Saturday, December 31, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

"It’s 25 pages a day. That’s it. Just commit to that, and then do it. What will 25 pages a day get you?

Let’s say that two days out of each month, you probably won’t have time to read. Plus Christmas. That gives you 340 days a year of solid reading time. 25 pages a day for 340 days is 8,400 pages. 8,400. What I have also found is that, when I commit to a minimum of 25 pages, I almost always read more. So let’s call the 8,400 pages 10,000. (I’d only need to extend that 25 pages into 30 to get there.)

With 10,000 pages a year, at a general pace of 25/day, what can we get done?Well, The Power Broker is 1,100 pages. The four LBJ books are collectively 3,552 pages. 

Tolstoy’s two masterpieces come in at a combined 2,160. Gibbons is six volumes and runs to about 3,660 pages. That’s 10,472 pages.

That means, in about one year, at a modest pace of 25 pages a day, I’ve knocked out 13 masterful works and learned an enormous amount about the history of the world. In one year!"
The Simple Plan To Read More

Quote of the Day

He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.

-  James Allen

Friday, December 30, 2016

Quote of the Day

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, 'It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.' It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: 'if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?' There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.

- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Quote of the Day

If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it.

- Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Thinking About Emergence & Chaos - Robert Sapolsky

Quote of the Day

The best companies I visited, all through the years, were never very hurried. Maybe they used pressure from time to time, as a sort of amusing side-effect. But it was never a constant. Because you don’t get creativity for free. You need people to be able to sit back, put their feet up, and think.

- Oliver Burkeman quotes Tom DeMarco in his brilliant essay Why time management is ruining our lives

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Quote of the Day

Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent. What I wonder is why everybody doesn't carry a book around for those inevitable dead spots in life.

- Stephen King

Monday, December 26, 2016

Democracy Is Dying as Technocrats Watch

Brilliant piece from one of most useful and practical thinkers of our generation - William Easterly.

My own field of economics can be so technical that whenever I give a talk mentioning values, I feel like I have to apologize. Yet economics is better equipped to defend values than usually believed. At the core of models of economic behavior is individual choice. Hidden in plain sight is the assumption that all individuals — whether male, female, white, black, gay, Muslim, or Latino — should indeed have equal rights to make decisions for themselves. The assumptions that guide analysis of what makes people better off embody the same respect for individual choice — we infer A is better than B for an individual if they voluntarily selected A over B. And if an individual chose something for himself or herself that did not make anyone else worse off, we say that overall well-being improved.

Although these principles are more than a century old in economics and are still at the core of our textbooks, they get sporadic attacks and less attention than they should due to our infatuation with evidence-based policy. Yet as Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser argued along the same lines in 2011, economics still has a “moral spine” beneath all the technocracy: “That spine is a fundamental belief in freedom.” As the economist John Stuart Mill said almost 150 years ago, the true test of freedom is not whether we care about our own rights but whether we care about “the rights of others.”

But can economics provide a conception of democracy that truly protects the “rights of others”? The field does indeed offer a potential defense against one of the core democratic dangers — the possibility that a tyrannical majority might vote to violate the rights of some minority group. Economists teach that it’s in a majority party’s interest to conduct a simple thought experiment before making political decisions: Since it’s impossible to know for sure that they will always be in the majority, and they could always wind up as part of some minority that some future majority decides to tyrannize, they should make political decisions behind a so-called “veil of ignorance” that sets aside their personal status and group affiliations. And anyone running that thought experiment faithfully would join a coalition to protect all future minority and individual rights.

Needless to say, the “veil of ignorance” thought experiment is ultimately a voluntary exercise. This year’s U.S. election tore the veil of ignorance to shreds and not for the first time. Many white men apparently did not perceive, or consider, this “ignorance” about the future, feeling confident that they will always have enough power to protect themselves and thus are free not to vote to protect the rights of others.

The long campaign for equal rights, by mixing eloquent moral appeals with “veil of ignorance” warnings, has nevertheless tried to make us all care just enough about other groups to forge a broad coalition in favor of democracy. Our technocratic age often sees such appeals as sentimentalism — more suitable for refrigerator magnets than serious debates. But Trump’s attack on core values required a response of such universal moral appeals — to white people as well as to minorities — instead of Clinton’s coalition of minorities and the 41-point plan of measurable outcomes on her website.

Democratic values have never been capable of defending themselves — equal rights require eloquent defenses capable of building broad alliances on their behalf. History offers plenty of inspiration. Abraham Lincoln: “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.” Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Elie Wiesel: “Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.”

Or take this famous quote by an anti-Nazi pastor. It warns explicitly against the consequences of failing to respect the veil of ignorance:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Grand sentiments can’t sustain politics by themselves; technical expertise has its place. But the long reign of technocracy has deprived us of the moral weapons needed to defend the core values that are the foundation of democracy. We are sadly lacking in any figures remotely resembling King or Wiesel today. But we will not be able to fight back against Trump unless we can find once again a capacity for moral advocacy for democratic values.

Quote of the Day

Pleasantries are low entropy, biased so far that they stop being an earnest inquiry and become ritual. Ritual has its virtues, of course, and I don't quibble with them in the slightest. But if we really want to start fathoming someone, we need to get them speaking in sentences we can't finish.

- Brian Christian, The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People by Maciej Cegłowski is the most important piece on AI I have ever read, period. Yes, seriously - I am using the word "ever". A simple reality most people forget and his talk is a remainder to those.

This business about saving all of future humanity is a cop-out. We had the same exact arguments used against us under communism, to explain why everything was always broken and people couldn't have a basic level of material comfort.

We were going to fix the world, and once that was done, happiness would trickle down to the point where everyday life would change for the better for everyone. But it was vital to fix the world first.

I live in California, which has the highest poverty rate in the United States, even though it's home to Silicon Valley. I see my rich industry doing nothing to improve the lives of everyday people and indigent people around us.

But if you’re committed to the idea of superintelligence, AI research is the most important thing you could do on the planet right now. It’s more important than politics, malaria, starving children, war, global warming, anything you can think of.

Because what hangs in the balance is trillions and trillions of beings, the entire population of future humanity, simulated and real, integrated over all future time.

In such conditions, it’s not rational to work on any other problem.


People think that a superintelligence will take over the world, so they use that as justification for why intelligent people should try to take over the world first, to try to fix it before AI can break it.

Joi Ito, who runs the MIT Media Lab, said a wonderful thing in a recent conversation with President Obama:
This may upset some of my students at MIT, but one of my concerns is that it's been a predominantly male gang of kids, mostly white, who are building the core computer science around AI, and they're more comfortable talking to computers than to human beings. A lot of them feel that if they could just make that science-fiction, generalized AI, we wouldn't have to worry about all the messy stuff like politics and society. They think machines will just figure it all out for us.

