Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wisdom Of The Week

  • Constant exposure to danger without its realization leaves human beings less concerned about what once terrified them, and therefore experience can have the paradoxical effect of having people learn to feel more immune than they should to the unlikely dangers that surround them.
  • Humans have limited capabilities to store and recall history. They are sensitive to reconstructed memories that erve current beliefs and desires. They conserve belief by being less critical of evidence that seems to confirm prior beliefs than of evidence that seems to disconfirm them. They distory both observations and believes in order to make them consistent. They prefer simple causalities, ideas that place causes and effects close to one another and that match big effects with big causes. 
  • Experience is rooted in a complicated causal system that can be described adequately only by a description that is too complex for the human mind. The more accurately reality is reflected, the less comprehensible the story, and the more comprehensible the story, the less realistic is it.
  • Underlying many of these myths is a grand myth of human significance: the idea that humans can, through their individual and collective intelligence actions, influence the course of history to their advantage.
  • The ambiguities of experience take many forms but can be summarized in terms of five attributes: 1) the causal structure of experience is complex; 2) experience is noisy; 3)history includes numerous examples of endogeneity, causes in which the properties of the world are affected by actions adapting to it; 4) history as it is known is constructed by participants and observes; 5) history is miserly in providing experience. It offers only small samples and thus large sampling eror in the inferences formed.
- Read rest of the brilliant post on FarnamStreet (from the book The Ambiguities of Experience by James March)

Quote of the Day

“I believe it’s more important to solve a problem than to preserve that problem to use on a campaign. I am willing to work or share or give all the credit to someone if the idea is good. I don’t believe we have to treat people we disagree with as an enemy. I’ve fought in a war. I have seen the enemy. We don’t have enemies in our political environment here.”

- Nathan Fletcher

Friday, March 30, 2012

Quote of the Day

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”

– Albert Ellis

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Listening To Shame - Brene Brown

Quote of the Day

"Outside of what it views as core interests, India is nowadays inactive on foreign policy. It has rarely been a force for good in the region or around the world. When the Maldives recently had a coup, New Delhi remained passive. During years of unrest in Myanmar, India rarely took a firm stance against the country's brutal military junta. And so on with other crises in the region in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and more. Compared to the clout it wants to have, New Delhi has paid only mild attention to its foreign policy. The Economist recently pointed out that India, with its population of 1.2 billion, has fewer diplomats than New Zealand, with a population of just 4 million!

Americans tend to believe that all good things go together. They befriend India, another democracy, so they will have identical views of foreign policy - the same friends and enemies. But India has different economic and geographic interests. Indians, for their part, think they can be free-riders on the international system, exploit the stability and security of the current set up and narrowly pursue their own interests. But for the world's largest democracy, that's an unworthy mission. India does have a tryst with destiny - and it isn't to buy cheap oil from whomever and damn the consequences."

- Fareed Zakaria

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Four Futures of Food - Imagine 2021

  • Future #1 Growth:
     Hydrogen-based fuels ensure clean power and allow us to continue using existing infrastructure. The steady climb of food costs that gripped the previous decade reversed and prices fell. New, more convenient foods keep busy young people fed, but keep them out of the kitchen. And safety is not an issue for the elderly, with meals that self-heat when removed from the package. Others, though, choose to pull back from these strong global flows. They see the abundance of fresh, frequently local produce as a call to simplify.
  • Future #2 Constraint:
    The global food web faces a number of potential major blows in the coming decade. Water shortages, oil scarcity, or, as in this scenario, the unexpected outbreak of zoonotic disease, could easily send the food web into chaos. In response, political actors of all sizes engage in the often-contentious process of designing regulations and agreements to curb the ef- fects of disruptions on the supply chain.
  • Future #3 Collapse:
    While all of the scenarios in this briefing assume a certain amount of environmental instability, in this scenario, a widespread refusal to prepare for and adapt to environmental problems has lead to persistent stresses on land and water resources. Cereals that form the cornerstone of national food security strategies, animal feed, and processed foods become very expensive and are hoarded by nations, companies, and individuals. A third of all the crops grown in North America and Europe are severely compromised and then obliterated. And an extended fuel crisis makes it increasingly hard even for people with resources to cope by having foods shipped to them from elsewhere.
  • Future #4 Transformation:
    ab grown, in-vitro meat has been approved for sale in the United States and parts of Asia and Latin America since the mid-2010s. In response, many of the commodity crops that had been used in meat production have been repurposed for more direct human consumption. The shift has slowed down the environmental costs of food production and has dramatically lowered hunger—but that’s just one of the factors disrupting global food trade.
    3-D food printers, which layer food and flavors in precise ways, have been commercialized for home use and are in one in ten kitchens in the developed world. In Africa and Latin America, community groups have begun investing in shared food printers. As a result, entrepreneurs all over the world have established businesses that sell downloadable recipes that work with 3-D printers for everything from snacks to entire meals.
- Four Futures of Food: Alternative Scenarios Briefing Report (via here)

Quote of the Day

"Optimism is not only a false but also a pernicious doctrine, for it presents life as a desirable state and man's happiness as its aim and object. Starting from this, everyone then believes he has the most legitimate claim to happiness and enjoyment. If, as usually happens, these do not fall to his lot, he believes that he suffers an injustice, in fact that he misses the whole point of his existence."

