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Robots Are Learning to Write Poetry

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Humans are not always the most literal of creatures. We make sense of the world through metaphors: The world is a stage. Love is a battlefield. Machines, however, are very literal. But what if we could teach robots how to create metaphors? 

That’s the idea behind Poetry for Robots, a collaboration between digital design agency Neologic Labs, the conference WebVisions, and Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. It’s not just a flight of whimsy, though the idea of robot-churned poetry is pretty neat. (And, in the case of some Twitter bots, not that far from reality already.)

Anyone who has searched through a stock image archive for an abstract notion like “freedom” or “sadness” could benefit. If robots could sift through metaphors, drawing connections and patterns between two abstract ideas like people do, it could make search engines more useful. Image searches could incorporate common metaphors. Searching for “time” might bring up sand, for instance. 

Poetry for Robots has a literary inspiration. In a lecture at Harvard in the late 1960s, the Argentine literary icon Jorge Louis Borges argued that the range of possible metaphors in the world isn’t necessarily infinite. Writers tend to return to the same themes of metaphor, connecting the same ideas over and over again. Borges uses the example of stars being like eyeslike stars looking down upon us. Borges may have been a little ahead of his time, but now algorithms can test his idea. 

First, the research team will crowdsource poetry written in response to 120 images. The site features stock imagery of things like waterfalls, corn fields at sunset, soaring birds, and train stations, designed to get users inspired to pen a quick verse. This database of poetry connected to images will hopefully then teach machines how to connect abstract ideas. Eventually, computers might even be able to write the poetry themselves. 

The project is still in the midst of collecting data, so unfortunately, there are no examples of robotic verse just yet. But go ahead and send in your own poetic musings here

[h/t: Motherboard via Open Culture]

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Control the World With a Wave of Your Hand Using This $30 Motion Sensor
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Kano

"Learn to code" is all the rage in kids' toys—even those aimed at preschoolers. As educational toys go, though, Kano's are pretty fun. Earlier this summer, Kano released the Lite Brite-esque Pixel Kit, an LED board that kids (or anyone, really) can program to change and visualize information using the coding tutorials on the Kano desktop app. Now, the company has come out with a stand-alone motion sensor that allows you to see the impact of your code with a wave of the hand.

The $30 sensor kit is only a little bigger than a 50-cent piece, and set-up is as easy as attaching two pieces to a USB port and plugging the cable into a computer. The Kano app will show you what to do next, walking you through a series of "challenges" that hold your hand through the process of coding the sensor to change what you see within the app, whether it's changing the color of an image or playing a virtual game of Pong by waving your hand in front of your computer. The sensor can register three axes of movement, so that you can control different actions by moving your hand left-right, up-down, and forward-backward.

A blue Kano booklet of instructions sits next to a small blue sensor that looks like a periscope.
Kano

The tutorials vary from the very simple (make an arrow rotate according to gestures) to the slightly more involved (build a Pong game). But all of them are made extremely simple with drag-and-drop blocks of JavaScript code, step-by-step instructions, and highlights on the correct choices. If you put your code in the wrong place, the tutorial won't move on. No matter what your real level of understanding of the underlying code, you're going to build that Pong game. Hopefully, you'll pick up a few tricks on the way, though, which will eventually allow you to build your own games.

The motion sensor kit is the most accessible of Kano's products, both in terms of its price (the Pixel Kit is $80 compared to the motion sensor's $30) and the number of things you can do with it. The gesture-based controller can be used to play games, make moving art, or control music. You don't have to have any other Kano equipment, but if you do, you can plug it into other kits to make, say, a motion-activated Pixel Kit light show.

You can buy the Motion Sensor Kit on Kano's website starting today.

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Meet the 17-Year-Old World Champion of Excel Spreadsheets
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If you spend hours creating spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel for your office job, that work may one day pay off. The Excel World Championship recently awarded its winner a $7000 prize for demonstrating his “skills and creativity” while completing a series of tasks in the program. But the new champion doesn’t come from the professional world—he’s a student at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia.

As the New York Post reports, John Dumoulin has won a total of $10,000 in prize money for his Excel expertise. He first discovered his talent when he took a Microsoft Excel 16 certification exam for an IT class at his high school. His score was the highest in the state and it qualified him to join other spreadsheet aficionados at a national competition in Orlando, Florida.

After snagging the $3000 cash prize at that event, he moved on to compete with pros from around the world at the Microsoft Excel World Championship in Anaheim, California. The competition included 150 participants from 49 countries. Never in its history has an American taken home the grand prize, but this year Dumoulin became the first.

The teenager first became acquainted with Excel in middle school, when he made spreadsheets to track the performance of his favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. He told the Associated Press that he’d like to one day make a career out of doing data analytics for baseball teams. For now, his focus is on graduating from high school.

[h/t New York Post]

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