Monday, July 1, 2013

Quantum Language

Until it Means Nothing
...a democratic term, to avoid damning soon as it begins to mean anything to anyone, they'll change it. "The idea seems to be: use an expression as long as it doesn't mean anything to anyone."
-Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes, 1959, p106

Our ambiguous world of words
May 31, 2013

Ambiguity in language poses the greatest challenge when it comes to training a computer to understand the written word.

Although words with multiple meanings give English a linguistic richness, they can also create ambiguity: drawing a gun could mean pulling out a firearm or illustrating a weapon.

We can navigate through this potential confusion because our brain takes into account the context surrounding words and sentences, but, for computers, so-called lexical ambiguity poses a major challenge.

"Computers are hopeless at disambiguation"

"It turns out that there are interesting links between quantum physics, quantum computing and linguistics," said Clark. "In the same way that quantum mechanics seeks to explain what happens when two quantum entities combine, Mehrnoosh and I wanted to understand what happens to the meaning of a phrase or sentence when two words or phrases combine."

The 'distributional' approach to language modeling focuses on the meanings of the words themselves, and the principle that meanings of words can be worked out by considering the contexts in which words appear in text. "We build up a geometric space, or a cloud, in which the meanings of words sit. Their position in the cloud is determined by the sorts of words you find in their context. So, if you were to do this for dog and cat, you would see many of the same words in the cloud – pet, vet, food – because dog and cat often occur in similar contexts."

Dr. Stephem Clark, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Research Council, Bob Coecke, Professor of Quantum Foundations, Logics and Structures at the University of Oxford, and Dr Mehrnoosh Sadrzadeh, Queen Mary (University of London), who works on the applications of logic to computer science and linguistics.

Small differences in how a technology is defined can make a big difference in how the public feels about it
March 11, 2013

Even small tweaks in how scientists describe scientific breakthroughs can significantly change how the public perceives their work, a new study indicates. Researchers found that showing individuals different definitions of nanotechnology led to differences in how strongly the subjects supported this emerging area of science and in their motivation to learn more about it.

Participants in the University of Wisconsin-Madison study were given one of three definitions, each of which framed nanotechnology differently.

The researchers found that if the definition highlighted nanotechnology's useful applications, readers were more likely to support nanotechnology but weren't motivated to gather more information. If the definition focused on risks and benefits, readers were more interested in learning more but less likely to support nanotechnology.

"Changing the definition did not change the attitudes toward the technology for those who had a college degree in science," Brossard says. "It did, however, make a difference among those who have a college degree in a non-science-related field and those who do not have a college degree. And different definitions impacted these groups' motivation to learn more in different ways."
-Dominique Brossard, UW-Madison professor of life sciences communication.
This work appears in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research, provided by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University
May 10, 2013

As an 11-year-old, he had been fascinated by the flame on the end of a candle. When he asked his teacher what a flame was, she replied only: “Oxidation.” That answer meant nothing to him. In his editorial, Alda challenged scientists to do a better job of explaining a flame to an 11-year-old.

“Our aspiration is to become the first university in the nation to offer training in communications to all of our science and health graduate students”

“Alan’s insight is at the heart of our approach, which uses improvisation, story-telling and clear, vivid language to help scientists share the beauty and meaning of their work.”

On Social Contagion

aka The Clap

Clapping reveals applause is a 'social contagion'
Rebecca Morelle, BBC, 18 June 2013

The quality of a performance does not drive the amount of applause an audience gives, a study suggests.

Instead scientists have found that clapping is contagious, and the length of an ovation is influenced by how other members of the crowd behave.

They say it takes a few people to start clapping for applause to spread through a group, and then just one or two individuals to stop for it to die out.

"The pressure comes from the volume of clapping in the room rather than what your neighbour sitting next to you is doing," explained Dr Richard Mann, from the University of Uppsala.

"You have this social pressure to start (clapping), but once you've started there's an equally strong social pressure not to stop, until someone initiates that stopping."

The Swedish study is published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Emotional response to climate change influences whether we seek or avoid further information May 15, 2013

Yang says, "Our key variables of interest were 'information seeking' and 'information avoidance.'

Those who had negative feelings toward climate change – feelings marked by states of fear, depression, anxiety, etc., – actively sought more information about climate change. They also saw climate change as having serious risks, and considered their current knowledge about it insufficient.

Those driven by a positive affect toward climate change – an emotional state marked by hopefulness, excitement, happiness, etc. – actively avoided exposure to additional information on the issue. They also said climate change presented little risk to nature and humans, and they viewed their knowledge about climate change as sufficient.

Our social environment has the potential to strongly influence whether we seek or avoid climate change information. This, the researchers say, may be because we are most often around people who agree with us about important issues, reinforce our perception of risk and support or discourage further action.

The study, "What, Me Worry? The Role of Affect in Information Seeking and Avoidance" was conducted by Z. Janet Yang, PhD, assistant professor of communication at UB, and Lee Ann Kahlor, PhD, associate professor of public relations and advertising at UT Austin. It was published in the April 2013 issue of the journal Science Communication.

Anthropogenic Metadata on Climate Science

aka The Low-Hanging Fruit of Neuro-Pop in the Age of Big Datty

Notice below, just a sample of the kinds of reports that use climate science as a substrate upon which to study human behavior and cognition..

Some may find it interesting to see how the science of climate change has ripened into a metadata-rich fruit hanging low on the tree of human-knowledge; that's knowledge -of- humans, not knowledge acquired by humans.

Granted we are entering the age of the New Humanities, and granted climate science is probably the most contentious scientific issue to be argued publicly since the advent of digital social media, but, 10 years ago, had you asked anyone what would be the most significant by-product of climate science, this would have never made it to the list.

Just goes to show that the world is full of surprises, and no matter how much you try, predicting the value of scientific endeavour is never part of the justification of doing it.

[note: I've recently been watching panels discussing the value of space exploration, and exploration in general]

Changing minds about climate change policy can be done—sometimes Jun 24, 2013
Provided by The Ohio State University

Anthropologists argue field must play a vital role in climate change studies Jun 20, 2013
Provided by University of California - Santa Cruz

Some Americans are cooling off on global warming Jun 28, 2013
Provided by University of Michigan

Emotional response to climate change influences whether we seek or avoid further information May 15, 2013
Provided by University at Buffalo

Americans care deeply about 'global warming' – but not 'climate change'
The Guardian, 27 May 2014