nhaliday + technology   352

Ask HN: What's a promising area to work on? | Hacker News
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8 days ago by nhaliday
Information Processing: Beijing 2019 Notes
Trump, the trade war, and US-China relations came up frequently in discussion. Chinese opinion tends to focus on the long term. Our driver for a day trip to the Great Wall was an older man from the countryside, who has lived only 3 years in Beijing. I was surprised to hear him expressing a very balanced opinion about the situation. He understood Trump's position remarkably well -- China has done very well trading with the US, and owes much of its technological and scientific development to the West. A recalibration is in order, and it is natural for Trump to negotiate in the interest of US workers.

China's economy is less and less export-dependent, and domestic drivers of growth seem easy to identify. For example, there is still a lot of low-hanging fruit in the form of "catch up growth" -- but now this means not just catching up with the outside developed world, but Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities catching up with Tier 1 cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, etc.

China watchers have noted the rapidly increasing government and private sector debt necessary to drive growth here. Perhaps this portends a future crisis. However, I didn't get any sense of impending doom for the Chinese economy. To be fair there was very little inkling of what would happen to the US economy in 2007-8. Some of the people I met with are highly placed with special knowledge -- they are among the most likely to be aware of problems. Overall I had the impression of normalcy and quiet confidence, but perhaps this would have been different in an export/manufacturing hub like Shenzhen. [ Update: Today after posting this I did hear something about economic concerns... So situation is unclear. ]

Innovation is everywhere here. Perhaps the most obvious is the high level of convenience from the use of e-payment and delivery services. You can pay for everything using your mobile (increasingly, using just your face!), and you can have food and other items (think Amazon on steroids) delivered quickly to your apartment. Even museum admissions can be handled via QR code.

A highly placed technologist told me that in fields like AI or computer science, Chinese researchers and engineers have access to in-depth local discussions of important arXiv papers -- think StackOverflow in Mandarin. Since most researchers here can read English, they have access both to Western advances, and a Chinese language reservoir of knowledge and analysis. He anticipates that eventually the pace and depth of engineering implementation here will be unequaled.

IVF and genetic testing are huge businesses in China. Perhaps I'll comment more on this in the future. New technologies, in genomics as in other areas, tend to be received more positively here than in the US and Europe.

...

Note Added: In the comments AG points to a Quora post by a user called Janus Dongye Qimeng, an AI researcher in Cambridge UK, who seems to be a real China expert. I found these posts to be very interesting.

Infrastructure development in poor regions of China

Size of Chinese internet social network platforms

Can the US derail China 2025? (Core technology stacks in and outside China)

Huawei smartphone technology stack and impact of US entity list interdiction (software and hardware!)

Agriculture at Massive Scale

US-China AI competition

More recommenations: Bruno Maçães is one of my favorite modern geopolitical thinkers. A Straussian of sorts (PhD under Harvey Mansfield at Harvard), he was Secretary of State for European Affairs in Portugal, and has thought deeply about the future of Eurasia and of US-China relations. He spent the last year in Beijing and I was eager to meet with him while here. His recent essay Equilibrium Americanum appeared in the Berlin Policy Journal. Podcast interview -- we hope to have him on Manifold soon :-)
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july 2019 by nhaliday
Lindy effect - Wikipedia
The Lindy effect is a theory that the future life expectancy of some non-perishable things like a technology or an idea is proportional to their current age, so that every additional period of survival implies a longer remaining life expectancy.[1] Where the Lindy effect applies, mortality rate decreases with time. In contrast, living creatures and mechanical things follow a bathtub curve where, after "childhood", the mortality rate increases with time. Because life expectancy is probabilistically derived, a thing may become extinct before its "expected" survival. In other words, one needs to gauge both the age and "health" of the thing to determine continued survival.
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june 2019 by nhaliday
One week of bugs
If I had to guess, I'd say I probably work around hundreds of bugs in an average week, and thousands in a bad week. It's not unusual for me to run into a hundred new bugs in a single week. But I often get skepticism when I mention that I run into multiple new (to me) bugs per day, and that this is inevitable if we don't change how we write tests. Well, here's a log of one week of bugs, limited to bugs that were new to me that week. After a brief description of the bugs, I'll talk about what we can do to improve the situation. The obvious answer to spend more effort on testing, but everyone already knows we should do that and no one does it. That doesn't mean it's hopeless, though.

...

Here's where I'm supposed to write an appeal to take testing more seriously and put real effort into it. But we all know that's not going to work. It would take 90k LOC of tests to get Julia to be as well tested as a poorly tested prototype (falsely assuming linear complexity in size). That's two person-years of work, not even including time to debug and fix bugs (which probably brings it closer to four of five years). Who's going to do that? No one. Writing tests is like writing documentation. Everyone already knows you should do it. Telling people they should do it adds zero information1.

Given that people aren't going to put any effort into testing, what's the best way to do it?

Property-based testing. Generative testing. Random testing. Concolic Testing (which was done long before the term was coined). Static analysis. Fuzzing. Statistical bug finding. There are lots of options. Some of them are actually the same thing because the terminology we use is inconsistent and buggy. I'm going to arbitrarily pick one to talk about, but they're all worth looking into.

...

There are a lot of great resources out there, but if you're just getting started, I found this description of types of fuzzers to be one of those most helpful (and simplest) things I've read.

John Regehr has a udacity course on software testing. I haven't worked through it yet (Pablo Torres just pointed to it), but given the quality of Dr. Regehr's writing, I expect the course to be good.

For more on my perspective on testing, there's this.

Everything's broken and nobody's upset: https://www.hanselman.com/blog/EverythingsBrokenAndNobodysUpset.aspx
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4531549

https://hypothesis.works/articles/the-purpose-of-hypothesis/
From the perspective of a user, the purpose of Hypothesis is to make it easier for you to write better tests.

From my perspective as the primary author, that is of course also a purpose of Hypothesis. I write a lot of code, it needs testing, and the idea of trying to do that without Hypothesis has become nearly unthinkable.

But, on a large scale, the true purpose of Hypothesis is to drag the world kicking and screaming into a new and terrifying age of high quality software.

Software is everywhere. We have built a civilization on it, and it’s only getting more prevalent as more services move online and embedded and “internet of things” devices become cheaper and more common.

Software is also terrible. It’s buggy, it’s insecure, and it’s rarely well thought out.

This combination is clearly a recipe for disaster.

The state of software testing is even worse. It’s uncontroversial at this point that you should be testing your code, but it’s a rare codebase whose authors could honestly claim that they feel its testing is sufficient.

Much of the problem here is that it’s too hard to write good tests. Tests take up a vast quantity of development time, but they mostly just laboriously encode exactly the same assumptions and fallacies that the authors had when they wrote the code, so they miss exactly the same bugs that you missed when they wrote the code.

Preventing the Collapse of Civilization [video]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19945452
- Jonathan Blow

NB: DevGAMM is a game industry conference

- loss of technological knowledge (Antikythera mechanism, aqueducts, etc.)
- hardware driving most gains, not software
- software's actually less robust, often poorly designed and overengineered these days
- *list of bugs he's encountered recently*:
https://youtu.be/pW-SOdj4Kkk?t=1387
- knowledge of trivia becomes more than general, deep knowledge
- does at least acknowledge value of DRY, reusing code, abstraction saving dev time
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may 2019 by nhaliday
Information Processing: Moore's Law and AI
Hint to technocratic planners: invest more in physicists, chemists, and materials scientists. The recent explosion in value from technology has been driven by physical science -- software gets way too much credit. From the former we got a factor of a million or more in compute power, data storage, and bandwidth. From the latter, we gained (perhaps) an order of magnitude or two in effectiveness: how much better are current OSes and programming languages than Unix and C, both of which are ~50 years old now?

...

Of relevance to this discussion: a big chunk of AlphaGo's performance improvement over other Go programs is due to raw compute power (link via Jess Riedel). The vertical axis is ELO score. You can see that without multi-GPU compute, AlphaGo has relatively pedestrian strength.
hsu  scitariat  comparison  software  hardware  performance  sv  tech  trends  ai  machine-learning  deep-learning  deepgoog  google  roots  impact  hard-tech  multiplicative  the-world-is-just-atoms  technology  trivia  cocktail  big-picture  hi-order-bits 
may 2019 by nhaliday
Reverse salients | West Hunter
Edison thought in terms of reverse salients and critical problems.

