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Daniel Estrada
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Daniel Estrada

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Do you have an ear for music? DARPA is trying to teach computers to play jazz, learning the rules and structures that make effective improvisation possible. The effort is part of DARPA's Communicating with Computers program, but jazz-playing computers are not the end goal. The effort is a training set for sophisticated artificial intelligence that could in the future make it easier for humans to exchange information with computers through simple conversation.
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Why worry?
- Alfred A. Newman
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This ant animation, by +Eric Keller, is easily the best I've ever seen. And it's a great little educational video on the red invasive fire ant (RIFA). But even if you don't care about fire ants, check out the animation; it's fantastic.

You can find more of Keller's awesome arthropod animation work at:

(H/T to +Seth Burgess for pointing out this video)

[ #entomology   #animation   #ants   #RIFA   #fireants   #fireant   #arthropods  ]
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Wow great video. Those ants are originally from Argentina, like myself! :D I think they've got me more times here in Australia, though. Might not be the same... Not sure.
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>Human cognition is bounded cognition, ecological cognition, only possessing enough exaptive ‘slop’ to mimic general cognition; the modern world as reorganized and represented by science, meanwhile, is drifting ever farther from the meaningful worlds we are adapted to solve. We live in what I call ‘crash space,’ environments where the problem-solving reliability our basic heuristic toolkits can only degrade over time. On my view, fantastic secondary worlds provide readers with faux adaptive problem-ecologies, settings that can be reliably parsed and understood in psychological terms. They provide what I call ‘cheat spaces,’ places where we have learned, over time, to game our cognitive predilections. And in this sense, you can see fantasy fiction as a kind of cultural grave marker, a place to make-believe our dead relatives are alive. It shows what has become of meaning in the world.

// Fiction will only become more satisfying as technological progress continues.
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Humans as Superorganisms

> The explosion of information available to scientists has made specialization more necessary than ever, but this comes at the risk of losing sight of relevant research in other disciplines. Psychologists have taken countermeasures by engaging in studies that bridge related disciplines, such as neuroscience, linguistics, artificial intelligence, philosophy, and anthropology. Our point here, however, is that disciplines that ostensibly have little or nothing to do with either psychology or psychiatry—like parasitology, virology, gastroenterology, immunology, and embriology—can and do produce research that is extraordinarily relevant to both. We thus call for more collaboration among scientists who currently appear to live on different planets. We also call for greater exchange of information, or straight collaboration, among health-care professionals. It might even be desirable if some of us become specialists not in any particular profession or research area but in integrating information from different disciplines. We have shown that each of us is a superorganism; but to function at its best, our scientific and professional community should perhaps become a bit more like one, too.

Full text:
Via +Andrew Higgins​​

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Stumbled up on this Gallery of Named Graphs today.  A beautiful document!
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I know this one instantly: the Desargues graph!  I wrote about it here:
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A fundamental principle of good engineering is that you design the whole system to function well, not just the part you're concentrating on. Most systems include humans as components -- as operators, maintainers, passengers, or even obstacles. And when you fail to take that seriously into account in your design, you make a fundamental design error which can have lethal consequences.

It appears that the cause of the SpaceShipTwo crash was precisely of this sort: the designers never considered the possibility that a particular switch might be flipped at an incorrect time. In this case, it was flipped only a few seconds too soon, at a speed of Mach 0.8 instead of Mach 1.4. (This under rocket power, where acceleration is fast) That caused the tail system to unlock too soon, be ripped free by acceleration, and destroy the spacecraft, killing the co-pilot and severely injuring the pilot.

Scaled Composites' design philosophy of "relying on human skill instead of computers" here reeks of test pilots' overconfidence: the pilots are so good that they would never make a mistake. But at these speeds, under these g-forces, under these stresses, and tested repeatedly, it's never hard for an error to happen.

There are a few design principles which apply here.

(1) It should not be easy to do something catastrophic. There are only a few circumstances under which it is safe for the feathers to unlock, for example, and those are easy to detect based on the flight profile; at any other time, the system should refuse to unlock them unless the operator gives a confirmatory "yes, I really mean that" signal.

(2) Mechanical tasks that can lead to disaster are a bad idea. Humans have limited bandwidth to process things: while our brain's vision center is enormously powerful, our conscious mind's ability to think through things works at language speed, a few ideas per second. Here, time was wasted with a human having to perform a basically mechanical task of unlocking a switch at a particular, precise time. This requires the human to pay attention, time something accurately, and flip a switch, at a time that they should be simply watching out for emergencies. Since the time of unlock is already known long before takeoff, a better design would be for the unlock to happen automatically at the right time -- unless the risks from having an automatic unlocker (perhaps due to a reliability issue, or having a complex part prone to failure) exceed the benefits of removing it.

What's important to learn from this accident is that this error isn't specific to that one mechanism: this is an approach which needs to be taken across the entire design of the system. Every single potential or scheduled human action needs to be reviewed in this way.

An excellent perspective on this comes from James Mahaffey's book Atomic Accidents, a catalogue of things that have gone horribly wrong. In the analysis, you see repeatedly that once designs progressed beyond the initial experimental "you're doing WHAT?!" stage, almost all accidents come from humans pushing the wrong button at the wrong time. 

Generally, good practice looks like:

(A) Have clear status indicators so that a human can tell, at a glance, the current status of the system, and if anything is in an anomalous state.

(B) Have "deep status" indicators that let a human understand the full state of some part of the system, so that if something is registering an anomaly, they can figure out what it is.

