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Comment: Re:Is a reduction (Score 2) 24

by hey! (#49772855) Attached to: Bats' White-Nose Syndrome May Be Cured

As ShanghaiBill says, Bats aren't rodents. I'll just add that bats and rodents are about as taxonomically unrelated as two mammals can possibly be.

Bats are more closely related to horses, bears, rhinos, even whales -- like most mammals they're members of the huge and diverse superorder Laurasiatheria. Rodents are in the much smaller superorder Euarchontoglires, the only non-extinct members of which are: rodents, rabbits, hares, pikas, tree shrews, flying lemurs, and the various primates.

Comment: Pay phones! (Score 2) 59

In the late 1970s in junior high we would ride the bus and get off at random stops and write down pay phone numbers. Then when we got home we would call the numbers and do all sorts of gags.

The one that inexplicably worked well was telling people that had won money from a radio station. Why they believed that an 8th grader sounded like a disk jockey is still beyond me.

It's almost kind of sad that kids of today can't get that experience. There's very few pay phones left and I bet none of them accept incoming calls. It was also pretty safe from a get in trouble perspective. Call logging and tracing would have been a huge endeavor and we never called any one pay phone more than a few times or suggested anything violent or even all that ribald.

Comment: Re:it's not "slow and calculated torture" (Score 1) 644

by swb (#49770745) Attached to: Greece Is Running Out of Money, Cannot Make June IMF Repayment

They don't pay it off now by printing money because other people keep buying the debt.

The dollar represents 2/3rds of the world's reserve currency. The rest of the reserve currencies combined aren't enough to replace it.

Hyperinflation probably isn't always a guarnateed outcome, I would wager political pressure not to manipulate monetary and fiscal policy that much is a bigger reason.

Comment: Re:Need to understand it before it exists (Score 1) 386

by swb (#49770709) Attached to: What AI Experts Think About the Existential Risk of AI

One other interesting takeaway for me was the range of what it might mean to be be a superintelligence. The author being interviewed said there are kind of various dimensions to superintelligence, such as speed of processing, complexity of processing, size of "memory" or available database of info, concurrency (ability to process independent events simultaneously).

Not all superintelligences may have all of these qualitative dimensions maxmized, either, which can be part of the problem of failing to recognize when one has been created because we may fail to see its potential because it doesn't seem omniscient.

I think it's also interesting how we kind of default to science fiction ideas of like Terminator or other "machines run amok" scenerios where the outcome is physical violence against humans.

Some of the outcomes could be more subtle and some of the biases could be inbuilt by humans and not the part of some kind of warped machine volition or intuition.

One of the everyday examples might be the advanced software designed to bank finances, linking program trading, risk and portfolio analysis, markets, etc. The amount of information big banks have to process on a daily basis is massive and while humans make important decisions, they rely heavily on machine analytics and suggested actions (and modeled outcomes) to make those decisions.

The system may make money, but is it only biased in terms of firm profit or could it have other, unintended capital effects? Is it possible that while each big bank may have their own unique system but because all these systems have a lot of shared data (prices, market activity, known holdings by others, common risk models, etc) that they could have an influential or feedback loop among them that might actually drive markets? Could this unintentional "network" of like systems be something like a superintelligence?

One question I sometimes ask myself -- what if wealth inequality wasn't a conspiracy of some kind (by the rich, the politicians, a combination, etc) but instead was something of a "defect" in the higher order of financial system intelligence? Or maybe not even a defect, but a kind of designed-in bias in the system's base instructions (ie, make the bank profitable, for exampel) that resulted in financial outcomes which tend to make the rich richer? What if the natural outcome of markets was greater wealth equality but because they are heavily influenced by a primitive machine intelligence we get inequality? How could we know this isn't true?

I think these are the more interesting challenges of machine superintelligence because they grow out of the things we rely on current (and limited) machine intelligence to do for us now. Will we even recognize when these systems get it wrong and how will we know?

Comment: Re: Why do this in the first place? (Score 1) 70

MoFo is expert at making excuses for architectural deficiencies that slay the UX but have 15-year-old bugs on them because "that touches a lot of code". And fostering an environment where that's A-OK. In the time that Mozilla's not been able to get async tasks out of the UI thread, Elon Musk has build a spaceship company that's gone to the ISS and landed a rocket back to Earth. It's either a lack of engineering discipline or absurdist leadership - hard to say which or both but no for-profit firm would tolerate such complacence.

