Public data and digital research ethics

The Verge recently posted an article that highlights some of the ethical dilemmas involved in collecting publicly-available data for research purposes. The article begins by describing the work of a researcher working on facial recognition of people before and after hormone replacement therapy: On YouTube, he found a treasure trove. Individuals undergoing HRT often document their progress …

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Meanwhile, down on the Farm

The Spring 2017 issue of the Stanford Medical School magazine has a special theme: Sex, Gender, and Medicine. I recommend the article excerpted below to journalists covering the Google Manifesto / James Damore firing. After reading it, they can decide for themselves whether his memo is based on established neuroscience or bro-pseudoscience. Perhaps top Google …

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In the matter of James Damore, ex-Googler

James Damore, Harvard PhD* in Systems Biology, and (until last week) an engineer at Google, was fired for writing this memo: Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, which dares to display the figure above. Here is Damore’s brief summary of his memo (which contains many citations to original scientific research), and the conclusion: Google’s political bias has …

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A day in the field

3:00 a.m. My alarm goes off. I open my eyes and see the Heilongjiang sun starting to rise. I close my eyes just for a minute more… (Editor’s note – China, while geographically spanning five time zones, follows only one for unity. That means far eastern locales like Heilongjiang see daybreak early.) 3:15 a.m. My …

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Robots taking our jobs

The figures below are from the recent paper Robots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets, by Acemoglu and Restrepo. VoxEU discussion: … Estimates suggest that an extra robot per 1000 workers reduces the employment to population ratio by 0.18-0.34 percentage points and wages by 0.25-0.5%. This effect is distinct from the impacts of imports, …

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Natural Selection and Body Shape in Eurasia

Prior to the modern era of genomics, it was claimed (without good evidence) that divergences between isolated human populations were almost entirely due to founder effects or genetic drift, and not due to differential selection caused by disparate local conditions. There is strong evidence now against this claim. Many of the differences between modern populations …

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Don’t Touch the Computer

Under what circumstances should humans override algorithms? From what I have read I doubt that a hybrid team of human + AlphGo would perform much better than AlphaGo itself. Perhaps worse, depending on the epistemic sophistication and self-awareness of the human. In hybrid chess it seems that the ELO score of the human partner is …

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Genetic variation in Han Chinese population

Largest component of genetic variation is a N-S cline (phenotypic N-S gradient discussed here). Variance accounted for by second (E-W) PC vector is much smaller and the Han population is fairly homogeneous in genetic terms: …while we revealed East-to-West structure among the Han Chinese, the signal is relatively weak and very little structure is discernible …

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Memory Minimization

As I grow older, I’m starting to forget things (such as all the math I ever learned) … but that’s not the reason for the title of this post. A somewhat interesting question popped up on Mathematics StackExchange. It combines a basic sequencing problem (ordering the processing of computational tasks) with a single resource constraint …

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Super-human Relational Reasoning (DeepMind)

These neural nets reached super-human (better than an average human) performance on tasks requiring relational reasoning. See the short video for examples. A simple neural network module for relational reasoning https://arxiv.org/abs/1706.01427 Adam Santoro, David Raposo, David G.T. Barrett, Mateusz Malinowski, Razvan Pascanu, Peter Battaglia, Timothy Lillicrap (Submitted on 5 Jun 2017) Relational reasoning is a …

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Waves of grain

My car packed with too many clothes, an extremely terrified cat and a live Kombucha culture, I headed west to my summer field site. Oddly enough, my summer field site is also where I grew up. The endless waves of grain remind me of my labor-intensive childhood detasseling corn,1 walking beans2 and bucking bales.3  I …

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How the brain does face recognition

  This is a beautiful result. IIUC, these neuroscientists use the terminology “face axis” instead of (machine learning terminology) variation along an eigenface vector or feature vector. Scientific American: …using a combination of brain imaging and single-neuron recording in macaques, biologist Doris Tsao and her colleagues at Caltech have finally cracked the neural code for …

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Face Recognition applied at scale in China

The Chinese government is not the only entity that has access to millions of faces + identifying information. So do Google, Facebook, Instagram, and anyone who has scraped information from similar social networks (e.g., US security services, hackers, etc.). In light of such ML capabilities it seems clear that anti-ship ballistic missiles can easily target …

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Premature Obituaries

[T]he report of my death was an exaggeration. (Mark Twain, 1897) In a recent blog post, “Data Science Is Not Dead“, Jean-Francois Puget discussed and dissented with a post by Jeroen ter Heerdt titled “Data Science is dead.” Barring the possibility that Schroedinger shoved data science into a box and sealed it, both assertions cannot …

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Scientific Consensus on Cognitive Ability?

From the web site of the International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR): a summary of the recent debate involving Charles Murray, Sam Harris, Richard Nisbett, Eric Turkheimer, Paige Harden, Razib Khan, Bo and Ben Winegard, Brian Boutwell, Todd Shackelford, Richard Haier, and a cast of thousands! ISIR is the main scientific society for researchers of …

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Climate Risk and AI Risk for Dummies

The two figures below come from recent posts on climate change and AI. Please read them. The squiggles in the first figure illustrate uncertainty in how climate will change due to CO2 emissions. The squiggles in the second figure illustrate uncertainty in the advent of human-level AI.   Many are worried about climate change because …

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Rise of the Machines: Survey of AI Researchers

These predictions are from a recent survey of AI/ML researchers. See SSC and also here for more discussion of the results. When Will AI Exceed Human Performance? Evidence from AI Experts Katja Grace, John Salvatier, Allan Dafoe, Baobao Zhang, Owain Evans Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) will transform modern life by reshaping transportation, health, science, …

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Epistemic Caution and Climate Change

I have not, until recently, invested significant time in trying to understand climate modeling. These notes are primarily for my own use, however I welcome comments from readers who have studied this issue in more depth. I take a dim view of people who express strong opinions about complex phenomena without having understood the underlying …

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Walter Pitts and Neural Nets

Pitts is one of the least studied geniuses of the early information age. See also Wikipedia, Nautil.us. Cabinet Magazine: There are no biographies of Walter Pitts, and any honest discussion of him resists conventional biography. Pitts was among the original participants in the mid-century cybernetics conferences, though he began his association with that group of …

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20 years of GATTACA (1997)

 A 20 year lag between science fiction and reality… not bad! Embryo selection, but no additional engineering: Geneticist (Blair Underwood): Keep in mind, this child is still you — simply the best of you. You could conceive naturally a thousand times and never get such a result … According to this discussion, an offer of …

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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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If

Every day, we propagate the E. coli populations in the long-term evolution experiment (LTEE) by transferring 0.1 ml of the previous day’s culture into 9.9 ml of fresh medium. This 100-fold dilution and regrowth back to stationary phase—when the bacteria have exhausted the resources—allow log2 100 = 6.64 generations (doublings) per day. We round that …

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And with that I’ll take both good and bad questions…

When scientists give talks/seminars/colloquia/presentations/speeches/lectures/lessons/defenses/instructions, questions are welcomed, and (probably to give themselves time to think), they often start by stating that that is a good question. What they don’t do is designate a question as dumb or stupid, because that’s offensive, and scientists are frail like quails when it comes to their intellects. “Good” questions: …

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What Was I Thinking?

The LTEE has run for over 10,000 days and almost 67,000 generations. It’s time to shut it down, as of today. It’s been a hell of a lot of work, and we have almost nothing to show for it. As some astute commentators have noted around the web, the creatures in the flasks are still …

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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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