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November 28, 2013

Researchers Seek To Teach Computer Common Sense

By KEVIN BEGOS

Associated Press

PIttsburgh (AP) Researchers are trying to plant a digital seed for artificial intelligence by letting a massive computer system browse millions of pictures and decide for itself what they all mean.

The system at Carnegie Mellon University is called NEIL, short for Never Ending Image Learning. In mid-July, it began searching the Internet for images 24/7 and, in tiny steps, is deciding for itself how those images relate to each other. The goal is to recreate what we call common sense, the ability to learn things without being specifically taught.

It’s a new approach in the quest to solve computing’s Holy Grail: getting a machine to think on its own using a form of common sense. The project is being funded by Google and the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research.

``Any intelligent being needs to have common sense to make decisions,’’ said Abhinav Gupta, a professor in the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute.

NEIL uses advances in computer vision to analyze and identify the shapes and colors in pictures, but it is also slowly discovering connections between objects on its own. For example, the computers have figured out that zebras tend to be found in savannahs and that tigers look somewhat like zebras.

In just over four months, the network of 200 processors has identified 1,500 objects and 1,200 scenes and has connected the dots to make 2,500 associations.

Some of NEIL’s computer-generated associations are wrong, such as ``rhino can be a kind of antelope,’’ while some are odd, such as ``actor can be found in jail cell’’ or ``news anchor can look similar to Barack Obama.’’

But Gupta said having a computer make its own associations is an entirely different type of challenge than programming a supercomputer to do one thing very well, or fast. For example, in 1985, Carnegie Mellon researchers programmed a computer to play chess; 12 years later, a computer beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a match.

Catherine Havasi, an artificial intelligence expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said humans constantly make decisions using ``this huge body of unspoken assumptions,’’ while computers don’t. She said humans can also quickly respond to some questions that would take a computer longer to figure out.

``Could a giraffe fit in your car?’’ she asked. ``We’d have an answer, even though we haven’t thought about it’’ in the sense of calculating the giraffe’s body mass.

Robert Sloan, an expert on artificial intelligence and head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois, Chicago, said the NEIL approach could yield interesting results because just using language to teach a computer ``has all sorts of problems unto itself.’’

``What I would be especially impressed by is if they can consistently say `zebra, zebra, zebra’ if they see the animal in different locations,’’ Sloan said of the computers.

Gupta is pleased with the initial progress. In the future, NEIL will analyze vast numbers of YouTube videos to look for connections between objects.

``When we started the project, we were not sure it would work,’’ he said. ``This is just the start.’’

Neither Mountain View, California-based Google Inc. nor the Office of Naval Research responded to questions about why they’re funding NEIL, but there are some hints. The Naval Research website notes that ``today’s battlespace environment is much more complex than in the past’’ and that ``the rate at which data is arriving into the decision-making system is growing, while the number of humans available to convert the data to actionable intelligence is decreasing.’’

In other words, computers may make some of the decisions in future wars. The Navy’s website notes: ``In many operational scenarios, the human presence is not an option.’’

NEIL’s motto is ``I Crawl, I See, I Learn,’’ and the researchers hope to keep NEIL running forever. That means the computer might get a lot smarter.

Or it might not.

The HAL 9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey

This Week In The Civil War: Fighting In Tennessee

This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources. Editors Note Primary sources for the series are historic newspaper databases and other archival records.

By The Associated Press - This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Dec. 1: Fighting subsides at Knoxville, Tenn.

Confederate James Longstreet (above) abandoned his attempted siege of Knoxville, Tenn., on Dec. 4, 1863, withdrawing from the area after his failed bid to weaken the Union’s growing grip on the state. The withdrawal of Confederate forces was closely watched by pursuing Union forces. Although the Confederate attempt to take Knoxville had ended, the fighting was not yet over in this corner of Tennessee. More skirmishing and battles would continue in the cold days of December 1863 as Longstreet’s forces clashed with Union forces at various sites. But then Longstreet would pull out of the area entirely and have his fighters settle into winter encampments as the Civil War dragged on 150 years ago this week.

New Trend For Vets Helps Pets & Owners: Euthanasia At Home

By SUSAN WEICH

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

St. Louis, MO (AP) Christi Winter always tried to give her dog Josie the very best in life, so when it was time to say goodbye, Winter didn’t want to do anything less.

``She was the best dog in the world,’’ Winter said. ``It’s still hard to talk about it.’’

Winter opted to have Josie euthanized at her St. Charles County home, a practice that isn’t new, but is becoming a specialized area of veterinary medicine.

Bernard Rollin, animal sciences and philosophy professor at Colorado State University, said he believes the trend goes along with today’s treatment of pets as members of the family.

``I think it’s tremendous, a real huge advancement for the sake of the animals, no question,’’ he said.

