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Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Michigan State University

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year 2020


It's been a wonderful year and a wonderful decade. All the best to everyone :-)

Be of good cheer -- we will prevail !!!


A New Year's present to you, the documentary: Bill Evans Time Remembered.

"Truth and Beauty .. forget the rest."



You can watch the whole thing on Amazon Prime.


Bonus: from 1966, The Universal Mind of Bill Evans. I originally posted this video as a 2012 Christmas present to readers.



Best introspective bits about his development, improvisational ability, intellectual / analytical approach versus raw talent @30 min and thereafter.

Not bad for a heroin junkie (like Chet Baker: see earlier post Time After Time).

All About Jazz: ... He played an equal role with Miles Davis in composing Kind Of Blue, the top-selling jazz album ever, yet the association proved disastrous as Evans' shyness and pressures of the stage fed a drug addiction that led to his death in 1980. His intelligence allowed him to surpass other players with more raw talent and he inspired a rare cult-like following, but also endured critics who saw him as a fraudulent lightweight.

Evans is generally acknowledged as the most influential pianist since Bud Powell, and a primary influence on players such as Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. Many consider his Sunday At The Village Vanguard the best piano trio album ever and compositions such as "Waltz For Debby" are all-time standards. He is also credited with advancing harmonic and voicing structures, and pioneering modern trio format elements such as giving sidemen equal interplay during improvisations.

His career peaked early during the late 1950s and early 1960s, then went through a series of peaks and valleys for the rest of his life. The best of those latter periods were probably during the early 1970s and right before his death, although neither reached the pinnacle of his early days.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Bruno Maçães: China, Russia and the Future of Eurasia - Manifold Podcast #26



I really enjoyed this conversation. Previous posts on Bruno Maçães.

Originally from Portugal, Bruno Maçães earned a PhD in Political Science at Harvard under Harvey Mansfield, and served as Portugal’s Secretary of State for European Affairs from 2013-2015. He is regarded as a leading geopolitical thinker with deep insights concerning the future of Eurasia and relations between the West and China. He is the author of two widely acclaimed books published in 2018: The Dawn of Eurasia and Belt and Road.

Topics discussed include: China's Belt and Road Initiative, the Middle Income Trap, A Chinese World Order, Techno-Optimism in East and West, China-Russia alliance and geopolitics, the future of Eurasia and the EU.

Transcript

Russia to China: Together we can rule the World (Politico.eu)

Equilibrium Americanum (Berlin Policy Journal)

The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order


Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order

History Has Begun: The Birth of a New America


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.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men 2019



When asked what I want for Christmas, I reply: Peace On Earth, Good Will To Men :-)

No one ever seems to recognize that this comes from the Bible (Luke 2.14).

Linus said it best in A Charlie Brown Christmas:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Merry Christmas!

Four years ago on Christmas day I shared the following story: Nativity 2050

For an update, see The Economist on Polygenic Risk Scores and Embryo Selection (November 2019).


And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Mary was born in the twenties, when the tests were new and still primitive. Her mother had frozen a dozen eggs, from which came Mary and her sister Elizabeth. Mary had her father's long frame, brown eyes, and friendly demeanor. She was clever, but Elizabeth was the really brainy one. Both were healthy and strong and free from inherited disease. All this her parents knew from the tests -- performed on DNA taken from a few cells of each embryo. The reports came via email, from GP Inc., by way of the fertility doctor. Dad used to joke that Mary and Elizabeth were the pick of the litter, but never mentioned what happened to the other fertilized eggs.

Now Mary and Joe were ready for their first child. The choices were dizzying. Fortunately, Elizabeth had been through the same process just the year before, and referred them to her genetic engineer, a friend from Harvard. Joe was a bit reluctant about bleeding edge edits, but Mary had a feeling the GP engineer was right -- their son had the potential to be truly special, with just the right tweaks ...

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Twilight Struggles in a Wilderness of Mirrors: Admiral Mike Rogers, the NSA, and Obama-era Political Spying


I believe that if the full story is told about Obama-era political spying, Admiral Mike Rogers (former head of NSA) will emerge as a hero. Sources say Rogers has been cooperating with the ongoing Durham investigation. Look for significant developments in the case as we approach the 2020 election...

