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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

US Culture Becomes More Absurd By The Day

This one is from the "you couldn't make this stuff up" category and is so absurd that I've been diligently waiting for Snopes to say it's a hoax but as of right now, it seem to be legitimate.

The first part of the story is straightforward - nothing unusual here:
Apple’s first-ever vice president of diversity and inclusion, Denise Young Smith, is leaving Apple at the end of this year, TechCrunch has learned. Young Smith, who has only been in the position since May of this year, previously served as Apple’s head of worldwide human resources for three years.
So why did she leave? Perhaps because Ms. Young Smith, a black woman, made an interesting comment at the One Young World Summit earlier this year:
... there can be 12 white blue-eyed blonde men in a room and they are going to be diverse too because they’re going to bring a different life experience and life perspective to the conversation.
I'm neither blue-eyed, nor blonde, but I can't say that I disagree with that, at least not strongly.

Nonetheless, Apple and Ms. Young Smith have parted ways, perhaps because a diversity and inclusion expert really ought not say such things in this day and age. Here's the funny take on it (by a black columnist, in case that matters):
I am not saying that God, the universe, RihannayoncĂ© or whoever you worship as a higher power is petty, but in one of the most hilarious twists of fate ever, Apple’s vice president of inclusion and diversity, Denise Young Smith, who once whitesplained how hiring 12 white, blond, blue-eyed men could actually be seen as promoting diversity, has been replaced.
By a blond, blue-eyed white woman.

Friday, November 17, 2017


I'm not sure how I feel about all the recent groping and sexual assault allegations, from G.H.W. Bush to Al Franken to Roy Moore to most of Hollywood and beyond.

First, I wonder if I had been a very public figure for my 58 years and constantly photographed and imaged, if due to sheer bad luck, one of my hands was caught in a possibly awkward position on camera. I don't think so, but I really don't remember where my hands have been for every second of my life. It wouldn't've been intentional, but I don't know absolutely for sure.

And during my career, I've been alone with a woman (and also a man for that matter) one-on-one more than once. They could accuse me of doing anything during those times, and while not true, it might've been thought plausible, especially by enemies (if I had enemies).

Once, I texted my wife "I love you!" (plus some heart emoticons). A not uncommon thing to do. Unfortunately, I had selected a female employee's text address instead of my wife's and the text went to the female employee. This particular female employee thought it was hilarious (especially my obvious and extreme discomfort with the whole thing). But a different female employee could potentially have made life very difficult for me, even if she eventually lost any lawsuit (which she probably would have because it was pretty obvious I was trying to text my wife).

In court in a criminal case, something has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt for the defendant to be convicted. In the court of public opinion, especially the opinion's of one's ideological opposites, the merest hint of impropriety seems to be enough to convict and destroy the life, or at least the career, of the accused.

And are women really so fragile? A hand brushing against a buttocks or breast is a life-long traumatic event? Or even a single forced kiss (like Franken is accused of)? Isn't that reason enough by itself never to hire a woman - because she's too fragile and easily traumatized?

And then there's Hollywood. As a parent, a common complement to the parent goes something like, "Your child is so beautiful - she could be an actress!" And I used to think, "Oh my god, I hope not!" And why did I hope not? Because it's always been common knowledge that an awful lot of actresses and models have had sex with an awful lot of casting directors and agents for the purpose of getting work. This is nothing even vaguely new. What seems to be new is that a woman can use sex to get herself a role and then accuse the casting director of sexual harassment after her work finishes.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think the any of the above is right or moral or ethical. But the zealous fervor that's bringing down all these people also doesn't seem quite right or moral or ethical to me. But I'll admit, I'm not quite sure why.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Leaps in Artificial Intelligence

One of the holy grails of Artificial Intelligence research has been to understand how the human brain works. The idea is that if we knew how the brain works we could simulate its processing using computers and those computers would then be intelligent. Alas, remarkably little is known about the brain.

