Showing posts from June, 2006

But not yet! (The Robots are Coming!)

Attack of the Sexbots Sensation mongering quote from the Sunday Times: “People are going to be having sex with robots within five years,” That's not all, it seems. THE race is on to keep humans one step ahead of robots: an international team of scientists and academics is to publish a “code of ethics” for machines as they become more and more sophisticated. Although the nightmare vision of a Terminator world controlled by machines may seem fanciful, scientists believe the boundaries for human-robot interaction must be set now — before super-intelligent robots develop beyond our control. “There are two levels of priority,” said Gianmarco Verruggio, a roboticist at the Institute of Intelligent Systems for Automation in Genoa, northern Italy, and chief architect of the guide, to be published next month. “We have to manage the ethics of the scientists making the robots and the artificial ethics inside the robots.” Verruggio and his colleagues have identified key areas that include: e


OK, so I'll shut up for a while.

Why Physics?

Mark of Cosmic Variance ran a little contest to come up with the top ten reasons to study physics (aside from becoming a professional physicist). He and his commenters came up with some good ones, but I'm not sure they got the big one. A (then) senior I know at a top physics factory was taking General Relativity, Quantum Field Theory, and String Theory. Since he had already told me he had no intention of going on in physics, I asked: why those courses? His answer: "because those are supposed to be the hardest courses they teach here." The answer makes more sense to me now than it did then. It's natural for young people to test themselves, and for a purely intellectual test, it's hard to beat physics. Top employers like to hire physics graduates of top schools not because it has taught them to think, but because success in a physics degree is evidence of high intelligence.

The Crookosphere

Evidence continues to accumulate that the Republican House Leadership has run the joint as a criminal conspiracy. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is the latest guy implicated in graft. Josh Marshall has a link to the Chicago Tribune story by James Kimberly and Andrew Zajac detailing the scheme. The complex structure of a real estate transaction in Kendall County last December left House Speaker Dennis Hastert with a seven-figure profit and in prime position to reap further benefits as the exurban region west of Chicago continues its prairie-fire growth boosted by a Hastert-backed federally funded proposed highway. Instead of cash, Hastert (R-Ill.) took most of his share of the proceeds in land, some of it less than 2 miles from the parcels he and two partners in a land trust sold for nearly $5 million to a developer who plans to build more than 1,500 homes and commercial space on the property near Little Rock and Galena roads in Plano. Hastert received five-eighths of the proce

WTF? Wolfgang?

This post was supposed to be about Ghana's astonishing and beautiful victory over the Czech Republic in the World Cup, but thanks to Wolfgang , it must be about something else. Wolfgang says: I happen to agree with a lot of what Lubos writes ..., and cites the following as an example (I have numbered the paragraphs for reference): #1) I am not so much concerned about the future of any funding because I am leaving Academia soon and I never cared about money much anyway. #2) Moreover, I am also a leading expert in loop quantum gravity so that switching funding to LQG would not affect me even if this question were relevant. ;-) #3) What I am primarily concerned about are aggressive crackpots who have no idea what they're talking about and who attempt to distort science as such and force scientists to share their idiotic beliefs, just like the religious bigots in the 16th century wanted to stop scientists from doing their work, and sometimes they did so rather efficiently. #4) So

Deep Impact

The environmental impact of a person living a typical first world lifestyle is about 32 times as great as that of a person living a third world lifestyle. This factor is a kind of average over resource consumption, pollution generated, and other effects. Economists like to claim that the Earth can sustain many more people than it now has, but of course such claims are based on low impact lifestyles (when not pulled from thin air). (Numbers from Jared Diamond's Collapse ) The trouble is that people living in third world conditions aspire to the first world lifestyle. If a magic wand, or rapid economic progress made such possible, the net human impact on the environment would increase 12 fold. Nobody thinks this is possible in any kind of reasonable timeframe. There is simply not 12 times as much oil production, or 12 times as much copper available. There is no plausible way the world's food production can increase by a factor of 12, and no likelyhood that our ecosystems cou

Hazardous Activity

Is blogging a bad career move? No doubt it depends on the career, but there are certainly a whole range of careers where it can be bad for you. Academics traditionally have a lot of leeway to write and speak out, but maybe keeping a weblog is just too out. The first academic weblog I read with any regularity was Sean Carroll's Preposterous Universe . Sean is a popular teacher, much in demand for both popular and technical lectures, and the author of an important textbook on general relativity. He seemed to be compiling a solid research reputation. It was a shock then, to his readers as well as to him when he was denied tenure at the University of Chicago. Untenured professors are traditionally expected to keep their heads down, their noses to the grindstone, and keep cranking out influential papers. Another favorite web log I read is Juan Cole's. He is a tenured professor at his university, but was recently refused appointment at Yale after recommendation by the department

