Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Quote of the Day

A thermodynamically optimal machine must balance memory against prediction by minimizing its nostalgia — the useless information about the past.

- David Sivak

Monday, January 30, 2017

Quote of the Day

The key objection to niceness amounts to the fact that it’s not really a virtue. You can’t rely upon it as the foundation for the duties required of friends, family members, or fellow citizens. A nice person won’t fight for you; a nice person wouldn’t even lie for you, unless there’s something in it for him. A nice person wouldn’t be a Good Samaritan, if it required genuine risk or an undue deployment of time and treasure. A nice person isn’t animated by love or honor or God. Niceness, if you think about it, is the most selfish of virtues, one, as Tocqueville noticed, rooted in a deep indifference to the well-being of others. It’s more selfish than open selfishness, because the latter accords people the respect of letting them know where you stand. I let you do—and even affirm—whatever you do, because I don’t care what you do as long as it doesn’t bother me. Niceness, as Allan Bloom noticed, is the quality connected with flatness of soul, with being unmoved by the relational imperatives grounded in love and death.

- Our Country Split Apart by Peter Augustine Lawler (via MR)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium

In democratic countries, Gurri hints at a vicious cycle under way. Insiders, including elected leaders, fail to live up to the public's unrealistic high expectations. This leads the public to lose trust in insiders. This distrust is fomented and exploited by outsiders, who charge insiders with incompetence and corruption.

To the insiders, the outsider challenge to their authority comes as a surprise and an affront. Their instinct is to see outsiders as illegitimate, lacking credentials, and not having gone through the organizational processes of information filtering and competition for position. However, the insider reaction comes across to the public as arrogant and repressive, and it often backfires. In desperation, insiders make more extravagant promises, reinforcing the phenomenon of expectations that are impossible to fulfill.


The dominant strategy of the outsiders is to focus on the negative, exposing and denouncing the failures, imperfections, and corruption of the insiders. On the left, this means heaping blame on the institutions of capitalism and free markets. On the right, this means heaping blame on the institutions of government. Neither side will propose, much less implement, an effective reform agenda. Instead, the only thing that the outsiders can accomplish will be to undermine the trust in and effectiveness of both markets and government.

To avoid this tragic outcome, both insiders and outsiders will have to adopt different strategies. Insiders will have to address what I call the discrepancy between knowledge and power, meaning that centralized power is incongruous with democratized information.5 Insiders will have to cede authority, rather than seek to centralize and expand power. They will need to seek to devolve more decisions to local governments. Moreover, at the local level, existing governments will have to become willing to tolerate, and even to foster, competition from other institutions, such as charter schools, that are capable of providing government services.

Outsiders will have to change our strategies as well. We will have to temper our demands and our rhetoric. We must learn to accept that institutions can be flawed and yet be worthy of our respect. Imperfections and bad outcomes should not be taken as proof of conspiracy or evil intent. We should pay less heed to those who only can pour out condemnation and blame. We should instead give higher praise to those who seek ways to experiment and to fix.

- Arnold Kling's review of The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium by Martin Gurri

How Statistics Lost Their Power & Why We Should Fear What Comes Next

In many ways, the contemporary populist attack on “experts” is born out of the same resentment as the attack on elected representatives. In talking of society as a whole, in seeking to govern the economy as a whole, both politicians and technocrats are believed to have “lost touch” with how it feels to be a single citizen in particular. Both statisticians and politicians have fallen into the trap of “seeing like a state”, to use a phrase from the anarchist political thinker James C Scott. Speaking scientifically about the nation – for instance in terms of macroeconomics – is an insult to those who would prefer to rely on memory and narrative for their sense of nationhood, and are sick of being told that their “imagined community” does not exist.

On the other hand, statistics (together with elected representatives) performed an adequate job of supporting a credible public discourse for decades if not centuries. What changed?


What is most politically significant about this shift from a logic of statistics to one of data is how comfortably it sits with the rise of populism. Populist leaders can heap scorn upon traditional experts, such as economists and pollsters, while trusting in a different form of numerical analysis altogether. Such politicians rely on a new, less visible elite, who seek out patterns from vast data banks, but rarely make any public pronouncements, let alone publish any evidence. These data analysts are often physicists or mathematicians, whose skills are not developed for the study of society at all. This, for example, is the worldview propagated by Dominic Cummings, former adviser to Michael Gove and campaign director of Vote Leave. “Physics, mathematics and computer science are domains in which there are real experts, unlike macro-economic forecasting,” Cummings has argued.


But even if there were an Office for Data Analytics, acting on behalf of the public and government as the ONS does, it is not clear that it would offer the kind of neutral perspective that liberals today are struggling to defend. The new apparatus of number-crunching is well suited to detecting trends, sensing the mood and spotting things as they bubble up. It serves campaign managers and marketers very well. It is less well suited to making the kinds of unambiguous, objective, potentially consensus-forming claims about society that statisticians and economists are paid for.

In this new technical and political climate, it will fall to the new digital elite to identify the facts, projections and truth amid the rushing stream of data that results. Whether indicators such as GDP and unemployment continue to carry political clout remains to be seen, but if they don’t, it won’t necessarily herald the end of experts, less still the end of truth. The question to be taken more seriously, now that numbers are being constantly generated behind our backs and beyond our knowledge, is where the crisis of statistics leaves representative democracy.


