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Comment: Re:It's not really a myth anymore (Score 1) 222

by AlejoHausner (#47185293) Attached to: The Sci-Fi Myth of Killer Machines
Your example of drones killing hapless Afghan and Yemeni wedding parties is a straw man. The author isn't talking about that. He's talking about INTENT. When you kill someone by means of a drone, you are merely extending the operator's range of action. The drone is just an extension of the operator's hands. It's like driving a car. The driver has all the intent, and the car merely amplifies it. You might put the car on cruise control, but a car on cruise control doesn't plan its next move.

I think it's impossible to simulate intention. People mistake intention with mathematical knowledge. That's why the term "artificial intelligence" is so wrong and so limited. Consciousness and intention are much richer than mathematical intelligence. Consciousness and awareness require subtle skills that we humans use to interact with the real world; skills that are so subtle we barely notice ourselves using them. We certainly don't understand those skills. And since we don't understand them we can't build them into a computer program.

Writing software that interacts with the real world is very hard, because the world is too complicated and variable. Have you ever tried to write code that handles a user interface? It's very hard, because users are so varied in their assumptions about what your program is doing. Hell, you don't have to be a programmer to know that: we have all run into bad UIs. That's why the iPhone was such a big hit: its designers paid a huge amount of effort and time to make sure the UI worked well. Previous phones had UIs written by the phone's engineers as an afterthought. Those UIs sucked, and the iPhone ate their lunch.

Even though writing a UI is so hard, users have to learn how to use it. They have to get accustomed to its limitations. A general purpose UI that could interact with the untamed world is probably impossible to write. So much more impossible must it be to write a program that can interact with the real world and plan that world's destruction.

Comment: In 1980 we had video terminals! (Score 1) 230

by AlejoHausner (#46884435) Attached to: One-a-Day-Compiles: Good Enough For Government Work In 1983
In high school in Toronto in 1978, we would hand-code our Fortran programs onto optical cards by strategically darkening in circles with pencil, to encode one line of source per card. The teacher would then stack your cards onto a reader, which would scan one card a time (about one or two per minute) and a magical thing called a "modem" would send the program to the University of Toronto mainframe, which would compile and (if you were lucky) run it. The teacher picked up the printouts in the morning on the way to school. Truly an exciting time, but I only saw other lucky students use it; I never got a chance to try.

Then I had a transformative experience through a one-week stay at the University of Waterloo, where we spent all our time in front of teletypes programming in APL. Boy those teletypes were noisy, especially with a room with twenty of them going at it full blast. When I went to bed my ears would still be ringing. Yes, APL was my first programming language, and frankly the trauma hasn't worn off yet.

When I started university in 1980 at McGill in Montreal, there still were punch card machines and punch card readers at the computer center, and its satellite centers. However, pretty much everyone at the school had a "computer code", ie an account on the time sharing system called MUSIC: see wikipedia. It was a lovely system, and you could run commands interactively. It came with Fortran, Snobol, Pascal, Lisp, IBM 360 assembler, and, of course Adventure!

I spent many hours playing Adventure, and of course mapped the whole cave in detail.

At McGill, there were two kinds of terminals: video terminals for the lucky people, and paper terminals from Digital Equipment called DecWriters for everyone else. The former had wisiwig code editors, on which you could prepare your source code and, when ready, "submit" your program to be compiled, run and printed. You would then walk down to the basement of Burnside Hall, where a surly operator would hand you your printout. That's when you learned that you had a typo in your code. Needless to say we were told over and over to WRITE YOUR PROGRAMS OUT before you typed them in, but nobody listened then, and nobody listens now either. In any case, the turn-around time from "submit" to picking out your printout was in the order of 15 minutes, not overnight as in TFA.

The design of Watfiv fortran focused on fast compilation. Your code wouldn't be optimized, but that was OK, because as a student the majority of your runs would have compilation errors. Typically you only ran your program, fully implemented, once or twice, after dozens of botched compile runs.

All in all, it was a great experience. What I appreciate the most, in retrospect, was that CS students were required to learn IBM assembler. Higher level languages don't fully make sense until you know what's going on at the CPU level. I still can't fathom how an intro course in Java can give you any true knowledge of how computers work.

Comment: SSRI withdrawal (Score 1) 329

We won't know the exact position of the British Psychological Association until Monday, but I can offer one example of how a psychiatric diagnosis can cause harm. Look up "SSRI withdrawal". SSRIs like Prozac slow down the reabsorption of serotonin, leaving more serotonin available in the brain. The body isn't static, and it reacts to the drug by overstimulating serotonin absorption. The body and the drug eventually reach a balance, and the overall amount of serotonin returns to the original levels. The problem occurs when SSRIs are stopped abruptly. The body's compensation mechanism continues for a while, and your serotonin levels drop dramatically. You get VERY depressed. You may feel like killing yourself. Some people do commit suicide at this point. Seen from the outside, it looks like you were very ill, and stopping the drug unmasked the illness. But the opposite is true. Stopping the drug CAUSED the illness. In fact, studies have shown that depressed people's serotonin levels are no different from those of normal people. Taking SSRIs doesn't change your levels because your body compensates and returns your serotonin to pre- treatment levels. The SSRIs don't do anything. Except that if you stop taking them you might die. Better off not taking them. And better off not being diagnosed in the first place. Diagnosis can kill.

