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Cheating or Not? – Students Figure Out How to Fool the AI Grading their Exams

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  • They say opportunity makes a thief. Here’s case study number 1.

If you’re getting sick of hearing about how the coronavirus has disrupted normal life, well, we’re in the same boat. Still, there’s no way around it, many things we took for granted have changed.

One of the most severely impacted facets of everyday life is something as simple as going to school. There’s a whole debate out there that we won’t be getting into, but it all boils down to one question – is it safe to send our kids to school?

Around the globe, the answer has been “no”. As a result, schools have had to put in place remote classroom solutions that have ranged from brilliant to… Less than brilliant, to put it nicely.

Many schools in the U.S. and the U.K., for example, make students take their exams online. To help their teachers deal with grading the exams, some of them have started relying on an AI.

The problem here is as that AI can be kind of stupid sometimes. Many students in both countries have been angered and reduced to tears because the AI’s grading algorithm is skewed or incorrectly calibrated.

Others, though, have found the AIs strict algorithms to be an easy avenue to better grades. Students as young as 12 have learned how to game the system, formatting their answers so that the AI gives them a perfect score.

That’s sometimes even if the answer is pure gobbledygook. Try learning that in a classroom.

“What’d you answer for #6?” “Moo moo correlation balance trade pistachios.”

From Zero to Hero

One of these students is seventh-grader Lazare Simmons. According to his mother Dana, she found her son crying after taking his history exam.

The boy had gotten a score of 50 out of 100. For those unfamiliar with the U.S. grading system, that’s not great. In fact, it’s a failing grade.

“He was like, I’m gonna have to get a 100 on all the rest of this to make up for this. He was totally dejected,” Mrs. Simmons – a history professor herself – told The Verge.

She tried to console Lazare, telling him that some teachers are harsh graders early in the semester but usually mellow out later on. But her son told her that the teacher wasn’t grading his answers.

He had gotten his results back in seconds after he had submitted the exam. No matter what kind of a super teacher you are, no human being can grade an exam so quickly.

Instead, an AI algorithm developed by a company called Edgenuity was the only one looking at what Lazare submitted. Simmons asked her son to submit some more assignments, so she could see how the system worked.

Since Edgenuity gives the user its preset correct answers, Lazare and Mrs. Simmons were able to deduce that the system was looking for specific keywords.

Together, the two figured out the best way to fool the AI. For every answer, Lazare now writes only two sentences, followed by a nonsensical list of keywords that he assumes the system is looking for.

Lo and behold, he’s getting a perfect score on every question. Human ingenuity 1, artificial intelligence 0.

Word Salad for Lunch

As an example of a perfect answer, Mrs. Simmons quoted the following prompt: “What was the advantage of Constantinople’s location for the power of the Byzantine Empire?”

“So you go through, okay, what are the possible keywords that are associated with this? Wealth, caravan, ship, India, China, Middle East, he just threw all of those words in,” she explained.

And the system swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Edgenuity’s website explains that the system is seriously only looking at keywords.

Give it what it wants, and it’ll give you a perfect score. It doesn’t matter how the answer is phrased.

We can all decide for ourselves if what the Simmons’ are doing is immoral. On one hand, they’re practically cheating on a school exam; on the other, the system in place is so dysfunctional that maybe it’s justified.

Lazare, at least, doesn’t seem to feel too bad about it.

“I wanted to game it because I felt like it was an easy way to get a good grade,” the boy said, shrugging away the moral dilemma.

‘Works Every Time’

Lazare isn’t alone in taking advantage of simplistic AI grading. One student, who wanted to remain anonymous, told The Verge that they simply copied the presented question to Edgenuity’s answer field.

According to them, all the keywords the AI was looking for were right there in the question. The system gave them a perfect score “pretty much every time”.

Austin Paradiso, another student, said his high school used Edgenuity and he too sometimes resorted to underhanded methods. And they worked every single time.

