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Comment Re:Disagree with first sentiment (Score 2) 105

There is a whole swath of biological research under the banner of "basic science"...

Absolutely. I've worked both with pure biologists and physicians (and biologists in a medical context) and they have dramatically different outlooks and mindsets. Many, many biologists are deeply interested in understanding what is going on, while physicians and medical-focused biologists are much more interested in finding stuff that works to solve this problem.

The divide is very similar to that between pure and applied physicists, although for some reason we don't talk about "applied biologists" (perhaps we should.) Pure physicists are simply trying to find answers to questions; applied physicists are trying to find solutions to problems. The same is true in biology.

Comment Re:How long before... (Score 1) 105

In places where people have to worry about starvation I wonder if IQ might even be a liability.

Brain size and IQ are not particularly correlated, and I've seen at least some research suggesting that people with high IQs or more education are actually more efficient at using their brains, to the extent that there is some thinning of the grey matter in such individuals in their late teens or early 20's.

Thinking does take more energy than not, but this isn't a big effect compared to brain size: http://www.scientificamerican....

Comment Re:How long before... (Score 1) 105

I suggest you ask evolutionary biologists.

And evolutionary biologists will ask, "What is the evolutionary advantage of intelligence?"

What we think of as "intelligence"--the specifically human abilities to build complex machines and to use anything to represent anything else and to create unbounded chains of logical inference--is almost certainly an epiphenomenon of having a brain big enough to engage in the kind of complex social and cultural behaviour that developed due to sexual selection in our evolutionary history.

The human brain is like the peacock's tail: men with big brains were more likely to get laid, probably because we could be more entertaining and interesting to women with big brains. Once the process started it ran away with itself, until both men and women ended up with these enormous brains that happen to be able to think deep thoughts.

Evolution does this kind of thing, like flight-feathers evolving from modified scales that were selected for thermal rather than aerodynamic properties.

Comment Re:How long before... (Score 3, Interesting) 105

Why is there a whole raft of genetic diseases in the human population now? Shouldn't they have been "selected out" a long time ago?

Many genetic diseases are the result of optimizations for other things (anemia is related to malaria resistance, there is some problematic gene in a Jewish sub-population that is related to plague resistance, etc.)

Evolution is continuously running an extremely complex multi-dimensional optimization problem with a time-varying objective function. Local minima abound, and it's easy for organisms to get trapped in them.

Furthermore, kin selection and possibly group selection play a role in human evolution, which makes the whole thing even more complex and non-linear. So looking at specific genes and saying, "That doesn't make sense!" as if there was some obligation for the universe to "make sense" to our naive pre-scientific intuition is fairly silly.

The human genome is a Rube Goldberg apparatus that manages to make hundreds of thousands of products out of 40,000 strongly interacting templates plus a bunch of ridiculously inefficient secondary control mechanisms like micro-RNAs (which in some typically degrade already-transcribed mRNA). Pointing to one step as if it can be considered in isolation from everything else is not a good move.

Loss of vitamin C manufacture could well have to do with the development of some other pathway that was more important at the time, and may well continue to be more important today. The only way to really find out is to either a) understand the genetic trade-offs in detail or b) ask some volunteer to have their vitamin C production turned back on by a technique like this. Personally, I'd recommend the former.

Given how weird humans are developmentally, some things like this may be important when we're young and not so much when we're older, so in the fullness of time we may find we can turn on vitamin C production only after people mature, for example. The possible range of futures, given how little we know now, is large.

In the meantime, we have plenty of people with genetic diseases that we know the cure will not significantly disrupt their cellular machinery, because we have lots of examples of people without those diseases who are just fine.

Comment Re:That's not what I took away from this... (Score 2) 347

Photons in the visible light range are not sufficiently energetic to create an electron-positron pair. I do not know if the photons in question were in the visible light range or not.

The photons were in the visible, but the e+/e- pair exists "off the mass shell", which is an obscure way of saying that the normal conservation laws don't apply. There is an uncertainty relation that goes dE*dt >~ h/2Pi, which is to say: you can violate the law of conservation of energy by any amount so long as you do it for a short enough time. That's what's happening here.

That said, this whole thing is pure speculation, and somewhat problematic speculation at that. If you take the first neutrino detection seriously, the real question becomes not the difference between the first neutrinos and the light, but why the one neutrino detector has such a different arrival time. Conventional wisdom is that it is an instrumental artifact, and that's a pretty good bet.