In the last few years, AI researchers have tried a different, but related approach. They've simulated neural network topologies in a computer that are sorta based on neural connectivity in a brain. The idea is that even though nobody knows how those neurons in the brain work when connected like that, perhaps those topologies will do something useful anyway.

And much to my utter amazement, that approach has made some really jaw dropping (well, my jaw, anyway) breakthroughs in a wide range of areas from vision to self-driving cars to emerging intelligence to self-directed learning and more. There's not time and space for me to get into all of these areas, but I'll touch on a couple.

The first is image recognition. A huge goal of AI has been to be able to have a computer look at an image and tell you what's in the image (for example, a car or sword or shark or poppy or fighter-jet or ...). And since a human can distinguish between hundreds of thousands of different types of objects, wouldn't it be nice if the computer could also distinguish between that many different things as well.

As of 2010, that level of ability for image recognition by computers was a pipe dream, and nothing more. As of today, a mere 7 years later, computers are now really good at that. Not quite as good as humans, but rapidly closing in as shown by the following graph:

Some background is required for the graph above. In 2006, some researchers got the idea to create a database of 14,000,000+ images (they hope to have 100 million images eventually) of tens of thousands of different objects, each image labeled with the object(s) it contains and bounding boxes of each object. With this database, neural nets can be trained to recognize the objects. Then, when shown an arbitrary image, the neural net will identify the objects in it.

The database is called ImageNet and was first ready for use in 2010. A contest was created to see who, if anybody, could create and train neural nets to distinguish between the tens of thousands of objects in the database. In 2010, the results were dismal with most contestants guessing right less than half the time. But, by trial-and-error and building on the best successes (evolution?), each year the results got better - a lot better. To the point where if you show one of the better nets a picture (and the picture is reasonably clear and a few other minor caveats), it will correctly identify the main object(s) (again, out of tens of thousands of possible different objects) in the image the vast majority of the time. And anyone can download these trained nets and utilize them with open source software such as Google's TensorFlow. While it takes weeks and weeks of cloud computing to train these networks using 14,000,000 images, once trained, a typical desktop can recognize the objects in an image in a few tens of seconds and in less than a second if it has a sufficiently powerful GPU (it turns out that graphics cards happen to be nearly exactly optimal for processing neural nets).

These image recognition nets are called "deep learning convolutional nets" and nobody really knows how they work, only that they do. Sorta like how we don't know how the human brain works - only that it does. Some modifications of these nets has enabled a lot of different applications to be addressed. For example, a while back, an AI beat the worlds Go champion. Ho hum, chess had already fallen to computers, so not a big deal, right? But it got a little more interesting a few weeks ago:
A new paper published in Nature today describes how the artificially intelligent system that defeated Go grandmaster Lee Sedol in 2016 got its digital ass kicked by a new-and-improved version of itself. And it didn’t just lose by a little—it couldn’t even muster a single win after playing a hundred games. Incredibly, it took AlphaGo Zero (AGZ) just three days to train itself from scratch and acquire literally thousands of years of human Go knowledge simply by playing itself.
Self-learning artificial intelligence. Pretty nifty.

Many of these techniques (and many more) are used in self-driving cars. They will soon teach themselves to drive really well - "literally thousands of years of human" driving experience. Bigger nets will be able to incorporate millions of years of human driving experience. It may take years to train them, but once trained, they can be downloaded to all cars. Humans may bested by AI in wide range of applications in my children's lifetimes, not just relatively trivial things like chess and Go (which only 10 years ago were not considered at all trivial).

I'll leave you with what I think is a very interesting video. I'm sure you've all seen faces morph from one person to another, but I think you'll find that the morphing is qualitatively different starting at the 1:50 mark on the video. All of those faces are simulated by the neural net which has been trained to "know" what a face is. The morphing from one face to another, even radically different faces in different poses, tends to stay pretty realistic throughout the transition. And the scene morphing, also completely simulated, maintains a surprisingly realistic rendition even when changing between radically different scenes, for example the bedrooms just after 4:00. Enjoy!
More information on the video is here.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

More crazies, more shootings?

