Category Archives: Web Article Review

quantum computers

There has been some progress on quantum computers.

Quantum computers, after decades of research, have nearly enough oomph to perform calculations beyond any other computer on Earth. Their killer app is usually said to be factoring large numbers, which are the key to modern encryption. That’s still another decade off, at least. But even today’s rudimentary quantum processors are uncannily matched to the needs of machine learning. They manipulate vast arrays of data in a single step, pick out subtle patterns that classical computers are blind to, and don’t choke on incomplete or uncertain data. “There is a natural combination between the intrinsic statistical nature of quantum computing … and machine learning,” said Johannes Otterbach, a physicist at Rigetti Computing, a quantum-computer company in Berkeley, California.

If anything, the pendulum has now swung to the other extreme. Google, Microsoft, IBM and other tech giants are pouring money into quantum machine learning, and a startup incubator at the University of Toronto is devoted to it. “‘Machine learning’ is becoming a buzzword,” said Jacob Biamonte, a quantum physicist at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow. “When you mix that with ‘quantum,’ it becomes a mega-buzzword.”

why deny science when you can just make it up?

There is no reason to deny facts or evidence when you can just make up new ones that suit your pre-conceived notions, you truly believe anything that comes out of your own mouth is true, and tens of millions of other people do too.

This is not supposed to be a political blog. But it is supposed to be a blog about whether our civilization is progressing or at risk of a catastrophic downfall. And when the things in the first paragraph I just wrote are happening, I have to lean toward the catastrophic downfall side.

From Bloomberg:

“The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records,” Trump said in excerpts of an interview with Piers Morgan on the U.K. television network ITV broadcast Jan. 28. Trump didn’t specify the data behind his statement about setting records…

“There is a cooling, and there’s a heating,” he said. “I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place…”

In 2014, less than a year before he entered the 2016 presidential race, president, Trump said on Twitter that the “POLAR ICE CAPS are at an all time high, the POLAR BEAR population has never been stronger. Where the hell is global warming.”

Anybody with some basic science or information literacy knows that a short-term fluctuation in the data does not prove or disprove a long-term trend. You can look at a lot of those short-term fluctuations together and begin to determine whether they represent random noise or whether they are consistent with some longer-term trend you are seeing in the larger data set, as scientists are doing with recent hurricanes, droughts and fires.

This was my favorite quote of all though:

“The Paris accord, for us, would have been a disaster,” Trump said in excerpts of an interview with Piers Morgan. “Would I go back in? Yeah, I’d go back in. I like, as you know, I like Emmanuel” Macron.

I can’t picture Emmanuel Macron, but what I can picture is Sasha Baron Cohen kissing Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights. Sometimes fiction actually does turn into reality!

the Trump infrastructure bill

The Trump infrastructure plan has apparently leaked. The upshot seems to be that states and metropolitan planning organizations, among others, can submit projects to be matched at up to 20% by the federal government. Most of the selection criteria are based on making a strong case that there is a plan to come up with the other 80%.

This sounds okay, as far as it goes, and it might get some projects over the hump that would not otherwise get built. I like the idea that metropolitan planning organizations are eligible, because they are in the best position to look at a city’s needs as a whole, across fragmented political entities and across types of infrastructure. Cities are where people live, where most of the economy happens and taxes are paid, and where people are educated and given skills and where new ideas come from that make our lives better in the long run. What I don’t really like is that economic and social benefits are given only 5% weight in the selection criteria. And even then, they are considered for an individual project in isolation, in the absence of any larger plan. In my ideal world, planning organizations would have comprehensive infrastructure plans that look at all types of infrastructure together over the long term, even including green infrastructure, and really focus on maximizing economic benefits. This would allow us to prioritize individual projects in the larger context of how the whole socioeconomic system works and not just on one “project at a time.

Still, this might be a small step in the right direction. Along with public infrastructure and some small steps to encourage capital investment, research and development in the private sector, add serious programs to address education, job skills training, and research and development in the public sector and you would have the beginnings of a long term national economic plan. Maybe toss in a revenue-neutral pollution tax for good measure.

Biophilic Cities

Biophilic Cities is a group trying to create “cities of abundant nature in close proximity to large numbers of urbanites. Biophilic cities value residents innate connection and access to nature through abundant opportunities to be outside and to enjoy the multisensory aspects of nature by protecting and promoting nature within the city.” This seems a bit big picture and visionary, but they also have some practical resources such a collection of codes and ordinances used by various cities.

brain scans can see your mind’s eye

Scientists in Japan now have a brain scan that can recreate an image in someone’s minds eye fairly accurately. This could have positive applications, for example to help the disabled. The security and big brother implications seem a bit ominous though.

As the accuracy of the technology continues to improve, the potential applications are mind-boggling. The visualization technology would allow you to draw pictures or make art simply by imagining something; your dreams could be visualized by a computer; the hallucinations of psychiatric patients could be visualized aiding in their care; and brain-machine interfaces may one day allow communication with imagery or thoughts, Kamitani tells CNBC Make It.

While the idea of computers reading your brain may sound positively Jetson-esque, the Japanese researchers aren’t alone in their futuristic work to connect the brain with computing power.

For example, former GoogleX-er Mary Lou Jepsen is working to build a hat that will make telepathy possible within the decade, and entrepreneur Bryan Johnson is working to build computer chips to implant in the brain to improve neurological functions.