Saturday, October 31, 2015

Machine Learning A Cappella - Overfitting Thriller !!

Wisdom Of The Week

12.Trade up on trust even if it means you trade down on competency.

Should you start a company with friends? All things being equal, Reid says yes, because you can move more quickly with trusted friends because you already understand how each other thinks and talks. And moving quickly? That’s critical in the early days of a startup.

But what if all things aren’t equal? If you’re choosing between working with someone who’s a trusted friend and a 7 out of 10 on competence, versus a stranger who’s a 9 out of 10 on competence, who should you pick? Answer: if the trusted friend is a fast learner, pick the trusted friend.

Trade up on trust, even if it means you have to trade down on competency a bit. In other words, choose to work with someone you know who’s a fast learner over someone who’s a bit more qualified who you do not know. Assuming the person you know and trust is in Permanent Beta, he or she can round out their gaps in skills or experience in short order.

I benefitted from Reid’s philosophy on this personally. For some assignments, I was not the most qualified person in the world, or even the most qualified within his own network. But given that we a) completely trust each other, b) I have a good sense of his priorities and values and preferences and he has a good sense of my own priorities and values and preferences, and c) I’m a quick learner, we could move at lightning speed together on projects.

As with so many lessons, I have to continue to re-learn this one. The first time I learned this lesson the hard way at one of my early companies, when we hired someone who looked great on paper in terms of industry accomplishments but who none of us really knew or trusted. The moment we encountered a couple landmines, the lack of trust ruined any hopes at productive group problem solving. The second time I learned this the hard way was at a different company I co-founded, where I traded down on competency too much when bringing on one team member. The trust was all there, and the guy was a fast learner, but the tradeoff down in necessary expertise wasn’t worth it, and the project floundered.

- Ben Casnocha on 10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman (read the whole thing, its phenomenal)

Quote of the Day

Once very smart people are paid huge sums of money to exploit the flaws in the financial system, they have the spectacularly destructive incentive to screw the system up further, or to remain silent as they watch it being screwed up by others. The cost, in the end, is a tangled-up financial system. Untangling it requires acts of commercial heroism—and even then the fix might not work. There was simply too much more easy money to be made by elites if the system worked badly than if it worked well. The whole culture had to want to change. “We know how to cure this,” as Brad had put it. “It’s just a matter of whether the patient wants to be treated.

- Michael Lewis, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt

Friday, October 30, 2015

Pedro Domingos’ on “Five Machine Learning Tribes”


By contrast, Domingos said, a group called “connectionists” wants to reverse engineer the brain.

This very ambitious approach involves actually creating artificial neurons and connecting them in a neural network. Domingos calls this approach “deep learning” and shows how companies like Google are applying it to areas like vision and image processing, machine translation and experimental neural networks like Google's Cat Network that helps the computer to recognize cat images.

Taking the example of a cat image network, Domingos talks about how neurons work on a weighted value of inputs, and how binary results can be enhanced into a “continuous value” with methods like back propagation. All of this leads the computer to be able to learn more about a given set of information criteria – in this case, about what is and is not a cat, to be able to more correctly label random sets of images.

The Evolutionaries

Another radically different approach, says Domingos, involves looking at evolution as a phenomenon.

“Evolution made your brain and everything else,” says Domingos, articulating the idea and philosophy behind the evolutionary mindset. “So it must be a good thing.”

In essence, Domingos says, evolutionaries are applying the idea of genomes and DNA in the evolutionary process to data structures. The survival and offspring of units in an evolutionary model are the performance data. An algorithm for an evolutionary learning project would mimic those processes in key ways.

Domingos likens it to farmers and what they do with selective breeding, but notes that because the process is being applied to specific technologies, the model is a bit different. However, using the example of robotic selection, he goes into detail about a process of “robot evolution”, and how researchers can start with random assemblies and 3D print the best performing models.

“You wind up with surprisingly smart and robust robots,” says Domingos. “You can learn surprisingly powerful things this way.”

The Bayesians

The Bayesians, Domingos says, deal in uncertainty and solutions. Their master algorithm solution is called probabilistic inference.

