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Comment: Databases (Score 1) 462

by dalhamir (#33409682) Attached to: What 'IT' Stuff Should We Teach Ninth-Graders?

I think everyone in the 21st century should be familiar with databases. It might be a bit beyond the level of the ciriculum, but if you could fit it in it would be great. There is almost job anymore where you don't interact with a database in some fashion, from inventory, to customer dbs, to web-based dbs. This is because there is almost no activity that a good database can't help with. If you want to build creative, innovative buisness men and women, having a rudimentary knowledge of databases can be a huge stepping stone in developing a succsessful, efficient business. It also would be something that is very easy to build into the python ciriculum and base completely on FOSS. A little bit of basic boilerplate python code and the kids and build and interact with databases, maybe have them build their own contact database of friends? Maybe give them a fake inventory and sales and they need to track sales and make some queries of what they have left, where to order new items, etc.

Comment: 11 is a crafty choice by MS (Score 4, Interesting) 220

by dalhamir (#31206136) Attached to: Details Emerge On EU-Only "Browser Choice" Screen For Windows

There's a decent amount of research (although, somewhat controversial) suggesting that providing too many choices may actually impede our ability to make rational choices, and would be less likely to experiment with an unfamiliar browser. Overview of some of the research can be found on the Freakonomics blog: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/02/is-the-paradox-of-choice-not-so-paradoxical-after-all/

Comment: Re:Interesting, but... (Score 1) 598

by dalhamir (#29007259) Attached to: Can We Build a Human Brain Into a Microchip?

The same basic argument can be used to also rule out all non-physical theories of consciousness.

We know that a physical object can cause a conscious state: I show you a red book and you experience a red book. And we know that consciousness can effect physical substances: you can tell me that you saw the book. That means whatever consciousness is, it must be effected by, and effect, physical objects. If you are effect by and effect a physical object, you also quality as a physical object.

Comment: Re:Interesting, but... (Score 1) 598

by dalhamir (#29007071) Attached to: Can We Build a Human Brain Into a Microchip?

Thanks for clarifying that. Like I said, I haven't run into it before. However, I still think that the theory necessitates the EM field -> single neurons.

A simple thought experiment will show this. Imagine that you experienced the color red. Could you point to it and say 'look there is something red'? If you could, that motion of your arm and the words coming out of your mouth are certainly caused by neural firing, so your consciousness, whatever it is, MUST be able to control the action of neurons. Otherwise 'consciousness' would be an ephemeral by-product of being alive, and we would never be able to talk about it let alone post on slashdot.

Comment: Re:Interesting, but... (Score 1) 598

by dalhamir (#28989081) Attached to: Can We Build a Human Brain Into a Microchip?

The "Incredible Mind" isn't about neuroscience at all. It's about a 50 year old argument between philosophers and AI programers. I think Nagel has always had the best way of describing the problem, here's a quote that the "Incredibe Mind" supports from Nagel, 1993:

"On the other hand the defining features of mental states and events, features like their intentionality, their subjectivity, and their experiential quality, seem not to be comprehensible in terms of the physical operations of the organism. This is not just because we have not accumulated enough empirical evidence: the problem is theoretical."

The quote nicely demonstrates how disconnected the theory of mind is with actual neuroscience. You see there is a large problem with his statement. All three of those 'defining features' have been proven empirically to be caused by physical operations of the brain.

The one we understand the least is the last one mentioned, "experiential quality", however we also have known empirically that it is caused by actions of the brain for the longest time. Basically from the very earliest studies of perception, it has universally been found that changes to the brain cause changes in experience. Stimulate a certain portion of the brain and it will CAUSE a visual experience. Stimulate a different part of the brain and it will CAUSE a auditory experience. Conversely, if we deactivate a portion of cortex, we will PREVENT an experience of the appropriate type. While we do not know the full extent of the mechanism of this experience, it is without doubt able to be substantiated with a purely physical cause.

The other two are a bit trickier to prove, but the sum total of evidence has pointed in this way for a long time. We are lucky that a recent paper shows that "intentionality" and "subjectivity" have physical causes quite neatly. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/sci;324/5928/811 . Basically, stimulation of particular regions of the brain can cause intention, and even the subjective belief of action without the action occurring, while stimulation of other regions can cause the action without intention or subjective belief.

These simple, repeatable, empirical findings demonstrate that philosophy is well behind the actual science. If philosophers want to be part of the discussion, they are going to start taking the basic principle that the mind is what the brain does as a basic starting point. Understanding the details will almost certainly take a revolution in information theory, possibly some revolutions in biology, and almost certainly not a revolution in physics.

Comment: Re:Interesting, but... (Score 1) 598

by dalhamir (#28981817) Attached to: Can We Build a Human Brain Into a Microchip?

I hadn't heard of it before, so this analysis is based on a few minutes of reading some google searches, but I'm already finding major holes.

The cannon of neuroscience is that the electrical activity of each individual neuron sums to form the global EM field. Researches who use EEG (electroencephalogram) certainly use this fact to gain information about the brain.

The CEMI theory seems to turn this on it's head and say that the global EM field is controlled by 'free will' and can also effect the firing of individual neurons.

Unfortunately, the sum of evidence seems to support only the neuron -> global field rather than the global field -> neuron in all but the most extreme circumstances.

Things change your EM global field all of the time and don't manage to change consciousness. Cell phones radio, and pretty much every electrical appliance have some small effect on your em field, and don't seem to effect consciousness in any strong way. That's the first knock against it.

In some extreme circumstances, though the "global field" CAN effect neurons firing. We can stick an electrode very close to a neuron and induce a large EM pulse and get a neuron to fire that way, but we must be very close. At that small scale, the function of the EM field and what a neuron already does (voltage sensitive ion channels which propagate action potentials) is essentially the same, so reducing the CEMI theory to that level would render it meaningless.

Another circumstance where the global field can effect single neurons firing is TMS or trans-cranial magnetic stimulation. Here a metal coil (or usually a figure 8) can stimulate or suppress the firing of large groups of neurons up to centimeters away. However we run into a couple of problems. First EM fields are fairly uniform. That's another way of saying that if you want to produce a field that can make a particular neuron fire or stop firing, you need to do essentially the same thing to the neuron right next to it. This type of crude control over large groups of neurons isn't sufficient to really control consciousness in the complexity we understand it now where many closely spaced neurons may perform drastically different roles. The second and perhaps more convincing reason against this type of control is that it takes a huge amount of power to cause large voltage shifts in neurons centimeters away through bone and tissue. I mentioned EEG above. In those type of experiments the strength of the global field is about 3 orders of magnitude smaller than could drive the action of a single neuron, so there is no evidence that there are global field fluctuations that are large enough to modify the firing of a single neuron at any significant distance.

The real nail in the coffin of CEMI though would have to be the first law of thermodynamics. Regardless of the spatial scale, modifying the global EM field requires energy, but there is no known source for this energy.

So across the board, it fails the test of an alternative hypothesis in that it does not describe what we already know better (or even nearly as well) as the current theory.

Hope that was coherent.

Comment: Re:Interesting, but... (Score 5, Interesting) 598

by dalhamir (#28975735) Attached to: Can We Build a Human Brain Into a Microchip?

I am a neuroscientist and I can tell you for sure that the basic form of the information in a brain is not a linear bit. But it does obey the laws of physics, and everything we know points to it following pretty mundane physics. The whole 'quantum state' theory of consciousness is pretty weak and unable to explain a lot of really basic phenomenon of the brain.

However, the real trick of human intelligence is not simply the number of neurons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_animals_by_number_of_neurons but rather the particular pattern of the network which allows us to detect and manipulate extremely complex patterns which a significant amount of noise. I think we will get to the point one day where we can replicate a human level intelligence, but getting 20 billion things into a organized pattern is just that start of that process.

And, even then, we don't need to worry about an 'intelligence explosion' because a) there are probably some pretty hard laws on the relationship between size and complexity, which is almost certainly non-linear and b) the knowledge needed to create this human level intelligence won't be understandable to any single human. It has already take teams of people working together for combined millions of man hours to get to where we are today. Even if this computer we make was capable of thinking at the level of 2x human, it will take many machines a long time before progressing to the next level of understanding of a complex non-linear phenomenon such as intelligence.

Comment: A scientist's perspective (Score 0) 539

by dalhamir (#28808887) Attached to: How To Vet Clever Ideas Without Giving Them Away?

As a scientist, I constantly have to do this. We all are working on our semi-secret projects, which other, very smart people are also experts in. When grant money starts runing out, people are naturally going to look for any idea. Whenever you are talking to a fellow scientist, you need to carefully navigate tapping into their expertise, while not giving them your idea.

The best way I've found to do this is to ask them questions about what they do, with some careful steering towards your particular sub-area of interest. Basically you are fishing for interesting facts. You have to rely on your own intelligence to be able to make sense of those facts and apply them directly to your problem.

If you get some facts, but don't feel comfortable tying them into your particular problem, then it's time to bring in the paperwork, and arrange a relationship. However, your previous time wasn't wasted. At least for scientists, asking them intelligent questions about their expertise is the quickest way into their heart.

Comment: Re:BAD summary (Score 1) 199

by dalhamir (#28472277) Attached to: IBM Claims Breakthrough In Analysis of Encrypted Data

The exact opposite, it saves lots of transmission time.

Unencrypted analysis:
The data is encrypted and transferred once to the cloud. An analysis is designed, the entire dataset must be transmitted back off the cloud, decrypted, and analyzed.

Encrypted analysis:
The data is encrypted and transferred once to the cloud. An analysis is designed, and just the encrypted analysis function is passed to the cloud. Analysis is performed in the cloud, and just the result is transfered back, where it is decrypted.

so, we've traded transmission of the dataset (probably big) for transmission of the analysis function and the results (probably smaller).

Comment: Re:depends (Score 2, Insightful) 1137

by dalhamir (#27868753) Attached to: Your Commuting Costs By Car Vs. Train?

Plus I live near Sacramento, which has the useless Light Rail system. The stops are nowhere near where they need to be to be useful, unless you work right downtown.

True Dat! Even worse if you want to get into the bay area, or god forbid get down to southern california. Only amtrak would make you get on a bus, then a train, and then a buss to get from sac to san deigo

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