Thursday, November 19, 2015

Friday Thinking 20 November 2015

Hello – Friday Thinking is curated on the basis of my own curiosity and offered in the spirit of sharing. Many thanks to those who enjoy this. 

In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

What forecasting tournaments say to the forecasters is that you don't have this luxury of disciplinary compartmentalization anymore. You're going to have to be more integrated in your thinking. And of course, academia encourages specialization.
   Philip Tetlock - Forecasting Tournaments: What We Discover When We Start Scoring Accuracy

It seems that from the perspective of mathematical science, there exist two natural domains. The first is the physical domain of particles, fields, and universal laws, with an associated search for elegant theories that apply everywhere in the known universe. Here, science has made great strides.

The second domain is that of complex phenomena. These are adaptive, interacting, many-body systems that include populations of cells, societies, economies, cities, human cultures, and technological networks — all phenomena with long histories and adaptive components, and they have a tendency to change as soon as we have come to understand them. Complexity theories extend to life — a remarkable state hitherto found only upon the crust of our third planet from the sun.

As with physical theory (such as the theory of gravity, which we need to understand if we are to make any progress with ballistics, aviation, and space flight), some form of complexity theory is required if we are to understand many of the intimate, and patently uncertain, interactions found in modern society. And the natural complement to the search for fundamental theory is the direct and ancillary discovery of tools to predict and control the complex, highly interconnected world in which we  live.

Many of our most pressing challenges and failures in the 21st century derive from an underestimation of complexity. Society has a tendency to treat challenges as if they emerged from a single factor in a rather straightforward way. Hence we blame war on a single aggressor, starvation on the scarcity of a single food product, or poverty on the concentration of wealth.

The temptation to avoid complexity is rather firmly rooted in the abiotic, physical domain, where certainty reigns. And if this were not bad enough, our educational system tends to perpetuate this misunderstanding with departments and schools that treat the interconnected world around us as if it was simple and disconnected.
David Krakauer, President, Santa Fe Institute- Complexity - Worlds hidden in plain sight

This is a very long article - actually a conversation between some wonderful minds including Daniel Kahnman. Well worth the time for anyone interested in forecasting, prediction, probability - in the real world.
Edge Master Class 2015: A Short Course in Superforecasting, Class I
Forecasting Tournaments: What We Discover When We Start Scoring Accuracy
I'm going to start this conversation off with a couple of stories that provide a nice point of entry into the 130 slides that you have in front of you in this notebook, and I'll also offer the reassurance that I have no intention of frog-marching you through all 130 slides. As issues come up, we might refer to particular things in here, but we're not going to go through these slides one-by-one.
People in the discussion include:
Robert Axelrod:    Political scientist from Michigan. I do game theory international national security.        
W. Daniel Hillis:    I'm an engineer        
Danny Kahneman:    I'm a psychologist.        
Wael Ghonim:    I used to work for Google as well. I'm a political activist and now working for a startup called Parlio.
Dean Kamen:   I'm an Edge groupie. When I'm not doing that, I make stuff.
Rodney Brooks:   I'm a reformed academic and I make robots.
John Brockman:   Editor of Edge.
Stewart Brand:   The Long Now Foundation and Revive & Restore for de-extinction.

The other Classes in this course can also be accessed here:

For anyone interested in creative future imaginings - here’s something sponsored by Microsoft. The book is free to download.
Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Stories Inspired by Microsoft
Where fact and fiction collide
The book is an anthology of short stories written by some of today’s greatest science fiction authors. These visionary stories explore prediction science, quantum computing, real-time translation, machine learning, and much more. The contributing authors were inspired by inside access to leading-edge work, including in-person visits to Microsoft’s research labs, to craft new works that predict the near-future of technology and examine its complex relationship to our core humanity.