Domingos explains that researchers can take a hypothesis and apply a type of “a priori” thinking, believing that there will be some outcomes that are more likely. They then update a hypothesis as they see more data.

“After some iteration of this,” Domingos says. “Some hypotheses become more likely than others.”

Domingos talks about strategies for efficient computing that support this process. He mentions vision learning applied to spam filtering, which is a key way to stop spammers from clogging up user inboxes. As another sort of scientific process, the probabilistic models do bring a certain concrete result to Machine Learning

The Analogizers

The fifth tribe of Machine Learning philosophers, Domingos says, is made up of analogizers, or pioneers in the field of matching particular bits of data to each other. Although it sounds simple and rudimentary, Domingos says it's really at the heart of a lot of outcomes that are extremely effective for some kinds of Machine Learning. He cites one of the leading proponents of this method, Douglas Hofstadter, in saying that “all intelligence is nothing but analogy.”

The master algorithm here, he says, is the “nearest neighbor” principle. Nearest neighbor outcomes can give results that are similar to neural network models. Domingos gives the example of two country models with defined city locations, but with undefined borders. Through the application of the analogy principles, the computer generates a likely border. Domingos calls this “generalizing from similarity” and suggests that it has economic ramifications for technology. One example, he says, is the movie advice technologies that supply movie ratings based on known data sets, where users get recommendations based off of what others have watched previously.

“It's a very nice type of similarity-based learning.” Domingos says, adding another example of how real results can boost profits for companies: one third of Amazon sales, he says, are based on recommendations.

Tribes Come Together

In closing, Domingos talks about how all five of these tribes have something key to offer and how the best Machine Learning technologies combine all five angles. In addition, he says, some new ideas are also needed to further refine Machine Learning into something that would give us the future outcomes we’ve anticipated for a long time, including things like cancer cures, home robots, and worldwide neural networks.

“This is only the beginning,” Domingos says. “There's much more that remains to be done.”

Indeed, these Machine Learning technologies are rapidly advancing toward future results that will change the ways that we view our interactions with computers and digital technologies. Some of that future depends on the work of these five “tribes” and how they can push the boundaries of what’s possible with Artificial Intelligence.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Thursday, October 29, 2015

RankBrain - Google's New ML Based Search Algorithm

RankBrain is one of the “hundreds” of signals that go into an algorithm that determines what results appear on a Google search page and where they are ranked, Corrado said. In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query, he said.

“I was surprised,” Corrado said. “I would describe this as having gone better than we would have expected.”

The addition of RankBrain to search is part of a half-decade-long push by Google into AI, as the company seeks to embed the technology into every aspect of its business. “Machine learning is a core transformative way by which we are rethinking everything we are doing,” said Google’s Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai on the company’s earnings call last week.

So far, RankBrain is living up to its AI hype. Google search engineers, who spend their days crafting the algorithms that underpin the search software, were asked to eyeball some pages and guess which they thought Google’s search engine technology would rank on top. While the humans guessed correctly 70 percent of the time, RankBrain had an 80 percent success rate.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

If you want to test cosmetics, why do it on some poor animal who hasn't done anything? They should use prisoners who have been convicted of murder or rape instead. So, rather than seeing if perfume irritates a bunny rabbit's eyes, they should throw it in Charles Manson's eyes and ask him if it hurts.

- Ellen DeGeneres, My Point...And I Do Have One

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Quote of the Day

The talent for self-justification is surely the finest flower of human evolution, the greatest achievement of the human brain. When it comes to justifying actions, every human being acquires the intelligence of an Einstein, the imagination of a Shakespeare, and the subtlety of a Jesuit.

-  Michael Foley, The Age Of Absurdity: Why Modern Life Makes It Hard To Be Happy

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Quote of the Day

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Monday, October 26, 2015

What do Children Know of Their Own Mortality?

One of the most remarkable studies, and perhaps, one of the most remarkable studies in the whole of palliative care, was completed by the anthropologist Myra Bluebond-Langner and was published as the book The Private Worlds of Dying Children.

