Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

This is a Google-y approach to the problem of ultra-reliability. Many of Google’s famously computation driven projects—like the creation of Google Maps—employed literally thousands of people to supervise and correct the automatic systems. It is one of Google’s open secrets that they deploy human intelligence as a catalyst. Instead of programming in that last little bit of reliability, the final 1 or 0.1 or 0.01 percent, they can deploy a bit of cheap human brainpower. And over time, the humans work themselves out of jobs by teaching the machines how to act. “When the human says, ‘Here’s the right thing to do,’ that becomes something we can bake into the system and that will happen slightly less often in the future,” Teller said.

- A simple wisdom;  humans collaborating with machines is best bet we currently have for a successful AI solution (via here). 

Quote of the Day

The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

- Alberto Brandolini

Friday, August 29, 2014

Daphne Koller on MOOCs

Yet another excellent Econtalk interview (If you haven't already started listening to Russ Robert's podcast, you are missing out on Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge):

Russ: You mentioned Udacity. Sebastian Thrun launched Udacity with a great deal of fanfare, and a great deal of resources. And the early offerings, some of them were quite spectacular, and quite successful in the sense that a lot of people took the classes. And he got very demoralized by his experience in trying to take that material into a university. Do you understand why? I don't, fully. And as a result, as you said, they have shifted more toward corporate training and other areas. I don't get it. What are your thoughts?

Daphne: I think one of the experiences that caused Sebastian to shift away from the original trajectory was the experience that he had with San Jose State, where he tried to take some of the courses, or at least the philosophy behind this teaching, and apply it to remedial classes. I think the real struggle is that students in these remedial classes are ones for whom the educational system has largely failed. That is, they didn't develop in school, in high school, the study skills that they needed in order to succeed. Which is why they are in the developmental track. And if you take those students and you just plunk them in front of a computer, I don't think it's a great recipe for success. Whereas there are other populations of learners that this is a much more successful model for.

Russ: So, his discouragement was the fact that they didn't do very well in the tests and retention or whatever measures that were used. But I thought it's sure awfully early to be turning your back on this technology because of, really, one data point. I don't get it. Is there more to it than that? That you think?

Daphne: I agree with you; and that's why we have not turned our back on this technology. I think it's important to identify the right--you are not going to find a silver bullet to education. There's not going to be a single technology that works well for all types of content and all populations. So I think that particular instance was a mismatch between the technology and the kinds of learners at which it was aimed. I think those learners, and there are studies that prove that benefit tremendously from more blended learning approach; and some of the other results even in San Jose State as well as a number of our partners, show significant improvements in learning. Because when you do blended learning that involves both technology and some kind of face-to-face interaction, the technology that we're currently using in terms of the open access, the ones that go direct to consumers, they work really well for a different type of population. And that's great.


Quote of the Day

That's why I'm skeptical of people who look at some catastrophic failure of a complex system and say, "Wow, the odds of this happening are astronomical. Five different safety systems had to fail simultaneously!" What they don't realize is that one or two of those systems are failing all the time, and it's up to the other three systems to prevent the failure from turning into a disaster.

- Raymond Chen

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sleep Hygiene

Ask a good sleeper for her secret, and she won't reel off a list of elaborate evening rituals or bedroom modifications; she'll probably just look blank and say, "Nothing". That might be because she's lucky enough not to need sleep hygiene. But then again, as the dissenting sleep expert Guy Meadows points out, it could be because there's something wrong with the sleep hygiene approach itself. As every insomniac knows, the one way to guarantee wakefulness is to try really hard to fall asleep – which is why, by 5am, once you're resigned to the next day being ruined, it's often easy to doze off. Could getting obsessed with sleep hygiene have a similar self-defeating effect?

"The problem with all these props is that they erode people's trust in their natural ability to fall asleep," says Meadows, author of The Sleep Book and its accompanying smartphone app. The danger of fixating too much on sleep hygiene (Earplugs? Check! Blackout curtains? Check! Warm milk? Check!) is that it reinforces the belief that you're reliant on such things. Even when these techniques work, Meadows argues, they do so by rendering your sleep more fragile, and more easily disrupted the first night you're away from home, or for some other reason can't get everything just so.


Oliver Burkeman

Quote of the Day

Books can not be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory... In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man's freedom.

- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Quote of the Day

Terrorist', noun: 1. Someone my government tells me is a terrorist; 2. Someone my President decides to kill.

- Glenn Greenwald

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Learning Myth: Why I'm Cautious About Telling My Son He's Smart



My 5-year-­old son has just started reading. Every night, we lie on his bed and he reads a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: last night the word was “gratefully.” He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, “Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.” I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell­-tale signs of a “growth­ mindset.” But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.

- More here from Salman Khan

Quote of the Day

My biggest problem with modernity may lie in the growing separation of the ethical and the legal.

- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

Monday, August 25, 2014

Quote of the Day

Better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.

- Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance