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Dan Thompson
Attended University of Texas at Austin
Lives in Austin, TX
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Dan Thompson

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Blood-type diets debunked...
These always failed to pass the sniff test for me, but here's a decade or more of scientists looking into it and calling one-step short of deliberate fraud.  (h/t +Walter H Groth )
Some facts for all the emotional discussions on blood type based diets:
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Cool article and thread on Turing Test...
(disabling comments so you'll go to the original thread.)
A CS question that I don't know the answer to

A conversation on another thread raised an interesting question about computers that I can't figure out the answer to: Is judging a Turing Test easier than, harder than, or equivalently hard to passing a Turing Test?

I figured I would throw this question out to the various computer scientists in the audience, since the answer isn't at all clear to me -- a Turing Test-passer doesn't seem to automatically be convertible into a Turing Test-judger or vice-versa -- and for the rest of you, I'll give some of the backstory of what this question means.

So, what's a Turing Test?

The Turing Test was a method proposed by Alan Turing (one of the founders of computer science) to determine if something had a human-equivalent intelligence or not. In this test, a judge tries to engage both a human and a computer in conversation. The human and computer are hidden from the judge, and the conversation is over some medium which doesn't make it obvious which is which -- say, IM -- and the judge's job is simple: to figure out which is which. Turing's idea was that to reliably pass such a test would be evidence that the computer is of human-equivalent intelligence.

Today in CS, we refer to problems which require human-equivalent intelligence to solve as "AI-complete" problems; so Turing hypothesized that this test is AI-complete, and for several decades it was considered the prototypical AI-complete problem, even the definition of AI-completeness. In recent years, this has been cast into doubt as chatbots have gotten better and better at fooling people, doing everything from customer service to cybersex. However, this doubt might be real and it might not: another long-standing principle of AI research is that, whenever computers start to get good at a task that was historically considered AI, people redefine AI to be "oh, well, not that, even a computer can do it."

The reason a Turing Test is complicated is that to carry on a conversation requires a surprisingly complex understanding of the world. For example, consider the "wug test," which human children can pass starting from an extremely early age. You make up a new word, "wug," and explain what it means, then have conversations about it. In one classic example, the experimenter shows the kids a whiteboard, and rubs a sponge which he calls a "wug" across it, which (thanks to some dye) marks the board purple. Human children will spontaneously talk about "wugging" the board; but they will never say that they are "wugging" the sponge. (It turns out that this has to do with how, when we put together sentence structures, the grammar we use depends a lot on which object is being changed by the action. This is why you can "pour water into a glass" and "fill a glass with water," but never "pour a glass with water" or "fill water into a glass.") 

It turns out that even resolving what pronouns refer to is AI-complete. Consider the following dialogue:

Woman: I'm leaving you.
Man: ... Who is he?

If you're a fluent English speaker, you probably had no difficulty understanding this dialogue. So tell me: who does "he" refer to in the second sentence? And what knowledge did you need in order to answer that?

(If you want to learn more about this kind of cognitive linguistics, I highly recommend Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought [] as a good layman's introduction.)

In Turing's proposal, the test was always administered by a human: the challenge, after all, was to see if a computer could be good enough to fool a human into accepting it as one as well. But given that we're getting computers which are doing a not-bad job at these tests, I'm starting to wonder: how good would a computer be at identifying other computers?

It might be easier than passing a Turing Test. It could be that a computer could do a reasonable job of driving "ordinary" conversation off the rails (that being a common way of finding weaknesses in a Turing-bot) and, once a conversation had gone far enough away from what the computer attempting to pass the test could handle, its failures would become so obvious that it would be easy to identify.

It might be harder than passing a Turing Test. It's possible that we could prove that any working Turing Test administrator could use that skill to also pass such a test -- but not every Turing Test-passing bot could be an administrator. Such a proof isn't obvious to me, but I wouldn't rule it out.

Or it might be equivalently hard: either equivalent in the practical sense, that both would require AI-completeness, or equivalent in the deeper mathematical sense, that if you had a Turing Test-passing bot you could use it to build a Turing Test-administering bot and vice-versa. 

If there is a difference between the two, then this might prove useful: for example, if it's easier to build a judge than a test passer, then Turing Tests could be the new CAPTCHA. (Which was +Chris Stehlik's original suggestion that sparked this whole conversation) 

And either way, this might tell us something deep about the nature of intelligence.

Dan Thompson

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Another good post on Biblical history...
(h/t +Nicola Smith 
This may seem more shocking to you than it actually is. The four Gospels of the canonical New Testament were never the only four; they were selected from a wide range of gospels ("god-spels," i.e. "stories of God") by a series of meetings of bishops between the 2nd and 5th centuries. That selection process never pretended to be impartial: it was focused on picking gospels which gave a story which was consistent with a particular view of the role of the church and of priesthood in particular. (Irenaeus, one of the leading figures in this process, wrote a good deal about it in his book Adversus Haereses)

Today, we know of roughly two dozen ancient gospels. (There are certainly many more) The ones which were rejected tended to fall into a few major categories: "Wisdom gospels," such as the Gospel of Thomas, which are essentially collections of Jesus sayings, were rejected both for lack of narrative and because their emphasis was rather personal rather than on the social fabric of the Church. Mystical gospels (many of which are often called "Gnostic Gospels," for rather complicated but boring reasons; they aren't actually Gnostic) tended to emphasize the miraculous powers which come with holiness, and these got excluded as part of the larger struggle for political power between urban and rural elites.*

A common theme in many of the Gnostic gospels is the various other disciples of Jesus. A number of them, for example, refer to Mary Magdalene as one of his disciples, and shall we say strongly hint that she was his wife. (Which would have been perfectly consistent with the norms of the day; most men married, and being married was a near-requirement for rabbis)

So the existence of an ancient manuscript mentioning the wife of Jesus isn't actually unusual in the larger scope of gospels. It doesn't mean anything in particular about its truth: remember that the oldest gospel (Thomas) was written 30 years after Jesus' death, and many of the later ones (such as John) were written over a century after that. 

As with any historical text, the only thing you can really trust about it is that it had a writer who had an audience in mind, and you can learn a lot about how that writer saw the world and believed that his audience did as well. (Which is just as true for all of the other gospels!) There was definitely a strain of belief in Egypt around the second century that Jesus had a wife who was also a disciple, and this was almost certainly identified with Mary Magdalene. 

So if you see this story, it's not earth-shakingly revolutionary, but it is an interesting further piece in the puzzle of how religious belief (and the associated social movements) evolved in the first few centuries CE in Europe. Which is a pretty fascinating topic.

* If you want to know the story: starting around the 3rd century, as centralized Roman political power started to fall apart, local elites became more important power centers. The church became the political structure which unified them. In the cities, the leading power figure was the bishop, with his various priests, churches, etc. (Especially in the earlier days, this didn't mean so much that being the bishop made you powerful as that if you were powerful, you likely became the bishop.) In the countryside, where there weren't enough centralized people to form formal hierarchies of that scale, power instead tended to congregate around local holy men, whose authority derived from their general reputation for holiness. This tradition really started in Egypt, which was the breadbasket of the Empire and which had a very long history of holy men living in deserts, and this evolved into monastic orders. Bishops and monks proceeded to fight over power for the next thousand years. 

A key issue which came up early on is what's called the "Arian Heresy." From a very technical perspective, the Arian controversy was over whether Jesus and God are of the "same substance" or "similar substance." You wouldn't think that an issue this subtle would lead to Empire-spanning riots and the near collapse of government, but it did. The real issue was this: if Jesus and God are of the "same substance," then Jesus' appointment of Peter as his successor (as the canonical gospels tell us) is a direct divine appointment, which means that priests have divinely granted power and are therefore different from monks, who don't. That means that an argument for the same substance is really an argument for urban power, often centralized in Rome, and an argument for different substance (which came to be known as the Arian Heresy, after a council of bishops decided that this was wrong) was an argument for rural power and specifically for power in Egypt. And that was something people would get very upset about. 

And this is why the canonical gospels -- chosen by bishops, mind you -- are so pro-priest and pro-a certain notion of the divinity of Jesus.

If you want to know more about this early power struggle, I recommend Peter Brown's The Cult of the Saints (

If you want to know more about the Gospels, these two Wikipedia articles are a good place to start:

If you want to actually read some of them, this is a good compendium and translation:
The test results do not prove that Jesus had a wife, only that the fragment of papyrus with the phrase, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife,’” is most likely not a forgery.
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That is interesting. So much of history has been eliminated or destroyed because someone decided it didn't fit with their way of thinking. There are so many ancient texts we will never see.
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Dan Thompson

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Cool glow-in-the-dark road paint goes all night.
Eerie glow-in-the-dark roads replace streetlights in Netherlands to save money, energy

My only comment, Brilliant.  "In an effort to save the massive amount of energy standard streetlights consume, and to present drivers with more information on the road, a Dutch company has transformed a highway in the Netherlands into an eerie glow-in-the-dark smart highway."
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Actually, headlights should "recharge" the paint a little bit, if they have an effect at all.

The important thing will be how long the paint lasts and how dangerous it gets as it fades.
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You know you married a geek when...

I was explaining to my wife how to do something on the car stereo controls.  I told her to press the Lawful Good button.  She got it.
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And in case the humorous aspect wasn't obvious, our stereo was made by LG. :-)
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Have him in circles
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Dan Thompson

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Nailed it...
(h/t +Borislav Iordanov )

Alt text: I can't remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you're saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it's not literally illegal to express.
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I'm not a huge X-Men fan, but Take My Money!
(h/t +Fred Hicks )
"X-Men: Days of Future Past" Final Trailer
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looks promising 
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Whew!  That was close!

I almost got sucked down into the black hole that is  Fortunately, my willpower boosters kicked in, and I was able to escape after only falling through five links.  How strong are you feeling this morning?
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Wow, I can totally see how one could get lost down those rabbit holes for a long time!
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Dan Thompson

Inspiration+Motivation  - 
These are pretty good...
List posts are usually obvious and trivial and not worth reading. 

This one is an exception.
Science fiction is the literature of big ideas — so coming up with an amazing story idea often feels like the biggest stumbling block in the way of your dreams of authorship. Unfortunately, most of us can't just have Robert A. Heinlein mail us $100 and a couple dozen brilliant ideas. So what do you do?
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Yet one more reason to keep writing...
(h/t +Garrett Robinson )
The beauty of pure evil.

~Dragon Commander
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That is amazing!
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I write fiction. I used to program for a living, and I probably still could, but for now I write fiction.
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Austin, TX
Writer, programmer, artist, dude
Father of three, programmer, writer, etc.  I do weird stuff with my brain for fun and profit. :)

You can see my blog here:

And my books:

For my programming, I did 18 years working on Computer Aided Design programs, everything from add-ons to being on the core graphics team for AutoCAD.  These days I'm still doing a little consulting and some personal explorations with genetic algorithms.

I've been writing off and on since I was eleven, but I've been doing a lot more of it in the last 5 years.

I also have special needs kids, and I've spent a lot of my time on them for the last few years.
Bragging rights
Had a startup, sold it, written a few books, survived twins (so far), have done more strange things than most, but nearly as many as I'd like to.
  • University of Texas at Austin
    Computer Science
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