If it is not--and this slowing-down-light is real--then we need even more new physics to explain why the Mont Blanc neutrino detector saw such different arrival time from three other detectors: Kamiokande II, Baskan and IMB, all of which detected events that are consistent in time of arrival.

Their energy sensitivities are not that different, and there's no very obvious explanation of why some neutrinos would happen to make it out earlier than others, particularly when segregated by detection technology.

Comment Re:How does this not violate the 5th and/or 14th.. (Score 2) 371

The memo cites case law to justify the suppression of 4th and 5th amendment rights. For example:

at least where high-level government officials have determined that a capture operation overseas is infeasible and that the targeted person is part of a dangerous enemy force and is engaged in activities that pose a continued and imminent threat to U.S. persons or interests the use of lethal force would not violate the Fourth Amendment. and thus that the intrusion on any Fourth Amendment interests would be outweighed by "the importance of the governmental interests [that] justify the intrusion," Garner, 4 71 U.S. at 8, based on the facts that have been represented to us.


In Hamdi, a plurality of the Supreme Court used the Mathews v. Eldridge balancing test to analyze the Fifth Amendment due process rights of a U.S. citizen captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan and detained in the United States who wished to challenge the government's assertion that he was a part of enemy forces, explaining rbat "the process due in any given instance is determined by weighing 'the private interest that will be affected by the official action' against the Government's asserted interest, 'including the function involved' and the burdens the Government would face in providing greater process." 542 U.S. at 529 (plurality opinion) (quoting Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976)).

So if I'm reading this correctly, 4th amendment rights don't apply if the government deems that its interests outweigh yours, and 5th amendment rights don't apply if the the government deems that its interests outweigh yours or the government asserts that it would be excessively burdensome to give you due process.

The only reasonable interpretation of this is that the government of the United States has become exactly what the Framers feared: an utterly autocratic organization that asserts its own interests over and above the interests of citizens who may come into conflict with it.

Comment Re:More than one Higgs Boson? (Score 3, Informative) 42

So, how can there be more than one Higgs boson?

Physicists have a funny way of talking about theoretical entities, particularly these days when theory almost always leads experiment. We have years or decades to talk about theoretical entities, and that leads to a strange nomenclature.

"The Higgs" is actually a class of particles. In the "bare" electro-weak theory none of the particles have masses. The only way to give them mass is to break one of the internal symmetries of the theory, and one "natural" way of doing that was invented by Peter Higgs and others in the form of a massive scalar field that takes on a non-zero vacuum expectation value as energy decreases (this is the famous "Mexican hat" potential.)

Suppose we arrived on Earth from Mars and were observing the inhabitants, and we wondered how emergency vehicles would get through busy traffic. One of our number--call it Sggih--theorizes that humans, being visually-oriented, might use a flashing light to warn motorists of an emergency vehicle. Others might elaborate on this and suggest that both a flashing light and a loud noise would be use. All of these types of local warning mechanisms might go under the name of Sggih, with the original one being the "minimal Sggih mechanism" and the other ones going under different names.

In the meantime, there are those who think that humans are telepathic, or use radios, or some other non-local signalling mechanism.

Then one day in the course of observation a Martian--and let's say Martians are deaf, the air being so thin there--sees an emergency vehicle with a flashing light on top zipping through traffic. Horray! The Sggih mechanism is correct! At least probably... it may be that wasn't an emergency vehicle but some kind of advertising stunt. And if it is the Sggih, which one is it? Further research is required to determine if humans use the minimal Sggih mechanism or one of the more complex elaborations...

This work is in the vein of that further research, and the outcome strongly suggests that of the various theoretical possibilities, nature is actually using the minimal Higgs and that is what has been seen, rather than some unexpected but similar exotic particle.

All of this is good news for those of us who are unenthused by supersymmetry and other more-or-less exotic extensions to the Standard Model.

Comment Re:Two things (Score 1) 85

Mathematics is a language. As such, it is created.

The interesting thing about math is that it is a language that reveals underlying isomorophisms, like the one described in TFA. This feature is one of the things that leads to naive people thinking that the math somehow "precedes" the things it describes.

But we see similar isomorphisms in all languages. Consider the "ballad" form of poem. It occurs in incredibly diverse contexts, but the underlying structure is always the same, which means you can sing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of the theme from "Gilligan's Island". So claiming that "pi" shows up in a variety of contexts doesn't prove anything except that it reflects those parts of the universe we find it interesting as humans to describe.

Furthermore, mathematical descriptions include extraneous bits. Wave equations have both advanced and retarded solutions, for example. If the math truly "preceded" the reality you'd expect that this would never happen, or that there would be some mathematical (rather than empirical) principle that let us get rid of the parts that don't describe reality.

