While My Guitar Gently Weeps

I think most of my readers will have seen the iconic performance by Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Dhani Harrison and Prince playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 inclusion of George Harrison in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. This performance is of course mostly known for how Prince showed that he was a legend among legends.

I just found out that the original video has been re-edited and put up in a “director’s cut”

See it, and enjoy a master at the top of his game

Not everything advanced in Computer Science is AI

IEEE Spectrum has an article Stop Calling Everything AI, Machine-Learning Pioneer Says in which Michael I. Jordan addresses the overuse of artificial intelligence in Computer Science

Artificial-intelligence systems are nowhere near advanced enough to replace humans in many tasks involving reasoning, real-world knowledge, and social interaction. They are showing human-level competence in low-level pattern recognition skills, but at the cognitive level they are merely imitating human intelligence, not engaging deeply and creatively, says Michael I. Jordan, a leading researcher in AI and machine learning. Jordan is a professor in the department of electrical engineering and computer science, and the department of statistics, at the University of California, Berkeley.

He notes that the imitation of human thinking is not the sole goal of machine learning—the engineering field that underlies recent progress in AI—or even the best goal. Instead, machine learning can serve to augment human intelligence, via painstaking analysis of large data sets in much the way that a search engine augments human knowledge by organizing the Web. Machine learning also can provide new services to humans in domains such as health care, commerce, and transportation, by bringing together information found in multiple data sets, finding patterns, and proposing new courses of action.

I think this is a important point. Machine learning is an incredible powerful tool, but it is all too often bunched together with artificial intelligence, rather than considered a tool-set in itself, which is used creating artificial intelligence.

There are many uses of machine learning – I have seen it used for fraud detection, document analysis, and even as a tool for creating faster builds and deploys for developers. In the latter case, machine learning was used to figure out what tests needed to run dependent on a number of factors, including what code was edited, the track record of the developer, and the complexity of code. I have yet to come across artificial intelligence being used in a daily setting.

As Michael I. Jordan points out, there are serious considerations to keep in mind, when dealing with machine learning, without having to try to make it into something more grand

“While the science-fiction discussions about AI and super intelligence are fun, they are a distraction,” he says. “There’s not been enough focus on the real problem, which is building planetary-scale machine learning–based systems that actually work, deliver value to humans, and do not amplify inequities.”

The article links to an interesting article by Michael I. Jordan going more into the subject of artificial intelligence being a way off: Artificial Intelligence—The Revolution Hasn’t Happened Yet

This article also gets into the difference between machine learning and artificial intelligence

Most of what is labeled AI today, particularly in the public sphere, is actually machine learning (ML), a term in use for the past several decades. ML is an algorithmic field that blends ideas from statistics, computer science and many other disciplines (see below) to design algorithms that process data, make predictions, and help make decisions. In terms of impact on the real world, ML is the real thing, and not just recently. Indeed, that ML would grow into massive industrial relevance was already clear in the early 1990s, and by the turn of the century forward-looking companies such as Amazon were already using ML throughout their business, solving mission-critical, back-end problems in fraud detection and supply-chain prediction, and building innovative consumer-facing services such as recommendation systems. As datasets and computing resources grew rapidly over the ensuing two decades, it became clear that ML would soon power not only Amazon but essentially any company in which decisions could be tied to large-scale data. New business models would emerge. The phrase ‘data science’ emerged to refer to this phenomenon, reflecting both the need of ML algorithms experts to partner with database and distributed-systems experts to build scalable, robust ML systems, as well as reflecting the larger social and environmental scope of the resulting systems.This confluence of ideas and technology trends has been rebranded as ‘AI’ over the past few years. This rebranding deserves some scrutiny.

Historically, the phrase “artificial intelligence” was coined in the late 1950s to refer to the heady aspiration of realizing in software and hardware an entity possessing human-level intelligence. I will use the phrase “human-imitative AI” to refer to this aspiration, emphasizing the notion that the artificially-intelligent entity should seem to be one of us, if not physically then at least mentally (whatever that might mean). This was largely an academic enterprise. While related academic fields such as operations research, statistics, pattern recognition, information theory, and control theory already existed, and often took inspiration from human or animal behavior, these fields were arguably focused on low-level signals and decisions. The ability of, say, a squirrel to perceive the three-dimensional structure of the forest it lives in, and to leap among its branches, was inspirational to these fields. AI was meant to focus on something different: the high-level or cognitive capability of humans to reason and to think. Sixty years later, however, high-level reasoning and thought remain elusive. The developments now being called AI arose mostly in the engineering fields associated with low-level pattern recognition and movement control, as well as in the field of statistics, the discipline focused on finding patterns in data and on making well-founded predictions, tests of hypotheses, and decisions.

