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 Gerrymandering Math [30 Jan 2017|02:28pm] I ran across this summer school recently and read this white paper, and while I'm happy this sort of work was getting done I was struck by how shallow the analysis there seemed to be.So I started thinking about what sorts of simple improvements could be made, that could still be computed automatically rather than needing to be hand-drawn or specified.The first point that they mention several times is the idea that boundaries of cities, coastlines, and state borders can cause massive increases in perimeter without being any more suspect when identifying gerrymandering. This seems like an easily solvable problem, and I'll address a couple methods for tackling it here.First, is to consider districts as being partitions of the convex hull of the region in question, rather than partitions only of the region. For each district in the region, include with it any point within the convex hull that is closer to that district than any other district. This sounds a little complicated, so here's an ugly picture I drew in MS Paint: By any methodology used in the study (for example, Reock measure which compares the district's perimeter to the smallest circle that contains the district; or Schwartzberg which measures the ratio of the district's area to that of a circle with equal perimeter) this district will look like a hugely gerrymandered mess.However when extended to being a partition of the convex hull of the state, more than half of the district's perimeter disappears while it's area substantially increases.Here's a second idea: draw a straight line through any district border that is defined by water or the border of the region being districted (perhaps use the convex hull here as well) and use this for calculating the perimeter.One method proposed in the white paper is to compare the compactness of the district to the overall compactness of the region. However this is a bad fit for a district like Florida-14 above: this is a small piece of noncompact land within a larger, more generally compact state. Consider also the northwest end of Oklahoma, the southeast bayous of Louisiana, or Manhattan island in New York.My next thought is that gerrymandering essentially implies a purposeful bias in selecting district borders. This purpose could be detected, for example by looking at semi-local demographic data. It's not clear to me how easily available this data is but it must be for the districting process to be possible in the first place.Here are a couple of thoughts on detecting whether the district seems to have unusual demographics relative to the surrounding area:Compare the population (say, mix of ethnicities, major party vote share) of the district to its convex hull. This is much more difficulty with cities, since a rapid change in demographics is likely when entering an urban area, and it might be appropriate to draw district lines along these lines.So a second pass at the idea: Consider a square region the same size as the district extending diagonally in each cardinal direction from the center of the district: This district has a CPVI of D+21, but the district to the east (6th) is R+9, to the north and west (3rd) is R+14, surrounding the northern tip is the 4th district at R+19, and to the southwest are districts 10 and 11, at R+6 and R+11 respectively. The combination of ridiculous non-compactness with vastly different demographics than surrounding districts suggests that this is clearly gerrymandered for political purposes. Also consider the similarly non-compact 22nd district, which is sits at D+3 and is surrounded by districts 20 (D+29), 21 (D+10), and 23 (D+9)--this is a competitive district surrounded by non-competitive districts--honestly it kind of looks like district 20 is sinking its fangs into the territory to drain local democratic support by 7 points.Contrast with California's 22nd district, which has a CPVI of R+10, but sits in between some very diverse and reasonably drawn districts: CA-4 (R+10), CA-16 (D+7), CA-21 (D+5), and CA-22 (R+15). This district has a population that seems contiguous with the surrounding area, even with its weird outline (some of which is also drawn from the mountain range.) You can also see this in the districts of LA, which have a voting index that seems to correspond pretty strongly to whether they're a central urban area.An alternative to this "semi-local" information would be to look at something like global information. If one comes into districting with the explicit goal of making as many competitive districts as possible, then something like FL-22 makes sense--though this also would result in a much more volatile political system, where for example the house could change from a supermajority in one direction to a supermajority in the other within one election cycle. Whether you see this is a feature or a bug probably depends on your perspective.Alright, that's it for me spitballing. While dealing with coastlines and city borders still seems easily solvable, I do think this is a complicated problem and figuring out what the proper reasons to make districting choices are is a necessarily collaborative political process.Of course we could also just have proportional legislatures, where parties have lists of candidates and get to put a number in corresponding to the share of the vote they recieved. I like the idea of cutting down on local special interests in general, and I LOVE the notion of the green party getting consistent seats in congress, but there are certainly problems with individual accountability and the escalation of political party machinery. post comment

What is to be Done [09 Nov 2016|02:13pm]
 [ mood | Stress Naps ]

I wrote little blurbs on Facebook about how I feel sort of powerless and don't know what to do about the election results. And I think sitting around feeling depressed all day would be the easy way out but I'd rather not do that so here's my first step brainstorming.

My housemate is in school and he writes essays for classes, and it reminds me of how I never actually cared about or really "got" essays in school. But now I think I understand how the process of writing down a thought process can both be informative for the writer and persuasive to the reader, and how these sorts of deep interactions and especially the research behind them is valuable and necessary for discourse.

So one thing I could do, to really actually do something meaningful and make a difference, is I could start looking at local politics one issue at a time and writing essays on the issues. I could look up related issues in other places, how different solutions have worked out. I could run budget numbers for the state or learn about state bonds and interest. I could go through laws for my local county. I could treat it as though I was in law school or something, and push myself to keep going even when I just want to play Overwatch all day.

I think this would be a valuable way to spend my time, in some sense. I think entering local politics could be interesting and an effective way to make the world around me a bit better.

But there's a deep flaw in this plan, which is that I have no way to hold myself accountable to it. I've had plans like this before and unless I have a serious social commitment to something I will simply stop it because of depression. And sometimes I will stop even IF I have a social commitment to it.