Sell Off/Sell Out

Human Events online is not normally a big source for me, but a new conservative bugaboo does seem a bit sinister to me - for somewhat different reasons. The story concerns a new North American superhighway destined to bypass US ports and truckers. Here's the part that caught my attention: The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is overseeing the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) as the first leg of the NAFTA Super Highway. A 4,000-page environmental impact statement has already been completed and public hearings are scheduled for five weeks, beginning next month, in July 2006. The billions involved will be provided by a foreign company, Cintra Concessions de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A. of Spain. As a consequence, the TTC will be privately operated, leased to the Cintra consortium to be operated as a toll-road. Given our profligate and irresponsible government's penchant for borrowing several thousand dollars per person per year, it seems all but inevitable that our

Human Ancestry

We got some of those National Geographic DNA kits, and were watching the video while preparing to swab. They seem to have reconstructed a pretty good family tree for modern humans, with the San people of Africa at the root. About 50,000 years ago, some of them headed out and were next found in Australia, 10,000 km of Ocean and twice as far by land. No archeological trace of that journey remains, but a critical DNA marker of the population has been found in India, so it appears that some of their genes survive in today's India. Next, a couple of population groups moved out through the middle East into India and China. A third group moved through the middle East to Central Asia, where they still remain, though they were also the source of huge tertiary migrations ten thousand or so years later. They were the ancestors of the Europeans, the Native Americans, many Indians and Chinese, and the Asian Russians.

Germany 1 - Poland 0

The Poles were fired up and held off Germany for 91 minutes, playing with only 10 for the last 20 minutes or so. German intensity in the last six minutes was amazing though, with a whole swarm of chances, including two off the crossbar or goalpost. At 91 minutes though they finally punched one in.

Uh Oh!

From Arun . The Congress has created a statute, and President Bush has signed it into law that is as follows: Whoever...utilizes any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet... without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person...who receives the communications...shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both." This is transparently unconstitutional, but with the Peronists in charge, who knows.


OK. This is becoming clinical. A third Motl related post out of four. IeventriedtapingmythumbsbutthenIfoundI could hit the space bar with my index fingers. This time a qustion for Lubos, based on his comment on Bee's blog at backreaction . The reason why it is unacceptable to stop attacking people who say outrageous things as you do is that if I don't attack them, these outrageous things will be viewed as legitimate statements and they will be gaining power - which can already be observed. a)Do you realize how incongruent this with your claim to believe in a free market of ideas? It's actually the opposite - Marxist style dogmatism. b)Do you actually think you persuade anybody intelligent that an idea is bad by calling its proponent a dog, pig, crackpot or similar epithet? c)Has it occurred to you that in a free market of ideas, you have to sell your ideas, not just cram them down somebody's throat in the manner of Lenin? d)Do you realize how much your behavior rese

Unbiased Observer

I suppose there is at least a chance that Juan Cole is not a totally unbiased observer of GWB. His headline for tomorrow: Bush Sneaks In and Out of Baghdad Again

An elephant is very like a tree

And Darwin's natural selection is a lot like string theory . The reason why the situations of string theory and evolution are analogous is that both of them are more or less inevitable given the known data, known approximate laws of Nature, and known and derivable logical constraints. No minor, small observations would be enough to rule out the whole framework of evolution or the whole framework of string theory because we have much stronger reasons to be nearly certain that the general pictures are correct and our job is to complete the details. Surely, we don't abandon evolution after the first surprising observation of the genes of XY where XY does not stand for Xi Yin. In the same way, we don't abandon string theory once we find out that the simplest compactification - on torus - is not realistic. Xi Yin?? Evolution is the only way how to logically reconcile the rich spectrum of complicated life forms, their shared molecular and other features, their diversity, currentl

Hopeless Recidivist!

That's me. Hopeless. I promised myself I would stop writing about Lubos. Sure I love the rush, but ultimately the kind of abuse it attracts destroys the body and the mind. The streets of Cambridge are littered with vacant-eyed derelicts who started writing about Lumo. I tried. I really tried. But what with Lumo planning a career change and all, I thought just one post couldn't hurt, could it? Could it? His latest post favorably cites a site that compares string theory with Democritus's atomic theory - a piece of 19th century science that accidentally fell into the fifth century BC. Maybe he means that we will be able to test string theory by the year 4400. I'm not sure I can wait that long.

Rove Walks

Karl Rove, says David Johnston, in This NYT story will walk. The prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case on Monday advised Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, that he would not be charged with any wrongdoing, effectively ending the nearly three-year criminal investigation that had at times focused intensely on Mr. Rove. The decision by the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, announced in a letter to Mr. Rove's lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, lifted a pall that had hung over Mr. Rove who testified on five occasions to a federal grand jury about his involvement in the disclosure of an intelligence officer's identity. and Jason Leopold have some explaining to do. So does their "credible source."


