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Comment Re:We've always be slow... (Score 1) 402

"The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd" (Bertrand Russell)

The real problem for this subject is the way the vast majority of scientists chose to present themselves to society at large. Some of them even believe their own message, though start picking at the seams over dinner and many (often begrudgingly) agree that "yes, it's complicated". The problem is far more evident with the Social "Sciences" but the same issue affects all "Sciences".

Science is almost exclusively presented to the lay-person as a process of discovering the "True Nature Of The Universe" - what scientists *actually* do is create models. Models can be very useful indeed, like when they enable us to make and do wonderful things, like create computer processors, split the atom, cure certain diseases or go to the moon. When the models are for massively complex systems like humans, human interaction, or the climate, it tends to be easy to find counter-examples. And according to the pillars of the Western scientific tradition, when we find phenomena that sit outside the model, the only honest thing to do is to reject the hypothesis. But after you've spent a considerable amount of your professional career, often decades, working on something, it can be tempting to call into question certain measurements, and maybe even exclude them from your data. After all, you'll often have an "explanation" for why so-and-so's team's data is not applicable, and should be excluded. If everyone else is doing it and for you to get funding for the next 4 years, you must, well, you must. Particularly because Mr Politician doesn't want to pay for "half-cocked theories that are right half the time". He wants The Truth, dammit!

The process of creating models is mainly a process of simplifying a particular phenomenon down to "the essentials", to let us accurately predict what is going to happen in a similar situation to the ones observed while the model is elaborated. It enables us to do all manner of useful things. The problems come when the future situations we want to predict (or "control" if you prefer) have many other influences that make our ability to accurately predict, within the confines of the model, impossible. Sometimes modelling "the real world" is hard...

So what? Should we stop funding science and simply go back to consulting the Good Book? That's one option... Not one I'm particularly enamoured with but why not. Or we could stop believing there is even a True Nature Of The Universe in the first place, and just get on with making models that are useful.

"Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful" (George Box)

Comment Re:No Haggle ! (Score 1) 163

Hear, hear! Never heard that song and never heard of the singer. Not only do not all of us live in an Anglo-Saxon country but I'd venture that a lot of us neither watch MTV nor listen to commercial radio (at least the kind that plays "modern" music). I just looked up the Billboard 100 and I recognised 11 of the artists - half of those I have only heard of and couldn't name a song, though I've no doubt heard some of the artists whilst waiting in line somewhere. And hearing a pop song every 6 months or so is nice - it keeps one in touch with the youngin's

Comment Re:Raptor? (Score 1) 108

Yes! Yes! Yes! I believe that whether you consider capitalism or socialism to be the best way to structure society there are a couple of things that society (the government?) has to take care of, namely health, education and a couple of key infrastructure elements (maybe just the power, road and rail networks). In order for people to have complete knowledge, perfect rationality and an unimpeded capacity to compete, then everyone needs a great education and top quality free healthcare. We can't have 17 different roads to get somewhere either, at least not before safe and cheap flying cars get invented.

But bureaucracy is just evil and should be public enemy No. 1 everywhere. Corruption, cronyism and nepotism by the mandarins create distortions that almost guarantee society will be unjust for many, whatever the system. Let technology optimise away all this nastiness and let people get on with it!

Comment Re:Where to begin (Score 1) 548

I guess I'm like MAXOMENOS here. I'm also more of an admin than a programmer but have been doing precious little of either recently unfortunately. I also spend lots of time outside of work thinking about the solutions I create though. I can make something that works quickly but I don't want to make something that works, I want to make something that works beautifully. I want to make something that is stable, secure and behaves well under impossible loads. And also that I can look at later and think "dude, that's some fit code you've got there".

My job is currently more internal consulting (business/data oriented) than anything else but the project technical lead has told me I can have no technical resources until the new version is out (they are already 6 months late and still several months from finishing). The problem is my job is made massively difficult by the utterly ridiculous current state of affairs on the production version. So, in spite of being told NO, I'm developing a new module (a lot on my own time) so we can move to a new external provider (who actually has the functionality we need and charges literally 1/5th of the price with better service) and then I'll actually be able to do my job... And I'm doing it in PHP CLI (YUCK) because that is what the current stuff is and for it to be accepted it has to be a drop-in replacement, and of course it has to be significantly more reliable than the current stuff or it'll get shot down.