So how can I make this plan easier? How can I change it from something that's clearly out of scope to something that could become a habit?

Well, one obvious idea would be to reduce how often I engage with it and how fast I have to. However this will also reduce my momentum and make it harder to develop a habit.

Another idea would be to reduce the level of expected rigor from my posts or analysis. This doesn't really help either, though, since once I get into a topic I expect to have enough inherent drive to understand it to a reasonable level of rigor.

I could establish a list of ideas to engage with and readily present it to myself, or try to build a group to engage with it with me, but then I'll have substantial startup costs that I may not be able to get through to actually do anything.

I got into a habit for about a day and a half of playing overwatch, and writing for a nanowrimo sort of story while I was waiting for games to load. But then my writing became world building rather than story telling and I slowed down and I stopped.

So maybe my first step should just be to reestablish that habit, and to start writing again. Forget about the details, just write. Write and see what comes of it.

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 Thoughts on the Curse of Chalion [05 Sep 2016|12:06am] I'm going to be starting to contribute to a group blog project that kind of came out of nowhere, which will be starting with our discussion of The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold as we read it. I'm currently through chapter three, here's what I've thought so far!The setup for the novel seems pretty traditional. The author is doing a good job showing rather than telling, building our idea of the setting with scenes from daily life rather than via infodumps. That's nice and all... but the setting is exactly the same as every other setting. We're introduced to an order of knights that is aloof from peasants but not really evil, a character with a troubled past and a wide variety of skills that will make them capable of figuring out what to do in every situation that comes up, and an ominous form of death magic with great power and great cost. Through the next couple chapters we see the naive and forceful young woman, the matriarch balancing her power within her domain against a patriarchal system, and a little bit of depth and a softer side to the god of death. These tropes are a bit more modern than the rest we've seen of the setting but they're still played very straight and common as anything.All of this is well established, but it's also fairly typical. I have yet to really distinguish this book from the countless others I've read. By the end of the third chapter we have some characters established with their relationships intact and a view of the world. As a first fantasy novel this would be a lovely setup. But as a 50th or 500th fantasy novel one could get the same amount of exposition in with five pages, letting the reader's memories of other books fill in the rest of the details.It's probably better not to, but this is the part of the book that I'd sort of fly through on a reading that I wasn't reporting on, and think not much of until much later on.PS-I'm not adding any tags to this post under the assumption that in the future my writing on the topic will be curated at post comment

 Computability is Nonsense? [21 Jun 2016|11:44am] Start with a Godel-numbering of Turing machines whose outputs are real numbers and which can be described with a finite amount of information. In an ideal world, build a Turing-complete programming language, and take a Godel-numbering of programs which take as input a natural number (n) and return as output the first n digits of a real number (let's say between 0 and 1 for simplicity).Define the set of computable numbers as the set of real numbers which are approximated by this process. There are clearly a countable number of computable numbers since each can be described by a computer program of finite length which can be collapsed into binary as a number, so they're in correspondence with a subset of the natural numbers.So then, write out the decimal expansions of these numbers in a block, and build Cantor's diagonal element, which has a value at each decimal place not equal to the corresponding computable number's value at that decimal place. Then this diagonal element is necessarily not in the list. However, I have just described an algorithm for computing as many of the first n digits of its decimal expansion, and the programming language we used is assumed to be turing complete. This is a contradiction.Right?So what went wrong?Is my definition of computable bad? I don't think that's really possible, since I'm just choosing a subset of the real numbers, which fail this test because they are uncountable.Is it unclear what is meant by computable? Well I'm not actually asking about set membership; the proof is (not very effectively) constructive--given a real world system it would be possible to put computational bounds on everything and build this system. What would happen?Is the set of computable numbers as I've defined it not actually countable? I.e., is there no way to write a single Turing-complete programming language that can be converted to machine code for a given system? That strains credulity for me.Is Cantor's diagonal construction not turing-computable? This also strains credulity since it requires only very basic logic. Of course if you are something like a large-number-atheist and don't believe that 10^^^^10 exists then you're safe, since the point at which the diagonal element shows up in the list could just be so big that the index doesn't exist in real life.Anyway I notice that I am confused. Seriously, what the fuck.EDIT: The issue that arises is the halting problem; we want "computable" to mean "known to halt." When the diagonal element here encounters itself, it needs to know what to do or else computing it doesn't halt. If it is equal to itself it's on the list, if it's not then it doesn't halt and isn't computable. 2 comments|post comment

 Types of Knowledge Reminder [19 Jun 2016|11:39am] A long time ago I read a book on pedagogy, and among many other things, it outlined four types of knowledge. Since I just posted a framework below on ethics, I'm going to remind myself of this framework and make it more accessible so that I can reference it when designing the course outline I want.Four types of knowledge:declarative - "what" - what is the definition of an autonomous system?procedural - "how" - how do we attach decision processes to actuators?strategic - "when" - when do autonomous systems have decisive advantages over manned systems? When do they have disadvantages?justifying - "why" - why are the above situations different? What are the specific factors that cause these differences?I want to keep these in mind, especially because strategic and justifying knowledge are often laid by the wayside, and attempting to integrate these types of knowledge into AI systems is a large part of the short-term ethical project I want to begin building. post comment

Non-explosive Intelligence [02 Jun 2016|11:33am]
 [ mood | sleep schedule?! ]

I'm reading Nick Bostrom's "Superintelligence," which overall I've been appreciating (though much of the material so far is a condensation of common wisdom in the LW-sphere). I've noticed my first major issue with the book in chapter 4, in box 4 regarding the kinetics of an intelligence explosion. Here Bostrom sets up an equation for the rate of growth of an AI's general intelligence.

There are a number of assumptions made here and he does a reasonable job addressing these... except for one assumption which slides in unnoticed. In the middle of page 92, he suggests that once an AI overtakes human levels of intelligence, it will be the primary contributor to it's own progress toward increased intelligence. This creates the comparison between rate of intelligence increase and intelligence which leads to the exponential nature of the intelligence explosion.

This is not an unreasonable assumption, and throwing out his point because it is an assumption is probably not justified. However one can probably easily imagine a situation in which AI is effectively human-level without actually being good at computer science at all, for instance.

For example, consider an AI built from a number of highly specialized modules such as computer vision processes, language parsing, etc., as well as a decision-making process that connects them together. The decision-making process constructs short term goals (give that cat a hug) then collects information from specialized modules (vision module: I recognize a cat there) and uses that information to act via other specialized modules (movement module: move so the cat is closer. Arms module: hug the cat). These sorts of hacked-together processes seem pretty similar to how humans interact. And while the sort of decision-making modules that would be necessary aren't around, once one exists by attaching the correct modules you would have an AI that can drive cars, answer jeopardy questions, summarize books, plan trips, and generally do a sufficiently wide number of tasks to constitute a general intelligence that is "near the level of human", through a combination of being more or less advanced in different areas. One can further imagine that the decision-making module has some ability to add additional specialized submodules to learn new things; this part of decision-making may not even be that hard (current NLP programs often have markers for "other" or "unknown" which could be used to try to acquire new databases of info on the sorts of information that show up as uncertain). In this way, an AI might approach human levels of intelligence in enough domains to be considered an AGI, without having ANY ability whatsoever to do computer science.

Of course, it would be able to gain the ability to do computer science, however it would be limited by its ability to be taught--it's ability to translate it's intelligence into optimization power would be limited.

In a situation like this, wherein an AI needs to teach itself to do mathematics, a fast takeoff is still certainly conceivable as it could run through, for example, dozens of video lectures in parallel and run through programming assignments in internal compilers which give it much easier access to its own shortcomings as a programmer.

However it is also easily conceivable that a moderate takeoff would happen, as the AI takes a more traditional educational route through the process of becoming a computer scientist; in this circumstance it might exhibit some symptoms of weak superintelligence for some time before an intelligence explosion occurred without being even truly weakly superintelligent (since it might be barely-human in most domains including strategic pursuit of goals, but superhuman in domains already solved by computers).

While less likely, it would also be possible for a slow takeoff to occur in this scenario. For example, if the decision-making processes were not goal-oriented and the recalcitrance of teaching them to make original scientific discoveries were high, then one could imagine a significant population of such agents existing before one decided to learn computer science at all. It is also much more likely in this scenario that there will not be a fall in recalcitrance around human level, since AI is so far from being neuromorphic.

Of course even in this slow takeoff scenario could rapidly transition into the fast takeoff scenario, if it took some time for AI to seriously attempt to learn to improve themselves and it turned out to be less difficult (past some threshold) than expected.

And this all focuses on a somewhat specific scenario, specifically AI which is far away from being neuromorphic and which learns using something similar to deep learning to find solutions between slightly subhuman to significantly superhuman by learning on large datasets over the course of days. It's not entirely clear to me how much each of the specifics of this alternate scenario are necessary for a slowdown of intelligence explosion, or how much even all of them together would necessarily cause slowdown.

I include it primarily for completeness, because I do believe that the underlying point--that human-like general intelligence may not translate directly into optimization power--is importantly true and may substantially affect the takeoff curves.

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Today is a bad day [20 May 2016|11:46pm]
 [ mood | very bad ]

Last night was a very good night. I played D&D with my roommates, doing a one-shot while Grant is out of town. We drank three bottles of wine leftover from my dad's wedding a few months ago. We got pretty substantially into character and overall found everything very enjoyable. I ate a bunch of wingstop and a little pizza. I was very drunk and happy and tired.

Then when I got to bed I felt some pressure in my chest, sort of coming and going in waves. When it came, it was painful and it kept me up past 4:30. I was freaking out a bit, because it was unpleasant enough to actually scare me. I started looking things up online, and a few screens came up saying "seek immediate medical attention," which is when the anxiety really started to come on. It was 4am, I was drunk, I was alone, I was scared and in bed, and I really did not want to talk to a stranger on the phone. I debated stuff with myself in my head and rolled in bed and freaked out a bit and eventually pooped then fell asleep.

This morning I woke up and the pressure was still there (it's still there now, late the next night, coming and going) but less intense. Enough that I know I need to talk to someone, enough that I know I need to go somewhere and do something, enough to feel scared that I'm actually tangibly endangering my life by not going or doing anything. Enough that I didn't go outside all day, that I didn't go to work, that I didn't even work from home despite having my computer around and accessible. I didn't eat very much today. I ate my last mealsquare this morning, then around 8:30 I had soup and corn on the cob for dinner. That probably adds up to about 1/3 of my usual calorie intake and I didn't have any caffeine, so now I'm also concerned about what I'm feeling and how it relates to what I've eaten (especially because I ate SO poorly the night that the feeling started).

I have been talking to Anna over text all day. I really want her to be here with me, but she isn't. I can't do this on my own. I can't feel this, physically, and also talk to people about it or go places or take care of myself and what's happening is just that I'm not and a bunch of depression and anxiety and whatever the fuck is happening to me physically are molding together, and turning into an emergency with nonlinear interaction effects--I've been reading military reports on the ethics of autonomous weapons systems recently, and one including a discussion of the leadup to the three mile island incident. There was a lot of discussion of how various factors combined in unexpected ways to escalate the incident far beyond what was expected, even in the presence of people who did everything they could to deal with it.

There are a lot of factors going on for me right now. One factor is something is happening to me. Another is my depression. It's very easy for me to default to not doing anything. To staying in bed for hours and alternate between playing phone games and spacing out. Another is social anxiety; I really hate talking to people on the phone. I was going to say strangers, but it's not even that. I don't like talking to my parents on the phone. I don't like talking to friends on the phone. I barely even like talking to Anna on the phone, and that's the closest best way for me to interact with her that I have. But I especially hate talking to strangers. And calling something like an urgent care center or a nurse hotline necessarily involves talking to a stranger on a phone.

That's not all though. It also involves a chance that I will need to react to the conversation, immediately. It's possible that I will need to go to a hospital. I don't want to drive feeling the way I do, so that would mean either getting an ambulance (!!!) or an uber, which would be another set of talking to strangers on phones that I really can't deal with right now.

So with a ton of social anxiety being triggered my depression wins out, and I don't call anyone. And I feel guilty and anxious and my depression and anxiety just grow in a terrible downward spiral that ruins my day.

So... there is in fact a mechanism for dealing with this that I should have access to. I saw a doctor (once) near my work, to get my prescription renewed, and I got signed up for My Health Online with Sutter. On their website I should be able to access my medical records, schedule appointments, and chat with my doctor or someone else if she's not available.

Perfect, right? A way to interact with people and maybe figure out what I actually NEED to do without having to call strangers on the phone first. If it's not an emergency then I can calm down and stop feeling guilty, and if it is I'll get some adrenaline and social support to push me through the first difficult parts and momentum can take me from there.

But there's a problem--I didn't go on the website for several months after visiting the doctor, and so I didn't remember my login information. I tried resetting my password and verifying my identity but there were issues I couldn't identify and now guess what needs to happen? I need to call their number to get my account unfrozen.

If Anna were here I feel like I would have been able to do it. She could have helped me. But today is the day her dissertation was due. It's kind of a big deal. She's coming up tomorrow anyway. Because she is the literal best and I love her and I need her and she loves me and is the best and will help me and I will be okay.

I wish I had someone else that I could call on. I have work friends that I love but I'm not that close to most of them. And those I am close to, I'm not confident in how that closeness is. How much of it is me projecting the giant inappropriate crushes I have on everyone? And will they even be able to help me, to come over, to support me through phone calls, to drive me to a doctor's office? I have roommates but... I'm bad at opening up to them, and the closest one doesn't drive, and one is out of town... The friends that I feel comfortable with are far away from me.

I'm nervous about calling things out because I might post this to facebook and the relevant people might read it, but I'm writing this for the catharsis more than anything so I'm going to go a bit deeper.

I wish I could call on Julianne, that it wasn't a weekday today and that she wasn't miles away.
I wish I could call on Clara, that she wasn't insanely busy this week.
I wish I could call on Nicole, I wish that we could be friends again without the baggage that came up.
I wish I could call on my parents, I wish the shit that's going on wasn't sort of polluting my mind with respect to them.
I wish I could call on Tatiana, that it had been more than 5 weeks and wouldn't be super weird (but it definitely would and she doesn't have a car)
and there are dozens more people that I wish I could call on... but what's stopping me isn't them. It's me. It's that I haven't been able to open myself up emotionall the way I want to. That I haven't spent the kind of time and gone through the type of experiences that I need to to be comfortable with them. Maybe also I'm oversensitive to what everyone else is going through, the constraints on their time and energy (Surajit :( )

I don't really know what else I should be saying here, so I'm going to wrap this up. I just wanted to write it down and get it out, I guess.

1 comment|post comment

Families [15 May 2016|03:57pm]
 [ mood | Nervous ]

Anna and I have been talking a bit about coming out as poly to our parents. It's not something that we've gone through much effort to hide--she's posted a lot of poly-related articles on facebook and a number of pictures of herself with her boyfriend. But it's still something that neither of us has talked to any of our family members about.

Anna wants her boyfriend to be able to be part of the celebration of her graduation, and that's definitely something I don't want to veto or make rules about, except that her parents and both sets of my parents will be in town for commencement. Which means if he's around all of them will be meeting him. Which is maybe a bit much for him also, I really don't know how he feels about that and I rarely talk to him so that doesn't help matters.

Last night I freaked out a bit about the whole prospect. I am not entirely sure why it felt like such a big deal, but it did, so I'm here now trying to figure it out.