- Arthur Schopenhauer

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quote of the Day

"But even as light is opposed by darkness, science and reason have their enemies. Superstition and belief in magic are as old as man himself; for the intransigence of facts and our limitations in controlling them can be powerfully hard to take. Add to this the reflection that we are in an age when it is popular to distrust whatever is seen as the established view or the Establishment, and it is no wonder that anti-rational attitudes and doctrines are mustering so much support. Still, we can understand what encourages the anti-rationalist turn without losing our zeal for opposing it. A current Continuing Education catalogue offers a course description, under the heading "Philosophy", that typifies the dark view at its darkest: "Children of science that we are, we have based our cultural patterns on logic, on the cognitive, on the verifiable. But more and more there has crept into current research and study the haunting suggestion that there are other kinds of knowledge unfathomable by our cognition, other ways of knowing beyond the limits of our logic, which are deserving of our serious attention." Now "knowledge unfathomable by our cognition" is simply incoherent, as attention to the words makes clear. Moreover, all that creeps is not gold. One wonders how many students enrolled."

- W. V. O. Quine

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Is It Socially Acceptable To Be Bad At Math?

"I've emphasized the importance of both math literacy and math excellence in my article Is This How To Fix Our Math Education?  However, I've come to realize that we probably need a critical mass of the American population to be math literate precisely so that America as a whole will really begin to support math excellence.

It is socially acceptable to be bad at math in our country.  Perhaps it wasn't always this way.  And perhaps it doesn't have to be this way.  I think that the first step we need to take as a society is to make it socially unacceptable to be bad at math just like it's socially unacceptable to be bad at reading.

And perhaps one litmus test of this is the following scenario.  We are watching the popular show Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? and the topic is basic geometry. Let's say the grown contestant has to peek at the answer of the fifth grader standing next to him. When we don't find it funny, maybe then it means as a society we've started to value the importance of being math literate."

- More Here

The Hunger Games

I never read the Suzanne Collins book (nor planning to) but thanks to Jennifer Lawrence's performance, the movie was a pleasant surprise. Enjoyed it !!

Quote of the Day

“How can I set free anyone who doesn't have the guts to stand up alone and declare his own freedom? I think it's a lie – people claim they want to be free – everybody insists that freedom is what they want the most, the most sacred and precious thing a man can possess. But that's bullshit! People are terrified to be set free – they hold on to their chains. They fight anyone who tries to break those chains. It's their security…How can they expect me or anyone else to set them free if they don't really want to be free?”

- Jim Morrison

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On AI Class, Sebastian Thrun et al.

Six months ago while I was going nuts taking the AI-class, Steven Leckart (a freelance journalist) interviewed me about the experience of taking the AI class, my future plans on how to use the newly learnt skills etc. Now after 5 months his brilliant artcile  came out on wired magazine - The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever (the wait was worth it):

"After seeing Khan at TED, Thrun dusted off a PowerPoint presentation he’d put together in 2007. Back then he had begun envisioning a YouTube for education, a for-profit startup that would allow students to discover and take courses from top professors. In a few slides, he’d spelled out the nine essential components of a university education: admissions, lectures, peer interaction, professor interaction, problem-solving, assignments, exams, deadlines, and certification. While Thrun admired MIT’s OpenCourseWare—the university’s decade-old initiative to publish online all of its lectures, syllabi, and homework from 2,100 courses—he thought it relied too heavily on videos of actual classroom lectures. That was tapping just one-ninth of the equation, with a bit of course material thrown in as a bonus.

Thrun knew firsthand what it was like to crave superior instruction. When he was a master’s-degree student at the University of Bonn in Germany in the late 1980s, he found his AI professors to be clueless. He spent a lot of time filling in the gaps at the library, but he longed for a more direct connection to experts. Thrun created his PowerPoint presentation because he understood that university education was a system in need of disruption. But it wasn’t until he heard Khan’s talk that he appreciated he could do something about it. He spoke with Peter Norvig, Google’s director of research and his CS221 coprofessor, and they agreed to open up their next class to the entire world. Yes, it was an educational experiment, but Thrun realized that it could also be the first step in turning that old PowerPoint into an actual business."

Quote of the Day

"A quick look around at horse trader sites specializing in Thoroughbreds around the US reveals that non-performing animals are either left to literally rot, or dumped at cut-throat prices to amateurs willing to take them on for re-training in other disciplines. The number of those who will not even make it to public trading sites I can only imagine. Any flaw in conformation that limits their future use as jumpers or dressage prospects spells doom, as there is an abundance of others to choose from.