At least two companies have cropped up in recent years that recruit veterinarians who deal solely with end-of-life care for pets.

Locally, Dr. Dawnetta Woodruff of Waterloo works for Lap of Love, a company based in Florida that in the past three years has grown to about 70 veterinarians in nearly 20 states. Woodruff is its only veterinarian in the St. Louis area. Another company, Pet Loss at Home, currently does not cover the St. Louis region.

Woodruff, 33, said when she went into veterinary medicine, she would have considered a career in hospice care and euthanasia morbid, but after working at a clinic for a few years, she saw a need that wasn’t being filled by traditional vet services.

``A lot of veterinarians might have two or three exam rooms they’re seeing at the same time, so it’s hard to give somebody who’s grieving an extra 20 minutes to sit and talk,’’ she said. ``I realized that being able to help people through that very difficult time is a big honor.’’

Woodruff also said some people have been so traumatized by the loss of a pet that they refuse to go back into a specific exam room or sometimes will even switch veterinarians after suffering a pet loss.

``Once they’ve put a pet to sleep there, they don’t want to go back and see the remembrances of that day,’’ she said. ``It’s usually never because the veterinarian did anything wrong. It’s just a really hard day for people.’’

When pet owners have an animal euthanized at home they usually don’t have the same negative feelings, she said, because in addition to being the place where a cat or dog died, it’s a place where they also had many more good times.

Woodruff still works two days a week at a full-service clinic as her practice continues to grow. She currently sees between 15 and 20 families a month with Lap of Love and relies largely on other veterinarians and past clients for referrals. The cost of in-home euthanasia is $195 on weekdays and $225 on evenings and weekends. An additional fee is added for mileage.

Rollin warned that pet owners should be careful about companies that prey on the emotions of pet owners by offering them treatments for terminal pets that are unproven and costly. Dr. Dani McVety, one of two veterinarians who founded Lap of Love, said the company’s goal is not to extend the lifespan of the pet, but to make the pet as comfortable as possible for as long as the family wishes.

Dr. Jan Chipperfield, who runs Family Animal Hospital in Maryland Heights, said she occasionally goes to clients’ homes to put animals to sleep, but she’s glad to have other resources for her clients for those times when she can’t make it.

``It seems that we’re getting back to the old ways, a little bit, as far as the old black bag practice,’’ she said. ``And while we can’t change the outcome, the pet’s still going to be gone at the end of the visit, we can do a lot of things to make it easier for the people and the pets.’’

For Winter, Josie’s comfort was the main reason she selected the at-home service. Josie, an 11-year-old border collie mix, had kidney disease. She’d been consulting with Woodruff regularly, and she knew Josie’s time was getting short.

The day last spring that Winter had planned to have Josie euthanized, the dog collapsed in the kitchen and couldn’t get up. ``I’m not sure I could have picked her up and put her in the car to bring her in, so I don’t know what I would have done if Dr. Woodruff hadn’t been able to come out,’’ she said.

For Debbie Pech of St. Charles, at-home euthanasia spared her cat Simon from having to ride in a car, something he hated, in his last hours.``I wanted him to be comfortable and happy and loved,’’ she said.

In addition to the phone consultations, Lap of Love has a website that provides pet owners with questionnaires, a journal feature and other resources to assess how their pet is doing. In July, Pech told Woodruff it was time, and as Pech held Simon in her arms, Woodruff administered an anesthetic to calm the cat.

``He laid down, and we talked and shared stories, and when it was time we did it,’’ Pech said. ``We wrapped him in a blanket and we carried him to her car, and I knew he was in good hands when he left. I felt right about it; it was the most peaceful, comforting goodbye.’’

Woodruff said in addition to administering the final drugs, she helps the pet owners arrange cremation or burial. She transports the remains to facilities where the services are performed. Woodruff said one frequent question owners ask is whether their children should be present.

``I tell them if your kids are old enough, ask them if they want to be there because most of them are going to tell you,’’ she said. A benefit to having the procedure at home is that if a child gets overwhelmed, he or she doesn’t have to be there the whole time.

“If they feel like they need to be alone and have some space, they’re able to walk away from the situation and go and grieve in their room without anyone else being around,” she said.

Woodruff has seen the benefits of in-home euthanasia for other pets in the home as well. Kelly and Zach Stout of south St. Louis were worried about their female boxer Shae, when their male boxer, Moose, could no longer be treated for seizures.

“They were inseparable,” Kelly Stout said. “I worried Shae would have some separation anxiety.” When Stout decided Moose’s quality of life was suffering, she called Woodruff.

``I gave the sedative to Moose, and Shae laid right next to him and was just touching him the whole time,’’ Woodruff said. ``I know the exact moment that he passed away because she turned over and nosed him. She licked his head and got up and walked away to the other room.’’

