Google Chases General Intelligence With New AI That Has a Memory

Shelley Fan in Singularity Hub:

ScreenHunter_2659 Apr. 02 19.40Humans are exceptionally good at transferring old skills to new problems. Machines, despite all their recent wins against humans, aren’t. This is partly due to how they’re trained: artificial neural networks like Google’s DeepMind learn to master a singular task and call it quits. To learn a new task, it has to reset, wiping out previous memories and starting again from scratch.

This phenomenon, quite aptly dubbed “catastrophic forgetting,” condemns our AIs to be one-trick ponies.

Now, taking inspiration from the hippocampus, our brain’s memory storage system, researchers at DeepMind and Imperial College London developed an algorithm that allows a program to learn one task after another, using the knowledge it gained along the way.

When challenged with a slew of Atari games, the neural network flexibly adapted its strategy and mastered each game, while conventional, memory-less algorithms faltered.

More here. [Thanks to Ali Minai.]

Who Was Psychology’s First True Genius?

Douglas T. Kenrick in Psychology Today:

Hermann_von_HelmholtzHere’s a one-item test: “Who founded the science of psychology?”

One possible answer would be “William James,” who wrote the first psychology textbook, Principles of Psychology, in 1890.

You would get a few more points for answering “Wilhelm Wundt.” Indeed, Wundt started the first formal laboratory in 1879, at the University of Leipzig, and William James was initially inspired to study psychology when he read one of Wundt’s papers in 1868, whilst visiting Germany.

But Wundt himself had started his career as a lab assistant to the man I would nominate as psychology’s first true genius: Hermann Helmholtz.

Helmholtz made at least two great contributions to modern psychology…

More here.

Climate Progress, With or Without Trump

Michael R. Bloomberg in the New York Times:

31bloomberg-master768President Trump’s unfortunate and misguided rollback of environmental protections has led to a depressing and widespread belief that the United States can no longer meet its commitment under the Paris climate change agreement. But here’s the good news: It’s wrong.

No matter what roadblocks the White House and Congress throw up, the United States can — and I’m confident, will — meet the commitment it made in Paris in 2015 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet. Let me explain why, and why correcting the false perception is so important.

Those who believe that the Trump administration will end American leadership on climate change are making the same mistake as those who believe that it will put coal miners back to work: overestimating Washington’s ability to influence energy markets, and underestimating the role that cities, states, businesses and consumers are playing in driving down emissions on their own.

Though few people realize it, more than 250 coal plants — almost half of the total number in this country — have announced in recent years that they will close or switch to cleaner fuels. Washington isn’t putting these plants out of business; the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan hasn’t even gone into effect yet.

More here.

Homo Faber: Discovering the infinite universe

Lewis H. Lapham in Lapham's Quarterly:

Ship2Humboldt was a Prussian aristocrat educated as a young man in Jena and Weimar by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who directed his reading and lines of laboratory experiment. At the age of twenty-nine in 1799, accomplished as a botanist and zoologist, equipped with a knowledge of geology, history, and astronomy, Humboldt set forth on a five-year exploration of the Americas. Armed with reference books and intent upon perceiving “the connections between the physical and the intellectual worlds,” he brought with him “precise instruments” (barometer, hydrometer, artificial horizon) to measure, among other things, the variable intensity of magnetic forces, “the periodical oscillations of the aerial oceans,” the blueness of the sky. In the jungles and mountains of New Granada and Peru, the investigation’s mules were burdened with “forty-two boxes containing an herbal of six thousand equinoctial plants, seeds, shells, and insects, and geological specimens” gathered from the banks of the Amazon and on the ascent of Chimborazo, the volcano then regarded as the highest mountain in the world.