Comment: Oil and coal are here to stay (Score 2) 262

Sadly, there are lots of reasons why renewable sources won't solve our energy needs. Tom Murphy, a physics prof at UCSD, has a great blog http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/02/the-alternative-energy-matrix/ where he works out the details. This was covered a while ago here: http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/11/08/02/2315207/limits-on-growth-of-energy-use-and-economies

Comment: Re:World of Goo (Score 1) 279

by AlejoHausner (#42892803) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Really Short Time Wasters?
Awesome puzzle collection. I am also currently hooked on signpost, but I still like pattern, netgame, loopy, galaxies, dominosa, and magnets. All are highly configurable to suit your time-wasting budget. Classic puzzles like mastermind, sudoku (regular, jigsaw, killer), minesweeper, black box, and kenken are there too! The iOS port does suck, but hey Simon's puzzles are open source, so you could port them yourself. Android, Mac, and Windows ports are all well done. I even use it on my old Palm device! Yay open source!

Comment: Because Phrma has no drugs for it (Score 1) 602

by AlejoHausner (#42171059) Attached to: No More "Asperger's Syndrome"
Don't take the DSM so seriously. There are many people who feel that syndromes and disorders are added to the manual largely to provide a reason to sell psychiatric medications. It can argued that the DSM is a codification of marketing fashion. There was an epidemic of anxiety during the 1950s, coincident with the marketing of "Miltown", a mild tranquilizer. This epidemic resurfaced in the 1970s when Valium was being promoted as a harmless, non-addictive anti-anxiety drug. Then suddenly large swathes of the population fell into depression, just in time for Prozac.

Prozac is the most obvious fabrication. In many studies, its effect can't be distinguished from placebo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluoxetine#cite_note-78). Of course, if you ARE on prozac and stop taking it suddenly, you will likely get depressed (and sometimes suicidal), but that's most likely withdrawal symptoms, not a manifestation of an underlying condition.

I suspect that pharmaceutical researchers can't think of a way to mask the symptoms of Asperger's, so there is no need to list it in the DSM. Call me cynical if you like.

Comment: Re:What about the other planets? (Score 1) 49

by AlejoHausner (#42122413) Attached to: Spectacular New Views of Saturn's Polar Vortex
Only the Voyager 2 probe flew past Uranus, and I don't think it took pictures of the poles. The Galileo probe orbited Jupiter for many years, but I don't think its orbit was high enough (in terms of latitude) to get clear views of the poles. For example, this site includes a polar view of Jupiter: http://thebigfoto.com/jupiter-from-space but it's a composite of many pictures, and the fuzziness of the polar region suggests that it's a re-projection of oblique views taken from a lower-latitude images.

Comment: But what did they SAY? (Score 1) 1198

Doesn't Steve Mann record audio too? The way his page explains it, it feels like strange mute men assaulted him and tried to forcibly remove his glasses. Surely those men weren't mute. They must have said something. Of course, they were speaking French, but Mann's daughter understands French. It would be nice to get her point of view, so we could get a better grasp on what happened. There's something missing here. It's like a silent movie.

Comment: Obesity is a proxy for POVERTY (Score 1) 655

by AlejoHausner (#40023765) Attached to: The Mathematics of Obesity
There is a lot of opinion here, and very little data. Here is a simple bit of research everyone can do: find a map of the USA, showing rates of poverty, and another showing rates of obesity. Bingo! They match one-for-one!

Obesity: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/The-312/October-2011/The-Low-Poverty-Diet/

Poverty: http://visualecon.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/percent_in_poverty.gif

The correlation is especially marked in Appalachia, the lower Mississippi and the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia. What's going on here? Do poor people exercise less? I doubt it. Most poor people have physical jobs, while rich people sit in offices. I think the problem is that most poor people can't afford much beyond spaghetti, potatoes, and bread (cheap starches), whereas rich people can afford protein, butter, and vegetables.

We have to be careful about making statements about obese people's lifestyles. Usually our statements about fat people are little more than racial and class prejudice: "those people eat too much" really means "they're uncontrolled gluttons", and "those people don't get enough exercise" really means "they're lazy slobs". As long as social classes have existed, the rich and comfortable have justified their privilege by claiming that the poor are weak and immoral.

Comment: Nothing wrong with Black-Scholes (Score 3, Informative) 371

by AlejoHausner (#39834519) Attached to: The Math Formula That Lead To the Financial Crash
Actually, the Black-Scholes formula is innocent. Sure, it assumes that stock movements follow a standard distribution, but that's not as big a sin as is being made out in the article. The formula computes the fair price for an option contract. Such a contract gives its owner the right (or "option") to buy or sell some asset up to a future date (the expiry date), at some given price (the "strike" price). The formula uses the following values:

1. The time remaining until the contract expires
2. The current price of the undelying asset
3. The strike price (the contract gives its buyer the right or "option" to buy the asset at the strike price)
4. The risk-free rate of return on cash (return that could be earned by putting your money into, say, treasuries rather than stock)
5. The volatility of the underlying asset.

At the time the contract is written, the first four of these values are known (assuming of course that the risk-free rate stays constant, which is pretty close to a sure bet). The LAST value is the problem. It says how much the stock will fluctuate, between the present time and the time of expiry. This is unknown, because, after all, it requires knowledge of the future. Usually, PAST volatility is used in its place, going with the assumption that the stock will behave in the future the same way it behaved in the recent past.

If the stock suddenly becomes very quiet, and stops fluctuating, the buyer payed too much for the contract, on average. If the stock gets very wild, the buyer got a bargain, on average. In either case, the contract buyer and seller guessed wrong. They should have used a different volatility to price the option.

Of course, stock fluctuations do NOT follow a normal curve, after all. And option traders do NOT follow Black-Scholes exactly either (see "volatility smile"). But the much bigger flaw, I think, is lack of clairvoyance. The formula requires knowledge of the future.

Heisenberg may have been here.

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