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Developing the First Law of Robotics

radtea Re:Similar to "Runaround" in I, Robot... (159 comments)

Yup, and the solution available to any rational being is the same: since by hypothesis the two choices are indistinguishable, flip a coin to create a new situation in which one of them has a trivial weight on its side.

Starving to death (or letting everyone die) is obviously inferior to this to any rational being (which the donkey and the robot are both presumed to be) and adding randomness is a perfectly general solution to the problem.

Buridan's donkey is not in fact an example of a rational being, but rather a passive, uncreative being, who must for some unspecified reason decide without acting on the situation, as if it was living in some bizarrely unrealistic world like Plato's Cave, where it could only know the world via shadows on the wall which it cannot act on in any way.

Why anyone thinks thought-experiments about such limited beings, which are completely unlike humans in their inability to act on the world to change their situation, is beyond me.

2 days ago

Extent of Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches Record Levels

radtea Re:It's getting hotter still! (597 comments)

It stands to reason...

...that the Earth is flat.

"It stands to reason", "it just makes sense", "it's common sense"... these are not just not arguments, they are anti-arguments: anyone using them is saying loudly and clearly "I have nothing to contribute to this discussion but here's some noise to dilute the signal."

Any time you find yourself offering an opinion based only on your imagination, please don't. Get some data, learn some modelling, do some statistics before you speak.

Philosophers attempted to understand the world for thousands of years based on what "just makes sense" and failed completely and utterly. After three hundred years of scientists showing us a better way--and showing that what "stands to reason" has absolutely nothing at all to do with the way the world actually is--there is really very little excuse for continuing to promulgate this erroneous and basically useless way of knowing.

2 days ago

Why Atheists Need Captain Kirk

radtea Re:Great idea! Let's alienate Science even more! (887 comments)

Science is agnostic. It makes no statements about God, gods or Non-gods. Science doesn't need to place value on anything.

All true, in some strict sense. But...

Science lacks something that gives religion a ridiculous amount of power: narrative. (shameless plug) I wrote a book exploring this subject:

The gist of my argument is--in the terms of TFA--is that "Spockism" lacks narrative hooks, while "Kirkism" is full of them. "Science fiction" is an attempt to give science narrative power, and sometimes it really works, but it needs to be continually renewed because unlike religion science moves and changes and grows, so each generation needs its new Asimov or Heinlein or Clarke.

4 days ago

Software Patents Are Crumbling, Thanks To the Supreme Court

radtea Re:real problem is patent and copyright length (110 comments)

The weakening of patent protections mean some small guys will be killed.

Particularly small patent holders that present ideas to big companies, hoping to be bought out, but instead get the shaft.

Nope. A patent is a license to sue. Small players rarely have the resources to do so. A very small number take the risk, fewer still manage it successfully. Pointing to one or two cases where small players were successful is not an argument. You have to look at all patents held by small players, find out how many get violated and what fraction of those use the courts or plausible threat of legal action to defend themselves.

I don't have the numbers, but from an insiders perspective (I am a small patent holder and have worked for a number of small players with patents) I can tell you that the average small player is very unlikely take court action, and that the average large player is unlikely to be much bothered by a threat of patent litigation from a small player, because they know they can simply exhaust the small player's resources.

5 days ago

Liquid Sponges Extract Hydrogen From Water

radtea Re:Is the expense of electrolysis the main inhibit (113 comments)

The next generation of attempts stores the hydrogen chemically.

I'm not sure if it qualifies as "the next generation" when it has been studied since well before my now-adult children were born.

Skepticism with respect to hydrogen exists in part because some of us have heard this tune before. Storage of hydrogen in metal sponges is nothing new, and they have some very nice theoretical properties, including reasonable volumetric energy density, which is a big problem for hydrogen.

Getting up to 1/5 the volumetric density of fossil fuels--which is the likely upper limit--would make hydrogen cars more than competitive with electric vehicles. But so far no one has managed that, despite continuous work on the problem.

For some reason TFA doesn't say anything about the long history of storing hydrogen in metal sponges, or make clear what makes this one different, although one can guess that as a liquid there are likely metal particles in suspension and that gives a huge surface area advantage.

It's almost as if the articles were written by junior staff members with no actual knowledge of hydrogen storage technology, but since we live in a "knowledge based economy" where STEM skills are in incredibly high demand there is no way reputable news organizations like the BBC would do anything like that, right?