Below is a Rogers timeline covering illegal spying using NSA data. This illegal use of data is a matter of record -- undisputed, but also largely unreported. The FISC (FISA court) report on this illegal use of data appeared in April 2017; the author is Rosemary Collyer, the head FISA judge. The report was originally classified Top Secret but was later declassified and released with redactions. Collyer uses the phrase "institutional lack of candor" when referring to behavior of federal agencies in their dealings with FISC over this issue.

Just this week, Collyer ordered the FBI to report on its abuse of FISA in surveillance of the Trump campaign, as documented in the Horowitz DOJ IG report.

More background on the earlier abuses here:
The court learned in October 2016 that analysts ... were conducting prohibited database searches “with much greater frequency than had previously been disclosed to the court.” The forbidden queries were searches of Upstream Data using US-person identifiers. The report makes clear that as of early 2017 NSA Inspector General did not even have a good handle on all the ways that improper queries could be made to the system.
Timeline:
November 2015-April 2016 – The FBI and DOJ’s National Security Division (NSD) uses private contractors to access raw FISA information using “To” and “From” FISA-702(16) & “About” FISA-702(17) queries.

February 2016 NYT reports: Obama Administration Set to Expand Sharing of Data That N.S.A. Intercepts "The new system would permit analysts at other intelligence agencies to obtain direct access to raw information from the N.S.A.’s surveillance to evaluate for themselves."

March 2016 – NSA Director Rogers becomes aware of improper access to raw FISA data.

April 2016 – Rogers orders the NSA compliance officer to run a full audit on 702 NSA compliance.

April 18 2016 – Rogers shuts down FBI/NSD contractor access to the FISA Search System.

Mid-October 2016 – DNI Clapper submits a recommendation to the White House that Director Rogers be removed from the NSA.

October 20 2016 – Rogers is briefed by the NSA compliance officer on the Section 702 NSA compliance audit and “About” query violations.

October 21 2016 – Rogers shuts down all “About Query” activity. Rogers reports the activity to DOJ and prepares to go before the FISA Court.

October 21 2016 – DOJ & FBI seek and receive a Title I FISA probable cause order authorizing electronic surveillance on Carter Page from the FISC. At this point, the FISA Court is unaware of the Section 702 violations.

October 24 2016 – Rogers verbally informs the FISA Court of Section 702(17) violations.

October 26 2016 – Rogers formally informs the FISA Court of 702(17) violations in writing.

November 17 2016 (morning) – Rogers travels to meet President-Elect Trump and his Transition Team in Trump Tower. Rogers does not inform DNI James Clapper.

November 17 2016 (evening) – Trump Transition Team announces they are moving all transition activity to Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.
Parts of the timeline are from this 2018 article, which contains much more background. However, note that the events listed above are almost entirely a matter of public record now.

The 2017 FISC report does not reveal the exact nature of the abuses of NSA surveillance data, only that the abuses occurred, and in large volume. However, Rogers' behavior suggests very strongly that some of the abuses involved spying on political opposition.

Key issues:
Who were the FBI/DOJ contractors making the illegal queries? (Fusion GPS? Opposition research firms?)

Note that Upstream Data includes intercepts from the internet backbone -- essentially ALL of our communications pass through such channels and are potentially stored at NSA data centers.

Did FBI seek the Carter Page FISA warrant because earlier (illegal) access to NSA data was interrupted by Rogers?

What did Rogers reveal to the Trump transition team that caused them to move operations from Trump Tower to a golf course in New Jersey?

FBI had access not just to ongoing communications, but stored past communications (within "two hops") of Carter Page and other Trump campaign staff. They must have known very early on (it is suggested, by early 2017) that there was no Russian collusion. So what was the purpose of the Mueller investigation?
I believe Durham's investigation will be able to address many of these questions, although results may be classified and not shared with the public.

More fun facts: (Note I've always thought NSA the most competent and least political among CIA, FBI, NSA.)
James Clapper was the architect of the Russia Report – Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections. It was used to push the entire Russia Narrative...

The report was technically created by a joint effort between the CIA (former Director John Brennan), FBI (former Director James Comey) and the NSA (current Director Mike Rogers) – and assembled by the DNI (former Director James Clapper).

The joint report contains one significant caveat:

CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has only moderate confidence.

Rogers stated in Senate hearing testimony that his confidence did not reach even this threshold: "I wouldn’t call it a discrepancy, I’d call it an honest difference of opinion between three different organizations and in the end I made that call.…It didn’t have the same level of sourcing and the same level of multiple sources."

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Lies and Admissions: Spygate in light of the IG FISA report


Almost three years of hard work to bring the truth to light.
There was no spying   [ WE STARTED HERE ]

Okay, there was spying, but it was all legal

Some illegal things happened, but by mistake

A few bad apples did the illegal things   [ WE ARE HERE ]

Illegal spying was politically motivated and ordered from the top

Obama knew ???
No telling how far down the above list we will get, but:
Lisa Page (text to Peter Strzok 9/2/2016): POTUS wants to know everything we’re doing.
Cognitive dissonance can be painful. Learning can hurt.

Here are things you might have believed to be true (really?), but which have been debunked (e.g., by DOJ IG reports, sworn testimony, etc.):
ALL FALSE

The Steele Dossier has been verified [ FBI has known since early 2017 that it's junk, but failed to report primary source interview information undermining the dossier to FISA court. ]

The FISA applications did not depend primarily or extensively on the Steele Dossier [ Explicitly contradicted by IG Horowitz. ]

The FISA process is rigorous and was followed carefully [ See report ]

Carter Page is a Russian asset [ No, he was a CIA asset. CIA informed FBI about this but the FBI lied about it in the FISA application. This is a felony. ]

There was Russian collusion and the Mueller investigation will find it [HAHAHA]

There is no evidence of individual bias in FBI / DOJ spygate activity
[ Plentiful evidence of individual bias, so far no documentary or testimonial (IG terminology) evidence of institutional bias... Awaiting completion of Durham investigation. ] 
Please see the recent DOJ IG reports -- including the earlier one that reveals what happened to the Hillary emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop (hint, it's not what you think). If you don't want to read the reports that's fine -- just don't talk about the subject as if you know something. This compendium of excerpts from the latest IG report and quotes from Horowitz's testimony outlines some of the more serious findings.

Here's an excerpt from the latest IG report (p.188) that gives a sense what was known about the Steele dossier already in early 2017 from FBI interviews with Steele's Russian sources. None of this information made it into the multiple FISA renewal applications, the last one in June 2017.
The Primary Sub-source also informed WFO [Washington Field Office] Agent 1 that Steele tasked him/her after the 2016 U.S. elections to find corroboration for the election reporting and that the Primary Sub-source could find none. According to WFO Agent 1, during an interview in May 2017, the Primary Sub-source said the corroboration was "zero." The Primary Sub-source had reported the same conclusion to the Crossfire Hurricane team members who interviewed him/her in January 2017.
Regarding predication of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, note that DOJ IG Horowitz has very limited scope and powers of investigation -- all centered within DOJ/FBI. US Attorney John Durham has subpoena power and has reportedly interviewed people in the UK (Halper?) and Italy (Mifsud?) that the IG had no access to. Durham disagreed strongly with Horowitz's conclusion that the spying was properly predicated.

Horowitz's conclusion rests on the fragile thread of the Papadopoulos-Downer bar conversation, concerning information from Mifsud. It is very likely that Mifsud is a western intelligence asset, not a Russian asset. Who was behind Halper (known CIA asset) and Mifsud contacting individuals associated with the Trump campaign, beginning in early to mid 2016?

There are many earlier posts on this topic. See, for example, Deep State Update (May 2018):
... declassifying the first FISA application would show, as claimed by people like Chuck Grassley and Trey Gowdy, who have read the unredacted original, that it largely depends on the fake Steele Dossier, and that the application failed to conform to the required Woods procedures.

[ THIS IS NOW CONFIRMED BY THE IG REPORT ON FISA ABUSE. GRASSLEY, GOWDY, NUNES LARGELY CORRECT. SCHIFF NOT. ]

... the New York Times reported in December of last year that the FBI investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia began when George Papadopoulos drunkenly boasted to an Australian diplomat about Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was the disclosure of this episode by the Australians that “led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired,” the NYT claimed.

