Thursday, December 27, 2018

Friday Thinking 28 Dec 2018

Hello all – Happy New Year's Eve, Eve, Eve, Eve

Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.

In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.

Jobs are dying - Work is just beginning. Work that engages our whole self becomes play that works. Techne = Knowledge-as-Know-How :: Technology = Embodied Know-How  

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9



The best way to overcome it [the fear of death]—so at least it seems to me—is to make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.

“How to Grow Old” by Bertrand Russell

Prime numbers get all the love. They’re the stars of countless popular stories, and they feature in the most celebrated open questions in mathematics. But there’s another mathematical phenomenon that’s almost as foundational, yet receives far less attention: prime equations.

These are equations — polynomial equations in particular — that can’t be divided by any other equations. Like prime numbers, they’re at the heart of a wide range of research areas in mathematics. For many particular problems, if you can understand something about the prime equations, you’ll find you’ve answered the question you actually set out to solve.

Equations, like numbers, cannot always be split into simpler elements. Researchers have now proved that such “prime” equations become ubiquitous as equations grow larger.

This means that unlike prime numbers, which are scarce, prime equations are abundant. The new paper solves a 25-year-old conjecture and has implications everywhere from online encryption to the mathematics of randomness.

In the Universe of Equations, Virtually All Are Prime

The social credit system, which was introduced in 2014, has had a large effect on life in the country. Failure to pay debts or fines can be recorded on the system’s website and lead to restrictions when applying for a credit card, insurance, or even train tickets.

As of April, the number of times people were denied airline tickets as a result of the system reached 11 million, and train tickets were denied on 4.2 million occasions. More than two million people have paid debts or fines after facing these restrictions.

President Xi Jinping described the rational for the system at a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party in 2016 as: “Lose trust in one area, face restrictions everywhere.”

The new misconduct policy also refers to “loss of trust”. And those who commit scientific misconduct will now be named and shamed on the social credit system’s website.

China introduces ‘social’ punishments for scientific misconduct

What’s required to support lifelong learning?
Here’s a key observation: no matter how smart any one individual is, that person will learn a lot faster as part of small group of people who share a commitment to getting to higher levels of impact and who form deep trust-based relationships through acting together. If we remain narrowly focused on learning in the form of transmitting existing knowledge, we’ll miss that key insight because it is particularly true if we are looking to create new knowledge through action in addressing unseen problems and opportunities.

At an institutional level, this shifts the focus from individuals to tightly knit workgroups who are working together to find ways to increase impact. At an individual level, it suggests that, once you’ve found your passion, you’ll achieve much greater impact once you are able to connect with a small group of others who share your passion. In fact, people who have the passion of the explorer, naturally coalesce into these small groups committed to learning faster together.

Once these groups come together, they’ll benefit by adopting a set of practices that can help them to accelerate learning and performance improvement.

But, here’s the rub. All of our institutions are built on a model of scalable efficiency and these institutions are deeply ambivalent about, if not openly hostile to, this form of passion. People with this form of passion have a hard time sticking to the script and the process manual – they get bored easily and they’re often deeply frustrated, seeing so much opportunity to get to higher and higher levels of performance and frustrated by the obstacles in their way. That may be why, at best, our research indicates that only about 13% of the US workforce currently has this passion of the explorer. If we’re truly serious about lifelong learning, we need to change that.

At an institutional level, this shifts the focus from individuals to tightly knit workgroups who are working together to find ways to increase impact. At an individual level, it suggests that, once you’ve found your passion, you’ll achieve much greater impact once you are able to connect with a small group of others who share your passion. In fact, people who have the passion of the explorer, naturally coalesce into these small groups committed to learning faster together.

John Hagel - The Threat and Opportunity of Lifelong Learning

This is a MUST READ - especially for anyone focused on Knowledge and Knowledge Management, on understanding the current state of a nation, city or organization in terms of the possibilities of its future evolution in the knowledge economy. The Anti-rival nature of knowledge makes the sharing of knowledge accelerate the value of knowledge. Strong Intellectual Property regimes can impede the spread of knowledge and the ability to face complex challenges by a more agile and rapid exploration of the possibility space.
Cesar Hidalgo and others have created a must view website - the Observatory of Economic Complexity - which provides a brilliant model for organizations to map their activities as networks of knowledge intensities - this could enable a clearer picture of the challenges and possibilities of evolving their capacities.

The Rise of Knowledge Economics

What is knowledge? How does it disseminate? And what’s its value?
Nearly 30 years ago, Paul Romer published a paper exploring the economic value of knowledge. In that paper, he argued that, unlike the classical factors of production (capital and labor), knowledge was a “non-rival good.” This meant that it could be shared infinitely, and thus, it was the only thing that could grow in per-capita terms.