5 days ago

Researchers Working On Crystallizing Light

radtea Re:This article makes no sense whatsoever (129 comments)

So I take it no one else understands what this article is about either.

In fairness to the writer of the simply hideous article, which is an amazing compendium of misleading nonsense, irrelevancy and outright falsehood, the research team seem to be speaking in a private language. Even their "popular summary" is difficult for a physicist who has done some work in quantum fundamentals to understand.

It appears they have created a fairly standard state in which microwave photons are strongly interacting with each other via a superconductor. Their is for some reason they do not explain and seem to take for granted, a phase transition in the system's behaviour as the number of photons drops.

This may (or may not) be related to the "phase/photon-number uncertainty principle", which is analogous to the usual position/momentum uncertainty principle: you can know the precise classical phase of a many-photon beam or you can know the number of photons in it, but not both at the same time. As the total number of photons goes down the uncertainty in the the number of photons goes down, increasing the uncertainty in the phase (that's one fairly hand-waving way to think about it, at least.)

After the phase transition the system is in some weird quantum state that they liken to Schrodinger's cat, but since Schrodinger's cat is in a perfectly ordinary quantum superposition that knowledge adds exactly nothing to our understanding of what the state actually is. Presumably they are referring to some particular state that is currently well-known within quantum information theory, but by presenting the idea to a lay audience without elaboration they simply add to the overall sense of confusion and, uh, incoherence.

about a week ago

CBC Warns Canadians of "US Law Enforcement Money Extortion Program"

radtea Re:Seems reasonable (462 comments)

and sooner or later, it morphs into something you didn't expect.

Which hasn't (yet) happened in this case, as the current situation was expected and predicted back in the '80's. There was a long article in The Atlantic Monthly in maybe '83 or '84 on precisely the perverse incentives that asset forfeiture laws created for law enforcement.

The reason why things have got so bad is not because no one expected them, but because no one was able to control them given the internal incentives (as others here have pointed out, judges' salaries can be paid in part by seizures, which further corrupts the process.)

about a week ago

CBC Warns Canadians of "US Law Enforcement Money Extortion Program"

radtea Re:In other words....Don't look like a drug traffi (462 comments)

Please send me a list of approved attire, standards of car cleanliness, and any other requirements for not appearing like a drug dealer.

I believe the primary rules for "not looking like a drug dealer" are:

1) be white
2) be middle-class
3) be middle-age
4) be male
5) be conventional in dress, behaviour and language

And really, if you aren't a white, middle-class, middle-age, conventional male, do you really have anyone but yourself to blame?

about a week ago

CBC Warns Canadians of "US Law Enforcement Money Extortion Program"

radtea Re:I am shocked, SHOCKED, to find gambling here... (462 comments)

Why are the Canadians surprised by this fact?

Two answers:

1) We aren't.

2) We need to be reminded now and then just how corrupt and borken the republic to our south actually is, as we tend to forget it and have trouble believing it.

Canadians, for all of our manifest imperfections, live in a relatively lawful country and take for granted that people in the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand do as well. Despite being bombarded by news stories out of the US and UK in the past ten or fifteen years about how lawless things are getting there with their out-of-control security states we simply have trouble processing the practical implications.

Although... I renewed my passport recently and realized I haven't actually traveled to the US in over five years, whereas in the previous five years I had worked, lived and vacationed in the US. So we do kind of appreciate what a dangerous, arbitrary and lawless place the US has become, we just react by avoiding it rather than thinking much about it.

about a week ago

Universal Big Bang Lithium Deficit Confirmed

radtea Re:I thought this was solved by Korn et al. (170 comments)

"Solved" isn't a term properly used in the sciences, and your quite legitimate confusion here is a nice example of why.

Science is the discipline of publicly testing ideas by systematic observation, controlled experiment, and Bayesian inference. It does not produce certainty, but rather knowledge. Unfortunately, because science is still a very young discipline (only three hundred years old) we have yet to really update our language to accommodate it, so we still talk in terms of "solution" and "proof" and the like, as if we were philosophers seeking after some chimeral goal like "certainty" or the ability to turn base metals into gold.

The questions scientists are interested in here are:

1) "Which is more plausible given the evidence we have: that we are computing something wrong in our Big Bang nucleo-synthesis calculations using existing physics; that our measurements of lithium abundance are wrong; that there is new physics that affects lithium production in the Big Bang; that our chemical evolution calculations are wrong for some reason; or that something else entirely is going on that we are missing?"


