Thursday, June 30, 2016

All U.S. Med Schools End Training on Live Animals

The University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Chattanooga announced this week that it has ended the use of animals in its medical school courses. This announcement comes just weeks after the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland announced that it was ending the use of pigs as part of its surgical clerkship program.

An overwhelming majority of medical schools in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford and Yale, eliminated most of their reliance on live animals in training medical students, as human-based alternatives are more reliable, cheaper and provide better training for life experience.

Until May, there were only two medical schools in the U.S. that were still relying on live animals as part of their training programs. That number has now dropped to zero.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.

- Albert Camus

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

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


Monday, June 27, 2016

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Quote of the Day

The best way to measure the loss of intellectual sophistication - this "nerdification," to put it bluntly - is in the growing disappearance of sarcasm, as mechanic minds take insults a bit too literally.

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


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

War is nothing new for Americans. It is estimated, in fact, that the United States has been embroiled in a conflict for some 222 of the past 240 years, or more than 90 percent of its very life as a nation. But the war that America finds itself currently enmeshed in with ISIS is unlike any other in the country’s history. During the Vietnam War, we knew who we were fighting, and where we were fighting—just as we had during the Great Sioux War, World War I, World War II, the Gulf War, the Iraq war, and even the war in Afghanistan. But with ISIS—an inchoate confederacy of like-minded thugs spread across a region, and increasingly, across the globe—we know none of these things. And a lot of this has to do with technology.

ISIS uses technology better than most tech start-ups. Ghost Security Group, a counterterrorism organization, has noted in the past that ISIS utilizes almost every social app imaginable to communicate and share its propaganda, including mainstays like Twitter and Facebook; encrypted chat apps such as Telegram, Surespot, and Threema; and messaging platforms including Kik and WhatsApp. The terror group shares videos of beheadings on YouTube and even more gruesome clips on LiveLeak. They use the remarkably secure Apple iMessage to communicate. They preach to their disciples across the world using Internet radio stations. When a terror attack takes place, they use Twitter to claim responsibility and their followers subsequently cheer with favorites and retweets. Perhaps most frighteningly, the group’s dominance as a modern-day terror network is visible through how quickly their social-media dominance is accelerating.

Technology has, in a very real way, allowed ISIS to create its terror network with all kinds of efficiencies. And America is particularly susceptible to this formula. Consider the abominable ISIS terrorists who committed the attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, which ended with 130 innocent people dead and 368 injured. Those militants had to sneak into France illegally and smuggle weapons from the Balkans. Yet in Orlando, ISIS could take credit for an attack without dispatching anyone to American soil, or facilitating any weapons transfers. Its social-media presence undoubtedly enticed Omar Mateen, who bought his SIG Sauer MCX at a gun shop near his home. And after his heinous shooting spree at Pulse night club, ISIS released a statement that permeated social media with shocking ease, almost as if it were a tech start-up sending out a press release about a product upgrade.


- How ISIS Became the World’s Deadliest Tech Start-Up

Quote of the Day

But the answer isn't just to intimidate people into consuming more 'serious' news; it is to push so-called serious outlets into learning to present important information in ways that can properly engage audiences. It is too easy to claim that serious things must be, and can almost afford to be, a bit boring. The challenge is to transcend the current dichotomy between those outlets that offer thoughtful but impotent instruction on the one hand and those that provide sensationalism stripped of responsibility on the other.

- Alain de Botton, The News: A User's Manual

Friday, June 24, 2016

Rico - A Military Dog Was Given A Military Burial

A military dog who served numerous tours of duty overseas was given a military burial over the weekend in Saugatuck, Michigan.

- More Here on this amazing moral process. This is one of those special days that I feel optimistic about us Sapiens.

Quote of the Day

When you're doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you're not going to cheese out. If you don't love something, you're not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much.

- Steve Jobs

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Quote of the Day

I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized.

- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Fish Have Feelings, Too

When you think about fish, it's probably at dinnertime. Author Jonathan Balcombe, on the other hand, spends a lot of time pondering the emotional lives of fish. Balcombe, who serves as the director of animal sentience for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that humans are closer to understanding fish than ever before.

"Thanks to the breakthroughs in ethology, sociobiology, neurobiology and ecology, we can now better understand what the world looks like to fish," Balcombe says.

