring coaches isn’t new. But bee aficionados say a recent surge in competition, and a tightening of rules meant to limit co-champions, has spawned a demand for younger coaches such as Sylvie: high-schoolers or college kids, months or just a few years into their bee retirement, who can pass along fresh intelligence on words to memorize and how to decode bizarre words based on their language of origin.
That is from Ian Shapira at WaPo.
Yes, the Garry Kasparov, here is the link to the podcast and transcript. We talked about AI, his new book Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins, why he has become more optimistic, how education will have to adjust to smart software, Russian history and Putin, his favorites in Russian and American literature, Tarkovsky, his favorite city to play chess in, his match against Deep Blue, Ken Rogoff, who are the three most likely challengers to Magnus Carlsen (ranked in order!) and who might win. Here is one excerpt:
GK: The biggest problem, and I’ve been talking about for quite a while, that we’re still teaching very specific knowledge in the schools. Instead of teaching what, we have to teach how because this knowledge may be redundant 10 years from now. We are preparing kids for the world that will change dramatically. By the way, we already know it will look different. So what’s the point of trying to teach kids at age 10, 11, 12 without recognizing the fact that when they finish college, when they will become adults looking for jobs, the job market will be totally different?
COWEN: …If we look back on centuries of Russian history, do you think there’s something in Russian geography or demographics or geopolitics — what has it been that has led to such unfree outcomes fairly systematically?
Where do you find the roots of tyranny in the history of Russia? Is it a mix of the size of the country, its openness to invasion, its vulnerability, something about being next to a dynamic Europe, on the other side, China? What is it?
KASPAROV: It’s a long, if not endless, theoretical debate based on our interpretation of certain historical events. I’m not convinced with these arguments about some nations being predetermined in their development and alien to the concept of democracy and the rule of law.
The reason I’m quite comfortable with this denial . . . We can move from theory to practice. While we can talk about history and certain influence of historical events to modernity, we can look at the places like Korean Peninsula. The same nation, not even cousins but brothers and sisters, divided in 1950, so that’s, by historical standards, yesterday.
Let’s look at Russia and Ukraine, and let’s look, not at the whole Ukraine, but just at eastern Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine is populated mostly by ethnic Russians. In the former Soviet Union, the borders between republics were very nominal. People could move around, it was not a big deal. Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the official state border between Russia and Ukraine was respected, but people still could move around. They didn’t need special visas.
When we look at ethnic Russians born and raised in Kursk and Belgorod on the Russian side and across the border, say in Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk on the Ukrainian side, there were people that could be hardly separated anything. They read the same newspaper, Pravda, watched the same television, spoke the very same language, not even accents. But somehow, in 2014, after Putin’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, we saw a huge difference. Most of ethnic Russians in Ukraine signed for the Ukrainian army, fighting against Putin’s invasion, against the same Russians that came from the other side.
It could be a long debate, but I would say that one of the main reasons is that Ukraine experienced in 1994 a gradual transition of power from one president to another after sitting president Leonid Kravchuk lost elections and walked away. Ukrainians somehow got an idea that power is not sacred, and government can come and go, and they can remove it by voting.
And even despite the fact that Ukraine never experienced higher living standards than Russia, people realized that keeping this freedom, keeping this ability to influence their bureaucrats and government through the peaceful process of voting and, if necessary, striking, far more effective than Russia’s “stability” where the same leader could be in charge of the country with his corrupt clique for a long, long time.
On computer chess, I most enjoyed this part of the exchange:
KASPAROV: But I want to finish this because what we discovered in this process . . . I wouldn’t overweight our listeners with all these details. I don’t want just to throw on them the mass information.
COWEN: It’s amazing what people will enjoy, though. You’d be surprised.
Self-recommending! We cover many other topics as well, again you can read or listen here.
And I strongly advise that you buy and read Garry’s wonderful new book Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins.
Now operators have started scrutinizing complimentary drinks, introducing new technology at bars that track how much someone has gambled—and rewards them accordingly with alcohol. It’s a shift from decades of more-informal interplay between bartenders and gamblers.
Sports books have capitalized on big events, too. During March Madness, a five-person booth at the Harrah’s Las Vegas sports book cost $375 per person, which included five Miller Lite or Coors Light beers a person. In the past, seating at most sports books was free and first-come, first-served, even during big events. Placing a small bet or two could get you free drinks.