“I always tried to make the answer at least semi-coherent because it seemed a bit cheap to just toss a bunch of keywords into the input field,” Paradiso said.

“But if I was a bit lazier, I easily could have just written a random string of words pertinent to the question prompt and gotten 100%.”

Fight the System

In the U.K., however, students have not welcomed easy grades. That might be because for many, a flawed AI grading system has cost them their place in college.

According to Wired, roughly 40% of students taking their college placement-deciding A-level exams have gotten lower scores with the AI than they would’ve with a human teacher.

The system used in the exam is particularly unfair because it punishes students for factors beyond their control. The AI looks, among other things, data from past students of the particular school when assigning individual grades.

The process is complex, but the whole domino effect leads to things like school funding affecting the students’ grades. And no matter what you think, that shouldn’t be a factor when assigning grades.

The students have been so angry that they’ve taken to the streets in protest. And it’s not hard to see why. Missing out on college because of an AI that is too dumb to understand your exam answers must not feel great.

An AI overthrowing humanity is a common science fiction trope. In reality, it seems these dumb things should at least learn to read before they can get to that point.

Want to tell your strange story? Tell us about it and it could be featured on Oddee. You can remain fully anonymous.



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Odd

Man Leaves 42,000% Tip For Servers of Shuttered Restaurant

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  • Want to be a hero this holiday season? Be like this guy and tip generously for your takeout.
  • The anonymous man tipped $3K on a $7 beer the day before the restaurant shuttered for coronavirus.

If you’ve been following the ongoing devastation from the pandemic, restaurants are heading into a long, cold, dark winter. Usually, corporate holiday parties, family get-togethers, and drunken revelers fill their dining rooms this time of year. With the increasing danger from COVID, states are making the tough decision to halt indoor dining hoping to tamp down the ever-increasing daily record for total cases.

Restaurants are Suffering

Photo by Sam Dan Truong on Unsplash

Alongside the restaurant owners devastated by the pandemic are the restaurant workers. Servers and bartenders depend on tips for their survival, and with takeout only, they’re struggling to make ends meet. For one restaurant in Cleveland, the struggle became insurmountable.

Nighttown opted for a voluntary shut down to protect its employees and guests in the face of rising infection rates in Ohio. Their last service, for the time being, was brunch on Sunday.

An unnamed gentleman stopped by for a single beer, which came to $7.02. He filled out the receipt, told the server to split the tip with the rest of the waitstaff, and carried on with his day. Brendan Ring, Nighttown’s owner, ran after him when he saw the amount. The guest left a whopping $3,000 tip on his seven-dollar beer.

Ring chased down the man to make sure he didn’t mean $3, $30, or even $300. The anonymous hero said it was no mistake when Ring caught up with him and that he’d be back when Nighttown reopened.

You, Too, Can Be A Hero

Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash

For a country struggling to pay its mortgage or put groceries on the table, $3,000 is make-or-break money. According to the Associated Press, four servers worked the brunch service, but $750 might be their rent for the month.

The landscape of the restaurant industry is dramatically changing. If you only eat at Olive Garden and PF Chang’s, you may not notice. But 100,000 restaurants closed between March and August of this year, and the number’s just going to keep growing. It’s not the big chains feeling the pinch of the recession either, it’s all the awesome neighborhood spots with the best dumplings, wings, or tacos.

Even for long-established neighborhood spots, increasing rent, razor-thin margins, and having to shutter or limit service for months at a time without sustained relief from the government has just been too much.

Takeout will be the only way we can enjoy our favorite spots this winter, so show your neighborhood restaurants some love.

And if this guy can leave $3000 to help a restaurant in his community, then we can all leave at least 25 percent when we pick up our takeout.

 



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50-year-old Newspapers Debunk JFK Conspiracy Theory

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  • It took almost six decades for someone to check the date on an article? Man, they’re correct when they say newspapers are a dead medium.