In his new book, What A Fish Knows: The Inner Lives Of Our Underwater Cousins, Balcombe presents evidence that fish have a conscious awareness — or "sentience" — that allows them to experience pain, recognize individual humans and have memory. He argues that humans should consider the moral implications of how we catch and farm fish.

"We humans kill between 150 billion and over 2 trillion fishes a year. ... And the way they die — certainly in commercial fishing — is really pretty grim, " Balcombe says. "There's a lot of change that would be needed to reflect an improvement in our relationship with fishes."


- Full interview with Jonathan Balcombe here

Quote of the Day

I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, "aw shit, he's up!

- Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Quote of the Day

If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.

- George Monbiot

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Silicon Valley's Audacious Plan to Create a New Stock Exchange

If all goes according to plan, the LTSE could be the stock exchange that fixes what Ries sees as the plague of today's public markets: short-term thinking that squashes rational economic decisions. It's the same stigma that's driving more of Silicon Valley's multi-billion-dollar unicorn startups to say they're not even thinking of an IPO. "Everyone's being told, 'Don't go public,'" Ries said. "The most common conventional wisdom now is that going public will mean the end of your ability to innovate."

To Ries, 37, the public markets encourage self-destructive behavior, and he sees their dynamics as one reason why the number of U.S. public companies has fallen by half since its peak in 1996. Once companies go public, employees “are on Yahoo Finance every day, and it’s palpable how much that is affecting the decision-making of ordinary managers,” he says. The problem begins with stock market investors who favor companies that show big increases in sales, profits, users, or other measures every quarter. When a company falls short, investors flee, and the stock plummets. Managers, hoping to avoid such jolts, spend too much time focusing on short-term performance. Ries said he's heard the same story many times: halfway through a quarter, an executive realizes the company isn’t on track and starts slashing innovative projects to meet the targets.

Ries's seminal book preached a fail-fast method of building startups where teams get a "minimum viable product" in front of customers as quickly as possible to avoid wasting time and effort. "The Lean Startup" made Ries, who previously worked as a software engineer at the failed virtual world maker There and as a cofounder of the more successful social network IMVU, a revered name among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. While readers flocked to his startup lessons, no one picked up his stock market proposal -- it was too polarizing. When he decided to do it himself, he started talking to bankers, venture capitalists and regulators, who told him his idea was ridiculous. "People treated me like a barbarian," he says. Undeterred, he spent three years recruiting a team and weighing different ideas, such as charging higher fees for short-term trades. Eventually, the LTSE settled on three reforms that address how executives are paid, how companies and investors share information and how investors vote.

A company that wants to list its stock on Ries’s exchange will have to choose from a menu of LTSE-approved compensation plans designed to make sure executive pay is not tied to short-term stock performance. Ries complains that it’s common to see CEOs or top management getting quarterly or annual bonuses tied to certain metrics like earnings per share, which pushes them to goose the numbers. Ries wants to encourage companies to adopt stock packages that continue vesting even after executives have left the company, which will push them to make healthy long-term moves
.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Magic and all that is ascribed to it is a deep presentiment of the powers of science. The shoes of swiftness, the sword of sharpness, the power of subduing the elements, of using the secret virtues of minerals, of understanding the voices of birds, are the obscure efforts of the mind in a right direction.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

Most unfortunately, the Fed has had to go it alone when studying how the macroeconomy really works. Regional Fed banks and the Federal Reserve Board function as macroeconomic think tanks, hiring top-level researchers to do the grubby data work and broad thinking that academia has decided is beneath it. But that leaves many of the field’s brightest minds locked in the ivory tower, playing with their toys.

Fortunately, this may be changing. Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan professor and well-known economics commentator, recently presented a set of slides at a conference celebrating the career of Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Olivier Blanchard. The slides, although short, are indicative of the sea change underway in the macro field.

Wolfers discusses how some of the main pillars of modern academic macro theory are now being challenged. The idea of “rational expectations,” which says that people on average use the correct mental model of the economy when they make their decisions, is being challenged by top professors, and many are looking at alternatives.

But that’s just the beginning -- far deeper changes may be in the offing. Wolfers suggested abandoning DSGE models, saying that they “haven’t worked.” That he said this at a conference honoring Blanchard, who was an important DSGE modeling pioneer, is a sign that the winds have shifted.

In place of the typical DSGE fare, Wolfers suggests that the new macroeconomics will focus on empirics and falsification -- in other words, looking at reality instead of making highly imaginative assumptions about it. He also says that macro will be fertilized by other disciplines, such as psychology and sociology, and will incorporate elements of behavioral economics.

