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Comment "In theory..." (Score 2, Insightful) 941

Having the theoretical ability is one thing, but to actually make use of it is worse...HOW MUCH OF A FREAKIN' BONEHEAD DO YOU HAVE TO BE TO CONFRONT THEM WITH EVIDENCE OBTAINED BY SUCH QUESTIONABLE MEANS?


It's easy to pose a shaky, but ultimately successful, argument for installing remote-activated cameras in the laptops. Let's see: anti-theft, child welfare investigations (since abuse reports often come through the school), think of the children(!), etc. But the dynamic duo of principal and sysadmin can't foresee their own (or their colleagues) patent stupidity. This is the why seemingly great ideas, like the full-body scanners in airports, are actually awful: because they are great until the *inevitable* critical mass of stupid is reached. Nobody wants to hear that though, "Your idea is good in theory, but in reality some bonehead (possibly even you!) will abuse it and the cost will be greater than whatever benefits we gained along the way." So we live and don't learn.

Of course, I have to be a jerk about it, but your (probably joking) recommendation to shoot school admins who fail to learn the Bill of Rights is exactly one such idea. We can all get behind that idea and say "YEAH! SCREW THOSE JERKS! MAKE SURE THEY LEARN!!" And then we all forget to ask "wait, who is doing the grading?" Granted we aren't likely to implement that idea... but there are plenty of morons who would try!

Comment Re:Not buying it! (Score 1) 265

FAIL. I've been a 'professional radio operator', and you are confusing skill with procedure. We worked with numerous volunteer HAM operators with years of experience who basically showed us how it's done in the field. Yes, there are tons of agency-specific rules and procedures that you have to practice 40+ hours a week to have down. But when technology (inevitably) went sour, the HAM operators were the ones able to keep working.

Comment Re:God forbid (Score 1) 160

I have seen Dr Strangelove, and Fail-Safe (the less comical version, arguably based on the same book). I think both of these films reinforce my point. The entire story revolves around the hours BEFORE detonation. To quote Dr S: "The whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret!" The corollary being that the entire point of a Doomsday machine is its existence, not its use. Consider how the outcome of Dr Strangelove would have been different if one or both sides unwittingly launched duds. The ideal Doomsday machine is 100% credible and 0% effective... but that's pretty well impossible.

Of course, maybe that was your point, in which case: Whoosh! to me.

Comment Re:God forbid (Score 2, Insightful) 160

The catch-22 of post-WWII nuclear warfare is that there is no such thing as launch without retaliation. If we find a rogue nation with a lone nuke or two, we attack with conventional weapons, because the risk incurred by escalation is too great. If a threat is substantial enough to warrant a nuclear attack (as the Soviet Union may have been), they are completely capable of retaliating while our birds are still in the air, what with early detection and all. That's where MAD (mutually assured destruction) comes in. LAUNCHING a nuclear weapon is what causes MAD... by the time of detonation, everyone's fate was sealed several minutes ago.

Comment Re:God forbid (Score 4, Insightful) 160

Maybe I'm being naive, but detonation never seemed all that central to the value of nuclear weapons. Let's face it, if we're ever in the situation where we decide Armageddon is the best option available, whether or not OUR weapons detonate is a triviality. Nuclear weapons are most effective when they AREN'T being used and everyone wants to keep it that way. So unless there's some a priori outward indication that our weapons definitely won't work, thus inviting an attack... nobody (including our enemies) really wants to find out the messy way. Then again, maybe I'm assuming too much rationality for the men with the launch keys...

Comment Re:Just a big neural net (Score 1) 428

To me, this translates into "we've made a big unspecialized neural network and we're watching the weights update as we try to classify corporate logos with it".

I think the hope is that this system will show some unique emergent properties that could not be observed in smaller models. If all they wanted to do was recognize logos, they could have done that simulation on a laptop. I haven't read the actual paper, but I'm sure the researchers used some architecture beyond "giant net" or the generalization results would have sucked (rule of thumb: the bigger the net, the weaker the generalization; the smaller the net, the greater the errors)

Comment Re:cat-SIZED brain, not a cat brain (Score 2, Informative) 428

I should also point out that they are only simulating the cerebral cortex, which is the 'wrinkly' outer portion of the brain. There is a great deal more to the brain than the cerebral cortex, but we generally associate it with what makes us human. Humans have a uniquely large cerebrum compared to our mid-brains. The rest of the brain becomes increasingly important the farther you venture from Homo sapiens in taxonomy. It's becoming increasingly apparent that even the highest order human behaviors (like language) depend on sub-cortical organs, like the putamen. Therefore, while TFA is a great step for neural simulation... it's nothing like a robot cat.

Comment cat-SIZED brain, not a cat brain (Score 4, Insightful) 428

This project is basically a massive neural network simulation with a number of nodes and connections comparable to the estimated totals in a cat's brain. In short, there is nothing cat-like about this system apart from its raw processing power.

Not to reduce the value of this feat, by any means! There are tons and tons of neural network simulations that can produce roughly human-like results in very, very narrow domains, but as the quote below explains, these simulations are decades (or more) from connecting the behavior of tiny subsystems (a few hundred neurons) with the overall phenomenon of 'mind' (conscious and unconscious cognition). The expectation is that a network of this size will show some new emergent properties that will give us clues about the intermediate "higher than cells, lower than interviewing a human" order of processing.

Jim Olds, a neuroscientist and director of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, called the new research a "tremendous step." Olds, who was not involved in IBM's work, said neuroscientists have been amassing data about how the brain works much like "stamp collectors," without a way to tie it together.

"We've made tremendous advances in collecting data, but we don't have a collective theory yet for how this complex organ called the brain produces things like Shakespeare's sonnets and Mozart's symphonies," he said. "The holy grail for neuroscientists is to map activity from single nerve cells, which they know about, into how billions of nerve cells act in concert."

Comment 1909 in 2009 (Score 3, Interesting) 357

Great point, and still true for many people today!

I recently had lunch with a retired dairy farmer. He asked me what I was going to do after graduate school, and I explained to him my plans to be a university professor. He says to me, completely straight-faced and serious:
"No, I mean, if you got a job, what would you do?"

And he wasn't being intentionally insulting... he just didn't realize that a faculty position constitutes a job. After a few moments of confusion, I just settled on "invent stuff" and he seemed satisfied with that.

Comment one word... (Score 1) 177


Or to elaborate a bit, I wonder if we're not neglecting a bigger problem in the other direction. It seems like we're constantly discovering greater degrees of mutualism between humans and the micro-organisms swarming all over (and through) our bodies. A common example is our digestive dependence on bacteria in the intestines, and the recently discovered role of the appendix in maintaining the intestinal culture [1,2].

While I'm not aware of any short term (longest stay in space 400-500 days) effects, what major biological functions might change over many years if the bacterial cultures on our skin (for instance) are weakened or eliminated in hyper-sterile or otherwise non-earth-like colony environments? I recall some speculation recently that bacterial by-products might play a role in altering our emotional states day to day. Imagine the unforeseen psychological effects when a currently unidentified bacteria suddenly vanishes from our bodily ecosystems due to habitat change...

I'm definitely not against manned space exploration or even colonization, but before we start bathing our astronauts in hand sanitizer, somebody needs to consider our physiological dependence on the bacterial ecosystem, not just our war against it.


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