The problem with algorithms: magnifying misbehaviour

algorithm, automation, amplification, prejudice, medicine

For one British university, what began as a time-saving exercise ended in disgrace when a computer model set up to streamline its admissions process exposed - and then exacerbated - gender and racial discrimination. As detailed here in the British Medical Journal, staff at St George’s Hospital Medical School decided to write an algorithm that would automate the first round of its admissions process. The formulae used historical patterns in the characteristics of candidates whose applications were traditionally rejected to filter out new candidates whose profiles matched those of the least successful applicants. By 1979 the list of candidates selected by the algorithms was a 90-95% match for those chosen by the selection panel, and in 1982 it was decided that the whole initial stage of the admissions process would be handled by the model. Candidates were assigned a score without their applications having passed a single human pair of eyes, and this score was used to determine whether or not they would be interviewed. Quite aside from the obvious concerns that a student would have upon finding out a computer was rejecting their application, a more disturbing discovery was made. The admissions data that was used to define the model’s outputs showed bias against females and people with non-European-looking names.

John Hagel: Getting Stronger through Stress

Taleb, Hagel, Black Swan, Antifragility, system thinking, design, adaptive systems

In thinking about system design, it’s important to avoid the temptation to develop detailed top down blueprints for systems. Taleb observes that “if about everything top-down fragilizes and blocks antifragility and growth, everything bottom-up thrives under the right amount of stress and disorder.” Nevertheless, there are certain design principles that emerge from Taleb’s work that can help reduce the fragility of the systems we design.

As Weaver correctly remarked: the word information relates not so much to what you do say, as to what you could say. The…

“As Weaver correctly remarked: the word information relates not so much to what you do say, as to what you could say. The mathematical theory of communication deals with the carriers of information, symbols and signals, not with information itself. That is, information is the measure of your freedom of choice when you select a message.”

Floridi, Luciano.Information: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. (viacarvalhais)

Against Transparency

transparency, Lessig, politics, context, complexity

How could anyone be against transparency? Its virtues and its utilities seem so crushingly obvious. But I have increasingly come to worry that there is an error at the core of this unquestioned goodness. We are not thinking critically enough about where and when transparency works, and where and when it may lead to confusion, or to worse. And I fear that the inevitable success of this movement–if pursued alone, without any sensitivity to the full complexity of the idea of perfect openness–will inspire not reform, but disgust. The “naked transparency movement,” as I will call it here, is not going to inspire change. It will simply push any faith in our political system over the cliff.

The Power of the Gini Index

Gini, Gini Coefficient, statistics, inequality, sociometrics, fascism, history

The Gini Coefficient, which can measure inequality in any set of numbers, has been in use for a century, but until recently it rarely left the halls of academia. Its one-number simplicity endeared it to political scientists and economists; its usual subject—economic inequality—made it popular with sociologists and policy makers. The Gini Coefficient has been the sort of workhorse metric that college freshmen learn about in survey courses and some PhD statisticians devote a lifetime to. It’s been so useful, so adaptable, that its strange history has survived only as a footnote: the coefficient was developed in 1912 by Corrado Gini, an Italian sociologist and statistician—who also wrote a paper called “The Scientific Basis of Fascism.”–2013/gini-coefficient-index-poverty-wealth-income-equality–51413/

Mass Black Implosion





Mass Black Implosion

a series of drawings by Marco Fusinato, with scores from Xenakis, Ferrari, Cage, Cromb, Cardew, Feldman, Kagel… etc.

Ethics and Power in the Long War

ethics, power, surveillance, Eleanor Saitta, Dymaxion, hackers, security, intelligence, centralisat

So, hacker culture is kind of at a crossroads. For a long time it was totally cool that, you know what, I don’t really want to be political, because I just like to reverse code and it’s a lot of fun, and I don’t really have time for politics cause I spend thirteen hours a day looking at Shell code and socialism takes too long. That was great for a while, but we don’t get to be apolitical anymore. Because If you’re doing security work, if you’re doing development work and you are apolitical, then you are aiding the existing centralizing structure. If you’re doing security work and you are apolitical, you are almost certainly working for an organization that exists in a great part to prop up existing companies and existing power structures. Who here has worked for a a security consultancy? Not that many people, ok. I don’t know anybody who has worked for a security consultancy where that consultancy has not done work for someone in the defense industry. There are probably a few, and I guarantee you that those consultancies that have done no work that is defense industry related, have taken an active political position, that we will not touch anything that is remotely fishy. If you’re apolitical, you’re aiding the enemy.