I’d go even farther. I think the new macroeconomics won’t just be new kinds of models and a more empirical focus; it will redefine what “macroeconomics” even means.

As originally conceived, macro is about explaining national-level data series like employment, output and prices. Eventually, economists realized that to explain those things, they would need to understand the smaller pieces of the economy, such as consumer behavior or competition between companies. At first, they just imagined or postulated how these elements worked -- that’s the core of DSGE.

Economists now realize that consumers and businesses behave in ways that are much more complicated and difficult to understand. So there has been increased interest in what’s called “macro-focused micro” -- studies of businesses, competition, markets and individual behavior that have relevance for macro even though they weren’t traditionally included in the field. Examples of this would include studies of business dynamism, price adjustment, financial bubbles and differences between workers.


Economics Struggles to Cope With Reality


Quote of the Day

Each volcano is an independent machine—nay, each vent and monticule is for the time being engaged in its own peculiar business, cooking as it were its special dish, which in due time is to be separately served. We have instances of vents within hailing distance of each other pouring out totally different kinds of lava, neither sympathizing with the other in any discernible manner nor influencing other in any appreciable degree.

- Clarence Edward Dutton, Report on the Geology of the High Plateaus of Utah: With Atlas

Friday, June 17, 2016

Apple’s ‘Differential Privacy’

 At the keynote address of Apple’s Worldwide Developers’ Conference in San Francisco on Monday, the company’s senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi gave his familiar nod to privacy, emphasizing that Apple doesn’t assemble user profiles, does end-to-end encrypt iMessage and Facetime and tries to keep as much computation as possible that involves your private information on your personal device rather than on an Apple server. But Federighi also acknowledged the growing reality that collecting user information is crucial to making good software, especially in an age of big data analysis and machine learning. The answer, he suggested rather cryptically, is “differential privacy.”

“We believe you should have great features and great privacy,” Federighi told the developer crowd. “Differential privacy is a research topic in the areas of statistics and data analytics that uses hashing, subsampling and noise injection to enable…crowdsourced learning while keeping the data of individual users completely private. Apple has been doing some super-important work in this area to enable differential privacy to be deployed at scale.”

Differential privacy, translated from Apple-speak, is the statistical science of trying to learn as much as possible about a group while learning as little as possible about any individual in it. With differential privacy, Apple can collect and store its users’ data in a format that lets it glean useful notions about what people do, say, like and want. But it can’t extract anything about a single, specific one of those people that might represent a privacy violation. And neither, in theory, could hackers or intelligence agencies.

[---]

Federighi’s emphasis on differential privacy likely means Apple is actually sending more of your data than ever off of your device to its servers for analysis, just as Google and Facebook and every other data-hungry tech firm does. But Federighi implies that Apple is only transmitting that data in a transformed, differentially private form. In fact, Federighi named three of those transformations: Hashing, a cryptographic function that irreversibly turns data into a unique string of random-looking characters; subsampling, or taking only a portion of the data; and noise injection, adding random data that obscures the real, sensitive personal information. (As an example of that last method, Microsoft’s Dwork points to the technique in which a survey asks if the respondent has ever, say, broken a law. But first, the survey asks them to flip a coin. If the result is tails, they should answer honestly. If the result is heads, they’re instructed to flip the coin again and then answer “yes” for heads or “no” for tails. The resulting random noise can be subtracted from the results with a bit of algebra, and every respondent is protected from punishment if they admitted to lawbreaking.)


- More Here and link to the paper The Algorithmic Foundations of Differential Privacy


Quote of the Day

Man as an individual is a genius. But men in the mass form the headless monster, a great, brutish idiot that goes where prodded.

- Charlie Chaplin

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Toward a Culture of Tolerating Ignorance

Lately I have seen an increasingly honest, and increasingly public discussion about the feelings of inadequacy that come with trying to be a scientist.

[---]

  • I might as well add my own brief admissions to this discussion:
  • More or less every day, I struggle with feeling like I am insufficiently intelligent, insufficiently hardworking, and insufficiently creative to be a physicist.
  • These feelings have persisted since the beginning of my undergraduate years, and I expect them to continue in some form or another throughout the remainder of my career.
  • I often feel like what few successes I’ve had were mostly due to luck, or that I “tricked” people into believing that I was better than I actually am.