The only point in the gun debate that looks to be agreeable by both parts is that crazies are to blame. To the pro-guns, they are the main source. To the anti-guns, a contributing factor.

I was then surprised to read today that:
It’s a common misperception: Mass killers are mentally ill. In fact, fewer than 1 in 6 has been diagnosed as psychotic, according to a 2015 paper. Past violent behavior, a history of animal cruelty, childhood maltreatment, access to guns, or being young and male are more reliable indicators. So when President Trump portrayed last Sunday’s church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as a mental health problem – the killer had escaped from a mental health facility in 2012 – he was really pointing to an exception rather than the rule. [...]
[...] Of 88 mass shooters – those who had killed four or more people in the US – since 1966, only 14.8 percent were diagnosed as psychotic, according to 2015 paper by Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, a gun violence expert who maintains a database of indiscriminate mass shootings. 
As the article goes, it doesn't make much of a strong case, since its main point looks to be that not all mentally ill should be viewed as a source of doom. 

Yet, I wonder, are we all settling for too comfortable an answer? The Sutherland Springs shooter is an easy case of mental disorder, but it is hard to forget the Las Vegas one, whose perpetrator looked to be smarter than everyone in this blog - if we judge so only by financial achievements.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Step One

The essence of clear thinking is the ability to state the views of those who disagree with you in a way they would find accurate and fair.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Another One Bites the Dust

[Updated to correct errors even superficial proof reading would have revealed.]

Way back in the day, 13 years of days, to be brutally honest, the Post Judd Alliance took refuge at The Daily Duck and Thought Mesh. Then the crowd consisted of David Cohen, AOG, Brit, Duck, Oroborous, Peter, Harry, Ali Choudhury; erp joined not too long after.

Since then, Oroborous and AOG just up and vanished. Ali stopped stopping by, but he pops up in Facebook regularly (in Spain this week, BTW). And like Howard, we lost Duck. Brit finally got fed up with Harry's bilious hatred that he left us, never to return.

Now Harry has stomped off, in his typical spittle-flecked and truth impaired style. In putting this post together, I had been looking at some of the longer threads over the last half dozen years. It has been a very long time, indeed, since he made an enlightening or substantive comment. So, on the one hand, his going doesn't seem much of a loss. Despite that, though, his presence here did give the rest of us exposure to progressive thinking.

During my forays into progressive blogs, I was astonished to discover that Harry isn't alone in his thinking, but rather that he is emblematic of progressives: riddled with hatred and factually challenged.

Per Harry: I quit Good [sic] Guys because of your [my] and erp's racism and fascism.

Leaving aside whether his statement has any factual basis, this raises a couple issues. First is the incontinent spewing of racist/fascist/misogynist/Islamophobe/homophobe (to avoid tedious typing, I will refer to such accusations using this ugly portmanteau acronym: RAFAMIHO) et al in response to any statement that departs from progressive pieties.

Unfortunately, that goes beyond merely amounting to "Shut up, the progressive explained." Remember Damore, the Google engineer? Progressive hatred cost him his job. When challenged, progressives had absolutely no idea what the Damore actually said, yet were perfectly happy to trash the guy.

More recently, a Boise State University professor wrote an opinion piece about the goals of radical feminists. In response, the school's Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion, Francisco Salinas wrote a litany of accusations unburdened by a single quote, and which would surely have cost the professor his job if he didn't already have tenure.

A couple quotes:

[Professor Yenor's] piece is easy enough to dismiss on logical grounds …" (which Salinas never actually bothers to attempt)

Not every person who agrees with Yenor’s piece is likely to become an espoused Neo-Nazi, but likely every Neo-Nazi would agree with the substance of Yenor’s piece.

In other words, shut up, the Director explained. Using words and fact free assertions that could have come straight from Harry's keyboard.