The climb in 1802 was arduous and slow; at seventeen thousand feet above sea level, the air is thin and no birds sing. Humboldt finds it hard to breathe, and his feet begin to bleed; but when he recalls the predicament ten years later in his Personal Narrative, he doesn’t dwell on the “unbelievable difficulties…quite unknown in the wildest parts of Europe.” He is surprised instead by joy, by the beauty of the landscape, and by the pleasure he takes in seeing how the vegetation changes with the topography—palms and bamboo forests at lower elevations, above them conifers and oaks, higher up lichens like those seen within the Arctic Circle. Although careful to mark the dots (the shape of a leaf, the layering of a rock), what delights him are the dots going together across otherwise unbridged distances in space and time. He draws upon his ferocious memory and love of learning to see the botanical specimen in his hand in the Andes similar to the one seen in his hand at the same altitude in the Alps. The scrupulously repeated making of similar connections—between the here and now with the there and then—leads him to a notion of the planet bound up in intertwining chains of being as fragile as they are beautiful, mortal and therefore analogous to the life and story of man:

The discovery of a new genus seemed to me far less interesting than an observation on the geographical relations of plants, or the migration of social plants, and the heights that different plants reach on the peaks of the cordilleras.

At the instigation of metaphor, Humboldt discovers a new way of looking at the earth, and over the course of the next fifty years he publishes a Promethean abundance of further notes, books, maps, letters, directing the thought not only of Goethe but also that of Henry David Thoreau and Charles Darwin, who says that without Humboldt, he never would have boarded the Beagle or written On the Origin of Species.

More here.

Beloved, Black Women, and the Limits of Freedom

Jenn Jackson in bitchmedia:

BelovedThis Women’s History Month, I re-read Beloved, Toni Morrison’s 1987 national bestseller and 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction. Aside from being most beautifully written thing I have ever read, Beloved is a feat of liberatory work, a love letter to Black women, and a touchstone for the complexities of today’s Black freedom struggle. Morrison's iconic title character is the time torn spirit of a nameless Black baby murdered by her own mother.

…In January 2017 at the Women’s March on Washington, actress, singer, and activist Janelle Monáe (Moonlight and Hidden Figures) told the scores of supporters gathered there, “Whenever you feel in doubt, whenever you want to give up, you must always remember to choose freedom over fear,” hearkening back to the words of Simone. Like the Black women struggling with and toward freedom in Morrison’s Beloved, these young Black freedom fighters remind us that our struggle is interconnected. It is a matter for all of us, not some or a few. They prove that Black women always know. As Women’s History Month closes, I am heartened by this love story between Black women and freedom. Director Ava Duvernay (Selma and 13th) once described the process of being a Black woman who creates stories about Black women as “a reflection instead of an interpretation.” If Morrison’s Beloved is a reflection of us, then we too are its mirror image. We are the women who will save us. We are the Sethe, Denver, and even the Beloved who will secure our freedom. We are the chorus of women walking arm in arm, singing hymns and praying for our sister’s freedom.

If Morrison’s Beloved is a message to Black women, it’s that there is still much work to be done. But we are just the women to do it.

More here.

Central European University fights for survival in Hungary


David Matthews in Time Higher Education:

Hungary's top-ranked university is fighting for its existence after the country’s increasingly authoritarian government tabled legislative changes that would make it impossible for the institution to remain in Budapest.

The Central European University, a graduate institution set up after the fall of communism to defend democracy in Eastern Europe, could be the first international institution to fall victim to ascendant illiberal governments in Europe and the US, according to observers.

It is believed that the government of prime minister Viktor Orbán has been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump as US president to move against pro-democracy organisations, particularly those funded by the multibillionaire George Soros, such as the CEU.

Legislative amendments tabled on 28 March would stop the institution from issuing US-accredited degrees; force the CEU to open a campus in New York; change its name; and end an agreement whereby non-EU staff do not need a work permit, the university has said, making it “impossible for the university to continue its operations as an institution of higher education in Budapest, the CEU’s home for 25 years”.

Speaking at a press conference in Budapest on 29 March, CEU president Michael Ignatieff called for the amendments to be withdrawn. “We plan to remain here,” he said. But he added that, by tabling them, the Hungarian government had eroded trust so completely that a new international agreement was now needed to make the CEU’s status in the country secure.