2) "What new evidence might we gather to clarify the situation given we currently don't have a stand-out idea that is sufficiently more plausible than the rest that no one can be bothered to do further investigations?"

Science is a human discipline, and as such is never "settled" except insofar as no on can be arsed to look at some question more deeply because the plausibility of the currently-best answer is so high (for example, while I think it very likely the Earth is heating up, I support further research like better satellite measurements of albedo:

With regard to lithium, we have a pretty good handle on Big Bang production assuming there is no new physics, but lithium has a number of characteristics that make it more strongly subject to the forces of what cosmologists call "chemical evolution"--the way the chemical composition of the universe changes through time due to stellar and other processes. The Korn et al work points to one particular way primoridal lithium could be hidden away. In the '90's there was similar work being done to show that various other processes could actually break lithium nuclei up over the course of the history of the universe.

Then there is also the problem that the whole "missing lithium" thing could be a result of a local anomaly in lithium abundance: after all, we have only sampled a small part of the universe. The work this /. post is about focuses on extending the reach of measurements to other galaxies, which is a start, although one could also imagine large-scale enrichment processes in the early universe that put us in a lithium-poor bubble, so no-doubt "additional work is required" to reach a sufficiently strong consensus that the missing lithium has been explained well enough to be not worth bothering with any more.

about a week ago

The Exoplanets That Never Were

radtea Re:Red dwarfs form from so little matter (31 comments)

I'm not surprised that there are no planets.

Given that we've discovered planets everywhere we never expected planets to be, being "not surprised" at not finding planets is pretty weird. The damned things are everywhere!

about a week ago

UN Study Shows Record-High Increases For Atmospheric CO2 In 2013

radtea Re:Meanwhile in the real world... (427 comments)

Hurricanes are a climatological event that produce extreme weather (wind, rain).

This is the most perfect example of begging the question I have ever seen on /.

The whole point of the GP's argument is that hurricanes are weather, and you have countered by simply declaring hurricanes are climate, or "climatological events", whatever that means.

Here is the problem in the simplest words I can think of:

1) Climate is a set of distributions, and is defined by the parameters of those distributions at any time.

2) Weather is a set of events drawn from those distributions.

Warmist talking heads who attribute every heat wave and extreme weather event to climate change are engaged in exactly the same fallacy as Denialist talking heads who claim every cold snap is proof of no climate change: both groups deny that the distributions in the case of a) climate change and b) no climate change overlap so substantially that only a liar or an idiot would draw any conclusion about the shape of the distribution from a single event.

about a week ago

How Scientific Consensus Has Gotten a Bad Reputation

radtea Re:Science creates understanding of a real world. (770 comments)

More complex models incorporating other known factors, within the entire range of their uncertainty levels, show the same thing.

There are levels of skepticism. While I broadly agree with your points, the scientific issue comes down to one question and the political issue to another.

The scientific question is: how well do non-physical models allow us to predict in detail the response of a complex non-linear system like the climate to an additional 0.3% forcing?

The political question is: given that the uncontroversial answer to the scientific question is "not very well", what is the best policy approach to the risks presented?

My problem, as a computational physicist, is that the "scientific consensus" that supposedly exists seems to me to radically over-state the predictive power of non-physical climate models, and I am deeply concerned that as the supposed "hiatus" continues ( the falsity of the over-stated claims will be used to attack science as such.

My problem, as a citizen, is that the political question has become parasitized by radical nut-jobs who would rather fight almost-irrelevant pipelines than promote nuclear power, research geo-engineering, or implement carbon taxes. The latter, especially, has proven to be an effective policy tool in reducing CO2 emissions ( and anyone who cares about reducing corporate and personal income taxes ought to be fully on-side with it.

Yet the best we could get in Canada from Greenpeace in 2008 was "qualified support" for the Liberal's proposed tax shift and we've heard almost nothing from the since. Why aren't they shouting from the rooftops that we could reduce personal and corporate taxes by taxing carbon? What better argument could their be for promoting and making permanently sustainable a carbon tax?

The whole "science is settled" nonsense is an attempt to shut down legitimate concerns about the predictive utility of non-physical models of a non-linear system that are routinely found to be wrong (

And yeah, I know what the "direction" of the error is in most cases, but "better" and "worse" are not scientific terms, they are political terms. "More accurate" and "less accurate" are scientific terms, and a steady stream of news stories over the past decade has repeatedly touted the poor accuracy of GCMs.