So talk about three horses being killed while the public is watching - sad, but peanuts. For the majority of horses (and greyhounds), the public is looking the other way. And 800 being killed on track doesn't reflect the true number of the ones left high and dry, with the same consequence. As long as the betting public views animals as equivalent to quarters in a slot machine, there's no cure in sight."

- via Andrew

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Wisdom Of The Week

"The list of possible breakthroughs inspired by shark physiology is a lengthy one.In addition to boasting all of the ordinary senses that humans have, sharks possess something called electroreception. A row of small holes that runs from head to tail picks up weak vibrations. This network, along with tiny, fluid-filled sacs in their snouts and chins known as ampullae of Lorenzini, helps sharks find fish buried in the sand because they can detect the electromagnetic fields generated by a fish's beating heart or gills. Other fish have a lateral line to sense movement, but they do not have the gelatinous material that serves as a conductor for electric vibrations, radiating these signals out to a shark's nervous system. Scientists across the United States are hoping to capitalize on sharks' unique voltage-charged gel for practical purposes.

University of San Francisco physics professor Brandon R. Brown has extracted the material from dead sharks to gauge its thermal sensitivity, while Case Western Reserve University nanoengineering professor Alexis Abramson has explored developing a synthetic gel with similar thermoelectric properties that could be used to convert waste heat, from devices such as a car engine, into usable electricity.

Then there are sharks' denticles, otherwise known as "skin teeth", which cover their bodies. Made up of crowns covered with hard enamel, they reduce friction by forcing the water to flow in channels, allowing sharks to move swiftly through the water. The type of denticles a shark has depends on the species: Lighter denticles maximize a shark's speed while providing slightly less protection from a predatory attack. Basking sharks have crowns that point in all directions, while short-fin mako sharks – some of the fastest swimmers in the sea – have smaller, lighter denticles. They are as strong as steel and carry an added benefit: By minimizing water turbulence, they allow sharks to hunt better by moving through the sea in near silence.

Ralph Liedert, a researcher at the University of Applied Sciences in Bremen, Germany, pioneered the idea of covering ships with artificial sharkskin to help them move smoothly by dramatically reducing biofouling (not to be confused with the more familiar biofueling). Biofouling, which occurs when barnacles, mussels, and algae latch onto ships, increases a vessel's drag resistance by as much as 15 percent. Liedert has produced an imitation sharkskin from elastic silicone that would reduce this fouling by 67 per cent, and he estimates that once a ship reached four to five knots, nearly all of these creatures would fly off the hull's surface."

- More here on what we can learn from Sharks

Quote of the Day

"If  we continue to treat politics as a reality show played for cheap theatrics, we increase the likelihood that the next chapter in the ongoing story of capitalism is going to be written somewhere else.”

- David Rothkopf

Friday, March 23, 2012

Precognition of Alan Turing

"Roughly speaking those who work in connection with the [Automated Computing Engine] will be divided into its masters and its servants. Its masters will plan out instruction tables for it, thinking up deeper and deeper ways of using it. Its servants will feed it with cards as it calls for them. They will put right any parts that go wrong. They will assemble data that it requires. In fact the servants will take the place of limbs. As time goes on the calculator itself will take over the functions both of masters and of servants. The servants will be replaced by mechanical and electrical limbs and sense organs...

The masters are liable to get replaced because as soon as any technique becomes at all stereotyped it becomes possible to devise a set of instruction tables which will enable the electronic computer to do it for itself. It may happen however that the masters will refuse to do this.

They may be unwilling to let their jobs be stolen from them in this way. In that case they would surround the whole of their work with mystery and make excuses, couched in well chosen gibberish, whenever any dangerous suggestions were made. I think that a reaction of this kind is a very real danger.

- Alan Turing's Lecture on the Automated Computing Engine

Quote of the Day

"It is not possible that any evil can befall a good man, unperturbed and serene he turns to meet every sally, all adversity he regards as exercise, a test, not punishment. Adversity is exercise. It matters not what you bear, but how you bear it."

- Seneca

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Turning Problem

100 years ago this year, the man who first conceived of the computer age was born. His name was Alan Turing. He was also a math genius, a hero of World War II and he is widely considered to be the father of artificial intelligence. But the world wasn't kind to Alan Turing. In 1952, he was arrested and convicted under a British law that prohibited "acts of gross indecency between men, in public or private."

In 1936, a young Alan Turing devised a machine that would ultimately change the world. You're staring at it right now--except Turing's "universal machine" was much, much simpler and totally imaginary. Nonetheless, he proved that with just a few simple ingredients, the machine could compute any mathematical problem that a human could compute.

- More Here on Radiolab

Quote of the Day

"If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begun upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time."

- Thomas De Quincey

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Quote of the Day

"Spring is arriving early in a meteorological sense in the Eastern U.S., and in an astronomical sense, making its earliest arrival since 1896."

