Tuesday, March 27, 2018

How science progresses - falsifiable, probably or paradigm shift, likely?

Reading Staley's excellent introduction to the philosophy of science was reminded of reading Popper's Objective knowledge back in the 1970s, but now I'm a recovering Bayesian, and am immersed in social science explanations like the structure of scientific revolutions by Kuhn, or even the whole idea of funding/groupthink/paradigms, I'm now convinced we don't have a good basis for choosing the right description of the process (or classifying best practice) until we study the past, both its pre- and post- states - i'm thinking that people choose to run occam/popper after they intuit a new paradigm shift (e.g. copernican model of planets) and use some confidence models to decide that, when the new theory has objectors, the objectors are outliers, whereas the old new outliers the new theory explains were more important than the new old outliers - of course, the new theory can still be wrong, but the smart money is that it isn't...

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

what if you were the only real person in the world

Anyone read Theodore Sturgeon's fabulous short story It Wasn't Syzygy?

Trying to wean people off facebook by creating an alternative (e.g. advert free, subscription, but open to link to other platforms) system, so everyone always starts by saying "you can't beat the network effect". so at what scale does this network effect magically become unbeatable? for example, the web has beaten TV even though TV had a billion users. Metcalfe claimed the value was n-squared, others have toned that down tho n log(n), but i think it's ignoring the _negative_ contribution level from spam/phish/troll/advert/attention grabbing, which inevitably grows with the network, but usually, over time, faster in the end. so here's my proposal anyhow: we invite you to our new net which has "everyone" in your network on it, but initially, your friends are al just bots emulating your real friends they make you feel at home there. now you tell your real friends about your safe new, ad free social net, and as they join, they replace the avatar/bot of them (a bit like the opposite of the stepford wives). oh, did I forget to tell you. we already did it. No, really, We didn't have to do it, they are doing it to themselves - c.f. Dr Wu's fine book on the attention merchants...

 so in fact we can model this from the fact that the network is directional, and end points (humans) take more time to create new content than to consume (new to them) content - so even if we aren't all couch potatoes, this asymmetry in creativity versus consumption means that the network will tip from peer-to-peer, to being dominated by a small number of producers and a large number of consumers - the cost of creation will drive the quality of creation down, but the quantity up (to keep it new - well known to pornographers for example - c.f. https://yourbrainonporn.com/)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

declining big data, colour me rimbaud

first you beg for data
then you bag the data
then you de-bug the data
then you get bog-ged down in the data
finally, you big up the data

so what's new in this , i beseech you from the depth of my vowels?

Monday, June 26, 2017

appear to peer - ideas for glastonbury from 2017

so standing in the middle of a very large field surreounded by 200,000 people, but within about 100 peoples' handshakes of a bar, why not build a massive p2p version of uber for beer? you register and then people literally pass beer across to you and you pass money back.....you'd need a trust/reputation system - there'd be some spillage....but that's true anyway (I got wrong change at least 3 times at the bar the traditional way)

the world's first firechat-style beer-to-beer network.....

could also work for snack deliveries...and recycling

meanwhile, in the traditional Real Life, observing someone walk from the Village Pub to the center of the crowd in front of the Pyramid (watching The National, if you want to know) carrying 2 pints + 2 plates of fine ethnic stacked high food, narrowly avoiding many scurrying people, we are a Very Long Way Away Indeed from self driving AI robots navigating a space this complex & dynamic.

if you care  about music, what was good? most stuff, like Thundercat, Joseph, the Lemon Twigs, and some oldies like Barry Gibb and Chic, and a blistering opening set from the Pretenders, with la Hynde in excellent voice. Radiohead? Nah, a bit meh, really. Kris Kristofferson (81) charming, but frail. The aforesaid National? Very Good Indeed. Beyond all possible descriptions? Father John Misty and London Grammar - both of them made time. stand. still.  loads of good comedy, politics, amusing high wire acts & lessons. and a very very chill mood (helped by fairly fine weather almost the entire time!)

Friday, April 28, 2017

unfairness in automated decision making in society.

reading this book about mis-use of maths/stats recently, i think we can go further in condemning the inappropriate approach taken in some justice systems to decide whether a guilty person receives a custodial sentence or not.

The purpose of locking someone up (and other stronger sentences) is complex - it can be to act as a disincentive to others; it can be to protect the public from that person re-offending; it could be a form of societal revenge; and it might (rarely) be an opportunity to re-habilitate the offender.