More here. If you feel so inclined to sign it, here is a petition to the Hungarian National Assembly, calling for a rejection of the proposed law.

The Only Thing, Historically, That’s Curbed Inequality: Catastrophe

Walter Scheidel in The Atlantic:

ScreenHunter_2658 Apr. 01 18.24Calls to make America great again hark back to a time when income inequality receded even as the economy boomed and the middle class expanded. Yet it is all too easy to forget just how deeply this newfound equality was rooted in the cataclysm of the world wars.

The pressures of total war became a uniquely powerful catalyst of equalizing reform, spurring unionization, extensions of voting rights, and the creation of the welfare state. During and after wartime, aggressive government intervention in the private sector and disruptions to capital holdings wiped out upper-class wealth and funneled resources to workers; even in countries that escaped physical devastation and crippling inflation, marginal tax rates surged upward. Concentrated for the most part between 1914 and 1945, this “Great Compression” (as economists call it) of inequality took several more decades to fully run its course across the developed world until the 1970s and 1980s, when it stalled and began to go into reverse.

This equalizing was a rare outcome in modern times but by no means unique over the long run of history. Inequality has been written into the DNA of civilization ever since humans first settled down to farm the land. Throughout history, only massive, violent shocks that upended the established order proved powerful enough to flatten disparities in income and wealth. They appeared in four different guises: mass-mobilization warfare, violent and transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic epidemics. Hundreds of millions perished in their wake, and by the time these crises had passed, the gap between rich and poor had shrunk.

More here.

I wish we got to read a different story about Sophie Germain

Evelyn Lamb in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_2657 Apr. 01 17.23Sophie Germain, born on this day, April 1st, in 1776, was a French mathematician. Though it is impossible to know with 100 percent certainty, she was probably the first woman to make significant original contributions to mathematical research. But when I think of her, my admiration is mixed with a profound sense of loss.

Germain fell in love with mathematics when she was a teenager. The story goes that she had to stay indoors because of the French revolution. In her hours of reading, she found a biography of Archimedes in her father’s library. His dramatic (and probably embellished) death scene, in which he is killed by a Roman soldier because he would not stop working on a math problem, captured her imagination. She showed a natural inclination, and though her parents tried to discourage her, she persisted in teaching herself a great deal of math.

Women were not allowed at universities in France at the time, but Germain corresponded with professors at the newly-opened École Polytechnique using the name of Monsieur Antoine-August LeBlanc, a former student. When she eventually revealed her true identity to some of them, she was accepted more than she expected to be but never truly treated as a peer.

Throughout her life, Germain’s lack of a comprehensive formal education in math and isolation from mathematical and scientific society held her back.

More here.

Violence: Theirs and Ours

Vijay Prashad in CounterPunch:

Pict16On 23 March 2017, Khalid Masood ploughed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London, stabbed a police officer with a knife, and then was shot dead. He killed four people in the rampage, which injured an additional forty people and disturbed the equanimity of a major Western city. Masood, who was born in Dartford (Kent, United Kingdom), had run afoul of the law for many years—mainly because of acts of violence and possession of weapons. The gap between the act of Masood and a common criminal is narrow.

Two months ago, the head of the Metropolitan Police said that “warning lights are flashing” over the rise of violent crime across England and Wales. The preferred weapon, said Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, was the common knife. Violent crime had risen by twenty-two percent, with the last quarter of 2016 registering 30,838 crimes committed with knives. Masood’s crime could well have been read alongside this data, as a serious problem of an increase in violence with knives as the weapon of choice.

Instead, the media and the British political class offered a sanctimonious lesson in civics. This was, said UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, “an attack on our democracy, the heart of our democracy.” UK Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that despite this attack, “we will move forward together, never giving in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.” One newspaper suggested that Boris Johnson’s statement was “Churchillian.”

More here.


Beney_ZsuzsaOttilie Mulzet at The Quarterly Conversation:

If it is a task at the verge of impossibility to recommend all the Hungarian writers I would like to, it is only slightly less hard to select just a handful to share. There are, for example, the many writers designated in Hungarian as “classical”, the word itself more or less synonymous with deceased (I still recall the response from one online bookseller with respect to a leading contemporary poet of the older generation – “Not classical! She lives!”), whose work has never been translated, or was poorly translated, or at best has appeared only in fragments. They well could be designated as a “canon,” in the sense of an indigenous scaffolding of literary knowledge with which every educated Hungarian is presumed to have much more than a passing acquaintance. Obviously, a nation with Hungary’s history and geography will certainly have experienced strong politicization of its literary canon, and the process is hardly a merely historical question, if we recall the recent controversies over official attempts at bringing right-wing nationalist authors directly into the Hungarian school curriculum. Nevertheless, the ranks of those Hungarian writers seen as essential have remained surprisingly autonomous throughout the tortuous course of ideologies and power-systems, and—at least for the pre-World War II authors—there is far more consensus on the individual figures in the canon than might be expected.

So I could recommend a historical canon. On the other hand, there are the writers active today, the living and thus un-”classical” creators across several generations. There are senior figures with definite international name recognition, even despite recent losses (most notably Péter Esterházy this past year); there is the post-1989 generation, which is now moving into middle age; there are the very youngest authors still persisting with a commitment to the Hungarian language and its legacy in spite of the illiberality and defiant philistinism of much of Hungarian public life today.

more here.

‘Art Sex Music’ by Cosey Fanni Tutti

5d272fbf7d7c4a70b5346c8a69dd317dFiona Sturges at The Guardian:

It’s taken half a lifetime for Cosey Fanni Tutti to be recognised for her achievements in art, performance and music. Over the years rejection has come from all quarters: from her father, who threw her out of the house in her teens and later cut off all contact; from the police, who drove her out of her home town of Hull and, in London, repeatedly investigated her for indecency (charges were never brought); and, most startlingly, from Genesis P-Orridge, her former lover and fellow member of the art collective COUM Transmissions and the band Throbbing Gristle, who sought to marginalise her.

Art Sex Music isn’t merely a memoir, then; it’s a chance for Tutti to clear up the misconceptions about her career and reclaim her own narrative – and what an extraordinary narrative it is. This is the tale of a preternaturally creative individual dedicated to challenging and, where possible, breaking down ideological and social barriers, often at enormous personal cost. It’s also about resourcefulness amid astonishing unpleasantness and hardship.

more here.

Saturday Poem

I See You Dancing, Father
No sooner downstairs after the night’s rest

In the middle of the kitchen floor.

And as you danced
You whistled.
You made your own music
Always in tune with yourself.

Well, nearly always, anyway.
You’re buried now
In Lislaughtin Abbey
And whenever I think of you

I go back beyond the old man
Mind and body broken
To find the unbroken man.
It is the moment before the dance begins,

Your lips are enjoying themselves
Whistling an air.
Whatever happens or cannot happen
In the time I have to spare
I see you dancing, father.

by Brendan Kennelly
from A Time for Voices, Selected Poems 1960-1990
publisher: Bloodaxe, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1990

‘The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test and the Power of Seeing’

51ENJDEenRL._SX329_BO1 204 203 200_John Clay at Literary Review:

In the early 20th century, the Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach devised a test for examining people’s personalities based on their responses to sets of inkblots. In the Rorschach test, ‘ten and only ten’ inkblot patterns are used, reproduced on cards precisely 9½ inches high and 6½ inches wide. The same image can be replicated on both sides. Subjects are invited to view each inkblot and describe what they see. Their responses to the images are assessed according to several criteria, including level of detail, perceived content (such as a dancing bear) and the impression or otherwise of motion.

