Monthly Archives: June 2016

June 27, 2016

My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard

The 1980s were a good time to get into the incarceration business. The prison population was skyrocketing, the drug war was heating up, the length of sentences was increasing, and states were starting to mandate that prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their terms. Between 1980 and 1990, state spending on prisons quadrupled, but it wasn’t enough. Prisons in many states were filled beyond capacity. When a federal court declared in 1985 that Tennessee’s overcrowded prisons violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, CCA made an audacious proposal to take over the state’s entire prison system. The bid was unsuccessful, but it planted an idea in the minds of politicians across the country: They could outsource prison management and save money in the process. Privatization also gave states a way to quickly expand their prison systems without taking on new debt. In the perfect marriage of fiscal and tough-on-crime conservatism, the companies would fund and construct new lockups while the courts would keep them full.

A long investigative piece that is well worth your time.

June 25, 2016

We know where the world’s loneliest species came from

The so-called Devils hole pupfish survives within one of the driest places in the world, in the heart of the Mojave desert in the US.

Each fish is less than one inch-long (2.5cm), and perhaps fewer than 50 individuals survive.

Even more remarkably, every member of this species has existed in the wild, since they first appeared thousands of years ago, within an area no bigger than the living room in your house.

June 24, 2016

Magic out of mould: inside the world’s wildest restaurant

Magnus Nilsson, the 32-year-old chef at Fäviken, Sweden’s premier fine-dining restaurant, is not fond of repeating himself, but there is one sentence he repeats with such frequency and resolute force that it takes on the quality of a koan: “Do it once, perfectly.”

June 22, 2016

AI, Deep Learning, and Machine Learning: A Primer

Things are clearly progressing rapidly when it comes to machine intelligence. But how did we get here, after not one but multiple “A.I. winters”? What’s the breakthrough? And why is Silicon Valley buzzing about artificial intelligence again?

A great presentation by Frank Chen.

June 18, 2016

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Recurrent Neural Networks

There’s something magical about Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs). I still remember when I trained my first recurrent network for Image Captioning. Within a few dozen minutes of training my first baby model (with rather arbitrarily-chosen hyperparameters) started to generate very nice looking descriptions of images that were on the edge of making sense. Sometimes the ratio of how simple your model is to the quality of the results you get out of it blows past your expectations, and this was one of those times. What made this result so shocking at the time was that the common wisdom was that RNNs were supposed to be difficult to train (with more experience I’ve in fact reached the opposite conclusion). Fast forward about a year: I’m training RNNs all the time and I’ve witnessed their power and robustness many times, and yet their magical outputs still find ways of amusing me. This post is about sharing some of that magic with you.

The best tutorial I’ve read on NLP-friendly RNNs.