Showing posts from December, 2018

Auto Autos

If you live in a major city and haven't seen an autonomous vehicle yet, you probably will soon, but if you want to buy one for personal use, it might be five or ten years. The NYT has a story on the state of play. The basic conclusion is that limited applications like buses and maybe taxis in central cities, farm tractors, and long haul trucking are pretty close, but all weather operation on all roads, not so much. Right now this technology is driving big chunks of both artificial intelligence and sensor technology. The side effects of these developments may be even more important than the transportation revolution they will bring.

Digital Attitude

I have both the Amazon and Google versions of the verbal assistant, and I had asked Alexa (the Amazon version) to set a timer for me. When it went off I mistakenly said "OK Google, stop", Alexa didn't turn off the alarm or say anything, but she did display "Try Alexa, stop." The digital servants are developing an attitude. I don't think that it's a good sign.


I expect the world will be watching what happens to US stocks tomorrow. My (totally worthless) guess is that we see the market gain back much of Monday's damage, but if carnage continues, that will be a pretty bad sign.

Rough Beast

Eugene Robinson, writing in the Washington Post , quotes Yeats re our current catastrophe of a President: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . . And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” Robinson has seen that beast: The chaos all around us is what happens when the nation elects an incompetent, narcissistic, impulsive and amoral man as president. This Christmas, heaven help us all.

Bearly Here

The NASDAQ and S&P are in Bear territory, and the Dow is very close. Trump is furious with the Fed, but he would do better to look in the mirror. His reckless incompetence is almost surely a major factor in the decline, but diagnosing stock futures is an art I had best leave to its own witch doctors. If I believed the Fed, I would probably be buying right now, but while I somewhat trust the Fed, my faith in Trump's demonstrated reckless stupidity and likely treason is unbounded from above. I'm also profoundly suspicious of a boom founded on massive government borrowing.

Fiat Money

The subject is a favorite bugaboo of Ayn Randers and various other nutjobs of the right. The first fiat money we know about was the silver coinage introduced to replace the somewhat cumbersome barley money previously used in ancient Mesopotamia. That barley money, in turn, was the last true commodity money. Silver and gold, like paper money, are valuable mostly because people think they are, though they are decorative and have a few technological uses. Just sayin'.

What Would Superintelligence Look Like?

I have been known to mock those* who think that selective breeding plus maybe a bit of CRISPR could produce humans with IQs of 1000. Whatever that means. Whatever does that mean? My only, or at least main, guide, is what I would wish to be able to do better, intellectually speaking. I'd like to have a better memory, an eidetic memory, that could recall everything I had learned. I'd like to be able to understand complicated arguments and equations at sight, and I'd like to see remote analogies and connections better and faster. Most of these seem to reduce to better memory and faster processing. Does that sound like anything that we've ever heard of? If you said computers, you might be right, but there are still some things people do that computers can't do (yet!). The most important is constructing sophisticated generalizations from what they know, and storing them as meta knowledge. I think that we humans usually do that by creating narratives - from Gene

Climate Catastrophe

WC has another post on (I think) climate and economics. As usual, I find his post somewhat inscrutable, but after scruting my best, I think that he's arguing that effects on GDP are the best, or at least a good, way of quantifying the effects of human induced climate change. I have a few problems with this, one of them being that predicting GDP change seems to be a hell of a lot harder than predicting climate change, especially over time periods greater than a decade. I'm more interested in the prospects for climate catastrophe - climate caused changes severe enough to seriously disrupt civilization. The history of Earth offers us plenty of such catastrophes. The collapse of Bronze Age civilization in approximately 1177 BCE was a good example, albeit one almost certainly far more limited in scope that the kind of global climate change we are now making. The draught that apparently precipitated that collapse saw most major cities destroyed and the hordes of the so-called

Bernie and Biden

I like Joe Biden a lot, and think that Bernie Sanders has done a good job shaking up some of the settled wisdom of the Democratic party, but they are too damn old to be President. So is Trump, so was Reagan in his second term, and, for that matter, so was Hillary. I think that it's crazy to elect anybody over 65 as President, and somebody in their mid forties through fifties should be ideal. I also think judges should face retirement at 70 or 72, and Senators and Congressmen at 75.