[ Horowitz accepts this interaction as the basis for "proper predication" of the counterintelligence spying on the Trump campaign. But see below... ]

But it now seems clear that Halper’s attempts to gather information for the FBI began before that. “The professor’s interactions with Trump advisers began a few weeks before the opening of the investigation, when Page met the professor at the British symposium,” the Post reported. While it’s not rare for the FBI to gather information before formally opening an investigation, Halper’s earlier snooping does call into question the accuracy of the NYT’s claim that it was the drunken Papadopoulos ramblings that first prompted the FBI’s interest in these possible connections. And it suggests that CIA operatives, apparently working with at least some factions within the FBI, were trying to gather information about the Trump campaign earlier than had been previously reported.

Hmm.. so what made CIA/FBI assign Halper to probe Trump campaign staffers in the first place? It seems the cover story for the start of the anti-Trump investigation needs some reformulation...

[ STAY TUNED ... WE CAN HOPE THAT DURHAM'S INVESTIGATION WILL SHED FURTHER LIGHT ON THIS. HOROWITZ HAS/HAD NO SCOPE TO PURSUE IT -- HIS CONCLUSIONS ON THIS SPECIFIC POINT ARE LIKELY TO BE SUPERSEDED BY DURHAM'S. SEE DURHAM PUBLIC STATEMENT. ]
US Attorney John Durham statement:
... our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department.

Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S. Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened ...
Video will start at 12:12 -- a very revealing 5m: Durham investigation, predication of Crossfire Hurricane counterintelligence investigation, political bias, open questions about CIA involvement prior to opening of Crossfire Hurricane Aug 31, 2016, etc.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

Landau, Sakharov, and thermonuclear instabilities


Above, Lev Landau. See also F > L > P > S and Out on the Tail.

An incredible story from The World of Andrei Sakharov:
... Nonetheless, in the early 1950s, Landau worked on Sakharov’s assignments. True enough, that work was in computational mathematics, not theoretical physics. Odd “material evidence” of this appears in Landau’s Collected Works: placed between the 1958 article about fermions and the 1959 article about quantum field theory is the lecture “Numerical Methods of an Integration of Partial Equations by a Method of Grids.” It was published in 1958 but, as it indicates, describes the methods developed in 1951–1952.

When you look at the article’s unexciting formulas, it’s difficult to imagine what’s behind them. What’s behind them, among other things, is the first thermonuclear bomb in the world and the suicide of the head of the security department. ...

Landau’s group did the calculations for the 1949 A-bomb, for which he received an Order of Lenin and a Stalin Prize of the Second Degree.

Landau’s contribution to the hydrogen bomb was even greater, judging by the fact that he was awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labor and a Stalin Prize of the First Degree. Landau’s group managed to complete the Sloyka calculations “by hand”; it was the problem akin to the one the Americans postponed until computers appeared. This required devising an entirely new method of calculation.

The processes of a thermonuclear explosion are much more complicated than an atomic one, if only because it includes the atomic one as its first step. Numerical calculations using old methods would have taken years, but the problem had to be solved in months, which ensured a new method needed to be found. However, while developing it at the Institute for Physical Problems, theorists found a serious mathematical problem—the stability of the calculations. Without solving it, they couldn’t be sure that the calculations, no matter how precise, would actually have any relationship to physical reality. The new method solved this problem. But the mathematics group directed by Andrei Tikhonov, which had been created in parallel as a failsafe, denied the problem’s very existence.

Dissent and discussion are common in science, but in this case the science was top secret and super-urgent. Beria could not wait for the problem to be resolved in a free exchange of ideas, so a meeting was convened under the chairmanship of Mstislav Keldysh, the future president of the Academy of Sciences. It lasted for several days and the discussions ended in an unusual way: based on Keldysh’s opinion, the top leadership gave the order regarding which interpretation was to be considered scientific truth—the top leadership was Nikolai Pavlov, the KGB general in charge of nuclear weapons development. And Tikhonov’s group switched to the new method of calculation.