One part of it, I think, is that I don't really have a positive relationship with my parents. Which sounds way worse when I write it like that! What I really mean is, I feel most of the time like I maintain my relationships with my parents for their sakes. There are times when I want an adult to help me, like when I got in a car crash or when I was buying a car (hm I see a pattern?) or when I'm figuring out investments. But in those circumstances, I got just as much help from friends (Julianne and Anna, Clara, Kathleen and coworkers) as I did from my parents, and the sorts of decisions I settled on weren't really helped by them. I think it's been a long time since I really felt that they were operating on a level of more experience than I was--and my life is now sufficiently different from any of theirs that it's rarely obvious what I can learn from them. And then... I'm not really a super social person. I just do my own thing, and I'm usually pretty happy maintaining a day to day deal and not doing occasions or holidays, but doing occasional mental health sick days or lower pressure working from home days. I really like that, just maintaining my own rhythm and not really dealing with things outside of it. So when I interact with my parents, it's generally good! We're on great terms, they're very supportive, I love and respect them. But it's never something that I seek out, it's never a time when I feel comfortable getting at the depths of what's really going on in my life or on my mind. It's just sort of a chore.

So that makes the idea of coming out feel like making a chore harder. And in particular, now that I've invited my parents and some of them have RSVP'd and are making plans to be here, combined with wanting Anna to be free to treat her other relationship like a normal relationship, makes me feel like I HAVE to and don't really have any choice. Plus there's a deadline! And that feels like a lot of pressure and a lot of "I didn't sign up for this" even if I sort of did.

But even as I'm writing this I'm thinking about sharing it to my "close friends" group on Facebook, which has a number of people that I care about and trust a lot, who have a lot more in common with me. People who share more interests and cultural background with me than my parents do. People who already have some ideas about polyamory so that I won't need to explain things from scratch. People who can use analogies to Steven Universe and who can share the freshest, dankest memes instead of three layer copypasta casserole.

And then I turn back again, because having a support network isn't the only benefit from having an open relationship with my family (and Anna's). Anna loves holidays. And she will want to spend holidays as a family with her parents and mine and all her partners and maybe mine and theirs and a dozen kittens and a friendly polar bear and three corgis stacked on top of each other and all our close friends and also someone else plans it and she can leave if she wants and be buried in kitties because everyone is happy and doesn't need her to take care of them and I've basically run this analogy into the ground but. The idea is, she wants everyone to be able to get together for holidays and have a nice celebration as a family.

And I don't care about that at all. I'd rather that holidays didn't exist and everyone had slightly different vacation calendars to avoid the rush and there was a universally caring corporate culture so that this didn't actually result in exploitative labor practices which is why holidays are really important and let's cut that digression off right there. But I do care about Anna getting things she wants. And I care about my family getting things they want. And everyone who's NOT me DOES want to spend time together at Christmas so I guess I want them to be able to do that. And in the long term, if I want to live the best life I can imagine, Anna and I will be in a group house of mutually inter-romantic and queerplatonic close friends who contribute to raising each others pets and children communally. And if we want to invite our parents there for the holidays there will have to be some conversations that happen about what all that means.

Of course, what that all means is still a bit turbulent in my own head. I finally started seeing someone one month ago today who I have something resembling a relationship with now. And it's awesome and exciting! But also terrifying. I'm realizing how much of my conception of relationships is buried in escalators. I'm worried about how overeager I am to commit to things and how defensive I feel about the possibility of losing her. I'm feeling weird about little moments that I have with her that are similar to the little moments that I have with Anna. And I'm fundamentally concerned about how I don't really interpret other humans as having brains and thoughts in ways similar to how I do, and how I can start to resolve that as I (hopefully, gradually) get to know more people like her who are a bit more culturally LessWrongian.

I don't know if this really resolved anything or if it really even got all my thoughts out into the open. But it did get some of them, and maybe enough of them for people who aren't me to start sitting and stewing or giving advice to me (which I would honestly appreciate) or even just feeling like they understand me a tiny bit more. So whatever. I'm out of momentum and I'm going to ship it. We can fix the rest of it live.

(wouldn't it be convenient if I could feel that way about coming out? It makes me want to pretend that I do but empirically I feel more strongly and more defensive.)

1 comment|post comment

Generalizing from Fictional Evidence [08 May 2016|08:43pm]
 [ mood | Contentious? ]

I posted on Facebook about my position on Civil War, and got into an extended argument with a number of people about the whole situation. Eventually it got a bit too heated and died down mostly, and I had some anxiety about it, but then I ended up talking things out with my housemate Lucas and we traced our disagreements down to the roots. The basis of that is a point that I feel sort of strongly about and wanted to write up, so I'm laying down this context as sort of an excuse/case study.

My impression coming away from the movie was that Iron Man (and in particular everyone around him; Natasha, Rhodey, and Vision) was totally justified, and that Cap's actions in the movie were basically incomprehensible to me. It seems like I'm in the (substantial!) minority on this issue, and before the conversation I didn't really have an understanding of how that was possible.

There were two major points which were brought to my attention that underly what I think differs between me and most moviegoers. The first is that Captain America, after being revived, saw the following actions from major government organization:

1. Brought him out of freezing and lied to him about where he was, then used violence to attempt to pacify him when he discovered he was being deceived.

2. Fired a nuclear missile at Manhattan, without time for evacuation, and against the recommendation of troops on the ground.

3. Turned out to be controlled almost entirely by Hydra.

4. Captured and experimented on the Maximoff twins.

That's a lot of super sketchy stuff to wake up to. For someone like Cap, it makes sense that he would take that information and conclude that, hey, maybe the UN would also turn out to be 90% Hydra and there'd be a big problem with the work they were doing. And of course Bucky, Wanda, and Scott all have mixed past experiences with various legal institutions, and I think we can all agree that Sam Wilson is just there because of his unrequited love for Steve.