Having realized that the world is not a programming problem, AI obsessives want to make it into a programming problem, by designing a God-like machine.

This is megalomaniacal. I don't like it.


So what's the answer? What's the fix?

We need better scifi! And like so many things, we already have the technology.

This is Stanislaw Lem, the great Polish scifi author. English-language scifi is terrible, but in the Eastern bloc we have the goods, and we need to make sure it's exported properly.

It's already been translated well into English, it just needs to be better distributed.

What sets authors like Lem and the Strugatsky brothers above their Western counterparts is that these are people who grew up in difficult circumstances, experienced the war, and then lived in a totalitarian society where they had to express their ideas obliquely through writing.

They have an actual understanding of human experience and the limits of Utopian thinking that is nearly absent from the west.

Quote of the Day

Don't let them tell us stories. Don't let them say of the man sentenced to death "He is going to pay his debt to society," but: "They are going to cut off his head." It looks like nothing. But it does make a little difference.

- Albert Camus

Friday, December 23, 2016

Quote of the Day

The only way we could remember would be by constant re-reading, for knowledge unused tends to drop out of mind. Knowledge used does not need to be remembered; practice forms habits and habits make memory unnecessary. The rule is nothing; the application is everything.

- Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Quote of the Day

The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.

-  C.G. Jung

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Quote of the Day

If you are depressed you are living in the past. 
If you are anxious you are living in the future. 
If you are at peace you are living in the present.

- Lao Tzu

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Great A.I. Awakening

The issue with multilayered, “deep” neural networks was that the trial-and-error part got extraordinarily complicated. In a single layer, it’s easy. Imagine that you’re playing with a child. You tell the child, “Pick up the green ball and put it into Box A.” The child picks up a green ball and puts it into Box B. You say, “Try again to put the green ball in Box A.” The child tries Box A. Bravo.

Now imagine you tell the child, “Pick up a green ball, go through the door marked 3 and put the green ball into Box A.” The child takes a red ball, goes through the door marked 2 and puts the red ball into Box B. How do you begin to correct the child? You cannot just repeat your initial instructions, because the child does not know at which point he went wrong. In real life, you might start by holding up the red ball and the green ball and saying, “Red ball, green ball.” The whole point of machine learning, however, is to avoid that kind of explicit mentoring. Hinton and a few others went on to invent a solution (or rather, reinvent an older one) to this layered-error problem, over the halting course of the late 1970s and 1980s, and interest among computer scientists in neural networks was briefly revived. “People got very excited about it,” he said. “But we oversold it.” Computer scientists quickly went back to thinking that people like Hinton were weirdos and mystics.

These ideas remained popular, however, among philosophers and psychologists, who called it “connectionism” or “parallel distributed processing.” “This idea,” Hinton told me, “of a few people keeping a torch burning, it’s a nice myth. It was true within artificial intelligence. But within psychology lots of people believed in the approach but just couldn’t do it.” Neither could Hinton, despite the generosity of the Canadian government. “There just wasn’t enough computer power or enough data. People on our side kept saying, ‘Yeah, but if I had a really big one, it would work.’ It wasn’t a very persuasive argument.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The things that I really regret were not errors of judgement, but failures of feeling.

- Jeanette Winterson

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes

The case for political moderation requires untangling some misconceptions.

Moderation does not mean truth is always found equidistant between two extreme positions, nor does it mean that bold and at times even radical steps are not necessary to advance moral ends. Moderation takes into account what is needed at any given moment; it allows circumstances to determine action in the way that weather patterns dictate which route a ship will follow.

But there are general characteristics we associate with moderation, including prudence, the humility to recognize limits (including our own), the willingness to balance competing principles and an aversion to fanaticism. Moderation accepts the complexity of life in this world and distrusts utopian visions and simple solutions. The way to think about moderation is as a disposition, not as an ideology. Its antithesis is not conviction but intemperance.

Moderates “do not see the world in Manichaean terms that divide it into forces of good (or light) and agents of evil (or darkness),” according to Professor Craiutu. “They refuse the posture of prophets, champion sobriety in political thinking and action, and endorse an ethics of responsibility as opposed to an ethics of absolute ends.” This allows authentic moderates to remain open to facts that challenge their assumptions and makes them more likely to engage in debate free of invective. The survival of a functioning parliamentary system, Sir William Harcourt said, depends on “constant dining with the opposition.”

The charge that moderates lack courage is easily put to rest by people like the French journalist and philosopher Raymond Aron. He was a man of deep, reasoned convictions who possessed a sense of proportion. A nonconformist, Aron was fearless in taking on the leading intellectuals of his time, including his friend Sartre. (Parisian students in 1968 avowed that it was “better to be wrong with Sartre than right with Aron.”) Aron strongly defended liberal democracy when it was fashionable to denigrate it. Playing off the Marxist claim that religion was the opium of the masses, Aron argued that Marxism was the opium of the intellectuals.

For Aron, political moderation was a fighting creed. Allergic to ideological thinking, he conformed his views to evidence. He retained his intellectual and political independence throughout his life. Aron believed that history teaches us humility, modesty and the limits of our knowledge. He was also skilled at the art of dialogue, engaging those he disagreed with critically but civilly. “As the last great representative of a distinguished tradition of European liberalism,” Professor Craiutu writes, “Aron attempted to disintoxicate minds and calm fanaticism in dark times.” Aron put it this way: “Freedom flourishes in temperate zones; it does not survive the burning faith of prophets and crowds.”


Moderation is a difficult virtue for people to rally around, since by definition it doesn’t arouse fervor or zealous advocates. But in a time of spreading resentments and rage, when truth is increasingly the target of assault and dialogue is often viewed as betrayal, moderation isn’t simply a decorous democratic quality; it becomes an essential democratic virtue.

In this immoderate age, moderation must become America’s fighting faith.

- More here on the new book Faces of Moderation: The Art of Balance in an Age of Extremes by Aurelian Craiutu

Quote of the Day

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

Most firms have piles of data they aren’t doing much with, and far more data that they could collect at a modest cost. Sometimes they use some of this data to predict a few things of interest. Sometimes this creates substantial business value. Most of this value is achieved, as usual, in the simplest applications, where simple prediction methods are applied to simple small datasets. And the total value achieved is only a small fraction of the world economy, at least as measured by income received by workers and firms who specialize in predicting from data.

Many obstacles limit such applications. For example, the value of better predictions for related decisions may be low, data may be in a form poorly suited to informing predictions, making good use of predictions might require larger reorganizations, and organizations that hold parts of the data may not want to lose control of that data. Available personnel may lack sufficient skills to apply the most effective approaches for data cleaning, merging, analysis, and application.