And you know what? I'm loving it. That is the advice I would give - if you don't love solving problems with code then become a project manager.

Comment Re:Next wave of phishing? (Score 1) 149

If you're careful you can get pretty much all the major mailbox providers accepting email from any address, including many major ISPs, and at least Gmail (and Apps) and Hotmail (and Office 365). Again if you are careful, they will go into the inbox. SMTP was great back in the days when there were 20 networked computers. The continued lack of strict adhesion to the common authentication standards makes me want to both laugh and cry simultaneously.

I send email "from" from the command line (telnet) of a VPS server I have during my deliverability trainings to show why spam is still such a problem - I often make mistakes while typing but you can just try the command again and you're away. People start getting the point when I make several mistakes and the email I send still goes straight to their inbox.

Adding non-ascii is not going to make any difference to the problem...

Comment Re: Perspective (Score 2) 111

Yes, yes, yes. If they absolutely must expand then expand here in Europe. But they should be spending more money here in France though making sure they can actually serve more than... 25% of the territory, rather than taking on the world. They have changed France but their kind of disruption only ever works if you know how to massage the system, and I seriously doubt old Xavier will be able to do that outside France.

Comment Re:Make-work Project? (Score 1) 219

It's what they have always done. The candidates you get to chose however are all from the same party, or officially blessed.

And that's different from the reality of Western "Democracies" how exactly? I'm not talking about what is, in theory, possible but rather what we actually observe.

Comment Re:Illegal? I think not. (Score 4, Interesting) 162

Though not exactly the final arbiter for such questions, Wikipedia's Money page gives a reasonable definition of money and according to that, Bitcoin is *almost* money. It certainly could become "money" if a few more bigwigs get behind it and regulators don't get involved. The "generally accepted" part is key here - it's far from "generally accepted" anywhere outside of a few illegal marketplaces. That could certainly change though.

What we can't forget is that there is no such thing as black and white - things are not just "money" or "not money" and even things that pretty much everyone agrees are money can be treated as other things. Currency is often traded in ways somewhat similar to commodities. And you mention gold, which for centuries was synonymous (equivalent even) with money. Things change. Remember that modern money shares much in common with religion - it is based on an intricate system of *faith* and faith in a particular means for holding generally accepted value for the purpose of the exchange of goods and services is not something God has set in stone...

Comment Re:They discovered culture! (Score 1) 127

I was going to mod you up but decided to reply instead. While I didn't, of course, RTFA, showing that these sorts of phenomena happen in virtuo is not something that has always been accepted. For example, 15 years ago socio-linguists were still maintaining that a physical presence was necessary and TV wasn't sufficient for the spread of new expressions and pronunciations (though "priming" was thought to occur...). TV isn't social media but there are a lot of old fogeys still in academia with positively ridiculous views on the spread of behaviours, beliefs, etc. "Only with face-to-face contact" and the like. It may be obvious to many but it is not obvious to all, and not even to all in a position to affect policy and research...

Comment Re:Progenitors? (Score 1) 686

I've been told off for proposing the nature preserve idea.

We get told off for lots of things, doesn't mean they are wrong! There seem to be very many reasons why advanced civilisations wouldn't have contacted us. For me the most likely is that we're just not interesting enough, which has elements of most of your pet theories. Let's face it - a civilisation that could get here wouldn't have any designs on our resources. If you could get here you could get to lots of places and the things we have on this planet are all easily synthesisable, at least they would be if you already had interstellar travel. If you have interstellar travel then you have almost certainly gone through some kind of "intelligence explosion" (singularity talk aside for the moment), and the shit we are still dealing with - internecine violence, massive wealth disparity, severe resource over-utilisation, etc. - will make us look little better than rats to a civilisation that has itchy feet. So why come here? Many civilisations might well be sending us messages that, when we are able to interpret them, will suggest we are interesting enough to talk to.

Imagine we are looked upon like a race of rats. If we were the first race of rats that an interstellar culture came across, then we might be interesting to contact/interact with. But what if we were the 382nd? Far away, with nothing particularly interesting to offer, why bother? Like really, why bother?

