Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Comment We have no idea what "superintelligent" means. (Score 2) 185 185

When faced with a tricky question, one think you have to ask yourself is 'Does this question actually make any sense?' For example you could ask "Can anything get colder than absolute zero?" and the simplistic answer is "no"; but it might be better to say the question itself makes no sense, like asking "What is north of the North Pole"?

I think when we're talking about "superintelligence" it's a linguistic construct that sounds to us like it makes sense, but I don't think we have any precise idea of what we're talking about. What *exactly* do we mean when we say "superintelligent computer" -- if computers today are not already there? After all, they already work on bigger problems than we can. But as Geist notes there are diminishing returns on many problems which are inherently intractable; so there is no physical possibility of "God-like intelligence" as a result of simply making computers merely bigger and faster. In any case it's hard to conjure an existential threat out of computers that can, say, determine that two very large regular expressions match exactly the same input.

Someone who has an IQ of 150 is not 1.5x times as smart as an average person with an IQ of 100. General intelligence doesn't work that way. In fact I think IQ is a pretty unreliable way to rank people by "smartness" when you're well away from the mean -- say over 160 (i.e. four standard deviations) or so. Yes you can rank people in that range by *score*, but that ranking is meaningless. And without a meaningful way to rank two set members by some property, it makes no sense to talk about "increasing" that property.

We can imagine building an AI which is intelligent in the same way people are. Let's say it has an IQ of 100. We fiddle with it and the IQ goes up to 160. That's a clear success, so we fiddle with it some more and the IQ score goes up to 200. That's a more dubious result. Beyond that we make changes, but since we're talking about a machine built to handle questions that are beyond our grasp, we don't know whether we're making actually the machine smarter or just messing it up. This is still true if we leave the changes up to the computer itself.

So the whole issue is just "begging the question"; it's badly framed because we don't know what "God-like" or "super-" intelligence *is*. Here's I think a better framing: will we become dependent upon systems whose complexity has grown to the point where we can neither understand nor control them in any meaningful way? I think this describes the concerns about "superintelligent" computers without recourse to words we don't know the meaning of. And I think it's a real concern. In a sense we've been here before as a species. Empires need information processing to function, so before computers humanity developed bureaucracies, which are a kind of human operated information processing machine. And eventually the administration of a large empire have always lost coherence, leading to the empire falling apart. The only difference is that a complex AI system could continue to run well after human society collapsed.

Comment Re:It's coming. Watch for it.. (Score 1) 149 149

The overriding principle in any encounter between vehicles should be safety; after that efficiency. A cyclist should make way for a motorist to pass , but *only when doing so poses no hazard*. The biggest hazard presented by operation of any kind of vehicle is unpredictability. For a bike this is swerving in and out of a lane a car presents the greatest danger to himself and others on the road.

The correct, safe, and courteous thing to do is look for the earliest opportunity where it is safe to make enough room for the car to pass, move to the side, then signal the driver it is OK to pass. Note this doesn't mean *instantaneously* moving to the side, which might lead to an equally precipitous move *back* into the lane.

Bikes are just one of the many things you need to deal with in the city, and if the ten or fifteen seconds you're waiting to put the accelerator down is making you late for where you're going then you probably should leave a few minutes earlier, because in city driving if it's not one thing it'll be another. In any case if you look at the video the driver was not being significantly delayed by the cyclist, and even if that is so that is no excuse for driving in an unsafe manner, although in his defense he probably doesn't know how to handle the encounter with the cyclist correctly.

The cyclist of course ought to know how to handle an encounter with a car though, and for that reason it's up to the cyclist to manage an encounter with a car to the greatest degree possible. He should have more experience and a lot more situational awareness. I this case the cyclist's mistake was that he was sorta-kinda to one side in the lane, leaving enough room so the driver thought he was supposed to squeeze past him. The cyclist ought to have clearly claimed the entire lane, acknowledging the presence of the car; that way when he moves to the side it's a clear to the driver it's time to pass.

Comment Re:It's coming. Watch for it.. (Score 2) 149 149

The motorist in the video committed a crime -- several actually. But the cyclist committed an indiscretion by chasing down the motorist to give him a piece of his mind. That's not illegal, it's just a very bad idea.

Many years ago I heard an interviewer ask the great race driver Jackie Stewart what it takes to be a great driver. He said that a driver ought to be emotionless. I think this is very true for any kind of driving -- or cycling. Never prolong your reaction to anything that anyone does on the road beyond the split second it takes to deal with it. Let your attention move on to the next thing. Never direct it to a driver because of something he *did*. Keep focused on what's happening now.

