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Comment Re:Who needs a startup? (Score 2) 25

Yes, they do need to record good notes. But the times are changing. There is huge potential in a cheap general purpose sensor array. Imagine a system that recorded temperature, humidity, room brightness, vibrations, maybe some chemical species concentrations, and maybe data from a set of special sensors in an apparatus. This is straight forward to do, but right now it requires someone to write custom software and integrate a variety of sensors. If there becomes a standard that just ran with very little customization, it could greatly decrease the amount of 'something happened to this experiment but I don't know what'. It is easy to say 'they should take better lab notes', but no one has ever been able to accurately record all the relevant conditions. It is an imaginary world we describe in which the conditions of the experiment are recorded in the lab notebook. In research, you always have factors that you don't yet know are important, and high quality cheap general purpose sensors could be a big benefit.

Comment Lets be clear (Score 5, Informative) 182

ARC is a very interesting scientific and engineering development project, but it is not a power generation facility. It is a demonstration experiment to learn how to run a fusion reactor with net energy production. There are still several major steps between ARC and a commercial electric generation facility.

Comment Re:Most of the collage kids these days a whiny bab (Score 5, Insightful) 667

Some college students have been raised in an environment where unpleasant experiences are carefully avoided and so they are oversensitive. College should be a place for these students to grow up. But the extreme political polarization of our era makes that difficult. I see the biggest culprit in the 'oppression studies' focus on many college campuses. Everyone claims membership in some oppressed group, looks to take offense, and wants special treatment. Once you are looking for oppression, you are guaranteed to find it and along the way lose focus on the hard work necessary to succeed in our highly competitive global economy. Oppression exists and it is a terrible burden holding people back. But the PC response on college campuses mostly makes it worse.

Comment Wilbur Atwater (Score 1) 425

Can someone explain why the article cites Wilbur Atwater as a Department of Agriculture scientist? I think he did his research as a faculty member at Wesleyan University. Maybe he had funding from the Department of Agriculture? Maybe the author is trying to be dismissive of the scientific results by implying that it was serving an agenda? It was primitive work in the late 1800s, but it did set the foundation for a lot of more precise work on human metabolism. No one is questioning the main conclusions of Atwater that human metabolism obeys the law of conservation of energy, and that it is important (and difficult) to quantify energy intake.

Comment Re:Putting it in orbit would solve all these probl (Score 2) 22

Dr. Spork is on to something here. We still know so very little about our universe and by far the best way forward is to develop very large aperture telescopes. Humans are headed toward building truly massive optical telescopes (100m scale this century, maybe 1km scale in the 2100s or 2200s). Right now we need to succeed in getting the James Webb 6.5m telescope in space and the 30m earth instruments operational. There are several ideas about how to build 100m scale optical telescopes. (See the OWL proposal, One path is to use many independent small telescopes and combine the light as is done with interferometers. Maybe our photonics expertise will advance faster than our large scale construction expertise, and we will do all huge telescopes with many mass produced smaller ones. Maybe their relative positioning doesn't even need to be super stable because we can measure it accurately enough and correct for their relative motion. But it is fun to imagine a 1km scale truss system to hold a massive segmented mirror in space. Picture 250,000 mirrors, each 2m in diameter. It will not remove all stresses to be in space. At that scale, you may start to get tidal stresses and thermal stresses that are almost as hard to engineer as wind and gravity stresses on earth. Likely this huge space telescope will require asteroid or moon mining technology and much better robotic construction tools. But it is a much more likely future of massive spacecraft than the km scale star destroyers of Star Wars fame.

Comment inevitable surveillance (Score 2) 202

There is going to be increasing surveillance of public behavior in the decades to come. Police cameras seem inevitable. Human memory is just so unreliable that recording what actually happened will be overwhelmingly attractive. And sports have shown us what regular review of video can do to enhance performance. We'll have to be strategic in regulating access to these videos since they could become another piece of a comprehensive surveillance network that could enable those in power to suppress dissenters. It seems that recording is going to happen. The question is about how those in power are held accountable for how they use recordings.

