Come to 3 Quarks Daily’s 20th Anniversary Symposium/Fundraiser in the Italian Alps
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What can we do about the coming economic uncertainty due to AI?

We’re talking about risk here, and how to deal with it. This is something Mark Blyth has been thinking about for some time. Happily, he does his thinking with a good deal of wit and a nice dash of charm to boot. Charm notwithstanding, Mark happens to be an excellent and celebrated political economist, and economists are good for thinking about risk and how to mitigate it and develop hedges against it.

Henry Shevlin is a philosopher who has been teaching AI Ethics at Cambridge University and leads the Consciousness and Intelligence project at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at Cambridge, which is a highly interdisciplinary research center addressing the challenges and opportunities posed by AI. As Professor Stephen Hawking said at the Centre’s launch, AI is “likely to be either the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity, so there’s huge value in getting it right.”

Ali Minai’s research interests include AI, neural networks, complex systems and networks, computational models of cognition and behavior, distributed multi-agent systems, and computational linguistics. Besides being a professor of computer science who has also served as President of the International Neural Network Society, Ali has recently been thinking and writing about AI Risk.

So we have invited Mark, Henry, and Ali, who’ve all been pondering how to deal with AI-specific economic risk, to a symposium to take place over a weekend (the formal part of the symposium will be on July 27) this summer in the Italian alps where they will exchange ideas from their diverse perspectives with a small and select group of guests. Read more »



Friday, April 12, 2024

Eliot’s Greatest Poem and His antisemitism

Nathaniel Rosenthalis in The Common Reader:

My first impression, upon opening Hollis’s The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem was admittedly delicious. A usual kind of epigraph greets us: “There is always another one walking beside you,” from Eliot’s poem, but then we turn the page, and on the back of the epigraph page is a quotation from Eliot, a meaty paragraph, and facing it, on the right-hand side, is a shorter passage from Pound. Right away, then, the two men are side by side, in the opening pages in a way that disrupts the usual front page material of a tome. It is a nice touch that not only forecasts the book’s focus on the relationship between the two men in the crafting of one of the inarguably influential English language poems of the twentieth century but also indicates the attention to detail and summoning of atmosphere that characterize the bulk of Hollis’s project, if not its achievement. Which is this: to demythologize, and at times painfully, re-animate the gross disturbances in Eliot’s life and character that, for better or worse, have bequeathed us the still-jarring title poem.

More here.

My Meeting With Claude Shannon, Father of the Information Age

John Horgan at his own website:

Claude Shannon can’t sit still. We’re in the living room of his home north of Boston, an edifice called Entropy House, and I’m trying to get him to recall how he came up with information theory. Shannon, who is a boyish 73, with a shy grin and snowy hair, is tired of dwelling on his past. He wants to show me his gadgets.

Over the mild protests of his wife, Betty, he leaps from his chair and disappears into another room. When I catch up with him, he proudly shows me his seven chess-playing machines, gasoline-powered pogo-stick, hundred-bladed jackknife, two-seated unicycle and countless other marvels.

Some of his personal creations–such as a mechanical mouse that navigates a maze, a juggling W. C. Fields mannequin and a computer that calculates in Roman numerals–are dusty and in disrepair. But Shannon seems as delighted with his toys as a 10-year-old on Christmas morning.

Is this the man who, at Bell Labs in 1948, wrote “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” the Magna Carta of the digital age? Whose work is described as the greatest “in the annals of technological thought” by Bell Labs executive Robert Lucky?

Yes.

More here.

Gaza and the hundred years’ war on Palestine

Rashid Khalidi in The Guardian:

For people everywhere, myself included, the awful images that have come out of Gaza and Israel since 7 October 2023 have been inescapable. This war hangs over us like a motionless black cloud that gets darker and more ominous with the passage of endless weeks of horror unspooling before our eyes. Having friends and family there makes this much harder to bear for many of us living far away.