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

Florida Archaeologists Carefully Ponder & Paw Mystery Site

By Matt Soergel

The Florida Times-Union

Jacksonville, FL (AP) It’s a nothing-special grass parking lot in LaVilla, on the edge of downtown. But the members of a fledgling group called the Cowford Archaeological Research Society see it as something quite grand.

To them, this nondescript patch of land is beginning to look like the site of a lost Union fort, built in 1864 just outside the city walls of old Jacksonville.

They’ve dug, and they’ve found intriguing items from that era, including what they say is a nicely preserved shell casing for a Spencer rifle, which was used by Union troops.

Exciting stuff. But for members of the mostly amateur archaeological group, there’s a mystery in the city’s vast northern marshes that they think could be far older and even more important. But it’s going to take bit of a hike to get there.

This is some serious jungle: Dean M. Sais and George Burns, founders of the Cowford group, handed out plastic leg coverings, to guard against snakebites. There was extra water. Sais went ahead, urging his four companions to stay 10 meters apart: ``If you hear me yell Ow!, run like hell. That means yellow jackets.’’ Burns whacked away with a machete.

The 20-minute walk passed uneventfully, though, apart from some vines that trip and branches that must be climbed over or ducked under. And soon, they were standing by their discovery.

Right on the edge of one of the countless marshes in that area, it has four earth and oyster-shell walls, roughly rectangular, perhaps 6 feet high at its highest.

In one corner, there’s an opening. Could it have been a door, or is it just natural erosion? Inside the walls, the ground is low and muddy, and trees are growing up from the mud. In all, it’s about 115 by 80 feet.

Sais got a tip from a hiker who told him about the strange find in the woods. After struggling through mud and thick vegetation, he saw it for himself.

A piece of a lantern from the site
(c) Jacksonville.com

The find intrigues Sais and Burns, though they don’t know what it is, other than to say that it’s definitely man-made. They can’t know until more research is done, and they say they won’t dig without landowner permission. And they don’t want to publicize exact locations, to prevent unscrupulous diggers from finding out.

The Cowford Archaeological Research Society, its founders say, wants to do it right. ``We’re not just a bunch of fly-by-night amateurs,’’ Burns said.

Burns is a registered professional archaeologist, with a master’s degree in the field from Colorado State. Sais has worked for decades as a contract archaeologist, and he has a business selling tools of the trade.

The site in the marshes could very well be something quite mundane. But they wonder: Could it be the earthworks of a fort ordered built by James Edward Oglethorpe, the British founder of Georgia, in preparation for his failed 1740 siege of the Spanish in St. Augustine?

``They’ve been looking for it a few hundred years,’’ Sais said. ``We think we’ve found it.’’

He can picture it: ``They could get 200 men in here, shoulder-to-shoulder, with flintlock rifles, if the Spanish attacked them.’’
Archaeologists dream of such discoveries. And as Sais, a garrulous 60-year-old, likes to say: ``Everywhere you walk in Jacksonville, history’s under your feet.’’

At the LaVilla site, searchers have found perfectly intact glass bottles used for medicines. A Union soldier’s uniform button. A fancy crystal handle and nice ceramic pieces that might have been used by officers.

Recently, out came two telling finds: First, the casing for the bullet for a Spencer rifle. A short while later, up popped a metal rod with a circular handle. Members agreed: It was most likely used to clean the fuse hole of a cannon.

In LaVilla, they took clues from an 1864 map of Jacksonville, which had the location of ``Ft. Hatch,’’ just outside the city walls. They figured out where it might be today, asked permission from the private landowner, and dug a few holes, each carefully mapped and logged. Everything that’s found at the LaVilla dig, or the possible marsh site will be given, Sais said, to the landowners.

No one’s getting paid for this work. Not Sais, not Burns, not the eager amateurs who pitch in to dig.

The Cowford Archaeological Research Society, named after an early, descriptive name for Jacksonville, began in April. It’s a nonprofit group that has dreams of one day starting a museum and having schoolchildren and the disabled helping on their digs.

Corporate sponsorship to defray some of the costs of digs would be nice, too.

At the LaVilla site, Dave Gentkowski, retired from the Navy, brought his 12-year-old home-schooled son, Lorenzo, for a field trip. They pitched in, digging and sifting, and signing Cowford membership cards.

Gentkowski grew up near the Manassas battlefields in Virginia, which sparked in him an interest in archaeology. He once found a trigger guard for a musket, and a neighbor found a U.S. Cavalry belt buckle.

Lorenzo said he was happy to be there. ``I was hoping I’d find a cannon,’’ he said.

``Confederate gold,’’ said his dad.

That sense of discovery drives the searchers, who look past the humble parking lot and see a bustling Civil War fort.
It’s all there, they say, under their boots.

``There’s enough work for us to do for the next 10,000 years’’ is another thing Sais likes to say. And he and his amateur volunteers are just getting started.

Information from: The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com

 


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