“The number-crunchers, the bean-counters have ruined Las Vegas,” said Brad Johnson, who lives in North Carolina and has come to Las Vegas almost every year since the early 1970s. “There’s no value to it; there’s no benefit.”
Casinos on the Strip now derive a smaller share of revenue from gambling. In 1996, more than half of annual casino revenue on the Strip came from gambling. Last year, the share was down to about a third, according to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. More of the revenue comes from hotels, restaurants and bars.
I will be doing a Conversations with Tyler with him, no public event, podcast only. Today by the way is his birthday, so send along some good questions as a birthday present to him, and a non-birthday present to me!
Garry’s forthcoming book Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins is just superb, and the podcast will be released around the time of book publication in early May.
Christina, an apparent MR reader, asked me whether it is really true that AI helps military defense more than military offense, as was previously argued by Eric Schmidt. I can think of a few parallel cases:
1. In chess, AI clearly has helped the defense. Top computer programs never play 32-move brilliant sacrifice victories against each other, a’ la Mikhail Tal. Most games are drawn, and a victory tends to be long and protracted. (Do note it is sometimes better to get the war over with and lose right away.)
2. In the NBA, analytics have helped offense more, for instance by showing that more attempted shots should be three-pointers. Analytics of course is not AI, but you can consider it a more primitive form of using information technology to improve decisions.
3. It is interesting to ponder the differences between chess and the NBA as potential analogies. In chess, the attack often “plays itself,” as the player with the initiative may be following fairly standard strategies of bringing the Queen and some lesser pieces in the neighborhood of the opposing King, or maybe just capturing material. Finding the correct defense is often a more complex matter, and the higher quality of the chess-playing programs thus boosts defense more than offense. Besides, under perfect information chess is almost certainly a draw, and the use of AI asymptotically approaches that outcome.
In professional basketball, the offense typically has more options and permutations, and given any offensive decisions, the defense often respond in fairly typical fashion, such as lunging at the player attempting a shot, or doubling Stephen Curry as he crosses the half-court line. In those cases where the defense has more options, however, analytics conceivably could help basketball defense more than offense. A (hypothetical) example of this would be using game tape and AI to see which kinds of tugs on the jersey best disrupt the shot or rhythm of the team’s leading scorer. That said, most of the action seems to be in honing the options for the offense.
4. Is warfare more like chess or more like the NBA?
I believe the USA has more options in most of its conflicts, and thus AI will help the United States, at least at first.
In the Second World War the Nazis had more options than their opponents. In the Civil War and American Revolution, however, the available offense was more static and predictable, and AI for those fighting forces might have helped the defense more. In the Iran-Iraq war I suspect the defense had more options too. Terror groups have more meaningful options than the forces defending against terror, and thus AI might help terror groups more than the defense, at least provided they had equal access to the data and to the technology (which is doubtful at this point, still as part of the exercise this is useful).
5. One important qualifier is that the chess and NBA examples already assume a game is on to be played. A war, in contrast, is started as a matter of volition on at least one side. If AI creates a new arms race of sorts, where one side at times opens up a decisive lead, that may provoke more decisions to engage and thus attack. The mere fact that AI increases the variance in the power gap between the two sides may increase the number of attacks and thus wars.
So there is more to this question than meets the eye at first, and I have only begun to engage with it.
Addendum: AI is also spreading in the legal world, will this help defendants or plaintiffs more?
Cyber weapons are different. If you are a state and you let potential enemies know about your arsenal of cyber attacks, you are giving them the opportunity to fix their information systems so that they can neutralize the threat. This means that it is very hard to use cyber weapons to make credible threats against other states. As soon as you have made a credibly-specific threat, you have likely given your target enough information to figure out the vulnerability that you want to exploit.
This means that offensive cyber weapons are better for gathering intelligence or actually taking out military targets than for making threats. In this regard, they are the opposite of nuclear weapons, which are more useful as threats than as battlefield options. Nuclear weapons can create stability because they deter attacks. In effect, they create a stable system of beliefs where no state wants to seriously attack a nuclear power, for fear that this might lead to a conflict that would escalate all the way to nuclear war.
Nuclear weapons and cyber attacks don’t mix well.
Unfortunately, this means that the advantages of cyber operations become an important liability for nuclear deterrence when they are used for “left of launch” attacks on nuclear launch systems. By secretly penetrating another state’s launch system, you may undermine the stable system of beliefs that discourages an attack.
