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Intended clouds and unintended consequences

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — this post is mostly concerned with unintended consequences in foreign policy, not Berndnaut Smilde‘s intended and dramatic clouds, but hey! ]
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Nimbus Sankt Peter, 2014. Artist: Berndnaut Smilde

Nimbus Sankt Peter, 2014. Artist: Berndnaut Smilde

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Obama said in an interview on Vice this week:

ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion. Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.

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Rumsefeld said:

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Walt said:

In international relations, at least, none of our theories are all that powerful, the data are often poor, and coming up with good solutions to many thorny problems is difficult. Unintended consequences and second-order effects abound, and policymakers often reject good advice for their own selfish reasons.

Taleb said:

Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists (and others extremely concerned with the coloring of birds), but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird.

Clapper said:

unpredictable instability is the new normal

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Let me list them:

  • unintended consequences
  • known and unknown unknowns
  • second-order effects
  • black swans
  • unpredictable instability
  • Are these all what you might call “birds of a feather”?

    **

    Taleb also said:

    Viagra, which changed the mental outlook and social mores of retired men, was meant to be a hypertension drug. Another hypertension drug led to a hair-growth medication. My friend Bruce Goldberg, who understands randomness, calls these unintended side applications “corners.” While many worry about unintended consequences, technology adventurers thrive on them.

    and:

    Mandelbrot’s fractals allow us to account for a few Black Swans, but not all. I said earlier that some Black Swans arise because we ignore sources of randomness. Others arise when we overestimate the fractal exponent. A gray swan concerns modelable extreme events, a black swan is about unknown unknowns.

    It strikes me that we could use a Venn diagram of these things, so we can better understand what we don’t understand.

    **

    So let’s add a couple more to our list:

  • corners
  • cloud of unknowing
  • The anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing, speaking of God, says:

    For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.

    Pinker, Blake and Moebius

    Thursday, January 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — looks like I’ll have an “Author’s blog” up soon to accompany a book I’m working on, and it’ll be called “Seeing Double” — which is what this post is about ]
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    Steven Pinker, I’m sorry to say, appears to be one of those

    One can imagine a world in which oracles, soothsayers, prophets, popes, visionaries, imams, or gurus have been vouchsafed with the truth which only they possess and which the rest of us would be foolish, indeed, criminal, to question. History tells us that this is not the world we live in. Selfproclaimed truthers have repeatedly been shown to be mistaken — often comically so — by history, science, and common sense.

    The characters I’m interested in here are the visionaries – and my point is that truth as fact is not the only truth there is.

    **

    Can “history, science and common sense” really detract from the “truth” of this image by Blake?

    Blake_De_antro_nympharum_Tempera_Arlington_Court_Devon

    or this, by Moebius?

    Moebius Floating City

    **

    Pinker is interesting — that single para of his just gave me a chance to rant — so let me return you to his whole piece.

    I have other disagreements with him, no doubt, but he’s a mind to be engaged with.

    Lewis Shepherd on the IC/Mil/NatSec Potential of Holographic Computing

    Friday, January 23rd, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    Lewis Shepherd, formerly of the DIA and IC and recently of Microsoft, has an outstanding post on Microsoft’s exciting ambient/holographic computing interface HoloLens. What I saw in the videos is stunning and I then ran them by an extremely tough, tech savvy and jaded audience – my students – their jaws dropped. It’s that impressive.

    Insider’s Guide to the New Holographic Computing 

    In my seven happy years at Microsoft before leaving a couple of months ago, I was never happier than when I was involved in a cool “secret project.”

    Last year my team and I contributed for many months on a revolutionary secret project – Holographic Computing – which was revealed today at Microsoft headquarters.  I’ve been blogging for years about a variety of research efforts which additively culminated in today’s announcements: HoloLens, HoloStudio for 3D holographic building, and a series of apps (e.g. HoloSkype, HoloMinecraft) for this new platform on Windows 10.