Comment Re:A Different Beast (Score 1) 189

Yes, the Cyc project was an attempt. You refer to a small number of optimists, but many already knew in the 1980s that its methods were far from adequate to the challenge. (My personal assessment was that common sense knowledge is much more approximate and context dependent than Cyc allows). I view Watson as largely a repudiation of the philosophy of Cyc. Rather than implement a self-consistent knowledge base, Watson does statistical analysis of a much less structured data base. Some of the people who dismiss Watson as 'not understanding' are taking the viewpoint that a self-consistent structured knowledge base is the essence of intelligence. They still view that goal as nearly impossible to attain. But Watson shows that many behaviors characteristic of intelligence can be achieved without this self-consistent knowledge base. It will be interesting to see whether the next steps involve moving back toward Cyc like philosophy or going further along the path of statistical analysis without constructed coherence.

Comment Incoherent observations are not science (Score 1) 45

This is crazy. If you can't make sense of your observations and connect them to our understanding, then they are unlikely to be useful. Existing journals will publish observations that are not explained if they are accompanied by a careful explanation of what is and is not understood about the problem. We definitely do not need more publication of observations disconnected from understanding.

Comment Re:Chinese room argument (Score 1) 189

Thanks PM. I think you are exactly right. I have a hard time understanding why so many take the Chinese room argument so seriously. (I wouldn't call it is (smart) philosophers oversimplifying reality so they can cope with it using the tools at their disposal). The kind of processing done in the Chinese room is just a tiny piece of what is required to be intelligent.

Comment Re:A Different Beast (Score 4, Insightful) 189

Yes, this is a good way to think about it. Any AI is an expression and outgrowth of human intelligence. And Watson is totally amazing. People who dismiss it in hindsight do not realize how impossible such a system seemed in the 1980s. Of course the complex issue is that AI opens the possibility of intelligence very very different than human intelligence developing as an outgrowth of human intelligence. And we know so little about the kinds of intelligence that are possible that it is very hard to predict what interactions between very different kinds of intelligence might be.

Comment Re:Not surprising (Score 1) 189

Siri is a pretty useful bit of code. Are you sure its ability to get the job done is fundamentally different than a humans ability to get the job of survival and reproduction done? Intelligence is just a really hard problem. It will be decades, maybe centuries before we have a human level intelligence. But having gone from ELIZA to Siri and Watson in 50 years, it seems presumptious to assume that AI will not dramatically change our world in the next 50 or 100 years.

Comment Prediction is a behavior (Score 1) 189

This article is on a useful track but suffers from a simple confusion. The author argues that intelligence should be defined by understanding and not by behavior, but then proposes that we use successful prediction as the measure of understanding. The confusion is that prediction is also a behavior. I agree with the direction the author is going. Most successful understanding (or intelligence if you like that word) can be connected to the use of a (partially) coherent set of ideas to predict observations. Intelligent agents have complex methods of adjusting their set of ideas to improve their ability to predict, and when an agent becomes able to predict a useful segment of the phenomena it encounters, we call it intelligent. But this is still a behavioral definition of intelligence. In fact, unless you hold onto some kind of dualism, all intelligence is a physical behavior of organisms. Without dualism, it makes no sense to distinguish 'understanding' from 'a behavior of a network of molecules, neurons, organs, and organisms'.

Comment Re:It does no such thing... (Score 1) 63

Of course, empirical verification has to be the deciding factor. But right now there is very little way to communicate the insights that many scientists have about which studies are reliable. We could be much more efficient in doing future studies if there were a way to collect assessments of those who work in closely related fields without taking years to get to know people well enough to get them to tell you their actual opinions even though they haven't been able to focus on that question to publish an article on the subject.

I don't think 'gambling' is the right word. And the devil is in the details. Any system like this is likely going to be gamed since careers and money are at stake. But the current publishing system is gamed all the time, so the new system doesn't have to be perfect. I just need a way to access some evaluations of a paper by others who have read it rather than figuring out all its problems on my own.

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All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities. -- Dawkins