October 2019 (Links)


Title: Beachheads and Obstacles

In the article, we get an analysis of the hardware ambitions of Facebook and Amazon. Where the first isn’t making real progress, the second might have a shot at dominating the home.


Title: To Pay Attention, the Brain Uses Filters, Not a Spotlight

First researchers looked at how we focus on specific inputs, now they are looking at how we suppress other stimuli.

One system identified with regards to the suppression is the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN). This system is an old (from an evolutionary point of view) part of the brain.


Title: The China Cultural Clash

The article asks and reiterates that China has been unfairly using (abusing?) tech from the US, and attacking it when feelings got hurt.

“Whoever was controlling the Great Cannon would use it to selectively insert malicious JavaScript code into search queries and advertisements served by Baidu, a popular Chinese search engine.”

With international trade (WTO), the democracy didn’t spread equally as well.

“China is not simply resisting Western ideals of freedom, but seeking to impose their own.”

Technology can be a force for good, but also multiply the control a state has.

“The documents, revealed by the Guardian for the first time, lay out how ByteDance, the Beijing-headquartered technology company that owns TikTok, is advancing Chinese foreign policy aims abroad through the app.”


Title: Democracy in Poland Is in Mortal Danger

Is Poland following Hungary (and Turkey)? It seems that way as things are going. The US is pushing in the wrong direction. Hmm…


Title: Trump Betrayed the Kurds. He Couldn’t Help Himself.

So yeah, let’s just leave it with this quote “President Trump doesn’t interpret his abandonment of America’s faithful and intrepid Kurdish ally as betrayal because he can’t even understand why betrayal is a vice. It’s like trying to explain color to a person born with no eyesight.”


Title: Google and Ambient Computing

Google is coming into your house. They are switching from organising information, to actively helping you be productive: “to “be helpful” Google needs to be everywhere, which by extension means the company needs to be trusted.”

A way to capture this idea is with ambient computing, always being there, always available. And not dependant on a single device (or price).


Title: Muddy America : Color Balancing The Election Map – Infographic

A very interesting graph of how Americans voted. Do scroll down to see the breakdown.

Title: How this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics influenced GiveWell’s work

A short blog about how the work of the Nobel Prize winners in Economics have influenced the work of GiveWell. Especially on why they recommend deworming initiatives.


Title: Investors hope psychedelics are the new cannabis. Are they high?

“In January atai Life Sciences, the German biotech company he founded last year, acquired a majority stake in Perception Neuroscience, a biopharmaceutical firm from New York which is developing a medication for pyschiatric conditions like depression from the drug…”

“In particular, backers think, psychedelic drugs could be used to treat mental-health disorders like depression, anxiety and addiction. In April Imperial College London, inaugurated the first research centre dedicated to psychedelics research. Last month Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore launched America’s first such scientific outfit.”

“The market for antidepressants is dispiritingly large. Over 300m people worldwide suffer from depression. A report last year by the Lancet Commission, a body of experts, estimated that mental-health disorders could cost the global economy $16trn by 2030. Sales of antidepressants were $14bn in 2017…”

“Field Trip Ventures, a Canadian startup, plans to open speciality clinics where they could be administered (and clinical trials conducted).”

It is great that The Economist is talking about the investment here and why it’s happening (decriminalisation and research into the effectiveness).

Title: When should an Effective Altruist be vegetarian?

In this post, another EA-aligned person talks about her considerations of being (or not) vegetarian, and if this has any value/impact on the world.

The first part of the posts focusses on how helping animals (i.e. not eating meat) is not effective (and this you shouldn’t do it?). I don’t really get the analogy, since if I change my behaviour at no cost (you can cook good food with veggies, the costs are not much higher/cheaper if you plan accordingly).

“For instance, if instead of eating vegetarian you ate a bit frugally and saved and donated a few dollars per meal, you would probably do more good (see calculations lower in this post).”

This sounds plausible, but maybe I’m also swayed by the argument of not doing more/no harm (in as much as that is possible). Or I think that it’s just as easy to be frugal as to be vegetarian (says the person with a company that makes convenient vegetarian meals XD).

“For instance, vegetarianism means spending a bit more time searching for vegetarian alternatives, researching nutrition, buying supplements, writing emails back to people who invite you to dinner explaining your dietary restrictions, etc.”

But is this not a one-time investment? And I don’t buy supplements, just eat varied. And I liked cooking before (so same time-investment). She does mention creatine in the next paragraph, I take that for weightlifting and I’m not sure about the effect on IQ (and IQ itself, but that’s another story).

” If you would happily pay this much (in my case, less than $0.002) to eat meat on many occasions, you probably shouldn’t be a vegetarian.”