Comment: Re:Okay... (Score 1) 354

by hey! (#49769947) Attached to: D.C. Police Detonate Man's 'Suspicious' Pressure Cooker

Pressure cookers have actually made a comeback among foodies. The difference from grandma's pressure cooking style is that times for anything but pot roast are *extremely* short. For example if you're cooking broccoli it's done after two minutes at pressure. Grandma would have kept the broccoli in the pressure cooker for five minutes and removed it as a pale gelatinous goo.

A pressure cooker is a good acquisition when you're setting up a kitchen because even though you might use it only a couple of times a month, if you don't lock down the lid what you have is just a nice, heavy pot. Slow cooked is still the way to go for chili, but if you don't have eight hours you can get passable results in well under an hour with a pressure cooker.

Comment: Re:it's not "slow and calculated torture" (Score 1) 644

by swb (#49767507) Attached to: Greece Is Running Out of Money, Cannot Make June IMF Repayment

Because US debt is denominated in US dollars, we could pay it off tomorrow with a spreadsheet entry at the Federal Reserve which created $16.39 trillion by fiat. There may even be some non-inflationary gimmick that could be employed to pay off existing debt via normal government revenue and only sell treasuries to the Fed who would never sell them.

And because the dollar is the dominant world reserve currency (around 65%), Congress could just vote to nullify a huge portion of that debt tomorrow. There's no short or even medium term replacement for dollars as a trading currency, so not only would it suck nations holding that debt the world would have to keep using the dollar or go broke.

The latter is the existential threat to the Chinese economy. With the stroke of a pen, the Chinese could see 1.2 trillion just wiped off their balance sheet.

When you control both the printing of your money and issue debt in the same money, anything is possible.

Comment: Need to understand it before it exists (Score 1) 386

by swb (#49767427) Attached to: What AI Experts Think About the Existential Risk of AI

I listened to a podcast (Econtalk, which is about as sober as podcasts get) that interviewed an AI "worrier" and he acknowledges that our current technology can't produce a superintelligence now. But he does make a couple of interesting points which I think make for reasonable discussion even if it isn't the "ZOMG, PANIC" kind of talk you imply.

One, discussing machine superintelligence before it actually develops is almost necessary because once it DOES exist it may be difficult to control. By definition, superintelligence will be smarter than we are and capable of manipulating at a level of complexity we can't grasp, making it hard to control.

And we've already created single-purpose "intelligences" similar to this, like the old "Internet worm" or some kinds of computer viruses that while they lack general purpose intelligence, have a self-replicating intelligence that can be difficult to contain. Imagine a smart hypervisor designed to manage a computing cluster but with the intelligence to replicate/migrate nodes across cloud computing infrastructure. Couple it with cyber defense technology, encryption, etc but given the single minded purpose of "don't shut down". It's not hard to see at a not-so-far-off level of intelligence that it could self-migrate across cloud platforms, resisting shutdown, possibly even able to hide in private cloud platforms all while being able to escape detection and control.

Which brings up the other point -- we don't know what machine superintelligence will look like. Part of the problem with understanding what superintelligence could be is that we don't know how far we are from creating one because as humans we try to imagine superintelligence in anthropomorphic terms using human epistemologies. It doesn't have to be the anthropomorphic HAL 9000, it could be a hypervisor manager, a securities trading system or some other single-purpose automation system that contains a feedback loop between a series of "dumb" systems coupled with a control plane. We may create it by accident and even if its not perfect, there are some realms where it wouldn't take long running amok to cause large problems, even if the outcome wasn't "judgement day".

Comment: Lots of Off-By-One Errors around! (Score 1) 77

by billstewart (#49766961) Attached to: Favorite musical scale, by number of pitch classes?

Are you counting the notes, or the intervals? Are you counting the root once or twice (1 and 8)? Got fencepost errors?

I end up dealing with this a bit more, because I play mountain dulcimer, and dulcimer tab notation starts at 0 instead of 1, counting from the open strings to N frets in a mostly-diatonic scale. (Usually the tuning on the middle string means you end up with at least one more note available, plus most dulcimers these days add the 6.5 fret (which gets you the 7th note in the melody string's scale, as opposed to a flat-7th Mixolydian), which gives you a few more choices.

Comment: Re:Funny, that spin... (Score 3, Insightful) 386

by hey! (#49765025) Attached to: What AI Experts Think About the Existential Risk of AI

Spin, sure, but it's a waay bigger minority than I expected. I'd even say even shockingly large.

