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Jon Orwant
Works at Google
Attended MIT
Lives in Brookline, MA
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Jon Orwant

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All of these images were computer generated!

For the last few weeks, Googlers have been obsessed with an internal visualization tool that Alexander Mordvintsev in our Zurich office created to help us visually understand some of the things happening inside our deep neural networks for computer vision.  The tool essentially starts with an image, runs the model forwards and backwards, and then makes adjustments to the starting image in weird and magnificent ways.  

In the same way that when you are staring at clouds, and you can convince yourself that some part of the cloud looks like a head, maybe with some ears, and then your mind starts to reinforce that opinion, by seeing even more parts that fit that story ("wow, now I even see arms and a leg!"), the optimization process works in a similar manner, reinforcing what it thinks it is seeing.  Since the model is very deep, we can tap into it at various levels and get all kinds of remarkable effects.

Alexander, +Christopher Olah, and Mike Tyka wrote up a very nice blog post describing how this works:

http://googleresearch.blogspot.com/2015/06/inceptionism-going-deeper-into-neural.html

There's also a bigger album of more of these pictures linked from the blog post:

https://goo.gl/photos/fFcivHZ2CDhqCkZdA

I just picked a few of my favorites here.
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"And so a trend for the worse is grimly established."

"The suggestion becomes dark fact with one step farther into the past."

This is writing that leaps off the page and into seventh grade English class. Not to worry, though, there's a cheery cartoon on the next page.
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"A trend for the worse is grimly established." - gonna save that for performance reviews.
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Enclosed please find a still frame from the prequel "Fast and the Furious: Rise of the Jalopy."

The omnipresent red hue camouflages the spilled blood.
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The book begins with the cheery statistic that 37,100 people died in vehicle accidents. But if you're reading this, you're not one of them, unless you're undead. Either way, "Lucky You!"

(Curiously, the number of fatalities has remained roughly constant over the decades, presumably because better safety standards balance out the higher number of people on the roads.)
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Increased safety is offset somewhat by the Peltzmann Effect: riskier behavior in response to that perception.
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The Style of Elements
Posted by +Daniel Smilkov, Software Engineer

Data doesn't have to be big to be complex. In 1869, Mendeleev created the first "periodic table"--an arrangement of elements based on fewer than 70 data points. In fact, the most interesting thing about the original periodic table might have been the data it didn't include: the "holes" in the original chart turned out to be a kind of treasure map, pointing the way to undiscovered elements.

Although the periodic table is one of the classic visualizations, it still provides a chance for designers to play with new ideas. The Big Picture visualization group (http://goo.gl/vxsUdU) was fascinated with this version (http://goo.gl/8ozrj8), which allocates elements bigger or smaller areas to give a qualitative picture of how common they are in the Earth's crust.

Because the numbers behind that chart were only approximate, we decided to design a precise, quantitative view. (We're going to get into the weeds on this--visualizers gonna visualize--but you can skip to the last paragraph if you don't want to read the details of the design.) We quickly discovered that using area to represent abundances didn't give a good sense of the differences between elements: they covered so many orders of magnitude that all but the most common elements disappeared entirely. (The earth's crust has 170,000 times as much oxygen as uranium.) Using a logarithmic scale had the opposite effect: it flattened out the scale so that differences didn't seem as significant.

But we found that using volume to represent size produced a readable and interesting result. It also felt natural and direct when we looked at other data related to the elements. After all, how better to show the volume of 1 gram of an element than by volume itself?

Those experiments led to the visualization you see at http://goo.gl/5RCSmj. For fun, we let you choose between representing data with length or with volume, so you can see for yourself the difference the encoding makes. And as a bonus, we've added a view of electron shells, so you can see how Mendeleev’s visualization beautifully reflects atomic structure.
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I ate that. Yet another fringe benefit of working with Google's Optimization team!
 
Sudoku, Linear Optimization, and the Ten Cent Diet

Yesterday, we posted an image of a tasty looking dish, and asked you to guess what it had to do with Computer Science. The dish, Foie Linéaire à la Stigler, was made from a list of ingredients that are the solution to the “Stigler Diet”, a classic linear optimization problem (http://goo.gl/JUDpTg).  