“Reverse salients are areas of research and development that are lagging in some obvious way behind the general line of advance. Critical problems are the research questions, cast in terms of the concrete particulars of currently available knowledge and technique and of specific exemplars or models that are solvable and whose solutions would eliminate the reverse salients. ”

What strikes you as as important current example of a reverse salient, and the associated critical problem or problems?
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may 2019 by nhaliday
Manifold – man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.
https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2019/01/a-grand-experiment.html
Silicon Valley (Big Tech and startups and VC)
Financial Markets
Academia (Good, Bad, and Ugly)
The View from Europe
The View from Asia (Life in PRC? Fear and Loathing of PRC?)
Frontiers of Science (AI, Genomics, Physics, ...)
Frontiers of Rationality
The Billionaire Life
MMA / UFC
What Millennials think us old folks don't understand
True things that you are not allowed to say
Bubbles that are ready to pop?
Under-appreciated Genius?
Overrated Crap and Frauds?
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march 2019 by nhaliday
Science - Wikipedia
In Northern Europe, the new technology of the printing press was widely used to publish many arguments, including some that disagreed widely with contemporary ideas of nature. René Descartes and Francis Bacon published philosophical arguments in favor of a new type of non-Aristotelian science. Descartes emphasized individual thought and argued that mathematics rather than geometry should be used in order to study nature. Bacon emphasized the importance of experiment over contemplation. Bacon further questioned the Aristotelian concepts of formal cause and final cause, and promoted the idea that science should study the laws of "simple" natures, such as heat, rather than assuming that there is any specific nature, or "formal cause," of each complex type of thing. This new modern science began to see itself as describing "laws of nature". This updated approach to studies in nature was seen as mechanistic. Bacon also argued that science should aim for the first time at practical inventions for the improvement of all human life.

Age of Enlightenment

...

During this time, the declared purpose and value of science became producing wealth and inventions that would improve human lives, in the materialistic sense of having more food, clothing, and other things. In Bacon's words, "the real and legitimate goal of sciences is the endowment of human life with new inventions and riches", and he discouraged scientists from pursuing intangible philosophical or spiritual ideas, which he believed contributed little to human happiness beyond "the fume of subtle, sublime, or pleasing speculation".[72]
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august 2018 by nhaliday
Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata - John von Neumann
Fourth Lecture: THE ROLE OF HIGH AND OF EXTREMELY HIGH COMPLICATION

Comparisons between computing machines and the nervous systems. Estimates of size for computing machines, present and near future.

Estimates for size for the human central nervous system. Excursus about the “mixed” character of living organisms. Analog and digital elements. Observations about the “mixed” character of all componentry, artificial as well as natural. Interpretation of the position to be taken with respect to these.

Evaluation of the discrepancy in size between artificial and natural automata. Interpretation of this discrepancy in terms of physical factors. Nature of the materials used.

The probability of the presence of other intellectual factors. The role of complication and the theoretical penetration that it requires.

Questions of reliability and errors reconsidered. Probability of individual errors and length of procedure. Typical lengths of procedure for computing machines and for living organisms--that is, for artificial and for natural automata. Upper limits on acceptable probability of error in individual operations. Compensation by checking and self-correcting features.

Differences of principle in the way in which errors are dealt with in artificial and in natural automata. The “single error” principle in artificial automata. Crudeness of our approach in this case, due to the lack of adequate theory. More sophisticated treatment of this problem in natural automata: The role of the autonomy of parts. Connections between this autonomy and evolution.

- 10^10 neurons in brain, 10^4 vacuum tubes in largest computer at time
- machines faster: 5 ms from neuron potential to neuron potential, 10^-3 ms for vacuum tubes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_von_Neumann#Computing
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april 2018 by nhaliday
Surveil things, not people – The sideways view
Technology may reach a point where free use of one person’s share of humanity’s resources is enough to easily destroy the world. I think society needs to make significant changes to cope with that scenario.

Mass surveillance is a natural response, and sometimes people think of it as the only response. I find mass surveillance pretty unappealing, but I think we can capture almost all of the value by surveilling things rather than surveilling people. This approach avoids some of the worst problems of mass surveillance; while it still has unattractive features it’s my favorite option so far.

...

The idea
We’ll choose a set of artifacts to surveil and restrict. I’ll call these heavy technology and everything else light technology. Our goal is to restrict as few things as possible, but we want to make sure that someone can’t cause unacceptable destruction with only light technology. By default something is light technology if it can be easily acquired by an individual or small group in 2017, and heavy technology otherwise (though we may need to make some exceptions, e.g. certain biological materials or equipment).

Heavy technology is subject to two rules:

1. You can’t use heavy technology in a way that is unacceptably destructive.
2. You can’t use heavy technology to undermine the machinery that enforces these two rules.

To enforce these rules, all heavy technology is under surveillance, and is situated such that it cannot be unilaterally used by any individual or small group. That is, individuals can own heavy technology, but they cannot have unmonitored physical access to that technology.

...

This proposal does give states a de facto monopoly on heavy technology, and would eventually make armed resistance totally impossible. But it’s already the case that states have a massive advantage in armed conflict, and it seems almost inevitable that progress in AI will make this advantage larger (and enable states to do much more with it). Realistically I’m not convinced this proposal makes things much worse than the default.

This proposal definitely expands regulators’ nominal authority and seems prone to abuses. But amongst candidates for handling a future with cheap and destructive dual-use technology, I feel this is the best of many bad options with respect to the potential for abuse.
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april 2018 by nhaliday
Harnessing Evolution - with Bret Weinstein | Virtual Futures Salon - YouTube
- ways to get out of Malthusian conditions: expansion to new frontiers, new technology, redistribution/theft
- some discussion of existential risk
- wants to change humanity's "purpose" to one that would be safe in the long run; important thing is it has to be ESS (maybe he wants a singleton?)
- not too impressed by transhumanism (wouldn't identify with a brain emulation)
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april 2018 by nhaliday
More arguments against blockchain, most of all about trust - Marginal REVOLUTION
Auditing software is hard! The most-heavily scrutinized smart contract in history had a small bug that nobody noticed — that is, until someone did notice it, and used it to steal fifty million dollars. If cryptocurrency enthusiasts putting together a $150m investment fund can’t properly audit the software, how confident are you in your e-book audit? Perhaps you would rather write your own counteroffer software contract, in case this e-book author has hidden a recursion bug in their version to drain your ethereum wallet of all your life savings?

It’s a complicated way to buy a book! It’s not trustless, you’re trusting in the software (and your ability to defend yourself in a software-driven world), instead of trusting other people.
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april 2018 by nhaliday
The first ethical revolution – Gene Expression
Fifty years ago Julian Jaynes published The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Seventy years ago Karl Jaspers introduced the concept of the Axial Age. Both point to the same dynamic historically.

Something happened in the centuries around 500 BCE all around the world. Great religions and philosophies arose. The Indian religious traditions, the Chinese philosophical-political ones, and the roots of what we can recognize as Judaism. In Greece, the precursors of many modern philosophical streams emerged formally, along with a variety of political systems.

The next few centuries saw some more innovation. Rabbinical Judaism transformed a ritualistic tribal religion into an ethical one, and Christianity universalized Jewish religious thought, as well as infusing it with Greek systematic concepts. Meanwhile, Indian and Chinese thought continued to evolve, often due to interactions each other (it is hard to imagine certain later developments in Confucianism without the Buddhist stimulus). Finally, in the 7th century, Islam emerges as the last great world religion.

...

Living in large complex societies with social stratification posed challenges. A religion such as Christianity was not a coincidence, something of its broad outlines may have been inevitable. Universal, portable, ethical, and infused with transcendence and coherency. Similarly, god-kings seem to have universally transformed themselves into the human who binds heaven to earth in some fashion.

