Science and Technology links (December 15th, 2017)

  1. Scientists found a human gene which, when inserted into mice, makes their brain grow larger. David Brin has a series of classical sci-fi books where we “uplift” animals so that they become as smart as we are. Coincidence? I think not.
  2. Should we be more willing to accept new medical therapies? Are we too cautious? Some people think so:

    Sexual reproduction, had it been invented rather than evolved would never have passed any regulatory body’s standards (John Harris)

  3. Apple has released the iMac Pro. It is massively expensive (from 5k$ to well over 10k$). It comes with a mysterious co-processor named T2 which is rumored to be a powerful ARM processor derived from an iPhone processor. It can encrypt your data without performance penalty.
  4. Playing video games can make older people smarter? You might think so after reading the article Playing Super Mario 64 increases hippocampal grey matter in older adults.
  5. At a high level, technologists like to point out that technology improves at an exponential rate. A possible mechanism is that the more sophisticated you are, the faster you can improve technology. The exponential curve is a robust result: just look at per capita GPD or the total number of pictures taken per year.

    Many people like to point out that technology does not, strictly speaking, improve at an exponential rate. In practice, we experience plateaus when looking at any given technology.

    Rob Miles tweeted a powerful counterpoint:

    This concern about an ‘explosion’ is absurd. Yes, the process looks exponential, but it’s bounded – every real world exponential is really just the start of a sigmoid, it will have to plateaux. There’s only a finite amount of plutonium in the device (…) Explosives already exist, so nukes aren’t very concerning

    His point, in case you missed it, is that it is easy to rationally dismiss potentially massive disruptions as necessarily “small” in some sense.

  6. Gene therapies are a bit scary. Who wants to get his genetic code played with? Some researchers suggest that we could accomplish a lot simply by activating or turning off genes using a variation on the technology currently used to modified genes (e.g., CRISPR/Cas9).
  7. Why do Middle Eastern girls crush boys in school?

    A boy doesn’t need to study hard to have a good job. But a girl needs to work hard to get a respectable job.

  8. Google has this cool feature whereas it automatically catalogs celebrities and displays their biographical information upon request. If you type my name in Google, right now, my picture should come up. However, the biographical information is about someone else (I am younger than 62). To make matters worse, my name comes up along with a comedian (Salvail) who was recently part of a sexual scandal. Maybe it is a warning that you should not take everything Google says for the truth? But we know this, didn’t we?

    In case you want to dig deeper into the problem… “Daniel Lemire” is also the name of a somewhat famous Canadian comedian. I think we look nothing alike and we have had entirely distinct careers. It should be trivial for machine learning to distinguish us.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the Université du Québec (TELUQ).

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