A post-statistical society is a potentially frightening proposition, not because it would lack any forms of truth or expertise altogether, but because it would drastically privatise them. Statistics are one of many pillars of liberalism, indeed of Enlightenment. The experts who produce and use them have become painted as arrogant and oblivious to the emotional and local dimensions of politics. No doubt there are ways in which data collection could be adapted to reflect lived experiences better. But the battle that will need to be waged in the long term is not between an elite-led politics of facts versus a populist politics of feeling. It is between those still committed to public knowledge and public argument and those who profit from the ongoing disintegration of those things.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

The view that machines cannot give rise to surprises is due, I believe, to a fallacy to which philosophers and mathematicians are particularly subject. This is the assumption that as soon as a fact is presented to a mind all consequences of that fact spring into the mind simultaneously with it. It is a very useful assumption under many circumstances, but one too easily forgets that it is false. A natural consequence of doing so is that one then assumes that there is no virtue in the mere working out of consequences from data and general principles.

- Alan Turning, The Essential Turing: Seminal Writings in Computing, Logic, Philosophy, Artificial Intelligence, and Artificial Life plus The Secrets of Enigma

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

The writer, Shane Parrish, is talking about a famous German philosopher named Arthur Schopenhauer, and summarizes his perspective on reading and learning:
Such, however, is the case with many men of learning: they have read themselves stupid. For to read in every spare moment, and to read constantly, is more paralyzing to the mind than constant manual work, which, at any rate, allows one to follow one’s own thoughts.
Just as a spring, through the continual pressure of a foreign body, at last loses its elasticity, so does the mind if it has another person’s thoughts continually forced upon it. And just as one spoils the stomach by overfeeding and thereby impairs the whole body, so can one overload and choke the mind by giving it too much nourishment
- Arthur Schopenhaeur
The mind can only handle so much information, and you can’t expect to learn without application or reflection. I was approaching learning in the worst way possible: exposing it to so much information and knowledge that I ended up retaining almost nothing.

I thought filling up every second of the day with constant reading would inevitably make me a smart person. I knew that I had to apply the things I learned in my life, but I was content with only knowing. Shane might be able to explain it better:

It’s important to take time to think about what we’re reading and not merely assume the thoughts of the author. We need to digest, synthesize, and organize the thoughts of others if we are to understand. This is the grunt work of thinking. It’s how we acquire wisdom.
This is how we acquire foundational knowledge. The knowledge that allows us to pull forth relevance when reading and bring it to consciousness. Without this foundational knowledge, we are unable to separate the signal from the noise.
- Shane Parrish
- Don’t overdose on knowledge

Quote of the Day

For what prevents us from saying that the happy life is to have a mind that is free, lofty, fearless and steadfast - a mind that is placed beyond the reach of fear, beyond the reach of desire, that counts virtue the only good, baseness the only evil, and all else but a worthless mass of things, which come and go without increasing or diminishing the highest good, and neither subtract any part from the happy life nor add any part to it?

A man thus grounded must, whether he wills or not, necessarily be attended by constant cheerfulness and a joy that is deep and issues from deep within, since he finds delight in his own resources, and desires no joys greater than his inner joys.

- Seneca, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters

Friday, January 27, 2017

Quote of the Day

Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.

- Peter F. Drucker

Thursday, January 26, 2017

ML Tries to Cracks Indus Valley Script

In order to decipher the Indus script, it’s important to ascertain what we’re looking at — whether the symbols stand for a language, or, like totem poles or coats of arms, just representations of things like family names or gods. “Given the amount of data we have, we cannot make any firm statement regarding the content of the script,” says Yadav. “I think what we’ve done is try to piece together whatever evidence we have to see if it leads us one way or the other,” says Rao. “And I think, at least from the work we’ve done, it seems like it’s more tailed towards the language hypothesis than not.” Most scholars tend to agree.

In 2009, Rao published a study that examined the sequential structure of the Indus script, or how likely it is that particular symbols follow or precede other symbols. In most linguistic systems, words or symbols follow each other in a semi-predictable manner. There are certain dictating sentence structures, but also a fair amount of flexibility. Researchers call this semi-predictability “conditional entropy.” Rao and his colleagues calculated how likely it was that one symbol followed another in an intentional order. “What we were interested in was if we could deduce some statistical regularities or structure,” says Rao, “basically ruling out that these symbols were just juxtapositions of symbols and that there were actually some rules or patterns.”

They compared the conditional entropy of the Indus script to known linguistic systems, like Vedic Sanskrit, and known nonlinguistic systems, like human DNA sequences, and found that the Indus script was much more similar to the linguistic systems. “So, it’s not proof that the symbols are encoding a language but it’s additional evidence hinting that these symbols are not just random juxtapositions of arbitrary symbols,” says Rao, “and they follow patterns that are consistent with the those you would you expect to find if the symbols are encoding language.”

