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Comment Re:This is so depressing (Score 1) 153

I guess your point is that artificial intelligence can never exist. Even when, as now, the final trained system operates in ways we do not fully understand, we still know the algorithms that underlie the learning process. Only something mysterious and not properly understood in its entirety could be regarded as "intelligent". As a corollary, scientists who rely on computer simulations to predict climate change are not showing intelligence. Only climate deniers who use their intuition, unbiased by stupid computer models are showing creativity and intelligence. In fairness, intelligence is a difficult thing to define. However, dissing everything involving algorithms and processing power as inherently unable ever to be considered as "artificial" intelligence appears to me misguided.

Comment This is so depressing (Score 5, Insightful) 153

I can remember when /. attracted some of the best informed and intelligent people you could find anywhere on the Internet. Now, all we have are members who inform us that we do not need computers, and their ability to find correlations in huge data sets. All we need is the intuition of smart people.

Look back at the early proposed tests for artificial intelligence. When supervised deep learning systems can use the immense processing capabilities of modern computers, to not only match, but to exceed the capabilities of humans in a wide range of problem spaces, it is appropriate to describe the result as "artificial intelligence". We do not mean literally that we have an intelligent bunch of integrated circuits and harddrives. But, the overall system can produce results that we would until recently have considered only achievable by human experts. Indeed, our AIs, in many situations, exceed the capabilities of the best human minds.

I am used to the idea of the general public feeling threatened by the capabilities of modern technology. I just wish sites supposedly intended for intelligent, scientifically-informed individuals could be exempted from such lack of reason.

Comment Basically, the mainstream theory, or not? (Score 4, Informative) 90

As I understand it, the Giant Impact Hypothesis has Theia's impact creating debris that gradually coalesced into the moon. That this debris formed several smaller moons before they joined up seems plausible, but I am not sure what is really different about what they are proposing.

Comment Re:Neural net != Artificial Intelligence (Score 1) 99

The term used for the popular recent solutions is "deep learning". To be more specific, the most effective solutions are "guided deep learning". The term "guided" means that the important inputs and outputs are partly chosen by humans trying to tune the learning process. Progress has been rapid in just the last two or three years. Image recognition, for instance, an extremely tough area until very recently, is now pretty much solved. In this area, the next frontier to be cracked is totally independent learning without any need for humans to be involved. Such a breakthrough may or may not be achieved quickly.

Another very interesting area of research is how to deal with imperfect information. Where large amounts of data is available, and that data can unambiguously be used to determine a correct solution (such as moves in chess, or analysis of MRI scans for tumor analysis) artificial intelligence can already surpass the performance of any human if the AI system is given sufficient training. With AIs that must deal with imperfect information (especially prediction of what humans or other AIs might do) progress is being made, but the best humans are generally still superior to the best AIs. Examples are playing poker, and stock market decisions (though the latter is still heavily AI assisted).

Still a major problem for AIs is where limited clearly relevant data to guide decision making is available. Clearly, humans rely on a lot of peripheral experience to suggest a plan of action. The actions taken may be imperfect, but at least there is a basis for the decision. Before AIs can be made equally (or hopefully more) adept, the process needs to be better understood.

Comment Re:Neural net != Artificial Intelligence (Score 1) 99

If you want to eliminate neural nets as a form of artificial intelligence, you are going to need to conclude that most human "reasoning" is similarly not really intelligent behavior. Plenty of research shows that humans make most decisions in a manner highly analogous to those in neural nets (and you can predict the result of this "reasoning" by brain monitoring before the subject knows which decision he is going to make). It is true that humans, if challenged, will attempt to justify their decisions, but their justifications are often pretty nonsensical. Meanwhile, while complex neural nets, trained by large volumes of empirical data, indeed cannot simply explain how decisions are reached, we at least can control the data used for that training. Human "decision making" is based on data that is often highly dubious, and (although subject to attempted justification) similarly shaped by complex training from large data sets that cannot be explained simply.