The assignment for the Sloyka calculations sent to the Landau group was “a piece of graph paper, handwritten on both sides in green-blue ink, and it contained all the geometry and data of the first hydrogen bomb.”

[[ Sloyka = "layer cake" = early thermonuclear bomb design. ]]

This was possibly the most secret document in the Soviet project—and it could not be entrusted to any typist. After a mathematical assignment was prepared on the basis of this document at the Institute of Physical Problems, it was sent on to the Institute of Applied Mathematics where Tikhonov’s group worked. And the page disappeared there. Perhaps it was mistaken for a rough draft—it was a single handwritten page—and it was destroyed along with other drafts. But this action was not recorded, which is what led to the tragedy Sakharov describes:
The head of the Security Department from the Ministry—a man whose mere physical appearance, his stare from under drooping eyelids, elicited physical dread in me—came to investigate the extraordinary incident. Former head of Leningrad State Security during the so-called “Leningrad Affair,” when about 700 top leaders were executed there, he spent nearly an hour on Saturday with the head of Institute Security. The Institute official spent the next day, Sunday, with his family; they say he was cheerful and very affectionate with his children. He came to work on Monday 15 minutes early and shot himself before his co-workers arrived.

Andrei Sakharov with daughter, 1948.

Physicists can do stuff.

Feynman and Tukey (Working Memory); Dom and Brexit


I received this message over the weekend.
Dear Dr. Hsu,

With great interest I regularly read your excellent Information Processing Blog. With regard to your assessment of Dom Cummings' achievements I am at variance with yours. But I guess you will like the anecdote referring to Feynman.

I tried to comment directly on your blog but the whole procedure was somewhat cumbersome, so I mail my comment directly to you. Please feel free to post it at the comment section under my full name. See the comment attached.

I am a retired psychology prof from University of Mannheim, Germany specializing in intelligence research, research methodology, assessment and evaluation research.

Best regards
Werner W. Wittmann
The letter:
IQ makes the difference

If you want to learn more about what kind of difference differences in IQ make read the research of Dave Lubinski and Camilla Benbow what differences highly gifted youngsters accomplish after several decades. Dave makes their publications available at https://my.vanderbilt.edu/smpy/publications/david-lubinski/

But let me turn to a funnier anecdote for physicists like Steve Hsu

A 35 year gap:

Physicists are among the smartest high IQ people, there is no doubt. If you want a single case example take Richard Feynman. If we could have lured him to psychology an important concept probably would have been published 35 years earlier.

In 1939 Feynman as a graduate student at Princeton experimented just for fun together with his friend John Tukey (who later became the famous statistician) to assess the ability of measuring time by counting.(Gleick,1992) They run stairs up and down to accelerate their heartbeats and trained themselves at the same time to count seconds and steps. Feynman’s performance deteriorated when he talked but not when he read. Tukey instead performed well when he recited poems aloud and worse when he read. So both have detected what is now known as the two slave systems of working memory, namely the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad. Now you get a feeling how much more psychology would have been advanced if brains like theirs had been invested in my discipline at that time.

As a true and convinced European I am really sorry that the English left us, the Scots and the Northern-Irish didn’t want it and maybe one day the fame of tearing the United Kingdom into parts goes to Cummings as well?

What I would say to Cummings:

“If a thing is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well.” ― John W. Tukey

But he did it and now…

Boris Johnson probably to Cummings: “The moor has pled guilty the moor can go” ?

References:
Gleick,J.(1992) Genius. The life and science of Richard Feynman. New York: Pantheon Books. 
Lubinski, D., Benbow, C.P., & Kell, H.J. (2014). Life paths and accomplishments of mathematically precocious males and females four decades later. Psychological Science, 25, 2217–2232.