The role of mathematics in biology is an, err, evolving one. The possibility of a law-like mathematical description underlying biological and evolutionary processes is at least worth speculating about: http://www.amazon.com/Darwins-...

Comment Re:As someone with autism, (Score 3, Informative) 207

From TFA: "Second, suramin is a poor drug choice for chronic use because of potentially toxic side effects that can occur with prolonged treatment."

And from the Wikipedia page on the drug (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suramin#Adverse_reactions):

The most frequent adverse reactions are nausea and vomiting. About 90% of patients will get an urticarial rash that disappears in a few days without needing to stop treatment. There is a greater than 50% chance of adrenal cortical damage, but only a smaller proportion will require lifelong corticosteroid replacement. It is common for patients to get a tingling or crawling sensation of the skin with suramin. Suramin will cause clouding of the urine which is harmless: patients should be warned of this to avoid them becoming alarmed.

Kidney damage and exfoliative dermatitis occur less commonly.

Suramin has been applied clinically to HIV/AIDS patients resulting in a significant number of fatal occurrences and as a result the application of this molecule was abandoned for this condition.

So while this is an important piece of work that identifies purine metabolism as a critical set of pathways related to ASD, it should be viewed primarily as a starting point for a more precisely targeted drug that will have the same effect on the pathways that matter without also messing up the ones that cause the side-effects.

Comment Re:Give WEKA a try (Score 2) 56

I have only one problem with fancy GUI that allow you to train a predicting model in 2 clicks: how confident can you be in your model, since all the parameters are masked and you have no knowledge about them

This. Expecting people with no knowledge of statistics, programming, or machine learning algorithms to develop appropriate models and interpret them correctly is unrealistic.

I've worked on applications that attempted to bring machine learning to the desktop for specific tasks, and it failed because naive users were simply not able to bring the required knowledge and nuance to the table. It made experts better (I still use the program myself now and then) but there was a threshold below which it was useless.

Without getting your hands on the data and understanding something about the internals of the problem you can't build learning systems that will be plausibly generalizable. Overtraining (and undervalidation) is still a rampant problem in ML applications, and this kind of technology will just make it worse.

Learning algorithms, especially at the level they are implemented in R, are not black boxes. They need to be understood and applied carefully and appropriately.

Comment Re:Regardless of any 'sensitivities'... (Score 2) 53

Passenger Pigeons were regarded as a menace by early settlers, like locust. And like locust, they were eliminated.

To go from 136 million in 1871 to zero in 1900 (the year the last passenger pigeon was shot in the wild) would have taken a phenomenal killing effort. At that size of population the reproduction rate must have been getting on for 100 million new birds a year, and every bird killed must simply created a better chance that next year's young would survive, because they would be competing for food with a smaller flock.

Granted, the nesting areas were relatively small and therefore subject to easy destruction, but two (related) factors should also be taken into account: disease and invasive species (which could well have brought diseases with them.)

Although introduced to late to be the culprit with respect to passenger pigeons, the common starling is an example of the massive effect invasive species can have on local ecologies. Furthermore, the massive changes to the prairie eco-system as the result of farming must have had an effect as well.

So while hunting and wanton destruction of nesting habitat obviously didn't help, it's interesting to ask, "Could the passenger pigeon have survived even without deliberate attempts to kill it?" The answer is not obviously "yes" (nor is it obviously "no", which is why the question is interesting.)

In this context it is worth remembering that the exclusion zone around the worst civil nuclear disaster in human history is far, far better for the local wildlife that simply having a thriving human population in the area: http://www.slate.com/articles/... (the article incorrectly states that observations of wildlife diversity around Chernobyl depend on the assumption that radiation isn't as bad for animals as humans, but this has causality backward: it is simply a matter of empirical fact, backed up by systematic observations carefully ignored by critics, that wildlife diversity in the exclusion zone is as high as that in protected nature reserve.)

Comment Re:How is that stranger? (Score 1) 136

You're asking a machine to mimic something profoundly alien to it's nature, to put things on an equal footing the man should have to do so as well.

But you're also concluding that if the machine does it as well as the human it is "really" a human intelligence, but if a man does it as well as a woman he is not "really" a man.

The basic premise of the test is, "If two unlike things behave alike in one case, we say they are the same; in the other case, we say they are different."

The premise of the test violates its conclusion.

Comment Re:Cabbies. (Score 2) 314

The safety being assured by those rules is the *passenger* safety, against being abducted, mugged, scammed, etc.

