Archive for October, 2008

That’s all it take for a computer program to be evil?

October 30, 2008

Mad Science: A Computer Program That is Pure Evil

elmer Bringsjord, director of the AI lab and chairman of RPI’s Department of Cognitive Science, has created “E,” a computer-generated character programmed according to his own definition of evil. E must, according to Bringsjord, be willing to carry out premeditated acts that are immoral and would cause harm to others. And, when E analyzes its reasons for wanting to commit such acts, it must either develop a logically incoherent argument or conclude that it desired to see people harmed.

Interesting in a sort of 80s/90s cognitive science sort of way, but I should think that with billions of cycles per second someone should be able to do better than a mere sociopath.


Cool stellar sounds

October 30, 2008

BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | Team records ‘music’ from stars

Astronomers are increasingly listening into stars and other space sounds, according to Dr Tim O’Brien, of Manchester University’s Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics.

It’s interesting in itself,” he said, “it’s also scientifically useful.”

Dr O’Brien has collected his favourite space sounds in the Jodrell Bank podcast, known as the Jodcast.

Long ago, a couple of my professors did a recording of the sound of the solar system, enormously speeded up, of course. Great to listen to for half a minute or so. The BBC clips are pretty much the same — I’d love to attach them to a bunch of system sounds.

Can’t hold their port

October 30, 2008

CANOE — CNEWS – Canada: High-test homebrew fuelling violence

The main ingredient is SuperYeast, a fast-acting yeast available in home-brewing stores. Mixed in a pail with sugar and water, one pouch can make 25 litres of superjuice in just a couple of days. The standard price of a two-litre bottle of superjuice is $80.

People drunk on superjuice are prone to violence, wild emotional outbursts, suicidal thoughts and frequent blackouts, Wood said. “With regular alcohol you can know what you are doing up to a point, but with superjuice you can’t control yourself,” he said.

A search for superyeast shows that the police seem to be, uh, perhaps just a little off base. In two days, you get 14% alcohol, which is equivalent to strong wine, or about twice the alcohol content of beer. In five days you get to 20%, which is the same as fortified wines, or about 3x regular beer. The top end, then, is 40 proof, which is to say half the alcohol content of whiskey, vodka or other spirits. I’m a little suspicious, even given isolated dry communities, that people are paying $80 for the alcoholic equivalent of 2 or 3 sixpacks of bad beer. (Especially when in a cold climate you can freeze-concentrate your liquor to well above distillery levels.)

But it sure makes a good story to blame the craziness of being in an isolated community subject to enormous cultural, environmental and economic pressures on some new genetically-enhanced strain of yeast.

The only clue I can see to why this stuff might be producing excess craziness is in the comment that people are drinking it after one day of (probably non-optimal-temperature) fermentation. The yeast probably isn’t strong enough to ferment at body temperature — if it were, these people would stay drunk indefinitely — but a quick look at the recipe page shows that two liters of partially fermented mix will have something like a pound of pure sugar in it. So imagine drinking a six of light beer while chowing down on a pound and a half of marshmallows. There’s a high that will make you cray, and a hangover you’ll never want to repeat.

Who accredits the accreditors?

October 27, 2008

The Reality-Based Community: Accreditation

To protect consumers effectively, accreditation needs indirect legal protection. Privileged access to public funding is the main weapon. Another is denying the use of certain titles to the unaccredited. I would protect the names university, Ph.D, actuary, and of course accredited, though not college, statistician, philosopher or manicurist. But I’d be hard put to defend these choices in any systematic way.

Apple U., Hamburger U., right out. The jury is out on whether it would be lawful to call oneself a graduate of the school of hard knocks.

And yeah, this is why licensing: because accreditation is ultimately like privately-funded bond rating. And we know how well that worked out.

brilliant. (oled touch sensitivity)

October 24, 2008

Feel The Light: OLED With Touch Function

Switching and dimming the light could be easily controlled by a hand movement, which overcomes the traditional controller function. Normally, the implementation of touch functions requires additional touch foils on the top of the devices. The new developed touch function requires no additional hardware, because the OLED itself is used to read out the touch signal – that´s the breakthrough, reached by the Fraunhofer IPMS.

It’s cool to be able to do this with big-area lights, but does it also mean roll-up digital canvas?

Also great if true

October 24, 2008

BBC NEWS | Health | Drug may reverse MS brain damage

The latest three-year study, of 334 patients with relapsing-remitting MS which had yet to be treated, found that the drug cut the number of attacks of disease by 74% more than the reduction achieved by conventional interferon-beta therapy.

Alemtuzumab also reduced the risk of sustained accumulation of disability by 71% compared to beta-interferon.