No doubt many errors are made in choices of when to analyze what data how much and by whom. Sometimes they will do too much prediction, and sometimes too little. When tech changes, orgs will sometimes wait too long to try new tech, and sometimes will not wait long enough for tech to mature. But in ordinary times, when the relevant technologies improve at steady known rates, we have no strong reason to expect these choices to be greatly wrong on average.

In the last few years, new “deep machine learning” prediction methods are “hot.” In some widely publicized demonstrations, they seem to allow substantially more accurate predictions from data. Since they shine more when data is plentiful, and they need more skilled personnel, these methods are most promising for the largest prediction problems. Because of this new fashion, at many firms those who don’t understand these issues well are pushing subordinates to seek local applications of these new methods. Those subordinates comply, at least in appearance, in part to help they and their organization appear more skilled..

One result of this new fashion is that a few big new applications are being explored, in places with enough data and potential prediction value to make them decent candidates. But another result is the one described in my tweet above: fashion-induced overuse of more expensive new methods on smaller problems to which they are poorly matched. We should expect this second result to produce a net loss on average. The size of this loss could be enough to outweigh all the gains from the few big new applications; after all, most value is usually achieved in many small problems..

This AI Boom Will Also Bust

Quote of the Day

The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.

- George Orwell, 1984

Friday, December 16, 2016

Quote of the Day

I am alone in the midst of these happy, reasonable voices. All these creatures spend their time explaining, realizing happily that they agree with each other. In Heaven's name, why is it so important to think the same things all together.

- Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Quote of the Day

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.

- Richard Feynman

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What I've Been Reading

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis.  What could we expect when a best writer of our generation writes about one of the best friendships of this generation? Only Michael Lewis can pull this off !!
That was another thing colleagues and students noticed about Danny: how quickly he moved form his enthusiasms, how easily he accepted failure. It was as if he expected it. But he wasn't afraid of it. He'd try anything. He thought of himself as someone who enjoyed, more than most, changing his mind. "I get a sense of movement and discovery whenever I find a flaw in my thinking," he said. His theory of himself dovetailed neatly with this moodiness. In his darker moods, he become fatalistic - and was so wasn't surprised or disturbed when he did fail. (He'd been proven right!) In his up moments he was so full of enthusiasm that seemed to forget the possibility of failure, and would run with any new idea that comes his way. "He could drive people up the wall with his volatility," said fellow Hebrew University psychologist Maya Bar-Hillel. "Something was genius one day and crap the next, and the genius the next day and crap the next." What drove other crazy might have helped to keep Danny same. His moods were grease for his idea factory. 
In Amos's company Danny felt funny too - and he'd never felt that way before. In Danny's company Amos, too, became a different person:uncritical. Or, at least uncritical of whatever came from Danny. He didn't even poke fun in jest. He enabled Danny to feel, in a way he hand't before, confident. Maybe for the first time in his Danny was playing offense. "Amos did not write in a defensive crouch," e said. "There was something liberating about the arrogance - it was extremely rewarding to feel like Amos, smarter than almost everyone." 
The men who revealed our innate stupidity couldn't control their innate biases that affected their friendship... And that should teach us so much about human nature.

Quote of the Day

The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs. Self-conceit often regards it as a sign of weakness to admit that a belief to which we have once committed ourselves is wrong. We get so identified with an idea that it is literally a “pet” notion and we rise to its defense and stop our eyes and ears to anything different.

- John Dewey

Monday, December 12, 2016

Quote of the Day

Nell, the Constable continued, indicating through his tone of voice that the lesson was concluding, the difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.

Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Quote of the Day

One characteristic of good metaphors is the contrast between prior, literal interpretation and the posterior metaphoric interpretation. Metaphors that are too transparent are uninteresting; obscure metaphors are interpretable. A good metaphor is like a good detective story. The solution shouldn't be apparent to maintain the reader's interest, yet it should seem plausible after the fact to maintain the coherence of the story. Consider the smile, "An essay is like a fish." At first the statement is puzzling. An essay is not expected to be fishy, slippery or wet. The puzzle is resolved when we recall that (like a fish) an essay has a head and a body , and it occasionally ends with a flip of the tail.

- Amos, Tversky, Features of Similarity

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

You speak to an unusually wide audience for a research mathematician. What themes do you emphasise when talking to a broader public?

I think many people have been put off mathematics as young people. But actually what you find with children is they really enjoy it before they've had some adverse experience. A bad experience [is] probably because you were taught or you were in an environment where people were afraid of it. But the natural state I found in most children [is that] they find it very exciting. Children are born curious, exploring the outside world. I'm trying to explain to them [that] for people who carry on, [doing maths is] really an enjoyable experience – it's very exciting.

Now what you have to handle when you start doing mathematics as an older child or as an adult is accepting this state of being stuck. People don't get used to that. Some people find this very stressful. Even people who are very good at mathematics sometimes find this hard to get used to and they feel that's where they're failing. But it isn't: it's part of the process and you have to accept [and] learn to enjoy that process. Yes, you don't understand [something at the moment] but you have faith that over time you will understand — you have to go through this.

It's like training in sport. If you want to run fast, you have to train. Anything where you're trying to do something new, you have to go through this difficult period. It's not something to be frightened of. Everybody goes through it.

What I fight against most in some sense, [when talking to the public,] is the kind of message, for example as put out by the film Good Will Hunting, that there is something you're born with and either you have it or you don't. That's really not the experience of mathematicians. We all find it difficult, it's not that we're any different from someone who struggles with maths problems in third grade. It's really the same process. We're just prepared to handle that struggle on a much larger scale and we've built up resistance to those setbacks.

Yes, some people are brighter than others but I really believe that most people can really get to quite a good level in mathematics if they're prepared to deal with these more psychological issues of how to handle the situation of being stuck.

What do you do when you get stuck?

The process of research mathematics seems to me [to be] that you absorb everything about the problem, you think about it a great deal, all the techniques that you use for these things. Usually [the problem still] needs something else – so yes, you get stuck.

Then you have to stop, let your mind relax a bit and then come back to it. Somehow your subconscious is making connections and you start again, maybe the next afternoon, the next day, the next week even and sometimes it just comes back. Sometimes I put something down for a few months, I come back and it's obvious. I can't explain why. But you have to have the faith that that will come back.

The way some people handle this is they work on several things at once and then they switch from one to another as they get stuck. I can't do that. I get manic about it. Once I'm stuck on a problem I just can't think about anything else. It's more difficult. So I just take a little time off and then come back to it.