Consider what might happen in a tense standoff between two states that both have nuclear weapons, where one state has penetrated the other state’s launch system, so that it could stop a nuclear counter attack. The state that has penetrated the launch system knows that it has a military advantage. However, if it reveals the advantage to the target state, the target state will be able to patch its system, destroying the advantage. The target state does not know that it is at a disadvantage, and it cannot be told by the attacker.
The result is that the two states have very different perceptions of the situation. The attacker thinks that there is an imbalance of power, where it has the advantage. The target thinks that there is a balance of power, where both states have nuclear weapons and can deter each other. This means that the first state will be less likely to back down, and might escalate conflict, secure in the knowledge that it can neutralize the other state if necessary. However, the target state may too behave in provocative ways that raise the stakes, since it mistakenly believes that at a certain point the other state will have to back down, for fear of nuclear war. Thus, this creates a situation where each side may be more willing to escalate the tense situation, making it more likely that one state will decide to move toward war.
That is from Eric Gartzke and Jon R. Lindsay, there is more interesting material at the link.
This 23-year-old Filipino-American should be starring in a Malcolm Gladwell column. A few years ago, he was an up-and-coming aggressive, tactical chess prodigy, presumably lacking in the strategic niceties of the game at its highest levels. I recall John Nye, my Filipino-American colleague (and chess player) coming into my office to discuss the astonishing fact that So had risen to number 9 in the world rankings. I suggested that a bit of regression to the mean was in order, and So would not be returning to the top ten anytime soon.
Since that time, So has won four top tournaments in a row, besting Magnus Carlsen, and has had a 56-game non-losing streak, against very high caliber players, and recently he was selected best chess player of the last year. Arguably he is the second best player in the world, and the one most likely to dethrone Carlsen from the world championship.
A turning point for So came in 2014 when he left university and moved to Minnetonka, Minnnesota to live with his adoptive parents, Lotis Key and Renato Kabigting, Key being a former Filipino movie star and now Vice President of the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild. She serves as So’s manager and insisted he not check on-line NBA scores when doing his chess training. Later, So turned away from the internet more fundamentally to focus on chess.
One Filipino international master remarked: “He cannot afford decent training given by well known GM-coaches and has to rely on his pure talent.” Last month he brought on Vladimir Tukmakov as a coach, but he’s had less formal training than any top player in recent memory.
So hopes to learn how to drive a car, and he enjoys playing in Las Vegas: “I like Las Vegas,” So said, laughing. “People are usually drunk. Makes them easier to beat. Just keep drinking.”
So’s style now has evolved to the point where…he doesn’t seem to have a style. He is renowned for his calm and he simply limits the number of mistakes. At the top, top levels, a player without a real style is a player who is hard to train for and hard to beat.
So is religious, and he is considered mild-mannered and humble. The story of Wesley So is not over. Yet Wesley So is an American, and an American hero, and he has received virtually no mainstream media attention.
The basic post is too long, but some of it is interesting and here is the best part:
The pattern of Cost Disease seems to be related to things that inextricably require the unsubstitutable labour and attention not just of human beings but of human beings somehow comparable to the buyer. (Americans, for the US focus of most of this discussion.) Education not only requires teachers who are part of the same cultural milieu as their students, but it requires the attention of the students themselves, and attention is inherently expensive. As the only thing that can be expensive in the final Strong Heaven, attention predictably gets more expensive in a culture that moves more and more toward general post-scarcity. Health care similarly requires local human involvement.
In the United States, if I am trying to accelerate and enter the road from say a parking lot, I try to minimize the number of misleading movements my car might make. I don’t “edge out” just for the heck of it, for fear this may spook the other drivers and cause them to suddenly switch lanes in a dangerous (for them) fashion. Furthermore, I might misjudge and move the car out too far into the lane, leading to a collision.
In Lagos, it seems the practice is to announce your intentions with as many little forward “nudges” of your car as possible. They seem to mean “I am thinking of going sometime soon.”
After enough such nudges, the oncoming cars either go far away into the left lane, or perhaps they stop for you altogether and let you go. Or maybe they slow down a bit and you decide you can beat them and so you pull into the lane.
A higher discount rate (for entering the road) is one way to rationalize this behavior, but in a variety of other contexts I have noticed Nigerians who were not massively upset at being ever so slightly late. So might there be some other explanation?