(C) Have a system of manual controls for the components. Then look at the flows of operation, and when there is a sequence which can be automated, build an automation system on top of those manual controls. (So that if automation fails or is incorrect for any reason, you can switch back to manual behavior) 

(D) The system's general behavior should be "run yourself on an autonomous schedule. When it looks like the situation may be going beyond the system's abilities to deal with on its own -- e.g., an anomaly whose mitigation isn't something that's been automated -- alert a human."

The job of humans is then to sit there and pay attention, both for any time when the system calls for help, and for any sign that the system may need to call for help and not realize it.

This wasn't about a lack of a backup system: this was about a fundamentally improper view of humans as a component of a crtiical system.
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> Bennett argues that political theory needs to do a better job of recognizing the active participation of nonhuman forces in events. Toward that end, she theorizes a “vital materiality” that runs through and across bodies, both human and nonhuman. Bennett explores how political analyses of public events might change were we to acknowledge that agency always emerges as the effect of ad hoc configurations of human and nonhuman forces. She suggests that recognizing that agency is distributed this way, and is not solely the province of humans, might spur the cultivation of a more responsible, ecologically sound politics: a politics less devoted to blaming and condemning individuals than to discerning the web of forces affecting situations and events.

// I'm pretty skeptical of the so-called 'new vitalists'. I think emergent complexity can be given a thoroughly mechanistic treatment, in the style of William Bechtel and other "new mechanists", which I take to be the primary opposition to the new vitalists.

Still, this book looks interesting, and I'll probably read it despite my initial skepticism. Even if they draw the wrong lessons from these examples, they are definitely working on the right problems. 
I have not read this yet, but I was curious if any of my followers interested in transhumanism have and what you think of it, in particular +Daniel Estrada.
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Thanks +Daniel Estrada. How does being a "committed mechanist" augment your sense of empathy and ethics in relation to interfering with those processes that maintain the (functional) unity of organisms? (e.g. 'your' own body, non-human animals, organizations of which you are and are not a constituent.)
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// Watson's personality assessment of my essay Real Robot Movies (

> You are shrewd, skeptical and tranquil.

You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are calm under pressure: you handle unexpected events calmly and effectively. And you are unstructured: you do not make a lot of time for organization in your daily life.

You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of prestige.

You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and achieving success. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

// Basically dead on.

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There are the numeric breakdowns and there is the text. Such texts will with high probability (well, if one doesn't want lawsuits) be subject to the Barnum Effect. 

The numeric breakdown is a separate criticism of, does this actually work? The numbers might, for example, be insufficiently granular (e.g. does everyone get > 90% for most or even just some set of desirable features)? Watson adds another layer of indirection by attempting to learn weights for a predictive model. As such, it is not comparable to industry standard methods. But even then, state of the art is not in counting words or even well crafted self-answered surveys but rather, well crafted surveys answered by those who know the individual well (i'm sorry to repeat again).
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We should create AIs that evoke moral emotional responses well aligned with their real moral status, neither more nor less.
A couple of years ago, I saw the ASIMO show at Disneyland. ASIMO is a robot designed by Honda to walk bipedally with something like the human gait. I'd entered the auditorium with a somewhat negative attitude about ASIMO, having read Andy Clark's critique of Honda's computationally-heavy ...
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> Fundamental to biology are (1) defining the characteristics of identity, which distinguish individual organisms from those of similar kind, and (2) describing the mechanisms that defend organisms from their predators. Immunology is the science devoted to these problems. A progeny of late 19th-century microbiology and the clinical discipline of infectious diseases, immunology did not attain a formal theoretical construction until after World War II, when “the self” was introduced as the conceptual foundation of a new theory of immunity. In the original formulation, self-reactive immunity was eliminated in utero, leaving active immune mechanisms to destroy “the other”— pathogens, foreign substances, altered host elements. By the late 1970s, the self model assumed paradigmatic standing, and immunology dubbed itself the science of “self/non-self discrimination.” But this thesis has been challenged, for the immune self is polymorphous and ill-defined. Contemporary transplantation biology and autoimmunity have demonstrated phenomena that fail to allow strict adherence to the self/non-self dichotomy, and placing tolerant immune mechanisms within a broad ecological context has highlighted the balance of co-operative and competitive relationships in which immunity functions. As new models are emerging, “the self” has been regarded as both (1) a powerful idiom tying together divergent phenomena and research traditions, and (2) a fecund metaphor, whose grounding—philosophically and scientifically—is unsteady. In sum, “the self” has operational and heuristic utility, but the basis of self/non-self discrimination remains elusive as the putative nexus of immunology's doctrines.
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I love this stuff.  There's also interesting literature comparing the immune system and the nervous system, which came later but also has a lot to do with recognizing threats to the self and figuring out what to do about them.
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> “Those who live by the river know that it can become a rapids as quickly as it can become a gentle stream,” the wise elder intoned, “yet in time we forget, and imagine we progress only by our own paddling. In the end it is the river that carries us, one way or another.”
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Robot. Made of smaller robots.
I've written under the handle Eripsa for over a decade on various blogs and forums. Today I do my blogging and research at Fractional Actors and on my G+ stream.

I'm interested in issues at the intersection of the mind and technology. I write and post on topics ranging from AI and robotics to the politics of digital culture.

Specific posting interests are described in more detail here and here.


So I'm going to list a series of names, not just to cite their influence on my work, but really to triangulate on what the hell it is I think I'm doing. 

Turing, Quine, Heidegger, Dan Dennett, Andy Clark, Bruce Sterling, Bruno Latour, Aaron Swartz, Clay Shirky, Jane McGonical, John Baez, OWS, and Google. 


My avatar is the symbol for Digital Philosophy. You can think of it as a digital twist on Anarchism, but I prefer to think of it as the @ symbol all grown up. +Kyle Broom helped with the design. Go here for a free button with the symbol.

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