Lazy linking – the non-binary and trans edition

In several countries we are seeing a harsh pushback on the rights of trans- and non-binary people. This pushback has created a weird coalition between certain groups of feminists (often referred to a TERFs, which might not be entirely appropriate, as the might not be radical feminists) and right-winged groups and politicians. In the UK it seems like the TERFs are leading the battle, while in the US it is mostly the GOP.

As a counterweight to all the propaganda and lies from these groups, I want to link to some podcasts and articles which are supporting the rights of trans- and non-binary people.

First of, I want to link to The Owen Jones Podcast episode 58 in which he talks with Jim Sterling, who has come out recently as non-binary. Jim Stirling articulates well how the lack of visibility affected them growing up, and allowed Jim to become an adult who did not realize that there was a possibility beyond the binary view of gender. I found it moving to hear how becoming non-binary has made Jim enjoy living, which was a drastic difference from before, where life was just something Jim went through.

The Serious Inquiries Only podcast has made two episodes (episode one, episode two) debunking the vile and dangerous book of lies The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity in Our Society by Debra Soh. Dr. Lindsey Osterman read through the book, and spent the episodes explaining how Debra Soh not only misrepresents the science, but also the current state of treatment of transgender youth, and the stance of people supporting them.

An interesting July 2020 study, Defending the Sex/Gender Binary: The Role of Gender Identification and Need for Closure by Morgenroth et al, is well worth reading since it gives us a glimpse of understanding the pushback against a non-binary view of sexes.

In the Western world, gender/sex is traditionally viewed as binary, with people falling into one of two categories: male or female. This view of gender/sex has started to change, triggering some resistance. This research investigates psychological mechanisms underlying that resistance. Study 1 (N=489, UK) explored the role of individual gender identification in defence of, and attempts to reinforce, the gender/sex binary. Study 2 (N=415, Sweden) further considered the role of individual differences in need for closure. Both gender identification and need for closure were associated with binary views of gender/sex, prejudice against non-binary people, and opposition to the use of gender-neutral pronouns. Policies that aim to abolish gender/sex categories, but not to policies that advocate for a third gender/sex category, were seen as particularly unfair among people high in gender identification. These findings are an important step in understanding the psychology of resistance to change around binary systems of gender/sex.

If you know a genderfluid, transgender or non-binary youth, and want to support them, the Trevor Project provides A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth

Book review: The Patient Assassin

On 13 March 1940, Udham Singh shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India. This was done in revenge of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Anita Anand’s The Patient Assassin, A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge and the Raj from 2019 tells the tale of what happened during the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and how it led to Udham Singh’s life mission of taking revenge on the men responsible for the massacre.

Anita Anand not only covers the massacre and the assassination, but also explains the environment that allowed the massacre to happen in the first place, gives us a glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of the men responsible, while walking the tightrope of not dismissing their monstrous actions, but at the same time allowing us to understand how they could have acted the way they did. The majority of the book, however, is dedicated to Udham Singh and his life, both before the massacre, and after the massacre, tracing his movement across the globe, until that fateful day in 1940. It also covers the trial after the assassination.

The book paints a nuanced and as detailed a picture of Udham Singh as is possible. Udham Singh was in many ways a deeply flawed man, who did a lot of harm to a lot of people on his way to his revenge. This is covered, as is his work towards an independent India, and even his interactions with local Indian populations in England and the US. It gives us a glimpse into the man, and not just the assassin that the English saw, nor just the martyr-hero, honored in his home country after his death, and especially after their independence.

I highly recommend this book, as an introduction to how the British Raj treated the Indians, and how the Indian independence movement became a geo-political tool for the different countries (including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union) in their political maneuvering, as well as a historical account of both the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the life of Udham Singh. It also gives a glimpse into how Indians were treated in England and the US in the twenties and thirties.

I first became aware of the book through the HistoryExtra podcasts episode about the book.

 

 

Ancient DNA just became older

Most science news in recent days have been focused on the Perseverance Mars Rover and its landing on Mars. However, that is not the only major science news in recent days. We have also had the publication of the news about million years old mammoth DNA being sequenced.

The Guardian reports on this: Million-year-old mammoth genomes set record for ancient DNA

Teeth from mammoths buried in the Siberian permafrost for more than a million years have led to the world’s oldest known DNA being sequenced, according to a study that shines a genetic searchlight on the deep past.

Researchers said the three teeth specimens, one roughly 800,000 years old and two more than a million years old, provided important insights into the giant ice age mammals, including into the ancient heritage of, specifically, the woolly mammoth.

This is really exciting, and will help create a more accurate picture of the lineage of mammoths, as well as expand the possible range for future sequencing. As the Guardian states:

Dalén said new technologies could allow the sequencing of even older DNA from remains found in the permafrost, which dates back 2.6m years.