I have found that the best strategy is to free yourself to openly admit your ignorance.  Embrace the idea that all of us are awash in embarrassing levels of ignorance, and the quickest way to improve the situation is to admit your ignorance and find someone to teach you.


In particular, when some discussion is going on about a topic that you don’t understand, you should feel free to just admit that you don’t understand and ask someone to explain it to you.

If you find yourself on the other side of the conversation, and someone makes such an admission and request, there are only two acceptable responses:

  • Admit that you, also, don’t understand it very well.
  • Explain the topic as best as you can.

Most commonly, your response will be some combination of 1 and 2.  You will be able to explain some parts of the idea, and you will have to admit that there are other parts that you don’t understand well enough to explain.  But between the two of you (or, even better, a larger group) you will quickly start filling in the gaps in each others’ knowledge.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

- John Muir

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Origin & Evolution of Homo Sapiens

If we restrict the use of Homo sapiens in the fossil record to specimens which share a significant number of derived features in the skeleton with extant H. sapiens, the origin of our species would be placed in the African late middle Pleistocene, based on fossils such as Omo Kibish 1, Herto 1 and 2, and the Levantine material from Skhul and Qafzeh. However, genetic data suggest that we and our sister species Homo neanderthalensis shared a last common ancestor in the middle Pleistocene approximately 400–700 ka, which is at least 200 000 years earlier than the species origin indicated from the fossils already mentioned. Thus, it is likely that the African fossil record will document early members of the sapiens lineage showing only some of the derived features of late members of the lineage. On that basis, I argue that human fossils such as those from Jebel Irhoud, Florisbad, Eliye Springs and Omo Kibish 2 do represent early members of the species, but variation across the African later middle Pleistocene/early Middle Stone Age fossils shows that there was not a simple linear progression towards later sapiens morphology, and there was chronological overlap between different ‘archaic’ and ‘modern’ morphs. Even in the late Pleistocene within and outside Africa, we find H. sapiens specimens which are clearly outside the range of Holocene members of the species, showing the complexity of recent human evolution. The impact on species recognition of late Pleistocene gene flow between the lineages of modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans is also discussed, and finally, I reconsider the nature of the middle Pleistocene ancestor of these lineages, based on recent morphological and genetic data.

- Full Paper Here

Quote of the Day

By visualizing information, we turn it into a landscape that you can explore with your eyes, a sort of information map. And when you’re lost in information, an information map is kind of useful.

― David McCandless author of  Information is Beautiful and Knowledge Is Beautiful: Impossible Ideas, Invisible Patterns, Hidden Connections--Visualized

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Is Noise the Key to Artificial General Intelligence?

The term "stochastic resonance" was first introduced in 1981 by Benzi as a mechanism by which random perturbations in Earth’s climate together with the eccentricity of its orbit cause the climate to switch from warm to cool phases in a 100,000 year cycle. While this explanation for the oscillations between ice ages and warm periods is still unproven, stochastic resonance has since been well-established in a huge variety of natural phenomena and nonlinear systems.

Learning algorithms based on reinforcement learning try to optimize reward. There exists a large literature modelling both dopaminergic reward-based learning and hippocampal memory formation using variants of reinforcement learning. Neurophysiologically inspired robotic cognitive control using reinforcement learning has been used to successfully handle environmental uncertainty. The DeepMind algorithm is directly inspired by hippocampal memory replay, which is thought to involve the sequential reactivation of hippocampal place cells that represent previously experienced behavioral trajectories.  Interestingly, there are several models of dopamine function and hippocampal CA1 neurons that find evidence of stochastic resonance improving signal detection. Computational modelling has shown that dopaminergic neurons and of hippocampal neurons likely benefit from the presence of noise, either endogenously or from external sources.

The brain is still far better at many learning tasks compared to computers. If we can understand how the brain exploits stochastic resonance we may be able to improve machine learning. And conversely if we can use stochastic resonance to improve artificial learning algorithms we will be in a better theoretical position to solve how the brain uses noise. A convergence in these two lines of research, noise benefits and deep or reinforcement learning, could yield advances in both artificial intelligence and neuroscience. In fact, the DeepMind reinforcement learning algorithm introduces a novel feature that randomizes over the data, thereby removing correlations in the observation sequence and smoothing over changes in the data distribution. This kind of additive noise benefit might be further exploited by explicitly using the well-established mathematical concepts of stochastic resonance together with reinforcement learning. Future research should focus on synthesizing these lines of research to develop novel algorithms that are robust to uncertainty and take advantage of nature’s most plentiful untapped resource: noise.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.