And of course, he's right. If the Avengers ever started working for the UN, I'm 100% sure that they would write up a "UN infiltrated by Hydra!" arc, and everything would go to shit. And it would be a terrible arc, and a terrible movie, but it would prove Captain America right and make morality simple and be an easy plot device to recycle.

The second point that Lucas mentioned, is that I really like analogizing fiction to real life. As Lucas said, "I feel like we all agree in the real world that 5 people shouldn't be above the law cuz they're great at murder." I really hope we all agree on that! And I really hope that we all agree that in real life, the kind of para-military action that the Avengers are constantly engaged in isn't necessary, and that problems from government come from moral disagreements and poorly designed bureaucracy and not from secret nazi cultists.

Both those points make me more sympathetic to Cap in the movie, but they don't make me believe that he's right. And maybe notably, I'd really like to double down on the second point.

The world we are in has powers and possibilities that were literally unimaginable a hundred years ago. When our legal codes were written and our moral and ethical traditions began, there weren't cars. There weren't highways. There weren't high-rises. There weren't planes. There weren't international space stations and the internet and combat drones and trillion dollar stock market crashes caused by computer programs. There wasn't even a trillion dollars in the economy! And of course our legal and moral and ethical traditions have evolved, and are continuing to evolve, but they're far behind the times. Looking at urban planning in San Francisco, water planning in southern California, fiberoptic cable in northern California (north of the bay, I mean), self-driving cars, regulation of AirBnB and Uber, and without even leaving my home state I can see thousands of directions in which technology of many varieties is poorly handled by our society.

There is a long tradition of using science fiction to explore the moral geography of the future. In fact, it's often the only way to do so, since any speculation on things that do not yet exist is necessarily science fiction! And especially as we approach a future where artificial intelligence of various sorts, nearly all-knowing social media conglomerates, and consumer access to technologies like 3D printing and body modification, the lessons we take from the science fiction we read and write and watch and play will begin to come up in our day to day lives.

I don't really want to sort through a giant list of things that are bringing us into the future. What I do want is for us to be able to look at the stories we tell about technology, about how to behave with powers we don't understand or in circumstances that have never arisen before, and for them to give us advice that we should follow.

No human in the real world has the moral certitude of Steve Rogers. No one has the ability to invent technology on the fly that Tony Stark has. No officer has the unreplaceable personal relationship that James Rhodes has. Everyone in our world is flawed and uncertain. And I don't want stories to tell us that when you feel that you are right, that overrules the entire world asking you to stop.

Depending on the text of the Sokovia accords I might vote against them as a politician, or write amendments or campaign for changes. But as a member of the Avengers, as a paramilitary vigilante whose mission is to save the world, I would never directly oppose myself against the United Nations. This is the only legitimate voice of the world I am trying to save. Trying to save people who don't want you doing what you are doing is a bad idea. And if you are writing a piece of media in which the best and noblest character makes a good decision, and that decision is to use unlimited violence without any accountability, I think you're doing it wrong and you're harming the world.

Of course, I'm also the kind of guy who would totally dig a documentary style "The Sokovia Accords" featuring two and half hours of debate between T'Chaka, Tony Stark, United States President Obama, UN Security Council President Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the exact structure of the accords and the specific interests of all kinds of different parties in the operations of the Avengers.

WARNING, DIGRESSION AHEAD: I'm also crossing my fingers that Marvel recovers the Fantastic Four license so that Victor Van Damme can emerge from the ruins of Sokovia as the disfigured and masked head of the new state of Latveria he is building from Sokovia's ashes. Then the plot of Black Panther could be about his lead of the UN investigation into Wakanda surrounding the disappearance of war criminal James Buchanan Barnes. Since Doctor Strange is coming out first it wouldn't be weird for Doom to have magic, and it would also be a neat twist for them to tease and introduce the Fantastic Four in Black Panther's media, when he was originally introduced in FF.
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 Speech and Language Processing Curriculum Brainstorm [24 Apr 2016|02:45pm] Anna and I have talked a bit about the idea of building a speech and language processing Nanodegree program. I'm talking to her now and I'm going to write my thoughts as they come up.I wrote a bunch and it was complicated and we talked a lot and I think I should get a sort of full outline from the beginning before we get too much into details because we think about these things so differently.The end goal in my mind is for someone coming out of the ND to understand the context of linguistic annotation work so that they can do it effectively and understand how it is used. Given annotated data they should be able to do basic language and speech processing tasks to do things like speech recognition and subject analysis.They will begin with a basic understanding of data analysis, at least enough familiarity with machine learning to know what classification tasks are and how to evaluate them, and basic familiarity with python, stats, etc. This feels like some pretty steep prerequisites, but much of this is either pretty intuitive or clearly presented in e.g. DAND.From a text perspective, first tasks should be something like using bag of words on the 20newsgroups dataset, then improving the model via stopwords, tfidf, etc. Very basic data cleaning for text.From a speech perspective, first tasks should be sound data types--using PyAudio, the Wave library, etc., to start with audio files and process these into things like lists of pitches. A first project might be something like, process sound files marked as speaker 1 or speaker 2 to create a classifier for whether sound files are speaker 1 or speaker 2.Going back to text, consider word pairs. Look at which word pairs end up being significant. Look at which parts of speech these word pairs are in. Use text data annotated with parts of speech. Try to extrapolate parts of speech using text data.Back to speech: learn what formants are. Basic assessment of the IPA. Build a dictionary associating formants to IPA. Extract formants from very nicely formatted speech sound files.Drop back: sound processing isn't necessarily speech. Pull a ton of features, hit them with PCA and cluster them. Observe how long this takes. Look at how different formants, pitches correspond to the basic features being extracted. Project onto predefined features--observe how much faster this is than PCA and hopefully results are equivalent. Dataset should be something like, car noises, speech, monkey calls, bells ringing, dogs barking, being clustered/classified.There are a few more things I'd love to do or include here that I'm not really sure how to. For example, breaking up speech sounds into smaller parts. How do you draw lines between words? With extensive annotated data you could just use ML. What kind of ML does well? What parts of the IPA are difficult to tell apart? How can you use context to distinguish between probability and brobapilidee?An awesome capstone project would be to take something like a long piece of sound data, extract words from it, try to identify them as parts of the vocabulary, then use those words to attempt to classify the subject matter.This is mostly me spitballing, and I was hoping to spend more time going over this with Anna but she's busy and stressed out and very far away from the knowing-nothing-about-linguistics perspective and the project-oriented format and I guess we'll have to take on this conversation in more detail later. post comment