Romer’s work was recently recognized with the Nobel Prize, even though it was just the beginning of a longer story. Knowledge could be infinitely shared, but did that mean it could go everywhere?

The first measure of knowledge we published is now known as a measure of relatedness. It measures the knowledge an economy has regarding a specific activity. Here an activity is a broad concept. It could be an industry (shirt manufacturing), a product (a shirt), a technology (weaving machinery) or even an area of research (non-woven textiles). Relatedness measures the “potential” of an economy to develop an activity that is not yet present in it. Relatedness honors an important property of knowledge, the fact that it is not easily transferrable among activities. Being an expert at music doesn’t make you good at sports. Similarly, an economy that is good at exporting electronics may be inexperienced at mining.

A few years later we published a second metric measuring the total knowledge in a country, region, or city. This measure focused on the intensity of knowledge—the fact that knowledge cannot be simply added, since it has overlaps and comes in discrete chunks. The basic idea was that the knowledge of a place was expressed in the activities present in it, and the knowledge of an activity was expressed in the places where that activity was present. This allowed us to define knowledge in a completely circular manner using either recursions or a mathematical technique related to principal component analysis. The good news was that this made no assumptions about which places or activities were most knowledge intense. We called this metric the Economic Complexity Index.

….could we ever accelerate the flow of knowledge? Better data and methods are allowing us to put the flow of knowledge under the microscope. We can observe how knowledge moves as workers switch jobs or become unemployed. We can see how changes in communication and transportation technologies affect knowledge diffusion: from the introduction of the printing press in early modern Europe, to the speeding up of trains in China. We can study the role of migration on knowledge flows. We can even use patents to explore the relatedness and complexity of innovative activities.

What will the study of knowledge bring us next? Will we get to a point at which we will measure Gross Domestic Knowledge as accurately as we measure Gross Domestic Product? Will we learn how to engineer knowledge diffusion? Will knowledge continue to concentrate in cities? Or will it finally break the shackles of society and spread to every corner of the world? The only thing we know for sure is that the study of knowledge is an exciting journey. The lowest hanging fruit may have already been picked, but the tree is still filled with fruits and flavors. Let’s climb it and explore.

Talking about knowledge - democracy is one way of harness the knowledge of a citizenry. But the future of democracy is not yesterday’s governance which was based on 18th century technology. This is a good signal of the possibilities of democracy tomorrow.

Liquid Democracy Could Help Answer Europe’s Legitimacy Crisis

Digital technology enables the emergence of a new kind of democratic participation that can help Europe overcome a loss of trust in government.
‘Liquid democracy’ is not a new concept but a hybrid of existing systems of democracy. In a direct democracy, everyone votes on all the issues. In a representative democracy, everyone gets to vote on the representative who then votes on all of the issues. Liquid democracy is based on a dynamic representation model in which the power of a vote is not frozen with a representative between election periods, but is liquid – that is, it is able to flow back and forth between the voter and the representatives to whom they delegate.

Instead of having representatives based on territory who vote on all issues for their constituents, liquid democracy allows individuals to choose representatives that are experts on narrow policy issues or members of their social network while retaining the ability to revoke their vote, or delegation, at any time. It creates a more flexible system that enables greater participation while still allowing for knowledgeable representation.

It is developments in digital technology that have made liquid democracy a feasible voting system. Any notion of delegating and revoking with paper ballots would be functionally impossible due to its sheer complexity. But the internet makes sending someone a vote, tracking how they used it, and revoking the vote, a simple matter.

Here’s a good 12 min read that reviews 2018 - in terms of neuroscience.
Hugo Spiers and colleagues showed us that the difference in navigation ability between the men and women of a country correlates rather stunningly well with the level of gender inequality in that country: the more unequal the genders are treated, the bigger the gap in the ability to navigate. To the extent that countries with minor gender inequality — your Norways and your Finlands — show no difference in navigation ability between men and women.

2018: a mildly muddled review of the year in neuroscience

Time to torch the textbooks
Welcome all to the third annual review of the year in neuroscience from The Spike. We’ve made it to the end of 2018. Who saw that coming?

Which means it’s time to take stock, and admire the great strides we’ve made in understanding the brain this year. Pfft. There, done that. Now for the actual review, this year a sampling of three pieces of beautiful or provocative work that shows us we understand less than we thought.

This is another strong signal of the accelerating emergence of Big Data, AI and other technologies for understanding our biology.