From Wikipedia about Working Memory 
In 1974, Baddeley and Hitch[11] introduced the multicomponent model of working memory. The theory proposed a model containing three components: the central executive, the phonological loop, and the visuospatial sketchpad with the central executive functioning as a control center of sorts, directing info between the phonological and visuospatial components.[12] The central executive is responsible inter alia for directing attention to relevant information, suppressing irrelevant information and inappropriate actions, and coordinating cognitive processes when more than one task is simultaneously performed. A "central executive" is responsible for supervising the integration of information and for coordinating "slave systems" that are responsible for the short-term maintenance of information. One slave system, the phonological loop (PL), stores phonological information (that is, the sound of language) and prevents its decay by continuously refreshing it in a rehearsal loop. It can, for example, maintain a seven-digit telephone number for as long as one repeats the number to oneself again and again.[13] The other slave system, the visuospatial sketchpad, stores visual and spatial information. It can be used, for example, for constructing and manipulating visual images and for representing mental maps. The sketchpad can be further broken down into a visual subsystem (dealing with such phenomena as shape, colour, and texture), and a spatial subsystem (dealing with location).

Re: Brexit, see these remarks from Now it can be told: Dominic Cummings and the Conservative victory 2019
I don't know enough to have a high confidence or high conviction opinion concerning Brexit. Intelligent and thoughtful people disagree strongly over whether it is a good idea or a potential disaster.

Nevertheless, I can admire Dom's effectiveness as a political strategist and chief advisor to the Prime Minister. I do know him well enough to state with high confidence that his intentions are idealistic, not selfish, and that he (someone who has spent decades thinking about UK government, foreign policy, relations with Europe) sincerely thinks Brexit is in the best interests of the British people. Dom has deeper insights and better intuition about these issues than I do!

Being a rationalist, Dom has pointed out on his own blog that it is impossible to know with high confidence what the future implications of most political decisions are... In that sphere one cannot avoid decision making under extreme uncertainty.
The epistemically careful may end up like Zhou Enlai. When asked about consequences of the French Revolution, the late premier is reported to have said: Too early to tell. If pressed for an opinion, be prepared to find that thoughtful people can disagree...

Friday, December 13, 2019

Now it can be told: Dominic Cummings and the Conservative victory 2019


Dominic Cummings has done it again!
The scale of ... triumph cannot be exaggerated. He ... had brought about a complete transformation of the European international order. He had told those who would listen what he intended to do, how he intended to do it, and he did it. He achieved this incredible feat without commanding an army, and without the ability to give an order to the humblest common soldier, without control of a large party, without public support, indeed, in the face of almost universal hostility, without a majority in parliament, without control of his cabinet, and without a loyal following in the bureaucracy. -- Brexit: victory over the Hollow Men
A few remarks. As you know I am a Rationalist and a Realist: epistemology, proper calibration of beliefs, accuracy of prediction, Bayesian reasoning, update of priors, etc. etc.

I can tell you that Dom prepared for this outcome as far back as summer 2019, before he joined No 10 Downing Street. They were deadly serious about Brexit. If they could have gotten it done in the fall, they would have. But the larger goal was positioning to win a general election. People vs Parliament, Betrayal of Democracy, Get Brexit Done. Those were the themes carefully prepared in every tactical decision along the way.

There were difficult times in the last months. I was amazed by his courage and quiet stoicism. Look up the Finnish term, Sisu. Familiar to those that attempt something great against difficult odds.


I watched the media report on UK politics, while simultaneously having some knowledge of what was really happening -- prorogation of Parliament, negotiations with the EU, Farage and the Brexit Party. My opinion of the UK and US media cannot be lower. All noise, little signal -- much of what is stated at high confidence is simply not true. (More evidence? Read the latest IG report and compare to what is said about it in national media...)

Everything is in Dom's blog. Out in the open to be read by anyone with enough intelligence to understand him. How many did? Almost none.
Dominic Cummings: You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich remainers.
What does he want? Why is he doing this? Not for money, not for fame. For love of country and human progress and civilization. Dom's dream is to make the UK a global center for science, technology, and education. He may succeed, he may fail. But he will get his chance to further shape the history -- the future -- of his homeland. Don't bet against him.


On election night, I was told that Dom's small team of physicists / data scientists had called the results more accurately than anyone else ;-)

See also

How Brexit was won, and the unreasonable effectiveness of physicists
Brexit in the Multiverse: Dominic Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign
Dept. of Physicists Can Do Stuff: Brexit!

Added: This article is reasonably accurate, as far as I can tell:

We’re all living in Dominic Cummings’ world now (Politico.eu)


Some Remarks on Brexit: I don't know enough to have a high confidence or high conviction opinion concerning Brexit. Intelligent and thoughtful people disagree strongly over whether it is a good idea or a potential disaster.