Michael Flynn's lawyers and allies don't seem to have done him any favors by pushing the theory that he was somehow tricked into lying to the FBI. The judge looked at this stuff and cross examined the General about whether he had been tricked, felt he was innocent, and so on, and he was forced to deny it all in court. The judge went further and asked Flynn about some of his other likely illegal activities that were excused on account of his cooperation, even pointing out that working for a foreign power while ostensibly the US National Security Advisor was tantamount to treason. Flynn richly deserved this comeuppance, but Mueller clearly has bigger fish to fry.

What's Philosophy Got to Do With It?

The traditional subjects matters of philosophy are Metaphysics , Epistemology , Ethics , Logic , Political Philosophy , and Philosophy of Religion . If GRE scores by intended major are a guide, philosophy continues to attract many top students. They top the charts in two of the three categories, Verbal Reasoning and Analytical Writing, and even manage to get barely above average in Quantitative Reasoning. So what do they learn, and what is it good for? My philosophy prof had an ironic joke: what's the difference between a philosophy PhD and Large Dominos Pizza? The Pizza can feed a family of four. In the real world though, philosophy PhDs who don't get tenured faculty spots are smart, recognized as such, and usually get smart people jobs as computer analysts, executives, comedy writers, and so on. Their chances of getting good jobs in their field are probably a bit worse than, say, astrophysicists, but for both, most will wind up doing something else. So what about wha

Robbie's Got Your Job and Gone.

A recent economics paper looks at the effect of robots on employment and pay. The authors conclude that each robot decreases employment in the affected sectors by about 5 jobs. Thomas B. Edsall discusses this and other robotic effects in this NYT opinion piece , and concludes that these effects fall hardest on the people who voted most heavily for Trump - blue collar workers without college degrees. Some of this effect can be traced directly to the Trump tax cut, which which accelerates depreciation of money spent on robots. As we know, though, there is no shortage of jobs in the US right now. However, there is a shortage of high value-added jobs. The kinds of factory jobs lost to robots were classic high value-added jobs, since the combination of man and machine could produce far more than a man unaided, and the machines without people to run them couldn't produce at all. The problem with robots is that they need far fewer people to run them and most of those people need s

War on Christmas

Trump cancels Christmas Party for press.

Taking Out the Trash: Philosophy

One trouble, anyway, seems to be that in philosophy, bad ideas are immortal. I was made painfully aware of this when I took a course in Ancient Philosophy, though I think that I already suspected it. A course in ancient philosophy is about what the ancients thought, of course, so it has considerable historical and anthropological interest in any case, but what bothered me was that we were expected to take, or at least memorize all that stuff at face value. Some of those ancient ideas, like Zeno's paradoxes and the atomic theory of Democritus were of deep and lasting value - we know, today, the resolution of Zeno's paradoxes, and it's a crucial foundation of mathematics - calculus and analysis, and Democritus was spectacularly prescient. Other stuff, like Plato's theory of forms, is mostly an illusion, and Aristotle's Physics is deeply misguided though his Poetics is still profound. If physics were done that way, students would still waste years studying phlogis

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of

My neighbor pointed out to me that when you are retired, you never get a day off. With classes over, though, I have a bit more time on my hands, and so I'm paying attention to my dreams. Basketball: I've mentioned before that I've noticed that I can't shoot or pass accurately in my dreams, and I don't dribble well either. Maybe my cerebellum is asleep. I can dunk, though, somewhat clumsily, but it helps that I can get well above the rim. I'm also a hell of a skater - I can even skate on waxed floors in my socks. Oddly enough, I can also tap dance, which is impressive since I can barely waltz when awake. I'm also pretty dangerous in hand to hand combat - it's not technique, it's just raw power. Hordes of enemies are crushed by me. In my dreams.