Author Archives: wlobb

Descent with Random Modification … Until Now

Bernard,

In line with my self-appointed mission of cleaning up the language of evolutionary science, I offer this.

The current issue of the Skeptic contains a chapter of a book about evolution. The author writes of “[Darwin’s] discovery of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection”. I submit that the correct description is “the theory of evolution by means of descent with random modification”.

I see the concept of “natural selection” as a purely physical layer atop something more fundamental and more important to the theory. Every inanimate and animate thing changes all the time (time == change). Some living individual things prosper more than others in their current environment. The physical earth-water-air-light environment of an individual living thing usually changes relatively slowly, but the living food-family-competitors environment of an individual living thing often changes quickly. Because an individual living thing’s DNA cannot change, individuals must die. These facts drive why living things must evolve or else disappear, but they are mostly independent of how living things evolve. Living lineages evolve (change) only through descent with modification, which Darwin saw and described clearly although without knowing the mechanisms.

Descent with modification has been completely random for billions of years: random flaws in protein replication, and random recombination of genes in sexual reproduction.

But humans can now carry out purposeful, directed evolution, for example by using CRISPR to wipe out malaria by genetically engineering the mosquitoes through which it spreads, or to wipe out Lyme disease by genetically engineering the rodents through which it spreads.

We are at a singularity. Now.

Wayne

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Filed under Biology, Evolution, Natural Science, Uncategorized

What’s Wrong with this Cartoon?

From the New Yorker issue of April 23, 2018, this nicely done cartoon brings a chuckle. But it’s nearly all wrong.

The sun began “working” billions of years ago. The sun would emit the same energy whether or not any planets revolved or revolve around it. The sun’s energy is pure physics, a chance result of the Big Bang.

The sun’s emitted energy slams into this planet, which is a mote or speck in its neighborhood. This planet is a hot coal on the inside, a cold coal at the surface except where the sun beats down on it. Outside of gravity, nearly everything we see and feel on the planet is powered by the sun’s energy. In the background the planet grinds away, floating continents and spewing relatively small amounts of energy out of volcanoes and underwater vents. Life on this planet might have started around those underwater vents, but today it’s driven almost completely by sunlight – i.e. by starlight from the local star.

Our sun relentlessly presses life along. The sun doesn’t know it presses life along and it cannot care that it does. The sun does not support life! Its energy sparks and powers life, crashing into rock and dirt and water and air and other existing life, spiraling up more and more complex life forms, dancing, spinning, pushing – but always blindly, without purpose. One asteroid hit could all but destroy life on this planet. The sun could never notice.

We daily give free ammunition to creationists and intelligent-design advocates by anthropomorphizing our environment and unfolding existence. The sooner we start using accurate, unsentimental language and images to describe and discuss life on this planet, the sooner we will mature as a species and recognize our actual origin and place in the universe – as an unplanned and un-designed means by which this planet and this solar system have happened to emerge into self-awareness. I hope you’ll join me in making that happen.

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Filed under Evolution, Natural Science, Uncategorized

What Is

Your own personal forever-unique DNA has been billions of years in the making.
The probability that your exact DNA could happen to come into existence is all but zero.
The probability that it does exist is 100%. Here you are!
There is a direct unbroken connection from you back to the very first sparks of life on earth.
Contemplate your navel, and its navel, and its navel, …
Contemplate yourself contemplating yourself contemplating…

You are a process, not a thing.
You could not exist unless other humans existed.
Humans could not have existed unless plants existed.
Plants could not have existed unless single-celled photosynthesis existed amidst water and dirt.
You are an unplanned side effect of starlight pushing around sea water and dirt on this planet.

Wind and water and dirt are all unplanned side effects of starlight – sunlight – pouring onto the earth.
You are unable to live on water and dirt. You can live only by consuming other life and oxygen.
You are able to convert other life to energy only through the bacteria in your gut.
You could be seen as bacteria’s way of moving around, a bus for microorganisms.
Microorganism cells comprise 60-90% of the cells in your body and up to 3% of your weight.
Your immune system, outsourced to microorganisms, does not belong to you.
You are a vibrant community of many life forms.

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Filed under Evolution, Uncategorized

AlphaGo Zero Masters Chess in a Few Hours

Bernard,

Having mastered the game of Go over the course of months, Google’s AlphaZero machine-learning AI was supplied the rules of chess and no other information whatsoever about the game. It learned to be a superhuman chess master after 4 hours of playing games against another instance of itself. Later that same day it also mastered Shogi, the Japanese version of chess, which is more difficult than Western chess. More here.

Wayne

 

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Filed under artificial intelligence, Software

Go-ing: Gone

Bernard,

In March 2016 Google’s AlphaGo program defeated one of the top Go players in the world, a breakthrough for so-called artificial intelligence. AlphaGo learned the game starting from records of thousands of Go games played by masters around the world – mostly in Japan, Korea and China – for the past few hundred years.

The latest version of AlphaGo, named AlphaGo Zero, started learning last year with only the rules of Go and no input whatsoever from humanity’s history of the game. Zero learned by playing millions of Go games against another instance of itself, remembering what worked well and what did not. Then it played one hundred games against last year’s AlphaGo. Score: Zero 100 wins, AlphaGo none.

