Links for July 2018

  • The hyoid bone is unique in the human skeleton for being free-floating; it does not share a joint with any other bones, and is only distantly connected to the skull through the Stylohyoid ligament. It is mostly held in place by muscle and cartilage, and helps control the tongue and larynx. Unlike a human’s clavicle, a cat’s clavicle is similarly free-floating, allowing a cat’s shoulders to squeeze through openings as narrow as their skull.
  • Mars Pathfinder

    …was the first of a series of missions to Mars that included rovers, and was the first successful lander since the two Vikings landed on the red planet in 1976…In addition to scientific objectives, the Mars Pathfinder mission was also a “proof-of-concept” for various technologies, such as airbag-mediated touchdown and automated obstacle avoidance, both later exploited by the Mars Exploration Rover mission. The Mars Pathfinder was also remarkable for its extremely low cost relative to other robotic space missions to Mars.

    Here’s Cindy Healy talking about UNIX administration for Pathfinder.

    (H/t Dan Fincke.)

  • Good write-up about the boys rescued from the cave in Thailand.
  • 18-year-old Ewin Tang has proved that the Kerenidis and Prakash recommendation algorithm does not provide an example of an exponential speed up in quantum machine learning. Here’s his advisor Scott Aaronson on the implications:

    Prior to Ewin’s result, the KP algorithm was arguably the strongest candidate there was for an exponential quantum speedup for a real-world machine learning problem. The new result thus, I think, significantly changes the landscape for quantum machine learning; note that whether KP gives a real exponential speedup was one of the main open problems mentioned in John Preskill’s survey on the applications of near-term quantum computers

    More Fuel For The QML Skeptic Game.

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Links for June 2018

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Hennessey on Career Regret

I’ve been mulling for a long time whether to stay in physics, and a colleague pointed me toward this Master’s thesis on career regret by Hennessey.

In this blog post I’ll mostly just pull out notable excerpts. I encourage you to read the thesis if this catches your interest. (See also Hanson on deathbed regrets.)

From the introduction:

If you work full time for thirty years the number of hours spent on the job would be approximately 60,000…

What if you never figured out what you want to do with your life? What if you spent your whole life searching and never found the work you wanted? What if you knew what you wanted to do but circumstances prevented you from realizing your dream? What would the experience of any of the aforementioned be like?

This study attempts to examine the experiences of older people who have regrets about their career, specifically as they transition to retirement…how well do we understand the impact of regrettable choices on this population? If a portion of the latter years are indeed spent in quiet contemplation of one’s past, how does one cope with career regret?

Quotes from the literature review on the general phenomenon of regret:

Zeelenberg (1999) refers to regret as a higher order cognitive emotion and this interpretation of regret is supported by the work of Guttentag and Ferrell (2004), who found that 7-year-olds could make the “comparison of what is with what might have been,” whereas 5-year-olds could not. This suggests that, unlike emotions such as fear and anger that can be experienced in infancy, regret requires higher emotional development and cognitive reasoning…

Overall, people are said to experience regret when conventional choices are rejected in favour of unusual ones (Simonson & Tversky, 1992); failure in a situation is the result of a narrow versus wide margin (Gilovich & Medvec, 1995); bad advice is followed and good advice is rejected (Crawford, McConnell, Lewis, & Sherman, 2002); knowledge of alternatives are made available after making a bad decision (Zeelenberg, 1999).

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Links for April-May 2018

Public service announcement: Feedback from my readers is eagerly sought. Let me know in the comments or by email what you do and don’t find interesting, and maybe a bit of background about yourself. (EDIT: 0.3% response rate? Get it together!)

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

  • Complete lifecycle of HIV in 3D”. This really drives home how insane the world is going to be once intelligent agents are accurately designing machines on the molecular scale.
  • Chris Shroeder on China’s Belt & Road Initiative:

    It’s the largest global engagement strategy since the Marshall Plan — only…like 40 X as large in real dollars.

    Here’s a slightly hokey 6-minute introduction from Vox (“7 out of the 10 biggest construction firms in the world are now Chinese”):

    (H/t Malcom Ocean.)

    Relatedly, here’s diplomat Kishore Mahbubani on the potential for conflicts between the US and China (45 minute of lecture and 45 minutes of questions):Interestingly, I’ve found when increasing video playback speed that YouTube on Chrome has fewer skips and clips that impede intelligibility than VLC does playing back the file (at the same speed). Does anyone know why? Or can anyone recommend an alternative to VLC (or a new VLC plugin)?a  

    (H/t Julia Peng.) Some of the important/interesting claims: (1) The Chinese people are largely accepting of authoritarianism and generally believe that their long history makes democracy less suitable there. (2) The Chinese economic rise has been meteoric, demonstrating that economic liberalism can be pretty cleanly separated from political liberalism. (3) The US ought to submit to more multi-lateralism and international rule-of-law now in order to establish norms that will constrain China later.

