Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Subtleties of Energy Input Effectiveness

Not just any input of energy will lead to a system to organize itself. It must come in a form that is useful, and at a rate that is not too fast or too slow. If I put my computer in the oven, I give it a lot of energy, but only to disorganize it. Instead, the computer requires a steady electric current in a particular range of voltages, just as the sun sends light at the right frequency for stimulating organic chemical reactions. Also, the heat/energy must be able to leave, as the biosphere regulates the Earth’s heat loss to the cold of space… (p153)

Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, 1997, Oxford

Scumbag Stars

Stars require cold gas (hot gas resists gravity) but when cold gas does form a star, it makes all the gas around it warmer, decreasing the probability of another star to form in its vicinity.
“The stars themselves disrupt the conditions required for their formation.” (109)
Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, 1997, Oxford

On Being Right

In science, as in politics or love, one can have all the good arguments and still be in the wrong. When it comes down to it, what matters is not whose story is more logical or beautiful, but which leads to the greatest effect.” (p223)

Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, 1997, Oxford

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Network

Take Heed: Carl Sagan

Introducing Chapter 17, The Road from Newton to Einstein, Smolin writes:
“Just as the world, in Leibniz’s vision, consist of a network of relations, so anyone who attempts to think about the world discovers that their thoughts are imbedded in a network of thoughts of other people, both past and present, so that most of the ideas that they may have for a moment mistakenly taken for their own were in fact only passing through, having traveled from mind to mind from some origin far in the past.” (p222)

Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, 1997, Oxford

The Change of Taste in Good Science: Differential vs. Digital

In the science of the past, matter was modeled by continuous quantities, such as densities and pressures, which satisfied complicated differential equations. Now, good theories are like games with simple rules. “Rather than having to solve equations, and then study the meaning of the solutions, one can simply write a program and see the consequences presented directly as patterns on a screen.” (p136)

Smolin then goes on to say that “the computer is not only serving as a tool…it is itself serving as a metaphor.”  [But is not all form (such as that of the universe) an outgrowth of its function (i.e. the function as understood by humans at that time)? Therefore, whatever tools we use to understand become inextricable from the understanding itself?]

Back on Track:
(Regarding cosmology as analogous to biology) Smolin continues: Simple computer games can model the processes in biological populations in ways that ‘old’ differential mathematics could not. The key that we have discovered is – the right set of simple rules, repeated over and over again, can lead to the formation of enormously complex patterns and structures that reproduce themselves continually over time. The same math used to model the flow of waves through fluids (differential) cannot provide the results as would algorithmic systems (digital).

Old math keeps track of where the matter is, speaking a language of continuous function such as densities and flows. New science is discrete, speaking a language of on/off – a language of information.

Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, 1997, Oxford

Thought and Gravity

Systems under the force of gravity resist entropy and thermal equilibrium. As fragments of sensorial experience float through the mind, only thought draws them together in resistance against entropic disorder. Thought is a kind of Gravity.

Frozen in Time

“Many who opposed the theory of evolution were attempting to preserve the old and mistaken idea that the species are eternal categories.” (p209)

Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, 1997, Oxford

Beauty, Time, and Intent

In his book, The Life of the Cosmos, Lee Smolin asks:
What is the beauty of an ancient city vs. the ugliness of modern shopping center?
but I'll take a stab at the answer:
It is built up over time and by many different people.
Together, they cancel-out the individual conscious intent.
Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, 1997, Oxford

Friday, September 21, 2012


The Taliban Is Using Facebook Profiles Of Hot Chicks To Gather US Intelligence
Geoffrey Ingersoll | Sep. 8, 2012, 9:00 PM

The Taliban is using pictures of cute girls to lure Ausies, and Coalition Forces, into giving up secrets.