From an article in the MIT Technology Review: “The most striking thing is we don’t need any human data anymore … By not using human data or human expertise, we’ve actually removed the constraints of human knowledge…” [italics added].

Game over, for humans.

Wayne

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Filed under artificial intelligence, Software, Uncategorized

President Trump at the UN, September 19, 2017 – Annotated

President Trump’s statement to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2017, as prepared for delivery.

Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, world leaders, and distinguished delegates: Welcome to New York. It is a profound honor to stand here in my home city, as a representative of the American people, to address the people of the world.

As millions of our citizens continue to suffer the effects of the devastating hurricanes that have struck our country , I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to every leader in this room who has offered assistance and aid. The American people are strong and resilient, and they will emerge from these hardships more determined than ever before.

The devastating hurricanes struck several small countries in the Caribbean but Trump does not even mention those countries. Did the US offer them special aid?

Fortunately, the United States has done very well since Election Day last November 8th . The stock market is at an all-time high — a record. Unemployment is at its lowest level in 16 years, and because of our regulatory and other reforms, we have more people working in the United States today than ever before. Companies are moving back, creating job growth the likes of which our country has not seen in a very long time. And it has just been announced that we will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense.

Fortunately for the US but not necessarily for people in the rest of the world, and why should the rest of the world care?

Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been. For more than 70 years, in times of war and peace, the leaders of nations, movements, and religions have stood before this assembly. Like them, I intend to address some of the very serious threats before us today but also the enormous potential waiting to be unleashed.

Our military has been by far the largest in the world for decades. This comes across as an implicit threat: “and we will not hesitate to use it against anyone who crosses us”.

We live in a time of extraordinary opportunity. Breakthroughs in science, technology, and medicine are curing illnesses and solving problems that prior generations thought impossible to solve.

But each day also brings news of growing dangers that threaten everything we cherish and value. Terrorists and extremists have gathered strength and spread to every region of the planet. Rogue regimes represented in this body not only support terrorists but threaten other nations and their own people with the most destructive weapons known to humanity.

Authority and authoritarian powers seek to collapse the values, the systems, and alliances that prevented conflict and tilted the world toward freedom since World War II.

International criminal networks traffic drugs, weapons, people; force dislocation and mass migration; threaten our borders; and new forms of aggression exploit technology to menace our citizens.

To put it simply, we meet at a time of both of immense promise and great peril. It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights, or let it fall into a valley of disrepair.

We have it in our power, should we so choose, to lift millions from poverty, to help our citizens realize their dreams, and to ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred, and fear.

This institution was founded in the aftermath of two world wars to help shape this better future. It was based on the vision that diverse nations could cooperate to protect their sovereignty, preserve their security, and promote their prosperity.

It was in the same period, exactly 70 years ago, that the United States developed the Marshall Plan to help restore Europe. Those three beautiful pillars — they’re pillars of peace, sovereignty, security, and prosperity.

Three beautiful pillars? I count four.

The Marshall Plan was built on the noble idea that the whole world is safer when nations are strong, independent, and free. As President Truman said in his message to Congress at that time, “Our support of European recovery is in full accord with our support of the United Nations. The success of the United Nations depends upon the independent strength of its members.

The success of the UN depends on ALL its members, not just European ones.

To overcome the perils of the present and to achieve the promise of the future, we must begin with the wisdom of the past. Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.

We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation. This is the beautiful vision of this institution, and this is foundation for cooperation and success.

The UN vision and charter are about relationships AMONG countries, not about what happens inside countries other than for fundamental human rights, and most definitely not about commercial or power interests. Trump explicitly places self-interest before global interest and then claims implicitly in the last sentence that this prioritization is the UN’s “beautiful vision”. It is absolutely NOT. The word “strong” does not occur anywhere in the UN charter.

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Filed under Conflict with Islam, Politics

Arctic Sea Ice Extent: Sprucing up a Chart

Bernard,

This important and useful chart was on the National Snow and Ice Data Center site on August 8, 2017:

But I found it unusually hard to read. Here is my spruced-up version:

No more hard-to-read vertical text. Zero-based, thus enabling one immediately to see how much lower the extent was in 2012 and is projected to be in 2017. Date of measurement prominent in the title area. Labels close to their items, so the eye doesn’t have to travel back and forth to interpret. Percentage of total ocean area on the left axis, as opposed to square km values in the original, for which one would have to know that the Arctic Ocean’s total area is 14m+ square km in order to realize that the ice extent remains nearly 100% at the start of May.

To me, the original’s main errors were 1) not being zero-based, which forces you to imagine the full picture in order to grasp the real meaning, and 2) expressing measured ice area on the left axis instead of % of total Arctic Ocean area, forcing you to look elsewhere to find out how full or empty the Arctic Ocean actually was/is of sea ice. A basic rule of user interface design is, “Don’t Make Me Think!” unnecessarily. That’s the title of my favorite user-interface book, written lightly and gracefully by Steve Krug and well worth a read.

Wayne

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Filed under Climate Change, Environment, Software, Uncategorized