See the blog for the calculations. I guess that my calculations would be a bit different, and that I don’t think I’m paying much (if anything) extra. And I guess that I don’t see these costs as money I would go and donate (as it’s a percentage of total income, not free cashflow). But all in all a good blog and interesting to read.

Ohh and I liked this part of the first comment very much: “Vegetable production does have negative effects on animals. However, most of the crops grown in the United States are converted into feed for factory-farmed animals. It takes 10,000 calories of crops to feed an animal to create 1000 calories of food for a human. So the negative effects on animals of crop farming is /also/ reduced, in fact dramatically, by not eating meat.”


Title: How Magic Mushrooms Can Help Smokers Kick The Habit

From Short Wave, a new science podcast from NPR.

“New research shows that psilocybin might be an effective treatment for diseases such as depression and addiction. While the work is still in its early stages, there are signs that psilocybin might help addicts shake the habit by causing the brain to talk with itself in different ways.”

“Psilocybin seems to work because it temporarily rewires the brain, according to Johnson. Sections that don’t normally talk to each other appear to communicate more, and parts of the brain that normally do talk to each other talk less.”

Title: Op truffeltrip in Zandvoort: waarom psychedelica een comeback maken (Dutch)

Story about Truffles Therapy (owner, Chi, 31). Interesting, but not much new info for me. But good exposure. Well, ok, I think the rituals and mystical aspects shouldn’t really be part of it, but that is just my opinion/view. Ok, on a second reading, it’s really spiritual/religious (“I’m just a servant of the truffles”).

“‘We willen de golden standard zijn in deze industrie,’ legt Schirp uit aan zijn bureau. Synthesis staat voor de synthese tussen wetenschap en spiritualiteit. ‘Dat is niet makkelijk. We werken met krachtige middelen en moeten daar verantwoordelijk mee omgaan. Daarom investeren we veel in medische kwaliteit. Dit is een ongereguleerde markt, als je daarin de beste standaarden wilt hebben, dan moet je die zelf bouwen.’” (ambition of Synthesis to become the gold standard of retreats)

“Ik moet glimlachen om de brief van John en herken de tweestrijd tussen de gedachten. Toch: weken later ben ik nog steeds gestopt met roken, drink ik bijna geen alcohol en eet ik vrijwel geen vlees. Ik voel me gelukkiger, rustiger, erger me nauwelijks aan zaken waarover ik eerst geïrriteerd zou raken. Een trein die te laat komt, een serveerster die m’n bestelling twee keer vergeet, iemand die voordringt in de rij – in het licht van de oneindigheid van het universum stelt het allemaal weinig voor.” (the final experience of the reporter)


Title: Biopunks are Pushing the Limits With Implants and DIY Drugs

“Lee is part of a loosely con­nected group of biohackers—garage geneticists, chemists, and grinders (those who modify their own bodies)—who are stretching the capabilities of DIY augmentation.”

It’s so interesting to see what others are doing with Biohacking. I wonder what will become of this, also in relationship to life extension and CRISPR/gene-editing.


Title: Psilocybin Sessions: Psychedelics could help people with addiction and anxiety

A 60 minutes documentary (video) on Psychedelics and how it’s being used with addiction and anxiety.

It highlights the research that is being done and highlights awesome people like Roland Griffiths, Matthew Johnson, Michael Pollan.


Title: The Internet and the Third Estate

How to look at free speech (on Facebook, et al.) through the lens of the ‘estates’, 1) executive, 2) legislative, 3) judicial, 4) media, 5) you/everyone that now has a voice.

“What is published on the Internet, meanwhile, can reach anyone anywhere, drastically increasing supply and placing a premium on discovery; this shifted economic power from publications to Aggregators.”

Quoting an earlier article: “… the most successful politicians in an aggregated world are not those who serve the party but rather those who tell voters what they most want to hear.”

What is the power of Facebook: “The first and most straightforward way is Facebook putting its thumb on the scale.” and “The second concern is the capacity of trolls, both of the profit-seeking and foreign government variety, to leverage Facebook’s fundamental engagement-seeking nature to push misinformation and division.” and “Facebook’s decision to not fact-check any posts or ads from politicians.”

What can we do against China (and their vision of the internet): “To fight the Internet’s impact, instead of seeking to understand it and guide the fundamental transformations that will surely follow, is a commitment by the West to lose the fight for the future.”


Title: Way Too Transparent, All The Money We Made

An interesting blog by two people who want to retire early. It’s about income, frugality, and why they want/can achieve it by 40.


Title: A New Crispr Technique Could Fix Almost All Genetic Diseases

That is quite the bold title. CHECK LATER, no access at the moment.

Title: Ayn Rand on Why Philosophy Matters

In the article, FS takes a look at why we would need philosophy in our lives. Here is a quote of Ayn Rand: ” [y]our only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown. “

So we need to think for ourselves, be reflective in our thinking. And work from first principles.