-  More Here

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Obesogens & Obesity

You may be surprised to learn that most of us are being exposed to many hormone like substances every day that may be directly contributing to weight gain and persistent poundage. These substances, which are actually able to mimic hormones in the body, are now being called “obesogens”, a term coined by biologist and UC Irvine professor and researcher, Bruce Blumberg. Obesogens may be a contributing factor in why so many people today are struggling with frustrating and stubborn weight gain. 
Examples of EDCs/obesogens that many of us encounter every day include:

  • Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides found on conventional produce and in tap water. Instead, try to buy organic, or at least wash your produce thoroughly. Be sure to drink pure filtered water.
  • Conventionally raised meat and dairy which often contain hormones and antibiotics.
  • Instead, buy organic or hormone and anti-biotic free.
  • Plastic cans and bottles, many of which contain Biphenyl-A (BPA). Instead, use glass jars or metal (try to avoid aluminum) water bottles. Avoid leaving plastic water bottles in the sun or exposing to heat, especially microwaves.
  • Non-stick Pans (Teflon pans), which contain Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Instead, use cast iron or hard anodized aluminum (processed so that aluminum cannot leech into food).
  • Vinyl products and air fresheners, which contain Phthalates. Instead, use natural products.
  • Creams and lotions containing estrogenic ingredients like parabens. Instead use natural products and oils. See Energetic Nutrition’s all natural EDC free RegenaCell anti-aging cream.
  • Common cleaning chemicals which omit toxic fumes. Instead use natural, non-toxic formulas. You can even make your own cleaning supplies.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Now let's talk about efficient market theory, a wonderful economic doctrine that had a long vogue in spite of the experience of Berkshire Hathaway. In fact, one of the economists who won--he shared a Nobel Prize--and as he looked at Berkshire Hathaway year after year, which people would throw in his face as saying maybe the market isn't quite as efficient as you think, he said, "Well, it's a two-sigma event." And then he said we were a three-sigma event. And then he said we were a four-sigma event. And he finally got up to six sigmas--better to add a sigma than change a theory, just because the evidence comes in differently. [Laughter] And, of course, when this share of a Nobel Prize went into money management himself, he sank like a stone.

- Charlie Munger

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Khan Academy - Future Of Education

Looks like Khan is using (or planning to use) machine learning to "customize" videos w.r.t a kid's learning speed.

Wisdom Of The Week

"Haidt wants us to understand that our moral instincts are inherently judgmental: being moral makes us moralistic. Much of the book is devoted to the experimental evidence that shows how often moral judgment is a case of us v them rather than right v wrong. In Haidt's terms, morality "binds and blinds". It binds us to the group and blinds us to the point of view of outsiders. This has profound implications for how we might think about some of our most deeply held beliefs."

- Review of Jonathan Haidt's new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Quote of the Day

"The same past data can confirm a theory and its exact opposite! If you survive until tomorrow, it could mean that either a) you are more likely to be immortal or b) that you are closer to death."

- Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Greatest 100 x 100*

Sachin Tendulkar the master craftsman sets a record that will never be beaten, period.

The Rediscovery Of Character - James Q. Wilson

David Brook's in his column last week had recommend two essay's by James Q. Wilson. I don't agree with everything with Wilson (read religion) but most of his writings were timeless - following lines from The Rediscovery of Character
, says it all.

By virtue, I mean habits of moderate action; more specifically, acting with due restraint on one's impulses, due regard for the rights of others, and reasonable concern for distant consequences. Scarcely anyone favors bad character or a lack of virtue, but it is all too easy to deride a policy of improving character by assuming that this implies a nation of moralizers delivering banal homilies to one another.

Virtue is not learned by precept, however; it is learned by the regular repetition of right actions. We are induced to do the right thing with respect to small matters, and in time we persist in doing the right thing because now we have come to take pleasure in it. By acting rightly with respect to small things, we are more likely to act rightly with respect to large ones. If this view sounds familiar, it should; it is Aristotle's. Let me now quote him directly: "We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self- control."

Quote of the Day

In the beginning was the word
and by the mutations came the gene. 

- Michael A. Arbib

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ecstasy Of Transcendence - Jonathan Haidt

Over the years, I have observed something about Haidt  - what he doesn't talk about is more important than what he explicitly states (and your guess is as good as mine!!).
Jonathan Haidt's new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion came out this earlier week. 

Quote of the Day

"I have tried to read philosophers of all ages and have found many illuminating ideas but no steady progress toward deeper knowledge and understanding. Science, however, gives me the feeling of steady progress: I am convinced that theoretical physics is actual philosophy. It has revolutionized fundamental concepts, e.g., about space and time (relativity), about causality (quantum theory), and about substance and matter (atomistics), and it has taught us new methods of thinking (complementarity) which are applicable far beyond physics."

- Max Born

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Illusion of Understanding Success

"When trying to answer the question of what makes people successful the best response might be it’s impossible to know. Indeed, hard-work, intelligence and good genes certainly play a role. But the reality of Rowling’s story is that it is highly unlikely. Twelve out of twelve publishing houses rejected the book. In the years leading up to Harry Potter a number of things could have prevented Scholastic from purchasing the rights to her book. If it weren’t for little Alice Newton, the book may have never seen the light of day.

