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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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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Decoding Genius podcast

I’m interviewed in episode 2 of this podcast. ABOUT THE DECODING GENIUS PODCAST What exactly is a Genius? Are they born that way or can you become a genius? The world is now so interconnected that a single genius, whether a young Aussie creating mind-controlled machines or a ten year old building a high tech …

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Roe’s scientists: original published papers

Gwern has provided scans of the original papers published by Anne Roe on studies of 64 eminent scientists. These papers include details concerning the selection of these individuals and the psychometric testing performed on them. Roe’s scientists — selected in their 40’s and 50’s for outstanding research contributions — scored much higher on a set …

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Theory, Money, and Learning

After 25+ years in theoretical physics research, the pattern has become familiar to me. Talented postdoc has difficulty finding a permanent position (professorship), and ends up leaving the field for finance or Silicon Valley. The final phase of the physics career entails study of entirely new subjects, such as finance theory or machine learning, and developing …

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Gell-Mann on quantum foundations

Google knows enough about me that my YouTube feed now routinely suggests content of real interest. A creepy but positive development ;-) Today YouTube suggested this video of Murray Gell-Mann talking about Everett, decoherence, and quantum mechanics. I had seen this video on another web site years ago and blogged about it (post reproduced below), …

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DeepMind and Demis Hassabis

Recent profile in the Guardian; 15 facts about Hassabis. The mastery of Atari games through reinforcement learning deep neural nets is described here (Nature). See also Deep Neural Nets and Go: AlphaGo beats European champion. Guardian: … “We’re really lucky,” says Hassabis, who compares his company to the Apollo programme and Manhattan Project for both …

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Black Hole Memory and Soft Hair

A recent paper by Hawking, Perry, and Strominger (Soft Hair on Black Holes) proposes a new kind of soft hair (i.e., soft gravitons or photons) on the black hole horizon. This hair is related to recent results on BMS symmetries and soft (zero) modes by Strominger and collaborators. The existence of an infinite number of …

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The cult of genius?

In one of his early blog posts, Terence Tao (shown above with Paul Erdos in 1985) wrote Does one have to be a genius to do maths? The answer is an emphatic NO. In order to make good and useful contributions to mathematics, one does need to work hard, learn one’s field well, learn other …

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Feynman’s War

Radar and nuclear weapons could not have been developed without the big brains. Feynman’s War: Modelling Weapons, Modelling Nature Peter Galison* What do I mean by understanding? Nothing deep or accurate—just to be able to see some of the qualitative consequences of the equations by some method other than solving them in detail. — Feynman …

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Contemplating the Future

A great profile of Nick Bostrom in the New Yorker. I often run into Nick at SciFoo and other similar meetings. When Nick is around I know there’s a much better chance the discussion will stay on a highbrow, constructive track. It’s surprising how often, even at these heavily screened elitist meetings, precious time gets …

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David Donoho interview at HKUST

A long interview with Stanford professor David Donoho (academic web page) at the IAS at HKUST. Donoho was a pioneer in thinking about sparsity in high dimensional statistical problems. The motivation for this came from real world problems in geosciences (oil exploration), encountered in Texas when he was still a student. Geophysicists were using Compressed …

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Colleges ranked by Nobel, Fields, Turing and National Academies output

Colleges ranked by Nobel, Fields, Turing and National Academies output This Quartz article describes Jonathan Wai’s research on the rate at which different universities produce alumni who make great contributions to science, technology, medicine, and mathematics. I think the most striking result is the range of outcomes: the top school outperforms good state flagships (R1 …

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Wandering physicists

This is funny, and does capture the tendency of physicists (not just old ones) to wander into other fields. But the cartoon avoids the hard question (perhaps best addressed by historians of science) as to the actual value brought to other fields by physicists. See, for example, Physicists can do stuff, Prometheus in the basement, …

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Neural Networks and Deep Learning

One of the SCI FOO sessions I enjoyed the most this year was a discussion of deep learning by AI researcher Juergen Schmidhuber. For an overview of recent progress, see this recent paper. Also of interest: Michael Nielsen’s pedagogical book project. An application which especially caught my attention is described by Schmidhuber here: Many traditional methods …

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Physics and the Horizons of Truth

I came across a PDF version of this book online. It contains a number of fine essays, including the ones excerpted from below. A recurring question concerning Godel’s incompleteness results is whether they impact “interesting” mathematical questions. CHAPTER 21 The Godel Phenomenon in Mathematics: A Modern View: … Hilbert believed that all mathematical truths are …

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Bezos quotes

These quotes appear in an excerpt from a new biography by Brad Stone. Stone uncovers some new ground — tracking down Bezos’ long-lost biological father, who was unaware(!) that his son had become a billionaire e-commerce titan. I had always heard that Bezos has a vulcan or hyper-rational management style. It’s good to know he occasionally loses …

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Nobels for Higgs and Englert

Congratulations to Peter Higgs and François Englert on their Nobel prize. A bit of background from an earlier post How the Higgs boson became the Higgs boson: IIRC, I met Peter Higgs in Erice in 1990. He was quite a nice fellow, but the story below by Steve Weinberg illustrates how capricious is the allocation …

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Another species, an evolution beyond man

  Readers might be interested in this interview I did, which is on the MIRI (Machine Intelligence Research Institute, in Berkeley) website. Some excerpts below. … I think there is good evidence that existing genetic variants in the human population (i.e., alleles affecting intelligence that are found today in the collective world population, but not …

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