- Vincent van Gogh

Monday, June 13, 2016

Quote of the Day

I focus on high-skill immigration by the way, because this policy ought to receive widespread agreement, not because low-skill immigration does not also have advantages. Low-skill immigration can even increase innovation because it helps highly skilled workers to better use their time and skills. A low-skilled worker who mows a physicist's lawn is indirectly helping to unlock the mysteries of the universe. In fact, over the last several decades, the states with greatest low-skilled immigration have seen greater increases in innovation (total factor productivity) than the states with less immigration.

Launching The Innovation Renaissance: A New Path to Bring Smart Ideas to Market Fast by Alex Tabarrok

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Yes, There Have Been Aliens

Drake’s equation was not like Einstein’s E=mc2. It was not a statement of a universal law. It was a mechanism for fostering organized discussion, a way of understanding what we needed to know to answer the question about alien civilizations. In 1961, only the first factor — the number of stars born each year — was understood. And that level of ignorance remained until very recently.

That’s why discussions of extraterrestrial civilizations, no matter how learned, have historically boiled down to mere expressions of hope or pessimism. What, for example, is the fraction of planets that form life? Optimists might marshal sophisticated molecular biological models to argue for a large fraction. Pessimists then cite their own scientific data to argue for a fraction closer to 0. But with only one example of a life-bearing planet (ours), it’s hard to know who is right.

Or consider the average lifetime of a civilization. Humans have been using radio technology for only about 100 years. How much longer will our civilization last? A thousand more years? A hundred thousand more? Ten million more? If the average lifetime for a civilization is short, the galaxy is likely to be unpopulated most of the time. Once again, however, with only one example to draw from, it’s back to a battle between pessimists and optimists.

But our new planetary knowledge has removed some of the uncertainty from this debate. Three of the seven terms in Drake’s equation are now known. We know the number of stars born each year. We know that the percentage of stars hosting planets is about 100. And we also know that about 20 to 25 percent of those planets are in the right place for life to form. This puts us in a position, for the first time, to say something definitive about extraterrestrial civilizations — if we ask the right question.

In our recent paper, Professor Sullivan and I did this by shifting the focus of Drake’s equation. Instead of asking how many civilizations currently exist, we asked what the probability is that ours is the only technological civilization that has ever appeared. By asking this question, we could bypass the factor about the average lifetime of a civilization. This left us with only three unknown factors, which we combined into one “biotechnical” probability: the likelihood of the creation of life, intelligent life and technological capacity.

You might assume this probability is low, and thus the chances remain small that another technological civilization arose. But what our calculation revealed is that even if this probability is assumed to be extremely low, the odds that we are not the first technological civilization are actually high. Specifically, unless the probability for evolving a civilization on a habitable-zone planet is less than one in 10 billion trillion, then we are not the first.

To give some context for that figure: In previous discussions of the Drake equation, a probability for civilizations to form of one in 10 billion per planet was considered highly pessimistic. According to our finding, even if you grant that level of pessimism, a trillion civilizations still would have appeared over the course of cosmic history.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Technology is a means, not an end, no matter how brilliant it appears. How we use digital technology, exploit it and benefit from it depends on old-fashioned political concepts of how we treat each other: how we approach class, race, gender and war and peace. Nothing has changed in that regard. At present, we are ruled by an extreme version of capitalism called 'neoliberalism'. Technology in the service of any extremism has a catastrophic history.

- John Pilger


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Programmer Automates His Job For 6 Years, Finally Gets Fired, Forgets How To Code

Reddit user FiletOfFish1066 just got fired from his programming job. The reason and circumstances will completely blow your mind, though. FiletOfFish1066 (FOF) worked at a well-known tech company in the Bay Area and for six full years did nothing except play League of Legends, browse Reddit, work out in a gym, and basically do whatever he felt like doing. Guess how much his company paid him to basically do nothing for a full six years? $95,000 per year on average.

When he first got his software testing quality assurance job, he spent eight months automating all of the programming tasks. With all of his tasks fully automated by a computer, he was able to literally sit back and do whatever he wanted. From Reddit, FOF describes in his own words what it was like to automate his own job:

“From around 6 years ago up until now, I have done nothing at work. I am not joking. For 40 hours each week I go to work, play League of Legends in my office, browse reddit, and do whatever I feel like. In the past 6 years I have maybe done 50 hours of real work. So basically nothing. And nobody really cared. The tests were all running successfully. I shit you not, I had no friends or anything at work either, so nobody ever talked to me except my boss and occasionally the devs for the software I was testing.”