The second wave of social-ethical transformation occurred in the early modern period, starting in Europe. My own opinion is that economic growth triggered by innovation and gains in productivity unleashed constraints which had dampened further transformations in the domain of ethics. But the new developments ultimately were simply extensions and modifications on the earlier “source code” (e.g., whereas for nearly two thousand years Christianity had had to make peace with the existence of slavery, in the 19th century anti-slavery activists began marshaling Christian language against the institution).
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april 2018 by nhaliday
The Hanson-Yudkowsky AI-Foom Debate - Machine Intelligence Research Institute
How Deviant Recent AI Progress Lumpiness?: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2018/03/how-deviant-recent-ai-progress-lumpiness.html
I seem to disagree with most people working on artificial intelligence (AI) risk. While with them I expect rapid change once AI is powerful enough to replace most all human workers, I expect this change to be spread across the world, not concentrated in one main localized AI system. The efforts of AI risk folks to design AI systems whose values won’t drift might stop global AI value drift if there is just one main AI system. But doing so in a world of many AI systems at similar abilities levels requires strong global governance of AI systems, which is a tall order anytime soon. Their continued focus on preventing single system drift suggests that they expect a single main AI system.

The main reason that I understand to expect relatively local AI progress is if AI progress is unusually lumpy, i.e., arriving in unusually fewer larger packages rather than in the usual many smaller packages. If one AI team finds a big lump, it might jump way ahead of the other teams.

However, we have a vast literature on the lumpiness of research and innovation more generally, which clearly says that usually most of the value in innovation is found in many small innovations. We have also so far seen this in computer science (CS) and AI. Even if there have been historical examples where much value was found in particular big innovations, such as nuclear weapons or the origin of humans.

Apparently many people associated with AI risk, including the star machine learning (ML) researchers that they often idolize, find it intuitively plausible that AI and ML progress is exceptionally lumpy. Such researchers often say, “My project is ‘huge’, and will soon do it all!” A decade ago my ex-co-blogger Eliezer Yudkowsky and I argued here on this blog about our differing estimates of AI progress lumpiness. He recently offered Alpha Go Zero as evidence of AI lumpiness:

...

In this post, let me give another example (beyond two big lumps in a row) of what could change my mind. I offer a clear observable indicator, for which data should have available now: deviant citation lumpiness in recent ML research. One standard measure of research impact is citations; bigger lumpier developments gain more citations that smaller ones. And it turns out that the lumpiness of citations is remarkably constant across research fields! See this March 3 paper in Science:

I Still Don’t Get Foom: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2014/07/30855.html
All of which makes it look like I’m the one with the problem; everyone else gets it. Even so, I’m gonna try to explain my problem again, in the hope that someone can explain where I’m going wrong. Here goes.

“Intelligence” just means an ability to do mental/calculation tasks, averaged over many tasks. I’ve always found it plausible that machines will continue to do more kinds of mental tasks better, and eventually be better at pretty much all of them. But what I’ve found it hard to accept is a “local explosion.” This is where a single machine, built by a single project using only a tiny fraction of world resources, goes in a short time (e.g., weeks) from being so weak that it is usually beat by a single human with the usual tools, to so powerful that it easily takes over the entire world. Yes, smarter machines may greatly increase overall economic growth rates, and yes such growth may be uneven. But this degree of unevenness seems implausibly extreme. Let me explain.

If we count by economic value, humans now do most of the mental tasks worth doing. Evolution has given us a brain chock-full of useful well-honed modules. And the fact that most mental tasks require the use of many modules is enough to explain why some of us are smarter than others. (There’d be a common “g” factor in task performance even with independent module variation.) Our modules aren’t that different from those of other primates, but because ours are different enough to allow lots of cultural transmission of innovation, we’ve out-competed other primates handily.

We’ve had computers for over seventy years, and have slowly build up libraries of software modules for them. Like brains, computers do mental tasks by combining modules. An important mental task is software innovation: improving these modules, adding new ones, and finding new ways to combine them. Ideas for new modules are sometimes inspired by the modules we see in our brains. When an innovation team finds an improvement, they usually sell access to it, which gives them resources for new projects, and lets others take advantage of their innovation.

...

In Bostrom’s graph above the line for an initially small project and system has a much higher slope, which means that it becomes in a short time vastly better at software innovation. Better than the entire rest of the world put together. And my key question is: how could it plausibly do that? Since the rest of the world is already trying the best it can to usefully innovate, and to abstract to promote such innovation, what exactly gives one small project such a huge advantage to let it innovate so much faster?

...

In fact, most software innovation seems to be driven by hardware advances, instead of innovator creativity. Apparently, good ideas are available but must usually wait until hardware is cheap enough to support them.

Yes, sometimes architectural choices have wider impacts. But I was an artificial intelligence researcher for nine years, ending twenty years ago, and I never saw an architecture choice make a huge difference, relative to other reasonable architecture choices. For most big systems, overall architecture matters a lot less than getting lots of detail right. Researchers have long wandered the space of architectures, mostly rediscovering variations on what others found before.

Some hope that a small project could be much better at innovation because it specializes in that topic, and much better understands new theoretical insights into the basic nature of innovation or intelligence. But I don’t think those are actually topics where one can usefully specialize much, or where we’ll find much useful new theory. To be much better at learning, the project would instead have to be much better at hundreds of specific kinds of learning. Which is very hard to do in a small project.

What does Bostrom say? Alas, not much. He distinguishes several advantages of digital over human minds, but all software shares those advantages. Bostrom also distinguishes five paths: better software, brain emulation (i.e., ems), biological enhancement of humans, brain-computer interfaces, and better human organizations. He doesn’t think interfaces would work, and sees organizations and better biology as only playing supporting roles.

...

Similarly, while you might imagine someday standing in awe in front of a super intelligence that embodies all the power of a new age, superintelligence just isn’t the sort of thing that one project could invent. As “intelligence” is just the name we give to being better at many mental tasks by using many good mental modules, there’s no one place to improve it. So I can’t see a plausible way one project could increase its intelligence vastly faster than could the rest of the world.

Takeoff speeds: https://sideways-view.com/2018/02/24/takeoff-speeds/
Futurists have argued for years about whether the development of AGI will look more like a breakthrough within a small group (“fast takeoff”), or a continuous acceleration distributed across the broader economy or a large firm (“slow takeoff”).

I currently think a slow takeoff is significantly more likely. This post explains some of my reasoning and why I think it matters. Mostly the post lists arguments I often hear for a fast takeoff and explains why I don’t find them compelling.

(Note: this is not a post about whether an intelligence explosion will occur. That seems very likely to me. Quantitatively I expect it to go along these lines. So e.g. while I disagree with many of the claims and assumptions in Intelligence Explosion Microeconomics, I don’t disagree with the central thesis or with most of the arguments.)
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april 2018 by nhaliday
Eternity in six hours: intergalactic spreading of intelligent life and sharpening the Fermi paradox
We do this by demonstrating that traveling between galaxies – indeed even launching a colonisation project for the entire reachable universe – is a relatively simple task for a star-spanning civilization, requiring modest amounts of energy and resources. We start by demonstrating that humanity itself could likely accomplish such a colonisation project in the foreseeable future, should we want to, and then demonstrate that there are millions of galaxies that could have reached us by now, using similar methods. This results in a considerable sharpening of the Fermi paradox.
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march 2018 by nhaliday
The Coming Technological Singularity
Within thirty years, we will have the technological
means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after,
the human era will be ended.

Is such progress avoidable? If not to be avoided, can
events be guided so that we may survive? These questions
are investigated. Some possible answers (and some further
dangers) are presented.

_What is The Singularity?_

The acceleration of technological progress has been the central
feature of this century. I argue in this paper that we are on the edge
of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise
cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of
entities with greater than human intelligence. There are several means
by which science may achieve this breakthrough (and this is another
reason for having confidence that the event will occur):
o The development of computers that are "awake" and
superhumanly intelligent. (To date, most controversy in the
area of AI relates to whether we can create human equivalence
in a machine. But if the answer is "yes, we can", then there
is little doubt that beings more intelligent can be constructed
shortly thereafter.
o Large computer networks (and their associated users) may "wake
up" as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
o Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users
may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
o Biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural
human intellect.

The first three possibilities depend in large part on
improvements in computer hardware. Progress in computer hardware has
followed an amazingly steady curve in the last few decades [16]. Based
largely on this trend, I believe that the creation of greater than
human intelligence will occur during the next thirty years. (Charles
Platt [19] has pointed out the AI enthusiasts have been making claims
like this for the last thirty years. Just so I'm not guilty of a
relative-time ambiguity, let me more specific: I'll be surprised if
this event occurs before 2005 or after 2030.)