Only in climate science are the conclusions of a model said to be more likely when the model is found to be wrong, yet that is what we routinely see: "climate models got near-term warming completely wrong so they are more likely than not correct about century-scale warming." But because climate is non-linear, it would be clearly and obviously anti-science and incorrect to claim that because the near-term error is one direction the long-term error must be in the same direction. There is simply no justification for that claim (nor the counter-claim, either, as Denialsts want us to assume.)

But the "science is settled" belief means that one can be a promoter of effective carbon tax policy, a promoter of building nuclear power plants and doing research in to geo-engineering (because really, if climate change could be a civilization-ending phenomena you've have to be utterly evil to not promote geo-engineering research, just in case) and still be an outcast to Warmists because you don't support the false belief that GCMs are very predictively useful.

about two weeks ago

Mushroom-Like Deep Sea Organism May Be New Branch of Life

radtea Re:taxonomy (64 comments)

DNA is also a bit of a problem - are you talking mitochondrial DNA, etc?

Valid point.

Because you don't have "one" DNA in your body. You have several thousand, minimum.


Thus you are instantly several thousand species in a single individual and actually your largest amount of DNA probably isn't "you", as such.


Or: that word "you" keep using does not mean what you think it means. You have for some unaccountable reason suddenly started using "you" to mean something completely different from what everyone everywhere always has meant by "you"--a genetically and morphologically human individual, the offspring of human parents--to mean "an entity that will be designated as 'hydrogen' because there are more hydrogen atoms in it than any other type."

Or something like that. It would be as silly to insist on calling people hydrogen because it is our most common constituent as it would be to start calling people non-human because they happen to contain more bacterial cells than human cells. Yet studying and even classifying some aspects of our physical being based on our chemistry can still be useful.

The biological species concept, and therefore taxonomy as such, is pretty sketchy. But there is likely a lot more value in genetic taxonomy than morphological taxonomy, which is barely above folk taxonomy in many respects. Similar structures don't tell us much about evolutionary history, which is what we mostly care about as biologists.

about two weeks ago

Combating Recent, Ugly Incidents of Misogyny In Gamer Culture

radtea Re:Astroturfing for Hillary Clinton (1134 comments)

I think it takes millions of rapists (mostly men natch) to reach that number.

And you would be wrong. At least, you would be wrong if you are implying anything other than the majority of rapes are committed by a small minority of predatory men.

How small?

75-80% of rapes are committed by 4-5% of men:

That's still seven or eight million men in absolute terms, of course, but far fewer than what is erroneously claimed by the old, failed, misandrist "rape is nothing less than a conscious conspiracy by all men against all women" model.

It is easy for us, as humans, to leap from "all rapists are men" to "all men are rapists". Even if the former proposition were true (it isn't) the latter is unrelated to it.

There is a population of sociopathic predators in our midst. Most of them are men. All of them are dangerous. Their victims are both men and women (we don't even know what the rate of male victimization in sexual assault is... all we know is that the reported rate is much lower than for women, but it would be, wouldn't it?)

Focusing on men vs women rather than citizens vs predators is exactly what the predators need to keep on preying on the innocent. It's time we stopped doing that.

about two weeks ago

Taking the Ice Bucket Challenge With Liquid Nitrogen

radtea Re:I'm starting to wonder... (182 comments)

... how long will it take before somebody dies?

Already happened:

I've stuck my hand in liquid nitrogen (it feels strangely warm) and so can attest to the protective effect of the gas blanket (which is highly insulating) but it is insanely dangerous to pour a bucket of LN2 over your head, and doing so is an invitation to people who aren't as smart or careful as you to do even more stupid and risky things.

Donate to ALS research [*], by all means! But please, please, don't participate in this ridiculous pyramid scheme of increasingly dangerous stupidity.

[*] I do not donate to ALS because it is not one of my causes, but I encourage you to think carefully about what you care most about and sign up as a steady, long-term donor to a few causes that are really important to you... this is of far more long-term benefit than episodic giving. If ALS is what matters most to you, go for it!

about two weeks ago

The Argument For a Hypersonic Missile Testing Ban

radtea Re:Incredibally stupid argument (322 comments)

The argument is at heart "Don't develop these weapons because they will be good at killing people and I personally am not smart enough to come up with a civilan use that doesn't kill people".