People on the trial who received the drug also recovered some function that had been thought to be permanently lost, and as a result were less disabled after three years than at the beginning of the study

The NHS don’t want to use it because of the side effects (including death), but I can sure think of a lot of patients who would want to take that risk.

biosensor chips: lovely if true

October 24, 2008

Medical Gadgets: Implanted Microchip Will Monitor Your Health, Deliver Drugs From Under Your Skin

The chip is much more precise than the finger pricking method for monitoring blood, and in diabetes sufferers, can minimize the risk of complications like blindness and kidney failure. The first glucose-monitoring and osteoporosis drug-releasing chips will begin human clinical trials next year. MicroCHIPS is looking into developing more advanced versions that can predict heart or kidney failure, biodegrade in the body, and release multiple vaccine or drug doses over time.

If they don’t clot up, or require really unpleasant placement (something the size of a dime is damn big) or stop working, these would be great. And only after 20 years or so of everybody knowing this was right around the corner…

Why so much “groundbreaking” research is wrong?

October 24, 2008

The fallibility of scientific journals | Publish and be wrong | The Economist

Dr Ioannidis made a splash three years ago by arguing, quite convincingly, that most published scientific research is wrong. Now, along with Neal Young of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland and Omar Al-Ubaydli, an economist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, he suggests why.

PLoS Medicine – Why Current Publication Practices May Distort Science

The current system of publication in biomedical research provides a distorted view of the reality of scientific data that are generated in the laboratory and clinic. This system can be studied by applying principles from the field of economics. The “winner’s curse,” a more general statement of publication bias, suggests that the small proportion of results chosen for publication are unrepresentative of scientists’ repeated samplings of the real world. The self-correcting mechanism in science is retarded by the extreme imbalance between the abundance of supply (the output of basic science laboratories and clinical investigations) and the increasingly limited venues for publication (journals with sufficiently high impact). This system would be expected intrinsically to lead to the misallocation of resources. The scarcity of available outlets is artificial, based on the costs of printing in an electronic age and a belief that selectivity is equivalent to quality. Science is subject to great uncertainty: we cannot be confident now which efforts will ultimately yield worthwhile achievements. However, the current system abdicates to a small number of intermediates an authoritative prescience to anticipate a highly unpredictable future. In considering society’s expectations and our own goals as scientists, we believe that there is a moral imperative to reconsider how scientific data are judged and disseminated.

Of course, the authors are part of the same system they criticize, so if this gets cited a lot, prepare for it to be debunked…

(I’m also a little leery of the original claim, which doesn’t really seem to address what you need to know — fer example, how wrong are the famous wrong papers, since plenty of revisions don’t affect your central thesis, how does this wrongness compare to the wrongness of nonfamous papers, and how much of the difference, if any, is the result of many more people bothering to examine the famous papers, while the nonfamous ones don’t even get examined for accuracy.)

The line about selectivity is also a bit misguided — it’s not about the cost of print, it’s about the cost of attention. Selectivity is there because people can’t keep up with even a couple journals in their own field, much less everything that would like to be published. (or maybe those are my editorial biases talking)

Wind on Mars

October 23, 2008

The Space Fellowship

(NASA) – This series of images show Phoenix’s telltale instrument waving in the Martian wind. Documenting the telltale’s movement helps mission scientists and engineers determine what the wind is like on Mars.

On the day these images were taken, one of the images seemed to be “out-of-phase” with other images, possibly indicating a dust devil occurrence. Preliminary analysis of the images taken right before and after the passing of this possible dust devil indicates winds from the west at 7 meters per second. The image taken during the possible dust devil shows 11 meters per second wind from the south.

This is just so thoroughly cool. It’s actually another whole planet up there.

I glad there’s no such thing as a hash collision

October 23, 2008

ISPs pressed to become child porn cops – Security-

# A law enforcement agency would make available a list of files known to contain child pornography. Such files are commonly discovered in law enforcement raids, in undercover operations and in Internet searches that start with certain keywords (such as “pre-teens hard core”). Police officers have looked at those files, making a judgment that the children are clearly under age and that the files are illegal in their jurisdiction, before adding them to the list. Each digital file has a unique digital signature, called a hash value, that can be recognized no matter what the file is named, and without having to open the file again. The company calls this list of hash values its Global File Registry.
# Whenever an Internet user searched the Web, attached a file to an e-mail or examined a menu of files using file-sharing software on a peer-to-peer network, the software would compare the hash values of those files against the file registry. It wouldn’t be “reading” the content of the files — it couldn’t tell a love note from a recipe — but it would determine whether a file is digitally identical to one on the child-porn list.

The article mentions that there are other investigative methods that don’t raise the same universal-search issues, but it doesn’t really talk about how easy it would be to defeat such hashing systems (either with false positives or false negatives) by making trivial changes to the contents of files.

It does, however, mention that the man-in-the-middle software they’re talking about deploying can intercept requests for an encrypted file and turn them into requests for a compressed (and thus easily-decodable) version. Gosh, I wouldn’t mind having a proxy that took all of someone’s https: requests and turned them into http: instead; it sure wouldn’t be a gaping security hole, now would it?