Bluebond-Langner spent the mid 1970’s in an American child cancer ward and began to look at what the children knew about their own terminal prognosis, how this knowledge affected social interactions, and how social interactions were conducted to manage public awareness of this knowledge.

Her findings were nothing short of stunning: although adults, parents, and medical professionals, regularly talked in a way to deliberately obscure knowledge of the child’s forthcoming death, children often knew they were dying. But despite knowing they were dying, children often talked in a way to avoid revealing their awareness of this fact to the adults around them.

Bluebond-Langner describes how this mutual pretence allowed everyone to support each other through their typical roles and interactions despite knowing that they were redundant. Adults could ask children what they wanted for Christmas, knowing that they would never see it. Children could discuss what they wanted to be when they grew up, knowing that they would never get the chance. Those same conversations, through which compassion flows in everyday life, could continue.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.

- Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, October 25, 2015


The movie is extremely simple but that's the whole point - the simple things we take for granted are the most precious once we break the escape velocity threshold.  Mark Watney can easily "chat" with his colleagues on the blue plant but growing a potato plant in Mars can be little challenging.

Bruce Bugbee piece on Farming on Mars Is Not Science Fiction is worth a read:

Our early studies indicate an enormous psychological value of plants. Mark Watney reminisced about living with his potato plants. He missed them after they were gone. When hardened astronauts return to Earth, they repeatedly tell us of the bond they developed with the plants they were growing. Ten years ago, after almost a year in space, a cosmonaut summarized his psychological experience at a press conference: "Long-term space travel without plants is impossible."

There is much we can learn from small-scale biological life support systems where changes occur rapidly. Perhaps Mark Watney's adventures will inspire the youth of the nation to continue our work.

Quote of the Day

Hello There !!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

If we want to produce wise people, what are the stages that produce it? First, there is basic factual acquisition. You have to know what a neutron or a gene is, that the Civil War came before the Progressive Era. Research shows that students with a concrete level of core knowledge are better at remembering advanced facts and concepts as they go along.

Second, there is pattern formation, linking facts together in meaningful ways. This can be done by a good lecturer, through class discussion, through unconscious processing or by going over and over a challenging text until it clicks in your head.

Third, there is mental reformation. At some point while studying a field, the student realizes she has learned a new language and way of seeing — how to think like a mathematician or a poet or a physicist.

At this point information has become knowledge. It is alive. It can be manipulated and rearranged. At this point a student has the mental content and architecture to innovate, to come up with new theses, challenge others’ theses and be challenged in turn.

Finally after living with this sort of knowledge for years, exposing it to the rigors of reality, wisdom dawns. Wisdom is a hard-earned intuitive awareness of how things will flow. Wisdom is playful. The wise person loves to share, and cajole and guide and wonder at what she doesn’t know.

The cathedrals of knowledge and wisdom are based on the foundations of factual acquisition and cultural literacy. You can’t overleap that, which is what High Tech High is in danger of doing.

“Most Likely to Succeed” is inspiring because it reminds us that the new technology demands new schools. But somehow relational skills have to be taught alongside factual literacy. The stairway from information to knowledge to wisdom has not changed. The rules have to be learned before they can be played with and broken.

- David Brooks on the new documentary Most Likely to Succeed

Quote of the Day

Magic begins in superstition, and ends in science. ... At every step the history of civilization teaches us how slight and superficial a structure civilization is, and how precariously it is poised upon the apex of a never-extinct volcano of poor and oppressed barbarism, superstition and ignorance. Modernity is a cap superimposed upon the Middle Ages, which always remain.

- Will Durant

Friday, October 23, 2015

Quote of the Day

His education had been neither scientific nor classical—merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him. He was a man of straw, a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge (he had always done well on Essays and General Papers) and the first hint of a real threat to his bodily life knocked him sprawling.

- C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Can We Build Better Machine Learning Models Based on Philip Tetlock's Good Judgement Project?