This is another interesting article about new ways of looking at living systems.
The Hidden Power Laws of Ecosystems
As nature scales, complexity gives way to universal law
Here’s how to cause a ruckus: Ask a bunch of naturalists to simplify the world. We usually think in terms of a web of complicated interactions among animals, plants, microbes, earth, wind, and fire—what Darwin called “the entangled bank.” Reducing the bank’s complexity to broad generalizations can seem dishonest.

So when Tony Ives, a theoretical ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, prodded his colleagues at the 2013 meeting of the Ecological Society of America by calling for a vote on whether they ought to seek out general laws, it probably wasn’t surprising that two-thirds of the room voted no.

Despite the skepticism, the kinds of general laws made possible by simplification have remarkable predictive powers. They could let us calculate how many species there are in ecosystems that are too big to sample thoroughly, or how many will be lost after habitat destruction.

Perhaps because I started in biology after training in physics, I’m an ecologist who finds beauty in these general laws. In physics, the last thing you’d worry about are differences between one molecule of a gas and another. No one has a personal favorite electron. The ideal gas law relating pressure, volume, and temperature holds equally well for oxygen and nitrogen. Phase transitions between liquids and gases behave in the same way as the magnetization of certain metals.

Why shouldn’t an ecosystem be just as beautifully perfect as an ideal gas, and why can’t ecologists have as much predicting power as a physicist? The answers to these questions just might be “it is,” and “they can.” But only when viewed from a particular perspective.

This is an important advance in understanding risk and probability in social sciences and other important domains. The incorporation of quantum probability to assess anything that carries certain types of uncertainty and potential implications of carrying out measures themselves.
Jerome Busemeyer - "Quantum Reasoning About Sequences of Events"
Jerome Busemeyer, Psychological & Brain Sciences, Indiana
“Quantum Reasoning About Sequences of Events"

So here’s an effort to apply foresight to the future of management and office work. My own view on this article is that it’s very timid.
The majority of management tools we use today have been invented before 1920. The way we manage people today, compared to 50 years ago has hardly changed at all. The major principles, tools and methods that are driving our organizations today are legacies of people long dead. Mixed with recent fads promoted by consultancy firms. So when I say that office life is going to change in the next 20 years, this is a quite surprising statement, it’s not obvious at all. We will always need tools to hire, organize, motivate and control people. But the way we are doing it is about to change. And it’s all about innovation.

The barriers that protected corporation’s margins are crumbling. The share economy is at the base of the value proposition of Uber, Airbnb and many recent companies. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Paypal with their incredible innovation did not exist before 1994. As Ray Kurzweil said, we’re living in an era of accelerating returns. Innovation and technology are progressing exponentially. In other words, if we want to think about our work in 20 years, we cannot do it with linear principles.
Researchers state that there will be more self-employed entrepreneurs and less people into corporations. People working for multinationals will be more and more self-directed, work from remote and manage their time with flexibility. Generation Z will be more community based. Network, co-working, crowdsourcing, cross-pollination of ideas, collaborative environments will replace hierarchy. We will see a more flexible, freelance, collaborative and far less secure work world. Innovation will outsourced, it will be common praxis to search for promising start-ups and buy them. Scouting the best innovation out there will be a crucial competence to achieve differentiation.

Spaces, tools and technology will change to accommodate such changes. Below some examples of future office technology we can expect soon.
There’s a 15 min video by Gary Hamel included in the article - but for anyone interested in only the video you can watch it here.
Gary Hamel - Reinventing Management for the 21st Century
The Management Innovation Exchange (MIX), an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century, has posted a thought-provoking presentation by MIX founder Gary Hamel. In this engaging 15-minute talk (part of a lecture in the University of Phoenix Distinguished Guest Video Lecture Series), Gary sketches the evolution of management from its invention in the early 1900s through its stagnation in the 60s and 70s to its current existential crisis -- a crisis he says demands a re-invention of the core concept itself. In his inimitable style, Gary provocatively and persuasively argues that only radical management innovation can save organizations from becoming extinct in today's world of constant change.