The story of Yugoslavia’s DIY computer revolution (Računari u vašoj kući)

computing, DIY, Yugoslavia, Galaksija, 1980s, radio, home computing, Računari u vašoj kući

In Yugoslavia in the 1980s, computers were a rare luxury. A ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 could easily cost a month’s salary, and that’s if you could even get through the tough importation laws. Then in 1983, while on holiday in Risan, Voja Antonić dreamt up plans for a new computer, a people’s machine that could be built at home for a fraction of the cost of foreign imports. The Galaksija was born, and with it a computer revolution.–07–30-the-story-of-yugoslavias-diy-computer-revolution

Local Anti-Drone Activism Begins: ‘If They Fly in Town, We Will Shoot Them Down’


Local Anti-Drone Activism Begins: ‘If They Fly in Town, We Will Shoot Them Down’

Charles Krauthammer once predicted that the first American to shoot down a domestic drone would be a folk hero. Phillip Steele, a resident of Deer Trail, Colorado, wants to enable that hero. As the FAA loosens regulations on domestic drone use, Steele has submitted an ordinance to his town’s board of trustees that would create America’s most unusual hunting license: It would permit hunting drones and confer a bounty for every one brought down. Only 12-gauge shotguns could be used as weapons, so the drones would have a sporting chance.

Wouldn’t the hunters be breaking federal law?

Of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if the feds are already watching Steele as a result of his rabble-rousing. But he isn’t dumb. “This is a very symbolic ordinance,“ he told a local TV station. “Basically, I do not believe in the idea of a surveillance society, and I believe we are heading that way …. It’s asserting our right and drawing a line in the sand.” Actually, it’s more like drawing a line in the clouds. But you get the idea.

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

9 Basic Principles of Biomimicry


9 Basic Principles of Biomimicry

  1. Nature runs on sunlight.
  2. Nature uses only the energy it needs.
  3. Nature fits form to function.
  4. Nature recycles everything.
  5. Nature rewards cooperation.
  6. Nature banks on diversity.
  7. Nature demands local expertise.
  8. Nature curbs excesses from within.
  9. Nature taps the power of limits. 

Hillbilly Tracking of Low Earth Orbit Satellites

satellite, communication, networks, tracking, DIY, Travis Goodspeed

In this article, I’ll demonstrate a method for modifying a naval telecommunications dish to track moving targets in the sky, such as those in Low Earth Orbit. My dish happily sits in Tennessee, while I direct it using my laptop or cellphone here in Europe. It can also run unattended, tracking moving targets and looking for downlink channels.

Neuroscience: Idle minds

nature, neuroscience, resting state, doing nothing, unconscious, mind

Resting-state activity is important, if the amount of energy devoted to it is any indication. Blood flow to the brain during rest is typically just 5–10% lower than during task-based experiments1. And studying the brain at rest should help to show how the active brain works. Research on resting-state networks is helping to map the brain’s intrinsic connections by showing, for example, which areas of the brain prefer to talk to which other areas, and how those patterns might differ in disease.–1.11440

Chinese Cuisine Patterns Revealed By Food Network Analysis

food, cuisine, regionality, locality, flavour, open sauces

Regional cuisines often differ substantially in their cooking methods, their food preparation and above all their ingredients. But they can also be closely related. So here’s an interesting question: what factors determine the links between regional cuisines?