The main problem with all this sort of discussion is one that is raised by all sorts of deep thinking around culture, beautifully illustrated by Wittgenstein's "If a lion could speak, we would not understand him". We project out what we would do *today* if we had the technology to do X. The key issue is that by the time we develop the technology needed, our worldview will have changed so radically that we have no way to imagine how we would react, and what we would want to do. We talk about "cultural invariants" but what we do is just interpret what we see to align with our current cultural norms. It might work reasonably well with our fellow groups of humans, who all live in remarkably similar circumstances, but it is ludicrous to think that the way we look at the world could be remotely similar to anything that developed on another planet. Or that we are currently at a point in our development that corresponds to a comprehensible level of development in a culture/society in the very near vicinity. Life developing is surely a rare affair, but a comprehensible society developing at exactly the right time in the history of the universe in the near vicinity seems vanishingly unlikely.

Comment Re:hahaha! (Score 4, Insightful) 932

Yes, science is never settled and is also always highly political, in spite of most scientists fooling themselves that it is "the search for the Truth". But dude, honestly, just stop it. I really can't believe how nay-sayers with half a brain can keep it up - there is a MASSIVE pro-oil/gas/coal lobby that tries to sow the seeds of doubt. What do the 98% of scientists that maintain AGW is real have to gain? It's not like there is some secret society of super-rich Gaia Illuminati that is trying to brain-wash the world into... spending less by using less. Sure, some are benefiting - some are even financing pro-AGW studies - but it is NOTHING like what is happening in the other direction. And still there are only 2% that hold on to the "it's not happening" or "it's not because of what humans are doing" line.

Politics and self-interest are everywhere and in everything. But if you are going to posit a major global conspiracy then it at least has to be realistic - a government/group-of-super-rich would have great interest in hiding an alien visitation to keep the tech for themselves but "use energy more efficiently, spread generation around the globe using various different technologies that don't upset the current atmospheric balance" is hardly something that qualifies as something of interest for some nefarious group of super-villains...

Comment Re:News at 11 (Score 2) 136

While almost impossible to enforce, many studies show that driving for that long without a break is *dangerous*. Sure, you can come up with plenty of scenarios (more than one driver, etc.) but the use cases are rare enough to not be significant. It would still be impossible to have a break exactly where you wanted to (like stopping for gas and then parking by a nice lake for the rest/leg-stretching) but people would get used to it. I use my car so rarely there is no justification for having it but would definitely think about getting an electric one with a 640km range...

Comment ...a computer could be understood to be thinking (Score 1) 432

He wrote "The original question, "Can machines think?" I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion.". Which is not the same as saying "could be understood to be thinking". Turing raises a number of highly interesting questions about what it means "to think". Passing the test is an interesting and noteworthy achievement but as Turing intimates - saying "a computer could be understood to be thinking" is "too meaningless to deserve discussion".

Comment Re:A claim as old as electronic computers (Score 1) 47

Why do my mod points always expire right before a comment that really deserves them?!?

Your comment gets at one of the most interesting problems of the philosophy of science - how humans use metaphors, usually taken from social life and other areas of the human experience, for understanding the world around us. It is not just for explaining to lay people, some scholars (and me :-)) argue that in order for us to "understand" anything at all then we need to employ metaphors drawn from social experience that can ultimately be traced back to the development we undergo as infants and young children. Obviously the larger socio-cultural contexts we are immersed in play a vital role in this development. And so it is that the dominant paradigm (metaphor, meme, model,...) in neuroscience and psychology has been "mind as computer" for the last 50-60 years. It's not the only one though, and embodied approaches have started to gather steam as the mainstream approach starts to show its limitations.

Unfortunately, the problem is that there is no way out of it. There is no "one model to rule them" that can magically uplift us from our ignorance - all approaches *inevitably* have this flaw. The metaphors we live by (to borrow from Lakoff & Johnson) will inevitably help us to understand some aspects of our experience and obfuscate others. Some will help us do amazing things, like the mind-as-computer metaphor has, but stop us from doing others. I personally think that in order for us to move forward in creating "intelligent" non-biological machines we need to get away from the computational metaphor and adopt embodied, enactive, integrational approaches like those promoted by second order cybernetics, dynamical systems, behavioural robotics and other related areas. Thankfully these theories are starting to get fairly major traction and we'll get a chance to see where those metaphors take us over the next couple of decades.

Machines have less problems. I'd like to be a machine. -- Andy Warhol