I really think it's bad to have too good a memory if you want to be a mathematician. You need a slightly bad memory because you need to forget the way you approached [a problem] the previous time because it's a bit like evolution, DNA. You need to make a little mistake in the way you did it before so that you do something slightly different and then that's what actually enables you to get round [the problem].

So if you remembered all the failed attempts before, you wouldn't try them again. But because I have a slightly bad memory I'll probably try essentially the same thing again and then I realise I was just missing this one little thing I needed to do.

How important is creativity in mathematics?

Well, creativity is what it's all about. I think outside there are different reactions to mathematics, one is [that the] general public think "Isn't it all known already?", or that it's somehow machine-like.

But no, it's extremely creative. We're coming up with some completely unexpected patterns, either in our reasoning or in the results. Yes, to communicate it to others we have to make it very formal and very logical. But we don't create it that way, we don't think that way. We're not automatons. We have developed a kind of feel for how it should fit together and we're trying to feel, "Well, this is important, I haven't used this, I want to try and think of some new way of interpreting this so that I can put it into the equation," and so on.

We think of ourselves as very creative. I think that's sometimes a little frustrating for mathematicians because we're thinking in terms of beauty and creativity and so on, and of course the outside world thinks of us as much more like a computer. It's not how we think of ourselves at all.

It could be a little like music. In some sense, music, you can just write it out in terms of numbers. I mean, they're just notes. It's up, down, up, down, put a rhythm in. It could be written out completely digitally, and it is. But you listen to Bach or Beethoven, that's not a series of numbers, there's something else there. It's the same with us. There's something very, very creative that we get very passionate about.

Andrew Wiles: What Does It Feel Like To Do Maths?

Quote of the Day

If intelligence was a cake, unsupervised learning would be the cake, supervised learning would be the icing on the cake, and reinforcement learning would be the cherry on the cake. We know how to make the icing and the cherry, but we don’t know how to make the cake.

Yann LeCun

Friday, December 9, 2016

Quote of the Day

Chance is commonly viewed as a self-correcting process in which a deviation in one direction induces a deviation in the opposite direction to restore the equilibrium. In fact, deviations are not "corrected" as a chance process unfolds, they are merely diluted.

- Amos Tversky, Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Quote of the Day

A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.

- Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Quote of the Day

Trust none of what you hear, some of what you read, half of what you see goes an old trader adage. As a trader and quant/mathematical statistician, I have been taught to take data seriously, trust nobody’s numbers, and avoid people naive enough to engage in policy based on lurid but questionable pictures of destruction: the fake picture of a dying child is something nobody can question without appearing to be an asshole. As a citizen, I require that the designation “murderer” be determined in a court of law, not by Saudi-funded outlets — once someone is called a murderer or butcher, all bets are off. I cannot believe governments and bureaucrats could be so stupid. But they are.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Quote of the Day

Patience is a virtue, but there comes a moment when you must stop being patient and take the day by the throat and shake it. If it fights back; fine. I'd rather end up bloody at the end of the day, then unhurt with no progress made, no knowledge gained. I'd rather have a no, then nothing. I'd forgotten that about myself.

- Laurell K. Hamilton

Monday, December 5, 2016

Quote of the Day

Knowledge, then, can be dangerous because a rational mind may be compelled to use it in rational ways, allowing malevolent or careless speakers to commandeer our faculties against us. This makes the expressive power of language a mixed blessing: it lets us learn what we want to know, but it also lets us learn what we don't want to know. Language is not just a window into human nature but a fistula: an open wound through which our innards are exposed to an infectious world. It's not surprising that we expect people to sheathe their words in politeness and innuendo and other forms of doublespeak.

- Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature

Sunday, December 4, 2016


I loved the movie !! Language affects our thoughts and at a higher level it also defines who we are and who we become. So be careful watching cable news, taking ideological political stance and seeing the world as my ideology vs. theirs.

Well, the movie doesn't cover any of the above except it defines how language affects our thoughts.

Memory is a strange thing.  We are bound by time.  By its order.

Are you dream in their language?

Quote of the Day

My reasons for refusing the prize concern neither the Swedish Academy nor the Nobel Prize in itself, as I explained in my letter to the Academy. In it, I alluded to two kinds of reasons: personal and objective.

The personal reasons are these: my refusal is not an impulsive gesture, I have always declined official honors. In 1945, after the war, when I was offered the Legion of Honor, I refused it, although I was sympathetic to the government. Similarly, I have never sought to enter the Collège de France, as several of my friends suggested.

This attitude is based on my conception of the writer’s enterprise. A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own—that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable. If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prizewinner.

The writer who accepts an honor of this kind involves as well as himself the association or institution which has honored him. My sympathies for the Venezuelan revolutionists commit only myself, while if Jean-Paul Sartre the Nobel laureate champions the Venezuelan resistance, he also commits the entire Nobel Prize as an institution.

The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances, as in the present case.

- Jean-Paul Sartre explanation for his refusal to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to the circumstances of today.
1. Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.
2. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. Institutions don’t protect themselves. They go down like dominoes unless each is defended from the beginning.
3. Recall professional ethics. When the leaders of state set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become much more important. It is hard to break a rule-of-law state without lawyers, and it is hard to have show trials without judges.
5. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it.
6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. (Don’t use the internet before bed. Charge your gadgets away from your bedroom, and read.) What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by V’aclav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.
7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
8. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.
12. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.
19. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
Fighting authoritarianism: 20 lessons from the 20th century

Quote of the Day

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?

- Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, December 2, 2016

Thursday, December 1, 2016

What Neuroscience Can Learn From Buddhism

Recently, neuroscience has to concede, maybe grudgingly, that Buddhism was right all along when it comes to the concept of the changing mind. The Buddhists call it anicca, the concept that everything is impermanent and constantly changing. Thus, Buddhists believe that life is a continuous becoming.

This concept is liberating because it brings an awareness that a person is not defined by what they think or their perception of themselves. With this awareness, there is a sense of positivism because it gives the person hope that they are constantly evolving into something better. Moreover, it gives hope that the possibilities to change themselves are endless.

Armed with the same belief that life is like a river continuously flowing, Buddhists do not attach themselves to things because they believe that when they do, they are going against the forces of the universe by controlling something to become stable.

Neuroscience also holds the same belief but they put it in a more scientific and rather complicated way. They call this state of impermanence neuroplasticity, which shows that the brain is malleable and can be easily molded to change opening yourself to great possibilities for growth.

Neuroplasticity also shows that from the time we are born and until we die, our brains continue to rewire itself finding new neural pathways to adjust to our changing needs. This process is what allows people to adapt to the different experiences they have.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

They will envy you for your success, your wealth, for your intelligence, for your looks, for your status - but rarely for your wisdom.