Some have argued that these events represent a rupture, an upheaval, that this was “Israel’s 9/11” or that it is a new Nakba, an unprecedented genocide. Certainly, the scale of these events, the almost real-time footage of atrocities and unbearable devastation – much of it captured on phones and spread on social media – and the intensity of the global response, are unprecedented. We do seem to be in a new phase, where the execrable “Oslo process” is dead and buried, where occupation, colonisation and violence are intensifying, where international law is trampled on, and where long-fixed tectonic plates are slowly moving.

But while much has changed in the past six months, the horrors we witness can only be truly comprehended as a cataclysmic new phase in a war that has been going on for several generations.

More here.

Bees

Lauren K. Watel at Salmagundi:

I force myself to watch videos of swarms. Swarms in flight, the frantic electricity of their communal passage, as if the air were awash in buzzing embers. And swarms at rest, noisy seething clumps clinging to branches and eaves and fire hydrants and bicycles. What is it that most alarms me about these images? The ominous rumble of the swarms’ wingbeats, for one thing. The nature of their flying, its chaotic zigzaggy suddenness. And their sheer, overwhelming numbers, the teeming mass of them, angry seeming, each of them with the potential to sting, like a vast force of tiny soldiers piloting tiny fighter jets.    All this footage, which I find terrifying, even menacing, has been captured and narrated and posted by enthusiastic beekeepers across the globe. Unlike me, they are far from terrified or menaced; quite the opposite, they are exhilarated, awed, grinning like children. Most extraordinarily, they talk about getting stung with the amused matter-of-factness of someone getting caught in a passing rainstorm.

more here.

Teaching In Florida

Michael Hofmann at the LRB:

We are a small part of a shrinking thing, tail to a dwindling dog, or that thing that, in Yeats, is fastened to the dying animal. The heart; the soul. The dying animal is the English department, perhaps the humanities as a whole. When I started at the University of Florida, thirty years ago, the department offered sometimes thin but fairly uninterrupted coverage from the Middle Ages to modern times. Or even Modern Times. There were sidelines in film studies, gender studies, children’s literature. Some other things. There was a faculty of eighty. Now it is a little under half that. All idea of coverage has been binned. We have someone who teaches the 18th century. An impresario who sometimes does Shakespeare. One or two that teach poetry. We have been hollowed out. We have certain specialisations, called ‘concentrations’. These enable us, without directly competing with them, to draw students away from other universities. We follow the trend. We chase the customer.

And ‘we’, the tail or the soul, not in any spiritual sense, but as an appendage – an ornament, if you want to be nice about it – ‘we’ are two fiction writers and three poets.

more here.

Friday Poem

Field Guide

Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,
up to my neck in that most precious element of all,

I found the pale gray curled-upwards pigeon feather
floating on the tension of the water

at the very instant when a dragonfly’
like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin

hovered over it, then lit, and rested.
That’s all.

I mentioned this in the same way
that I fold the corner of a page

in certain library books,
so that the next reader will know

where to look for the good parts.

by Tony Hoagland

—in the words of New York Times reviewer Dwight Garner:
“At his frequent best … Hoagland is demonically in touch
with the American demotic.”

The Two Friends Who Changed How We Think About How We Think

Sunstein and Thaler in The New Yorker:

In 1968, Tversky and Kahneman were both rising stars in the psychology department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They had little else in common. Tversky was born in Israel and had been a military hero. He had a bit of a quiet swagger (along with, incongruously, a slight lisp). He was an optimist, not only because it suited his personality but also because, as he put it, “when you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice. Once when you worry about it, and the second time when it happens.” A night owl, he would often schedule meetings with his graduate students at midnight, over tea, with no one around to bother them.

Tversky was a font of memorable one-liners, and he found much of life funny. He could also be sharp with critics. After a nasty academic battle with some evolutionary psychologists, he proclaimed, “Listen to evolutionary psychologists long enough, and you’ll stop believing in evolution.” When asked about artificial intelligence, Tversky replied, “We study natural stupidity.” (He did not really think that people were stupid, but the line was too good to pass up.) He also tossed off such wisdom as “The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.” Managers who spend most of their lives in meetings should post that thought on their office walls.

