Profile cover photo
Profile photo
Michael Nielsen

Post has attachment
My new general audience essay on the question: "Is AlphaGo really such a big deal [for artificial intelligence]?"

"In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue system defeated the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov. At the time, the victory was widely described as a milestone in artificial intelligence. But Deep Blue’s technology turned out to be useful for chess and not much else. Computer science did not undergo a revolution. Will AlphaGo, the Go-playing system that recently defeated one of the strongest Go players in history, be any different?"

(Short answer: a qualified yes.)
Add a comment...

Post has shared content
This is amazing, well worth watching all the way to the end. I've watched it maybe a half dozen times.
The Fourier Transform explained with graphical algebra (and MathBox).
(laptop / desktop recommended)
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
New essay: "Toward an exploratory medium for mathematics"

A small excerpt, from the conclusion:

"In discussions of systems of reasoning it is sometimes assumed that the informal, intuitive systems used by humans are things to be “fixed up”, turned into so-called proper, rigorous reasoning. If the purpose of reasoning were merely verifying correctness, then that would be a reasonable point of view. But if the purpose of reasoning is exploration and discovery, then it is wrong. Exploration and discovery require a logic that is different to, and at least as valuable as, conventionally “correct” reasoning. The idea of semi-concrete reasoning is a step toward media to support such exploration and discovery, and perhaps toward new ways of thinking about mathematics.

Alan Kay has asked “what is the carrying capacity for ideas of the computer?” We may also ask the closely related question: “what is the carrying capacity for discovery of the computer?” In this essay we've made progress on that question using a simple strategy: develop a prototype medium to represent mathematics in a new way, and carefully investigate what we can learn when we use the prototype to attack a serious mathematical problem. In future, it'd be of interest to pursue a similar strategy with other problems, and with more adventurous interface ideas. And, of course, it would be of interest to build out a working system that develops the best ideas fully, not merely prototypes.

To conclude, a personal observation. I began thinking about the design of cognitive media just a few years ago. I've repeatedly found that interface design is deeper than I suspected. A powerful medium reifies the deepest ideas we have about a subject: it becomes an active carrier for those ideas. And to the extent it is successful in reifying those ideas, mastering the medium becomes the same as mastering the subject. In this view, designing exploratory media is about designing tools which can transform and extend our ability to think, create, and discover."
Add a comment...

Post has shared content
More Orwellian than Orwell.
Oh, wow. "Authoritarianism gamified", indeed:

> China is launching a comprehensive “credit score” system [...] If that and the little other reporting I’ve seen is accurate, the basics are this:

> * Everybody is measured by a score between 350 and 950, which is linked to their national identity card. While currently supposedly voluntary, the government has announced that it will be mandatory by 2020.
> * The system is run by two companies, Alibaba and Tencent, which run all the social networks in China and therefore have access to a vast amount of data about people’s social ties and activities and what they say.
> * In addition to measuring your ability to pay, as in the United States, the scores serve as a measure of political compliance. Among the things that will hurt a citizen’s score are posting political opinions without prior permission, or posting information that the regime does not like, such as about the Tienanmen Square massacre that the government carried out to hold on to power, or the Shanghai stock market collapse.
> * It will hurt your score not only if you do these things, but if any of your friends do them. Imagine the social pressure against disobedience or dissent that this will create.
> * Anybody can check anyone else’s score online. Among other things, this lets people find out which of their friends may be hurting their scores.
> * Also used to calculate scores is information about hobbies, lifestyle, and shopping. Buying certain goods will improve your score, while others (such as video games) will lower it.
> * Those with higher scores are rewarded with concrete benefits. Those who reach 700, for example, get easy access to a Singapore travel permit, while those who hit 750 get an even more valued visa.
> * Sadly, many Chinese appear to be embracing the score as a measure of social worth, with almost 100,000 people bragging about their scores on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
+Dan Piponi's one-line review of "The Martian": "It's rare that my only complaint about a movie is that it I think it over/underestimates gas pressures in various scenarios."
Add a comment...

A stimulating article on The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as a model for online encyclopediae.
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
A few rough working notes for a discussion group I convened to discussion Engelbart's famous 1962 paper on "Augmenting Human Intellect".
Add a comment...

Post has attachment
I just added a donation button to my free online book "Neural networks and deep learning":  (See the sidebar for the button).  If you've benefited, I'd appreciate a donation!
Add a comment...

Post has shared content
Norms, law enforcement, and mathematics
The kid and I talk now and then about laws and social norms and law enforcement and things like that. I didn't expect it to show up in such an unexpected setting.

The kid and I are studying (algebraic) variables. She was making some headway with them, then got stuck on programs, so we went back to paper and algebraic formulas. Progress restored. I give her `x + 2 * y`. She thinks she's got it. Then she stops.

- Daddy, I have a question.
- Sure, what is it?
- I'm not sure what the answer is.
- Why not?
- I'm confused about what this is.
- Can you tell me why you're confused?
- Well, I can't tell if it's x plus 2-times-y or x-plus-2 times y.
- Good!

So we work out what the answers would be, and that they'd be different, so it does matter. I tell her there are three options. I show her (infix) parentheses. I tell her there are different notations we could use and draw her a parse tree. Or, I say, we could just decide that we do the multiplication before the addition.

- Is that a rule?
- Yes, that's a rule.
- I mean, is that a real rule?
- What do you mean?
- I mean, is that just a rule you're making up or do other people also follow that rule?
- No no, other people use it too.
- But we don't have to use it, right?
- No, really, we should. I mean, other people would expect you to use it.

Pause. Eyes get bigger. A slight look of concern crosses her face.

- The police?

Add a comment...

Post has attachment
Frank Wilczek just posted a draft book proposal for a "Princeton Companion to Physics" to Twitter.  I hope it eventuates!

Click through to see the proposal.
Add a comment...
Wait while more posts are being loaded