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

I have not, indeed yet thought of a Remedy for Luxury  I am not sure, that in a great State it is capable of a Remedy. Nor that the Evil is in itself always so great as it is represented.  Suppose we include in the Definition of Luxury all unnecessary Expence, and then let us consider whether Laws to prevent such Expence are possible to be executed in a great Country, and whether, if they could be executed, our People generally would be happier, or even richer. Is not the Hope of one day being able to purchase and enjoy Luxuries a great Spur to Labour and Industry? May not Luxury, therefore, produce more than it consumes, if without such a Spur People would be, as they are naturally enough inclined to be, lazy and indolent?

[…]

In our Commercial Towns upon the Seacoast, Fortunes will occasionally be made. Some of those who grow rich will be prudent, live within Bounds, and preserve what they have gained for their Posterity ; others, fond of showing their  Wealth, will be extravagant and ruin themselves. Laws  cannot prevent this; and perhaps it is not always an evil to the Publick. A Shilling spent idly by a Fool, may be picked up by a Wiser Person, who knows better what to do with it.  It is therefore not lost. A vain, silly Fellow builds a fine House, furnishes it richly, lives in it expensively, and in few years ruins himself; but the Masons, Carpenters, Smiths, and other honest Tradesmen have been by his Employ assisted in maintaining and raising their Families ; the Farmer has been paid for his labour, and encouraged, and the Estate is now in better Hands. In some Cases, indeed, certain Modes of Luxury may be a publick Evil, in the same Manner as it is a Private one. If there be a Nation, for Instance, that exports its Beef and Linnen, to pay for its Importation of Claret and Porter, while a great Part of its People live upon Potatoes, and wear no Shirts, wherein does it differ from the Sot, who lets his Family starve, and sells his Clothes to buy Drink? Our American Commerce is, I confess, a little in this way. We sell our Victuals to your Islands for Rum and Sugar; the substantial Necessaries of Life for Superfluities. But we have Plenty, and live well nevertheless, tho’ by being soberer, we might be richer.

[…]

It has been computed by some Political Arithmetician, that, if every Man and Woman would work for four Hours each Day on something useful, that Labour would produce sufficient to procure all the Necessaries and Comforts of Life, Want and Misery would be banished out of the World, and the rest of the 24 hours might be Leisure and Pleasure.

What occasions then so much Want and Misery? It is the Employment of Men and Women in Works, that produce neither the Necessaries nor Conveniences of Life, who, [along] with those who do nothing, consume the Necessaries raised by the Laborious.

To explain this.

The first Elements of Wealth are obtained by Labour, from the Earth and Waters. I have Land, and raise Corn. With this, if I feed a Family that does nothing, my Corn will be consum’d, and at the end of the Year I shall be no richer than I was at the beginning. But if, while I feed them, I employ them, some in Spinning, others in hewing Timber and sawing Boards, others in making Bricks, &c. for Building, the Value of my Corn will be arrested and remain with me, and at the end of the Year we may all be better clothed and better lodged. And if, instead of employing a Man I feed in making Bricks, I employ him in fiddling for me, the Corn he eats is gone, and no Part of his Manufacture remains to augment the Wealth and Convenience of the family; I shall therefore be the poorer for this fiddling Man, unless the rest of my Family work more, or eat less, to make up the Deficiency he occasions.

Look round the World and see the Millions employ’d in doing nothing, or in something that amounts to nothing, when the Necessaries and Conveniences of Life are in question. What is the Bulk of Commerce, for which we fight and destroy each other, but the Toil of Millions for Superfluities, to the great Hazard and Loss of many Lives by the constant Dangers of the Sea? How much labour is spent in Building and fitting great Ships, to go to China and Arabia for Tea and Coffee, to the West Indies for Sugar, to America for Tobacco! These things cannot be called the Necessaries of Life, for our Ancestors lived very comfortably without them.