Who doesn’t like a good conspiracy theory? Even if you don’t believe in them, they’re entertaining stories to read – the more outlandish the theory, the better!

Conspiracy theories are usually spawned by significant historical events, especially ones where someone important dies under murky circumstances. One of the most significant of such in – at least relatively – recent history is the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Even if you’re like the author here and your birth was still decades off when it happened, you know the scene. JFK sits in an open-topped car in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963, when someone puts a bullet through his head.

The official story is that Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK with a rifle from the window of the Texas School Book Depository. Alternative theories, some of them wilder than others, posit otherwise.

Many of the conspiracy theories have been put to rest as impossible after decades of ongoing investigations. Now, one such investigation, published by The Conversation, has disproven yet another theory.

The search for truth was carried out by Gonzalo Soltero, professor of Narrative Analysis at the School of Higher Studies, National Autonomous University of Mexico. The theory Soltero researched claimed that Oswald – who always said that he was just a “patsy” – was in league with Cuban communists to kill JFK.

This conspiracy theory was put out to the world by one man – Mexican reporter Óscar Contreras Lartigue. But as Soltero came to find out 57 years later, Contreras’ story had one major hole in it that disproves the whole thing.

The City of Cold War

To get the proper historical context, we need to first take a little trip down the memory lane. Our destination is Mexico City, circa 1963.

The Cold War was at its hottest at the time. The East and West had just come out of the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before, barely avoiding global nuclear conflict.

In Europe, the communist East German government had started building the Berlin Wall in 1961. A couple years earlier, in 1959, rebels led by Fidel Castro had overthrown Cuba’s government and established a communist regime right just some miles off the U.S. coast.

Mexico, then, was a bit of an oddity in this environment. The country hadn’t really taken sides in the Cold War, and both Western democracies and Eastern communist dictatorships has embassies in Mexico City.

Due to this relatively welcoming atmosphere, political outsiders of all kinds flocked to the Central American nations. Exiles and refugees from Soviet states, American communists fleeing the Red Terror, and those sympathetic to the newly-founded Castroist Cuba all flocked to Mexico.

As such, Mexico City was a playground for opposing intelligence organizations. Both the American CIA and the Soviet KGB competed with each other to steal the enemy regime’s secrets.

A Dark Pact

It should come as no surprise then that Oswald – a self-proclaimed Marxist – found himself in Mexico City on September 27, 1963. According to official intelligence from Cuban and Soviet embassies, he was there to try and secure a visa to either of the communist countries.

However, his efforts proved fruitless. A few days later, on October 2, Oswald traveled back to the U.S.

That’s the official story. There’s a catch, though. Oswald spent five days in Mexico City – neither American, Soviet, or Mexican intelligence agencies know what he did during three of those days.

This is where Contreras’ conspiracy theory comes into play. Contreras, in his own words, met Oswald at a pro-Castro campus group at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (NAUM). He had been there to seek help for getting his Cuban visa.

Contreras claimed that Oswald spent two days with the campus group, and then later met them again. This time, however, the meeting was at a Cuban embassy.

The theory implies that during that meeting, Oswald and the Cuban regime struck some kind of a pact. Perhaps Oswald was offered a visa, maybe even citizenship, for assassinating JFK.

The CIA caught up to Contreras’ story and, in 1967, an agent interrogated Contreras about his story. He said that he had only told of his encounter once before – to his editor, shortly after JFK shot in 1963.

However, Contreras refused to go into details. He only said that the word “assassination” was never used directly.

One Fatal Mistake

And so, the conspiracy theory that Cuba hired Oswald to kill the U.S. president lived on. As late as 2015, reporters and authors writing on the JFK assassination found Contreras’ story credible.

It does sound believable – that is if you ignore one simple fact that Soltero has only recently discovered.

You see, it turns out that Contreras was most likely nowhere near Mexico City when he claimed to have met Oswald.

