Spark 138 - February 20 & 23, 2011

On this episode of Spark: Rap Metrics, Machine Poets, and The Breakup 2.0. Click below to listen to the whole show, or download the MP3 (runs 54:00).

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The Breakup 2.0

Photo by Jose Izquierdo

Ah, young love. It's formative and all-encompassing and central to what makes us human. When we're young, we pair up and we split up - a lot. But Ilana Gershon thinks that the way young people break up today has changed dramatically because of social media. Nora speaks to her about her latest book The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media. (Runs 10:52)

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India Calling

Photo by Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan

Many of us have heard this tale before: kids born and raised in North America by immigrant parents who as adults, move to their parent's home country to live. Anand Giridharadas did just this. Nora talks to him about his latest book India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking which documents his move to India (where his parents emigrated from decades earlier) and his observations on the way technology is transforming Indian culture. (Runs 11:24)

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Welcome, Our New Computer Overlords

Photo by Johnson Cameraface

Recently, IBM's trivia-game supercomputer Watson competed in a three-part tournament on Jeopardy. The computer played against two of Jeopardy's best contestants - Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. And Watson won. By a lot. (Prompting Ken Jennings to write the hilarious "I for one welcome our new computer overlords" under his correct final answer). But how does a computer make sense of trivia questions anyway? Nora speaks with Noah Smith, a computer science professor who specializes in language technologies. Although he's not directly involved with the Watson trivia computer, we wanted to get his take on the challenges of designing automated question answering. (Runs 6:38)

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Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Digital Night

Photo by Moira Clune

Machines can do a lot of "human" things - play Jeopardy, correct our grammar, and imitate our voices. But can they understand poetry? Enough to translate not only the meaning but the form into another language? Nora speaks with Michael Galvez, Product Manager at Google Translate about a recent Poetic Machine Translation research project at Google. (Runs 7:55)

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Photo by CATARSI_Onlus

The world of sports is flush with stats - you can know everything you want to know about any player or team. What if you could apply the same analytics to hip-hop MCs? Liban Ali Yusuf is a chemical engineering student at the University of Waterloo, and in his spare time he's created a program that measures, in a quantifiable way, a rapper's technical ability by applying statistical analysis using linguistic software. We'll also talk to him about a really cool online rhyme generator he's created. (Runs 10:41)

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