So we have a Bayesian belief system in action, and we have a feedback loop.  But we better be really careful about i) the sample of inputs to the system and ii) the sample of outputs....and not forget these are humans, and capable of relatively complex and highly adaptive behaviours.

So what could be wrong with the input? (sigh, where to start) -
people who commit crimes are drawn from a subset of society, but people who are caught are drawn from a biased subset - firstly, they're probably less well educated, or dumber, or both, because they get caught. secondly, they're probably from a socially disadvantaged group (racial minority).
people who are found guilty are also the subject of selection bias (and people who get away with it, are party to survivor bias too) - juries have re-enforced the bias in the chance they are caught.

people who are sentenced acquire new criminal skills - this may make them less likely to get caught if they are just poor, but more likely if they are dumb.

So in there' I count at least 4 ways that a decision system that looked at re-offending rates, and properties of the person found guilty, would be building in positive feedback that will lead to more and more people being incarcerated, with less and less justification.

occasionally, external changes (accidental natural experiments) perturb the system and make this more obvious - in the film documentary, the House I live in , the absurd war on drugs is shown to be massively counter-effective - near the end, the huge bias that this has set against african americans starts to wane, simply because of the move in the poor white working class of america into making and consumption of crystal meth (so brilliantly portrayed in Breaking Bad - suddenly, the odds stacked against on group, multiplied by re-enforced prejudice 3 or 4 times over (indeed, one more time for the 3 strikes rule), hit lots of "trailer trash"....

An interesting research task would be to run a model inference tool on the data and see how many latent causes of bias we can find - maybe my 3,4 or 5 is not enough.

truly the world is broken, when it comes to evidence based decision making!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

of the internet, for the internet, by the internet

what have we wrought?

i don't think it is about the echo chamber, bubble, or
faddish claims about fake news and alternative facts.

nor do i accept that  the internet offers a zero-cost channel - the internet switched the value-propositions around by reducing cost for sender, but for some kind of content, it simply moves the cost somewhere else

1/  to the receiver (spam/advert/recommend, whatever you call them) -
2/ to the content creator (for music, film.games etc)
3/ to regulator (to ensure neutrality, control monopolistic tendencies etc)
4/ to the service provider as real competition drives profits to truly marginal
5/ somewhere we havn't thought of yet

so what we didn't think about was how to design robust games to allow people to design and choose appropriate system architectures for sustainable worlds, whether journalism (that doesn't let the vocal extreme minority control the agenda) or creative industries (so original work is rewarded), or peer-economic structures like uber, airbnb, etc that treat the means of production/labour force fairly...

hard times

[yes, i know this is sort of a version of jaron lanier's stuff, but it is becoming more and more evident that the complaint is right, but we need an actual fix, and that that is the hard problem, not identifying the cause, but designing the solution]

Monday, June 13, 2016

Five Digital Epistemological Objects for 2064

Five Digital Epistemological Objects for 2064
A Digital Narrative Ark of the Knower

jon crowcroft, Cambridge, 8.5.2014

dreams, visions and prophecies in bits

It is too hard for humans to fully comprehend humans, but it may be possible
to construct a digital model, a computer simulation or even emulation,
that is accurate, not just descriptive, but also predictive. Such a
model would embody modes of thinking that are not entirely rational,
which is what current "AIs" attempt, but would extend to domains
which, I believe, are entirely human, such as dreaming and visionary
or prophetic processes - these are not magic, or pseudo-science ideas,
but ways in which human thought processes leapfrog piecewise or
incremental steps, perhaps building on such mundane stages, but only
revealing themselves thus-wise, as revelations. Not blue gene beating
humans at chess, but more surprising.

computational ethics

We struggle with ethical dilemmas. Why? there are ambiguities or
paradoxes. These are quite easy to express in the right formal
systems, so we should be able to create, perhaps with help from
machines, ethical props, crutches, to help guide us to what is right.
Asimov laws of robotics (4 in the end) were naive, but a start - we
should play with more such. The history of robots (golems, rossum's
universal, mary shelley's etc) is littered with great examples.