In a subsequent paper, Rao and his colleagues took all of Indus’ known symbols and looked at where they fell within the inscriptions they were found in. This statistical technique, known as a Markov model, was able to pinpoint specifics like which symbols were most likely to begin a text, which were most likely to end it, which symbols were likely to repeat, which symbols often pair together, and which symbols tend to precede or follow a particular symbol. The Markov model is also useful when it comes to incomplete inscriptions. Many artifacts are found damaged, with parts of the inscription missing or unreadable, and a Markov model can help fill in those gaps. “You can try to complete missing symbols based on the statistics of other sequences that are complete,” explains Rao.


Providing anthropological and archaeological context to the artifacts we do have would also help further our understanding of the script. Gabriel Recchia, a research associate at the Cambridge Centre for Digital Knowledge at the University of Cambridge, published a method that aimed to do just that. In previous cognitive science studies, he and his colleagues showed that you can estimate the distances between cities by how often they’re mentioned together in writing. This was true for US cities based on their co-occurrences in national newspapers, Middle Eastern and Chinese cities based on Arabic and Chinese texts, and even cities in The Lord of the Rings. Recchia applied that idea to the Indus script, taking symbols from artifacts whose origins were known and using them to predict where artifacts of unknown origin with similar symbols came from. Recchia explains that a version of this method that takes into account much more detailed information could be very useful. “There are significant differences between artifacts that appear in different sublocations within a site and this is what is much more frequently unknown and in many cases, could provide more useful information,” says Recchia. “Was this found in a garbage heap along with a number of other seals or was this something that was imported from elsewhere?”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Another thing, of course, is that life will have terrible blows in it, horrible blows, unfair blows. It doesn't matter. And some people recover and others don’t. And there I think the attitude of Epictetus is the best. He thought that every missed chance in life was an opportunity to behave well, every missed chance in life was an opportunity to learn something, and that your duty was not to be submerged in self-pity, but to utilize the terrible blow in constructive fashion. That is a very good idea.

- Charlie Munger, USC Law Commencement Speech, May 2007

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What I've Been Reading

Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferris.

Here's my confession: For a long long time, I remained biased because of cheesy book titles and I never read Tim Ferris. This changed when my friend gave this book as a Holiday gift.  Man, what an impact it made on my health. This is one practical book that I am still working on implementing lot of stuff in everyday life. I have changed my diet, bought some of his recommendations since the start of the year and it has already made an impact on my health. Thank you Tim !

The book is divided into three parts - Health, Wealth and Wise (Wisdom). So far, I have implemented lot of stuff from Health. Other two, I already align with lot of Tim's thoughts but need to revisit them often.
take things like playfulness and purposelessness very seriously. . . . This is not meant to be light, but I think I would have somehow encouraged myself to let go a little bit more and hang in there and not pretend to know where this is all going. You don’t need to know where it’s all going.

Quote of the Day

I do not see emotions and feelings as the intangible and vaporous qualities that many presume them to be. Their subject matter is concrete, and they can be related to specific systems in body and brain, no less so than vision or speech.

- António R. Damásio, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

Monday, January 23, 2017

Quote of the Day

If there is anything unique about the human animal, it is that it has the ability to grow knowledge at an accelerating rate while being chronically incapable of learning from experience.

- John N. Gray

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

Don’t trust a man who needs an income—except if it is minimum wage. (Those in corporate captivity would do anything to “feed a family.”)

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Taleb

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

The real obstacle is not financial. The financial resources needed are remarkably low and the return on small investments could be incalculably vast. We could significantly improve the decisions of the most powerful 100 people in the UK or the world for less than a million dollars (~£106) and a decade-long project on a scale of just ~£107 could have dramatic effects.

The real obstacle is not a huge task of public persuasion – quite the opposite. A government that tried in a disciplined way to do this would attract huge public support. (I’ve polled some ideas and am confident about this.) Political parties are locked in a game that in trying to win in conventional ways leads to the public despising them. Ironically if a party (established or new) forgets this game and makes the public the target of extreme intelligent focus then it would not only make the world better but would trounce their opponents.

The real obstacle is not a need for breakthrough technologies though technology could help. As Colonel Boyd used to shout, ‘People, ideas, machines – in that order!’

The real obstacle is that although we can all learn and study HPTs it is extremely hard to put this learning to practical use and sustain it against all the forces of entropy that constantly operate to degrade high performance once the original people have gone. HPTs are episodic. They seem to come out of nowhere, shock people, then vanish with the rare individuals. People write about them and many talk about learning from them but in fact almost nobody ever learns from them – apart, perhaps, from those very rare people who did not need to learn – and nobody has found a method to embed this learning reliably and systematically in institutions that can maintain it. The Prussian General Staff remained operationally brilliant but in other ways went badly wrong after the death of the elder Moltke. When George Mueller left NASA it reverted to what it had been before he arrived – management chaos. All the best companies quickly go downhill after the departure of people like Bill Gates – even when such very able people have tried very very hard to avoid exactly this problem.