Today we’re proud to announce two new ways for everyone to solve linear optimization problems. First, you can now solve them in Google Sheets with the Linear Optimization add-on; Second, we’re open-sourcing the linear solver underlying the add-on, Glop (the Google Linear Optimization Package), as part of the or-tools suite.

At Google, our engineers work on plenty of optimization problems, such as the YouTube video stabilization system, and the lighthearted Google Sheets Sudoku add-on. Head over to the Google Research Blog, linked below, to learn more.
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So the list of ingredients was built on what's optimal in terms of price/nutrition today? Interesting. I'm sure that changes from country to country and varies seasonally depending on weather, e.g. CA drought, and availability. I'm sure commodities traders would be very interested.

And, yes, while METCO is a bit of a political curveball, it is your target demographic since I doubt the chefs at chez google are restricted to maximum 'bang for the buck' in their menu building choices. It's not an entirely political football, though, as I suspect that it's also an issue of nutritional education. Sin taxes don't always work, just like the pigovian tax on sugar in Norway hasn't proven to make significant changes in diet. Efficiency where humans are concerned is, to put it mildly, difficult.

I've been trying to increase the efficiency of the school's Lost & Found this year by putting photos of the items on a Twitter feed and by sending regular email to the all-school mailing list and by setting up a rolling rack in the school entrance with all clothing on a hanger ordered by size....minimal success. I'm considering a L&F fashion show or concocting a play based on the lost items next, but that's just entertainment for me as I don't expect either of those to really work. Who doesn't miss a $200 jacket? Apparently a lot of folks.
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Neil deGrasse Tyson found Krypton:
Neil deGrasse Tyson on Finding Krypton
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Jon Orwant

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Looks like the same artist as Curious George.
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In 1951 there were still enough horse-drawn vehicles on the road for that to be a thing.
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Beware the collision with non-collision!
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In lieu of regular status updates I will be posting pages from the Travelers 1952 Book of Street and Highway Accident Data.
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I wonder if this series will be your cup of tea +Michael Cooke.
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http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119321/harvard-ivy-league-should-judge-students-standardized-tests

(Also discussed by Scott Aaronson and his surprisingly educated commenters at  http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2003.)

The Pinker article includes this wonderful bit:

It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetuses to reflect on the human condition. 

On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.
The Ivy League is broken and only standardized tests can fix it.
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The first paragraph is the reason I have my daughter in a Core Knowledge school.   I'm watching her get a well-planned exposure to history starting from Kindergarten, which I certainly didn't get in the hodge-podge of elementary & high schools I went to.  

Pinker's description of Harvard is extremely accurate, especially for students in humanities and social sciences.  (Possibly a little less so for those in the physical sciences.  And I would love someone's feedback on whether the new engineering school has introduced a large population of students who are more dedicated to their academic courses.)  

I interview student applicants to Harvard every year.  I will say that their service projects generally impress me as being much more substantive than the clothes-sorting he mentions here.  One girl I interviewed last year had spent a semester interning with the local public defender and several other semesters working with a local peer-to-peer counseling group for youth in the justice system.  The only kid from our town I know of who was actually ACCEPTED at Harvard in the last few years started a group which builds quirky little play houses and then sells them, using the proceeds to donate to a different charity each time.   Before I heard of him I saw one of his playhouses that had been donated to the local city gardens, which looks like something out of Dr. Seuss and provided a great focal point in the children's garden.  Of course, he'd also written a medical paper and was a nationally ranked figure skater, so I my general impression has just been that one needs to walk on water to get into Harvard these days.  
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Care to take a guess at what the dish pictured below has to do with Computer Science? Give it your best shot by leaving your guess in the comments!
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Looks inviting, but lacks substance as a little aioli, fava beans, horse radish, shredded cucumber and deep fried protein of some sort looks a bit too nouvelle and not crazy enough to be in the molecular gastronomy vein for the caparison to CS. Diner will be both hungry and gassy within one hour. Looks tasty though. :)
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