Geography and similarity of regional cuisines in China

food, china, cuisine, food network, data analysis

Food occupies a central position in every culture and it is therefore of great interest to understand the evolution of food culture. The advent of the World Wide Web and online recipe repositories has begun to provide unprecedented opportunities for data-driven, quantitative study of food culture. Here we harness an online database documenting recipes from various Chinese regional cuisines and investigate the similarity of regional cuisines in terms of geography and climate. We found that the geographical proximity, rather than climate proximity is a crucial factor that determines the similarity of regional cuisines. We develop a model of regional cuisine evolution that provides helpful clues to understand the evolution of cuisines and cultures.

Flavor network and the principles of food pairing

network analysis, food pairing, flavour pairing, food, cuisine, open sauces, research

The cultural diversity of culinary practice, as illustrated by the variety of regional cuisines, raises the question of whether there are any general patterns that determine the ingredient combinations used in food today or principles that transcend individual tastes and recipes. We introduce a flavor network that captures the flavor compounds shared by culinary ingredients. Western cuisines show a tendency to use ingredient pairs that share many flavor compounds, supporting the so-called food pairing hypothesis. By contrast, East Asian cuisines tend to avoid compound sharing ingredients. Given the increasing availability of information on food preparation, our data-driven investigation opens new avenues towards a systematic understanding of culinary practice.

The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Supplements

heath, food, supliments, Linus Pauling, vitamins, cancer, flu, science

Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements. What few people realize, however, is that their fascination with vitamins can be traced back to one man. A man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world’s greatest quack.

On the Empire of the Ants

ants, communication, language, science

Science is an exercise in curiosity about nature. It is a process. It sometimes involves complex and costly apparatus, or the resources of giant institutes. Sometimes it involves looking at ants in an ant farm, and knowing some clever math. Many people are gobsmacked by the technological gizmos used to do science. They think the giant S&M dungeons of tokomaks and synchro-cyclotrons are science. Those aren’t science; they’re tools. The end product; the insights into nature -that is what is important. Professors Ryabko and Reznikova did something a kid could understand the implications of, but no kid could actually do. The fact that they did it at all indicates they have the child-like curiosity and love for nature that is the true spirit of scientific enquiry.

Into The Deep : Sixty-Four Days

pronunciationbook, numbers

The Story So Far 77: “Something is going to happen in 77 days.” 76: “I’ve been trying to tell you something for 1,183 days.” 75: “I’m awake now. Things are clearing up. I’m not saying the words anymore.” 74: “I’ve got a minute, let me tell you what I think is going on.” 73: “Tension between the districts has spiked in the last few months.” 72: “You can see it in the markets. Everyone’s ready for a storm.” 71: “They’re singing a new song in the streets of the zone.” 70: “I have plenty of information to keep me company.” 69: “No one is ready. He watches the market.” 68: “I’m not talking about a disaster, I’m talking about a love triangle.” 67: “We fell into the jungle for a summer of dollar/duller crime.” 66: “We were young heroes, gorgeous liars.” 65: “Turn off the lights and drink a cold glass of water.” 64: “No one is singing, everyday’s the same.”

Into The Deep : Theories

pronunciationbook, numbers, 77 days

As you can see the theories regarding PB are very varied but in other ways connected to each other. The theories that have stood out to me the most out of all of them is the theory of a larger Snowden conspiracy and some sort of long planned attack, both of which could be incredibly important as well as damaging. References to video games have also been made along the way in a number of videos which I will also cover later. As well as this I will write another post later on the Countdown Site as a whole, and it’s connections to PB and the rumoured “Elixir of Life”.

Three Seconds: Poems, Cubes and the Brain

time, perception, medecine, neurophysiology, Jalees Rehman, Ernst Pöppel

The central, unifying theme of the institute was time. Not physical time, but biological and psychological time. How does our brain perceive physical time? What is the structure of perceived time? What regulates biological oscillations in humans, animals and even algae? Can environmental cues modify temporal perception? The close proximity of so many disciplines made for fascinating coffee-break discussions, forcing us to re-evaluate our own research findings in the light of the discoveries made in neighboring labs and inspired us to become more creative in our experimental design.