Soltero got hung up on one oddity in Contreras’ account. Contreras claims that he was studying law at NAUM in 1963. He then supposedly fled the campus in 1964 to escape political persecution and moved to his native Tampico.

Soltero, however, knew that college newspapers aren’t common, and Contreras was a law student, not a journalism major. Who, then, was the newspaper editor he presumably told about his encounter with Oswald in 1963?

As Soltero started digging deeper, he discovered a local Tampico newspaper called El Sol de Tampico. It ran a Sunday gossip column titled Crisol. And who else was writing stories about weddings, quinceañeras, and other local events for Crisol but Óscar Contreras.

Soltero found stories published between June and October 1963. That is, during the timeframe when Contreras supposedly met Oswald in Mexico City.

“A political correspondent may live far from where his newspaper is published. But for a gossip columnist, that would be dereliction of duty,” said Soltero.

A Dud of a Story

And just like that, the house of cards that was Contreras’ story comes tumbling down. The man himself died in 2016, so he can never confirm it, but it seems highly unlikely that he was in Mexico City together with Oswald.

That’s not to say that Oswald couldn’t have met with Cuban communists and agreed to kill JFK. There are those three blank days in Oswald’s travel schedule that remain a mystery.

One thing is certain, though. Contreras wasn’t there in Mexico City to see the events play out the way he said they did.

We’re not sure if we should be more astonished by the amateurish mistake that Contreras made, or how long it took to uncover it. If you claim to be somewhere on a certain date, at least make sure there’s no written record of you clearly being some place else.

But hey, as we said in the beginning, at least this story made for a fun little exploration of Cold War intrigue.



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Mom Died and was Found a Year After

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  • The story only gets weirder, and sadder, from here.

The mom was found under a pile of clothes and an autopsy determined that she had been decomposing there for at least a year.

An officer showed up to the residence and while talking to the residents, the following conversation was overheard over the call to the dispatcher:

“Who is this upstairs?” the deputy questioned. “That’s your mother?”

“How long has she been deceased?”

“Years?”

“You don’t know how long she’s been deceased?”

This is when they found her, 56-year-old Laronda Jolly. Her four adult children were living with her at the time, and all of them are intellectually disabled.

None of them told anyone that she had died.

“She was on a bed, they piled clothes on top of her body and they stayed in the apartment with their decaying mother,” said Laronda’s brother, Anthony Jolly. “They knew better, but they were going by what their mother said, they were obeying their mother’s wishes – just let her lay there, no matter what. Don’t call anybody, and that’s what they done.”

“For them to stay in that apartment with your own mother’s decaying body, I can’t understand it — and I guess I never will understand it.”

The last time Jolly had talked to her was “well over two years ago.”

“I started going down there, and my nieces and nephews would say, ‘Well she’s asleep. You can’t see her right now.’ I would say, ‘Well all I want to do is see my sister. If I can just see her face I’ll be fine and I’ll leave you alone,’” he said.

He knows now that he was intentionally misled by his nieces and nephews — a 30-year-old woman, two 27-year-old twin boys and a 27-year-old sister–and while on the phone he wasn’t speaking to his sister, but instead one off the kids that was impersonating her.

“They lied every time,” he said. “They would not tell me the truth.”

Jolly attempted to have a welfare check done but police reported that she was not home at the time. One of the nieces told him that they were “obeying their mother’s wishes to let (her) lay there,” he said. “That’s what they told me, but everything else they told me is a lie. So, you know, I’m not sure if I believe that, either.”

There were no signs of trauma or foul play but because of the year long decomposition, the exact manner of death may never be known. No charges have been filed against the siblings, whose housing and needs are now being assisted by a local ministry.

Jolly still wants to know what happened to his sister.

“She was a person that once you met her, most people would just fall in love with my sister because she was just that kind of person,” he said, according to WSMV. “She could talk to anybody and talk about anything to anybody.”

“If she had a health condition,” he told WKRN, “I didn’t know about it.”

 

 



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