“What objectivity and the study of philosophy require is not an ‘open mind,’ but an active mind—a mind able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically.”

Title: Why Costco is Cheaper than Amazon

Membership (that is the money maker), big stores (long walks, deal hunting), few products (quality, quantity)


Title: Onderzoekers willen mensen in een vegetatieve toestand met psychedelica behandelen (Dutch)

A percentage of people in a vegetative state does respond to stimuli (in their mind), what happens if we give them psilocybin. The idea would be that psychedelics increase the complexity (entropy) for the brain, and so maybe more consciousness.

“Scott and Carhart-Harris want to start slowly, with healthy people anesthetized from sleep, to see how psilocybin influences consciousness and brain complexity in those states. If the results are promising, and the study design is appropriate and safe enough, they will also apply it to people with a consciousness disorder.”


Title: PTSS-patiënten krijgen partydrug mdma als medicijn (Dutch)

First test of eight veterans in The Netherlands with MDMA. They say that 83% of PTSD patients recover (and if I remember correctly, that is with a group that was treatment-resistant).

Title: 16 Minutes on the News #11: CRISPR! Policy, Platform, Trials

Summary of the news (not research) on CRISPR. Nothing much new, but some regulation on CRISPR and ideas about how to use it for good/change. Some self-regulation also around not germline editing, yet!


Title: Human Eggs with the Goal of Altering Deaf Gene

Gene editing to solve real problems, in this case, deafness.


Title: New CRISPR genome editing system offers a wide range of versatility in human cells

““Prime editing” combines two key proteins and a new RNA to make targeted insertions, deletions, and all possible single-letter changes in the DNA of human cells.”

They combined CRISPR-Cas9 and reverse transcriptase to make better edits to our genome.

“…  and has the potential to correct up to 89 percent of known disease-causing genetic variations.”

The technique is being made available for free (for research).


Title: Earth’s rocks can absorb a shocking amount of carbon: here’s how

We are carbon (18%), trees are carbon (80%?), but what if most of the carbon is underground?

“life, in the form of microbes and bacteria, thrives miles beneath our feet in such abundance that its total carbon mass is up to 400 times greater than all 7.7 billion of the humans on the surface. That one of Earth’s largest ecosystems lies deep inside the planet is just one of the many discoveries from the decade-long Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) project that brought together 1,200 researchers from 55 nations to explore the internal workings of our planet.”

“In the next 20 to 40 years CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have to be eliminated and large amounts of CO2 already in the atmosphere need to be removed to prevent very dangerous levels of global warming.” – Or put more back in than we put out? Innovation?

“Experiments pumping carbon-rich fluids into the ophiolite rock formation show that carbonate minerals form very rapidly. That could potentially remove billions of tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, though it would be a huge project and very different for Oman, which is dependent on its oil revenues, he says.”

“Diamonds also provided DCO researchers with evidence that the deep earth has more water—mostly locked up within the crystals of minerals as ions rather than liquid water—than all of the world’s oceans.”

Quite interesting, go read it all!

Title: Quantum computing’s ‘Hello World’ moment

A good analysis of what Google actually did, and much more elaborate than the 500-word articles all around. In short, as far as my understanding goes it was something that only a quantum computer could do. It was not too practical (just like Sputnik), but proves that quantum computers are here.

Title: The Origin of Consciousness in the Brain is About to be Tested

It could be interesting, but the research described isn’t done yet.


audio of article, just released 🙂

Title: How Close are we to Creating Artificial Intelligence / Creative blocks

I’ve been listening to an analysis of David Deutsch’s book The Beginning of Infinity. And it has sparked me to look up some of his articles online. So here is a short analysis of one of them.

The laws of physics say that AI should be possible (universality of computation), but why don’t we have it yet? (AI as in AGI, one that is creative). “But no brain on Earth is yet close to knowing what brains do in order to achieve any of that functionality. The enterprise of achieving it artificially — the field of ‘artificial general intelligence’ or AGI — has made no progress whatever during the entire six decades of its existence.”

“This entails that everything that the laws of physics require a physical object to do can, in principle, be emulated in arbitrarily fine detail by some program on a general-purpose computer, provided it is given enough time and memory.” As theorised by Babbage and Lovelace, and confirmed by Deutsch.

What is lacking in AI programs is ‘creativity’: the ability to produce new explanations. Deutsch argues (in the article and elsewhere) that all AI nowadays doesn’t produce new explanations. If you give it 5 ways of looking at Dark Matter, and it says/computes/confirms that one is correct, then it hasn’t added new explanations.