For a good look behind the science, Patrícia Pečnerová, the Postdoc involved in the research, has written a great write-up: Pushing the limits with million-year-old DNA

The write-up gives an interesting and humorous look behind the scenes, as the starting paragraph clearly shows:

I had low expectations when we went into the lab to extract DNA from samples that based on geological evidence were 600 thousand to 1.2 million years old. At that point of my PhD, I already knew better than to put faith in high-risk/high-gain projects. And attempting to extract DNA older than has ever been done before topped the list of some pretty funky projects that I have been involved in, like trying to retrieve DNA from rocks from the ocean floor. Such efforts rarely yield results and end up in the invisible section of the CV where dreams go to die. My supervisor, Love Dalén, calls it character building.

The article is unfortunately behind a paywall at Nature: Million-year-old DNA sheds light on the genomic history of mammoths

Further reading: Million-year-old DNA provides a glimpse of mammoth evolution (news write-up in Nature)

 

 

Lisa showing her moves

For anyone who follows Blackpink, it is no secret that Lisa is an incredible dancer. She frequently demonstrates her skills during solo dance acts at concerts, and through releasing small dance clips on her own YouTube channel. Two days ago, she released her newest dance clip, this time in the form of a mini movie. Like her other clips, it is choreographed by Cheshir Ha, who really knows how to show case Lisa’s skills.

Cheshir Ha is one of the backup dancers in the clip, but all four of them are choreographers as well as dancers, which probably explains the amazing quality.

Over at her Instagram, Cheshir Ha explains the reasons for the choice of music

I chose this song “Tomboy” because the meaning behind it really spoke to me. Through dance I wanted to express that girls can do what boys can in the 1st half, similarly to general meaning of the word “Tomboy”. Then switch it up for the 2nd half by doing heels to show we can do both. Regardless of gender however, you should feel free to dance and express yourself however you want.

Oh, and if you wonder what impact it would have for a fairly unknown artist to get her song picked for a dance clip like this, then it is massive, if the dancer is Lisa

Judging from Destiny Rogers’ twitter stream, she wasn’t aware that her song was going to be used, so this must have been a mind-blowing experience.

Justin Timberlake facing backlash, apologizes

I am not a particular big fan of Justin Timberlake, to put it mildly. His music is frequently misogynist, and his career has to some degree been at the cost of career of women, such as Janet Jackson.

Now, the documentary Framing Britney Spears has led to a backlash against him, and he has come out and apologized for some of his past behavior.

Justin Timberlake Apologizes to Britney Spears, Janet Jackson: ‘I Know I Failed’

The apology has been long in coming, and seems to be mostly caused by him actually getting some push-back, rather than him reaching the need for apologizing on his own. Having said that, his apology is quite good:

“I’ve seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond. I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right,” Timberlake wrote in his Instagram statement. “I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism.”

Unlike many non-pologies, this is actually a clear admission of guilt – both for actions and inaction. A lot people could learn from this. Still, even the apology is pretty good, the timing shows that it was forced out by the reaction to the documentary about Britney Spears which obviously makes it seem less genuine.

Lazy linking

One of the clear signs that US society doesn’t work probably, is the fact that people have to do fundraisers to cover medical costs and increasingly, to cover basic costs of living. One of the big platforms for these fundraisers, is GoFundMe. Now, the CEO of GoFundMe is speaking out, pointing out that this is wrong

GoFundMe CEO: Hello Congress, Americans need help and we can’t do your job for you

Coronavirus surge of fundraisers on GoFundMe shows why Congress must pass emergency aid for monthly bills, restaurants, small businesses and food.

The opinion piece in USA Today doesn’t tell us anything that most of us didn’t already know, but it is good that a CEO of a company, which is benefiting greatly from the current situation, is speaking out.

The Burger Flipper Who Became a World Expert on the Minimum Wage

As a 16-year-old kid flipping burgers at a Seattle McDonald’s in 1989, Arindrajit Dube was earning the state minimum wage of $3.85 an hour. “I remember feeling privileged that I was going to go on to college, while there were many older workers working at that wage,” he recalls.

He still thinks about the minimum wage, only now it’s from his perch at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he’s possibly the world’s leading authority on its economic effects. Dube’s research is guaranteed to get a bigger audience as Democrats in Congress attempt to make good on President Biden’s pledge to raise the federal wage floor to $15 an hour by 2025.

Intuitively, it makes sense that increasing the minimum wage, would force companies to increase prices, drive down sales, reduce company profit, and will even force companies into closing. Fortunately, as with many things, intuition is wrong in this.

