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Comment: Re:A Car that runs on Coal (Score 1) 762

by Metasquares (#33197800) Attached to: Just One Out of 16 Hybrids Pays Back In Gas Savings

The centralization of power would be an auxiliary benefit of a plug-in hybrid, but keep in mind that today's hybrids are never actually plugged into the grid - so there's no shuffling of energy costs from your car to your home and no power plant that enters into the discussion yet. The power source that grants an electric vehicle efficiency over a gas engine is the road itself. As the car rolls downhill the electric motor acts as a generator and starts charging the battery "for free".

That's where the efficiency comes in: you can charge a battery using inductive current from the motor, but you can't use that energy to put more gasoline in the tank. In a gasoline vehicle it's just waste energy.

Comment: Re:And so it begins (Score 1) 80

by Metasquares (#32309546) Attached to: The Economist Calls For "Open Source" Biology

Imagine the natural evolution of a virus that figures out a way to attack and destroy all eukaryote cells. Even if it's just a human specific disease. Especially with air travel these days, epidemics can spread very quickly and quarantining is difficult.

There's a very high probability that virus would cease to exist in short order. Evolution favors viruses that preserve their hosts at least until they've had ample opportunity to spread. Even artificially developed viruses, not subject to the pressures of natural selection at the time of their creation, must still replicate and spread to cause epidemics and will be influenced by selective pressure in the environment.

However, consider the range of natural viruses and the incredible diversity of symptoms that they can cause. What worries me is not that some nutjob will create a virus which merely kills people - that sort of thing is swift, obvious, susceptible to existing protocols for controlling infectious diseases, and probably self-limiting - but that some nutjob will create a virus that alters people in subtle ways, body or mind (Vernor Vinge explores the theme of a mind-control virus in one of his sci-fi novels, Rainbows End (sic)). When a virus infects your cells it can write whatever code its creator wants into them. However difficult doing any high-level coding with this may initially be, "libraries" will be developed and such things will eventually be as easy as programming a computer is today. In fact, this would be awesome if not for the threat it represents (and if not for the fact that people are going to do some really immature if not outright harmful things with that ability - think a real life version of the Spore creature library). It would increase biodiversity tremendously from the outset, though common "library" sequences would likely be more or less homogeneous.

In any case, I do not think a designer virus would spell the end of all humanity, although it could cause widespread devastation. For any single pathogen there is a segment of the population which is, for some reason or another, by cause of some mutation or another, simply not susceptible to it. It would be extremely challenging for a virus writer to take the level of diversity among all humanity into account. We evolve too. What's more, designer viruses would also enable us to begin building our own defenses against such things if the researchers can keep up with the bio kiddiez.

As for advanced AI presenting a threat, I'm not as concerned about that one: I don't think an advanced AI would want to kill us any more than we want to kill off the chimps. If anything it would want to study our behavior - if it's that advanced we're no threat to it, and if it's not we still have a chance of stopping it.

None of this is in disagreement with your argument that establishing distant colonies would be beneficial for the robustness of humanity and of life, BTW. That's still the best long term solution.

Comment: Sensitivity vs. Specificity (Score 1) 197

by Metasquares (#32120516) Attached to: Brain-Scan Lie Detection Rejected By Brooklyn Court

Accuracy isn't all that telling a figure. I'd have expected sensitivity and specificity: i.e. what proportion of lies are actually detected vs. (1-)the proportion of true statements which are falsely identified as lies. Actually, I was kind of hoping for an ROC curve in the paper. It is kind of the standard classification metric in this field.

False positives in a system like this can be pretty dangerous. "Innocent until proven guilty" means they should be trying to reduce the false positive rate even if it compromises the ability to identify actual lies. But to do that they need to separate out the different types of mistakes the system can make.

Comment: Re:5th year? (Score 1) 419

by Metasquares (#31801998) Attached to: Chicago Mayor Calls For "Brainiac High"

Right, the lack of standardization seems more a problem than a lack of any performance metric at all. "Show and tell" style assignments (or fewer larger projects) in which people describe all of the fun geeky things they did seem like they would work reasonably well in that sort of model, but this would be hard enough to compare against other students in the same class, much less across schools or districts.

But it may even be possible to keep the standardized tests and just alter the nature of the day to day assigned work. Most of the really bright people we're talking about here would probably do well on them regardless. But then havoc gets raised if the numbers start to slip at all, even if the result is truly a more educated student body, people demand that the system become more proactive in addressing the "problem", and the system is back at square one...

Comment: Useless as a home technology (Score 1) 56

by Metasquares (#31801108) Attached to: A New "Medical Lab On a Chip" For Every Home?

To perform an assay, the doctor only has to place the relevant substances (reagents, etc) into the cartridge and the test then takes place automatically

By the time you're going to a doctor you may as well get the sample drawn in the doctor's office or a lab. Until you can perform "over the counter" tests with it, it's useless in the home.

Comment: Re:5th year? (Score 1) 419

by Metasquares (#31801072) Attached to: Chicago Mayor Calls For "Brainiac High"
Given the choice between learning college level work in a high school and learning it in a college, I would take the college any day. It makes more sense to use the funds to give these students state-sponsored scholarships to the colleges of their choice rather than tying them down to another year of high school.

Comment: Re:5th year? (Score 3, Insightful) 419

by Metasquares (#31801046) Attached to: Chicago Mayor Calls For "Brainiac High"

1/3 of the time letting my students "run wild", applying what they had learned, and generally just screwing around and LEARNING stuff. No, not the stuff on the checklist.

If this was a year before college where students could just play, use what they had learned, create things, and explore the world, then it would be FANTASTIC! We'd be producing some really amazing scientists and engineers.

Bingo! Someone else who gets it. The message we're sending right now is "if you're smart we're going to make you work harder" when it should be closer to "Hey, look at how cool this is! Try it out! I can tell you more about it if you're interested..."

Seriously, lots of intelligent people have this amazing propensity to learn about stuff on their own and many have fun doing it. As educators we should be assisting them in this mission rather than trying to brutally suppress their interests in favor of some canned curriculum.

Comment: Misleading (Score 1) 586

by Metasquares (#31682886) Attached to: Magnetism Can Sway Man's Moral Compass

This article is misleading, suggesting that any old magnetic field can alter someone's morality.

In reality, transcranial magnetic stimulation temporarily disrupts part of the brain. It can blind you, cause you to lose feeling in parts of your body, or cause temporary aphasia (not the sort of thing you'd generally like to be subject to given that we don't understand exactly how functions are localized within the brain). All that this demonstrates is that it can alter one's ability to reason out a person's morality as well. This is not necessarily even a specific response - for all we know it could be disrupting the subjects' ability to empathize with the characters or understand the story altogether.

It is however somewhat interesting that the behavior elicited when the TMS was applied became more utilitarian than deontological - one philosophy is not necessarily better than the other. I'd question whether their morality was impaired at all. Perhaps it was the morality they had been conditioned to accept that was disrupted. The "memory" of their moral training, so to speak.

A large number of installed systems work by fiat. That is, they work by being declared to work. -- Anatol Holt

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