Here's an Itemized List of Thirty Years of Disagreements [21 Apr 2016|12:14am]
 [ mood | writerful ]

I went to a talk by Jerry Kaplan called "AI: Think Again" tonight. I have a lot of thoughts about it, and as the title suggests there are many places I disagree with him. However, I think the majority of those disagreements occur somewhat in the future, or else are stylistic. For example, he said he wouldn't want to watch F1 racing with driverless cars. WHAT THE FUCK, MAN?! That's just crazy talk. Obviously it's different than current F1 racing, but it's awesome. Robot cars, going fast and crashing gloriously.

In terms of the core points, there are a lot of places that I do agree with Dr. Kaplan and I have some hope of working with him on a course on ethics for workers in machine learning and artificial intelligence. I think approaching these ethical issues as engineering issues and taking responsibility for them as designers is very important and I hope I can produce something, perhaps with his help, that will enable many more people to engage more productively with the ethical issues involved in building autonomous systems.

All that serious stuff being said, here are my somewhat shorthanded notes, and digressions thereupon.

Dr. Kaplan said that he has seen no persuasive evidence that machines are on the path to thinking. Later in the talk he suggested that this is generally not the most interesting question to ask, that really what we are concerned with is whether machines are on the path to needing to be considered as agents and granted moral clout. I think very much that they are, even independent of other issues. Of course this is, at this time, universally NOT because we need to respect the preferences of machines, so much as because we need to respect the preferences of their users. However I do somewhat believe that humans might just be big old neural networks--and that a neural network built in such a way that it could pass a Turing test would have it's own moral worth and its preferences would need to be considered by society. He expressed after the talk that whole brain emulations are not something he would assign moral worth to--that statement somewhat concerns me! Though I've read enough Robin Hanson to realize that if you just grant legal status to emulations of people you get some bad Malthusian results real quick.

"Where are the robots?" There was some expression that after various barriers are broken by AI, such as Deep Blue, self-driving cars, and Watson, that there is an expectation of robots doing everything. On the one hand, of course automation is generally increasing human capability and reducing crew sizes more than replacing humans outright. On the other hand, say you build a neural network with a hundred hidden layers and plug it into a robot body with cameras and speakers and a microphone and try to teach it like a child. What do you think would happen? It's not commercially interesting but I'm curious philosophically why one would think it's necessarily impossible for this entity to attain sentience.

Dr. Kaplan expressed that while machines can perform the same tasks as humans at or far above human levels, this "doesn't mean that machines are intelligent in the same way as people." I agree that this is true of most AI tasks, however what about ML models that explicitly build "conceptual understanding" by mixing pre-built underlying models in different ways? How much do we need to know about our models and about our own brains? Is the substrate or even the computational algorithm (or being written in C versus Java versus Python) actually important in determining whether something is intelligent in the "same way as people"? With tools like LIME becoming available we may be able to start understanding a bit more "why" deep neural nets work the way they do, and I certainly can imagine the possibility that they think the way humans do!

Dr. Kaplan mentioned that IQ is meaningless--while I agree that it's a bad measure of what we call "intelligence" I'm skeptical of it being meaningless since it's powerfully predictive, even at levels >4 standard deviations away from the mean (though no longer linearly predictive). This is being a bit more pedantic than many of my points though.

Dr. Kaplan noted that in many arenas, incremental progress occurred for many years before breakthroughs, especially Deep Blue and self-driving cars. I suspect much of this was the case with Watson, but this was explicitly NOT the case with AlphaGo. Though a certain amount of this should be credited to Google simply pouring far more resources into the problem than was expected, the ability of these things to happen much faster over time is a specifically important concern!

In reference to a discussion in a press release by the creator of the Perceptron unit, Dr. Kaplan said regarding machine translation, "He was right! It was just fifty years later!" Meanwhile, he dismissed the creator's thoughts on other matters. This seems suspect to me; couldn't the other ideas have also been prescient, but simply be delayed to a time when computing power and data availability were more ubiquitous? A day like today?