By now people should have heard and recognized the reality of brain plasticity - that the brain can reconfigure existing neuronal functions to new ends or to address initial shortcomings, ot new traumas. This new research adds even more potential for redevelopment.
Neurons Can Be Changed from One Type Into Another from Within the Brain
A newly published study from Harvard biologists shows how neurons can be dramatically changed from one type into another from within the brain and how neighboring neurons recognize the reprogrammed cells as different and adapt by changing how they communicate with them.

Building on earlier work in which they disproved neurobiology dogma by “reprogramming” neurons — turning one form of neuron into another — in the brains of living animals, Harvard Stem Cell Institute researchers have now shown that the networks of communication among reprogrammed neurons and their neighbors can also be changed, or “rewired.”

The finding, by Paola Arlotta, a professor of stem cell and regenerative biology, in close collaboration with Takao Hensch, a professor of molecular and cellular biology, has implications for both a basic understanding of how neurons choose their synaptic partners when circuits wire during early development, and for developing strategies to change defective communication in psychiatric and neurodevelopmental diseases, such as schizophrenia and autism.

“What we’ve shown here is that not only neurons can be dramatically changed from one type into another from within the brain,” said Arlotta, who is also an associate member of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Disease at the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T., but also that “neighboring neurons recognize the reprogrammed cells as different and adapt by changing how they communicate with them.”

The work is published in the latest edition of the journal Neuron.

This is an interesting breakthrough with significant implications.
Scientists at Glasgow University find a cheap way to produce graphene
It has been hailed as a wonder material set to revolutionise everyday life, but graphene has always been considered too expensive for mass production – until now.
Scientists at Glasgow University have made a breakthrough discovery, allowing graphene to be produced one hundred times more cheaply than before, opening it up to an array of new applications.

First isolated in 2004, the miracle material can be used in almost anything from bendable mobile phone screens to prosthetic skin able to provide sensation.
Graphene is the world’s thinnest material at just a single atom thick, or one-million times thinner than a human hair, but is 200 times stronger than steel and conducts heat and electricity better than copper.

Glasgow University’s research has discovered a way to produce large sheets of graphene with the same type of cheap copper used to manufacture lithium-ion batteries found in household appliances.

Dr Ravinder Dahiya, who led the university team working on the research, said: “The commercially-available copper we used in our process retails for around one dollar per square metre, compared to around $115 for a similar amount of the copper currently used in graphene production.

Here is something for the post-modern primitive anticipation of a meta-real cyborg - somewhere in a club near you - you will see this soon. Now a while ago a CEO undertook some genetic therapy on herself - and last week someone was Kickstarting DIY CRISPR kits. The looming horizon of Humans 3.0? At minimum an tiny implant could generate an means of authentication that could prevent current forms identity theft.
Forget tattoos: Biohackers are putting LED implants under their skin
Last weekend (Nov. 6-8) in Düsseldorf, a biohacker successfully implanted an electronic device under his forearm; when it comes into contact with a magnet, its five LED lights switch on, to illuminate his skin.

That may sound like a lot of pain and a high potential for health risk for such a novel reward, but Grindhouse Wetware, the company that developed the implant, believes it is a small step toward living a cyborg life—and one that everyone will soon want to be a part of.

“Today our creations may still seem like niche products, but once we’ve succeeded at developing a cheap heart implant that automatically warns you before a heart attack, everyone will want our gadgets,” Tim Cannon, founder of Grindhouse Wetware and last week’s recipient of the implant, told Vice magazine.

So-called biohacking communities have been experimenting with digital implants for some time already. Chips as small as a grain of rice can be injected under a person’s skin, or can be implanted via a small incision, as Cannon’s was. And while LED lights are purely aesthetic, other implants serve more practical purposes.

And by inserting magnets under the skin, it is possible to give the user unusual abilities. Picking up small metallic objects, for example, would suddenly become easier. Cannon, who also has a magnet in his finger, told Vice that they can create a sort of sixth sense: “I can sense magnetic fields… Now I know that electricity in Europe feels different than electricity in America.”