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Quote of the Day

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

- C.G. Jung

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Quote of the Day

Patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting.

- Joyce Meyer

Patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting. Joyce Meyer
Read more at:
Patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting. Joyce Meyer
Read more at:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Quote of the Day

It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Quote of the Day

Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible.

- Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Quote of the Day

Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible.

- Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

Parks: So, assuming consciousness is a thing, a physical thing, or an amalgam of things, what do we do with the word “mental”?

Manzotti: Good question! Actually “mental” isn’t so different, at least as regards its function, from a word like “spiritual.” Neither word has a precise referent. I’m afraid we’re going to run into a lot of words like this in the course of these conversations. It’s as if certain terms we use had been given a special license to operate outside the constraints of the physical world. The philosopher Sidney Shoemaker observed that the notion of the “mental” amounts to a kind of ontological dustbin. Anything that doesn’t fit with our current picture of physical reality is moved to the bin whose main purpose is to collect together all the things we can’t explain. It’s a sort of quiet dualism: you don’t say the word “spirit,” but in fact you’re splitting the world in two.

Parks: A bin is hardly flattering. Surely when we talk about our mental lives we’re simply thinking of everything that makes human beings special, different—our thoughts, our language-based lucubration.

Manzotti: Absolutely. There are good reasons to be fond of a notion like “the mental,” because it places our minds above the constraints of physical necessity. It’s a comforting idea. We are above nature. We are special. We have our mental lives. Separate from the nitty-gritty of matter. Unfortunately, we have no scientific justification for this belief, which is very likely just another manifestation of what Freud described as human narcissism, the desire to believe ourselves at once at the center of the universe, yet in some way superior to and even separate from the nature around us.
How convenient, when you can’t explain something, to say, well, that means we’re special, we’re not like the rest of the natural world. But science works on the assumption that nature is one and that all phenomena must fit in the same system and obey the same laws; hence the fact that we experience the world—i.e., consciousness—must be a natural phenomenon which, like all other natural phenomena, is physical, I mean made of matter and energy.


Manzotti: There are many strands to internalism, but on the whole, and certainly initially, yes. The idea was formalized in the 1950s by people like David Armstrong and J.J.C. Smart. They advanced the idea that consciousness is neural processes, or certain neural processes. Once they’d formed this perfectly respectable hypothesis an army of scientists set about verifying it empirically. And in fact, over the past fifty years we’ve made extraordinary progress in the development of sophisticated instruments to probe and explore the brain with all its fantastically intricate electrical and chemical activity.

Parks: And?

Manzotti: Well, neuroscientists have certainly found a huge number of correlates of consciousness; that is, for all kinds of sensory experiences they have established which parts of the brain are active, and the nature of that activity. This is of enormous interest and scientifically very sound.

Parks: I hear a but coming.

Manzotti: Well, a correlate of consciousness is not consciousness. When scientists look for AIDS or DNA, they look for the thing itself, not a mere correlate. This is a problem: how to get from the neural correlate—the fact that there’s neural activity when I experience something—to the thing itself, the experience? As Bertrand Russell almost facetiously put it, when one licks chocolate ice-cream nothing in the brain tastes like chocolate. Of course an experience also has correlates outside the brain: the sensory organs—eyes, ears, nose, skin, tastebuds—not to mention the object itself that we experience, light, soundwaves, that chocolate ice-cream, whatever. Why privilege the correlates in the brain in our attempt to locate consciousness? Why…

- The Challenge of Consciousness, Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks

Quote of the Day

Concentrate every minute … on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions … you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.

You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought: everything random and irrelevant. And certainly everything self-important or malicious.

You can lead an untroubled life provided you can grow, can think and act systematically.

Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.

…your responsibilities can be broken down into individual parts as well. Concentrate on those, and finish the job methodically…

Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their minds.

Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.

- Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Friday, November 25, 2016

Quote of the Day

There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Consider the Turkey on Thanksgiving. Specifically, Consider Not Eating It - Peter Singer

When I teach practical ethics, I encourage my students to take the arguments we discuss outside the classroom. For Americans, there is no better occasion for a conversation about the ethics of what we eat than Thanksgiving, the holiday at which, more than any other, we come together around a meal.

he traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal is a turkey, so that is the obvious place to start. According to the National Turkey Federation, about 46 million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving each year. The vast majority of them — at least 99% — are raised on factory farms. Newly hatched turkeys are raised in incubators and then debeaked before having their talons cut off. Male turkeys also have their snood removed — the fleshy erectile protuberance that grows from the forehead. All this is done without anesthetic, despite the pain it clearly causes..

The reason for these mutilations is that the birds are about to be placed in dim, poorly ventilated sheds, where they will live out the rest of their lives crowded together with thousands of other birds. The air reeks of ammonia from the birds’ droppings. In these unnatural and stressful conditions, turkeys will peck or claw at other birds, and cannibalism can occur. The snood is removed because it is often a target for pecking from other birds..

When the birds reach market weight, they are deprived of food and water, rounded up, often in a very rough manner, and transported to slaughter. Each year, hundreds of thousands don’t even make it that far — they die from the stress of the journey. If they do make it, they are still not guaranteed a humane death, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture interprets the Humane Slaughter Act as not applying to birds..

The turkeys Americans eat are not like those found in the wild; they have been altered by breeding designed to enlarge the breast. This process has gone so far that the standard American turkey, the descriptively named Broad Breasted White, is incapable of mating because the male’s big breast gets in the way. Here, I tell my students, is an interesting question to drop into a lull in conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table. Point to the turkey on the table and ask: If turkeys can’t mate, how was that turkey produced?.

- Peter Singer

Quote of the Day

Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I've discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory-- disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.

- Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Quote of the Day

Someone who is permanently surprised that depravity exists, who continues to feel disillusioned (even incredulous) when confronted with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hands-on cruelties upon other humans, has not reached moral or psychological adulthood.

- Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Quote of the Day

If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.

-  Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

Monday, November 21, 2016

What I've Been Reading

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. This book is scheduled to be released in Feb'2017 but I found a pre-release (or international) copy on Amazon.

I think only Harari is capable of writing a sequel which is better than his original Sapiens. This man is really passionate about animal welfare and clearly communicates what miseries we bring to their lives (if you can call it a "life" which is worse than death).

I can start quoting this entire book but please get a copy and devour it. This is one of the most important books so far in this century.

