Sunday, September 29, 2019

Ronin



My first visit to Japan was in 1993. Ostensibly, I was there to attend a conference on High Energy Physics at the University of Tokyo, and to give a seminar at KEK, the largest particle accelerator laboratory in Japan.

I spent the first night at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel. I had carefully chosen this hotel -- it is a short walk from Sengakugi Temple, the resting place of the 47 Ronin (see photos above and history below).

It was already late at night when I checked in and deposited my luggage in the room. I was jet-lagged, but still energetic after the long trip. Outside, the streets were deserted and dark except for the harsh glare of neon streetlights. As I approached the temple I could smell the burning incense that suffused the night air ...



47 Ronin (photo above from the 1941 movie directed by Kenji Mizoguchi)

... At the death of their lord, Asano’s samurai retainers become masterless, or rōnin, and under the planning of Ōishi Kuranosuke Yoshio, Asano’s counsellor, 47 of these rōnin plot to avenge their former master. Because Kira suspects this, and spies on Ōishi, revenge is delayed as the rōnin disperse and assume other occupations, while Ōishi performs the life of a drunkard, visiting taverns and geisha. After a year and a half the rōnin return to Edo to stake out Kira’s house, and two years following Asano’s death they attack. Kira is eventually killed and his head is taken as an offering to Asano’s grave. The rōnin then turn themselves in to the Shogunate authorities. Having defied a Shogunate edict prohibiting them to avenge their master, but having followed the requirements of bushido in doing so, the rōnin are sentenced to death but allowed to die honourably by committing seppuku.
I had all but forgotten about my strange visit to Sengakuji, so long ago. But memory returned when I came across the interview below, with former special forces soldier and tactical instructor Tu Lam.






Interview
When you started out in the world of Special Operations it was pre-9/11. What was that like compared to how it is now?

TL: My understanding from birth was one of war. I was born out of war. I was born in ’74 after the fall of Saigon. In ’76 they dragged us out into the streets of Vietnam because they were trying to impose the Communist ideologies of our government. My uncles were serving in the Navy and were dragged out into the streets like animals and shot. They separated our family and imprisoned my other uncles in what they called “re-education camps.” My grandfather took his life savings and smuggled us out of the country because my mom was like, “There’s no way my two sons will grow up under Communist rule.” We left on an overstuffed wooden boat with hundreds of other refugees. First we had to be navigated past the pirating that was going on. There were a lot of bandits, pirates and everyone who was leaving country had money. These pirates would intercept the refugees, rape the women, rob the boats and kill everyone on board.

We navigated past the pirates first then made it into Indonesia where the Coast Guard stopped us. They told us we couldn’t come into their country. They anchored us down and pulled us back into the ocean on lines, then shot our motor and cut the lines, leaving us out in the middle of the waters to die. Our boat drifted further and further into the ocean. My mother told me that people were stealing from each other, fighting, and eventually dying due to the terrible conditions. We were caught up in a storm and this storm took us out into the middle of Russian waters by the grace of God. A Russian supply boat picked us up as they were crossing the Pacific Ocean into Singapore. They dropped us off at a refugee camp in Indonesia. The irony of this story is the same ideology that took me out of my country (Communism) was the same ideology that brought me to safety.

My family was gunned down like animals by a Communist government and yet the Russians, another Communist government, saved us. That was my first lesson in humanity and that everyone is truly different. The Indonesian monks came and helped us while we were in the camp. My aunt had married a Special Forces Green Beret and he expedited the paperwork to get us out of Indonesia and to the United States. At the age of eight I found myself on Ft. Bragg and my mom re-married a Sergeant who was a Green Beret. At that early age, I was indoctrinated in the ways of a Special Forces soldier. I learned how to speak different languages, learned how to take apart many different types of weapons, and learned how to properly navigate the back woods of North Carolina.

I was taught how to navigate the stars and build my own compasses. The truth is, we were just spending father and son time but he was teaching me a trade craft. Throughout my life he’d leave, come back, leave, come back and I’d equate it with seeing something bad on the news. Panama happened and he immediately went over there. I felt from a very young age, being raised as a part of that warrior class, that I had a much higher purpose. I knew what a sheep, sheep dog, and a wolf were from a very young age. My dad taught me that very early on. I asked my father how I could help protect and my dad said I’d have to pass a test to become a part of the brotherhood. At ten years old I wanted to be a Green Beret.