This is a fantastic site for anyone interested in photos at the very small scale.
Eye of Science
perfection in scientific photography - scanning electron microscope
eye of science - photo studio for scientific photography

For 2 decades we have been devoting our work to the visualization of the previously unknown and invisible. Detailed, aesthetic, and scientifically correct we present an access into the microscopic world of biology, medicine, chemistry, technology, and our environment. Photo design for science. Micro-photography for advertising. Microscopy for education.

Scientific photography has many fields. We have dedicated our focus, energy, and time on micro photography. Here, we set new standards in the creation of images from a scanning electron microscope which the scientific observer as well as the seeker for aesthetic pictures will keep in mind.
Of course, the electron microscope images fulfill the high technical demands for education, advertising, and television.

Our many years of experience in the preparation of microscopic samples, the use of light and electron microscopes provides the basis for a modern and creative way of scientific photo design. Here, we face new challenges every day.

This next article is interesting - we all know that once a piece of software is created - it cost nothing to share-and-spread. The combination of deep-learning and networked robots and automated devices is a conditions of profoundly accelerated learning. Mobile devices, sensors, apps, the Internet-of-Things, Big Data, AI and more are shaping a significant change in conditions of change - we can expect accelerating advance in all drone technologies. For example the human piloted aircraft as a warfighting platform of the future … is past.
How Robots Can Quickly Teach Each Other to Grasp New Objects
It may take hours for a robot to figure out how to grasp a new object. But hundreds of robots could accelerate the process by sharing knowledge.
Enabling robots to manipulate objects more easily is one of the big challenges in robotics today, and it could have major industrial significance (see “Shelf-Picking Robots Will Vie for Amazon Prize”).

Tellex says robotics researchers are increasingly looking for more efficient ways of training robots to perform tasks such as manipulation. “We have powerful algorithms now—such as deep learning—that can learn from large data sets, but these algorithms require data,” she says. “Robot practice is a way to acquire the data that a robot needs for learning to robustly manipulate objects.”

Tellex also notes that there are around 300 Baxter robots in various research labs around the world today. If each of those robots were to use both arms to examine new objects, she says, it would be possible for them to learn to grasp a million objects in 11 days. “By having robots share what they’ve learned, it’s possible to increase the speed of data collection by orders of magnitude,” she says.

And if we teach them - will they pass? It looks like AI is good enough to attend university.
Artificial Intelligence Program Passes College Entrance Exam
Artificial intelligence is now smart enough to be accepted into most Japanese universities.

The National Institute of Informatics said Saturday that its AI program, developed with university and corporate researchers, achieved an above-average score on a college entrance exam for the first time. The test covered five subjects including math, physics and English.

The institute has been seeking to develop an AI by 2021 that would be able to score high enough on Japan’s standardized college entrance exam to be accepted into the University of Tokyo, the nation’s top-ranked university.

The AI received a score of 511 points out of 950, above the national average of 416, and did exceptionally well on math and history-related problems, the institute said.
With that score, the AI has at least an 80% chance of being accepted to 441 private universities and 33 national universities, according to the institute.

The software program had been cramming for the exam since 2011 but had below-average scores on similar exams in 2013 and 2014.

Here’s very recent development in robotic capability.
“Spring-mass” technology heralds the future of walking robots
A study by engineers at Oregon State University suggests that they have achieved the most realistic robotic implementation of human walking dynamics that has ever been done, which may ultimately allow human-like versatility and performance.

The system is based on a concept called “spring-mass” walking that was theorized less than a decade ago, and combines passive dynamics of a mechanical system with computer control. It provides the ability to blindly react to rough terrain, maintain balance, retain an efficiency of motion and essentially walk like humans do.

As such, this approach to robots that can walk and run like humans opens the door to entire new industries, jobs and mechanized systems that do not today exist.

The findings on spring-mass walking have been reported for the first time in IEEE Transactions on Robotics, by engineers from OSU and Germany. The work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Human Frontier Science Program.