The true test of an explanation, as Kahneman also says, is whether it would have made the event predictable in advance. No story of Rowling’s unlikely success will meet that test, because no story can include all events that would have caused a different outcome. This being said, we will continue to explain Rowling’s story as if it was inevitable and predictable. We will always be obsessed with happy endings."

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"When I began to understand the kind of politics there are in the game, he only said one thing: that this game has given me so much in life that I will never be bitter. There is so much to be thankful for, no matter what else happens, that never goes away."

Vijeeta Dravid on her husband Rahul Dravid

Monday, March 12, 2012

Quote of the Day

"My father was a psychologist and a lifelong student of human behavior, and when I brought him my report card he often used to say: “This tells me something about you, something about your teacher, and something about myself."
- Lynne Murray

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Case for Space

- More Here

Check out Neil deGrasse Tyson's new book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier and don't miss Carl Zimmer's fascinating piece - A profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Historical Roots Of Our Ecological Crisis - Lynn White, Jr

A conversation with Aldous Huxley not infrequently put one at the receiving end of an unforgettable monologue. About a year before his lamented death he was discoursing on a favorite topic: Man's unnatural treatment of nature and its sad results. To illustrate his point he told how, during the previous summer, he had returned to a little valley in England where he had spent many happy months as a child. Once it had been composed of delightful grassy glades; now it was becoming overgrown with unsightly brush because the rabbits that formerly kept such growth under control had largely succumbed to a disease, myxomatosis, that was deliberately introduced by the local farmers to reduce the rabbits' destruction of crops. Being something of a Philistine, I could be silent no longer, even in the interests of great rhetoric. I interrupted to point out that the rabbit itself had been brought as a domestic animal to England in 1176, presumably to improve the protein diet of the peasantry.

All forms of life modify their contexts. The most spectacular and benign instance is doubtless the coral polyp. By serving its own ends, it has created a vast undersea world favorable to thousands of other kinds of animals and plants. Ever since man became a numerous species he has affected his environment notably. The hypothesis that his fire-drive method of hunting created the world's great grasslands and helped to exterminate the monster mammals of the Pleistocene from much of the globe is plausible, if not proved. For 6 millennia at least, the banks of the lower Nile have been a human artifact rather than the swampy African jungle which nature, apart from man, would have made it. The Aswan Dam, flooding 5000 square miles, is only the latest stage in a long process. In many regions terracing or irrigation, overgrazing, the cutting of forests by Romans to build ships to fight Carthaginians or by Crusaders to solve the logistics problems of their expeditions, have profoundly changed some ecologies. Observation that the French landscape falls into two basic types, the open fields of the north and the bocage of the south and west, inspired Marc Bloch to undertake his classic study of medieval agricultural methods. Quite unintentionally, changes in human ways often affect nonhuman nature. It has been noted, for example, that the advent of the automobile eliminated huge flocks of sparrows that once fed on the horse manure littering every street.

-More Here

Quote of the Day

A willingness to embrace uncertainty, a certain ruthlessness in acquiring, testing and rejecting new ideas is also what employers are looking for. “That’s what it’s like in this area,” said Rafael Molinero, who runs a quant-led hedge fund, Molinero Capital Management, where three students from the centre are currently on work placements. “You always have to reinvent yourself to stay on top of the curve. That is a big driver for us. That is what we want to see in them.” And the best way to keep your head is to listen to your algorithms, rather than your heart. As Molinero put it: “The main idea when you become a quant is that a computer is less prone to pitfalls than a human.”

- More Here on Quants

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The AI Behind Watson

Brilliant paper on The AI Behind Watson; Abstract here:

The goals of IBM Research are to advance computer science by exploring new ways for computer technology to affect science, business, and society. Roughly three years ago, IBM Research was looking for a major research challenge to rival the scientific and popular interest of Deep Blue, the computer chess-playing champion (Hsu 2002), that also would have clear relevance to IBM business interests.

With a wealth of enterprise-critical information being captured in natural language documentation of all forms, the problems with perusing only the top 10 or 20 most popular documents containing the user’s two or three key words are becoming increasingly apparent. This is especially the case in the enterprise where popularity is not as important an indicator of relevance and where recall can be as critical as precision. There is growing interest to have enterprise computer systems deeply analyze the breadth of relevant content to more precisely answer and justify answers to user’s natural language questions. We believe advances in question-answering (QA) technology can help support professionals in critical and timely decision making in areas like compliance, health care, business integrity, business intelligence, knowledge discovery, enterprise knowledge management, security, and customer support. For researchers, the open-domain QA problem is attractive as it is one of the most challenging in the realm of computer science and artificial intelligence, requiring a synthesis of information retrieval, natural language processing, knowledge representation and reasoning, machine learning, and computer-human interfaces. It has had a long history (Simmons 1970) and saw rapid advancement spurred by system building, experimentation, and government funding in the past decade (Maybury 2004, Strzalkowski and Harabagiu 2006).