Like a lot of Asians, I was academically gifted at a very young age. I had scholarships and I turned them down. I made better grades than my brother and he ended up being a doctor. When I got to age 18 I went to MEPS and applied for 11B (Infantry). There was no such thing as 18X or direct entry into Special Operations. You couldn’t just come off the streets and train for Special Operations. You had to become an E5 (Sergeant) first and then do a certain amount of years. Those years could be waived and so I made E5 after a year and a half. When I went in I went into long-range reconnaissance, which took me directly into the Marines’ Amphibious School, Ranger training, and a lot of other leadership courses as well as the Army Sniper School.
See also On Japan and Learning how to fight.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Boris Johnson UN speech: AI, robots, genetic engineering chickens



Boris Johnson speech on Brexit, AI robots, and genetically engineered chickens at the UN General Assembly. (Thanks to Cyrus Hodes for the pointer :-)

See Big Chickens!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Strategic Implications of Drone/Missile Strikes on Saudi Arabia


The Iranian / Houthi drone shown above might look like a toy, but it is likely capable of flying hundreds of miles, perhaps using GPS guidance and optical imaging for final targeting. Compare to the hobbyist radio controlled jet aircraft in the video at bottom. These weapons are inexpensive and easy to engineer, yet potentially very effective.

In Machine Intelligence Threatens Overpriced Aircraft Carriers (2017) I noted that
Within ~10y (i.e., well within projected service life of US carriers) I expect missile systems of the type currently only possessed by Russia and PRC to be available to lesser powers. I expect that a road-mobile ASBM weapon with good sensor/ML capability, range ~1500km, will be available for ~$10M. Given a rough (~10km accuracy) fix on a carrier, this missile will be able to arrive in that area and then use ML/sensors for final targeting. There is no easy defense against such weapons. Cruise missiles which pose a similar threat will also be exported. This will force the US to be much more conservative in the use of its carriers, not just against Russia and PRC, but against smaller countries as well.

... Basic missile technology is old, well-understood, and already inexpensive (compared, e.g., to the cost of fighter jets). ML/sensor capability is evolving rapidly and will be enormously better in 10y. ... Despite BS claims over the years (and over $100B spent by the US), anti-missile technology is not effective...

One only has to localize the carrier to within few x 10km for initial launch, letting the smart final targeting do the rest. The initial targeting location can be obtained through many methods, including aircraft/drone probes, targeting overflight by another kind of missile, LEO micro-satellites, or even (surreptitious) cooperation from Russia/PRC (or a commercial vendor!) via their satellite network.
Anthony Cordesman writes for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS):
The Strategic Implications of the Strikes on Saudi Arabia:

.. UCAV/RPV (drone) and cruise missile attacks offer precision strike options with high levels of accuracy from small, easily dispersible systems that are very hard to locate and target... Iranian systems do have both GPS and imagery capability to home in even more precisely on a target. UCAV/RPVs and cruise missiles are also small air defense targets compared to fighters, can fly evasively, and have flight profiles that are hard to detect. Saudi fighter and SAM intercept capabilities to cover wide areas with any effectiveness are uncertain, and ballistic missile defenses can only cope with a different threat.

This is why the success of the existing strikes will – at a minimum — act as a major incentive to Iran, the Hezbollah, and other such powers to develop such forces as well as precision guided ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

... Looking further into the future, the strikes on Saudi Arabia provide a clear strategic warning that the US era of air supremacy in the Gulf, and the near U.S. monopoly on precision strike capability, is rapidly fading. UCAV/RPVs, cruise missiles, and precision strike ballistic missiles are all entering Iranian inventory and have begun to spread to the Houthi and Hezbollah. Nations like North Korea are following, and other areas of military confrontation like India and Pakistan will follow. All of these systems can be used at low levels of conflict intensity and in “gray area” wars...
We are entering an era in which an inexpensive, easy to obtain device can fly rapidly (~500mph if jet powered), evasively, and automatically to a designated GPS coordinate. It can even use visual or radar information to adjust final targeting. Terrorists could easily attack any public event: i.e., large stadium (sporting event or concert), public speech by politician, etc. They could also attack key infrastructure such as a power station or oil pipeline/refinery. It's the era of the mobile smart IED...

See also Assassination by Drone.



Thursday, September 19, 2019

Manifold Podcast #19: Ted Chiang on Free Will, Time Travel, Many Worlds, Genetic Engineering, and Hard Science Fiction


Steve and Corey speak with Ted Chiang about his recent story collection Exhalation and his inaugural essay for the New York Times series, Op-Eds from the Future. Chiang has won Nebula and Hugo awards for his widely influential science fiction writing. His short story Story of Your Life, became the film Arrival (2016). Their discussion explores the scientific and philosophical ideas in Ted's work, including whether free will is possible, and implications of AI, neuroscience, and time travel. Ted explains why his skepticism about whether the US is truly a meritocracy leads him to believe that the government-funded genetic modification he envisages in his Op-Ed would not solve the problem of inequality.

Transcript

Ted Chiang's New York Times Op-Ed From the Future

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang



man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

London and Tallinn


I'll be speaking about AI and Health in Tallinn, after a stop in London to help the Tories prepare for the upcoming general election ;-)
Tallinn Digital Summit is where the frontrunners of digital nations drive the global conversation on digitalization.