A Question may be asked; Could all these People, now employed in raising, making, or carrying Superfluities, be subsisted by raising Necessaries? I think they might. The World is large, and a great Part of it still uncultivated. Many hundred Millions of Acres in Asia, Africa, and America are still Forest, and a great Deal even in Europe. On 100 Acres of this Forest a Man might become a substantial Farmer, and 100,000 Men, employed in clearing each his 100 Acres, would hardly brighten a Spot big enough to be Visible from the Moon, unless with HerschelTs Telescope ; so vast are the Regions still in Wood unimproved.

‘Tis however, some Comfort to reflect, that, upon the whole, the Quantity of Industry and Prudence among Mankind exceeds the Quantity of Idleness and Folly. Hence the Increase of good Buildings, Farms cultivated, and populous Cities filled with Wealth, all over Europe, which a few Ages since were only to be found on the Coasts of the Mediterranean; and this, notwithstanding the mad Wars continually raging, by which are often destroyed in one year the Works of many Years’ Peace. So that we may hope the Luxury of a few Merchants on the Seacoast will not be the Ruin of America.

One reflection more, and I will end this long, rambling Letter. Almost all the Parts of our Bodies require some Expence. The Feet demand Shoes; the Legs, Stockings; the rest of the Body, Clothing; and the Belly, a good deal of Victuals. Our Eyes, tho’ exceedingly useful, ask, when reasonable, only the cheap Assistance of Spectacles, which could not much impair our Finances. But the Eyes of other People are the Eyes that ruin us. If all but myself were blind, I should want neither fine Clothes, fine Houses, nor fine Furniture.

Adieu, my dear Friend, I am

Yours ever
B. FRANKLIN.

- Ben Franklin and the Virtues and Ills of Pursuing Luxury via Farnam Street

Quote of the Day

You are a little soul carrying about a corpse, as Epictetus used to say.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Friday, June 10, 2016

Quote of the Day

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own Soul.

- Carl Jung

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Quote of the Day

A big secret for happiness - stay away from people who steal your peace of mind.

- Elle Sommer

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Optimistic Update for Positive Life Events? An Unbiased Test

When it comes to estimating future events (rather than evaluating abilities and characteristics most (e.g. Baker & Emery, 1993; Kuzmanovic et al., 2015, 2016; Sharot et al., 2011) but not all (Weinstein, 1980; Wiswall & Zafar, 2015), studies have examined predictions specifically regarding aversive events (such as illness and violent acts). To our knowledge there has been one previous peer reviewed study that examined updating of beliefs regarding a future positive life event (Wiswall & Zafar, 2015). That study revealed that people update beliefs to a greater extent in response to evidence suggesting they are likely to earn more than they thought, relative to evidence suggesting they are likely to earn less. While that study suggests that optimistic updating of beliefs is indeed observed for positive life events, it is unknown whether biased updating for positive life events is greater, smaller, or equal than for negative life events. As unrealistic optimism consists both of overestimating the likelihood of positive events and underestimating the likelihood of negative events (Sharot, 2011; Weinstein, 1980), the question of whether the same mechanism underlies both types of events equally is important for understanding optimism.

Here, we first describe two potential methodological pitfalls in studying updating for positive and negative life events utilizing the belief update task. We then proceed to present the results of the current study, which avoids such pitfalls.


- Full paper here


Quote of the Day

Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Steve Jobs Explains Why AI Won’t Take Away Jobs


Jobs talks about the evolution of the personal computer. In the beginning of the personal computing revolution, few people had the programming skills to use a computer. In fact, experts needed to set up computers for end users. Programs were basic, with user interfaces that would seem very non-user friendly by today’s standards. He saw all of this as a “barrier” to overcome, for both people and the industry, because this kept the power of computing in the hands of a few. Remember, this video took place back in 1980.

“Right now if you buy a computer system and you want to solve one of your problems, we [the computer industry] immediately throw a big problem right in the middle of you and your problem, which is learning how to use the computer. Right? Substantial problem to overcome. Once you overcome that, it’s a phenomenal tool. But there is a barrier of having to overcome that problem.”

Today, the drawing insight from data analysis faces the same barrier. Those with the knowledge and tools to draw insight from data is limited to data scientists or others in similar job descriptions. As data volumes continue to grow as does the need for data-supported decisions, relying on a few to analyze data can be detrimental to a business. More and more companies are looking to adopt tools that incorporate the company’s best business practices while enabling non-technical users to analyze complex data sets instantaneously.