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Tishby on physics and deep learning

Having heard Geoffrey Hinton’s somewhat dismissive account of the contribution by physicists to machine learning in his online MOOC, it was interesting to listen to one of those physicists, Naftali Tishby, here at PI:

(See also Steve Hsu’s discussion of a similar talk Tishby gave in Berlin, plus other notes on history.)

I was familiar with the general concept of over-fitting, but I hadn’t realized you could talk about it quantitatively by looking at the mutual information between the output of a network and all the information in the training data that isn’t the target label.

One often hears the refrain that a lot of ML techniques were known for decades but only became useful when big computational power and huge datasets arrived relatively recently. The unreasonable effectiveness of data is often described as a surprise, but Tishby claims that (part of?) this was predicted by the physicists based on large-N limits of statistical mechanics models, but that this was ignored by the computer scientists. I don’t know near enough about this topic to assess.

He clearly has a chip on his shoulder — which naturally makes me like him. His “information bottleneck” paper with Pereira and Bialek was posted to the arXiv in 2000 and apparently rejected by the major CS conferences, but has since accumulated fourteen hundred citations.… [continue reading]

Meh deep fakes

A lot of people sound worried that new and improving techniques for creating very convincing videos of anyone saying and doing anything will lead to widespread misinformation and even a break down of trust in society.

I’m not very worried. Two hundred years ago, essentially all communication, other than in-person conversation, was done through written word, which is easy to fake and impersonate. In particular, legal contracts were (and are) typeset, and so are trivially fakeable. But although there were (and are) cases of fraud and deception through foraged documents, society has straightforward mechanisms for correctly attributing such communication to individuals. Note, for instance, that multi-billion-dollar contracts between companies are written in text, and we have never felt it necessary to record difficult-to-fake videos of the CEOs reciting them.

The 20th century was roughly a technological Goldilocks period where technology existed to capture images and video but not to fake them. Images, of course, have been fakeable at modest cost for many years. Even in 1992, Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun used high-tech fraudulent security footage as a realistic plot point in then-current day. Although we may see some transition costs as folks are tricked into believing fraudulent videos because the ease of faking them has not yet entered the conventional wisdom, eventually people will learn that video can’t be trusted much more than the written word.Which is to say, most of the time you can trust both text and video because most people aren’t trying to defraud you, but extra confirmatory steps are taken for important cases.a   This will not be catastrophic because our trust networks are not critically dependent on faithful videos and images.… [continue reading]

Talk on Collaborative Pedagogical Documents

We recently hosted a conference at Perimeter Institute on “Open Science”. Video from all the talks is available here. I spokeIt might be more accurate to say that I occasionally mumbled something intelligible in between long stretches of the words “um” and “ah”. Luckily, you can watch the video at high speed by using using a browser plugin like Video Speed Controller for Chrome. Unfortunately, I don’t know a simple way to embed playback speed controls directly into the HTML rather than forcing you to install a plugin or download the video and watch it with a player featuring such controls.a   on the importance of “knowledge ratchets”, i.e., pedagogical documents (textbooks, monographs, and review papers) that allow for continuous improvement by anyone. After starting off with my new favorite example of how basic physics textbooks, and physicists, are egregiously uninformed about central elementary things, I ranted about how important it is to allow for people who are not the original author to contribute easily to the documents composing our educational pipeline (broadly construed to include the training researchers on recent developments).

(I forgot to put on the microphone for the first minute and a half; the sound quality improves after that.)

Luckily, when I wanted to illustrate the idea of in-PDF commenting on articles that generated feedback for the authors, I didn’t have to just use mock-ups. Luis Batalha from Fermat’s Library took the mic for the second half of the talk to show off their Chrome plugin “Librarian” and talk about their strategy for gaining users. Incidentally, if you have that plugin you can check out the two great recent AMAs (“Ask Me Anything”) with Ian Goodfellow and collaborators at Google Brain.… [continue reading]

Links for February-March 2018

Extrapolating my current trajectory, I will combine more and more links posts into larger and larger multi-month collections until eventually I release one giant list for all time and shutdown the blog.Just kidding. I will get back to actual, non-link blogging before too long…a  

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