Comment Re:Local CO2 (Score 2, Informative) 64 64

pouring into the atmosphere at a rate of more than 100x what nature produces

... man, go back to elementary school. That hasn't happened, isn't happening, and isn't going to happen. [Jane Q. Public, 2015-07-31]

Yes it is. As the NAS explains on page 6 here:

"In nature, CO2 is exchanged continually between the atmosphere, plants and animals through photosynthesis, respiration, and decomposition, and between the atmosphere and ocean through gas exchange. A very small amount of CO2 (roughly 1% of the emission rate from fossil fuel combustion) is also emitted in volcanic eruptions. This is balanced by an equivalent amount that is removed by chemical weathering of rocks."

So natural CO2 emissions are balanced, and our fossil fuel emissions are roughly 100x faster than volcanic emissions. That's why "actual science" shows that our current CO2 emissions rate is unprecedented over the last 300 million years.

And if you read the rest of that NAS document, you'd discover that "actual science" shows that our unprecedentedly rapid CO2 emissions are a cause for concern.

Comment Re:Sudden outbreak of common sense. (Score 0) 168 168

If I see a coin come up heads nine out of ten times, I'm expecting it to come up heads on the eleventh toss.

You exactly demonstrated the problem with common sense reasoning. People assume that because they have what feels like to them (and may actually be) extensive experience with something they automatically understand it. But most people who haven't been trained in mathematics have plenty of misconceptions about what mathematicians call the "Bernoulli Process" (coin flipping).

Comment Re:Sudden outbreak of common sense. (Score 2) 168 168

Not really. The judge simply ruled she was bound by precedent that her court did not have sufficient authority to overturn. That's actually a good call, but it has nothing to do with the issue or arguments.

In any case appeals to "common sense" aren't worth squat when that common sense is based on ignorance or inexperience. It's common sense to talk about "the dark side of the Moon" or to think that the next flip of a coin is affected by prior flips.

For 80% of the existence of our species we coexisted with at least one other species that would pass any reasonable philosophical criteria for "person": the Neanderthals. If we were able to use biotechnology to recreate Neanderthals, Jurassic park style, there's no question that if successful the experiment would create people. But would they be legal persons?

It's an important philosophical question because it potentially colors a lot of mundane ethical questions. Do we recognize the rights of others as a kind of tribal convention? Or are we compelled to do so because of something in human nature? If the latter presumably non-human entities would have an equal ethical claim to personhood.

Comment Re:Improving data [Re:The Gods] (Score 1) 385 385

... Karl et al. conclusion is an outlier. And you don't have to be a scientist to know it... if it weren't, there wouldn't have been news media all over the place reporting "No 'Hiatus' After All". Outliers are outliers. They can be recognized from their conclusions, as I did, but by lay people they can also often be recognized by the media uproar they stir. Simple logic says that if it hadn't been NEWS, it wouldn't have made a stir in the news. [Jane Q. Public, 2015-07-23]

Jane's method of spotting outliers via media uproar is cute, but it would be more rigorous to actually look at Fig 1 (a) and (b). The new global trend's central estimate is within the error bars of the old estimate. ... [Dumb Scientist]

... All it takes is simple logic to clearly show that Karl et al. results are an outlier. I didn't exactly make this up, either. Lots of others have been saying it. In fact, even many of the big news sources haven't dared to touch Karl with a 10-foot pole. It's just that -- ahem -- "credible". ... [Jane Q. Public, 2015-07-28]

Again, spotting outliers via media uproar isn't as rigorous as actually looking at the data. So let's reproduce Fig 1(b) in Karl et al. 2015, which shows trends from 1998 to 2012. Let's calculate those trends for all the land/ocean, global, and satellite datasets listed here:

HadCRUT4 trend: +0.050 ± 0.139 C/decade (2 sigma)

NOAA trend: +0.079 ± 0.131 C/decade (2 sigma)

Karl(2015) trend: +0.086 ± 0.148 C/decade (2 sigma)

GISTEMP trend: +0.100 ± 0.141 C/decade (2 sigma)

Berkeley trend: +0.096 ± 0.137 C/decade (2 sigma)

HadCRUT4 krig v2 trend: +0.111 ± 0.152 C/decade (2 sigma)

Karl(2015) krig trend: +0.111 ± 0.157 C/decade (2 sigma)

RSS trend: -0.055 ± 0.246 C/decade (2 sigma)

UAH trend: +0.054 ± 0.251 C/decade (2 sigma)

All these trend estimates are consistent with my previous statement: there hasn't been a statistically significant change in the warming rate, and there isn't a statistically significant difference between the projected and observed trends.

Do these results support Jane's claim that Karl et al. 2015 is somehow an "outlier"?

"What I've done, of course, is total garbage." -- R. Willard, Pure Math 430a