How does modern AI work? – Math for my mom

This is part of a series of posts aimed at helping my mom, who is not a scientist, understand what I’m up to as a mathematician.


Lately, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made some remarkable milestones. There are computers that are better than humans at the strategy board game GO and at Poker. Computers can turn pictures into short moving clips and can “enhance” blurry pictures as in television crime shows. They can also produce new music in the style of Bach or customized to your tastes. It’s all very exciting, and it feels pretty surreal; remember back when Skype video calling felt like the future?

I’m going to give you a broad overview for how these types of AI work, and how they learn. There won’t be any equations or algebra.

Continue reading How does modern AI work? – Math for my mom

The Battery Problem – Math for my Mom

(After writing some posts directed at other mathematicians, here is one for everybody.)

I’ve never actually done this.

I was sifting through some old issues of Crux Mathematicorum last Friday. For those of you who don’t know, this is a wonderful magazine that contains tons of math questions generally like those you would see in a math contest or olympiad, and the difficulty ranges from elementary school to undergraduate. In the September 2009 issue, I stumbled upon the following nice problem originally from the 2005 Brazilian Mathematical Olympiad. It is one of those problems that is mathematical in flavour and doesn’t need any previous math knowledge to begin thinking about the problem. For me, a nice problem is one that rewards you for thinking about it and can be attacked from many different angles.

So here’s the problem as stated:

We have four charged batteries, four uncharged batteries, and a flashlight which needs two charged batteries to work. We do not know which batteries are charged and which ones are uncharged. What is the least number of attempts that suffices to make sure the flashlight will work? (An attempt consists of putting two batteries in the flashlight and checking if the flashlight works or not.)

Continue reading The Battery Problem – Math for my Mom