Dr. Kaplan addressed the idea that neural networks are biologically inspired, saying that airplanes are as well. He said, "we're not worried that 747s will build nests." However the guiding principles from nature used in a 747 are basic mechanics, and very well understood. We understand neural networks only on a very surface level, and the entire purpose of the automation of them is to give them the ability to surprise us! They certainly do surprise us with happenstances like referring to black people as gorillas and turning into racist little shits at the drop of ten thousand trolls' hats. While this is a far, far cry from developing their own preferences and rising up against us, within the scope of tasks that machines are capable of they certainly do behave in an unruly fashion a lot of the time--and those scopes are ever expanding.

In reference to Hal 9000 from 2001, Dr. Kaplan said "How hard is it to say it's not okay to kill people in pursuit of your goals?" My first thought is that, in some circumstances, it WILL be necessary for automated systems to kill people. Even if this is not their intended purpose! For example a self-driving car facing a trolley dilemma. Dr. Kaplan did address that this is important--that in order for automated systems to make truly appropriate moral decisions, it will be necessary for them to know how to evaluate things like human life.

He also said "If you were on the engineering team for Hal 9000, you'd be fired." My thought following this was, what about the team designing Tay? Was anyone fired? Of course, no one died when Tay was released, but it was a CLEAR case of gross incompetence on the part of the team at Microsoft. Many community standards exist for creating Twitter bots, and they were repeatedly ignored. Blacklists were created specifically to safeguard the bot but they were woefully insufficient. In order for this to be comforting, I need to see real consequences visited on real people who are building real projects! Maybe it hasn't been publicized but I don't think anything major really happened to the engineers working on Tay. And then they re-released her and she fucked up again. I guess I just need to continue my twenty year plus trend of not putting any trust in Microsoft engineering. Apologies to my roommate who's an engineer at Microsoft.

Dr. Kaplan said that what is important for autonomous agents is that we teach them to abide by human social conventions--and this is an area in which there is very little research to be built on! I'm happy to point to this paper on teaching reinforcement learning agents social norms through storytelling, but one paper is not enough to make a field of research.

My other thought on that is that properly teaching agents social norms is very much an anthropomorphic analogy both in terms of the way he phrased it and in terms of... if teaching something social norms isn't a mark of sentience, I'll start getting curious about why I think other humans are sentient. Obviously I exaggerate slightly, but with the amount of shit he talked about anthropomorphizing AI the whole talk made me a bit salty when he started doing it.

One concept that I found very interesting from the talk was the idea of a Safe Operating Envelope. For example, when a self-driving car runs out of fuel or is confused by its circumstances it tries to safely come to a stop. This seems like a great design pattern and it underlies a lot of ideas that I've seen and approved of in a number of circumstances. That said, I think there are a lot of boundaries that can make the idea problematic. For example, if a self-driving car exits its SOE on a crowded freeway it definitely can't just safely come to a stop. If an automated stock trader is participating in an instant crash, how can it really tell this is happening? Obviously measuring a greater than 1% change in the overall stock market could happen but I'm a bit concerned. I guess part of this is I'd love to see more about what kind of warning signals can exist nicely for stock trading algorithms.

Dr. Kaplan mentioned another cool idea I'd like to hear more about regarding licensing for autonomous agents. If a robot is going to give you a massage, it should probably pass some standards to verify that it won't destroy your body--how would you come up with and enforce these standards? How can you interact with enough masseuses to gain the specific subject matter knowledge needed to come up with useful and coherent licenses, without alienating them at the prospect of being replaced by robots?

Dr. Kaplan also mentioned the idea of job mortgages, which I found a bit concerning as on the face of it sounds a lot like the student debt crisis. Of course, working at Udacity with the jobs guarantee I guess we're doing a version of this that I'm hoping will benefit workers a lot more than traditional universities will.

He mentioned that AI replaces labor with capital, which drives the value of capital up, which drives the concentration of wealth toward the richest. He then discussed how redistributive economics is necessary in this ecosystem. Of course this wasn't an econ talk, so I guess I shouldn't expect a solid answer as to how this should work. That said, he mentioned after the talk the program from the past of taking government land on loan and being granted ownership of the land if one works it for seven years. Granting public capital to citizens who put it to use does sound promising--especially in this era where capital can mean already-existing unoccupied rentals and second tier refurbished computers rather than the dangerously expansionist land grants of the past that created conflict with indigenous Americans.

Dr. Kaplan said that danger from AI is an engineering problem, not an existential threat to humanity. Why not both? These are (clearly?) not mutually exclusive, especially after the advent of nuclear weapons.

He also mentioned that he believes the future will be more Star Trek and less Terminator. I wonder what metrics he's using to compare our societies. It definitely seems to me that we already live in a crazy cyberpunk dystopia. We are a long way away from Star Trek.

On a number of issues, he referred to laws governing property, corporations, and pets. While I can respect that for building a legal system surrounding autonomous agents these are good places to start when understanding liability and culpability. However leaning on them for societal solutions feels a bit close to passing the buck to me. I'd much rather see a stronger engineering solution--a set of widely distributed best practices following from a coherent set of design principles that can guide us in building machines that will make the future better instead of worse.

Overall I got a reasonable amount out of the talk. A lot of my disagreements are about my being more concerned with taking personal responsibility for issues than he seems to be. Some of them are about my looking at a greater time horizon than he is. But regardless of all of this, I think we both agree that we need a set of best practices to exist, and we need to have conversations about them and improve them.

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