What are the consequences of this event? When greater-than-human
intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid.
In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve
the creation of still more intelligent entities -- on a still-shorter
time scale. The best analogy that I see is with the evolutionary past:
Animals can adapt to problems and make inventions, but often no faster
than natural selection can do its work -- the world acts as its own
simulator in the case of natural selection. We humans have the ability
to internalize the world and conduct "what if's" in our heads; we can
solve many problems thousands of times faster than natural selection.
Now, by creating the means to execute those simulations at much higher
speeds, we are entering a regime as radically different from our human
past as we humans are from the lower animals.
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march 2018 by nhaliday
Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios
https://twitter.com/robinhanson/status/981291048965087232
https://archive.is/dUTD5
Would you endorse choosing policy to max the expected duration of civilization, at least as a good first approximation?
Can anyone suggest a different first approximation that would get more votes?

https://twitter.com/robinhanson/status/981335898502545408
https://archive.is/RpygO
How useful would it be to agree on a relatively-simple first-approximation observable-after-the-fact metric for what we want from the future universe, such as total life years experienced, or civilization duration?

We're Underestimating the Risk of Human Extinction: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/were-underestimating-the-risk-of-human-extinction/253821/
An Oxford philosopher argues that we are not adequately accounting for technology's risks—but his solution to the problem is not for Luddites.

Anderson: You have argued that we underrate existential risks because of a particular kind of bias called observation selection effect. Can you explain a bit more about that?

Bostrom: The idea of an observation selection effect is maybe best explained by first considering the simpler concept of a selection effect. Let's say you're trying to estimate how large the largest fish in a given pond is, and you use a net to catch a hundred fish and the biggest fish you find is three inches long. You might be tempted to infer that the biggest fish in this pond is not much bigger than three inches, because you've caught a hundred of them and none of them are bigger than three inches. But if it turns out that your net could only catch fish up to a certain length, then the measuring instrument that you used would introduce a selection effect: it would only select from a subset of the domain you were trying to sample.

Now that's a kind of standard fact of statistics, and there are methods for trying to correct for it and you obviously have to take that into account when considering the fish distribution in your pond. An observation selection effect is a selection effect introduced not by limitations in our measurement instrument, but rather by the fact that all observations require the existence of an observer. This becomes important, for instance, in evolutionary biology. For instance, we know that intelligent life evolved on Earth. Naively, one might think that this piece of evidence suggests that life is likely to evolve on most Earth-like planets. But that would be to overlook an observation selection effect. For no matter how small the proportion of all Earth-like planets that evolve intelligent life, we will find ourselves on a planet that did. Our data point-that intelligent life arose on our planet-is predicted equally well by the hypothesis that intelligent life is very improbable even on Earth-like planets as by the hypothesis that intelligent life is highly probable on Earth-like planets. When it comes to human extinction and existential risk, there are certain controversial ways that observation selection effects might be relevant.
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march 2018 by nhaliday
Information Processing: US Needs a National AI Strategy: A Sputnik Moment?
FT podcasts on US-China competition and AI: http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2018/05/ft-podcasts-on-us-china-competition-and.html

A new recommended career path for effective altruists: China specialist: https://80000hours.org/articles/china-careers/
Our rough guess is that it would be useful for there to be at least ten people in the community with good knowledge in this area within the next few years.

By “good knowledge” we mean they’ve spent at least 3 years studying these topics and/or living in China.

We chose ten because that would be enough for several people to cover each of the major areas listed (e.g. 4 within AI, 2 within biorisk, 2 within foreign relations, 1 in another area).

AI Policy and Governance Internship: https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/ai-policy-governance-internship/

https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/deciphering-chinas-ai-dream/
https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/Deciphering_Chinas_AI-Dream.pdf
Deciphering China’s AI Dream
The context, components, capabilities, and consequences of
China’s strategy to lead the world in AI

Europe’s AI delusion: https://www.politico.eu/article/opinion-europes-ai-delusion/
Brussels is failing to grasp threats and opportunities of artificial intelligence.
By BRUNO MAÇÃES

When the computer program AlphaGo beat the Chinese professional Go player Ke Jie in a three-part match, it didn’t take long for Beijing to realize the implications.

If algorithms can already surpass the abilities of a master Go player, it can’t be long before they will be similarly supreme in the activity to which the classic board game has always been compared: war.

As I’ve written before, the great conflict of our time is about who can control the next wave of technological development: the widespread application of artificial intelligence in the economic and military spheres.

...

If China’s ambitions sound plausible, that’s because the country’s achievements in deep learning are so impressive already. After Microsoft announced that its speech recognition software surpassed human-level language recognition in October 2016, Andrew Ng, then head of research at Baidu, tweeted: “We had surpassed human-level Chinese recognition in 2015; happy to see Microsoft also get there for English less than a year later.”

...

One obvious advantage China enjoys is access to almost unlimited pools of data. The machine-learning technologies boosting the current wave of AI expansion are as good as the amount of data they can use. That could be the number of people driving cars, photos labeled on the internet or voice samples for translation apps. With 700 or 800 million Chinese internet users and fewer data protection rules, China is as rich in data as the Gulf States are in oil.

How can Europe and the United States compete? They will have to be commensurately better in developing algorithms and computer power. Sadly, Europe is falling behind in these areas as well.

...

Chinese commentators have embraced the idea of a coming singularity: the moment when AI surpasses human ability. At that point a number of interesting things happen. First, future AI development will be conducted by AI itself, creating exponential feedback loops. Second, humans will become useless for waging war. At that point, the human mind will be unable to keep pace with robotized warfare. With advanced image recognition, data analytics, prediction systems, military brain science and unmanned systems, devastating wars might be waged and won in a matter of minutes.

...

The argument in the new strategy is fully defensive. It first considers how AI raises new threats and then goes on to discuss the opportunities. The EU and Chinese strategies follow opposite logics. Already on its second page, the text frets about the legal and ethical problems raised by AI and discusses the “legitimate concerns” the technology generates.

The EU’s strategy is organized around three concerns: the need to boost Europe’s AI capacity, ethical issues and social challenges. Unfortunately, even the first dimension quickly turns out to be about “European values” and the need to place “the human” at the center of AI — forgetting that the first word in AI is not “human” but “artificial.”

https://twitter.com/mr_scientism/status/983057591298351104
https://archive.is/m3Njh
US military: "LOL, China thinks it's going to be a major player in AI, but we've got all the top AI researchers. You guys will help us develop weapons, right?"

US AI researchers: "No."

US military: "But... maybe just a computer vision app."

US AI researchers: "NO."

https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/4/17196818/ai-boycot-killer-robots-kaist-university-hanwha
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/technology/google-letter-ceo-pentagon-project.html
https://twitter.com/mr_scientism/status/981685030417326080
https://archive.is/3wbHm
AI-risk was a mistake.
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february 2018 by nhaliday
What Peter Thiel thinks about AI risk - Less Wrong
TL;DR: he thinks its an issue but also feels AGI is very distant and hence less worried about it than Musk.

I recommend the rest of the lecture as well, it's a good summary of "Zero to One"  and a good QA afterwards.