The genius of Asimov's three laws is that he started by laying out rules that on the face of it rule out the old "robot run amok" stories. He then would write, if not a "run amok" story, one where the implications aren't what you'd expect. I think the implications of an AI that surpasses natural human intelligence are beyond human intelligence to predict, even if we attempt to build strict rules into that AI.

One thing I do believe is that such a development would fundamentally alter human society, provided that the AI was comparably versatile to human intelligence. It's no big deal if an AI is smarter than people at chess; if it's smarter than people at everyday things, plus engineering, business, art and literature, then people will have to reassess the value of human life. Or maybe ask the AI what would give their lives meaning.

Comment: Re:Truth be told... (Score 4, Interesting) 138

by hey! (#49764209) Attached to: Al-Qaeda's Job Application Form Revealed

Dear moderators: "Troll" is not a synonym for "I disagree with this".

That said, I disagree with this.

We've known since the investigation of 9/11 that suicide bombers are not necessarily dead-enders except in the literal sense. Economic powerlessness might play a role in the political phenomenon of extremist violence, but it is not a necessary element of the profile of a professional extremist. These people often come from privileged backgrounds and display average to above average job aptitude.

Mohammed Atta's life story makes interesting reading. He was born to privileged parents; at the insistence of his emotionally distant father he wasn't allowed to socialize with other kids his age, and had a lifelong difficulty with relating to his peers. At university he did OK but below the high expectations of his parents. He went to graduate school in urban planning where his thesis was on how impersonal modern high rise buildings ruined the historic old neighborhoods of the Muslim world.

That much is factual; as to why he became an extremist while countless others like him did not, we can only speculate. I imagine that once he decided modernity was the source of his personal dissatisfactions Al Qaeda would be attractive to him. Al Qaeda training provided structure which made interacting with his new "peers" easier than ever before. And martyrdom promised relief from the dissatisfactions of a life spent conscious of his own mediocrity. Altogether he was a miserable and twisted man -- but not economically miserable.

Comment: Most guys here are missing the point. (Score 1) 288

by hey! (#49763589) Attached to: Study: Science Still Seen As a Male Profession

And that point is encapsulated in a single adverb: still. "Still" is what makes this news; it wouldn't have been news twenty or thirty years ago.

I am old enough to remember when genital equipment was considered employment destiny. When my wife went to oceanography graduate school the sysadmins of the school minicomputers were all female. The all-male faculty called them -- I kid you not -- "Data Dollies". Data dolly was considered a good job for a technically inclined woman because it paid well for an entry level job, involved computers, and was an easy job to hand off when you quit to marry the professor you'd snagged. Plus they'd have a hard time getting work in industry. Clearly that was a transitional moment because there were a substantial minority of women graduate students in the program, but *no* female professors, much less senior administrators.

But given the strong cohort of women in that class, it is surprising the thirty years later there is still a lingering perception in this country that science isn't for women. But maybe it shouldn't be surprising. Change doesn't happen instantaneously, nor does it necessarily ever become complete. When I was in college the notion that women had to become full time homemakers was still predominant -- not among students, but of people over thirty or so, practically everyone in positions of hiring and authority. That attitude seems weird and foreign to a young person today; I expect it's hard for a young person to grasp how pervasive and indeed how genuinely oppressive that belief was. It's a bit like the difference between the way I experience watching Mad Men and the way my kids do. I actually *recognize* that world where smoking was everywhere, big shots drank during office hours, and "womanizing" was a word people actually used without irony. It was fading fast, but still there. To my kids it's like an alien civilization in Doctor Who. So yes, the news that many Americans see science as a profession that somehow belongs to men is a bit like discovering a Silurian in the closet.

The women of my generation fought hard to establish a beachhead in male dominated professions, and if they're sometimes a bit snippy about it, well they earned the right. It wasn't easy to be an oddball among your peers and freak to your parents, teachers and and people in authority generally. And this was at a time when there was no such thing as geek chic to offset the disadvantages being an oddball. Being a geek was bad, period.

Now that cadre of pioneering women is at or approaching the apex of their careers. They're still a minority in their age cohort, but they left a wide open hole in their wake for the next generation. It's taken awhile for that hole to fill up because when opportunities open for a group they go for more high-profile professions (47% of medical students are women, as are 48% of law students). But in another generation I am sure the view that science belongs to one sex or another will be a truly fringe belief.

"For the man who has everything... Penicillin." -- F. Borquin