Well, it's from the Bulletin of the Perrenially Dishonest, so what do you expect? A bunch of liars who dishonestly characterize themselves as somehow representing some part of the scientific community is hardly going to consist of smart people, are they?

I've not RTFM'd because I try not to let bulletinshit touch my eyeballs, but hypersonic technology certainly has civilian uses. The aerospike, for example, is an instance of hypersonic propulsion that has possible applications in satellite launching and realizing Willy Ley's old dream of an "antiopodes bomber" (which could as well carry passengers as bombs, of course.)

While I am generally in favour of keeping deadweight loss spending at a minimum, there certainly seems to be ample justification for civilian research in this area.

about two weeks ago

Out of the Warehouse: Climate Researchers Rescue Long-Lost Satellite Images

radtea Re:Straight to the pointless debate (136 comments)

I dont know about the satellite data, but in the case of the surface record, there can be no scientific reason to adjust temperature measurements. Such measurements are the core of the science .. things are measured and the values are what they are. It is never scientific to process past measurements and then call them "corrected" (which is what the climate folks are doing with the surface record.)

That statement is false.

Science is the discipline of publicly testing ideas by systematic observation, controlled experiment, and Bayesian inference.

There are many reasons why one might get the idea that past temperature records have systematic inaccuracies that may require correction. The urban heat island effect is one large one, which tends to produce higher uncorrected temperatures over time. The phenomenon is simple in principle: cities generate heat, have more dark surfaces, and trap heat in buildings etc which gets re-radiated at night. Weather stations sited near cities have typically become increasingly surrounded by them over the past century, because cities have grown.

Ergo, the instrumental temperature record from many stations needs to be corrected downward to account for this effect, if we want to pull out the environmental temperature (what we are generally interested in.)

This is what we do all the time in science. We start with a raw instrumental measurement and then apply various theory-dependent corrections to infer the underlying quantity we are actually interested in. For example, at the LHC, physicists measure the raw detection rates of various particles in multiple detectors, and then correct them for known background rates etc (frequently using ancillary measurements in the same detectors to determine those rates) to infer the presence (or absence) of the Higgs boson.

What you are saying is "never scientific" is in fact the core of the scientific process, and it makes no difference if the original data were taken today or fifty years ago: they are open to justifiable correction by anyone who sees fit. If you have the idea that the corrections applied are unjustified, feel free to challenge them, but please don't go promoting your fallacious vision of what science is and how it works.

And by the way, if you are interested in what an analysis of the uncorrected instrumental temperature record looks like at one particular station, here is an example:

about two weeks ago

MetaFilter Founder Says Vacation Firm Forged Court Docs To Scotch Review

radtea Re:Do not ever (116 comments)

Dude even blocked the doorway after we got up and tried to leave. I eventually threatened to call the police, and he finally gave up.

I was at a home show a while back and talked to a guy whose entire business was "getting people out of timeshare agreements".

That's how awful time-shares are, and how effective they are at bullying people into bad decisions: breaking time-share agreements is a viable business model!

about two weeks ago

Invasion of Ukraine Continues As Russia Begins Nuclear Weapons Sabre Rattling

radtea Re:Sigh... (789 comments)

War is an archetypal situation. Once the possibility of one starting develops, it has "suction": people react to the archetype, and that threatens to overwhem rational thought.

Understanding how this happens and effectively countering it is crucial to our future survival. My (highly speculative) contribution to the debate, in which I suggest that what you call an archetype can in fact be understood as a kind of living being pursuing its own evolutionary interests:

about two weeks ago



The Future of Publishing?

radtea radtea writes  |  more than 3 years ago

radtea (464814) writes "The "Machine of Death" anathology got its start from a Dinosaur Comics episode that speculated on what the world would be like if there was a machine that could tell people how they were going to die. This led to a call for authors to submit stories, a lengthy winnowing process, and an even more lengthy struggled to get the book published that illuminates many of the issues for writers today. The book is an anthology of unknowns inspired by a Web comic. The pitch to publishers was: the Internet can be an effective marketing tool for complete unknows. It worked for Jonathon Coulton. The question is: is this model reproducible? Will unknown authors in the future be able to bypass most of the traditional publishing industry and effectively market directly to readers, the way musicians are increasingly trying to reach listeners? We know it's a viable hobby, but is it a viable business? (Full disclosure: I am the author of the last story in the book, "Cassandra", but have no direct financial interest in the book's success. That said, you can buy it here:"
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