Australian defense analysts are briefing their troops to be careful on Facebook because the Taliban is using pictures of cute girls to lure Ausies, and Coalition Forces, into giving up secrets.
A Defence Analysis called "Review of Social Media And Defense," which is based almost solely on a patchwork of American Defense Department information, had this to say:
Fake profiles – media personnel and enemies create fake profiles  to gather information. For example, the Taliban have used pictures of attractive women as the front of their Facebook profiles and have befriended soldiers.

reviews into aspects of Defence and Australian Defence Force Culture
Commonwealth of Australia 2011
report by George Patterson Y&R

The Hot Girl That Just Added You On Facebook Is a Terrorist
Posted by Daniel_Stuckey on Monday, Sep 10, 2012


New York Police Dept. issues first rules for use of social media during investigations
Rocco Parascandola
Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The NYPD has for the first time laid out rules for using social media during investigations — but critics say the guidelines raise questions about privacy issues.

The five-page memo issued by Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly last week says officers involved in probes involving social media may register their aliases with the department and use a department-issued laptop whose Internet-access card can’t be traced back to the NYPD.

The NYPD Gives Us Another Great Reason To Update Our Facebook Privacy Settings
Posted by Michael_Arria on Sunday, Sep 16, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Art of Physics

“A great part of the art of physics is the talent to ignore details and proceed by analogy.” (p133)

Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos, 1997, Oxford

Friday, September 14, 2012


video still, Tim Hwang, 2012
I'm Not a Real Friend, But I Play One on the Internet
Tim Hwang, HOPE#9, July 2012

here I am simply reposting, as the author has done a great job of summarizing the talk (and with some added criticisms/further reading)

The Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School
Robotics and the Law: Chronicling robotics programming at Stanford Law School

At the east coast hacker conference HOPE 9 the weekend of July 13-15, 2012, Pacific Social Architecting Corporation’s Tim Hwang reported on experiments the company has been conducting with socialbots. That is, bot accounts deployed on social networks like Twitter and Facebooks for the purpose of studying how they can be used to influence and alter the behavior and social landscapes of other users. Their November 2011 paper (PDF) gives some of the background.

The highlights:

- Early in 2011, Hwang conducted a competition to study socialbots. Teams scored points by getting their bot-controlled Twitter accounts (and any number of supporting bots) to make connections with and elicit social behavior from an unsuspecting cluster of 500 online users. Teams got +1 point for mutual follows; +3 points for social responses; and -15 if the account was detected and killed by Twitter. The New Zealand team won with bland, encouraging statements; no AI was involved but the bot’s responses were encouraging enough for people to talk to it. A second entrant used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk; another user could ask it a direct question and it would forward it to the MT humans and return the answer. A third effort redirected tweets randomly between unconnected groups of users talking about the same topics.

- A bot can get good, human responses to “Are you a bot” by asking that question of human users and reusing the responses.

- In the interests of making bots more credible (as inhabited by humans) it helped for them to take enough hours off to seem to go to sleep like humans.

- Many bot personalities tend to fall apart in one-to-one communication, so they wouldn’t fare well in traditional AI/Turing test conditions – but online norms help them seem more credible.

- Governments are beginning to get into this. The researchers found bots active promoting both sides of the most recent Mexican election. Newt Gingrich claimed the number of Twitter followers he had showed that he had a grass roots following on the Internet; however, an aide who had quit disclosed that most of his followers were fakes, boosted by blank accounts created by a company hired for the purpose. Experienced users are pretty quick to spot fake accounts; will we need crowd-based systems to protect less sophisticated users (like collaborative spam-reporting systems)? But this is only true of the rather crude bots we have so far. What about more sophisticated ones? Hwang believes the bigger problem will come when governments adopt the much more difficult-to-spot strategy of using bots to “shape the social universe around them” rather than to censor.

Hwang noted the ethical quandary raised by people beginning to flirt with the bot: how long should the bot go on? Should it shut down? What if the human feels rejected? I think the ethical quandary ought to have started much earlier; although the experiment was framed in terms of experimenting with bots in reality the teams were experimenting on real people, even if it was only for two weeks and on Twitter.