Nevertheless, I can admire Dom's effectiveness as a political strategist and chief advisor to the Prime Minister. I do know him well enough to state with high confidence that his intentions are idealistic, not selfish, and that he (someone who has spent decades thinking about UK government, foreign policy, relations with Europe) sincerely thinks Brexit is in the best interests of the British people. Dom has deeper insights and better intuition about these issues than I do!

Being a rationalist, Dom has pointed out on his own blog that it is impossible to know with high confidence what the future implications of most political decisions are... In that sphere one cannot avoid decision making under extreme uncertainty.


Brexit: Down to the Wire (October 2019):
Get ready for the general election!

Over the summer I was at the Tallinn Digital Summit in Estonia. At dinner, sitting across from a UN official, I expressed to his initial incredulity that the victory of Vote Leave three years ago was a triumph of the human spirit: a small team of talented individuals defeated overwhelmingly powerful forces arrayed against them -- the UK government, the media, the elites. After some discussion, he came to understand my perspective. ...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Manifold #25: Ted Conover on Immigration, Prisons and 21st Century Homesteading



Steve and Corey talk to Ted about his article from the August issue of Harper’s Magazine, The Last Frontier. Ted describes how Trump’s election led him to this new project on people living off the grid in Colorado’s San Luis Valley (“Appalachia without the Trees”). The three discuss how immigration has changed since he wrote Coyotes in 1987. Ted explains how working as a prison guard in Sing Sing led to the uncomfortable realization that he was getting comfortable with unnecessary violence, and offers advice to young people seeking to write interesting stories in the new media landscape.

Transcript

Ted Conover (web site)

The Last Frontier: Homesteaders on the margins of America

Coyotes: A Journey Through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing

Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America's Hoboes


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, December 11, 2019

On the Road to Artificial General Intelligence • Danny Lange on game engines for AI/ML training



Great talk on the use of game engines (virtual worlds) for AI/ML agent training. Even if you are already knowledgeable about this topic, the examples he shows will be useful to guide your intuition as to what is possible, what is easy/hard with current technology and methods. Don't miss the puppies :-)

Conceptually, I would say there is not much new since the early successes with simpler (e.g., Atari) games. See papers/talks by Schmidhuber in this 2014 post. IIRC, the concept of curiosity: seeking "surprise" = large chunks of information = large model updates, was formulated already some time ago. 

One thing that is new is the use of physics engines in the virtual worlds - i.e., the AI has to deal with dynamics as in the real world. It seems to me that routine task automation, such as in manufacturing, is not that much harder than what is being done here in game worlds with good physics engines. (Note I'm not referring to the mechanical engineering or physical robotics challenges, which could be significant, just the ML part.) Replacement of humans in many routine tasks seems now a matter of economics tradeoffs and application of known technologies rather than big breakthroughs.

I've always thought we'd get to AGI after consuming a lot of FLOPS training agents in increasingly realistic virtual worlds. Of course, this makes one wonder whether we ourselves exist in a simulation ;-)

Saturday, December 07, 2019

In the Age of AI (Frontline, PBS)



Something to share with your normie (i.e., non-technical) friends :-)

I can't point to anything specific I learned from the documentary, but I was entertained and interested throughout. For a non-specialist, this is a very good introduction to the topic.


See also Manifold Podcast #16 with John Schulman of OpenAI :-)



John Schulman is a research scientist at OpenAI. He co-leads the Reinforcement Learning group and works on agent learning in virtual game worlds (e.g., Dota) as well as in robotics. John, Corey, and Steve talk about AI, AGI (Artifical General Intelligence), the Singularity (self-reinforcing advances in AI which lead to runaway behavior that is incomprehensible to humans), and the creation and goals of OpenAI. They discuss recent advances in language models (GPT-2) and whether these results raise doubts about the usefulness of linguistic research over the past 60 years. Does GPT-2 imply that neural networks trained using large amounts of human-generated text can encode "common sense" knowledge about the world? They also discuss what humans are better at than current AI systems, and near term examples of what is already feasible: for example, using AI drones to kill people.

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