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TV Review: Orange is the New Black (Season 6)

The fifth season of Orange is the New Black focused on the riot incited by Poussey’s death and all the torture, abuse and injustice it entailed, making it a very difficult act to follow.

The sixth season follows the inmates’ transfer to max (maximum security prison) after the riot ended and deals with the aftermath of Piscatella’s death – the guard who was accidentally killed by the riot guards and whose death is now being blamed on the inmates.

Season six maintains the drama and dark humour that we know and love, while remaining respectful to the sombre undertones of the plot. It opens with a simultaneously amusing and depressing scene of Suzanne, off her medication, hallucinating television shows starring our favourite inmates. It is somewhat jarring when put right next to the intense final scene of the last season, but it provides some much-needed cathartic relief from all the pain of season five.

It also gives Uzo Aduba more time to show off her incredible acting skills, which have never faltered since season one.

A new prison also means new faces. While there are lots of new supporting characters, there are two main ‘leaders’ of the different blocks, Barb and Carol, who are sisters in a longstanding war. Flashbacks reveal that back when they were teenagers they committed one of the most disturbing crimes that’s ever been presented in the show so far.

However, they don’t have much screen time since they each have their own secondary to do all their dirty work. In C block it’s Madison, or ‘Badison’, and in D block it’s ‘Daddy’. Both are entertaining characters given brief but intriguing backstories.

The move to another prison means many friends get separated, giving us the chance to see new pairings; Flaca and Cindy host a radio show together, while Suzanne helps protect Frieda against those who want to kill her.

A few recurring characters have gone too: Flaca’s usual sidekick Maritza has been moved to another prison and doesn’t appear for the whole season, and we only get a few glimpses of fan-favourite Sofia.

Alex arrives a few episodes into the season, but both her and Piper are gradually getting less screen time – and rightfully so since they quickly became the most boring characters in the show. With the way the season ends, there could be even fewer appearances from Piper as the series continues. With less focus on them, we get to learn more about characters like Cindy, Taystee and Frieda, with flashbacks to their lives as teenagers.

Unfortunately we also get a lot of time with the guards and superiors, especially Caputo and Natalie, a relationship that no one cares about.

Limited scenes with the guards are tolerable – Luschek can be pretty funny – but, after all, we are watching this show because of the inmates, and there’s certainly enough of them to keep the show going!

Having such a large cast is risky since there will always be characters you don’t like, but OITNB has many more good than bad. The writers are talented, able to give characters depth, whilst still knowing when to stop and bring in new ones rather than milking the same cow until it dries out. It’s clear Piper doesn’t have much purpose in the show anymore, which they realised and adapted to focus on the others instead.

While the season finale was nowhere near as dramatic as last season, it still had its fair share of twists and turns.

Overall, season six is just as good as previous seasons and the writers are doing their best to keep the show interesting.

It doesn’t look like they’ll let up anytime soon – it was renewed for season seven back in 2016 – which is great news for us, because we aren’t ready to say goodbye just yet.

Orange is The New Black is available to stream on Netflix now.

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A small team of student AI coders beats Google’s machine-learning code

Students from Fast.ai, a small organization that runs free machine-learning courses online, just created an AI algorithm that outperforms code from Google’s researchers, according to an important benchmark. Fast.ai’s success is important because it sometimes seems as if only those with huge resources can do advanced AI research. Fast.ai consists of part-time students keen to try their hand at machine learning–and perhaps transition into a career in data science.

It rents access to computers in Amazon’s cloud. But Fast.ai’s team built an algorithm that beats Google’s code, as measured using a benchmark called DAWNBench, from researchers at Stanford. This benchmark uses a common image classification task to track the speed of a deep-learning algorithm per dollar of compute power.

Google’s researchers topped the previous rankings, in a category for training on several machines, using a custom-built collection its own chips designed specifically for machine learning. The Fast.ai team was able to produce something even faster, on roughly equivalent hardware. “State-of-the-art results are not the exclusive domain of big companies,” says Jeremy Howard, one of Fast.ai’s founders and a prominent AI entrepreneur.

Howard and his cofounder, Rachel Thomas, created Fast.ai to make AI more accessible and less exclusive. Howard’s team was able to compete with the likes of Google by doing a lot of simple things, which are detailed in a blog post. These include making sure that the images fed to its training algorithm were cropped correctly: “These are the obvious, dumb things that many researchers wouldn’t even think to do,” Howard says.

The code needed to run the learning algorithm on several machines was developed by a collaborator at the Pentagon’s new Defense Innovation Unit, created recently to help the military work with AI and machine learning. Matei Zaharia, a professor at Stanford University and one of the creators of DAWNBench, says the Fast.ai work is impressive, but notes that for many AI tasks large amounts of data and significant compute resources are still key. The Fast.ai algorithm was trained on the ImageNet database in 18 minutes using 16 Amazon Web Service instances, at a total compute cost of around £40.

Howard claims this is about 40 percent better than Google’s effort, although he admits comparison is tricky because the hardware is different.

Jack Clark, director of communications and policy at OpenAI, a nonprofit, says Fast.ai has produced valuable work in other areas such as language understanding. “Things like this benefit everyone because they increase the basic familiarity of people with AI technology,” Clark says.