For context, in case anyone doesn't realize: Thiel has been MIRI's top donor throughout its history.

other stuff:
nice interview question: "thing you know is true that not everyone agrees on?"
"learning from failure overrated"
cleantech a huge market, hard to compete
software makes for easy monopolies (zero marginal costs, network effects, etc.)
for most of history inventors did not benefit much (continuous competition)
ethical behavior is a luxury of monopoly
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february 2018 by nhaliday
Reid Hofmann and Peter Thiel and technology and politics - Marginal REVOLUTION
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february 2018 by nhaliday
Fermi paradox - Wikipedia
Rare Earth hypothesis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis
Fine-tuned Universe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_Universe
something to keep in mind:
Puddle theory is a term coined by Douglas Adams to satirize arguments that the universe is made for man.[54][55] As stated in Adams' book The Salmon of Doubt:[56]
Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact, it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be all right, because this World was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.
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january 2018 by nhaliday
National Defense Strategy of the United States of America
National Defense Strategy released with clear priority: Stay ahead of Russia and China: https://www.defensenews.com/breaking-news/2018/01/19/national-defense-strategy-released-with-clear-priority-stay-ahead-of-russia-and-china/

https://twitter.com/AngloRemnant/status/985341571410341893
https://archive.is/RhBdG
https://archive.is/wRzRN
A saner allocation of US 'defense' funds would be something like 10% nuclear trident, 10% border patrol, & spend the rest innoculating against cyber & biological attacks.
and since the latter 2 are hopeless, just refund 80% of the defense budget.
--
Monopoly on force at sea is arguably worthwhile.
--
Given the value of the US market to any would-be adversary, id be willing to roll the dice & let it ride.
--
subs are part of the triad, surface ships are sitting ducks this day and age
--
But nobody does sink them, precisely because of the monopoly on force. It's a path-dependent equilibirum where (for now) no other actor can reap the benefits of destabilizing the monopoly, and we're probably drastically underestimating the ramifications if/when it goes away.
--
can lethal autonomous weapon systems get some
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january 2018 by nhaliday
Books 2017 | West Hunter
Arabian Sands
The Aryans
The Big Show
The Camel and the Wheel
Civil War on Western Waters
Company Commander
Double-edged Secrets
The Forgotten Soldier
Genes in Conflict
Hive Mind
The horse, the wheel, and language
The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History
Habitable Planets for Man
The genetical theory of natural selection
The Rise of the Greeks
To Lose a Battle
The Jewish War
Tropical Gangsters
The Forgotten Revolution
Egil’s Saga
Shapers
Time Patrol

Russo: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/books-2017/#comment-98568
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december 2017 by nhaliday
The Power of Abortion Policy - Marginal REVOLUTION
I provide new evidence on the relative “powers” of contraception and abortion policy in effecting the dramatic social transformations of the 1960s and 1970s. Trends in sexual behavior suggest that young women’s increased access to the birth control pill fueled the sexual revolution, but neither these trends nor difference-in-difference estimates support the view that this also led to substantial changes in family formation. Rather, the estimates robustly suggest that it was liberalized access to abortion that allowed large numbers of women to delay marriage and motherhood.
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december 2017 by nhaliday
Sources on Technical History | Salo Forum - Chic Nihilism
This is a thread where people can chip in and list some good sources for the history of technology and mechanisms (hopefully with illustrations), books on infrastructure or industrial geography, or survey books in engineering. This is a thread that remains focused on the "technical" and not historical side.

Now, on the history of technology alone if I comprehensively listed every book, paper, etc., I've read on the subject since childhood then this thread would run well over 100 pages (seriously). I'll try to compress it by dealing with entire authors, journals, and publishers even.

First, a note on preliminaries: the best single-volume primer on the physics, internal components and subsystems of military weapons (including radar, submarines) is Craig Payne's Principles of Naval Weapons Systems. Make sure to get the second edition, the first edition is useless.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
King Kong and Cold Fusion: Counterfactual analysis and the History of Technology
How “contingent” is technological history? Relying on models from evolutionary epistemology, I argue for an analogy with Darwinian Biology and thus a much greater degree of contingency than is normally supposed. There are three levels of contingency in technological development. The crucial driving force behind technology is what I call S-knowledge, that is, an understanding of the exploitable regularities of nature (which includes “science” as a subset). The development of techniques depend on the existence of epistemic bases in S. The “inevitability” of technology thus depends crucially on whether we condition it on the existence of the appropriate S-knowledge. Secondly, even if this knowledge emerges, there is nothing automatic about it being transformed into a technique that is, a set of instructions that transforms knowledge into production. Third, even if the techniques are proposed, there is selection which reflects the preferences and biases of an economy and injects another level of indeterminacy and contingency into the technological history of nations.

https://twitter.com/whyvert/status/932451959079972865
https://archive.is/MBmyV
Moslem conquest of Europe, or a Mongol conquest, or a post-1492 epidemic, or a victory of the counter-reformation would have prevented the Industrial Revolution (Joel Mokyr)
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november 2017 by nhaliday
GPS and Relativity
The nominal GPS configuration consists of a network of 24 satellites in high orbits around the Earth, but up to 30 or so satellites may be on station at any given time. Each satellite in the GPS constellation orbits at an altitude of about 20,000 km from the ground, and has an orbital speed of about 14,000 km/hour (the orbital period is roughly 12 hours - contrary to popular belief, GPS satellites are not in geosynchronous or geostationary orbits). The satellite orbits are distributed so that at least 4 satellites are always visible from any point on the Earth at any given instant (with up to 12 visible at one time). Each satellite carries with it an atomic clock that "ticks" with a nominal accuracy of 1 nanosecond (1 billionth of a second). A GPS receiver in an airplane determines its current position and course by comparing the time signals it receives from the currently visible GPS satellites (usually 6 to 12) and trilaterating on the known positions of each satellite[1]. The precision achieved is remarkable: even a simple hand-held GPS receiver can determine your absolute position on the surface of the Earth to within 5 to 10 meters in only a few seconds. A GPS receiver in a car can give accurate readings of position, speed, and course in real-time!

More sophisticated techniques, like Differential GPS (DGPS) and Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) methods, deliver centimeter-level positions with a few minutes of measurement. Such methods allow use of GPS and related satellite navigation system data to be used for high-precision surveying, autonomous driving, and other applications requiring greater real-time position accuracy than can be achieved with standard GPS receivers.

To achieve this level of precision, the clock ticks from the GPS satellites must be known to an accuracy of 20-30 nanoseconds. However, because the satellites are constantly moving relative to observers on the Earth, effects predicted by the Special and General theories of Relativity must be taken into account to achieve the desired 20-30 nanosecond accuracy.

Because an observer on the ground sees the satellites in motion relative to them, Special Relativity predicts that we should see their clocks ticking more slowly (see the Special Relativity lecture). Special Relativity predicts that the on-board atomic clocks on the satellites should fall behind clocks on the ground by about 7 microseconds per day because of the slower ticking rate due to the time dilation effect of their relative motion [2].

Further, the satellites are in orbits high above the Earth, where the curvature of spacetime due to the Earth's mass is less than it is at the Earth's surface. A prediction of General Relativity is that clocks closer to a massive object will seem to tick more slowly than those located further away (see the Black Holes lecture). As such, when viewed from the surface of the Earth, the clocks on the satellites appear to be ticking faster than identical clocks on the ground. A calculation using General Relativity predicts that the clocks in each GPS satellite should get ahead of ground-based clocks by 45 microseconds per day.

The combination of these two relativitic effects means that the clocks on-board each satellite should tick faster than identical clocks on the ground by about 38 microseconds per day (45-7=38)! This sounds small, but the high-precision required of the GPS system requires nanosecond accuracy, and 38 microseconds is 38,000 nanoseconds. If these effects were not properly taken into account, a navigational fix based on the GPS constellation would be false after only 2 minutes, and errors in global positions would continue to accumulate at a rate of about 10 kilometers each day! The whole system would be utterly worthless for navigation in a very short time.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
Review of Yuval Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
https://twitter.com/whyvert/status/928472237052649472
https://archive.is/MPO5Q
Yuval Harari's prominent book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind gets a thorough and well deserved fisking by C.R. Hallpike.

For Harari the great innovation that separated us from the apes was what he calls the Cognitive Revolution, around 70,000 years ago when we started migrating out of Africa, which he thinks gave us the same sort of modern minds that we have now. 'At the individual level, ancient foragers were the most knowledgeable and skilful people in history...Survival in that area required superb mental abilities from everyone' (55), and 'The people who carved the Stadel lion-man some 30,000 years ago had the same physical, emotional, and intellectual abilities we have' (44). Not surprisingly, then, 'We'd be able to explain to them everything we know - from the adventures of Alice in Wonderland to the paradoxes of quantum physics - and they could teach us how their people view the world' (23).