    For my readers in government, or who care about the government they pay for, PAY CLOSE ATTENTION.

    It’s real. I’ve worn it, used it, designed 3D models with it, explored the real surface of Mars, played and laughed and marveled with it. This isn’t Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance.” Everything in this video works today:

     

    These new inventions represent a major new step-change in the technology industry. That’s not hyperbole. The approach offers the best benefit of any technology:empowering people simply through complexity, and by extension a way to deliver new & unexpected capabilities to meet government requirements.

    Holographic computing, in all the forms it will take, is comparable to the Personal Computing revolution of the 1980s (which democratized computing), the Web revolution of the ’90s (which universalized computing), and the Mobility revolution of the past eight years, which is still uprooting the world from its foundation.

    One important point I care deeply about: Government missed each of those three revolutions. By and large, government agencies at all levels were late or slow (or glacial) to recognize and adopt those revolutionary capabilities. That miss was understandable in the developing world and yet indefensible in the United States, particularly at the federal level.

    I worked at the Pentagon in the summer of 1985, having left my own state-of-the-art PC at home in Stanford, but my assigned “analytical tool” was a typewriter. In the early 2000s, I worked at an intelligence agency trying to fight a war against global terror networks when most analysts weren’t allowed to use the World Wide Web at work. Even today, government agencies are lagging well behind in deploying modern smartphones and tablets for their yearning-to-be-mobile workforce.

    This laggard behavior must change. Government can’t afford (for the sake of the citizens it serves) to fall behind again, and  understanding how to adapt with the holographic revolution is a great place to start, for local, national, and transnational agencies.

    Now some background…

    Read the rest here.

    I remarked to Shepherd that the technology reminded me of the novels by Daniel Suarez, DAEMON and FREEDOM. Indeed, I can see HoloLens allowing a single operator to control swarms of intelligent armed drones and robotic over a vast theater or in close-quarter tactical combat as easily as it would permit someone to manage a construction site, remotely assist in a major surgery, design a new automobile or play 3D Minecraft.

    MORE…..

    WIRED – Our Exclusive Hands-On With Microsoft’s Unbelievable New Holographic Goggles 

    engadget -I experienced ‘mixed reality’ with Microsoft’s holographic …

    Arstechnica.com -Hands-on: Microsoft’s HoloLens is flat-out magical | Ars …

    Mashable -Microsoft HoloLens won’t be the next Google Glass, and …

    Gizmodo -Microsoft HoloLens Hands-On: Incredible, Amazing …

    New York Times -Microsoft HoloLens: A Sensational Vision of the PC’s Future 

    Sunday surprise: concerning scale and zoom

    Sunday, January 18th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — A DoubleTweet on earth, air and water, with IS for fire — plus a Gary Snyder poem ]
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    The ability to scale, including but not limited to ratio, is one of the great human cognitive skills:

    The Daily Mail:

    John Robb:

    **

    Or as Gary Snyder so excellently has it:

    As the crickets’ soft autumn hum
    is to us
    so are we to the trees

    as are they

    to the rocks and the hills.

    Not Paris, much nearer home

    Sunday, January 18th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — religious satire USA, plus two Charlie Hebdo resources ]
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    Jesus dinosaur detail 602

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    I hadn’t realized that comic book satire had entered the religion vs science debate — foolish of me, it’s an obvious medium for the task:

    jesus-and-darwin 602

    And here for total impact is the full page of Jesus riding the dinosaur (detail above), text included:

    jesusdinosaur large

    I have to say, neither these nor the Charlie Hebdo and Jyllands-Posten cartoons disturb me personally — but in our discussions of free speech and blasphemy, I think the voices of those who may be offended deserve a hearing.

    **

    Sources and Resources:

  • Popperfont, Did Jesus ride on a dinosaur?
  • Beliefnet, Jesus and Darwin fight
  • Daily Beast, 16 most ‘shocking’ Charlie Hebdo covers
  • Understanding Charlie Hebdo, Charlie Hebdo’s satire

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