Light Friday: Cracking the Jeopardy! Code

Plus: Brain-Controlled Prosthetic Limbs and Earth from the ISS.

Cracking the Jeopardy! Code

We’ve seen machines dominate their fleshy counterparts in Jeopardy! matches before, but humans seem to be catching on to the advantages of using technological might to beat their trivia opponents. Recent Jeopardy! champion Roger Craig attributed his victory streak, which included setting the record for single-day earnings, to a computerized learning system that helped him crack the Jeopardy! code.

With a Ph.D. in computer science, Craig developed his own web application and a variety of supporting programs to analyze and train himself on key dynamics of the game. His system discovered that high-value questions primarily derive from academic fields, such as art, science, biology and architecture; while low-value categories tend to focus on food, “firsts” and inventions.

“The Jeopardy! archive stores hundreds of thousands of questions asked on the show in its long history. What Craig’s web application does is group these questions into subject clusters, and then asks a user trivia questions from across a variety of fields,” tech blog Tecca explains. “If you choose to do so, you can concentrate on subjects most likely to come up for Double Jeopardy questions instead of those that don’t, like fashion and food. The web application also tracks the number of correct and incorrect answers, so you’d know if you need to study a particular area more than others.”

The system helped him get on a seven-day winning streak that netted $231,200, as well as achieving the record for highest single-day earnings ($77,000). He also employed his method in winning Jeopardy!‘s Tournament of Champions, bringing in an additional $250,000. Craig hopes to use the technological as an educational aid.

“I’m glad that most people are realizing that’s it’s not really what I did that’s interesting, but instead how I did it,” he told Tecca. “I believe these methods and technology are the future of learning.”

Here’s a video of Craig explaining how he did it:

From Steven Dean on Vimeo.

The Skywalker Hand

Luke Skywalker’s replacement hand allowed him to maintain the same ease of control and fluidity of motion as his old one, even letting him swing a lightsaber. Real-world prosthetics are swiftly making strides toward similarly sophisticated artificial limbs that could provide precise and lifelike control.

A team of researchers from Southern Methodist University is developing prosthetic limbs that integrate fiber optic technology to establish signal transmission between the brain and the limb, allowing amputees to move their prosthetics seamlessly and receive sensations as with a flesh-and-blood body part. The project is being funded by the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and aims to overcome some of the hurdles in existing implant control systems.

“Where metallic implants might be rejected or corroded by the body’s natural processes, fiber optic technology can more easily be made compatible with living tissue,” Popular Science explains. “And optical technology can shrink signal channels down very small, so small that hundreds or even thousands of sensors could be embedded into a single fiber connecting brain and prosthetic.”

The new technology is likely to take the form of a cuff filled with optical cables that connects at one end to a prosthetic limb and at the other to severed nerves. The team has already solved one of the project’s major challenges by developing new micro-sensors sensitive enough to detect and trigger nerve stimulation.

“Let’s say you were trying to grab a coffee cup. Even a bleeding-edge, brain-based prosthetic would only offer a few degrees of movement, and because electrical signals are relatively slow, you couldn’t move as quickly as someone with a real arm,”’s Danger Room blog notes. “With a fiber-optics prosthetic, touching the cup would catalyze optical fibers to pulse a specific message out of infrared light through the hundreds of micro-sensors, which would stimulate sensory nerves that could then — as they do with a flesh-and-blood arm — transmit the specific, nuanced sensory message to the brain.”

The brain could then send feedback to the micro-sensors, which would change the pattern of infrared light moving through them to trigger highly specific movements in the limb. The technology may be close to a decade away from being ready for use. No word yet on the lightsaber’s progress.

A View of Earth from the ISS

Flying over our planet’s surface has never looked so beautiful. In this composite of 18 time-lapse photo sequences, put together by Michael König, we can see the Earth from the International Space Station’s perspective, complete with images of urban development, lightning storms and the Northern and Southern lights.

From Michael König on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend, folks.


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