Czechia crushed the US 3-0 in today's World Cup play. It wasn't that close. This is pretty embarassing, because there are doubtless more American kids playing youth soccer on any Saturday than there are citizens of the Czech Republic. So, why can't anybody here play this game? Dave Egger's has some theories in this Slate article: The True Story of American Soccer. On Saturdays, every flat green space in the continental United States is covered with tiny people in shiny uniforms, chasing the patchwork ball up and down the field, to the delight and consternation of their parents, most of whom have no idea what is happening. The primary force behind all of this is the American Youth Soccer Organization, or AYSO. In the 1970s, AYSO was formed to popularize soccer among the youth of America, and they did this with startling efficiency. Within a few years, soccer was the sport of choice for parents everywhere, particularly those who harbored suspicions that their children

Blog Left

Adam Nagourney has this NYT story on the Daily Kos's Las Vegas convention . As became clear from the rather large and diverse crowd here, the blogosphere has become for the left what talk radio has been for the right: a way of organizing and communicating to supporters. Blogging is nowhere near the force among Republicans as it is among Democrats, and talk radio is a much more effective tool for Republicans. Is that really so? Daily Kos is lefty Dem, or course, but TTLB's top ten is dominated by right wing blogs (Instapundit, Michelle Malkin, etc.) On the other hand, wignut blogs are boring, mainly because they just propagate the party line, and rarely allow debate, and it's pretty easy to believe they don't have much influence. Most of the prominent lefty blogs feature comments that are largely uncensored, with the resulting lively debate, plus excruciatingly familiar trolls from antiabortion and libertarian types. In any case, the convention attracted a lot of Dem c


Peter Woit's book Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory And the Search for Unity in Physical Law won't be legally for sale in the US until September 30, but it is out in the UK and getting some favorable reviews. This is good for Peter and also seems to be driving some string types bananas . I'm agnostic on the ultimate value of string theory for a few reasons, but Peter runs a great site , and I'm anxious to read his book.


Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate , has a good story on the implications of killing Zarqawi. Make no mistake: The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a big deal, and for reasons beyond justice, vengeance, and crossing out another top mug on the al-Qaida most-wanted chart. Just how big a deal it is will depend on what the new Iraqi government does as a follow-up—or, more to the point, what it can do, and there are still severe limits on that. Still, one piece of good news is that there is a new Iraqi government, and this seems to be in part a direct outcome of the airstrike that hit Zarqawi and his entourage. Right after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the news, the parliament confirmed his appointments to the Cabinet's final three, most crucial slots: the defense, interior, and national-security ministries. The nominees—a Sunni and two Shiites, respectively—had been subjects of rancorous sectarian debate, which ended instantly upon the demise of Iraqi sectarianism's chief i

Juan Cole

According to this Jewish Week story , Juan Cole was denied an appointment at Yale after a concerted campaign by Neocons and others. A tenured professor at the University of Michigan, Cole was tapped earlier this year by a Yale University search committee to teach about the modern Middle East. In two separate votes in May, Cole was approved by both the sociology and history departments, the latter the university’s largest. The only remaining hurdle was the senior appointments committee, also known as the tenure committee, a group consisting of about a half-dozen professors from various disciplines across the university. Last week, however, in what is shaping up as the latest in a series of heated battles over the political affiliations of Middle Eastern studies professors, the tenure committee voted down Cole’s nomination. Several Yale faculty members described the decision to overrule the votes of the individual departments as “highly unusual.” The reasons behind the rejection remain u

Fear Factor

Brad Delong podcasts about the dollar's gravity defying act: The U.S. current account deficit may reach $1 trillion this year--a deficit of $13,000 for every family of four that we are borrowing from abroad to finance our spending and will have to pay back, someday. As more and more time passes without a sharp decline in the dollar, the international economists whose offices surround me are becoming more and more annoyed. Someday the foreigners will want to be repaid the money they have lent us, yes? The way we repay this is by shipping them our exports, yes? In order to ship them our exports, our exports must be competitively priced--which means the value of the dollar has to be lower, yes? And if the value of the dollar in the future must be lower, it will start falling now--there is, after all, lots of money to be made on betting on what seems to international economists to be a sure thing. The international economists look forward into the future, and see a future in which th

The Last to Know

I sometimes think that Luboš may not entirely reciprocate the deep affection and profound intellectual respect that I have for him, so let me just mention a couple of important things that I learned from him lately. 1) Clifford has left Cosmic Variance in a snit. Apparently one or more of his fellow bloggers thought that he a)too prolific, b)wrote about too many things, c)was too friendly to religion (Lumo's theory). Well, I'll miss him, and hope he either returns or starts his own blog. He seemed exceptionally congenial for a string theorist. 2) Privatize is conservative for "steal," as in Prescott Bush was an important member of that secret society, and because it was secret, no one can have an idea whether it was OK or not for Prescott to privatize the bones, especially not pigs. He was talking about the President's grandfather's part in robbing Geronimo's grave. This glossary does help me understand what Republicans are talking about when they

