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The Million Dollar Programming Prize

Netflix’s bounty for improving its movie-recommendation software is almost in the bag. Here is one team’s account

9 min read
Photo of trophy.
Randi Klett

It’s 7:50 p.m. on 1 October 2007 at AT&T Labs, in Florham Park, N.J., and three of us are frantically hitting the “refresh” buttons on our browsers. We have just submitted our latest entry in the year-old Netflix Prize competition, which offers a grand prize of US $1 million for an algorithm that’s 10 percent more accurate than the one Netflix uses to predict customers’ movie preferences. Although we have not reached that milestone, we are hoping at least to do better than anyone else has done so far; if we can make it to 8 p.m. with the best score, we’ll win a $50 000 Progress Prize. For most of the summer we’d been ahead of our nearest rivals by a comfortable margin, and as recently as 36 hours before this moment, our victory still seemed to be a slam dunk.

The previous day, though, the lead had started to slip away from us. First, the teams then in fifth and sixth places merged, combining their talents to vault into second place, making us nervous enough to submit our best effort, which we had been saving for a rainy day. But before our improved score appeared, we were hit by another combination when our two remaining serious rivals joined forces to tie us. Worse, their entry had come 72 seconds before ours, meaning that in the case of a tie, they’d win.

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AI’s Grandmaster Status Overshadows Chess Scandal

Magnus Carlsen-Hans Niemann controversy underscores humans’ perpetual underdog role

4 min read
Two men playing chess

Magnus Carlsen [left] and Hans Niemann compete during the 2022 Sinquefield Cup at the Saint Louis Chess Club.

Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club

Last week Magnus Carlsen, the world chess champion, directly accused Hans Niemann, a U.S. grandmaster, of cheating during their game at the Sinquefield Cup, in St. Louis, Mo. He thus made plain an accusation he had been hinting at for weeks.

Carlsen has so far provided no evidence to back up his charge, nor has he specified how the cheating took place. Everyone agrees, however, that if there was cheating, then it must have involved computers, because nothing else could dismay Carlsen, whose rating of 2856 is higher than that of any other player. And everyone seems to have chosen sides.

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IHMC’s Nadia Is a Versatile Humanoid Teammate

This robust research platform is still humble enough to teleoperate

7 min read
Several different views of a headless black humanoid robot demonstrating its flexibility
IHMC

The Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) is well known in bipedal robotics circles for teaching very complex humanoid robots to walk. Since 2015, IHMC has been home to a Boston Dynamics Atlas (the DRC version) as well as a NASA Valkyrie, and significant progress has been made on advancing these platforms toward reliable mobility and manipulation. But fundamentally, we’re talking about some very old hardware here. And there just aren’t a lot of good replacement options (available to researchers, anyway) when it comes to humanoids with human-comparable strength, speed, and flexibility.

Several years ago, IHMC decided that it was high time to build their own robot from scratch, and in 2019, we saw some very cool plastic concepts of Nadia—a humanoid designed from the ground up to perform useful tasks at human speed in human environments. After 16 (!) experimental plastic versions, Nadia is now a real robot, and it already looks pretty impressive.

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