Three Modes of Knowing

knowledge, explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge, episodic knowledge, epistemology, Ernst Poeppel

Human knowledge expresses itself in three different modes, i.e. as explicit, semantic or verbal knowledge, as implicit, tacit or intuitive knowledge, and as visual, pictorial or episodic knowledge. To refer to knowledge only as „explicit knowledge“ would neglect the other modes of knowledge that are of equal importance for higher cognition. Unifying frames of the different modes of knowledge are the aesthetiic principle on a formal level and the mimetic principle on the level of reference.

“Jason D. Padgett is a number theorist with Acquired Savant Syndrome. The beauty of numbers and their connection to the pure…


Jason D. Padgett is a number theorist with Acquired Savant Syndrome. The beauty of numbers and their connection to the pure geometry of space time and the universe is shown in his fractal diagrams. He is currently studying how all fractals arise from limits and how E=MC2 is itself a fractal. His drawing of E=MC^2 is based on the structure of space time at the quantum level and is based on the concept that there is a physical limit to observation which is the Planck length. It shows how at the smallest level, the structure of space time is a fractal. All are HAND DRAWN using only a pencil, ruler and compass. "

Bruce Sterling: “From Beyond the Coming Age of Networked Matter,” a short story

bruce sterling, fiction, networked matter, eldridtch horrors, spacetime, bees, dark matter, dark e

Then from some dreadful tagged spot in geolocative extradimensionality came a seething, writhing cavalcade of immaterial shapes. These were the ghastly, tentacular exudations of a Dark Energy force in the universe—the multiplex arms of a face-sucking vampire squid, the dark lord of the mayhem around us that withered every mortal thing it could touch.

There was probably something more to this account than just someone being arty on Soundcloud…

“There was probably something more to this account than just someone being arty on Soundcloud, and it clearly had something to do with experimenting with some deeper-level synthesis software… But so fragmentary and surreal were the leavings on the page that it even crossed my mind that an artificial intelligence of some kind might be wholly or partly behind it, an unpersuasive spambot gone amok like the celebrated Twitter account @horse_ebooks. Perhaps assuming someone is a spambot is the 21st century equivalent of assuming, as in Jandek’s case, that someone has a mental illness.”

My favourite musicologistAdam Harper writing forElectronic Beatsmentions the emergence of bot-like Soundcloud accounts, and the mystery and aesthetic appreciation of that approach to making and sharing music. In this quote he is referring to the music ofPepsi 7up. (viaalgopop)

As the German evolutionist Gustav Jager argued in 1869, religion can be seen as “a weapon in the [Darwinian] struggle for…

“As the German evolutionist Gustav Jager argued in 1869, religion can be seen as “a weapon in the [Darwinian] struggle for survival.” As Jager’s language suggests, none of this should be construed to suggest that religion is—on the whole—a good thing. There are good things about religion, including the way its ethical teachings bind people into more harmonious collectives. But there is an obvious dark side to religion, too: the way it is so readily weaponized. Religion draws coreligionists together, and it drives those of different faiths apart.”

Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal, How Stories Make Us Human. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. (viacarvalhais)

Three trends that will create demand for an Unconditional Basic Income

Simulacrum, economics, living wage, basic income, Unconditional Basic Income

The digitization of our economy will bring with it a new generation of radical economic ideologies, of which Bitcoin is arguably the first. For those with assets, technological savvy, and a sense of adventure, the state is the enemy and a cryptographic currency is the solution. But for those more focused on the decline of the middle classes, the collapse of the entry-level jobs market, and the rise of free culture, the state is an ally, and the solution might look something like an unconditional basic income. Before I explain why this concept is going to be creeping into the political debate across the developed world, let me spell out how a system like this would look

On Machiavelli

Machiavelli, politics, history, morality, italy, 1400s

The conventional view of Machiavelli is as an unscrupulous amoralist, for whom, as Alasdair MacIntyre argues, the only ends of social and political life ‘are the attainment and holding down of power’. Moral rules are merely ‘technical rules about the means to these ends’. Because Machiavelli viewed all humans as inherently corrupt, so ‘we may break a promise or violate an agreement at any time if it is in our own interests to do so, for the presumption is that, since all men are wicked, those with whom you have contracted may at any time break their promises if it is in their interest.’