The system is also efficient. Studies done with their ATRIAS robot model, which incorporates the spring-mass theory, showed that it’s three times more energy-efficient than any other human-sized bipedal robots.

This is an interesting article for a number of reasons - some insight into the efforts of oil-rich UAE to re-invent itself away from its fundamental dependence on oil-revenue; some insight into the acceleration of progress in drones, robotics and applications; and some insight in current possibilities. This is worth the read.
The oil-rich city betting on drones
Welcome to Dubai, and to one of the more awkward moments of an already odd competition called Drones For Good. We’re here to watch teams compete for a million-dollar prize, by demonstrating how drone technology can benefit civilians. It’s an unusual setting for such an event: in the US, similar drone and robotics competitions take place all the time in sports stadiums or on the grounds of a college campus. But this is the Middle East – and the backdrop is a city already looking to build itself into the sky. It began with its vertiginous skyscrapers; now the UAE wants to exploit the airspace with flying machines too. The UAE government predicts the civilian drone industry could to be worth as much as $10bn by 2025. It’s a young and potentially very lucrative market, and the UAE is determined to grab a slice of it.

Every gardener can use this. The image and the two short video are worth it.
Bosch's Giant Robot Can Punch Weeds to Death
At IROS last month, researchers from a Bosch startup called Deepfield Robotics presented a paper on “Vision-Based High-Speed Manipulation for Robotic Ultra-Precise Weed Control,” which has like four distinct exciting-sounding phrases in it. We wanted to write about it immediately, but Deepfield asked us to hold off a bit until their fancy new website went live, which it now has. This means that we can show you video of their enormous agricultural robot that can autonomously detect and physically obliterate individual weeds in a tenth of a second.

Given the scale of farming today, treating weeds chemically is really the only practical way for humans to keep them under control, because you can use tractors or airplanes to cover large areas in a short amount of time. But all of those necessarily deadly (to weeds) chemicals then get on the plants we don’t want to kill (because we want to eat them), as well as getting washed into the soil. The most organic and eco-friendly way of dealing with weeds is the old-fashioned way: physically removing them. “Physical removal” can mean pulling weeds out completely, but that involves both grasping the weed and doing something with it. A better solution is to just smash it way down into the ground, which is faster, easier, and something a robot can do excellently.

There is a great deal of concern about water shortages - but it’s not water per se - it’s fresh water because the world is mostly water.
Shocking Trick To Desalinate Seawater
Getting clean water for drinking and agriculture to a burgeoning population is one of the most pressing challenges of this century. A natural place to turn to is the world’s oceans, but desalinating seawater has so far proven to be costly and energy-intensive.

Engineers at MIT have come up with a new desalination system that uses a shockwave to get the salt out of seawater. It could be a practical and energy-efficient method for desalination; water purification in remote locations and emergencies; and for cleaning brackish wastewater generated from hydraulic fracturing, the researchers say.

The most common desalination method involves boiling seawater, which takes a lot of energy. A slightly less energy-intensive method is reverse osmosis, in which seawater is pushed through a thick membrane that blocks sodium and chloride ions and lets fresh water through. But reverse osmosis is limited by the rate at which water molecules pass through the membrane. Plus, you still need a substantial amount of energy to force water through the membrane.

So Martin Bazant, a professor of chemical engineering and mathematics at MIT have turned to a process called shock electrodialysis that doesn’t require membranes and uses very little energy.

The system should be practical to scale up [for both seawater and brackish water] since it uses a simple setup and cheap materials. The team is now working on a larger prototype system.

If shocking water isn’t the means of cheaper desalination here’s another innovation moving toward a new approach to water shortages. In California - if they can figure out how to also use the frozen water for air-conditioning - a double return on energy.
GE's New 3-D Printed Turbines Freeze Seawater To Make It Drinkable
Desalination is usually prohibitively expensive. Now there is a much cheaper solution for water-stressed cities.
By 2016, if you live in San Diego, you'll be drinking seawater. Every day, the county's massive new desalination plant will turn up to 54 million gallons of ocean water into freshwater as insurance against continuing drought. But it's not a solution that can easily spread elsewhere, despite the fact that much of the population of California—and some other drought-stricken places—lives near the coast. The plant cost $1 billion to build.