In the early twenty-first century the train of progress is again pulling out of the station - and this will probably be the last train ever to leave the station called Homo Sapiens. Those who miss this train will never get a second chance. In order to get a seat on it, you need to understand twenty-first-century technology. And in particular the powers of biotechnology and computer algorithms. The main products of the twenty-first century will be bodies, brains and minds, and the gap between those who know how to engineer bodies and brains and those who do not will be far bigger than the gap between Dicken's Britain and the Mahdi's Sudhan. Indeed, it will be bigger than the gap between Sapiens and Neanderthals.

No investigation of our divine future can ignore our own animal past, or our relationships with other animals - because the relationship between humans and animals is the best model we have for future relationships between superhumans and humans. You want to know how super-intelligent cyborgs might treat ordinary humans?  Better start by investigating how humans treat their less intelligent animal cousins.


Democracy encourages us to believe in a democratic future; capitalism doesn't allow us to envisage a non-capitalist alternative; and humanism makes it difficult for us to imagine a post-human destiny. At most, we sometimes recycle past events and think about them as alternative futures. For example, twentieth century Nazism and communism serve as a blue print for many dystopian fantasies; and science-fiction authors use medieval and ancient legacies to imagine Jedi-knights and galactic emperors fighting it out with spaceships and laser guns.

This book traces the origins of our present-day conditioning in order to loosen its grip and enable us to think in far more imaginative ways about our future. Instead of narrowing our horizons by forecasting a single definitive scenario, the book aims to broaden our horizons and make us aware of much wider spectrum of options.

Quote of the Day

The quality of your life is measured by the quality of your questions.

- Tony Robbins

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Quote of the Day

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.
-  Albert Einstein

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

Today, that is the precise definition of epigenetics: the molecular factors that regulate how DNA functions and what genes are turned on or off, independent of the DNA sequence itself. Epigenetics involves a number of molecular processes that can dramatically influence the activity of the genome without altering the sequence of DNA in the genes themselves.

One of the most common such processes is ‘DNA methylation’, in which molecular components called methyl groups (made of methane) attach to DNA, turning genes on or off, and regulating the level of gene expression. Environmental factors such as temperature or emotional stress have been shown to alter DNA methylation, and these changes can be permanently programmed and inherited over generations – a process known as epigenetic transgenerational inheritance.

Another major epigenetic process discovered in recent years is ‘histone modification’. Histones are proteins that attach to and alter the structure of DNA, which in turn wraps around the histones like beads on a string. The combination of DNA and histone together has been called ‘chromatin structures’ – and the coils, loops and twists in chromatin structures in response to environmental stress can permanently alter gene expression as well.

More recently, researchers have documented ‘RNA methylation’ in which methyl groups attach to the genetic helper molecules, in the process altering gene expression and subsequent protein production for generations down the line. Likewise, the action of so-called ‘non-coding RNA’, small RNA molecules that bind to DNA, RNA and proteins, also alter the expression of genes, independent of DNA sequence.

All of these epigenetic mechanisms are critical and have unique roles in the molecular regulation of how DNA functions. The regulation of biology, it follows, will never involve a ‘genetic-only process’, nor an ‘epigenetic-only process’. Instead, the processes of epigenetics and genetics are completely integrated. One does not work without the other.

Darwin’s theory that natural selection drives evolution is incomplete without input from evolution’s anti-hero: Lamarck

Quote of the Day

Tyranny offers relief from the burden of sanity and a licence to enact forbidden impulses of hatred and violence. By acting on these impulses and releasing them in their subjects tyrants give people a kind of happiness, which as individuals they may be incapable of achieving.

-The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths by John Gray

Friday, November 18, 2016

Quote of the Day

It isn't normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.

- Abraham H. Maslow

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Origins of Dogs

“Ten or 20 years ago, we looked at modern dogs and modern wolves, and that’s it,” says German geneticist Olaf Thalmann, currently at Poland’s Poznan University of Medical Sciences. “We have realized this is wrong. Now we’re going back to the cradle of domestication to look for answers there [because] the wolves we see today are not what gave rise to dogs.”

DNA in this ancient Irish dog’s temporal bone is distinct from modern dogs and wolves. It’s evidence that dogs had multiple origins.

In June, Science published a paper that heralds the new direction of research. According to the study, dogs were domesticated not once but twice, on opposite ends of the Eurasian continent at least 15,000 years ago. Previous studies assumed that domestication was a difficult and thus rare event, occurring only once. But the new dual-origin theory found that an ancient European population was replaced by an eastern Asian population as the latter expanded across the continent. Every dog alive today is descended from ancient Asian roots.

In addition to collecting DNA from hundreds of modern wolves as well as mutts and purebred dogs, the dual-origin researchers extracted DNA from dozens of ancient dogs, including a particularly high-value sample from a 4,800-year-old animal unearthed in Newgrange, Ireland.

“The ancient [Newgrange] dog had ancestry not found in modern dogs or in modern wolves,” says Mietje Germonpré, who was not part of the dual-origin team. The Belgian paleontologist has studied the remains of other older canids in Eurasia and believes some of them were early dogs — a controversial theory, but one this new research suggests may be correct.

“It’s the first hint toward what’s out there,” says Thalmann, who also wasn’t involved in the research. “It’s a wake-up call. The theory about multiple origins and timing was out there for some time, but this is the first evidence for it genetically.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.

- Cardinal Richelieu, The Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1896) by Jehiel K̀eeler Hoyt

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Quote of the Day

By their very nature, heuristic shortcuts will produce biases, and that is true for both humans and artificial intelligence, but the heuristics of AI are not necessarily the human ones.

- Daniel Kahneman

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Undoing Project by Micheal Lewis

Before the war, Danny and Amos had shared the hope that their work on human judgment would find its way into high-stakes real-world decision-making. In this new field, called decision analysis, they could transform high-stakes decision-making into a sort of engineering problem. They would design decision-making systems. Experts on decision-making would sit with leaders in business, the military, and government and help them to frame every decision explicitly as a gamble, to calculate the odds of this or that happening, and to assign values to every possible outcome.

If we seed the hurricane, there is a 50 percent chance we lower itsAdapted from The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, by Michael Lewis wind speed but a 5 percent chance that we lull people who really should evacuate into a false sense of security: What do we do?

In the bargain, the decision analysts would remind important decision-makers that their gut feelings had mysterious powers to steer them wrong. “The general change in our culture toward numerical formulations will give room for explicit reference to uncertainty,” Amos wrote in notes to himself for a talk of his own. Both Amos and Danny thought that voters and shareholders and all the other people who lived with the consequences of high-level decisions might come to develop a better understanding of the nature of decision-making. They would learn to evaluate a decision not by its outcomes—whether it turned out to be right or wrong—but by the process that led to it. The job of the decision-maker wasn’t to be right but to figure out the odds in any decision and play them well. As Danny told audiences in Israel, what was needed was a “transformation of cultural attitudes to uncertainty and to risk.”