Comment Where is my USB port? (Score 1) 52

I like the idea of a USB stick that can reveal my HIV status. However, I have two questions about how this works:

  • Where do I plug the USB stick in?
  • How does the USB stick display the results? Does it have red and green lights that glow appropiately when the analysis is complete?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Comment All speculation (Score 1) 711

If it really does work (and extraordinary claims do require extraordinary proof) we have absolutely no idea how. The current explanations do not make any sense within known science. Who knows, maybe we have stumbled onto a way of directing dark energy. At this stage, I am not dismissing the possibility that it is the science discovery of the century, though I still consider it more likely than not that further study will debunk it.

Comment Re:The house always wins (Score 1) 843

... it would be a tax cut, even for those with good accountants (but maybe not for those with the best accountants).

Let's examine that claim a bit...

Centuries ago, it was possible for the elites to claim "divine right of kings" and maintain their fiefdoms based purely on a supposed mandate from God. Taxes could be levied on the poor, while exempting the elites, because God wanted it that way. Today, the masses will not accept this. A "divine right of robber barons" is not going to pass the sniff test, so the elites must be able to at least make a plausible case that the state operates in the interests of the masses, not just a privileged few. Costs to run the country, and defend its existence need to take account of that reality.

The above reality being recognized, let us look at where the federal taxes levied go, and which uses of taxes you want abolished.

First, I assume you wish to abolish the (supposedly separately funded) social security and Medicare programs. With most businesses having eliminated their own employee pension schemes, this is the main unavoidable contribution they must still make. It means, of course, not just no retirement benefits (no problem: the wealthy can afford their own pensions) but also such expensive entitlements as disability insurance, Medicare and Medicaid among other entitlements Medicare is horrendously expensive, partly for reasons that have to do with the way health care is structured in the US. (Unlucky if you are one of the individuals who finds it impossible to get privately funded replacements, such as because of preexisting conditions.) It is just conceivable that you could eliminate these programs over time. After all, individuals also bear some of the cost. There is no way the masses would accept an abrupt removal of their benefits, though, so reductions in the cost to business would have to be a slow process..

With that out of the way, we can examine where the main federal taxes go.

  • By far the biggest is the military. I would argue that these costs could be hugely cut back, though only with a big short-term hit to the economy. What is needed is a small standing army and air force, together with a minimal nuclear deterrent. There is no way the elites would permit this, however. Their ability to project power globally relies on the current bloated monster.
  • You have federally funded education initiatives like the Head Start program, training and placement for unemployed, and grants for low income college students. Individually, these are not too expensive, but collectively they command a measurable proportion of the budget. I would personally not favor eliminating most of these, and I think acceptance of the system is impaired by doing so, but I concede eliminating them is possible.
  • I believe food stamps are funded from regular taxes, not social security, so these need to be considered separately. Yes, they could be axed. Some children would die, and more would be mentally and physically damaged by malnutrition, but that is not the elites' problem.
  • There is government support for scientific research. Outside of that with military applications, it is actually not a huge amount of money.
  • There are regulatory authorities to ensure things like food safety and disease control. While business would probably like to see them go, as complying with regulations costs them money, I personally think for most purposes they need to stay.
  • There is infrastructure spending, such as on the roads. You could replace this with a system of toll roads, as in Europe in centuries past.
  • Veteran's benefits could be eliminated, but the outcry from the masses would make this quite untenable

Overall, I agree with the theory that much smaller and cheaper government is feasible. I do not think it can be done in practice unless (i) you can convince the population at large that programs to benefit the bulk of the population should be eliminated for the benefit of big business and the rich; and (ii) you can convince the elites that their global ambitions need to be forgone for the benefit of everyone else. I think you have a tough task ahead.

Comment Re:The house always wins (Score 1) 843

This is a very American attitude, though not by any means limited to the US.

If people want nation states, they need institutions to run them, and defense forces to enforce their existence. Most people do seem to want this, and they do not pay for themselves.Part of Trump's appeal is emphasizing the tribalism that underlies the desire for borders.

I am totally out of sympathy with the attitude that says: "I want the nation state with the benefits that accrues to me personally. However, I would be stupid, as a wealthy individual with access to sleazy accountants, to pay my share, because I can force the burden onto the middle class and the poor." The analogous attitude in business is that "there is a fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value, and any kind of actions within the limits of the law that we can take to achieve this are not only acceptable but mandatory."

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