It's a sweet idea, and something like this imagined meeting actually took place a few years ago between the linguist Daniel Everett and the Piraha foragers of the Amazon in Peru (Everett 2008). But far from being able to discuss quantum theory with them, he found that the Piraha couldn't even count, and had no numbers of any kind, They could teach Everett how they saw the world, which was entirely confined to the immediate experience of the here-and-now, with no interest in past or future, or really in anything that could not be seen or touched. They had no myths or stories, so Alice in Wonderland would have fallen rather flat as well.

...

Summing up the book as a whole, one has often had to point out how surprisingly little he seems to have read on quite a number of essential topics. It would be fair to say that whenever his facts are broadly correct they are not new, and whenever he tries to strike out on his own he often gets things wrong, sometimes seriously. So we should not judge Sapiens as a serious contribution to knowledge but as 'infotainment', a publishing event to titillate its readers by a wild intellectual ride across the landscape of history, dotted with sensational displays of speculation, and ending with blood-curdling predictions about human destiny. By these criteria it is a most successful book.
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november 2017 by nhaliday
Genome Editing
This collection of articles from the Nature Research journals provides an overview of current progress in developing targeted genome editing technologies. A selection of protocols for using and adapting these tools in your own lab is also included.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
[1709.01149] Biotechnology and the lifetime of technical civilizations
The number of people able to end Earth's technical civilization has heretofore been small. Emerging dual-use technologies, such as biotechnology, may give similar power to thousands or millions of individuals. To quantitatively investigate the ramifications of such a marked shift on the survival of both terrestrial and extraterrestrial technical civilizations, this paper presents a two-parameter model for civilizational lifespans, i.e. the quantity L in Drake's equation for the number of communicating extraterrestrial civilizations. One parameter characterizes the population lethality of a civilization's biotechnology and the other characterizes the civilization's psychosociology. L is demonstrated to be less than the inverse of the product of these two parameters. Using empiric data from Pubmed to inform the biotechnology parameter, the model predicts human civilization's median survival time as decades to centuries, even with optimistic psychosociological parameter values, thereby positioning biotechnology as a proximate threat to human civilization. For an ensemble of civilizations having some median calculated survival time, the model predicts that, after 80 times that duration, only one in 1024 civilizations will survive -- a tempo and degree of winnowing compatible with Hanson's "Great Filter." Thus, assuming that civilizations universally develop advanced biotechnology, before they become vigorous interstellar colonizers, the model provides a resolution to the Fermi paradox.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
The First Men in the Moon | West Hunter
But what about the future? One generally assumes that space colonists, assuming that there ever are any, will be picked individuals, somewhat like existing astronauts – the best out of hordes of applicants. They’ll be smarter than average, healthier than average, saner than average – and not by just a little.

Since all these traits are significantly heritable, some highly so, we have to expect that their descendants will be different – different above the neck. They’d likely be, on average, smarter than any existing ethnic group. If a Lunar colony really took off, early colonists might account for a disproportionate fraction of the population (just as Puritans do in the US), and the Loonies might continue to have inordinate amounts of the right stuff indefinitely. They’d notice: we’d notice. We’d worry about the Lunar Peril. They’d sneer at deluded groundlings, and talk about the menace from Earth.

https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/the-first-men-in-the-moon/#comment-58473
Depends on your level of technical expertise. 2 million years ago, settlement of the Eurasian temperate zone was bleeding-edge technology – but it got easier. We can certainly settle the Solar system with near-term technology, if we choose to. And you’re forgetting one of the big payoffs: gafia.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
“Editor’s Introduction to The New Economic History and the Industrial Revolution,” J. Mokyr (1998) | A Fine Theorem
I taught a fun three hours on the Industrial Revolution in my innovation PhD course this week. The absolutely incredible change in the condition of mankind that began in a tiny corner of Europe in an otherwise unremarkable 70-or-so years is totally fascinating. Indeed, the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath are so important to human history that I find it strange that we give people PhDs in social science without requiring at least some study of what happened.

My post today draws heavily on Joel Mokyr’s lovely, if lengthy, summary of what we know about the period. You really should read the whole thing, but if you know nothing about the IR, there are really five facts of great importance which you should be aware of.

1) The world was absurdly poor from the dawn of mankind until the late 1800s, everywhere.
2) The average person did not become richer, nor was overall economic growth particularly spectacular, during the Industrial Revolution; indeed, wages may have fallen between 1760 and 1830.
3) Major macro inventions, and growth, of the type seen in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s happened many times in human history.
4) It is hard for us today to understand how revolutionary ideas like “experimentation” or “probability” were.
5) The best explanations for “why England? why in the late 1700s? why did growth continue?” do not involve colonialism, slavery, or famous inventions.
econotariat  broad-econ  economics  growth-econ  cjones-like  summary  divergence  industrial-revolution  list  top-n  mokyr-allen-mccloskey  hi-order-bits  aphorism  wealth  wealth-of-nations  malthus  revolution  innovation  the-trenches  science  europe  the-great-west-whale  britain  conceptual-vocab  history  early-modern  technology  long-short-run  econ-metrics  data  time-series  conquest-empire  india  asia  scale  attaq  enlightenment-renaissance-restoration-reformation  roots  cycles  flux-stasis  whiggish-hegelian 
october 2017 by nhaliday
Definite optimism as human capital | Dan Wang
I’ve come to the view that creativity and innovative capacity aren’t a fixed stock, coiled and waiting to be released by policy. Now, I know that a country will not do well if it has poor infrastructure, interest rate management, tax and regulation levels, and a whole host of other issues. But getting them right isn’t sufficient to promote innovation; past a certain margin, when they’re all at rational levels, we ought to focus on promoting creativity and drive as a means to propel growth.

...

When I say “positive” vision, I don’t mean that people must see the future as a cheerful one. Instead, I’m saying that people ought to have a vision at all: A clear sense of how the technological future will be different from today. To have a positive vision, people must first expand their imaginations. And I submit that an interest in science fiction, the material world, and proximity to industry all help to refine that optimism. I mean to promote imagination by direct injection.

...

If a state has lost most of its jobs for electrical engineers, or nuclear engineers, or mechanical engineers, then fewer young people in that state will study those practices, and technological development in related fields slow down a little further. When I bring up these thoughts on resisting industrial decline to economists, I’m unsatisfied with their responses. They tend to respond by tautology (“By definition, outsourcing improves on the status quo”) or arithmetic (see: gains from comparative advantage, Ricardo). These kinds of logical exercises are not enough. I would like for more economists to consider a human capital perspective for preserving manufacturing expertise (to some degree).

I wonder if the so-called developed countries should be careful of their own premature deindustrialization. The US industrial base has faltered, but there is still so much left to build. Until we’ve perfected asteroid mining and super-skyscrapers and fusion rockets and Jupiter colonies and matter compilers, we can’t be satisfied with innovation confined mostly to the digital world.

Those who don’t mind the decline of manufacturing employment like to say that people have moved on to higher-value work. But I’m not sure that this is usually the case. Even if there’s an endlessly capacious service sector to absorb job losses in manufacturing, it’s often the case that these new jobs feature lower productivity growth and involve greater rent-seeking. Not everyone is becoming hedge fund managers and machine learning engineers. According to BLS, the bulk of service jobs are in 1. government (22 million), 2. professional services (19m), 3. healthcare (18m), 4. retail (15m), and 5. leisure and hospitality (15m). In addition to being often low-paying but still competitive, a great deal of service sector jobs tend to stress capacity for emotional labor over capacity for manual labor. And it’s the latter that tends to be more present in fields involving technological upgrading.

...

Here’s a bit more skepticism of service jobs. In an excellent essay on declining productivity growth, Adair Turner makes the point that many service jobs are essentially zero-sum. I’d like to emphasize and elaborate on that idea here.

...

Call me a romantic, but I’d like everyone to think more about industrial lubricants, gas turbines, thorium reactors, wire production, ball bearings, underwater cables, and all the things that power our material world. I abide by a strict rule never to post or tweet about current political stuff; instead I try to draw more attention to the world of materials. And I’d like to remind people that there are many things more edifying than following White House scandals.

...

First, we can all try to engage more actively with the material world, not merely the digital or natural world. Go ahead and pick an industrial phenomenon and learn more about it. Learn more about the history of aviation, and what it took to break the sound barrier; gaze at the container ships as they sail into port, and keep in mind that they carry 90 percent of the goods you see around you; read about what we mold plastics to do; meditate on the importance of steel in civilization; figure out what’s driving the decline in the cost of solar energy production, or how we draw electricity from nuclear fission, or what it takes to extract petroleum or natural gas from the ground.