Hwang is in the right place when he asks “Does it presage a world in which people design systems to influence networks this way?” It’s a good question, as is the question of how to defend against this kind of thing. But it seems to me typical of the constant reinvention of the computer industry that Hwang had not read – or heard of – Andrew Leonard’s 1997 book Bots: The Origin of New Species, which reports on the prior art in this field, experiments with software bots interacting with people through the late 1990s (I need to reread it myself). So perhaps one of the first Robots, Freedom, and Privacy dangers is the failure to study past experiments in the interests of avoiding the obvious ethical issues that have already been uncovered.

PacSocial: Field Test Report
Max Nanis, Ian Pearce, Tim Hwang
November 15, 2011

Bots: The Origin of a New Species
Andrew Leonard 1998

New Algorithm Can Spot the Bots in Your Twitter Feed
Lee Simmons, Wired, 10.17.13

Computer scientists develop tool for uncovering bot-controlled Twitter accounts

"Part of the motivation of our research is that we don't really know how bad the problem is in quantitative terms," said Fil Menczer, the informatics and computer science professor who directs IU's Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, where the new work is being conducted as part of the information diffusion research project called Truthy. "Are there thousands of social bots? Millions? We know there are lots of bots out there, and many are totally benign. But we also found examples of nasty bots used to mislead, exploit and manipulate discourse with rumors, spam, malware, misinformation, political astroturf and slander."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Very Small Steps

Darwin's Children, Greg Bear, 2004
^This is a story about mutant children, or are they evolving humans?

in "A Short Biological Primer" at the end of the book, Bear discusses viruses and DNA:

It is possible that viruses originally came from segments of DNA within cells that can move around, both inside and between choromosomes. Viruses are essentially roving segments of genetic material that have learned how to "put on spacesuits" and leave the cell.  (p479)

Hype Cycle

generally good reference for those who like to imagine the future...

Gartner's 2012 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Identifies "Tipping Point" Technologies That Will Unlock Long-Awaited Technology Scenarios
August 16, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

More Algos

copyright bots fail

"As live streaming video surges in popularity, so are copyright “bots” — automated systems that match content against a database of reference files of copyrighted material. These systems can block streaming video in real time, while it is still being broadcast, leading to potentially worrying implications for freedom of speech."

The volume of content is overwhelming, encouraging the use of automated filters, working via video/audio-monitoring algorithms.

...article goes on to mention various embarissing incidents where public feeds (by any definition) were automatically suspended by autonomous bots, which are apparently not 'smart' enough to see what is quite obvious to us humans.

"Given all that, it’s likely that this collision between algorithmic defense of copyright versus spontaneous speech isn’t going to be resolved soon."

Electronic Frontier Foundation


YouTube Upgrades Its Automated Copyright Enforcement System | Electronic Frontier Foundation

M.I.T. Computer Program Reveals Invisible Motion in Video
[video link]
Eulerian Video Magnification for Revealing Subtle Changes in the World

So It Begins: Darpa Sets Out to Make Computers That Can Teach Themselves
“Probabilistic Programming for Advanced Machine Learning”
When Darpa talks about artificial intelligence, it’s not talking about modeling computers after the human brain. That path fell out of favor among computer scientists years ago as a means of creating artificial intelligence; we’d have to understand our own brains first before building a working artificial version of one. But the agency thinks we can build machines that learn and evolve, using algorithms — “probabilistic programming” — to parse through vast amounts of data and select the best of it. After that, the machine learns to repeat the process and do it better.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

On Rules and their Enforcement

some internet wisdom: 
"Do not ask a child if she knows the rules. She does. The whole freaking world does. But you go ahead and waste time explaining the rule anyway, which only makes you look ridiculous."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Great Predictor


...or you could just be transfixed by the power of Bruce Lee