Advice to a Senior Physicist

Luboš Motl says that: A senior physicist who is not a string theorist has sent me a piece of text that he or she called "a tendentious, malicious attack on scientists and through that on science itself". The perp in this case is a Robert Matthews, writing behind a subscription wall in the Financial Times, so I have no clue as to what he said, but it clearly provoked LM as well as his senior colleague. The post itself is pretty much the usual, long on insult and short on specifics, but my real point here is addressed to the "senior physicist." Why exactly was it you gave this to LM? Luboš, of course, is a very clever fellow, but he also believes practically every crackpot notion known to the modern world - or at least the right wing ones. If you want to discredit some writing, sending LM to do the hit is *not* the way to win hearts and minds. Of course Lumo did say she (or he) was not a string theorist so ... The anti-stringers are are starting to get more vocal

Grave Robbing 2

Prescott Bush, the Grandfather of the current president, famously stole Geronimo's bones for Yale's Skull and Bones secret society (members include both president's Bush and John Kerry). This Huffington Post site helpfully includes directions to the late Mr. Bush's own burial site.


It's not exactly a secret that the war in Iraq is going badly. The insurgency and its enemies inflict horrific casualties every day. Iraq still does not have a functioning government. The question in my mind is, do the soldiers in country think we are losing? Stan Goff, author and retired soldier tells about his arrival in Vietnam here , and in this story , republished in the wake of Haditha. From his 2006 post. In 1970, when I arrived at my unit, Company A, 4th Battalion/503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade, in what was then the Republic of Vietnam, I was charged up for a fight. I believed that if we didn't stop the communists in Vietnam, we'd eventually be fighting this global conspiracy in the streets of Hot Springs, Arkansas. I'd been toughened by Basic Training, Infantry Training and Parachute Training, taught how to use my weapons and equipment, and I was confident in my ability to vanquish the skinny unter-menschen. So I was dismayed when one of my new col

Space Invaders: Speed

A colleague once asked me the following question: "What would happen if a fair sized (10^9 kg) alien starship crashed into the Earth at 95% of the speed of light?" Let me start by mentioning what happens when a similar sized (1 km) asteroid crashes into the Earth at a typical solar system speed of about 20 km/s. It's velocity and mass are such that any air between it and the surface gets plastered on to the front of the asteroid and smashed into the Earth along with the only very slightly slowed asteroid. The speed of the asteroid is so much greater than the speed of sound (.33 km/s) that the air has no time to get out of the way. Another data point: It's pretty interesting what a BB sized piece of metal does when it impacts a few inches of armor plate at a few miles/s. It punches through it like paper. If a projectile strikes a material strain waves in that material transfer momentum laterally, distributing the impact. If the projectile is moving much faster

Space Invader: The Big Bopper

The biggest catastrophe in the history of advanced life on this planet was a pretty big one indeed. The Permian-Triassic extinction event killed off 90% of marine species (including the last trilobites) and 70% of terrestial vertebrate species, and very likely, almost every individual creature alive. There have a number of theories as to the cause (Wiki link) but a relatively new one is based on the discovery of the remains of an "Ohio sized"crater under the Antarctic ice. The crater, buried beneath a half-mile of ice and discovered by some serious airborne and satellite sleuthing, is more than twice as big as the one involved in the demise of the dinosaurs. The crater's location, in the Wilkes Land region of East Antarctica, south of Australia, suggests it might have instigated the breakup of the so-called Gondwana supercontinent, which pushed Australia northward, the researchers said. "This Wilkes Land impact is much bigger than the impact that killed the dinos

Off the Mass Shell

Luboš Motl has now also posted on google gapminder, and since I haven't had a Lumo related posted for a bit, here is a fragment of dialog from his comments: Most interesting to me was the fact that once fertility drops to some low level (2 or 2.5) rapid economic development in per capita GNI is almost inevitable. Further, the only examples of high GNI/c countries that have relatively high fertility are Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. CapitalistImperialistPig | Homepage | 06.01.06 - 6:55 am | # -------------------------------------------- I think that you're confusing the cause and effect, CIP. The number of children per woman is around 2-2.5 *because* the people are already kind of secured materially (against hunger etc.), and they just want to do the same for their children. Lubos Motl | Homepage | 06.01.06 - 10:47 am | # ------------------------------------------ I don't really disagree with the logic, except on one point. If you look at the gapminder graphs and traces, it&#