Companies to Analyze 40,000 Protein Samples

A partnership between genomic analysis company deCode Genetics and proteomics enterprise SomaLogic Inc. plans to analyze protein activity in 40,000 human samples. Results of the analysis, which the companies call the largest protein study ever, are expected to be used by deCode Genetics in Reykjavik, Iceland and SomaLogic in Boulder, Colorado to advance their respective drug discovery and analytical technologies.

SomaLogic says it’s collecting the world’s largest database of protein measurements. The company says its technology platform, known as SomaScan, provides a snapshot of protein activity in the body in real time. SomaScan, according to the company, measures thousands of proteins simultaneously, but also tracks the activity of proteins in both high and low abundance in the body.

SomaLogic says its analytical engine measures reactions of synthetic single-strand DNA nucleic acids called aptamers that bind to proteins in unique and characteristic ways. The company also uses machine learning and advanced bioinformatics tools as part of its analysis of proteins.

deCode Genetics collects data from 160,000 volunteers in Iceland, more than half the country’s adult population. The company also assembles a genealogical database for the entire country going back 1,000 years to Iceland’s founding as an independent nation. These extensive data sets, combined with the high quality of universal health care in Iceland, says deCode, makes it possible to study most common diseases on a large scale, minimizing the selection bias that can occur in larger and more diverse populations.

This is another good signal of what the future may reveal as we domesticate DNA.
“It’s the sort of result you hope to see once in a career,” said Alastair Simpson, a microbiologist at Dalhousie University who led the study.
“The tree of life is being reshaped by new data. It is really quite different than even what it was 15 or 20 years ago,” Burki said. “We’re seeing a tree with many more branches than we thought.”
...if you go down a level or two on the hierarchy, to the mere kingdom level — the one that encompasses, say, all animals — you find that new major lineages are popping up about once a year. “That rate isn’t slowing down,” said Simpson. “If anything, it might be speeding up.”

What a Newfound Kingdom Means for the Tree of Life

Neither animal, plant, fungus nor familiar protozoan, a strange microbe that sits in its own “supra-kingdom” of life foretells incredible biodiversity yet to be discovered by new sequencing technologies.
The tree of life just got another major branch. Researchers recently found a certain rare and mysterious microbe called a hemimastigote in a clump of Nova Scotian soil. Their subsequent analysis of its DNA revealed that it was neither animal, plant, fungus nor any recognized type of protozoan — that it in fact fell far outside any of the known large categories for classifying complex forms of life (eukaryotes). Instead, this flagella-waving oddball stands as the first member of its own “supra-kingdom” group, which probably peeled away from the other big branches of life at least a billion years ago.

Impressive as this finding about hemimastigotes is on its own, what matters more is that it’s just the latest (and most profound) of a quietly and steadily growing number of major taxonomic additions. Researchers keep uncovering not just new species or classes but entirely new kingdoms of life — raising questions about how they have stayed hidden for so long and how close we are to finding them all.

How do we see? This is an important signal not just for restoring and also augmenting human sight - but for the implications of improving AI for all visual recognition.
In a preliminary study presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference earlier this month, a team developed a visual prosthetic that does just that. Here, the team used an implanted array of electrodes in the visual cortex to directly input visual information into the brain—bypassing eyes that have been damaged by age or disease.

Incepting Sight? This Brain Implant Lets Blind Patients “See” Letters

For most of us, “eyes” are synonymous with “sight”: whatever our eyes capture, we perceive.
Yet under the hood, eyes are only the first step in an informational relay that transmutes photons into understanding. Light-sensitive cells in the eyes capture our world in exquisite detail, converting photon signals into electrical ones. As these electrical pulses travel along the optic nerve into the visual cortex, the signals are transformed into increasingly complex percepts—from “seeing” lines to shapes to parts of an object to a full scene.

In a sense, our eyes are sophisticated cameras; the brain’s visual cortex runs the software that tells us what we’re seeing. Damage the cortex, and a person no longer thinks he “sees” the world, even with perfectly functioning eyes.

What about the reverse? If you directly program a scene into the visual cortex by electrically stimulating its neurons, are our biological cameras even necessary?

This is a good signal of the emerging world of ubiquitous cameras - the question of course is who gets to see what they see?
“If machines are going to be seeing these images and video more than humans, then why don’t we think about redesigning the cameras purely for machines? Take the human out of the loop entirely, and think of cameras purely from a non-human perspective.”

This Lens-less Camera Is Built Specially for AI and Computer Vision Programs

Engineers have developed a "see-through" camera from a pane of glass, a photodetector, and some really clever software
Cameras used to be their own devices with lenses and film and trips to the drug store to get the pictures developed. Then, they disappeared into phones, tablets, laptops, and video game consoles. Now, it appears that cameras could someday become as inconspicuous as a pane of glass.