...

Here’s one more point that I’d like to add on Girard at college: I wonder if to some extent current dynamics are the result of the liberal arts approach of “college teaches you how to think, not what to think.” I’ve never seen much data to support this wonderful claim that college is good at teaching critical thinking skills. Instead, students spend most of their energies focused on raising or lowering the status of the works they study or the people around them, giving rise to the Girardian terror that has gripped so many campuses.

College as an incubator of Girardian terror: http://danwang.co/college-girardian-terror/
It’s hard to construct a more perfect incubator for mimetic contagion than the American college campus. Most 18-year-olds are not super differentiated from each other. By construction, whatever distinctions any does have are usually earned through brutal, zero-sum competitions. These tournament-type distinctions include: SAT scores at or near perfection; being a top player on a sports team; gaining master status from chess matches; playing first instrument in state orchestra; earning high rankings in Math Olympiad; and so on, culminating in gaining admission to a particular college.

Once people enter college, they get socialized into group environments that usually continue to operate in zero-sum competitive dynamics. These include orchestras and sport teams; fraternities and sororities; and many types of clubs. The biggest source of mimetic pressures are the classes. Everyone starts out by taking the same intro classes; those seeking distinction throw themselves into the hardest classes, or seek tutelage from star professors, and try to earn the highest grades.

Mimesis Machines and Millennials: http://quillette.com/2017/11/02/mimesis-machines-millennials/
In 1956, a young Liverpudlian named John Winston Lennon heard the mournful notes of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, and was transformed. He would later recall, “nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.” It is an ancient human story. An inspiring model, an inspired imitator, and a changed world.

Mimesis is the phenomenon of human mimicry. Humans see, and they strive to become what they see. The prolific Franco-Californian philosopher René Girard described the human hunger for imitation as mimetic desire. According to Girard, mimetic desire is a mighty psychosocial force that drives human behavior. When attempted imitation fails, (i.e. I want, but fail, to imitate my colleague’s promotion to VP of Business Development), mimetic rivalry arises. According to mimetic theory, periodic scapegoating—the ritualistic expelling of a member of the community—evolved as a way for archaic societies to diffuse rivalries and maintain the general peace.

As civilization matured, social institutions evolved to prevent conflict. To Girard, sacrificial religious ceremonies first arose as imitations of earlier scapegoating rituals. From the mimetic worldview healthy social institutions perform two primary functions,

They satisfy mimetic desire and reduce mimetic rivalry by allowing imitation to take place.
They thereby reduce the need to diffuse mimetic rivalry through scapegoating.
Tranquil societies possess and value institutions that are mimesis tolerant. These institutions, such as religion and family, are Mimesis Machines. They enable millions to see, imitate, and become new versions of themselves. Mimesis Machines, satiate the primal desire for imitation, and produce happy, contented people. Through Mimesis Machines, Elvis fans can become Beatles.

Volatile societies, on the other hand, possess and value mimesis resistant institutions that frustrate attempts at mimicry, and mass produce frustrated, resentful people. These institutions, such as capitalism and beauty hierarchies, are Mimesis Shredders. They stratify humanity, and block the ‘nots’ from imitating the ‘haves’.
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october 2017 by nhaliday
Beijing’s uneasy deals with overseas car groups under strain
The new EV joint ventures are part of a Chinese effort to master the technology for electric vehicles — and rely on a tried and tested model of working with the global car industry since the 1980s. In a nutshell, joint ventures are the only way for foreign groups to access the world’s largest and most lucrative market. China gives the overseas companies the right to sell cars in exchange for their technology, management expertise and a share of their profits. 

“China’s central planners said ‘how can we basically force global automakers to participate and bring their very best electric vehicle technology to China?’” says Michael Dunne, president of Dunne Automotive, a Hong Kong-based car consultancy. 

Since 1984, starting with Jeeps, foreign carmakers have been allowed to produce cars in China — but only in concert with a local partner holding at least 50 per cent of the venture. In practice, this is almost always one of six anointed state companies. 

While widely criticised as a trade barrier, the JV law managed to survive China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001 — testament to Beijing’s bargaining power. Now China is using an updated version of the JV law to once again dangle access to its car market in exchange for technology — this time for new electric vehicles. 

The results of the three-decade-old policy have been mixed. Rather than transforming Chinese car companies into technology giants, the joint venture companies have arguably made Chinese carmakers complacent, according to Chinese policymakers. He Guangyang, a former minister of industry, controversially described the JVs as “like opium” in an interview five years ago.

...

This has created fears that their proprietary technology could be stolen. Over the past two decades, foreign makers of everything from high-speed trains to fighter planes have licensed the technology to local Chinese partners only to find a few years later that their partner is a major international competitor. 

In order to keep this from happening, foreign carmakers are trying to give away as little as possible — and keep sensitive items, such as software codes, outside of China. In the past, foreign companies have managed to evade similar requirements simply by bringing in outdated technology, which has angered Chinese policymakers. 

...

Weeks later Miao Wei, minister of industry and information technology, told a press conference that the notion foreign companies would have to transfer technology to Chinese companies was a “misunderstanding”. 
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september 2017 by nhaliday
GALILEO'S STUDIES OF PROJECTILE MOTION
During the Renaissance, the focus, especially in the arts, was on representing as accurately as possible the real world whether on a 2 dimensional surface or a solid such as marble or granite. This required two things. The first was new methods for drawing or painting, e.g., perspective. The second, relevant to this topic, was careful observation.

With the spread of cannon in warfare, the study of projectile motion had taken on greater importance, and now, with more careful observation and more accurate representation, came the realization that projectiles did not move the way Aristotle and his followers had said they did: the path of a projectile did not consist of two consecutive straight line components but was instead a smooth curve. [1]

Now someone needed to come up with a method to determine if there was a special curve a projectile followed. But measuring the path of a projectile was not easy.

Using an inclined plane, Galileo had performed experiments on uniformly accelerated motion, and he now used the same apparatus to study projectile motion. He placed an inclined plane on a table and provided it with a curved piece at the bottom which deflected an inked bronze ball into a horizontal direction. The ball thus accelerated rolled over the table-top with uniform motion and then fell off the edge of the table Where it hit the floor, it left a small mark. The mark allowed the horizontal and vertical distances traveled by the ball to be measured. [2]

By varying the ball's horizontal velocity and vertical drop, Galileo was able to determine that the path of a projectile is parabolic.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/author/stillman-drake/

Galileo's Discovery of the Parabolic Trajectory: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24949756

Galileo's Experimental Confirmation of Horizontal Inertia: Unpublished Manuscripts (Galileo
Gleanings XXII): https://sci-hub.tw/https://www.jstor.org/stable/229718
- Drake Stillman

MORE THAN A DECADE HAS ELAPSED since Thomas Settle published a classic paper in which Galileo's well-known statements about his experiments on inclined planes were completely vindicated.' Settle's paper replied to an earlier attempt by Alexandre Koyre to show that Galileo could not have obtained the results he claimed in his Two New Sciences by actual observations using the equipment there described. The practical ineffectiveness of Settle's painstaking repetition of the experiments in altering the opinion of historians of science is only too evident. Koyre's paper was reprinted years later in book form without so much as a note by the editors concerning Settle's refutation of its thesis.2 And the general literature continues to belittle the role of experiment in Galileo's physics.

More recently James MacLachlan has repeated and confirmed a different experiment reported by Galileo-one which has always seemed highly exaggerated and which was also rejected by Koyre with withering sarcasm.3 In this case, however, it was accuracy of observation rather than precision of experimental data that was in question. Until now, nothing has been produced to demonstrate Galileo's skill in the design and the accurate execution of physical experiment in the modern sense.

Pant of a page of Galileo's unpublished manuscript notes, written late in 7608, corroborating his inertial assumption and leading directly to his discovery of the parabolic trajectory. (Folio 1 16v Vol. 72, MSS Galileiani; courtesy of the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze.)

...

(The same skeptical historians, however, believe that to show that Galileo could have used the medieval mean-speed theorem suffices to prove that he did use it, though it is found nowhere in his published or unpublished writings.)