diseases who think

it is a high pomp of pretentiousness that only humans think. we know
(e.g. from Dunbar's (and Alison Richards') studies of apes)
that the theory of mind is present to some degree in other creatures,
and sometime, less so in some people.
But the most alien of creatures, such as hive animals, and,
in extremis, bacteria are capable of collective reasoning. Can we
train them to help us? Can we
infect people with thoughts, literally, rather than merely

Bring meaning to Pat Cadigan's notion  of being incurably informed
(see Synners).

haunts - memories stronger than reality

smells, and superstitions, influence us and resonate more than careful
abstract recollections. Perhaps there's an embodiment of knowledge in
these modalities that we could build better, artificially, than
already exist. Can we code ghosts?

learning to un-banish ghosts might be the ultimate rationalisation.

embodiment of knowing in the knower, is in some cases physiological
(scent, muscle memory, belief) - capturing this missing element (where our
typical current digital media representations address typically only 2
or 3 (sight, hearing, perhaps touch) of the more boring senses, seems
like a worthy goal in terms of understanding our understanding more

frailty -

we need digital analogues for flakiness  - just as digital
transmission of moving pictures can "degrade gracefully", perhaps
knowledge can be coded in ways that can still be usefull when partly
rotten - as with the human suffering from dementia, still able to carry
out some cognitive tasks, perhaps artificial thinking can be made
resilient. [today's programs, if even slightly corrupt, simply work
then fail - this is a poor show].

In a deeper sense, reflection on the inherent inaccuracy of representation
is needed, etc

indeed, the optical metaphor can be (over-)extended, using the notion
of different lenses, not just for different viewpoints (different
epistemic architectures) but also for level-of-detail - zooming in to
some (reductionist) model, or retreating to some level of abstraction.
Technology (that is processable - i.e. usually digital) can help with
this - indeed, statistics, visualisation, modeling in general, or
towers of models, are all about this.

losing detail is not necessarily loss of knowledge - indeed, the
ability to ignore detail (see the wood for the trees, or the aforesaid
abstraction process) is one of the more useful human (cognitive?)

--------> Notes and Websites

The mantra data -> information -> knowledge -> wisdom
(c.f. tofler and brunner's future shock/shockwave rider)
is glib, but useful. each stage in this notional process adds
some sort of structure and processing, whose algorithms and
representational choices are themselves just more data (as per the
Eckert/Von Neumann Stored Programme Computer Architecture - sometimes
incorrectly ascribed to Alan Turing:)

Provocations from the meeting of 7.5.14 at CRASSH:

Q.what diff does move from analog to digital make w.r.t knowledge?
[not restricted to humanities part of digital (humanities)

-ve A
n.a. no change
n.b. networking/
n.c. distributed knowledge

n.d. just scale/efficiency...
[me, but emergence - see below and


two types of DH
1. boring: use of computational tools to do studies like word count in jane austin
2. more interesting - humanities study of social/digital/new media

what about both? e.g. study of sampling/mash up?

+ve A - changes knowledge & also modes&modalities of knowing...

so not H applied to D, but D  to H
so how do humans change when they go digital...

e.g. measure of time - exact? v. inexact
so exactitude is itself a new suitable topic....

every decoding is an encoding...maurice zapp, in lodge's small world:)

e.g.  science - robot scientists discovery/sharing:)
eScience program (e.g. climateprediction.com, seti@home etc)

better e.g. Maths:
proof assistants
Coq & Isabel
e.g. 4 color map & Fermat's last theorem)

Lessig: code as law

2. quantitative: cost copy -> zero (recall)
[all email since 1976]

Piketty's Capital in 21st Century - 20 countries for 150 years...
Scale sometimes is a qualitative change - emergence

3. qualitative: artefacts...

Bad - ideas (e.g. big data) broken (lose nuance)
good - new forms (susan collins @ slade - many turner prizes...


+ culture
+ society

Piketty: capital in 21st century - twaddle v. girlfriends...

narrative v. sci method -
just different points in process in science v. humanity work...?

versus! creative step in science is still not understood:)

The mistakes are ... interesting..-slade art...
the two brians (may&cox:)

read also: more than human (theodore sturgeon) and
shockwave rider (john brunner)

see also post modern object truth & no value judgements ?:-)
liberal  arts students in 70s who went into west coast startups
may have become unethical coz of this:)

diy:and failure machines:

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misery me, there is a floccipaucinihilipilification (*) of chronsynclastic infundibuli in these parts and I must therefore refer you to frank zappa instead, and go home