Charlie Munger, half of the most successful investment team in world history, has a great phrase he uses to explain their success that gets to the heart of this problem:

‘There isn’t one novel thought in all of how Berkshire [Hathaway] is run. It’s all about … exploiting unrecognized simplicities… It’s a community of like-minded people, and that makes most decisions into no-brainers. Warren [Buffett] and I aren’t prodigies. We can’t play chess blindfolded or be concert pianists. But the results are prodigious, because we have a temperamental advantage that more than compensates for a lack of IQ points.’
The simplicities that bring high performance in general, not just in investing, are largely unrecognised because they conflict with many evolved instincts and are therefore psychologically very hard to implement. The principles of the Buffett-Munger success are clear – they have even gone to great pains to explain them and what the rest of us should do – and the results are clear yet still almost nobody really listens to them and above average intelligence people instead constantly put their money into active fund management that is proved to destroy wealth every year!

Most people think they are already implementing these lessons and usually strongly reject the idea that they are not. This means that just explaining things is very unlikely to work:

‘I’d say the history that Charlie [Munger] and I have had of persuading decent, intelligent people who we thought were doing unintelligent things to change their course of action has been poor.’ Buffett.
Even more worrying, it is extremely hard to take over organisations that are not run right and make them excellent.
‘We really don’t believe in buying into organisations to change them.’  - Buffett.
If people won’t listen to the world’s most successful investor in history on his own subject, and even he finds it too hard to take over failing businesses and turn them around, how likely is it that politicians and officials incentivised to keep things as they are will listen to ideas about how to do things better? How likely is it that a team can take over broken government institutions and make them dramatically better in a way that outlasts the people who do it? Bureaucracies are extraordinarily resistant to learning. Even after the debacles of 9/11 and the Iraq War, costing many lives and trillions of dollars, and even after the 2008 Crash, the security and financial bureaucracies in America and Europe are essentially the same and operate on the same principles.
Buffett’s success is partly due to his discipline in sticking within what he and Munger call their ‘circle of competence’. Within this circle they have proved the wisdom of avoiding trying to persuade people to change their minds and avoiding trying to fix broken institutions.

This option is not available in politics. The Enlightenment and the scientific revolution give us no choice but to try to persuade people and try to fix or replace broken institutions. In general ‘it is better to undertake revolution than undergo it’. How might we go about it? What can people who do not have any significant power inside the system do? What international projects are most likely to spark the sort of big changes in attitude we urgently need?

 - Unrecognised simplicities of effective action #1: expertise and a quadrillion dollar business

Quote of the Day

The truth is a combination of what we know and what we don’t know — and gaining and maintaining awareness of both sides of this reality is the key to being wise. We don’t have to know more than we know, we only have to be aware of what we know and what we don’t know. Truth is in plain sight, written on the whiteboard — we just have to look at the board and reflect upon it.

-Tim Urban

Friday, January 20, 2017

Quote of the Day

If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.

- Carl Sagan

Thursday, January 19, 2017

U S Marine Brings Home A Stray Dog From Afghanistan

Quote of the Day

We need not take refuge in supernatural gods to explain our saints and sages and heroes and statesmen, as if to explain our disbelief that mere unaided human beings could be that good or wise.

-  Abraham H. Maslow

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

For every person who thinks up a magnificent breakthrough idea, there are a hundred who are nothing more than mindless and unimportant implementers of the idea. The reason for the imbalance in numbers is that the implementers tend to kill the people with the great ideas in order to cut down on the workload.

- Dilbert

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Liberalism's Minsky Moment

Why do so many people around the world hate liberalism so much that a Trump election became possible?

Another class of explanations seek to pin the blame on the liberal order, most commonly by characterising populism as a revolt by the losers of globalisation. Except that globalisation has been a tremendous success. Of course there have been some losers, especially in countries like America and Britain with feeble policies for using the winnings from freer trade to compensate and retrain workers in unlucky industries, but not enough to win elections. And populism is riding high even in European countries with elaborate compensation and retraining schemes.

I have another explanation. Liberalism works just fine. It's just that the people got bored with it.


Liberalism has been an enormous moral, political, and economic success. But it has not achieved what seemed easiest of all: convincing those who grow up under it of its moral legitimacy and practical effectiveness in comparison to alternatives. Worse, it seems that those who grow up in the prosperous cocoon of a liberal society may be especially prone to political risk-taking. An uninhibited politics in which everything is permitted has a heady appeal, especially for those who have never had to worry about its risks.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Take things like playfulness and purposelessness very seriously. . . . This is not meant to be light, but I think I would have somehow encouraged myself to let go a little bit more and hang in there and not pretend to know where this is all going. You don’t need to know where it’s all going.

- Timothy Ferriss, Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers

Monday, January 16, 2017

On Reading

Brilliant interview with Doug Lemov @ EconTalk:

Russ Roberts: So, one point you make--you make it a lot in the book--is: This is hard. And teachers need certain strategies and skills to help students prepare to read difficult texts. And I couldn't agree with that more. There is a tension, I think, in modern American life and certainly in education toward making life easier. And that conflicts with this goal of grappling with difficult texts. Talk about close reading--the idea of close reading and how that relates to this.

