Why Are Erasers Pink?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

A little while back I mentioned that Google Translate had gotten a lot better overnight when they switched to a new machine-learning algorithm. Their voice recognition got better too. And so did its question-answering capability.

I was chatting about this at Christmas with my family, and we all decided we should test it. But not with anything boring. We know that Siri and Google and other digital assistants can find nearby coffee shops or tell us the weather in Berlin. How about something harder? The conversation then morphed into something about pencils, and my mother said she only trusted erasers that are pink. But why are they pink, we wondered? Why indeed?

So there you have it? Not only did Google understand me, even with a cold, but it also understood the question and provided a brief and precisely on-point answer, which it read off very nicely. Impressive!

Anyway, this strikes me as close to Watson-esque. The thing is, this is not as simple a question as it seems. It requires a fairly sophisticated understanding of context and meaning. And finding a source that matches the question perfectly is also pretty amazing. If my phone can do that, how long before it can drive a car too?

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.