Absolutely none of which is relevant to ride-share arrangements, but was relevant before a ubiquitous network allowed people arriving at airports to pre-arrange with a party on the receiving end, who has been vetted by an honest broker (Uber et al).

The ability to personally connect with the person picking you up makes rideshare services more like a buddy picking you up and you paying for gas than a traditional, anonymous taxi service.

tl;dr: Irrelevant rules are irrelevant.

Comment Re:the joker in the formula (Score 2) 686

This has not happened once, it's happened multiple times in the Homo genus

None of those species developed the kind of representational, specifically human intelligence that builds spaceships and discovers universal gravitation. They "could have", of course, but as a poster up this thread has pointed out, we have left the hand-wavey philosophy behind and are now using the only way of knowing: the discipline of testing ideas by systematic observation, controlled experiment and Bayesian inference... this discipline is called "science".

We know of exactly one species that developed specifically human intelligence: us. There are tool-users all over the place. Tool-use is found in bonobos and birds. There are language-users of a kind as well: it would be astonishing if humans were so good at language if it wasn't an elaboration of capabilities that existed in our ancestors.

But what we do--specifically human intelligence, not the intelligence of beings who chipped flints into useful shapes or use sticks to capture ants or whose various articulations communicate a variety of important states--what we alone do is unique to us, and we are even beginning to understand why that is the case.

Obviously specifically human intelligence did not evolve to write sonnets or build spaceships, so it could not have been selected for due to its enormous problem-solving scope. Our brain uses 10% of our body's energy budget, which is a ridiculous burden, and it wasn't evolved against the possibility that one day it would be useful in the development of the political state. It was developed because it got us laid. Proto-human males and females were more likely to mate with partners who could entertain them, and being modestly bright themselves they found brighter partners more entertaining (this also explains why both males and females have the same intelligence, because both minds had to be engaged in the process for it to work.)

Quite accidentally, that resulted in our specifically human intelligence, which is not the intelligence of tool-using birds or communicative pack hunters, but the only kind of intelligence that builds spaceships and discovers mathematical laws describing reality (which is the only kind of intelligence the Drake Equation is concerned with.)

So all the actual evidence we have tells us that specifically human intelligence--not the intelligence of dolphins or whales--evolved:

a) by accident, as an epiphenomenon of sexual selection


b) exactly once.

Given the former, the latter is not surprising.

This is quite unlike every other complex characteristic of species. Eyes have evolved independently dozens of times (different types of eye use different biochemistry). Wings, likewise. Ditto fins. And so on.

So it is not at all implausible that the probability of developing specifically human intelligence of the kind required for a species to be detectable at stellar distances--a kind that is not found in any other species on Earth--is extremely improbable, even though life itself is extremely probable. And that is my personal bet, as we go out and explore other worlds: we will find life everywhere, and the specifically human intelligence that took us to the stars in the first place... no where.

[I've had this argument before, and am not under any illusions as to the ability of people who believe intelligence must be common to bring up imaginary "counter arguments", but what we can or cannot imagine has no bearing on what is real, only reality does.]

Comment Re:but that's the problem with the turing test... (Score 3, Insightful) 309

So.... if a machine can talk like we can, if it can communicate well enough that we suspect it also has an internal cosciousness, then isn't our evidence for it every bit as strong as the real evidence that anyone else does?

Not even close, because our conclusion about other humans is based on a huge amount of non-verbal communication and experience, starting from the moment we are born. AI researchers (and researchers into "intelligence" generally) conveniently forget that the vast majority of intelligent behaviour is non-verbal, and we rely on that when we are inferring from verbal behaviour that there is intelligence present.

Simply put: without non-verbal intelligent behaviour we would not even know that other humans are intelligent. Likewise, we know that dogs are intelligent even though they are non-verbal (I'm using an unrestrictive notion of "intelligent" here, quite deliberately in contrast to the restrictive use that is common--although thankfully not universal--in the AI community.)

With regard to the Turing test as a measure of "intelligence", consider it's original form: http://psych.utoronto.ca/users...

Turing started by considering a situation where a woman and a man are trying to convince a judge which one of them is male, using only a teletype console as a means of communication. He then considered replacing the woman with a computer.

Think about that for a second. Concluding, "If a computer can convince a judge it is the human more than 50% of the time we can say that it is 'really' intelligent" implies "If a woman can convince a judge she is male more than 50% of the time we can say she is 'really' a dude."

The absurdity of the latter conclusion should give us pause in putting too much weight on the former.

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