Wisdom Of The Week

Several writers have weighed in recently on this age-old human foible that is gossip, with varying levels of success. In The Virtues of Our Vices: A Modest Defense of Gossip, Rudeness, and Other Bad Habits, philosopher Emrys Westacott examines the ethics of several conventionally frowned-upon social transgressions and “moral failings” like rudeness, snobbery, and, of course, gossip. He begins his examination of the subject by posing the big-picture questions: Should we condemn all gossip? If gossip isn’t an “inherently pejorative” act, can it ever be acceptable or even beneficial?

Westacott finds compelling ethical justifications for the innocent pleasure so many of us take in slamming our friends and loved ones. Yes, when it’s malicious and untrue, he allows, gossip can ruin reputations and damage lives. But the right kind of gossip—about, say, unwarranted salary discrepancies, or sketchy undisclosed conflicts of interest—can be a force of good. Behind-the-scenes murmurings build relationships, provide emotional catharsis, counteract secrecy, and upend existing power structures, to name just a few benefits. In the end, Westacott concludes, “a willingness to talk about people—which at times will involve gossiping—may be an integral part of the ‘examined life.’”

More Here

Quote of the Day

"Never regard study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs."

- Albert Einstein 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Righteousness - Jonathan Haidt

The wait is almost over, Jonathan Haidt's new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion is coming out on March 13. His interview - here:

You argue that the key to the partisan nature of US politics today is to understand the concept of "righteousness". Why is that?
In its original meaning, righteous means just, upright and virtuous. I'm using the word in a colloquial sense: self-righteous, judgemental, moralistic. I believe our minds evolved to be moralistic. This may sound lamentable, especially to those of us who think we should be less judgemental. But the evolutionary story I tell in my book is one where judgementalism - the ability to create moral matrices and punish, shame and ostracise those who don't behave rightly - was in fact the great breakthrough. We wouldn't be talking on the phone now if we didn't have righteous minds. We'd be like chimps, brilliant individuals who are poor at cooperating and collaborating.

What about extreme groups like the Tea Party?
Liberals have difficulty understanding the Tea Party because they think it is a bunch of selfish racists. But I think the Tea Party is driven in large part by concerns about fairness. It's not fairness as equality of outcomes, it's fairness as karma - the idea that good deeds will lead to good outcomes and bad deeds will lead to suffering. Many conservatives believe the Democratic party has been the anti-karma party since the 60s. It's the party that says, you got pregnant? Don't worry, have an abortion. You got addicted to drugs? Don't worry, we'll give you methadone. It's the party that absolves you from moral irresponsibility.
The Tea Partiers don't hate all government: just government they see as subverting karma, subverting moral responsibility. This hatred is, I think, a derivative of their love of proportionality. They're perfectly happy with social security, a retirement scheme which Franklin D. Roosevelt deliberately portrayed as a form of fairness, you pay in and you get out.

I think Haidt is wrong about "they don't hate all government" theory. They do hate all forms for government partly because of people need someone to blame for their misfortunes and partly because of lack of understanding, well .. Dunning-Kruger effect

Quote of the Day

“The capability military working dogs bring to the fight cannot be replicated by man or machine. By all measures of performance their yield outperforms any asset we have in our inventory. Our Army (and military) would be remiss if we failed to invest more in this incredibly valuable resource."

- General David H. Petraeus

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Identifying Targets Of Natural Selection In Human & Dog Evolution

"Over the course of the past year or so, I’ve been working (with Jonathan Pritchard) on a statistical method for learning about the history of a set of populations from genetic data. Much of this work is described in a paper we recently made available as a preprint. However, as many readers will know, writing a paper involves deciding which results are important to the main point (and worth fleshing out in detail), and which aren’t. In this post, I’m going to describe some results and thoughts that didn’t quite make the cut, but which I think merit a small note. In particular, I’m going to discuss how having a demographic model for a large number of populations might be used to identify genes important in adaptation, and describe results from humans and dogs."

- Read rest of the paper here

Quote of the Day

"Because throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be... Not Magic."

Tim Minchin

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What I've Been Reading

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. If not for Alex Tabarrok's and David Brook's raving reviews, I would have easily ignored this brilliant Gladwellian book to be yet another book on popular psychology.

In the book Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain,  Antonio Damasio's quoted Phillip Johnson-Laird which epitomizes beautifully the essence of his book:
"In order to decide, judge; in order to judge, reason; in order to reason, decide (what to reason about)." 
Damasio was writing about how to hone one's intuition, gut feeling et al., but this applies to habit forming as well. I never knew how to equate this to habit formation, although I have habit-ized with great success a number of good things (work out, reading, walking, learning) and failed in a major one. Currently, I am struggling to make meditation, mathematics and writing a habit. All of them are notoriously difficult but making them a habit is the only way out. Thanks to Charles Duhigg for a confidence boasting book. Message of the book is simple -  

  1. Replace bad habits with good ones
  2. It's hard to change people (and ourself) but change comes easy only we unconsciously "tweak" their (and our) habits.
  3. Most of our habits are under our control (albeit unconsciously) and we cannot masquerade responsibility behind genetics or neuroscience.
  4. Some of the habits (cannot really use that term here) are actual genetic or brain defects.
  5. The blurry line that separates 3 and 4 will be the debate of this century. 
A simplified habit loop:
The Habit Loop - Cue, routine and reward. Over time this loop becomes automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges. Eventually, a HABIT is born.