...

Now, it happens that among Galileo's manuscript notes on motion there are many pages that were not published by Favaro, since they contained only calculations or diagrams without attendant propositions or explanations. Some pages that were published had first undergone considerable editing, making it difficult if not impossible to discern their full significance from their printed form. This unpublished material includes at least one group of notes which cannot satisfactorily be accounted for except as representing a series of experiments designed to test a fundamental assumption, which led to a new, important discovery. In these documents precise empirical data are given numerically, comparisons are made with calculated values derived from theory, a source of discrepancy from still another expected result is noted, a new experiment is designed to eliminate this, and further empirical data are recorded. The last-named data, although proving to be beyond Galileo's powers of mathematical analysis at the time, when subjected to modern analysis turn out to be remarkably precise. If this does not represent the experimental process in its fully modern sense, it is hard to imagine what standards historians require to be met.

The discovery of these notes confirms the opinion of earlier historians. They read only Galileo's published works, but did so without a preconceived notion of continuity in the history of ideas. The opinion of our more sophisticated colleagues has its sole support in philosophical interpretations that fit with preconceived views of orderly long-term scientific development. To find manuscript evidence that Galileo was at home in the physics laboratory hardly surprises me. I should find it much more astonishing if, by reasoning alone, working only from fourteenth-century theories and conclusions, he had continued along lines so different from those followed by profound philosophers in earlier centuries. It is to be hoped that, warned by these examples, historians will begin to restore the old cautionary clauses in analogous instances in which scholarly opinions are revised without new evidence, simply to fit historical theories.

In what follows, the newly discovered documents are presented in the context of a hypothetical reconstruction of Galileo's thought.

...

As early as 1590, if we are correct in ascribing Galileo's juvenile De motu to that date, it was his belief that an ideal body resting on an ideal horizontal plane could be set in motion by a force smaller than any previously assigned force, however small. By "horizontal plane" he meant a surface concentric with the earth but which for reasonable distances would be indistinguishable from a level plane. Galileo noted at the time that experiment did not confirm this belief that the body could be set in motion by a vanishingly small force, and he attributed the failure to friction, pressure, the imperfection of material surfaces and spheres, and the departure of level planes from concentricity with the earth.5

It followed from this belief that under ideal conditions the motion so induced would also be perpetual and uniform. Galileo did not mention these consequences until much later, and it is impossible to say just when he perceived them. They are, however, so evident that it is safe to assume that he saw them almost from the start. They constitute a trivial case of the proposition he seems to have been teaching before 1607-that a mover is required to start motion, but that absence of resistance is then sufficient to account for its continuation.6

In mid-1604, following some investigations of motions along circular arcs and motions of pendulums, Galileo hit upon the law that in free fall the times elapsed from rest are as the smaller distance is to the mean proportional between two distances fallen.7 This gave him the times-squared law as well as the rule of odd numbers for successive distances and speeds in free fall. During the next few years he worked out a large number of theorems relating to motion along inclined planes, later published in the Two New Sciences. He also arrived at the rule that the speed terminating free fall from rest was double the speed of the fall itself. These theorems survive in manuscript notes of the period 1604-1609. (Work during these years can be identified with virtual certainty by the watermarks in the paper used, as I have explained elsewhere.8)

In the autumn of 1608, after a summer at Florence, Galileo seems to have interested himself in the question whether the actual slowing of a body moving horizontally followed any particular rule. On folio 117i of the manuscripts just mentioned, the numbers 196, 155, 121, 100 are noted along the horizontal line near the middle of the page (see Fig. 1). I believe that this was the first entry on this leaf, for reasons that will appear later, and that Galileo placed his grooved plane in the level position and recorded distances traversed in equal times along it. Using a metronome, and rolling a light wooden ball about 4 3/4 inches in diameter along a plane with a groove 1 3/4 inches wide, I obtained similar relations over a distance of 6 feet. The figures obtained vary greatly for balls of different materials and weights and for greatly different initial speeds.9 But it suffices for my present purposes that Galileo could have obtained the figures noted by observing the actual deceleration of a ball along a level plane. It should be noted that the watermark on this leaf is like that on folio 116, to which we shall come presently, and it will be seen later that the two sheets are closely connected in time in other ways as well.

The relatively rapid deceleration is obviously related to the contact of ball and groove. Were the ball to roll right off the end of the plane, all resistance to horizontal motion would be virtually removed. If, then, there were any way to have a given ball leave the plane at different speeds of which the ratios were known, Galileo's old idea that horizontal motion would continue uniformly in the absence of resistance could be put to test. His law of free fall made this possible. The ratios of speeds could be controlled by allowing the ball to fall vertically through known heights, at the ends of which it would be deflected horizontally. Falls through given heights … [more]
nibble  org:junk  org:edu  physics  mechanics  gravity  giants  the-trenches  discovery  history  early-modern  europe  mediterranean  the-great-west-whale  frontier  science  empirical  experiment  arms  technology  lived-experience  time  measurement  dirty-hands  iron-age  the-classics  medieval  sequential  wire-guided  error  wiki  reference  people  quantitative-qualitative  multi  pdf  piracy  study  essay  letters  discrete  news  org:mag  org:sci  popsci 
august 2017 by nhaliday
Why were Europeans so slow to adopt fore-and-aft rigging? : AskHistorians
Square rig has a number of advantages over fore and aft rig, and the advantages increase as the size of the ship increases.
In general, the fore and aft rig has only one advantage. It can point higher into the wind. This is considerably more apparent on modern yachts with very taught, stainless steel rigging, than it was in earlier times when rigging was hemp rope, and could not be set up so tightly.
If you sail a gaff rigged schooner, especially one still rigged with hemp rigging and canvas sails, I don't think you will be exceedingly impressed with the windward ability.
Even so, square sails are quite effective to windward. The lack of ability to point up high was more often a function of how hard the yards could be braced around (before coming up against the standing rigging) rather than any particular inefficiency in the shape of the sail (although it is probably also possible to get a tighter luff from a taught headstay than from the unstayed luff between two yards, especially if the rigging is steel wire and the hull is stiff enough to set it up tight).
On all points of sailing except to windward, the square rig was more efficient and stable than a fore and aft rig (fore and aft rigged yachts use spinnakers, jennakers and drifters to add power when off the wind, and these are very unstable, difficult, and dangerous sails).
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Galleon - Wikipedia
Galleons were large, multi-decked sailing ships used as armed cargo carriers primarily by European states from the 16th to 18th centuries during the age of sail and were the principal fleet units drafted for use as warships until the Anglo-Dutch wars of the mid-1600s. Galleons generally carried three or more masts with a lateen fore-and-aft rig on the rear masts, were carvel built with a prominent squared off raised stern, and used square-rigged sail plans on their fore-mast and main-masts.

Such ships were the mainstay of maritime commerce into the early 19th century, and were often drafted into use as auxiliary naval war vessels—indeed, were the mainstay of contending fleets through most of the 150 years of the Age of Exploration — before the Anglo-Dutch wars begat purpose-built ship-rigged warships that thereafter dominated war at sea during the remainder of the Age of Sail.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
The Only Game in Town | West Hunter
Over on Discover gnxp, Victor said “As far as IQ is concerned, I find such comparisons meaningless. An IQ test devised by members of some African tribe is going to be very different from one devised by Western academics. And I can guarantee that most “Caucasians” would not do very well on such a test.”

I mention this not because it is true or sensible, but rather because it is often said.  I can hardly count the times that I have seen someone make this argument.  The person putting it forth usually thinks of it as utterly crushing.  Another related argument is that there are ‘lots of different kinds of intelligence” – so who can say what really matters?

Well,  I can.   IQ, as measured by IQ scores, is a decent measure of the cognitive skills that you need in order for technical innovation or more routine science and engineering.  It’s generally useful in modern technical civilization. Populations with low average IQ produce very few individuals that are good at innovation. Very few.   If there were one or a few kinds of intelligence that were not measured well by IQ tests, but allowed people with low IQs to accomplish remarkable things –  you’d think we would notice.   We know that they don’t invent railroads or transistors or penicillin:  what comparably important and useful things have they done?
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august 2017 by nhaliday
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