“What is needed is nothing less than a breakthrough in philosophy, a new epistemological theory that explains how brains create explanatory knowledge and hence defines, in principle, without ever running them as programs, which algorithms possess that functionality and which do not.” It makes me think of The Book of Why, alas one I haven’t read, but which is about the theory that we might be able to do/compute this – but focus on math, not philosophy).

Then he uses some of Popper’s work to argue that induction sucks (e.g. I saw a 1 at the beginning of the calendar each year, until it was the year 2000).

“Now, the truth is that knowledge consists of conjectured explanations — guesses about what really is (or really should be, or might be) out there in all those worlds.” (and that links to this article about the brain).

“Thinking consists of criticising and correcting partially true guesses with the intention of locating and eliminating the errors and misconceptions in them, not generating or justifying extrapolations from sense data.”

“Likewise, when a computer program beats a grandmaster at chess, the two are not using even remotely similar algorithms. The grandmaster can explain why it seemed worth sacrificing the knight for strategic advantage and can write an exciting book on the subject. The program can only prove that the sacrifice does not force a checkmate, and cannot write a book because it has no clue even what the objective of a chess game is. Programming AGI is not the same sort of problem as programming Jeopardy or chess.” AGI is built on a different frame than what is already being worked on.

“And here we have the problem of ambiguous terminology again: the term ‘consciousness’ has a huge range of meanings. At one end of the scale there is the philosophical problem of the nature of subjective sensations (‘qualia’), which is intimately connected with the problem of AGI. At the other, ‘consciousness’ is simply what we lose when we are put under general anaesthetic. Many animals certainly have that.”

Deutsch argues that even apes don’t have AGI (like we humans have) and that there the behaviourist arguments do stand/work. Just like with very smart AI (as commonly used) programs.

He also says the brain is no quantum computer and links to another paper if you were so inclined to learn more).

“The battle between good and evil ideas is as old as our species and will continue regardless of the hardware on which it is running.” So what can we do, stop the AGI development (or think of some guidelines as they are doing now)? Deutsch argues for not (but I can see that it could be good for the current AI landscape, so the one not related to AGI).

“We use, rather, the method of trial and the elimination of error.’ That is to say, conjecture and criticism. Learning must be something that newly created intelligences do, and control, for themselves.”

“I am convinced that the whole problem of developing AGIs is a matter of philosophy, not computer science or neurophysiology, and that the philosophical progress that is essential to their future integration is also a prerequisite for developing them in the first place.”

He ends the article with an optimistic note: “So in one respect I can agree with the AGI-is-imminent camp: it is plausible that just a single idea stands between us and the breakthrough. But it will have to be one of the best ideas ever.”


Title: How Constructor Theory Solves The Riddle of Life / Life without design

How could life be possible? That sounds like an ambitious question if I ever heard one. An article by Chiara Marletto (who works with David Deutsch (see above) on this). (the question is also being asked in GEB)

“The very problem Darwin’s theory addresses is ultimately rooted in physics: living things have certain properties that seem to set them apart from other aggregations of inert matter.” And they seem designed (but are of course not, just evolution through variation and natural selection).

“[L]iving things, again just like factories and robots, have the ability to perform physical transformations with a very high degree of precision, and to do so repeatedly and reliably.”

So life is good at faithful replication, and all other stuff (non-life) in the universe isn’t really good at it. “In other words, the laws of physics contain no built-in facility for accurate transformations; nor, in particular, for biological adaptations that can bring such transformations about.” But where is the jump from one to the other?

She explains that the laws of physics also provide no tailoring for life to exist.

“So, how can we explain physically how replication and self-reproduction are possible, given laws that contain no hidden designs, if the prevailing conception’s tools are inadequate? By applying a new fundamental theory of physics: constructor theory.”

“In constructor theory, physical laws are formulated only in terms of which tasks are possible (with arbitrarily high accuracy, reliability, and repeatability), and which are impossible, and why – as opposed to what happens, and what does not happen, given dynamical laws and initial conditions.”

“accurate self‑reproduction can occur only in two steps. Using letter-by-letter replication and error-correction, the parent cell makes a high-fidelity copy of the recipe to be inserted in the new cell; then it constructs the copying mechanism plus the rest of the cell afresh, following the recipe.”

“Constructor theory gives the ‘recipe’ an exact characterisation in fundamental physics. It is digitally coded information that can act as a constructor and has resiliency – the capacity, once it is instantiated in physical systems, to remain so instantiated. In constructor theory, that is called knowledge” Ok let me stop copy-pasting things here, see the article for more about constructor theory.

It seems logical to me, yet I do also feel that I don’t fully grasp the implications yet.


Title: What Does an Infamous Biohacker’s Death Mean for the Future of DIY Science?

I’m watching ‘Unnatural Selection’ (docu from Netflix) and this was a good companion piece.

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