Maybe there is greater variability in rational assumptions about the other drivers. You may not know how well their cars can brake, accelerate, and perhaps their lane-switching plans and propensities are harder to predict. So by nudging your car out in successive bits, you may be “taking the temperature” of the other drivers on the road. Keep in mind that they, too, may not have a good sense of how well your car can accelerate (furthermore some of the vehicles are tuks-tuks, not cars). A willingness to make more nudges may be telling the other drivers that your engine is pretty good and your will is strong.
So they read your nudging pattern, and you draw inferences from their lane-switching and stopping responses. Ex post (one hopes), everyone has a better sense of what the other cars and drivers are capable of doing.
Of course this is speculative. The key point here is that greater variability in potential performance creates a case for sending more and smaller bits of the signal in advance.
In 1987, Trump made his goal of Russian collaboration on nuclear power explicit: The Soviet Union and the US should partner to form a nuclear superpower with the intention of intimidating other countries into dropping their own nuclear plans.
“Most of those [pre-nuclear] countries are in one form or another dominated by the US and the Soviet Union,” Trump told journalist Roy Rosenbaum. “Between those two nations you have the power to dominate any of those countries. So we should use our power of economic retaliation and they use their powers of retaliation, and between the two of us we will prevent the problem from happening. It would have been better having done something five years ago. But I believe even a country such as Pakistan would have to do something now. Five years from now they’ll laugh.”
Nuclear-related sanctions, from the two major powers, were to be applied to both Pakistan and France [sic]. Here is the full article, I cannot vouch for this account or any particular interpretation of it, but the hypothesis is new to me and so I present it to you as well.
The gambling market is somewhat saturated, so how can new customers be found?
One idea: skills-based games.
In Atlantic City, the Borgata added a basketball free-throw shooting contest. Other casinos are adding skill-based games to electronic slot machines — shooting, puzzles, less slot machine ding ding ding and more Angry Birds-style competition.
Maryland does not allow such games yet, but the state’s gaming agency says it is working on the issue.
That is from Michael Rosenwald, with most of the article covering D.C.’s foray into the casino genre.
1. Karjakin played some of the best defensive chess ever, finding resources where there appeared to be none.
2. Carlsen had become a bit lazy, relying too much on his stamina advantage to beat opponents (yes I do understand that is an odd notion of lazy!). Yet he had no real stamina advantage over Karjakin, who is of the same age and came to the match in very good physical shape. So Carlsen simply could not grind him down, and it took Carlsen the entire match to realize that.
3. Karjakin made very few attempts to achieve demonstrable, sharp advantages. That limited his total number of victories to one.
4. In the rapid tie-breaker — four consecutive games in the final day — Carlsen couldn’t try to win on stamina and simply showed he was the better player across many dimensions of the game. Karjakin posed him no problems at all in these contests.
5. Karjakin played as Carlsen’s equal for the twelve regular time control games. Yet I don’t think he will be back as a challenger. His style is too “drab” (Kasparov’s description) to get through all of the risk-rewarding tournaments to reach the final championship match again.
6. Perhaps rapid chess is the future of chess as a spectator sport. Four games in a row, each twenty-five minutes per player, plus increments. It was thrilling, and I watched on the train.
7. Putin finally lost one this year, let’s hope this reverses the trend.
Magnus Carlsen was heavily favored, but after six games with Karjakin — half the match — they are all draws. The first noteworthy feature of play is that Karjakin has matched what is usually a big stamina advantage for Carlsen. If Carlsen were playing against Anand again, and creating similar positions, he probably would be two points up, as he was pressing strong endgame advantages for hours in two of the games. Yet Karjakin held firm and found the necessary defensive resources in both cases and victories fell from Carlsen’s grasp. Overall we have seen few obvious mistakes in the play.
The second noteworthy feature of the first half of the match is that Carlsen has shown no inferiority of opening preparation, unlike what is usually the case; if anything Carlsen has had slightly better prep. (And note that Karjakin has Putin and thus an army of seconds on his side; Karjakin has a connection to Crimea and used to play for Ukraine but now plays for Russia and basically endorsed the territory transfer, get the picture?)
I believe one should root for Carlsen. Yet this is 2016, and I suppose anything could happen at this point…
Journalists will try to tell you that Carlsen vs. Karjakin will be close. Other journalists will try to tell you that someone other than Golden State or Cleveland will win the next NBA title. Other journalists will try to tell you…
“U.S. military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid, telecommunications networks and the Kremlin’s command systems, making them vulnerable to attack by secret American cyber weapons should the U.S. deem it necessary”…link here.
Just keep Mexico, South Korea, and Estonia in mind, and I’m sure you’ll do the right thing.