Exactly how some decision analyst would persuade any business, military, or political leader to allow him to edit his tis thinking was unclear. How would you even persuade some important decision-maker to assign numbers to his “utilities” (that is, personal value as opposed to objective value)? Important people didn’t want their gut feelings pinned down, even by themselves. And that was the rub.

Later, Danny recalled the moment he and Amos lost faith in decision analysis. The failure of Israeli intelligence to anticipate the Yom Kippur attack led to an upheaval in the Israeli government and a subsequent brief period of introspection. They’d won the war, but the outcome felt like a loss. The Egyptians, who had suffered even greater losses, were celebrating in the streets as if they had won, while everyone in Israel was trying to figure out what had gone wrong. Before the war, the Israeli intelligence unit had insisted, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary, that Egypt would never attack Israel as long as Israel maintained air superiority. Israel had maintained air superiority, and yet Egypt had attacked. After the war, with the view that perhaps it could do better, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up its own intelligence unit. The man in charge of it, Zvi Lanir, sought Danny’s help. In the end, Danny and Lanir conducted an elaborate exercise in decision analysis. Its basic idea was to introduce a new rigor in dealing with questions of national security. “We started with the idea that we should get rid of the usual intelligence report,” said Danny. “Intelligence reports are in the form of essays. And essays have the characteristic that they can be understood any way you damn well please.” In place of the essay, Danny wanted to give Israel’s leaders probabilities, in numerical form.


Danny and Lanir then presented their probabilities to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. (“The National Gamble,” they called their report.) Foreign Minister Allon looked at the numbers and said, “Ten percent increase? That is a small difference.”

Danny was stunned: if a 10 percent increase in the chances of full-scale war with Syria wasn’t enough to interest Allon in Kissinger’s peace process, how much would it take to turn his head? That number represented the best estimate of the odds. Apparently, the foreign minister didn’t want to rely on the best estimates. He preferred his own internal probability calculator: his gut. “That was the moment I gave up on decision analysis,” said Danny. “No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story.” As Danny and Lanir wrote, decades later, after the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency asked them to describe their experience in decision analysis, the Israeli Foreign Ministry was “indifferent to the specific probabilities.” What was the point of laying out the odds of a gamble if the person taking it either didn’t believe the numbers or didn’t want to know them? The trouble, Danny suspected, was that “the understanding of numbers is so weak that they don’t communicate anything. Everyone feels that those probabilities are not real—that they are just something on somebody’s mind.”

Excerpts from The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, by Michael Lewis

Quote of the Day

This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Monday, November 14, 2016

Quote of the Day

The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.

-  James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Quote of the Day

After all, the guy will probably resign or be impeached within a year. The future is closer than you think.

- David Brooks

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

The mistake in the analysis lies deeper, perhaps—in the assumption that only a strange and traumatic sequence can have made this happen. What can be causing Trumpism? We ask, and seek for an earthquake, or at least a historical oddity or a series of highly specific causal events. The more tragic truth is that the Trumpian view of the world is the default view of mankind. Bigotry, fanaticism, xenophobia are the norms of human life—the question is not what causes them but what uncauses them, what happens in the rare extended moments that allow them to be put aside, when secular values of toleration and pluralism replace them.

It is a touching thing that Oscar Hammerstein had his people sing, apropos racial prejudice, that “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” Alas, as poor Oscar would have realized if he had stopped to think about the events that had led all those American soldiers and sailors to the South Pacific in the first place, you don’t have to be carefully taught to hate. The Hitlerians and the Japanese militarists hadn’t been carefully taught; they rushed to their lesson in the face of all evidence. Human groups, particularly those fuelled by religious fanaticism or the twentieth-century equivalent, blind nationalism, always tend toward exclusion. To eliminate the tribal instinct may be impossible, but to raise the accidental practice of pluralism to a principle is what enlightened societies struggle to accomplish. And they have.

It just turns out to be a horribly hard triumph to sustain. Along comes 1914, or 1933—or, God forbid, 2016—and the work comes crashing down. What really needs explaining is not why the Trumps of the world come forward and win. It is why they sometimes lose.

Not long ago, I had occasion to write of the divide in virtue that separates us from Shakespeare, making the point that Shakespeare believed in fate, order, and forgiveness, whereas we believe in history, justice, and compassion, and that, superior though our moral progress may seem, there are bitter truths in the old trinity. For, as Shakespeare would have grasped at once, there is no explaining Trump. He is one of those phenomena that rise regularly in history to confound us with the possibility—and black comedy—of potent evil: conscienceless, cruel and pathologically dishonest. That evil magnetizes followers of all kinds is another permanent truth. Overexplaining its rise is as foolish as pretending that it can be easily defeated. The threat it makes to an order that, however imperfect, is worth sustaining and defending reminds us of that order’s fragility. As to forgiveness, much will be demanded, even if the best happens—or the worst, at least, is avoided.

-  Adam Gopnik and Again Adam on What Will We Tell Our Children:

We teach our children history, and the history that many of them have learned in the past decade or so, at American schools and colleges, is, perhaps, unrealistic in remaining unduly progressive in tone. They learn about the brave path of the slaves’ fight for freedom, about the rise of feminism, and with these lessons they learn to be rigorously skeptical of the patriarchy—without necessarily seeing that the patriarchy survives, enraged. The strangest element of this sad time is surely that our departing President, a model of eloquence and reason, is leaving office with a successful record and a high approval rating. How Trump’s strange rise and Obama’s high rating can have coincided in the same moment will remain one of the permanent conundrums of our history.

The lesson of history—one of them, anyway—is that there is no one-way arrow in it, that tragedy lurks around every corner, that the iceberg is there even as the mighty Titanic sails out, unsinkable. Having a tragic view of life is compatible with having a positive view of our worldly duties. This is a big and abstract thought to share with children, of course, and perhaps, like so many like it, it is teachable only as a pained—at this moment, acutely pained—daily practice.

Jonathan Haidt had "predicted" this couple of decades ago. People read his books but when time comes to implement them, they go back to their old ways.... I think, that is one of the reasons that an ego maniac will soon have the nuclear button. Jonathan Haidt interview:

Actually, I think ... Empathy is a very, very hot topic in psychology, and it's a very popular word on the left in particular. Empathy is a good thing, and empathy for the preferred classes of victims. So it's important to empathize with the groups that we on the left think are so important. That's easy to do, because you get points for that.