According to new research, a photodetector pressed up against the edge of a window can detect the reflections that bounce around inside the glass—like light signals traversing a fiber optic cable. And some clever processing of those tiny trickles of detected light enables the pane of glass to act like a giant camera lens.

The resulting grainy images (think of pixelated, somewhat distorted and lower-resolution cousins to shots taken by first-generation smartphones) won’t compete anytime soon with conventional cameras for picture quality. But for the purposes of many computer vision programs, a window pane or a piece of car windshield may provide all the resolution that an image processing algorithm or neural network might need.

And the digital environment’s sensorium won’t just reside outside of us - but also inside. This is a good signal of how implants and ‘ingestibles’ will provide personal customized data that can be pooled into Big Data.
“Our system could provide closed-loop monitoring and treatment, whereby a signal can help guide the delivery of a drug or tuning the dose of a drug,” says Giovanni Traverso, a visiting scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he will be joining the faculty in 2019.

Ingestible capsule can be controlled wirelessly

Electronic pill can relay diagnostic information or release drugs in response to smartphone commands.
Researchers at MIT, Draper, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have designed an ingestible capsule that can be controlled using Bluetooth wireless technology. The capsule, which can be customized to deliver drugs, sense environmental conditions, or both, can reside in the stomach for at least a month, transmitting information and responding to instructions from a user’s smartphone.

The capsules, manufactured using 3-D-printing technology, could be deployed to deliver drugs to treat a variety of diseases, particularly in cases where drugs must be taken over a long period of time. They could also be designed to sense infections, allergic reactions, or other events, and then release a drug in response.

These devices could also be used to communicate with other wearable and implantable medical devices, which could pool information to be communicated to the patient’s or doctor’s smartphone.

This marks another uncanny signal of the progress being made in developing human-like simulations by AI. There are a number of samples where you can hear the AI singing and I can’t tell the difference.

Revolutionary A.I. voice software produces incredible vocals that sound just like a real human

The day when human singers get replaced by A.I. inches that much closer.
Although virtual singers like Hatsune Miku do a stellar job at singing — even going so far as to hold concert tours around the world — they still retain an unmistakable mechanical tone to their voices.

However, bold research carried out by the International Language Technology Lab in the Nagoya Institute of Technology will change all of that. Working together with speech synthesis company Techno-Speech, the partnership has created a new A.I. technology that is able to reproduce the quality, style, and nuances of human voices more precisely than ever before.

This is a great signal of the emerging world of AI created virtuality (mixed realities) as a new mode of modeling, experience and learning. The short video is worth the view.

Watch AI conjure up an entire city from scratch

One day, this software could create entire virtual worlds.
The 3D graphics card company Nvidia recently released this mind-bending bit of research, developed in conjunction with some of the University of California, Berkeley, team behind the best dance video of the year. It’s a driving simulator that allows you to pilot a car through a city. Why is that a big deal? Because that city, from its buildings to its streets to its cars, is being created in real time by AI.

Like most AI that generates images, the software was taught on a training set. It learned from driver camera footage of vehicles moving through several major cities. This footage was segmented, meaning that it was labeled with “car” or “tree” so the AI could learn to identify details. And by sheer repetition, it gradually learned what these items should look like and where they should go. Then, as is customary in machine learning, two algorithms duked it out, drawing these items and attempting to fool one another with their forgeries. What resulted is the demo you see here. Nvidia was able to paint a blobby 3D world with a sharp, realistic veneer.

Technically, the demo is impressive for a few reasons. One, it’s a great proof of concept illustrating what’s possible: Yes, we can generate convincing city blocks through automation alone. Architects and city planners could make great use of this technology one day, rendering rapid prototypes to test theories before cementing them in real bricks and concrete. Two, the footage you see isn’t rendered over hours or even days of processing, as so many good AI constructions are today. It’s being generated by the AI model in real time, in an interactive, 3D environment. Granted, the simulation is powered by a $3,000 graphics processor. Even so, it’s rendered just like any video game on your Xbox.

This is a great signal for the emerging domain of autonomous vehicles - imagine each community with their own autonomous snow remover - to clear all our driveways without leaving snowbanks. The images are worth the view.

Honda's Autonomous Work Vehicles Are Coming To Make Humans Redundant

Honda has a new concept set to debut at CES in Las Vegas next month, an all-terrain vehicle fitted with autonomous bits meant to make off-road work easier, safer, and more efficient, so says the press release. The concept, called “Honda Autonomous Work Vehicle”, starts off innocently enough.

