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The 16-Year-Old Who's Smarter than Einstein

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A 16-year-old girl from Essex, England made headlines in February for a shocking scandal of the academic variety: After a wild weekend out with some friends from school taking the Mensa IQ test, she came away with an intelligence score a single point higher than Albert Einstein’s.

Lauren Marbe, self-professed normal teenager with a fondness for acrylic nails and getting dressed up for nights out, tested with an IQ of 161—higher than Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and celebrated cosmologist Stephen Hawking, and both Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and co-founder Paul Allen, all of whom are estimated by experts to have IQs topping out at 160. Despite maintaining a consistent record of straight-A grades and acing her science GCSE—a British standardized test—a year before her peers were scheduled to take it, Marbe surprised her parents, teachers, and herself by so thoroughly bucking both the “Essex girl” and dumb blonde stereotypes.

With her new membership in Mensa and certified intelligence, this teenage genius can be confident that she has a wealth of potential at her disposal, which she hopes to put to use either as a singer and actress on London’s West End or in studying for an architecture degree at the University of Cambridge, consistently ranked one of the best educational institutions in the world. She’ll be able to wear her 161 score as a badge of honor, and there has to be some thrill in thinking, “I’m smarter than Einstein!”

Detractors, however, point out that IQ scores are poor measures of actual intelligence, failing to account for all of its often untestable dimensions. While high-IQ individuals like Einstein, Charles Darwin, and chess Grandmasters Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer may go on to successful, celebrated careers as intellectuals, others may as easily fade quietly into the woodwork. Dr. Evangelos Katsioulis of Greece, currently the living holder of the highest IQ in the world at 198, signs off as “MD, MSc, PhD,” emphasizing to the world that he is all kinds of smart. Nevertheless, his achievements are relatively modest compared to evolution and E=mc2. (He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.)

It’s also important to note that Einstein’s 160 IQ was never official—that is, he was never tested for it. Today’s standardized intelligence tests did not exist at the time Einstein was living; his supposed IQ is an estimate based on his achievements, much like the supposedly high IQs of fellow historical “geniuses” like Descartes, Mozart, Galileo Galilei, and Immanuel Kant, some of whom were estimated to have higher scores than Einstein. In that case, Lauren Marbe’s achievement isn’t the one point she has over Einstein, but what she eventually does with it. After all, IQ ain’t nothing but a number.

Curious how you might stack up against the geniuses of yesterday and today? Check out the IQ Test Gift Box in the Mental Floss store—get one for yourself and one for a friend, and fight over who gets to be Einstein and who gets to be Lauren Marbe.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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