Doug Lemov: Yeah; I think, close reading, maybe I'll start with why. Close reading--it's the important thing to be able to do in a reading class. Close reading to me is the set of skills that you use when a text is outside your comfort zone--when it's above your comfort zone. And I would just like to take your listeners back to college, or university, but say particularly college, the first time you'd really been stretched, when you were holed up alone with whatever that book was that was incredibly challenging to you and you weren't sure you could make sense of it. It was really hard to be successful in higher education, and most often in your professional life is to be able to read things that are not easy--that are out of your comfort zone. And increasingly, you know, leveled text is winning the day in our schools. And the notion is--my kids get this advice often from their school, 'Read a page of a book. If there are more than 5 words you aren't sure you understand, put it down. It's too hard for you.' Look, I'm sorry, but if those are my kids and that book is Slaughterhouse-Five or that book is Oliver Twist or Pride and Prejudice or, you know, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, I say, 'Pick it up and struggle with it.' And one, read a great text; and two, understand what it means to struggle and how you struggle. And this is something we have struggled as teachers to teach, which is: How do you struggle with a book? What do you do when it's hard? We tell kids to re-read, for example. But we don't always tell them how to reread and what different ways to reread are. And we tell them to look at the text, but we aren't necessarily as rigorous as we could be in showing them what types of questions you ask when you are first just trying to establish meaning; and then to analyze meaning. And I think that part is super-important as well, because the second--I think the first reason for close reading is it's so important for kids to be able to struggle with things that are challenging. But we also focus a lot--the second reason is we focus a lot on what I would call 'gist reading.' Which is, we read something--we read a Shakespearean sonnet, and we say something like, 'What is this sonnet about? Shakespeare is describing the fickle nature of love.' Great; now let's have a conversation about whether love is fickle. But understanding the gist of that sonnet, and understanding each line of the sonnet, and how it contributes to the meaning. And how meaning is made. And all the subtleties of the argument is very, very important. I mean, in a practical sense, if you are my lawyer I want you to understand more than 'Hey, this is a document about the rights of citizens.' I really need you to understand every line--what rights, how, and to whom. And if you are my doctor I need you to understand a little bit more about, 'Hey, this is a document about the importance of glucose levels on health.' So, understanding more than the gist is really important. Understanding how meaning is made and being able to deconstruct it is really important, especially when you need to be able to struggle with the text. And so, close reading I think helps students overcome those challenges. And generally, you know, we've been asked to do it by the new SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and by the Common Core. But there's been very little guidance for teachers on how to do it; and so what's tended to happen has been they've continued to do what they've ordinarily done and now they call it 'close reading.'

Quote of the Day

Each and every one of us has been born into a given historical reality, ruled by particular norms and values, and managed by a unique economic and political system. We take this reality for granted, thinking it is natural, inevitable and immutable. We forget that our world was created by an accidental chain of events, and that history shaped not only our technology, politics and society, but also our thoughts, fears and dreams. The cold hand of the past emerges from the grave of our ancestors, grips us by the neck and directs our gaze towards a single future. We have felt that grip from the moment we were born, so we assume that it is a natural and inescapable part of who we are. Therefore we seldom try to shake ourselves free, and envision alternative futures.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Deep Learning for Predicting Human Strategic Behavior


Predicting the behavior of human participants in strategic settings is an important problem in many domains. Most existing work either assumes that participants are perfectly rational, or attempts to directly model each participant's cognitive processes based on insights from cognitive psychology and experimental economics. In this work, we present an alternative, a deep learning approach that automatically performs cognitive modeling without relying on such expert knowledge. We introduce a novel architecture that allows a single network to generalize across different input and output dimensions by using matrix units rather than scalar units, and show that its performance significantly outperforms that of the previous state of the art, which relies on expert-constructed features.

- Full paper here

Good News But Not To Be Confused With Moral Progress

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus announced on Saturday night that after 146 years of performances, it was folding its big tent forever.

In a statement on the company’s website, Kenneth Feld, the chief executive of Feld Entertainment, the producer of Ringling, said the circus would hold its final performances in May. He cited declining ticket sales, which dropped even more drastically after elephants were phased out from the shows last year.

“This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company,” the statement said. “The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me.”

- Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to End Its 146-Year Run

Quote of the Day

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Systems vs. Goals
Scott helped me refocus, to use his language, on "systems" instead of "goals." This involves choosing projects and habits that, even if they result in "failures" in the eyes of the outside world, give you transferable skills or relationships. In other words, you choose options that allow you to inevitably "succeed" over time, as you build assets that carry over to subsequent projects.
Fundamentally, "systems" could be thought of asking yourself, "What persistent skills or relationships can I develop?" versus "What short-term goal can I achieve?" The former has a potent snowball effect, while the latter is a binary pass/fail with no consolation prize. Scott writes about this extensively in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

-  Chapter on Scott Adams from the book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferris

Quote of the Day

We propose that a 2 month, 10 man study of artificial intelligence be carried out during the summer of 1956 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions, and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves.

- Dartmouth AI Project Proposal; J. McCarthy et al.; Aug. 31, 1955

Friday, January 13, 2017

Neanderthals Were People, Too

Who was Neanderthal Man? King felt obligated to describe him. But with no established techniques for interpreting archaeological material like the skull, he fell back on racism and phrenology. He focused on the peculiarities of the Neanderthal’s skull, including the “enormously projecting brow.” No living humans had skeletal features remotely like these, but King was under the impression that the skulls of contemporary African and Australian aboriginals resembled the Neanderthals’ more than “ordinary” white-people skulls. So extrapolating from his low opinion of what he called these “savage” races, he explained that the Neanderthal’s skull alone was proof of its moral “darkness” and stupidity. “The thoughts and desires which once dwelt within it never soared beyond those of a brute,” he wrote. Other scientists piled on. So did the popular press. We knew almost nothing about Neanderthals, but already we assumed they were ogres and losers.

The genesis of this idea, the historian Paige Madison notes, largely comes down to flukes of “timing and luck.” While King was working, another British scientist, George Busk, had the same suspicions about the Neander skull. He had received a comparable one, too, from the tiny British territory of Gibraltar. The Gibraltar skull was dug up long before the Neander Valley specimen surfaced, but local hobbyists simply labeled it “human skull” and forgot about it for the next 16 years. Its brow ridge wasn’t as prominent as the Neander skull’s, and its features were less imposing; it was a woman’s skull, it turns out. Busk dashed off a quick report but stopped short of naming the new creature. He hoped to study additional fossils and learn more. Privately, he considered calling it Homo calpicus, or Gibraltar Man.

So, what if Busk — “a conscientious naturalist too cautious to make premature claims,” as Madison describes him — had beaten King to publication? Consider how different our first impressions of a Gibraltar Woman might have been from those of Neanderthal Man: what feelings of sympathy, or even kinship, this other skull might have stirred.


I’ll start with a confession, an embarrassing but relevant one, because I would come to see our history with Neanderthals as continually distorted by an unfortunate human tendency to believe in ideas that are, in reality, incorrect — and then to leverage that conviction into a feeling of superiority over other people. And in retrospect, I realize I demonstrated that same tendency myself at the beginning of this project. Because I don’t want to come off as self-righteous, or as pointing fingers, here goes:

Before traveling to Gibraltar last summer, I had no idea what Gibraltar was. Or rather, I was sure I knew what Gibraltar was, but I was wrong. I thought it was just that famous Rock — an unpopulated hunk of free-floating geology, which, if I’m being honest, I recognized mostly from the Prudential logo: that limestone protuberance at the mouth of the Mediterranean, that elephantine white molar jutting into the sky. True, I was traveling to Gibraltar on short notice; when I cold-called the director of the Gibraltar Museum, Clive Finlayson, he told me the museum happened to be starting its annual excavation of a Neanderthal cave there the following week and invited me to join. Still, even a couple of days before I left, when a friend told me she faintly remembered spending an afternoon in Gibraltar once as a teenager, I gently mansplained to her that I was pretty sure she was mistaken: Gibraltar, I told her, wasn’t somewhere you could just go. In my mind, I had privileged access.

But Neanderthals weren’t the slow-witted louts we’ve imagined them to be — not just a bunch of Neanderthals. As a review of findings published last year put it, they were actually “very similar” to their contemporary Homo sapiens in Africa, in terms of “standard markers of modern cognitive and behavioral capacities.” We’ve always classified Neanderthals, technically, as human — part of the genus Homo. But it turns out they also did the stuff that, you know, makes us human.

Neanderthals buried their dead. They made jewelry and specialized tools. They made ocher and other pigments, perhaps to paint their faces or bodies — evidence of a “symbolically mediated worldview,” as archaeologists call it. Their tracheal anatomy suggests that they were capable of language and probably had high-pitched, raspy voices, like Julia Child. They manufactured glue from birch bark, which required heating the bark to at least 644 degrees Fahrenheit — a feat scientists find difficult to duplicate without a ceramic container. In Gibraltar, there’s evidence that Neanderthals extracted the feathers of certain birds — only dark feathers — possibly for aesthetic or ceremonial purposes. And while Neanderthals were once presumed to be crude scavengers, we now know they exploited the different terrains on which they lived. They took down dangerous game, including an extinct species of rhinoceros. Some ate seals and other marine mammals. Some ate shellfish. Some ate chamomile. (They had regional cuisines.) They used toothpicks.

Wearing feathers, eating seals — maybe none of this sounds particularly impressive. But it’s what our human ancestors were capable of back then too, and scientists have always considered such behavioral flexibility and complexity as signs of our specialness. When it came to Neanderthals, though, many researchers literally couldn’t see the evidence sitting in front of them. A lot of the new thinking about Neanderthals comes from revisiting material in museum collections, excavated decades ago, and re-examining it with new technology or simply with open minds. The real surprise of these discoveries may not be the competence of Neanderthals but how obnoxiously low our expectations for them have been — the bias with which too many scientists approached that other Us. One archaeologist called these researchers “modern human supremacists.”