The snow throwing autonomous vehicle above is a nice concept, as nobody wants to go out in the cold to shovel the driveway. It’s a convenience tool for the wealthy, then. Like a Roomba or that VR fence lawn mower thing.

Here’s a good signal on the emerging transformation of transportation.

This cheap, clean, electric airplane could reshape regional air travel

An airplane called Alice could reshape regional travel as we know it, according to Israeli-based electric aircraft maker Eviation that is building the first of its all-electric passenger aircraft in France.

The all-electric aircraft will carry up to 9 passengers, have a range of up to 1,000kms, and allow air travel providers to offer flights between regional centres, rather than through a central, city hub. ...the maintenance and power costs of Alice’s emissions-free engine (presuming it’s charged with renewables) are around 30 per cent of conventional aircraft,

This is another very significant signal of the possible future relationship we have with life forms all around us - the 3 min video is fascinating.

This Tree Produces Psychedelic Art By Using Sensors to Monitor Its Own Health

Thijs Biersteker wanted a better way to communicate climate change to ordinary people, so he decided to let the trees do the talking.
Trees are nature’s record keepers. They document their lives through annual growth rings hidden behind their bark, and for those that know how to read this arboreal script, the rings tell a detailed story. They reveal insect infestations and disease, forest fires and droughts, and general climate conditions throughout the tree’s life.

But what if there was a way to use the natural climate monitoring ability of trees to convey the urgency of climate change to ordinary people? This is the motivating idea behind Voice of Nature, an installation created by the Dutch environmental artist Thijs Biersteker.

Biersteker’s artwork is based on a single tree in Chengdu, a city of 14 million people in southwestern China. The tree is laden with sensors connected to its roots, leaves, and branches, which collect 1,600 data points. These sensors are monitoring environmental conditions such as CO2 level, temperature, moisture in the soil, and light level, which are fed to an algorithm to generate digital rings every second.

Another signal of the emerging approach to local fresh food all year around.

‘Farming 4.0’: in space-starved Hong Kong, the future of agriculture may be in high-rise buildings, and hi-tech

An old factory building in Tai Po is using ‘vertical farming’ to turn a 10,000 sq ft space into one the size of a football field.
By replacing shovels and hoes with computers and drones, the operation only needs four farmers

The 20,000 sq ft space is air conditioned and fitted with sensors which check the temperature, humidity and height of the vegetables to make sure the environment is kept stable for the growth of greens.

And more - This is well worth the read - to appreciate how fast this industry is growing and how large it is becoming.

Cockroach sushi? Inside a farming revolution that could cure cancer, compost waste – and shake up menus

Hundreds of cockroach farmers across China are unleashing the insects’ potential in the country’s war on waste, in medicine, and deep or stir-fried
At a facility in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, 3 billion cockroaches are eating 15 tonnes of kitchen waste each day to solve the long-time environmental problem of what to do with mountains of discarded food.

And as restaurants selling cockroach dishes emerge across China, envisioning a future in which a hated insect can be a solution to human food shortages is becoming a little less difficult.
Growing commercial enthusiasm for cockroaches and a more open attitude to the insects is driving more people into the market and fuelling new ideas for their use.

And with the rise of urban farming is the rise of automated farming.

This robot picks a pepper in 24 seconds using a tiny saw, and could help combat a shortage of farm labor

Farming worker shortages are getting worse. In a survey by the California Farm Bureau Federation last year, 55 percent of the 762 farmers surveyed said they had experienced employee shortages. That's why researchers are now trying to tackle this problem with robots.

Researchers from Europe and Israel have built a robot that can pick ripe peppers in a greenhouse. The prototype, called Sweeper, is backed by the European Union as part of its Horizon 2020 innovation program.

To do its job, Sweeper uses a camera that can recognize the color of a pepper. Computer vision then helps the robot decide if the fruit is ripe for picking. If it is, Sweeper uses a small razor to cut the stem before catching the fruit in its "claws" and dropping it into a collection basket below.

This is a weak signal - but with tremendous implications.
“It tells us that this process happens everywhere, at least in our galaxy,” says astrochemist Michel Nuevo of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

The sugar that makes up DNA could be made in space

Lab experiments simulating the iciness and radiation in a star nursery created deoxyribose
Parts of DNA can form in space.
For the first time, scientists have made 2-deoxyribose, the sugar that makes up the backbone of DNA, under cosmic conditions in the lab by blasting ice with radiation. The result, reported December 18 in Nature Communications, suggests that there are several ways for prebiotic chemistry to take place in space, and supports the idea that the stuff of life could have been delivered to Earth from elsewhere.