Over the course of a day political leaders, policy innovators, thought-leaders, entrepreneurs and tech-community spotlight the most topical matters of digital transformation and tackle questions about its implications on economies, societies and governments. TDS is an annual meeting place for enhancing practical sharing of ideas and lessons to chase the opportunities of digital transformation for economy, e-governance development as well as societies. Also, to shape a more coherent approach to challenges brought by digital transformation.

Being one of the most digitally advanced countries, Estonia is an ideal location for the event. It has significant experience in building a digital society and economy, having built its digital core on secure distributed architecture. The country is also an outsized creator and exporter of startups, and possesses considerable cybersecurity expertise. Tallinn also hosts the HQ of NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence and the European Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Manifold podcast #18: Rebecca Campbell on Identifying Serial Perpetrators, Rape Investigations, and Untested Rape Kits



Dr. Rebecca Campbell is Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on violence against women and children with an emphasis on sexual assault. Steve and Corey discuss her recent National Institute of Justice-funded project to study Detroit’s untested rape kits. Dr. Campbell describes the problem of untested kits and her work with police departments around the country to reduce the backlog. She explains how the use of the national CODIS database has led to sharply higher estimates of the proportion of rapes committed by serial perpetrators and how many rapists appear to be criminal “generalists” -- committing a wide range of offenses. She describes the dynamics of sexual assault investigations, the factors that lead police to put more effort into investigating certain cases over others, and how police questioning of women can lead them to disengage from the process. Other topics include the incentives at work in law enforcement, the slow pace at which new research in DNA testing and treatment of victims is incorporated into police training, and Dr. Campbell’s efforts to engage with law enforcement agencies to improve investigative practices.

Transcript

Additional links to research articles and media coverage


man·i·fold /ˈmanəˌfōld/ many and various.

In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space near each point.

Steve Hsu and Corey Washington have been friends for almost 30 years, and between them hold PhDs in Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Theoretical Physics. Join them for wide ranging and unfiltered conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu is VP for Research and Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University. He is also a researcher in computational genomics and founder of several Silicon Valley startups, ranging from information security to biotech. Educated at Caltech and Berkeley, he was a Harvard Junior Fellow and held faculty positions at Yale and the University of Oregon before joining MSU.

Corey Washington is Director of Analytics in the Office of Research and Innovation at Michigan State University. He was educated at Amherst College and MIT before receiving a PhD in Philosophy from Stanford and a PhD in a Neuroscience from Columbia. He held faculty positions at the University Washington and the University of Maryland. Prior to MSU, Corey worked as a biotech consultant and is founder of a medical diagnostics startup.

Former Yale Law Dean on Harvard anti-Asian discrimination case: The facts are just so embarrassing to Harvard... Quotas and a climate of dishonesty


The excerpt below is from a recent interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Anthony Kronman was Dean of Yale Law School from 1994 to 2004 (Yale JD and PhD in Philosophy). These are elite establishment credentials. Yet the observations he makes rather matter of factly below are not to be found in the national media coverage nor in the public remarks of university administrators.

The focus of the Chronicle interview is Kronman's recent book The Assault on American Excellence, which does not, as far as I know, address Asian American university admissions. In case you are wondering, Kronman is an anti-Trump lifelong democrat.
Chronicle: What are your thoughts about the Harvard anti-Asian discrimination case?

... The facts are just so embarrassing to Harvard that with some modest adjustment in its admissions practices it might be able to absorb a judgment against it and get on with life more or less as usual. The vagueness of the category on which Harvard was relying to make sure that it kept its Asian undergraduates at the level that it wished, the so-called personality score, is such a floppy nothing of an empty basket — that’s not gonna do anymore.

There is something profoundly disturbing about Harvard using these flaccid categories to achieve something like a quota. The court papers show how the system was invented to keep the number of Jews down in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It’s all pretty bad, and part of the badness is that colleges have been both compelled and allowed to do what they’re doing under the rubric of "diversity," which conceals from view the actual operation of the whole system, and what they are in fact aiming to achieve. It’s substituting one vocabulary for another in a way that creates a climate of dishonesty. What goes on in the admissions office is increasingly mysterious, and what happens once students are admitted — that is something to which little attention is paid by educators themselves.

[ Italics mine ]
Kronman is presumably aware that other Ivy schools like Yale are little different from Harvard when it comes to undergraduate admissions.

See also

Harvard Admissions on Trial

Harvard discrimination lawsuit: data show penalization of Asian-Americans on subjective personality evaluation

Harvard Office of Institutional Research on Discrimination Against Asian-American Applicants


"When it comes to the score assigned by the Admissions Office, Asian-American applicants are assigned the lowest scores of any racial group. ... By contrast, alumni interviewers (who actually meet the applicants) rate Asian-Americans, on average, at the top with respect to personal ratings—comparable to white applicants ..."

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