More here.

Two key brain systems are central to psychosis

From Phys.Org:

Inside the brains of people with psychosis, two key systems are malfunctioning: a “filter” that directs attention toward important external events and internal thoughts, and a “predictor” composed of pathways that anticipate rewards. Dysfunction of these systems makes it difficult to know what’s real, manifesting as hallucinations and delusions. The findings come from a Stanford Medicine-led study, published April 11 in Molecular Psychiatry, that used brain scan data from children, teens and  with . The results confirm an existing theory of how breaks with reality occur. “This work provides a good model for understanding the development and progression of schizophrenia, which is a challenging problem,” said lead author Kaustubh Supekar, Ph.D., clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

The findings, observed in individuals with a  called 22q11.2 deletion syndrome who experience psychosis as well as in those with psychosis of unknown origin, advance scientists’ understanding of the underlying brain mechanisms and theoretical frameworks related to psychosis. During psychosis, patients experience hallucinations, such as hearing voices, and hold delusional beliefs, such as thinking that people who are not real exist. Psychosis can occur on its own and is a hallmark of certain serious mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is also characterized by social withdrawal, disorganized thinking and speech, and a reduction in energy and motivation.

More here.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Here’s How NPR Lost America’s Trust

Uri Berliner at The Free Press:

You know the stereotype of the NPR listener: an EV-driving, Wordle-playing, tote bag–carrying coastal elite. It doesn’t precisely describe me, but it’s not far off. I’m Sarah Lawrence–educated, was raised by a lesbian peace activist mother, I drive a Subaru, and Spotify says my listening habits are most similar to people in Berkeley.

I fit the NPR mold. I’ll cop to that.

So when I got a job here 25 years ago, I never looked back. As a senior editor on the business desk where news is always breaking, we’ve covered upheavals in the workplace, supermarket prices, social media, and AI.

It’s true NPR has always had a liberal bent, but during most of my tenure here, an open-minded, curious culture prevailed. We were nerdy, but not knee-jerk, activist, or scolding.

In recent years, however, that has changed.

More here.

Avi Wigderson, Complexity Theory Pioneer, Wins Turing Award

Stephen Ornes in Quanta:

For more than 40 years, Avi Wigderson has studied problems. But as a computational complexity theorist, he doesn’t necessarily care about the answers to these problems. He often just wants to know if they’re solvable or not, and how to tell. “The situation is ridiculous,” said Wigderson, a computer scientist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. No matter how hard a question seems, an efficient way to answer it could be hiding just out of reach. “As far as we know, for every problem that we face and try to solve, we can’t rule out that it has an algorithm that can solve it. This is the single most interesting problem for me.”

Today Wigderson was named the winner of the A.M. Turing Award, widely considered one of the top honors in computer science, for his foundational contributions to the theory of computation.

More here.

Meeting The QAnon Shaman

Frederick Kaufman at Harper’s Magazine:

Jacob Angeli-Chansley, the man the media has dubbed the QAnon Shaman, had been released from federal custody six weeks before when we met for lunch at a place called Picazzo’s, winner of the Phoenix New Times Best Gluten-Free Restaurant award in 2015. Despite a protracted hunger strike and 317 days isolated in a cell, Jacob’s prison sentence of forty-one months for obstruction of an official proceeding on January 6, 2021, had been shortened owing to good behavior, and he was let out about a year early on supervised release.

It took some doing to get him to sit for an interview, as Jacob is wary of what he calls Operation Mockingbird, an alleged CIA-sponsored effort begun in the Fifties to use mass media to influence public opinion. Jacob believes that people like me are the tools of the Mockingbird operation, of the deep state, international bankers, pharmaceutical cartels, and corporate monarchies that control the world. People like me believe in medicines that are addictive drugs, in food that is poison, in environmentalism that is ecocide, in education that is ignorance, in money that is debt, in objective science that is not objective.

more here.

Life, Death and Magic in the Islands of Orkney

John Keay at Literary Review:

From St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, a lane once led through fields up to a small patch of grass. In the centre of this green, where formerly stood a stake, there is now a stone slab engraved: ‘in memory of those accused of witchcraft’. Convicted at trials held in the cathedral, the condemned were marched up the lane with hands bound, lashed to the stake and then ‘wyrried’ – that is strangled to death by the public executioner – and burned to ash. Other forms of execution were available; common criminals and traitors might also be wyrried but not reduced to ashes. Burning, however, was ‘cheust’ – ‘just’ – for witches. Yet the witches were otherwise quite undistinguished: ‘they wur cheust folk’ declares the slab’s main inscription in suitably Orcadian spelling. 

The memorial is new and was the idea of a local heritage group. In Storm’s Edge, an engrossing and near-faultless book about ‘life, death and magic’ in Orkney between the 16th and 18th centuries, Peter Marshall, professor of history at Warwick University and himself an Orcadian, endorses the slab’s sentiments.

more here.

After Abortion Ban, Arizona Just Became the Most Important State in 2024 Politics

Nik Popli in Time Magazine:

There’s no state that political pundits will be watching more closely this fall than Arizona. Voters in one of the nation’s biggest electoral battlegrounds are set to determine the outcome of a tossup Senate race, a pair of close congressional seats, and the winner of its 11 Electoral College votes—and now a recent court ruling has ensured abortion will be an animating issue at the ballot box. After the state Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to bring back a 160-year-old near total ban on the procedure, Arizona has effectively been thrust into the center of the national abortion debate that is expected to dominate the upcoming presidential election and once again test Republicans’ messaging strategy after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“I don’t think it can be overstated the impact this week’s ruling will have on the November election,” says Barrett Marson, an Arizona-based Republican strategist who predicts the key battleground state now leans blue. “Everything that you thought was conventional wisdom about Arizona was thrown out the window overnight.” Democrats have already seized on the ruling to transform the 2024 race into another referendum on abortion rights, blaming former President Donald Trump for overturning the constitutional right to abortion and encouraging disaffected Democrats in the state to turn out in November.

More here.

This fMRI technique promised to transform brain research — why can no one replicate it?

McKenzie Prillaman in Nature:

It was hailed as a potentially transformative technique for measuring brain activity in animals: direct imaging of neuronal activity (DIANA), held the promise of mapping neuronal activity so fast that neurons could be tracked as they fired. But nearly two years on from the 2022 Science paper1, no one outside the original research group and their collaborators have been able to reproduce the results. Now, two teams have published a record of their replication attempts — and failures. The studies, published on 27 March in Science Advances2,3, suggest that the original results were due to experimental error or data cherry-picking, not neuronal activity after all.

…It’s clear that the signals DIANA detects are “not necessarily related to neural signal”, says Shella Keilholz, an MRI physicist and neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Although, she says, it’s possible that brain activity contributed to the detected signals. Neuroscientists will continue to explore the cause of the conflicting results. And that could have an upside, says Noam Shemesh, an MRI researcher at the Champalimaud Foundation in Lisbon. The original paper and attempts to replicate or rebut it could lead researchers towards developing and finessing more-direct ways to measure neural activity, he says.

More here.

Thursday Poem

Squarings

xxxvii

In famous poems by the sage Han Shan,
Cold Mountain is a place that can also mean
A state of mind. Or different states of mind

At different times, for the poems seem
One-off, impulsive, the kind of thing that starts
I have sat here facing the Cold Mountain

For twenty-nine years, or There is no path
That goes all the way
—enviable stuff,
Unfussy and believable.

Talking about it isn’t good enough,
But quoting from it at least demonstrates
The virtue of an art that knows its mind.

by Seamus Heaney
from
Seeing Things
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY