CNGB: China National Gene Bank

Unbeknownst to me I’ve been skyping with a collaborator who has been working from this location. SCMP: China opens first national gene bank, aiming to house hundreds of millions of samples China’s first national gene bank, claimed to be the largest of its kind in the world, officially opened on Thursday to store and carry …

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Von Neumann and Realpolitik

“Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” — Thucydides, Melian Dialogue. Von Neumann, Feynman, and Ulam. Adventures of a Mathematician (Ulam): … Once at Christmas time in 1937, we drove from Princeton to Duke University …

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Michael Anton: Inside the Trump White House

Michael Anton is head of strategic communications for the National Security Council. See related Politico article. The Atlantic: Michael Anton warned last year that 2016 was the Flight 93 election: “Charge the cockpit or you die.” Americans charged. Donald Trump became president of the United States. And Anton, the author of that now-notorious essay, is …

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Yann LeCun on Unsupervised Learning

This is a recent Yann LeCun talk at CMU. Toward the end he discusses recent breakthroughs using GANs (Generative Adversarial Networks, see also Ian Goodfellow here and here). LeCun tells an anecdote about the discovery of backpropagation. The first implementation of the algorithm didn’t work, probably because of a bug in the program. But they convinced …

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History of Bayesian Neural Networks

This talk gives the history of neural networks in the framework of Bayesian inference. Deep learning is (so far) quite empirical in nature: things work, but we lack a good theoretical framework for understanding why or even how. The Bayesian approach offers some progress in these directions, and also toward quantifying prediction uncertainty. I was …

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Dialog 2017

Too busy to take many photos, but here are a few. First one is of a conversation between Tyler Cowen and Peter Thiel. Dialog is an biannual 2-day thought retreat, gathering 150 global leaders to discuss how to change the world. Dialog was created in 2006 to bring together global leaders across industries to discuss …

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Robots Proctor Online Exams

For background on this subject, see How to beat online exam proctoring. It is easy for clever students to beat existing security systems for online exams. Enterprising students could even set up “cheating rooms” that make it easy for test takers to cheat. Judging by the amount of traffic this old post gets, cheating on …

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Everything is Heritable

  The figure above comes from the paper below. A quick glance shows that for pairs of individuals: 1. Increasing genetic similarity implies increasing trait similarity (for traits including height, cognitive ability, years of education) 2. Home environments (raised Together vs Apart; Adoptees) have limited impact on the trait (at least in relatively egalitarian Sweden). …

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The Eyes of Texas

 The Eyes of Texas Sorry for the blogging interruption. I’m at the annual AAU (Association of American Universities) meeting of Senior Research Officers in Austin, Texas. UT Austin has a beautiful clock tower just up the street from our hotel. As pretty as it is I couldn’t help but think about the 1966 tower sniper (45 …

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A Professor meets the Alt-Right

A Professor meets the Alt-Right Thomas Main, Professor in the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College, is working on a book about the Alt-Right, to be published by Brookings. Below you can listen to a conversation between Main and prominent Alt-Right figure Mike Enoch (pseudonym). It’s an interesting encounter between academic political theory and …

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On the military balance of power in the Western Pacific

Some observations concerning the military balance of power in Asia. Even “experts” I have spoken to over the years seem to be confused about basic realities that are fundamental to strategic considerations. 1. Modern missile and targeting technology make the survivability of surface ships (especially carriers) questionable. Satellites can easily image surface ships and missiles …

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Ratchets Within Rachets

For those interested in political philosophy, or Trump’s travel ban, I recommend this discussion on Scott Aaronson’s blog, which features a commenter calling himself Boldmug (see also Bannon and Moldbug in the news recently ;-) Both Scott and Boldmug seem to agree that scientific/technological progress is a positive ratchet caught within a negative ratchet of societal and …

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Baby Universes in the Laboratory

This was on the new books table at our local bookstore. I had almost forgotten about doing an interview and corresponding with the author some time ago. See also here and here. The book is a well-written overview of some of the more theoretical aspects of inflationary cosmology, the big bang, the multiverse, etc. It also …

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Oppenheimer on Bohr (1964 UCLA)

Oppenheimer on Bohr (1964 UCLA) I came across this 1964 UCLA talk by Oppenheimer, on his hero Niels Bohr. Oppenheimer: Mathematics is “an immense enlargement of language, an ability to talk about things which in words would be simply inaccessible.” I find it strange that psychometricians usually define “verbal ability” over a vocabulary set that …

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The Gulf is Deep (Heinlein)

  The novella Gulf predates almost all of Heinlein’s novels. Online version. The book Friday (1982) is a loose sequel. Wikipedia: Gulf is a novella by Robert A. Heinlein, originally published as a serial in the November and December 1949 issues of Astounding Science Fiction and later collected in Assignment in Eternity. It concerns a secret society …

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AlphaGo (BetaGo?) Returns

Rumors over the summer suggested that AlphaGo had some serious problems that needed to be fixed — i.e., whole lines of play that it pursued poorly, despite its thrashing of one of the world’s top players in a highly publicized match. But tuning a neural net is trickier than tuning, for example, an expert system …

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Will and Power

The claim that one has a fixed budget of will power or self-discipline (“ego depletion“) may be yet another non-replicating “result” of shoddy social science. Note that the ego depletion claim refers to something like a daily budget of will power that can be used up, whereas Jocko is also referring to the development of …

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Varieties of Time Travel

My kids have been reading lots of books over the break, including an adventure series that involves time travel. Knowing vaguely that dad is a theoretical physicist, they asked me how time travel works. 1. Can one change history by influencing past events? OR 2. Is there only one timeline that cannot be altered, even …

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Time and Memory

Over the holiday I started digging through my mom’s old albums and boxes of photos. I found some pictures I didn’t know existed! Richard Feynman and the 19 year old me at my Caltech graduation: With my mom that morning — hung-over, but very happy! I think those are some crazy old school Ray Bans …

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Toward A Geometry of Thought

Apologies for the blogging hiatus — I’m in California now for the holidays :-) In case you are looking for something interesting to read, I can share what I have been thinking about lately. In Thought vectors and the dimensionality of the space of concepts (a post from last week) I discussed the dimensionality of the space of …

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Matt Townsend Show (Sirius XM)

I was on this show last week. Click the link for audio. We Are Nowhere Close to the Limits of Athletic Performance (16:46) Dr. Stephen Hsu is the vice president for research and a professor of theoretical physics at Michigan State University. His interest range from theoretical physics and cosmology to computer science and biology. …

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Three Lectures on AdS/CFT

MSU postdoc Steve Avery explains AdS/CFT to non-specialists (i.e., theoretical physicists who do not primarily work on string theory / quantum gravity). Steve is applying for faculty positions this fall — hire him! :-) AdS/CFT on this blog. See also Entanglement and fast thermalization in heavy ion collisions: application of AdS/CFT to collisions of heavy ions …

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Trump Triumph Viewed From China

This is from a blog that tracks Chinese public opinion, mainly via the internet. I don’t agree with everything in the original post, but here’s something sourced from the crowd: … a widely-read Weibo post (again originated from Zhihu) summarizes what Trump’s win has “taught China”, generating tens of thousands of retweets. “1. We should …

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