In my opinion, Paul O'Neill is the protagonist of this book...
Paul O'Neill needed a focus that would bring people together, that would give him leverage to change how people worked and communicated. "I went to basics. Everyone deserves to leave work as safely as they arrive, right? You shouldn't be scared that feeding your family is going to kill you. That's what I decided to focus on: Changing everyone's safety habits. 

The brilliance of his approach was that one one, of course, wanted to argue with O'Neill about worker safety. Unions had been fighting for better safety rule for years . Managers didn't want to argue about it, either, since injuries meant lost productivity and low morale.
What most people didn't realize, however, was that O'Neill''s plan for getting zero injuries entailed the most radical realignment in Alcoa's history. 

The key to protecting Alcoa's employees was understanding why injuries happened in the first place. And to understand why injuries happened, you had to studt how the manufacturing process was going wrong. To understand how things were going wrong, you had to bring in people who could educate workers about quality control and the most efficient work processes, so that it would be easier to do everything right, since correct work is also safer work. In other words to protect workers, Alcoa needed to become the best, most streamlined company of earth.

Importance of Small Wins during habit formation:
Small wins are steady application of a small advantage. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor and another small win. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within the reach.

Quote of the Day

"When I interviewed the surgeons who were fired, I used to leave the interview shaking,” Bosk said. “I would hear these horrible stories about what they did wrong, but the thing was that they didn’t know that what they did was wrong. In my interviewing, I began to develop what I thought was an indicator of whether someone was going to be a good surgeon or not. It was a couple of simple questions: Have you ever made a mistake? And, if so, what was your worst mistake? The people who said, ‘Gee, I haven’t really had one,’ or, ‘I’ve had a couple of bad outcomes but they were due to things outside my control’–invariably those were the worst candidates. And the residents who said, ‘I make mistakes all the time. There was this horrible thing that happened just yesterday and here’s what it was.’ They were the best. They had the ability to rethink everything that they’d done and imagine how they might have done it differently."

- An Obsession with Failure, Charles Bosk vis FS

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Massive Open Online Courses - Thank You Sebastian!!

NYT has a complete list of free online courses and they coined an acronym for it - MOOC!!
Of-course, Sebastian started this epidemic and now spreading it via Udacity - the new robotic class has hands on programming and enlightening as usual.

The pitch for the online course sounds like a late-night television ad, or maybe a subway poster: “Learn programming in seven weeks starting Feb. 20. We’ll teach you enough about computer science that you can build a Web search engine like Google or Yahoo.”

But this course, Building a Search Engine, is taught by two prominent computer scientists, Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford research professor and Google fellow, and David Evans, a professor on leave from the University of Virginia.

The big names have been a big draw. Since Udacity, the for-profit startup running the course, opened registration on Jan. 23, more than 90,000 students have enrolled in the search-engine course and another taught by Mr. Thrun, who led the development of Google’s self-driving car.

Welcome to the brave new world of Massive Open Online Courses — known as MOOCs — a tool for democratizing higher education. While the vast potential of free online courses has excited theoretical interest for decades, in the past few months hundreds of thousands of motivated students around the world who lack access to elite universities have been embracing them as a path toward sophisticated skills and high-paying jobs, without paying tuition or collecting a college degree. And in what some see as a threat to traditional institutions, several of these courses now come with an informal credential (though that, in most cases, will not be free).

Quote of the Day

"Here's my advice: If you meet an economist, ask him to adjust your spine so you no longer get the common cold. Then ask him for some specific investment tips and do exactly what he recommends. Let me know which one works out best."

- Scott Adams

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Happiness" In China

"Another journey took me way into the Australian bush to a place where a toilet capable of flushing would be a novelty. Kids were busy kicking around a football on the street, but almost all took time out to speak to me, curious about who I was and what I was doing there. A young man told me that he felt happy when he helped others. He tried to perform one act of kindness a day. This young man had only seen television twice in his life.

But it was when I got the chance to visit some of the 60 million newly built homes in China that all this really hit, well, home. Each new home was wired for the 21st century. Every room had television screens hooked up to high-speed Internet and each home came equipped with the latest in electronic gadgetry. In fact, the entire block was connected to a community intranet designed to help the neighbors stay in touch. I couldn’t help noticing that there was an important element missing: smiles. I didn't see one of them.

I pursued my questions of happiness with a young Chinese family who had only been living in the city for two years.  There responses were measured. They said, “We’re doing fine, but there is still so much to achieve before we will become truly happy.”  It seems the family aspired to all the things they were seeing being won on the daily online video shows. “I’ve seen what you can get, and we still don’t have many of the things. So, we need to work harder. Then, I’m sure, one day we will get there.”