Thanks to the Good Judgment Project, the forecasting tournament has been solidified as one of the best modes of prediction, says Matheny, the Iarpa director. "Tetlock’s research really did help to inform how we should run forecasting tournaments," he says. "Not just that we should run them, but that there’s best practices in how to run them, and especially in picking questions that are neither too easy nor too hard."

Though Iarpa’s funding has ended, the team has formed a for-profit entity, Good Judgment Incorporated, which is recruiting members for a public tournament to begin later this fall. Corporate, nonprofit, government, and media clients can sponsor forecasting "challenges" on the public site, and the company will offer custom forecasts and training. It is also studying the potential of machine-human hybrids — like having IBM’s Deep Blue collaborate with Garry Kasparov in chess — that could prove more accurate than either one alone.

Now that we know some limitations, and strengths, of forecasters, Tetlock wants to focus on asking the right questions. He hopes to create what Kahneman has called "adversarial collaboration tournaments" — for instance, bringing together two politically opposed groups to discuss the Iran nuclear deal. One group thinks it’s great, one group thinks it’s terrible, and each must generate 10 questions that everyone will answer.

The idea is that each side will generate questions with answers that favor their position, and that, with everyone forced to consider all questions, a greater level of understanding will emerge. Maybe, in time, this will become the new norm for punditry, public debate, and policymaking.

The ultimate goals? Intellectual honesty. Better predictions. And, says Tetlock, "I hope we can avoid mistakes of the Iraq-war magnitude."

- More Here

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Back To The Future Day !!

Today is the day Michael J Fox's Marty McFly and Christopher Lloyd's Doc Brown travelled to in Back to the Future 2 in 1989 !!

- More Here

Quote of the Day

In schools, data skills are being taught throughout the curriculum in subjects from geography to biology in ways that bring the subject to life and capture the imagination of pupils. Anyone these days who says: “I don’t do maths” is missing out. It is becoming a truth to say that those who get stats get on and those that don’t get left behind.

However, there is still a lot to do before we can feel that we are, as a society, at ease in a data-rich world. We need to be much less tolerant of those who use numbers in ways that mislead, either deliberately or inadvertently. We should hold accountable those in positions of authority who act without drawing on the data that could inform their decisions. Decisions are judgments but assessment of the evidence can reduce the risk of making a terrible mistake.

We could also be much more questioning, asking ourselves when we read a headline: can that really be right? If it is something that affects us, in a few clicks we could find out for ourselves what is really going on. We do not all need degrees in statistics, we just need to be curious and apply some critical thinking and common sense.

Why World Statistics Day is something worth celebrating

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Happy World Statistics Day 2015 !!

Good data and statistics are indispensable for informed decision-making by all actors in society. This was explicitly acknowledged in 2014, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics to promote citizen’s entitlement to public information.
As countries and organizations embark on implementing the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, reliable and timely statistics and indicators are more important than ever. For that reason, World Statistics Day this year is being observed under the theme “Better data, better lives.”
We need to ensure that everyone is counted, especially the most poor and vulnerable. No child’s birth shall remain unregistered. No incidence of disease, no matter how remote the location, shall remain unrecorded. We need local statistics to ensure that every child has access to education and we need global statistics to monitor the overall effects of climate change.

United Nations Secretary-General message on World Statistics Day 2015

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

- Elizabeth Bishop

Quote of the Day

Do not act as if you were going to live for a thousand years… while you are alive, while it is still possible, become a good person.

- Marcus Aurelius

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ten Laws of the Physics of People

6. The Uncertainty Principle

The more you know about one topic, the stupider you become. Or, as my mom used to tell me, "never trust someone who has all the answers, especially yourself." Experts are dangerous, if they are not balanced by naive laymen. Diversity is more valuable than expertise.

Lesson: diversity is not a political slogan. It's the basis for collective intelligence.

7. Zipf's Law of Power Distributions
20% of any system always has 80% of the power. It applies to cities, languages, earthquakes, and economies. And organizations, and software systems. You'll spend most of your effort on a fraction of the software. Over-engineering code that isn't in the critical path is a waste of time.