Steve Job’s vision was that anyone should be able to setup and use a PC, and I believe that the future of AI tools are the same. Systems will be self-service, easy to use, and will make complex data accessible to anyone in real-time. Jobs said that “something special happens with one computer and one user.” He was referring to the way in which software can amplify human ability. Again, although the speech was in the 1980s, Jobs could easily have been speaking about today with the growth in smart machines, which are able to dialog, reason and explain, all with the goal of boosting human performance.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read.

- Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

Monday, June 6, 2016

What Would Happen If Humans Disappeared?




Quote of the Day

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.

- Muhammad Ali

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Quote of the Day

On a sunny clear day, you can improve your body; on a rainy fogy day, you can improve your mind!

- Mehmet Murat ildan

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Wisdom Of The Week

In his book In Our Own Image (2015), the artificial intelligence expert George Zarkadakis describes six different metaphors people have employed over the past 2,000 years to try to explain human intelligence.

In the earliest one, eventually preserved in the Bible, humans were formed from clay or dirt, which an intelligent god then infused with its spirit. That spirit ‘explained’ our intelligence – grammatically, at least.

The invention of hydraulic engineering in the 3rd century BCE led to the popularity of a hydraulic model of human intelligence, the idea that the flow of different fluids in the body – the ‘humours’ – accounted for both our physical and mental functioning. The hydraulic metaphor persisted for more than 1,600 years, handicapping medical practice all the while.

By the 1500s, automata powered by springs and gears had been devised, eventually inspiring leading thinkers such as RenĂ© Descartes to assert that humans are complex machines. In the 1600s, the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes suggested that thinking arose from small mechanical motions in the brain. By the 1700s, discoveries about electricity and chemistry led to new theories of human intelligence – again, largely metaphorical in nature. In the mid-1800s, inspired by recent advances in communications, the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz compared the brain to a telegraph.

Each metaphor reflected the most advanced thinking of the era that spawned it. Predictably, just a few years after the dawn of computer technology in the 1940s, the brain was said to operate like a computer, with the role of physical hardware played by the brain itself and our thoughts serving as software. The landmark event that launched what is now broadly called ‘cognitive science’ was the publication of Language and Communication (1951) by the psychologist George Miller. Miller proposed that the mental world could be studied rigorously using concepts from information theory, computation and linguistics.

This kind of thinking was taken to its ultimate expression in the short book The Computer and the Brain (1958), in which the mathematician John von Neumann stated flatly that the function of the human nervous system is ‘prima facie digital’. Although he acknowledged that little was actually known about the role the brain played in human reasoning and memory, he drew parallel after parallel between the components of the computing machines of the day and the components of the human brain.

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The information processing (IP) metaphor of human intelligence now dominates human thinking, both on the street and in the sciences. There is virtually no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour that proceeds without employing this metaphor, just as no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour could proceed in certain eras and cultures without reference to a spirit or deity. The validity of the IP metaphor in today’s world is generally assumed without question.

But the IP metaphor is, after all, just another metaphor – a story we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand. And like all the metaphors that preceded it, it will certainly be cast aside at some point – either replaced by another metaphor or, in the end, replaced by actual knowledge.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

We are mad, not only individually, but nationally. We check manslaughter and isolated murders; but what of war and the much-vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples? There are no limits to our greed, none to our cruelty. And as long as such crimes are committed by stealth and by individuals, they are less harmful and less portentous; but cruelties are practised in accordance with acts of senate and popular assembly, and the public is bidden to do that which is forbidden to the individual. Deeds that would be punished by loss of life when committed in secret, are praised by us because uniformed generals have carried them out. Man, naturally the gentlest class of being, is not ashamed to revel in the blood of others, to wage war, and to entrust the waging of war to his sons, when even dumb beasts and wild beasts keep the peace with one another. Against this overmastering and widespread madness philosophy has become a matter of greater effort, and has taken on strength in proportion to the strength which is gained by the opposition forces.

- Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Friday, June 3, 2016

Quote of the Day

What’s really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they could do one thing: get rid of the extraneous. If you strive for simplicity, you are more likely to reach the viewer.

- William Albert Allard

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Quote of the Day

In the Hindu religion, one can[not] have freedom of speech. A Hindu must surrender his freedom of speech. He must act according to the Vedas. If the Vedas do not support the actions, instructions must be sought from the Smritis, and if the Smritis fail to provide any such instructions, he must follow in the footsteps of the great men.

He is not supposed to reason. Hence, so long as you are in the Hindu religion, you cannot expect to have freedom of thought.


- B.R. Ambedkar