This is for a few reasons:

  • Wages only form a portion of the costs, and the costs can be spread over many items. E.g. in the classic example of a burger joint, the employer sells many burgers per hour, meaning that the price increase per burger will be minimal.
  • Increasing minimum wages will allow people to work fewer hours, and not e.g. two jobs as we see all too often now, thus opening the job market up for more people.
  • It will give minimum wage employees more money to spend, thus increasing the demand on goods.

Yes, there might be companies surviving on the very margins, which can’t increase their sales, which will close, but my guess is that many of those companies already have closed during this pandemic.

Further reading: Home Articles Making the Case for a Higher M… SHARE: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call Making the Case for a Higher Minimum Wage by Arindrajit Dube

Big Tech as an Unnatural Monopoly

Interesting piece by Tim Brennan in the Milken Institute Review, where he takes a look on Big Tech as monopolies, why they defy the current anti-trust laws, and what can actually be done about Big Tech.

Further reading: Rethinking Antitrust by Lawrence J. White (also in the Milken Institute Review)

This COVID-vaccine designer is tackling vaccine hesitancy — in churches and on Twitter

Immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett helped to design the Moderna vaccine. Now she volunteers her time talking about vaccine science with people of colour.

Kizzmekia Corbett’s twitter feed can be found here.

It is a low bar that President Biden has to clear, but I find it so nice that the US now has a president who is willing to thank people for their hard work

 

Tove Ditlevsen

It is always interesting when a local author is discovered by the rest of the world – which appears to be the case of the Danish author Tove Ditlevsen, who has been published to rave reviews in both the UK and USA.

Tove Ditlevsen is not a new author, but is one of those authors in Denmark, that everyone knows, and have read while in school. She committed suicide back in 1976, so it is interesting what has caused her work to suddenly be discovered outside the Nordic countries.

Anyway, here are some of the reviews about her works:

This notorious poet is required reading in Denmark. Her masterpiece is now out in the US. (VOX)

‘The Copenhagen Trilogy,’ a Sublime Set of Memoirs About Growing Up, Writing and Addiction (NY Times)

Tove Ditlevsen: Why it’s time to discover Denmark’s most famous literary outsider (Penguin)

In the Green Rooms excerpt from Dependency (The Paris Review)

Reality Under My Skin (Harper’s)

 

Most of the reviews talk about Tove Ditlevsen’s status in Denmark, but as with all such things, things are not quite as simple as presented. For a more nuanced view of how Tove Ditlevsen’s literary reputation in Denmark, see this twitter thread by Olga Ravn, who is someone who can talk about the subject with authority

I suggest reading the whole thread.

As someone who has grown up in Copenhagen, I have read Tove Ditlevsen’s works in both primary school and in high school. Though I was born around the same time as she died, I could recognize many things from her writing in the city I was a kid in. Now, living in the same neighborhood as she lived in her whole life, there is very little left to recognize. The area has been entirely gentrified over the last 25 years, and while (most of) the buildings are still here, the population and shops are nothing alike to back when she was living here.

This means that Tove Ditlevsen’s works are, for me, a glimpse into the city’s past, reminding me of a time where the population of Copenhagen was less well off, and where well-off families tended to leave the city. Do note that I am not glorifying those times – Copenhagen in the eighties was a long way from being the busy cultural hub that it is today. It was poor, schools and the infrastructure was falling apart, and there was an unhealthy level of pollution – and don’t get me started on how much the quality of food has increased since then.

A side note: Back when I went to school, Tove Ditlevsen was usually referred to working class literature. I wonder if this category is still used, given the fact that the classic working class has to a large degree disappeared.

A decent start

I saw a tweet shortly after the US election results became known, about having the feeling of a background process running in your brain, draining energy, suddenly being shut off. This seems like an apt description, and if that was true after the election, it is even more true after the inauguration ceremony.

Like so many others, Biden wasn’t my first pick, but unlike many others, I didn’t buy into the rhetoric painting him as a Republican lite, since his voting records simply didn’t back this up. I am not claiming that his voting record was far-left, but it was firmly to the left of even the most moderate Republican in recent times.

What did worry me a bit about him, was that he has been part of the political system for so long, that it might be hard for him to fight the urge to compromising, which most politicians develop over time. On the other hand, the fact that he has been part of the political system, also means that he wants to restore it to something not serving the political urges of a would be despot.

Now, Biden has been in power a few days, and I must say that I have been delighted beyond expectation by his actions.

Opening Arguments has gone through Biden’s actions on his first day. They were happy, to put it mildly.

I am looking forward to seeing what Biden will be bringing to the table in the coming period. For an indications of what that might be, I think we could do worse than look at the Biden Promise Tracker created by Politifact.

As an aside, isn’t it great that there are websites tracking promises, rather than lies.