Which is what made Harry's presence here useful. Progressives, it seems, are astonishingly self-similar. So having one around provided an opportunity to attempt to understand progressive thinking. Unfortunately, I don't think that is possible, because there doesn't seem to be much actual thinking going on. No thinking person would recognize Prof Yenor's writing in Salinas's characterization of it, anymore than an objective observer would find anything even remotely racist or fascist in what erp or I have ever wrote.

Not that easily observable facts are any deterrent to what is, to the extent it is untrue, a vicious insult. Nor will Salinas, or Harry, wonder whether the incontinent spewing of RAFAMIHO renders their own characters suspect.

The other issue is this: what constitutes saying something RAFAMIHO?

Further down that Restating the Obvious thread I linked to above, Clovis said:

I don't think Erp is racist, but only because I met her in person. My interactions online with her in past, many times, gave me the impression of someone with racial prejudices on the other side.

I don't remember having similar impression about you in terms of race, but you are demonstrably prejudiced against Muslims.

Aside from the rather obvious problem that it is a nearly futile exercise to attempt an empty charge, what does it mean to be "… demonstrably prejudiced against Muslims"?

Sometimes, the answer is obvious. A statement such as "… Muslims in general and Arab Muslims in particular are incapable of popular self-government." clearly fits the bill for being not only anti-Muslim, but racist on top of it. Never mind being drenched in irony.

But Clovis takes the concept further: observations about Islam that lead to negative judgments about some muslims prove that I have a blinding prejudice that makes me attribute to an individual the properties of the collective.

Even if did such a thing, the conclusion doesn't follow.

No one would bat an eye if I suggested that, on observing a group of people walking down the street wearing Nazi regalia that I could reach some likely very accurate judgments about each member of that group. Similarly, if I see obviously pious muslims, I reach the very likely accurate conclusion that they believe in the divinity and inerrancy of the Quran, and, therefore, have beliefs that are antagonistic towards the individualistic, Enlightenment derived, beliefs I hold. Or, conversely, their seeing me wearing Levis and having dinner with a much younger woman who is not my wife or daughter (but happens to be my co-pilot on this trip) means they can safely conclude I hold beliefs deeply incongruous with their own.

The charge that someone is anti-Muslim (or, looked at the other way, anti-post Christian) is practically vacuous, in that it completely voids the capability to draw any conclusions with regard to certain groups, while simultaneously allowing such conclusions about other groups. That is post-modernism run amuck and self contradicting at the same time.

The same argument can be made against nearly all invocations of RAFAMIHO. They are nearly always wrong. Damore made an evidence based argument that Google's employment policies were doomed to expensive failure. That doesn't make him a misogynist, any more than noting that men are overwhelmingly responsible for violent crime makes me a misandrist.

If his evidence is fairly chosen and accurate, that makes him correct. If it isn't either or both, that makes him wrong, and better evidence will make that clear. The conclusions I draw about some Muslims based upon the evidence as I understand it provided by Islam doesn't mean I harbor some profound character flaw. To the degree my understanding reflects Islam's objective reality, my conclusions are correct. To the extent my understanding doesn't, then improved understanding should change my conclusions.

Only when I refuse that opportunity does it become possible to throw down the RAFAMIHO.

Remember, to call someone a RAFAMIHO is to charge that person with a grave moral defect. Doing so with all the incontinence of a goose having just consumed bad oysters, whether it is Harry or Keith Olbermann, on any of a nearly endless parade of examples from the left is to put oneself in the same league with those who denounced their neighbors to the KGB.

Recently, Peter said "I'm intrigued by the role ubiquitous social media is playing in the current American political distemper and its destabilizing influences on political dialogue."

Social media may well be contributing to American distemper, but not nearly so much as the vile accusations that emanate primarily from the left, and that almost never earn the disdain they so richly deserve.

Perhaps if progressives like Harry, Keith Olbermann, Francisco Salinas and ad infinitum started hating less, and thinking more, our political fever would go down.

Yeah, like that is going to happen.