Born in 1884 near Zurich, Rorschach was a frequent doodler at school, taking after his father, who was a painter. As a result, he acquired the nickname ‘Klex’, derived from the German word for blot. He studied medicine at Zurich University, where he was lectured by Carl Jung and by Eugen Bleuler, director of the Burghölzli psychiatric clinic near Zurich, where both worked. This clinic housed over a thousand patients and had acquired an international reputation for its enlightened and innovative methods, particularly the ‘affective rapport’ technique recommended by Bleuler. Jung lectured on his word association tests, in which he used a stopwatch to measure the response time to a stimulus word. He had found these tests to be psychologically valuable, coining the term ‘complex’ as a result. Rorschach took note.

more here.

Uncle Sam and Hitler: did America inspire the Nazis’ race laws?

Tim Stanley in The Telegraph:

Klan-2-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqqVzuuqpFlyLIwiB6NTmJwfSVWeZ_vEN7c6bHu2jJnT8I have to break a golden rule. Normally, I hate it when people compare today to the Thirties: the link is lazy and often wrong. Donald Trump is not Hitler; neither is Brexit, the EU, or this cold I can’t shift. But sometimes politicians inadvertently make the comparison hard to deny, as when congressman Steve King of Iowa tweeted his support for Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders ahead of the Netherlands election, adding that America and Europe cannot save their civilisation by importing foreign babies. This remark, straight out of the Thirties, makes the publication of Hitler’s American Model stunningly well-timed. In his new book, the Yale professor James Q Whitman argues that the Nazis looked to the United States when writing their race laws. Critics will say that Whitman makes too much of his German sources, or that his narrow focus obscures the wider context – that the roots of Nazi race law, which sought to define citizenship by blood, really lie in 19th-century romanticism, the pseudoscience of eugenics, Hitler’s evil and the ordinary Nazi party members’ demands for radical action.

Nevertheless, there’s a taboo about US innocence that needs breaking here – and Whitman grinds it underfoot. How could Uncle Sam provide any source material for Nazi race laws? America, which was founded on the principles of liberty and equality, later joined the war in Europe to defeat fascism – how could the Germans see anything there but an ideological opposite? You’d be surprised. As Whitman notes, when Hitler was writing Mein Kampf he looked around the world for an example of a state that understood the benefits of racial purity, and found only one: “The American Union categorically refuses the immigration of physically unhealthy elements, and simply excludes the immigration of certain races. In these respects, America already pays obeisance, at least in tentative first steps, to the characteristic volkische conception of the state.”

More here.

The Emergence of the Hive Mind

David Bosworth in The Hedgehog Review:

HqdefaultThe research was conducted by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, and was derived from data collected by the Framingham Heart Study, which has been tracking the vital statistics and psychological states of the residents of one Massachusetts town for over five decades. The researchers were initially interested in the impact of social contacts on health habits, and the richness of the Framingham data allowed them to track the long-term behavior of more than 12,000 individuals. The results, as reported in Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, were startling, and have further undermined modernity’s presumptions about the individual as a rational and self-reliant decision maker. As clearly tracked on the researchers’ graphs, health habits spread rapidly through the separate social networks of the Framingham population: Whom one knew strongly affected what one chose to do—overeat or not, smoke or not—and highlighted the power of emulation in human behavior. Further study showed that the influence of these social networks was not limited to health decisions, leading the authors to conclude that

our connections affect every aspect of our daily lives…. How we feel, what we know, whom we marry, whether we fall ill, how much money we make, and whether we vote all depend on the ties that bind us. Social networks spread happiness, generosity, and love. They are always there, exerting both subtle and dramatic influence over our choices, actions, thoughts, feelings, even our desires.

More startling still, according to the authors,

our connections do not end with the people we know. Beyond our own social horizons, friends of friends of friends can start chain reactions that eventually reach us, like waves from distant lands that wash up on our shores.

Our misery or happiness, our good or bad health, and our indifference or commitment to political participation, are not only contagious; according to Christakis and Fowler, they are mysteriously influenced at a distance by the decisions of people we never meet. The persistence of this influence within the social networks could be traced through “three degrees of separation,” so that the habits of a man’s sister’s neighbor’s wife had a statistically significant effect on his own behavior. If she quit smoking, though out of sight and out of mind, his chances of doing the same were increased by nearly a third.

More here.