Monday, February 20, 2017

Quote of the Day

Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Quote of the Day

Honest people are a refuge: You know they mean what they say; you know they will not say one thing to your face and another behind your back; you know they will tell you when they think you have failed—and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery.

- Sam Harris, Lying

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Nix likes to boast that Analytica’s personality model has allowed it to create a personality profile for every adult in the U.S. -- 220 million of them, each with up to 5,000 data points. And those profiles are being continually updated and improved the more data you spew out online.

Albright also believes that your Facebook and Twitter posts are being collected and integrated back into Cambridge Analytica’s personality profiles. “Twitter and also Facebook are being used to collect a lot of responsive data because people are impassioned, they reply, they retweet, but they also include basically their entire argument and their entire background on this topic,” Albright explains.

Collecting massive quantities of data about voters’ personalities might seem unsettling, but it’s actually not what sets Cambridge Analytica apart. For Analytica and other companies like them, it’s what they do with that data that really matters.

“Your behavior is driven by your personality and actually the more you can understand about people’s personality as psychological drivers, the more you can actually start to really tap in to why and how they make their decisions,” Nix explained to Bloomberg’s Sasha Issenburg. “We call this behavioral microtargeting and this is really our secret sauce, if you like. This is what we’re bringing to America.”


The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine

Quote of the Day

I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.

- Robert A. Heinlein

Friday, February 17, 2017

Shepard Smith, Thank You For Bringing Some Morality Back To Journalism

It's crazy what we're watching every day, It's absolutely crazy. He keeps repeating ridiculous, throwaway lines that are not true at all and sort of avoiding this issue of Russia as if we're some kind of fools for asking the question. Really? Your opposition was hacked and the Russians were responsible for it and your people were on the phone with Russia on the same day it was happening and we're fools for asking the questions? No sir.

We have a right to know. You call us fake news and put us down like children for asking questions on behalf of the American people.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

It’s just the most amazing thing to love a dog, isn’t it? It makes our relationships with people seem as boring as a bowl of oatmeal.

- John Grogan, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Quote of the Day

Voltaire said about God that ‘there is no God, but don’t tell that to my servant, lest he murder me at night’. Hammurabi would have said the same about his principle of hierarchy, and Thomas Jefferson about human rights. Homo sapiens has no natural rights, just as spiders, hyenas and chimpanzees have no natural rights. But don’t tell that to our servants, lest they murder us at night.

- Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Quote of the Day

I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that dogs think humans are nuts.

- John Steinbeck

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Quote of the Day

The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.

- Edsger W. Dijkstra

Monday, February 13, 2017

How Life (and Death) Spring From Disorder

There’s a thermodynamic cost to storing information about the past that has no predictive value for the future, Still and colleagues show. To be maximally efficient, a system has to be selective. If it indiscriminately remembers everything that happened, it incurs a large energy cost. On the other hand, if it doesn’t bother storing any information about its environment at all, it will be constantly struggling to cope with the unexpected. “A thermodynamically optimal machine must balance memory against prediction by minimizing its nostalgia — the useless information about the past,’’ said a co-author, David Sivak, now at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. In short, it must become good at harvesting meaningful information — that which is likely to be useful for future survival.

You’d expect natural selection to favor organisms that use energy efficiently. But even individual biomolecular devices like the pumps and motors in our cells should, in some important way, learn from the past to anticipate the future. To acquire their remarkable efficiency, Still said, these devices must “implicitly construct concise representations of the world they have encountered so far, enabling them to anticipate what’s to come.”

[---]

Entropy maximization has long been thought to be a trait of nonequilibrium systems. But the system in this model obeys a rule that lets it maximize entropy over a fixed time window that stretches into the future. In other words, it has foresight. In effect, the model looks at all the paths the particles could take and compels them to adopt the path that produces the greatest entropy. Crudely speaking, this tends to be the path that keeps open the largest number of options for how the particles might move subsequently.

You might say that the system of particles experiences a kind of urge to preserve freedom of future action, and that this urge guides its behavior at any moment. The researchers who developed the model — Alexander Wissner-Gross at Harvard University and Cameron Freer, a mathematician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — call this a “causal entropic force.” In computer simulations of configurations of disk-shaped particles moving around in particular settings, this force creates outcomes that are eerily suggestive of intelligence.


In one case, a large disk was able to “use” a small disk to extract a second small disk from a narrow tube — a process that looked like tool use. Freeing the disk increased the entropy of the system. In another example, two disks in separate compartments synchronized their behavior to pull a larger disk down so that they could interact with it, giving the appearance of social cooperation.

Of course, these simple interacting agents get the benefit of a glimpse into the future. Life, as a general rule, does not. So how relevant is this for biology? That’s not clear, although Wissner-Gross said that he is now working to establish “a practical, biologically plausible, mechanism for causal entropic forces.” In the meantime, he thinks that the approach could have practical spinoffs, offering a shortcut to artificial intelligence. “I predict that a faster way to achieve it will be to discover such behavior first and then work backward from the physical principles and constraints, rather than working forward from particular calculation or prediction techniques,” he said. In other words, first find a system that does what you want it to do and then figure out how it does it.

Aging, too, has conventionally been seen as a trait dictated by evolution. Organisms have a lifespan that creates opportunities to reproduce, the story goes, without inhibiting the survival prospects of offspring by the parents sticking around too long and competing for resources. That seems surely to be part of the story, but Hildegard Meyer-Ortmanns, a physicist at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, thinks that ultimately aging is a physical process, not a biological one, governed by the thermodynamics of information.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

Some people are content in the midst of deprivation and danger, while others are miserable despite having all the luck in the world. This is not to say that external circumstances do not matter. But it is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determines the quality of your life. Your mind is the basis of everything you experience and of every contribution you make to the lives of others. Given this fact, it makes sense to train it.

- Sam Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What Makes A Predictive Model Interpretable?

First off, we should ask what exactly we want interpretability for. For some it is a trust issue - but here I prefer to go with solid evaluation. Our evolved brain can easily be tricked into ‘understanding’ a model which in fact is completely wrong. For others it is a matter of transparency - my sense is that for that it might be more useful to simple poke the model as a black box by varying the inputs to get a sense of the sensitivity. Say I ask the model what it would have predicted if I was 10 years older than I actually am. This is not exactly consistent with proper IID sampling theories, but in my opinion a fair test.

On the final holy grail of using a model to understand a domain or even the causal relationships between different variables: many approaches have been developed but most of them involve much more stringent rules on the data generation, variability and observability of all relevant information than is usually possible. What is interesting about the work in the field of observational methods (i.e. TMLE and other double robust estimators) for estimating causal impact: we really do not care much about the interpretability of a model. The causal interpretation is derived from the model predictions, not its structure. In fact, the robustness guarantees arise from at least one of the models to be consistent and unbiased - in other words, less interpretable ...


- Claudia Perlich

Quote of the Day

Most people believe the mind to be a mirror, more or less accurately reflecting the world outside them, not realizing on the contrary that the mind is itself the principal element of creation.

- Rabindranath Tagore

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Another striking feature of the campaign against cats is how little attention is given to the benefits they confer on human beings. For most of the time in which they have cohabited with people, cats lived outdoors. It is only relatively recently that they began to live in human households in large numbers. What is it that has allowed them to make this evolutionary step? Ailurophobes will say it is the anthropomorphism of cat lovers, who treat their feline housemates as surrogate human beings. But for many cat lovers, I suspect the opposite is true. What they cherish is not how cats resemble us, but their differences from us. Living with cats opens a window into a world beyond our own and teaches us something important about what it means to be human.

One of the most attractive features of cats is that contentment is their default state. Unlike human beings – particularly of the modern variety – they do not spend their days in laborious pursuit of a fantasy of happiness. They are comfortable with themselves and their lives, and remain in that condition for as long as they are not threatened. When they are not eating or sleeping, they pass the time exploring and playing, never asking for reasons to live. Life itself is enough for them.

[---]

Whereas human beings search for happiness in an ever-increasing plethora of religions and therapies, cats enjoy contentment as their birthright. Why this is so is worth exploring. Cats show no sign of regretting the past or fretting about the future. They live, absorbed in the present moment. It will be said that this is because they cannot envision the past or future. Perhaps so, though their habit of demanding their breakfast at the accustomed hour shows they do have a sense of the passage of time. But cats, unlike people, are not haunted by an anxious sense that time is slipping away. Not thinking of their lives as stories in which they are moving towards some better state, they meet each day as it comes. They do not waste their lives dreading the time when their lives must end. Not fearing death, they enjoy a kind of immortality. All animals have these qualities but they seem particularly pronounced in cats. Of all the animals that have lived closely with human beings, cats must surely be the least influenced by them.

“When I play with my cat,” Montaigne wrote, “how do I know she is not playing with me?” With creatures that can be understood only partly by us, one can only speculate about their inner life. Yet it is tempting to suppose that the secret of feline contentment is that cats have no need to defer to a picture of themselves as they imagine they should be. Certainly they have a sense of dignity: they avoid people who treat them disrespectfully, for instance. Yet cats do not struggle to remake themselves according to any ideal self-image. Not inwardly divided, they are happy to be themselves.

Again, it will be said that this is because they have no moral sense. There are many cases of heroic devotion in which cats have risked pain and death to protect their kittens. But it is true that they cannot be taught moral emotions in the way dogs have been taught to feel shame. Cats are certainly not virtue signallers. Nor – except when it concerns their offspring – are they at all inclined to self-sacrifice. But given that cats, consequently, do not kill other cats or anything else in order to become martyrs to some absurd belief system, that may be no bad thing. There are no feline suicide-warriors.

The moralising philosopher who believed he had persuaded his cat to adopt a meat-free diet only showed how silly philosophers can be. Rather than seek to teach his cat, he would have been wiser to learn from it, as Montaigne did. Living in accord with their nature, cats do not need moral instruction. Dissatisfaction with our natural condition, on the other hand, seems to be natural for human beings. The human animal never ceases to strive for some higher form of life. Cats make no such effort. Without any process of laborious cogitation, these lucid, playful and supremely adaptable creatures already know how to live.


- John Gray, What Cats Can Teach Us About How To Live

Quote of the Day

Stand up to hypocrisy. If you don't, the hypocrites will teach. Stand up to ignorance, because if you don't, the ignorant will run free to spread ignorance like a disease. Stand up for truth. If you don't, then there is no truth to your existence. If you don't stand up for all that is right, then understand that you are part of the reason why there is so much wrong in the world.

- Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Friday, February 10, 2017

Quote of the Day

After they had accustomed themselves at Rome to the spectacles of the slaughter of animals, they proceeded to those of the slaughter of men, to the gladiators.

- Michel de Montaigne

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Quote of the Day

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.

- Epicurus

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Language of Animals by Michel de Montaigne

As to the rest, we manifestly discover that they have a full and absolute communication amongst themselves, and that they perfectly understand one another, not only those of the same, but of divers kinds:
The tamer herds, and wilder sort of brutes,

Though we of higher race conclude them mutes,
Yet after dissonant and various notes,
From gentler lungs or more distended throats,
As fear, or grief, or anger, do them move,
Or as they do approach the joys of love.

In one kind of barking of a dog the horse knows there is anger, of another sort of bark he is not afraid. Even in the very beasts that have no voice at all, we easily conclude, from the society of offices we observe amongst them, some other sort of communication: their very motions discover it:



As infants who, for want of words, devise

Expressive motions with their hands and eyes.

And why not, as well as our dumb people, dispute, argue, and tell stories by signs? Of whom I have seen some, by practice, so clever and active that way that, in fact, they wanted nothing of the perfection of making themselves understood. Lovers are angry, reconciled, intreat, thank, appoint, and, in short, speak all things by their eyes.



Even silence in a lover

Love and passion can discover.

... As to speech, it is certain that if it be not natural it is not necessary. Nevertheless I believe that a child which had been brought up in an absolute solitude, remote from all society of men (which would be an experiment very hard to make), would have some kind of speech to express his meaning by. And 'tis not to be supposed that nature should have denied that to us which she has given to several other animals: for what is this faculty we observe in them, of complaining, rejoicing, calling to one another for succour, and inviting each other to love, which they do with the voice, other than speech? And why should they not speak to one another? They speak to us, and we to them. In how many several sorts of ways do we speak to our dogs, and they answer us? We converse with them in another sort of language, and use other appellations, than we do with birds, hogs, oxen, horses, and alter the idiom according to the kind:



Thus from one swarm of ants some sally out,

To spy another's stock or mark its rout.

Lectantius seems to attribute to beasts not only speech, but laughter also. And the difference of language which is seen amongst us, according to the difference of countries, is also observed in animals of the same kind.


- More Here

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Quote of the Day

Life in itself is neither good nor evil; it is the scene of good or evil as you make it.’ And, if you have lived a day, you have seen all: one day is equal and like to all other days. There is no other light, no other shade; this very sun, this moon, these very stars, this very order and disposition of things, is the same your ancestors enjoyed, and that shall also entertain your posterity.

Michel de Montaigne: The Complete Essays

Monday, February 6, 2017

Quote of the Day

For memory, we use our imagination. We take a few strands of real time and carry them with us, then like an oyster we create a pearl around them.

- John Banville

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Quote of the Day

Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don't need to escape from.

- Seth Godin

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Broadly speaking, the Internet of Things has three parts. There are the sensors that collect data about us and our environment: smart thermostats, street and highway sensors, and those ubiquitous smartphones with their motion sensors and GPS location receivers. Then there are the “smarts” that figure out what the data means and what to do about it. This includes all the computer processors on these devices and — increasingly — in the cloud, as well as the memory that stores all of this information. And finally, there are the actuators that affect our environment. The point of a smart thermostat isn’t to record the temperature; it’s to control the furnace and the air conditioner. Driverless cars collect data about the road and the environment to steer themselves safely to their destinations.