But empathy really should get you points if you do it when it's hard to do. And, I think ... You know, we had a long 50-year period of dealing with our race problems and legal discrimination, and that was our top priority for a long time and it still is important. But I think this year, I'm hoping it will make people see that we have an existential threat on our hands. Our left-right divide, I believe, is by far the most important divide we face. We still have issues about race and gender and LGBT, but this is the urgent need of the next 50 years, and things aren't going to get better on their own. So we're going to need to do a lot of institutional reforms, and we could talk about that, but that's like a whole long, wonky conversation. But I think it starts with people realizing that this is a turning point. And yes, we need a new kind of empathy. We need to realize: this is what our country needs, and this is what you need if you don't want to -- Raise your hand if you want to spend the next four years as angry and worried as you've been for the last year -- raise your hand. So if you want to escape from this, read Buddha, read Jesus, read Marcus Aurelius. They have all kinds of great advice for how to drop the fear, reframe things, stop seeing other people as your enemy. There's a lot of guidance in ancient wisdom for this kind of empathy.

Quote of the Day

We do not become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon.

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

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Republic Repeals Itself

I will leave you with these words about what has now happened to America. Someone saw it coming a long time ago:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

That was George Washington’s Farewell Address.

A country designed to resist tyranny has now embraced it. A constitution designed to prevent democracy taking over everything has now succumbed to it. A country once defined by self-government has openly, clearly, enthusiastically delivered its fate into the hands of one man to do as he sees fit. After 240 years, an idea that once inspired the world has finally repealed itself. We the people did it.

- Andrew Sullivan

Quote of the Day

Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry.

- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Quote of the Day

Barbarism is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity. The danger does not come merely from habitual hooligans; we are all potential recruits for anarchy. Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living together at peace; there is only a margin of error left over for experiment however beneficent. Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on. … The work of preserving society is sometimes onerous, sometimes almost effortless. The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat. At a time like the present it is notably precarious. If it falls, we shall see not merely the dissolution of a few joint-stock corporations, but of the spiritual and material achievements of our history.

- Robbery Under Law, Evelyn Waugh

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Quote of the Day

It also happened that part of my research in risk overlaps with complexity theory. The first thing one learns about complex systems is that they are not a sum of body parts: a system is a collection of interactions, not an addition of individual responses. Your body cannot be trained with specific and local muscle exercises. When you try to lift a heavy object, you recruit every muscle in your body, though some more than others. You also produce a variety of opaque interactions between these muscles.

This complex system method applies to all situations, even when you engage in physical therapy, as I did for an injured shoulder. I discovered that doing the more natural barbell presses and (initially assisted) pull-ups, works better and more robustly than the complicated and time consuming multi-colored elastic bands prized by physical therapists. Why don’t physical therapists make you do these robust barbell exercises? Simply, because they have a rent to pay and, just as with gyms, single-exercise machines look fancier and more impressive to the laity.

- Strength Training is Learning from Tail Events, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Quote of the Day

Desperate, lonely, cut off from the human community which in many cases has ceased to exist, under the sentence of violent death, wracked by desires for intimacy they do not know how to fulfil, at the same time tormented by the presence of women, men turn to logic.

- Andrea Nye, Words of Power: A Feminist Reading of the History of Logic

Monday, November 7, 2016

Quote of the Day

Stoicism, seen this way, becomes pure robustness – for the attainment of a state of immunity from one’s external circumstances, good or bad, and an absence of fragility to decisions made by fate, is robustness. Random events won’t affect us either way (we are too strong to lose, and not greedy to enjoy the upside).

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

In a normal, adult human being, these things come bundled together. But in a more exotic entity they might be disaggregated. In most non-human animals we find awareness of the world without self-awareness, and the capacity for suffering without the capacity for empathy. A human-level AI might display awareness of the world and self-awareness without the capacity for emotion or empathy. If such entities became familiar, our language would change to accommodate them. Monolithic concepts such as consciousness might break apart, leading to new ways of talking about the behaviour of AIs.

More radically, we might discover whole new categories of behaviour or cognition that are loosely associated with our old conception of consciousness. In short, while we might retain bits of today’s language to describe highly exotic entities with complex behaviour, other relevant parts of our language might be reshaped, augmented or supplanted by wholly new ways of talking, a process that would be informed by computer science, by comparative cognition, by behavioural psychology and by the natural evolution of ordinary language. Under these conditions, something like ‘capacity for consciousness’ might be usefully retained as a summary statistic for those entities whose behaviour eludes explanation in today’s terms but could be accommodated by a novel conceptual framework wherein the notion of consciousness now familiar to us, though fragmented and refracted, remains discernible.

What are the implications of this possibility for the H-C plane? Figure 2 above indicates a point on the H-C plane with the same value as a human on the C-axis, but which is exotic enough to lie on the H-axis at the limit of applicability of any form of consciousness. Here we find entities, both extraterrestrial and artificial, that possess human-level intelligence but whose behaviour bears little resemblance to human behaviour.

Nevertheless, given sufficiently rich interaction with and/or observation of these entities, we would come to see them as fellow conscious beings, albeit having modified our language to accommodate their eccentricities. One such entity, the exotic conscious AGI, has a counterpart at the left-hand end of the H-C plane, namely the exotic zombie AGI. This is a human-level AI whose behaviour is similarly non-human-like, but that we are unable to see as conscious however much we interact with it or observe it. These two data points – the exotic, conscious, human-level intelligence and the exotic, zombie, human-level intelligence – define the bottom two corners of a square whose other corners are humans themselves at the top right, and human-like zombies at the top left. This square illustrates the inextricable, three-way relationship between human-level intelligence, human-likeness, and consciousness.

We can now identify a number of overlapping regions within our embryonic space of possible minds. These are depicted in Figure 3 below. On the (debatable) assumption that, if an entity is conscious at all, its capacity for consciousness will correlate with its cognitive prowess, human-level intelligence features in the two, parallel purple regions, one to the far left of the diagram and one at human level on the C-axis. The exotic, conscious AGI resides at the bottom of the latter region, and also at the left-hand end of the orange region of conscious exotica. This region stretches to the right of the C-axis, beyond the human level, because it encompasses exotic beings, which could be extraterrestrial or artificial or both, with superhuman intelligence and a superhuman capacity for consciousness. Our ‘mind children’ are less exotic forms of possible superintelligent, superconscious creatures. But the conscious exotica here are, perhaps, the most interesting beings in the space of possible minds, since they reside at the limit of what we would welcome into the fellowship of consciousness, yet sit on a boundary beyond which everything complex is inscrutably strange.

From algorithms to aliens, could humans ever understand minds that are radically unlike our own? , I think, this changed my view on Deep Learning. Just because we don't understand (yet or never) fully doesn't make it less powerful and useful. We are scared of not understanding the outputs but again that doesn't make it wrong and scary.