For millenniums, some scientists believe, before modern humans poured in from Africa, the climate in Europe was exceptionally unstable. The landscape kept flipping between temperate forest and cold, treeless steppe. The fauna that Neanderthals subsisted on kept migrating away, faster than they could. Though Neanderthals survived this turbulence, they were never able to build up their numbers. (Across all of Eurasia, at any point in history, says John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “there probably weren’t enough of them to fill an N.F.L. stadium.”) With the demographics so skewed, Stringer went on, even the slightest modern human advantage would be amplified tremendously: a single innovation, something like sewing needles, might protect just enough babies from the elements to lower the infant mortality rate and allow modern humans to conclusively overtake the Neanderthals. And yet Stringer is careful not to conflate innovation with superior intelligence. Innovation, too, can be a function of population size. “We live in an age where information, where good ideas, spread like wildfire, and we build on them,” Stringer told me. “But it wasn’t like that 50,000 years ago.” The more members your species has, the more likely one member will stumble on a useful new technology — and that, once stumbled upon, the innovation will spread; you need sufficient human tinder for those sparks of culture to catch.

“There was nothing inevitable about modern human success,” Stringer says. “It was luck.” We didn’t defeat the Neanderthals; we just swamped them. Trinkaus compares it to how European wildcats are currently disappearing, absorbed into much larger populations of house cats gone feral. It wasn’t a flattering analogy — we are the house cats — but that was Trinkaus’s point: “I think a lot of this is basically banal,” he says.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

- Calvin Coolidge

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Quote of the Day

With too little data, you won’t be able to make any conclusions that you trust. With loads of data you will find relationships that aren’t real… Big data isn’t about bits, it’s about talent.

- Douglas Merrill

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Will Artificial Intelligence Help To Crack Biology?

For example, Richard Mead, a neuroscientist at the University of Sheffield, in England, says BenevolentAI has given him two ideas for drugs for ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that he works on. Both molecules remain confidential while their utility is being assessed. One is bang in the middle of what he and his team are doing already. To him, this confirms that the artificial intelligence in question is generating good ideas. The other, though, is complicated and not obvious, but mechanistically interesting. Without the AI to prompt them, it is something his team might have ignored—and that, he admits, might in turn be a result of their bias.

For now, BenevolentAI is a small actor in the theatre of biology and artificial intelligence. But much larger firms are also involved. Watson, a computer system built by IBM, is being applied in similar ways. In particular, IBM has gone into partnership with Pfizer, an American pharma company, with the intention of accelerating drug discovery in immuno-oncology—a promising area of cancer therapy that encourages the body’s own immune system to fight tumours.

Artificial intelligence will also move into clinical care. Antonio Criminsi, who, like Dr Bishop, works at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, observes that today the process of delineating the edges of tumours in images generated by MRI machines and CT scans is done by hand. This is tedious and long-winded (it can take up to four hours). AI can reduce the time taken to minutes, or even seconds—and the results are completely consistent, unlike those arrived at by human doctors.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

A free person does not need to win arguments.

- Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!

- Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman

Monday, January 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

The trials and pressures of life--and how we face them--often define us. Confronted by adversity, many people give up while others rise up. How do those who succeed do it? They persevere. They find the benefit to them personally that comes from any trial. And they recognize that the best thing about adversity is coming out on the other side of it. There is a sweetness to overcoming your troubles and finding something good in the process, however small it may be. Giving up when adversity threatens can make a person bitter. Persevering through adversity makes one better.

- John C. Maxwell, Talent Is Never Enough

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Quote of the Day

You could have said of him (as they say of Socrates) that he knew how to enjoy and abstain from things that most people find it hard to abstain from and all too easy to enjoy. Strength, perseverance, self-control in both areas: the mark of a soul in readiness — indomitable.

- Marcus Aurelius summarizes his father’s virtues, Meditations

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Finale, wrap-up while dispatching all the bad guys in ascending order. Back to the definitions of ML circa mid–1980s, there were planners, schedulers, etc. Not just pattern recognition. One area which was all but forgotten by the popular dialog about AI is genetic programming. GPs evolve many generations of programs to solve a given problem. Back to what Barba described as speech acts, GPs determine actions in the linguistic domain. For example, serving as planners. I wrote a tutorial about running a GP as an example of implementing a Mesos framework.

Taking a cue from precursors such as Eurisko, the field of probabilistic programming is showing promise. Keep an eye open about Gamalon, among others. What if entire workflows could evolve and restructure themselves, based on available data?

Another interesting area is in fuzzy logic, which made a blip in the early 1990s, then dove for cover during the AI winter. I’m seeming more than blips reemerge. For background, check out Fuzzy Thinking by Bart Kosko.

Pulling these threads together, recently a gaming AI defeated a US Air Force expert combat pilot in simulated combat. As the pilot explained, It seemed to be aware of my intentions and reacting instantly to my changes in flight and my missile deployment. It knew how to defeat the shot I was taking. It moved instantly between defensive and offensive actions as needed.

The system ran on a $500 PC, employing a “genetic-fuzzy” approach.

Lest these examples cast too much of a shadow on AI in literature and practice, here’s a recommended antidote, Adventures in Narrated Reality by Ross Goodwin. Money quote:

The fictional definitions it created for real words were also frequently entertaining. My favorite of these was its definition for “love” — although a prior version of the model had defined love as “past tense of leave,” which I found equally amusing.