You can think of the sensors as the eyes and ears of the internet. You can think of the actuators as the hands and feet of the internet. And you can think of the stuff in the middle as the brain. We are building an internet that senses, thinks, and acts.

This is the classic definition of a robot. We’re building a world-size robot, and we don’t even realize it.

[---]

The market can’t fix this because neither the buyer nor the seller cares. The owners of the webcams and DVRs used in the denial-of-service attacks don’t care. Their devices were cheap to buy, they still work, and they don’t know any of the victims of the attacks. The sellers of those devices don’t care: They’re now selling newer and better models, and the original buyers only cared about price and features. There is no market solution, because the insecurity is what economists call an externality: It’s an effect of the purchasing decision that affects other people. Think of it kind of like invisible pollution.

[---]

The internet has famously eschewed formal regulation, instead adopting a multi-stakeholder model of academics, businesses, governments, and other interested parties. My hope is that we can keep the best of this approach in any regulatory agency, looking more at the new U.S. Digital Service or the 18F office inside the General Services Administration. Both of those organizations are dedicated to providing digital government services, and both have collected significant expertise by bringing people in from outside of government, and both have learned how to work closely with existing agencies. Any internet regulatory agency will similarly need to engage in a high level of collaborate regulation — both a challenge and an opportunity.

I don’t think any of us can predict the totality of the regulations we need to ensure the safety of this world, but here’s a few. We need government to ensure companies follow good security practices: testing, patching, secure defaults — and we need to be able to hold companies liable when they fail to do these things. We need government to mandate strong personal data protections, and limitations on data collection and use. We need to ensure that responsible security research is legal and well-funded. We need to enforce transparency in design, some sort of code escrow in case a company goes out of business, and interoperability between devices of different manufacturers, to counterbalance the monopolistic effects of interconnected technologies. Individuals need the right to take their data with them. And internet-enabled devices should retain some minimal functionality if disconnected from the internet.

[---]

We also need to start disconnecting systems. If we cannot secure complex systems to the level required by their real-world capabilities, then we must not build a world where everything is computerized and interconnected.

There are other models. We can enable local communications only. We can set limits on collected and stored data. We can deliberately design systems that don’t interoperate with each other. We can deliberately fetter devices, reversing the current trend of turning everything into a general-purpose computer. And, most important, we can move toward less centralization and more distributed systems, which is how the internet was first envisioned.

This might be a heresy in today’s race to network everything, but large, centralized systems are not inevitable. The technical elites are pushing us in that direction, but they really don’t have any good supporting arguments other than the profits of their ever-growing multinational corporations.


- With the Internet of Things, we’re building a world-size robot. How are we going to control it by Bruce Schneier

Quote of the Day

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

John Stuart Mill On Liberty


Friday, February 3, 2017

Scientists Retrieve 80-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Protein In ‘Milestone’ Paper

It’s not quite Jurassic Park: No one has revived long-extinct dinosaurs. But two new studies suggest that it is possible to isolate protein fragments from dino­saurs much further back in time than ever thought possible. One study, led by Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist from North Carolina State University in Raleigh who has chased dinosaur proteins for de­cades, confirms her highly controversial claim to have recovered 80-million-year-old dinosaur collagen. The other paper suggests that protein may even have sur­vived in a 195-million-year-old dino fossil.

The Schweitzer paper is a “milestone,” says ancient protein expert Enrico Cap­pellini of the University of Copenhagen’s Natural History Museum of Denmark, who was skeptical of some of Schweitzer’s ear­lier work. “I’m fully convinced beyond a reasonable doubt the evidence is authen­tic.” He calls the second study “a long shot that is suggestive.” But together, Cappellini and others argue, the papers have the po­tential to transform dinosaur paleontology into a molecular science, much as analyz­ing ancient DNA has revolutionized the study of human evolution.


- More Here

Quote of the Day

While most theologians aren’t paying it much attention, some technologists are convinced that artificial intelligence is on an inevitable path toward autonomy. How far away this may be depends on whom you ask, but the trajectory raises some fundamental questions for Christianity—as well as religion broadly conceived, though for this article I’m going to stick to the faith tradition I know best. In fact, AI may be the greatest threat to Christian theology since Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.

Are you there, God? It’s I, robot.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Quote of the Day

Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Quote of the Day

One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.

-  Tony Robbins