Lesson: if shitty code solves the problem, it's not shitty code.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I think we need more math majors who don't become mathematicians. More math major doctors, more math major high school teachers, more math major CEOs, more math major senators. But we won't get there unless we dump the stereotype that math is only worthwhile for kid geniuses.

- Jordan Ellenberg, How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pinnacle of BioMimicry - David Hu wins Ig Nobel Prize for Studying the Urination Duration of Various Animals

The idea is to challenge what is considered important scientific research and illustrate that valuable information can come from more trivial subject matters. Every year there are 9,000 nominations, and only 10 teams are selected as winners.

Hu was assisted by Patricia Yang, a mechanical engineering graduate student, and biomedical engineering undergraduates Jerome Choo and Jonathan Pham.

Hu's research was directed by his interest in the link between the gravitational pull during urination and the advancement of efficient water systems. With camera in hand, Hu and his students ventured out to Zoo Atlanta to record and study 32 different mammals including elephants, cows and rats. By examining the video of the urine streams in slow motion, they were able to determine a relation between the length of the urethra and the flow rate of the urine. Their conclusion was that all mammals empty their bladders in about 20 seconds. The research could ultimately lead to better engineered systems for water tanks, backpacks, and fire hoses that can be built for more efficiency.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't being said. The art of reading between the lines is a life long quest of the wise.

- Shannon L. Alder

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

Freedom of movement is a basic human right. Thus the Universal Declaration of Human Rights belies its name when it proclaims this right only “within the borders of each state.” Human rights do not stop at the border.Today, we treat as pariahs those governments that refuse to let their people exit. I look forward to the day when we treat as pariahs those governments that refuse to let people enter.

Is there hope for the future? Closed borders are one of the world’s greatest moral failings but the opening of borders is the world’s greatest economic opportunity. The grandest moral revolutions in history—the abolition of slavery, the securing of religious freedom, the recognition of the rights of women—yielded a world in which virtually everyone was better off. They also demonstrated that the fears that had perpetuated these injustices were unfounded. Similarly, a planet unscarred by iron curtains is not only a world of greater equality and justice. It is a world unafraid of itself.

- Alex Tabarrok, The Case for Getting Rid of Border Completely

Quote of the Day

People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance.

- Niccolò Machiavelli

Friday, October 16, 2015

Machine Learning - Latest Medical Breakthrough In Spinal Cord Injuries

Doctors have just discovered a previously unknown relationship between the long-term recovery of spinal cord injury victims and high blood pressure during their initial surgeries. This may seem like a small bit of medical news—though it will have immediate clinical implications—but what's important is how it was discovered in the first place.

This wasn’t the result of a new, long-term study, but a meta-analysis of $60 million worth of basic research written off as useless 20 years ago by a team of neuroscientists and statisticians led by the University of California San Francisco and partnering with the software firm Ayasdi, using mathematical and machine learning techniques that hadn’t been invented yet when the trials took place. The process was outlined in a paper published today in Nature Communications, and hints at the possibility of medical breakthroughs lurking in the data of failed experiments.

"What was thought to have been a boondoggle turns out to have great value," says Adam Ferguson, a principal investigator at UCSF’s Brain and Spinal Injury Center and one of the paper’s authors. Just how much is unclear until trials are conducted in humans, but the finding raises several interesting questions—notably whether scientists should publish their raw data for posterity and whether their time and funding would be better spent poring through old experiments than conducting new ones.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

You will face your greatest opposition when you are closest to your biggest miracle.

- Shannon L. Alder

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Quote of the Day

I will hurt you for this. I don't know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you'll know the debt is paid.

- George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Quote of the Day

Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial—notoriously less stable and less inherent than the nature of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit.

- Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Siddhartha Mukherjee on Future of Medicine

Quote of the Day

All men have the stars, but they do not mean the same things for different people. For some they are guides, for others, no more than little lights in the sky. But all these are silent. You--you alone have the stars as no one else has them.

- Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Monday, October 12, 2015

Quote of the Day

This is the kind of paradox, I think, of what it is to be a halfway intelligent American right now, and probably also a Western European, is that there are things we know are right, and good, and would be better for us to do, but constantly it's like "Yeah, but, you know, it's so much funnier and nicer to go do something else." and "Who cares?" and "It's all bullshit anyway.”

- David Foster Wallace

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Quote of the Day

It was the job of people like me to make up reasons, to spin a plausible yarn. And it’s amazing what people will believe. Heavy selling out of the Middle East was an old standby. Since no one ever had any clue what the Arabs were doing with their money or why, no story involving Arabs could ever be refuted. So if you didn’t know why the dollar was falling, you shouted out something about Arabs.

- Michael Lewis, Liar's Poker

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

Walt Whitman’s famous line, “I am large, I contain multitudes,” has gained a new level of biological relevance.

As we grow, our brain cells develop different genomes from one another, according to new research from Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.The study, published Oct. 2 in Science, shows for the first time that mutations in somatic cells—that is, any cell in the body except sperm and eggs—are present in significant numbers in the brains of healthy people. This finding lays the foundation for exploring the role of these post-conception mutations in human development and disease.

“A lot of people have been asking lately whether somatic mutations contribute to a range of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, but they couldn’t answer the question because of the limitations of technology,” said the study’s co-senior author, Peter Park, associate professor of biomedical informatics at HMS.

The research team was able to make headway on the problem by combining single-cell genome sequencing with rigorous data analysis techniques.Already, the researchers have discovered that somatic mutations appear to occur more often in the genes a neuron uses most. They have also been able to trace brain cell lineages based on patterns of mutation.

“These mutations are durable memory for where a cell came from and what it has been up to,” said the study’s co-senior author, Christopher A. Walsh, the HMS Bullard Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology and chief of the Division of Genetics and Genomics at Boston Children’s. “This work is a proof of principle that if we wanted to, and if we had unlimited resources, we could actually decode the whole pattern of development of the human brain.”

“I believe this method will also tell us a lot about healthy and unhealthy aging as well as what makes our brains different from those of other animals,” Walsh added.

- A Natural History of Neurons

Quote of the Day

Early in his book, Professor MacAskill considers the provocative hypothesis that the best man ever to have lived was a Ukrainian named Viktor Zhdanov. Working with the World Health Organization, Mr. Zhdanov called for a systematic campaign to eradicate smallpox. He presented a visionary plan, sold the organization on the idea and, by accelerating the end of smallpox, probably saved many millions of lives. If you haven’t heard of him, or haven’t thought of him lately, that’s evidence that the effective-altruism movement has something to offer. Even for small givers, a more rational approach to philanthropy can focus attention on areas that make the biggest enduring contribution to human welfare.

- More here on the new book Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference by William William MacAskill

Friday, October 9, 2015

Elephants: Large, Long-Living and Less Prone to Cancer

Dr. Schiffman and his colleagues found in their research that elephants have a remarkably low rate of cancer. They reviewed zoo records on the deaths of 644 elephants and found that less than 5 percent died of cancer. By contrast, 11 percent to 25 percent of humans die of cancer — despite the fact that elephants can weigh a hundred times as much as we do.

To understand the elephants’ defenses, the scientists investigated a gene that is crucial for preventing cancer, called p53. The protein encoded by the gene monitors cells for damage to the DNA they contain. In some cases, it triggers the cells to repair the genes. In other cases, p53 stops cells from dividing further. And in still other cases, it even causes the cells to commit suicide.

One sign of how important p53 is for fighting cancer is what happens to people born with a defective copy of the gene. This condition, known as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, creates a lifetime risk of cancer of more than 90 percent. Many people with Li-Fraumeni syndrome get cancers as children and can have several types of cancer over their lifetimes.

Dr. Schiffman and his colleagues found that elephants have evolved new copies of the p53 gene. While humans have only one pair of p53 genes, the scientists identified 20 pairs in elephants.

Dr. Lynch and his colleagues also found these extra genes. To trace their evolution, the researchers made a large-scale comparison of elephants to other mammal species — including extinct relatives like woolly mammoths and mastodons whose DNA remains in their fossils.