A new design from GE, unveiled at Fast Company's Innovation Festival, is much smaller and mobile—and much cheaper. Using 3-D printed steam turbines, a miniature version of the machines that spin in power plants, the new technology sends seawater through a hyper-cooling loop that freezes it. The salt naturally comes out, and the result is clean drinking water.

The process uses about eight times less energy conventional desalination, where water is evaporated with heat. "Freezing water is a not a new approach, but the economics have not been great because the water recovery has typically been very low," says Vitali Lissianski, a chemical engineer in GE’s Energy Systems Lab. "We believe with the unique approach we are taking to freeze the water through our mini-turbine, all of the water could be treated."

For Fun
… But maybe too close for my own comfort - but I’m definitely in favor of incorporating this new word. But also we need also need a word for the sort of magical thinking - superstition involved in not throwing stuff out - like medicines in the bathroom cabinet. There's a whole psychology of cargo-cultish numinosity that can be imbued in that stuff - we need a word for that too.
“Tsundoku,” the Japanese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the English Language
There are some words out there that are brilliantly evocative and at the same time impossible to fully translate. Yiddish has the word shlimazl, which basically means a perpetually unlucky person. German has the word Backpfeifengesicht, which roughly means a face that is badly in need of a fist. And then there’s the Japanese word tsundoku, which perfectly describes the state of my apartment. It means buying books and letting them pile up unread.

The word dates back to the very beginning of modern Japan, the Meiji era (1868-1912) and has its origins in a pun. Tsundoku, which literally means reading pile, is written in Japanese as 積ん読. Tsunde oku means to let something pile up and is written 積んでおく. Some wag around the turn of the century swapped out that oku(おく) in tsunde oku for doku (読) – meaning to read. Then since tsunde doku is hard to say, the word got mushed together to form tsundoku.

As with other Japanese words like karaoke, tsunami, and otaku, I think it’s high time that tsundoku enter the English language. Now if only we can figure out a word to describe unread ebooks that languish on your Kindle. E-tsundoku? Tsunkindle?

Envisioning the future from the past. This article is fun for the illustrations of a possible new technology - worth the view.
The Telephonoscope (1879)
Although titled “Edison’s Telephonoscope” it is not, in fact, a creation of Thomas Edison’s at all (either realised or proposed) but rather an imagining by Maurier of what the great inventor might come up with next: a machine which, for all intents and purposes, amounts to some kind of Victorian Skype. A mother and father — the “Pater- and Materfamilias” — sit at home and converse with, while also viewing, their children at play across the other side of the world.

William Gibson’s book of 1996 ‘Idoru” was all about this - unevenly distributed future now.
Virtual pop star Hatsune Miku is touring North America next year
She's played shows here before, but this time she's headlining
If you missed her last year, you're in luck: Hatsune Miku's coming back to North America. The virtual Japanese pop star announced a 2016 tour on Wednesday afternoon, one that includes eight shows in Canada and the US after a brief run through Japan. "Virtual" has a very particular meaning in Miku's case: she's not really a "she" at all. Miku's a "singing voice synthesizer," a piece of software people can use to create and adjust their own music. She has her own special production team, but she's also a part of millions of fan-created songs. Tons of artists, musicians, and writers have toyed with Miku's sound and likeness; the image above was created by Final Fantasy designer Tetsuya Nomura.

Next year's tour won't be Miku's first time touring North America. She spent a month last year opening for Lady Gaga as part of the singer's Artpop Ball, a stint that included dates across the US and Canada. She's even appeared on American late night television, having performed on The Late Show with David Letterman last year. Miku still isn't a household name in North America and she doesn't show up on the radio or charts, but these tour dates are going to be very popular — if you're thinking about attending, you should probably start planning now.

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