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Archive for the tag “h+”

Far-out stuff

Some science fiction-type nuggets from the past few weeks:

Google does machine learning using quantum computing. Apparently, a “quantum algorithm” called Grover’s algorithm can search an unsorted database in O(√N) time. The Google blog explains this in layman’s terms:

Assume I hide a ball in a cabinet with a million drawers. How many drawers do you have to open to find the ball? Sometimes you may get lucky and find the ball in the first few drawers but at other times you have to inspect almost all of them. So on average it will take you 500,000 peeks to find the ball. Now a quantum computer can perform such a search looking only into 1000 drawers.

I’ve absolutely no clue how this algorithm works – although I did take an introductory course in quantum mechanics many a moon ago, I’ve forgotten everything about it and the course probably didn’t go deep enough to explain it anyway. Google are apparently collaborating with a Canadian company called D-Wave, who develop hardware for realizing something called a “quantum adiabatic algorithm” by “magnetically coupling superconducting loops”. It is interesting that D-Wave are explicitly focusing on machine learning; the home page states that “D-Wave is pioneering the development of a new class of high-performance computing system designed to solve complex search and optimization problems, with an initial emphasis on synthetic intelligence and machine learning applications.”

Speaking of synthetic intelligence, the winter issue of H+ Magazine contains an article by Ben Goertzel where he discusses the possibility that the first artificial general intelligence will arise in China. The well-known AI researcher Hugo de Garis, who runs a lab in Xiamen in China, certainly believes that this will happen. In his words:

China has a population of 1.3 billion. The US has a population of 0.3 billion. China has averaged an economic growth rate of about 10% over the past 3 decades. The US has averaged 3%. The Chinese government is strongly committed to heavy investment into high tech. From the above premises, one can virtually prove, as in a mathematical theorem, that China in a decade or so will be in a superior position to offer top salaries (in the rich Southeastern cities) to creative, brilliant Westerners to come to China to build artificial brains — much more than will be offered by the US and Europe. With the planet‘s most creative AI researchers in China, it is then almost certain that the planet‘s first artificial intellect to be built will have Chinese characteristics.

Some other arguments in favor of this idea mentioned in the article are that “One of China‘s major advantages is the lack of strong skepticism about AGI resulting from past failures” and that China “has little of the West‘s subliminal resistance to thinking machines or immortal people”.

(By the way, the same issue contains a good article by Alexandra Carmichael on subjects frequently discussed on this blog. The most fascinating detail from that article, to me, was when she mentions “self-organized clinical trials“; apparently users of PatientsLikeMe with ALS had set up their own virtual clinical trial where some of them started to take lithium and some didn’t, after which the outcomes were compared.)

Finally, I thought this methodology for tagging images with your mind was pretty neat. This particular type of mind reading does not seem to have reached a high specificity and sensitivity yet, but that will improve in time.

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Good issue of H+

I’ve been casually following h+, the latest magazine by R U Sirius, the man behind the Mondo 2000 and many other subsequent publications, but until the latest issue (#4) I’ve always felt it’s been a bit too … let’s say transhumanist for my tastes. This issue, though, is quite nice. There are articles about open source medicine, how it feels to have a new sense (perfect sense of direction, in the form of a device called Northpaw), augmented reality on cell phones (Layar etc.), eliminating suffering through brain science and genetic engineering, and much more.

Perhaps the most interesting article from the point of view of this blog is called Open prediction – How sports fans can help save the world. It’s about On the Record Sports, a sports prediction site where sports fans make open predictions, visible to all. The idea is that by aggregating predictions from lots of users (you could call it crowdsourced predictions), you are likely to get a better prediction than if you had asked a single, though knowledgeable, person. However, since the predictions are all open, you can also track your own (and others’) prediction performance and relate it to everyone else’s.

The fact that large groups of people tend to to well when their guesses are combined is well-known and has been discussed at length in, for example, Ian Ayres’ book Supercrunchers. Even aggregations of different prediction algorithms (such as in the machine learning techniques bagging and boosting) usually work well – as evidenced by the recently completed NetFlix competition – presumably because algorithms (like people) make prediction errors due to slightly different biases, which can be smoothed out in a combined approach.

On The Record Sports may therefore soon be sitting on a very interesting database of aggregated predictions. (At what point will they just go to the bookmaker and bet the farm using the crowdsourced predictions?) The h+ article mentions that the company has a pending patent related to the notion of prediction as entertainment, which sounds intriguing. Of course, prediction can be a sport in itself, as the article points out.

All in all, worth checking out.

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