The small ancestors of elephants, Dr. Lynch and his colleagues found, had only one pair of functional p53, like other mammals. But as they evolved to bigger sizes, they steadily evolved extra copies of p53.

“Whatever’s going on is special to the elephant lineage,” Dr. Lynch said.

- Carl Zimmer

Quote of the Day

We cannot think of ourselves as creatures whose rationality endows us with an especially significant advantage over others—indeed, we cannot think of ourselves as rational creatures at all—unless we think of ourselves as creatures who recognize that facts, and true statements about the facts, are indispensable in providing us with reasons for believing (or for not believing) various things and for taking (or for not taking) various actions. If we have no respect for the distinction between true and false, we may as well kiss our much-vaunted “rationality” good-bye.

- Harry G. Frankfurt, On Truth

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Quote of the Day

We shouldn't let our envy of distinguished masters of the arts distract us from the wonder of how each of us gets new ideas. Perhaps we hold on to our superstitions about creativity in order to make our own deficiencies seem more excusable. For when we tell ourselves that masterful abilities are simply unexplainable, we're also comforting ourselves by saying that those superheroes come endowed with all the qualities we don't possess. Our failures are therefore no fault of our own, nor are those heroes' virtues to their credit, either. If it isn't learned, it isn't earned.

When we actually meet the heroes whom our culture views as great, we don't find any singular propensities––only combinations of ingredients quite common in themselves. Most of these heroes are intensely motivated, but so are many other people. They're usually very proficient in some field--but in itself we simply call this craftmanship or expertise. They often have enough self-confidence to stand up to the scorn of peers--but in itself, we might just call that stubbornness. They surely think of things in some novel ways, but so does everyone from time to time. And as for what we call "intelligence", my view is that each person who can speak coherently already has the better part of what our heroes have. Then what makes genius appear to stand apart, if we each have most of what it takes?

I suspect that genius needs one thing more: in order to accumulate outstanding qualities, one needs unusually effective ways to learn. It's not enough to learn a lot; one also has to manage what one learns. Those masters have, beneath the surface of their mastery, some special knacks of "higher-order" expertise, which help them organize and apply the things they learn. It is those hidden tricks of mental management that produce the systems that create those works of genius. Why do certain people learn so many more and better skills? These all-important differences could begin with early accidents. One child works out clever ways to arrange some blocks in rows and stacks; a second child plays at rearranging how it thinks. Everyone can praise the first child's castles and towers, but no one can see what the second child has done, and one may even get the false impression of a lack of industry. But if the second child persists in seeking better ways to learn, this can lead to silent growth in which some better ways to learn may lead to better ways to learn to learn. Then, later, we'll observe an awesome, qualitative change, with no apparent cause--and give to it some empty name like talent, aptitude, or gift.

- Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Manifesto for Algorithms in the Environment

Historically, sets of principles have proven critical in guiding future development around novel technologies and their social implications. The Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA (1975) and the more recent “Oxford Principles” for risky geo-engineering technologies (2009) show that principles can have a profound social and political impact. Any scholar of environmental law knows of the deep mark the Precautionary Principle and the Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility has left on international law. In this spirit, we have formulated a set of 7 principles - “The Biosphere Code.”

A dialogue about possible principles to direct the use of algorithms needs to start now. As part of the ongoing international conference “Transformations 2015” in Stockholm, we gathered a small group of thinkers and doers – scholars, programmers, artists, entrepreneurs, game developers and others – to explore these possible principles for the development of algorithms that helps us protect and strengthen our ecosystems, and improve our creative capacities to sustain human well-being in an uncertain future. They are applicable to programmers, hackers, software companies, computer scientists, artists, designers, policy-makers and others taking active part of the algorithm revolution. The seven principles captured in the Biosphere Code Manifesto v1.0 (full version available here) are:

  • Principle 1. With great algorithmic powers come great responsibilities - Those implementing and using algorithms should consider the impacts of their algorithms.
  • Principle 2. Algorithms should serve humanity and the biosphere at large - Algorithms should be considerate of human needs and the biosphere, and facilitate transformations towards sustainability by supporting ecologically responsible innovation.
  • Principle 3. The benefits and risks of algorithms should be distributed fairly - Algorithm developers should consider issues relating to the distribution of risks and opportunities more seriously. Developing algorithms that provide benefits to the few and present risks to the many are both unjust and unfair.
  • Principle 4. Algorithms should be flexible, adaptive and context-aware - Algorithms should be open, malleable and easy to reprogram if serious repercussions or unexpected results emerge. Algorithms should be aware of their external effects and be able to adapt to unforeseen changes.
  • Principle 5. Algorithms should help us expect the unexpected - Algorithms should be used in such a way that they enhance our shared capacity to deal with shocks and surprises - including problems caused by errors or misbehaviors in other algorithms.
  • Principle 6. Algorithmic data collection should be open and meaningful - Data collection should be transparent and respectful of public privacy. In order to avoid hidden biases, the datasets which feed into algorithms should be validated.
  • Principle 7. Algorithms should be inspiring, playful and beautiful - Algorithms should be used to enhance human creativity and playfulness, and to create new kinds of art. We should encourage algorithms that facilitate human collaboration, interaction and engagement - with each other, with society, and with nature.
- More Here

Quote of the Day

Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.

- Voltaire

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Computer Science as a Natural Science by Leslie Valiant

Quote of the Day

We carry about us the burden of what thousands of people have said and the memories of all our misfortunes. To abandon all that is to be alone, and the mind that is alone is not only innocent but young -- not in time or age, but young, innocent, alive at whatever age -- and only such a mind can see that which is truth and that which is not measurable by words.

- Jiddu Krishnamurti

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The importance of human innovation in A.I. ethics

“Begin as you mean to go forward.” Michael Stewart is founder, chairman & CEO of Lucid, an Artificial Intelligence company based in Austin that recently announced the formation of the industry’s first Ethics Advisory Panel (EAP). While Google claimed creation of a similar board when acquiring AI firm DeepMind in January 2014, no public realization of its efforts currently exist (as confirmed by a PR rep from Google for this piece). Lucid’s Panel, by comparison, has already begun functioning as a separate organization from the analytics side of the business and provides oversight for the company and its customers. “Our efforts,” Stewart says, “are guided by the principle that our ethics group is obsessed with making sure the impact of our technology is good.”


“You can sometimes do things that are entirely legal yet highly unethical.” Roland van Rijswijk works at SURFnet, the National Research and Education Network in the Netherlands connecting academia and research institutes throughout the country. He recently worked with van Wynsberghe to create a booklet designed to help staff identify ethical issues concerning how their data would be used by outside researchers. He’s quick to note the booklet (soon to be made public) is not simply a checklist for getting approval but a blueprint for spirited staff discussions designed to form educated decisions. As the booklet points out, “Virtue ethics allows for a discussion beyond hard and fast rules or duties and goes further than a discussion of consequences alone. It demands one to search for inner motivation and commitment, to articulate their intentions behind an action.” Introspection breeds innovation by this articulation of accountability. While some ethical decisions may seem clear cut, values are subjective. It’s in discussing issues openly that communal understanding can enlighten previously unclear paths.

“The more we interact with systems engaging human intentionality, the more we’re going to have to understand ourselves.” Jake Metcalf is a fellow at Data & Society, a research institute in New York City focused on social and ethical issues regarding data-centric technology. He’s also co-founder of the consulting firm, Ethical Resolve and notes that in trying to figure out what ethical decisions a company needs to fulfill their values, they gain more insight into their product and market. The more a company can be self reflective, the more successful they’re going to be.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I'm a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.

- Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Wisdom Of The Week

This week, when I was @ the Strata conference, the last keynote address was "In praise of boredom" by Maria Konnikova. Taking about boredom in a big data conference was wisdom 101!!

A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men… of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.

- The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell

Quote of the Day

I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.

- Alexis de Tocqueville

Friday, October 2, 2015

Quote of the Day

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.

- Marcus Aurelius

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Quote of the Day

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.

- Daniel Gilbert