Also check out the inexplicably entertaining short film Sunspring, authored by an AI named Benjamin. That leverages a recurrent neural network approach called long short-term memory (LSTM ) which takes abductive reasoning to new levels. While more of a hack though hugely entertaining, I’ve recently enjoyed playing with this gem from Machinamenta.

Beyond the AI Winter by Paco Nathan

Quote of the Day

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

E.B. White’s Beautiful Letter to Someone Who Lost Faith in Humanity

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

Undoubtedly in the first half of the 19th century, a great many naturalists had studied the manner in which species were differentiated among themselves. A great many people had read Malthus. Perhaps some both studied species and read Malthus. But what you needed was someone who studied species, read Malthus, and had the ability to make a cross-connection.

That is the crucial point that is the rare characteristic that must be found. Once the cross-connection is made, it becomes obvious. Thomas H. Huxley is supposed to have exclaimed after reading On the Origin of Species, “How stupid of me not to have thought of this.

Isaac Asimov Asks, “How Do People Get New Ideas?”

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Toofan Aala' - Satyamev Jayate Water Cup Anthem

Paani Foundation is a not-for-profit company set up by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao in early 2016 in order to work towards creating a drought-free Maharashtra. The Foundation’s team comprises of the core team members of the Satyamev Jayate show. The CEO is Satyajit Bhatkal (director of Satyamev Jayate) and the COO is Reena Datta.

Quote of the Day

The only way to avoid pissing people off is to do nothing important.

- Oliver Emberton

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How To Be Good

It seems to a friend of Parfit’s that his theory of personal identity is motivated by an extreme fear of death. But Parfit doesn’t believe that he once feared death more than other people, and now he thinks he fears it less.
My death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations.
Some people will remember him. Others may be influenced by his writing, or act upon his advice. Memories that connect with his memories, thoughts that connect with his thoughts, actions taken that connect with his intentions, will persist after he is gone, just inside different bodies.
  This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me. Now that I have seen this, my death seems to me less bad.
After Parfit finished “Reasons and Persons,” he became increasingly disturbed by how many people believed that there was no such thing as objective moral truth. This led him to write his second book, “On What Matters,” which was published this summer, after years of anticipation among philosophers. (A conference, a book of critical essays, and endless discussions about it preceded its appearance, based on circulated drafts.) Parfit believes that there are true answers to moral questions, just as there are to mathematical ones. Humans can perceive these truths, through a combination of intuition and critical reasoning, but they remain true whether humans perceive them or not. He believes that there is nothing more urgent for him to do in his brief time on earth than discover what these truths are and persuade others of their reality. He believes that without moral truth the world would be a bleak place in which nothing mattered. This thought horrifies him.
We would have no reasons to try to decide how to live. Such decisions would be arbitrary. . . . We would act only on our instincts and desires, living as other animals live.
He feels himself surrounded by dangerous skeptics. Many of his colleagues not only do not believe in objective moral truth—they don’t even find its absence disturbing. They are pragmatic types who argue that the notion of moral truth is unnecessary, a fifth wheel: with it or without it, people will go on with their lives as they have always done, feeling strongly that some things are bad and others good, not missing the cosmic imprimatur. To Parfit, this is an appalling nihilism.
Subjectivists sometimes say that, even though nothing matters in an objective sense, it is enough that some things matter to people. But that shows how deeply these views differ. Subjectivists are like those who say, “God doesn’t exist in your sense, but God is love, and some people love each other, so in my sense God exists.”
Parfit is an atheist, but when it comes to moral truth he believes what Ivan Karamazov believed about God: if it does not exist, then everything is permitted.

- An Oxford philosopher, Derek Parfit  thinks he can distill all morality into a formula. Is he right? by Larissa MacFarquhar

Quote of the Day

Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.

- Jim Rohn

Monday, January 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.

-Robert Greene, Mastery

Sunday, January 1, 2017


We were meat eaters who had never taken personal responsibility for the fact that eating meat means killing. We had tried to be responsible consumers of meat as a commodity by buying the flesh of humanely raised animals, but we had never borne the personal burden of consuming meat as a being, of killing to eat, and we felt there was something deep and undeniable, even inexcusable, about this contradiction. My body and mind need some meat to function properly. I didn’t want to convince myself that killing for food was ethical by reading, arguing, or philosophizing. I felt that I needed to know if it could feel ethical, feel sacred, in my heart.

But in our endeavoring to raise meat animals ethically, I realized we were capable—through laziness, ignorance, circumstance, or spite—of creating real suffering long before any killing happened. This project was intended to unify our values of spirit, justice, culture, and sustainability into a coherent and ethical way of being in the world. Instead, it shocked the central nerve of our work until the body and the spirit, the land and the vision, the practical and the principled felt inexorably pitted against each other.
My confidence in our ability to continue righteously was weakened. In my dreams, I was gnawed at by a grinding sense of irresponsibility. One night, awakening panicked in the darkness, I was struck with the knowing, like a blast of thunder in my heart, that while there are important differences between the horrors of industrial factory farming and what we were trying to do, no animal wants to be confined. No animal wants to die.

- More Here

Happy 2017 !!

Quote of the Day

Observe always that everything is the result of change, and get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and make new ones like them.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations