Sunday, December 10, 2017

Richard Thaler - Nobel Lecture

Quote of the Day

Lead author Kitty Xu, formerly a Johns Hopkins graduate student and now a researcher at the social media site Pinterest, explains that when it comes to split-second decisions, the longer a decision has to take hold in the brain, the harder it is to reverse. “Stopping a planned behavior requires extremely fast choreography between several distinct areas of the brain, our research found,” she says. “If we change our mind about pressing the gas pedal even a few milliseconds after the original “go” message has been sent to our muscles, we simply can’t stop.” Xu adds that if we change our minds within roughly 100 milliseconds of making a decision, we can successfully revise our plans. If we wait more than 200 milliseconds, however, we may be unable to make the desired change—in other words we may land a speeding ticket or a tumble down the stairs. As we age, our neural communication slows, and that likely contributes to more of these glitches, Xu says.

The Neuroscience of Changing Your Mind

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

Wisdom Of The Week

In particular, there is no such thing as “general” intelligence. On an abstract level, we know this for a fact via the “no free lunch” theorem — stating that no problem-solving algorithm can outperform random chance across all possible problems. If intelligence is a problem-solving algorithm, then it can only be understood with respect to a specific problem. In a more concrete way, we can observe this empirically in that all intelligent systems we know are highly specialized. The intelligence of the AIs we build today is hyper specialized in extremely narrow tasks — like playing Go, or classifying images into 10,000 known categories. The intelligence of an octopus is specialized in the problem of being an octopus. The intelligence of a human is specialized in the problem of being human.

What would happen if we were to put a freshly-created human brain in the body of an octopus, and let in live at the bottom of the ocean? Would it even learn to use its eight-legged body? Would it survive past a few days? We cannot perform this experiment, but we do know that cognitive development in humans and animals is driven by hardcoded, innate dynamics. Human babies are born with an advanced set of reflex behaviors and innate learning templates that drive their early sensorimotor development, and that are fundamentally intertwined with the structure of the human sensorimotor space. The brain has hardcoded conceptions of having a body with hands that can grab, a mouth that can suck, eyes mounted on a moving head that can be used to visually follow objects (the vestibulo-ocular reflex), and these preconceptions are required for human intelligence to start taking control of the human body. It has even been convincingly argued, for instance by Chomsky, that very high-level human cognitive features, such as our ability to develop language, are innate.

Similarly, one can imagine that the octopus has its own set of hardcoded cognitive primitives required in order to learn how to use an octopus body and survive in its octopus environment. The brain of a human is hyper specialized in the human condition — an innate specialization extending possibly as far as social behaviors, language, and common sense — and the brain of an octopus would likewise be hyper specialized in octopus behaviors. A human baby brain properly grafted in an octopus body would most likely fail to adequately take control of its unique sensorimotor space, and would quickly die off. Not so smart now, Mr. Superior Brain.

The Impossibility of Intelligence Explosion

Friday, December 8, 2017

How Planting Trees Changed Lives In a Former Coal Community

John Everitt, the chief executive of the National Forest Company which oversees the project, says the simple act of planting trees has sparked a dizzying list of spin-off benefits, from tourism to a nascent woodland economy; from flood management to thriving wildlife; from improved health and wellbeing to housebuilding and jobs.

“We have embedded trees in and around where people live and made sure they are accessible rather than as a distant thing that they can visit occasionally. And we are seeing the benefits in all sorts of ways – and they are multiplying all the time.”

Everitt, an ecologist by training who has been heading the project for the past three years, fires off an impressive list of figures to back up his claims: the forest attracts 7.8 million visitors a year, it has brought about 5,000 new jobs with hundreds more in the pipeline, woodland industries from firewood to timber businesses are springing up, craft food and beer businesses are flourishing and thousands of people cycle or walk the hundreds of miles of pathways and trails each year.

But he says some of the most important benefits the area has witnessed are more difficult to quantify.

“People now have a sense of pride in this place and a sense of belonging and wellbeing. Children who were maybe nervous of the outdoors are benefitting from being able to walk or cycle or simply play in the woods.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The idea that humans will always have a unique ability beyond the reach of non-conscious algorithms is just wishful thinking. The current scientific answer to this pipe dream can be summarised in three simple principles: 1. Organisms are algorithms. Every animal – including Homo sapiens – is an assemblage of organic algorithms shaped by natural selection over millions of years of evolution. 2. Algorithmic calculations are not affected by the materials from which you build the calculator. Whether you build an abacus from wood, iron or plastic, two beads plus two beads equals four beads. 3. Hence there is no reason to think that organic algorithms can do things that non-organic algorithms will never be able to replicate or surpass. As long as the calculations remain valid, what does it matter whether the algorithms are manifested in carbon or silicon?

- Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Quote of the Day

I don’t usually ask people to change their behavior. Asking doesn’t work as well for me as action does. Instead of begging people to see things from my perspective, I give them two choices: meat or me.

I tell any friend or family member I plan to see on a monthly basis, “If you have to eat meat, I have to leave.”

- I Don’t Let Friends Eat Meat In My Presence

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Quote of the Day

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

- Charles Darwin

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Genetic History of Horses

A new review paper by Pablo Librado and colleagues in the October issue of Genetics tells the story of how the modern horse came to be. They track the genetic changes that led from wild horses living on the Eurasian steppes 5,500 years ago to the many highly specialized breeds of domestic horse that exist today.

Modern horses have been shaped into distinct breeds with different talents and specialties. Compare a racing thoroughbred with a draft horse like a Clydesdale —they’re extremely different animals now, but they both descend from the same ancestral group of wild horses. Comparing the DNA variation of all different kinds of domestic horses and their only living wild relative, Przewalski’s horse, can reveal the genetic changes that occurred during domestication. Librado and colleagues emphasize that another crucial tool used for tracing the horse lineage is ancient DNA, which is extracted from bones of animals that have been dead for thousands of years. The oldest successfully extracted DNA came from the skeleton of a wild horse that lived in the Yukon between 560,000 – 780,000 years ago. Such samples are especially important because there are very few wild horses left alive, and modern horse breeding practices have obscured the genomic signature of early domestication qualities like geography. Thanks to data from ancient DNA, geneticists have learned that a previously unknown group of now-extinct wild horses were also ancestors to modern horses.

Remarkably, the majority of Y-chromosomes carried by modern domestic horses can be traced back to just a few stallions. This could be because only a few males were originally used in domestication, but it could also result from carefully controlled modern breeding practices where a single male sires a huge number of offspring. The ultimate cause of this very low Y-linked diversity is still debated, but strict selective breeding has almost certainly contributed. In contrast, a much larger number of females than males contributed ancestry to domestic horses. According to Librado and colleagues, it seems that wild mares were continuously introduced into human-controlled herds throughout the process of domestication.

- More Here