The city was orderly. There were no children playing outside. I’d been instructed to wear a mask, wrap my shoes in plastic, and sit on a cover on the chair.  Everything was to stay clean and uncontaminated. Almost all the homes I visited around Beijing and Shanghai shared the same idea that sanitary living meant living a longer life. "

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"…the recovery and recirculation of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things had succeeded in linking the very idea of atoms, as the ultimate substrate of all things that exists, with a house of other, dangerous claims. Detached from any text, the idea that all things might consist of innumerable invisible particles did not seem particularly disturbing. After all, the world had to consist of something. But Lucretius’ poem restored to atoms their missing context, and the implications—for morality, politics, ethics, and theology—were deeply upsetting."

The Nature of Things by Lucretius

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Power of Introverts - Susan Cain

Susan Cain, author of one of my favorite book of the year - Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

  • Stop the madness of constant group work.
  • Go to the wilderness - have your own revelations. 
  • Take a good look at what's inside your suitcase and why you put it there.

People Aren't Smart Enough For Democracy To Flourish (duh!!)

The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.

As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, "very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is," Dunning told Life's Little Mysteries.

He and colleague Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now of New York University, have demonstrated again and again that people are self-delusional when it comes to their own intellectual skills. Whether the researchers are testing people's ability to rate the funniness of jokes, the correctness of grammar, or even their own performance in a game of chess, the duo has found  that people always assess their own performance as "above average" — even people who, when tested, actually perform at the very bottom of the pile. 

- via Q3D

Dunning-Kruger effect - Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's own Incompetence Leads to Inflated Self-Assesments is one my all time favorite papers.

Quote of the Day

“…you who are wise must know that different nations have different conceptions of things; and you will therefore not take it amiss if our ideas of this kind of education happen not to be same with yours. We have had some experience of it: several of our young people were formerly brought up at the colleges of the northern provinces; they were instructed in all your sciences; but when they came back to us, they were bad runners; ignorant of every means of living in the woods; unable to bear either cold or hunger; knew neither how to build a cabin, take a deer, or kill an enemy; spoke our language imperfectly; were therefore neither fit for hunters, warriors, or counselors; they were totally good for nothing.”

- Great Speeches by Native Americans

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Inventing on Principle - Bret Victor

"Responsibility, moral wrong aren't the words we usually hear in the technical field. Idea's dying is a moral wrong."

Wisdom Of The Week

"I think a major reason for the difference between net and gross investment is the growing share of Info Tech (IT) in business fixed investment. IT now accounts for over half of real business investment. But IT has a much shorter life span than traditional business equipment or investment in structures.
It is like going up a down escalator –you have to run harder just to stay even."

- via MR

This isn't exactly a bubble but just creative destruction at an exponential speed with lesser monetary returns. Not all business models require tera bytes per milli second performance. Sooner or later companies might realize that their original goal was run a business not an IT department and keep buying "toys" for perpetuity. When that day arrives .. things would be interesting to say the least. 

Quote of the Day

"...I always rejoice to hear of your being still employ'd in experimental Researches into Nature, and of the Success you meet with. The rapid Progress true Science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large Masses of their Gravity, and give them absolute Levity, for the sake of easy Transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labor and double its Produce; all Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as fair a way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and that human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity!"

- Benjamin Franklin, Letter to John Priestley, 8 Feb 1780

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ecotourism > Shark Finning

Tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins each year. It's not just a tragic abuse of the animals. It's bad business.

"They're basically swimming dollar signs, whether you're trying to kill them for their meat or their fins or you're interested in looking at them for ecotourism." That's Austin Gallagher, a doctoral student at the University of Miami. I spoke with him on February 26th.

"We did some calculations and the results were remarkable. We determined that the average shark was worth about $200,000 over the course of its life. And when you compare it to finning that animal--a one-time extractive use--seeing it for diving is worth about 40 percent more."

"Since this paper came out, I got an email from somebody in Bali just a weeks ago saying, `We're using your paper to stop illegal harvest of thresher sharks in Bali at a local dive community.'"

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world -- its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. ... We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create."

- Bertrand Russell

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hunch is another interesting AI-Machine Learning venture to decode us; to tell us what we like and what we want... outsourcing free-will.

"Hunch personalizes the internet by helping you to share and discover great recommendations about all sorts of topics.

Hunch’s ambitious mission is to build a ‘Taste Graph’ of the entire web, connecting every person on the web with their affinity for anything, from books to electronic gadgets to fashion or vacation spots. Hunch is at the forefront of combining algorithmic machine learning with user-curated content, with the goal of providing better recommendations for everyone."

Hunch Intro - Homepage version from Hunch on Vimeo.

Quote of the Day

"When reforms finally do occur, they will happen not because stingy people have won, but because generous people have stopped kidding themselves."

- Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 by Charles Murray