Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Gary Smith

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Cyborg hologram watching a subway interior 3D rendering

Big Brother Is Watching You (And Trying to Read Your Mind)

Chinese researchers now claim to have developed technology that can read our minds

One of the most popular story lines in the widely acclaimed television show The Good Wife (2009–2016) is when National Security Agency (NSA) techies entertain themselves by eavesdropping on the heroine’s personal life. It clearly resonated with viewers and reinforced the fears of many that the NSA might be listening to their conversations. Indeed, they might be. In 2013 James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, was asked by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden about whether NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper answered, under oath, “No sir, not wittingly.” Clapper had been informed the day before that he would be asked this question and he was offered an opportunity the day…

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Chinese fortune cookies. Cookies with empty blank inside for prediction words. Blue background.

We Love Baseball Because of — Not Despite — Lady Luck

With a big game approaching, emotions run high so let’s heed some statistical realities

As we approach the MLB All-Star Game in Los Angeles on July 19, we can be confident of one thing — most current league leaders will not do as well after the break as they did before it. Baseball broadcaster and National Sportswriter of the Year Peter Gammons was among the first to notice this. He wrote in 1989 that, of those baseball players who hit more than 20 home runs before the All-Star break, 90 percent pegged fewer than 20 after the break. Gammons concluded that there was a “second-half power outage,” perhaps because the sluggers got nervous about the possibility of breaking a home run record. More recently, sports forecaster Max Kaplan made a similar observation, which he…

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Big eye watching a group of people 3D rendering

AI Would Run the World Better Than Humans, Google Research Claims

Don’t believe the headlines: Google’s inhouse game does not show that AI is ready to rule the world

Sixty years ago, conservative provocateur William F. Buckley wrote, “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory, than by the Harvard University faculty.” Buckley was a Yale man, but his barb was not intended to compare Harvard to Yale. He later explained: Not, heaven knows, because I hold lightly the brainpower or knowledge or generosity or even the affability of the Harvard faculty: but because I greatly fear intellectual arrogance, and that is a distinguishing characteristic of the university which refuses to accept any common premise. Now may be the time to update Buckley’s incendiary remarks: I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory, than by a black…

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policewoman holding arrested young woman while her partner talking on portable radio

Can AI Really Predict Crime a Week in Advance? That’s the Claim.

University of Chicago data scientists claim 90% accuracy for their algorithm using past data — but it’s hard to evaluate

The University of Chicago recently announced to great fanfare that, Data and social scientists from the University of Chicago have developed a new algorithm that forecasts crime by learning patterns in time and geographic locations from public data on violent and property crimes. The model can predict future crimes one week in advance with about 90% accuracy. University of Chicago Medical Center, “Algorithm Predicts Crime a Week in Advance, but Reveals Bias in Police Response” at Newswise (June 28, 2022) Many thought immediately of the 2002 movie Minority Report, in which three psychics (“precogs”) visualize murders before they occur, thereby allowing special PreCrime police to arrest would-be assailants before they can commit them. Have these University of Chicago researchers made…

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AI・人工知能

AI: Is Thinking Humanly More Important Than Acting Rationally?

I have documented many examples of GPT-3 AI’s failure to distinguish meaningful from meaningless correlations — and invite readers to contribute their own

The potential power of artificial intelligence (AI) has been touted for more than 60 years though a generally accepted definition is elusive. AI has often been defined in terms of human-like capabilities. In 1960, for example, AI pioneer Herbert Simon, an economics Nobel laureate and Turing Award winner, predicted that “machines will be capable, within twenty years, of doing any work a man can do.” In 1970 Marvin Minsky, also a Turing Award winner, said that, “In from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being.” More recently, in 2015, Mark Zuckerberg said that, “One of our goals for the next five to 10 years is to basically get better…

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Stock Market Management

Some Economic Models are Alluring, Others are Useful

In some markets, prices are affected by market forces and in others, like the job market, they are not

Statistician George Box is credited with the aphorism, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” Unfortunately, as the brilliant economist Ed Leamer, once quipped, “Economists are like artists. They tend to fall in love with their models.” A large part of the art of economics is distinguishing between attractive models and useful models. The traditional bedrock of economics is the demand-and-supply model. Every introductory economics course explains how demand and supply are related to price and how the equilibrium price is where demand is equal to supply. This can be a very useful model for predicting how changes in demand and supply affect prices and trades — if we make the tempting assumption that the market price is equal…

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Positive girl resting on the couch with robot

Turing Tests Are Terribly Misleading

Black box algorithms are now being trusted to approve loans, price insurance, screen job applicants, trade stocks, determine prison sentences, and much more. Is that wise?

In 1950 Alan Turing proposed that the question, “Can machines think?,” be replaced by a test of how well a computer plays the “imitation game.” A man and woman go into separate rooms and respond with typewritten answers to questions that are intended to identify the players, each of whom is trying to persuade the interrogators that they are the other person. Turing proposed that a computer take the part of one of the players and the experiment be deemed a success if the interrogators are no more likely to make a correct identification. There are other versions of the game, some of which were suggested by Turing. The standard Turing test today involves a human and a computer and…

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Inflation, dollar hyperinflation with black background. One dollar bill is sprayed in the hand of a man on a black background. The concept of decreasing purchasing power, inflation.

Will Higher Prices Disarm Russia? It’s Complicated…

The effects of hyperinflation are subtle, but very real

The annual rate of consumer price inflation in Russia was 9% in February and 17% in March. For producer prices, the March number was 27%. Is Russia headed for hyperinflation, with prices increasing at triple-digit rates or more? I don’t know, but it is worth remembering what happens during hyperinflations. Many people believe that higher prices make everyone worse off. This is not true. Buyers pay more, but sellers receive more. One person’s higher price is another’s higher income. If all prices and incomes were to increase by the same amount — say 10 percent — everyone’s real, inflation-adjusted income would be unchanged. The true costs of inflation are more subtle. In practice, within every inflation, some prices increase more…

Man showing tricks with cards

The AI Illusion – State-of-the-Art Chatbots Aren’t What They Seem

GPT-3 is very much like a performance by a good magician

Artificial intelligence is an oxymoron. Despite all the incredible things computers can do, they are still not intelligent in any meaningful sense of the word. Decades ago, AI researchers largely abandoned their quest to build computers that mimic our wondrously flexible human intelligence and instead created algorithms that were useful (i.e., profitable). Despite this understandable detour, some AI enthusiasts market their creations as genuinely intelligent. For example, a few months ago, Blaise Aguera y Arcas, the head of Google’s AI group in Seattle, argued that “statistics do amount to understanding.” As evidence, he cites a few exchanges with Google’s LaMDA chatbot. The examples were impressively coherent but they are still what Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis characterize as “a fluent spouter of bullshit” because computer algorithms…

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Fake gold and silver coins closeup

In It For the Money: The Trump Coin Sham

Beware deceitful memorabilia hawkers who sell cheap mementos, hoping you'll be the fool that helps make them rich

Americans have a seemingly insatiable demand for memorabilia, no matter how cheaply it is made or how cheesy it looks. Some are preparing for their nostalgic years; some think they are making smart investments in collectibles that become more valuable as time passes. The problem with “investing” in collectibles is that an investment’s intrinsic value depends on how much income it generates. Stocks, bonds, rental properties, and profitable businesses all have intrinsic value. Mementos don’t. They rely on the Greater Fool Theory. If fools don’t appear, memento collectors are stuck with cheap and cheesy trinkets. This sobering reality does little to discourage people intoxicated by dreams of riches. For example, the White House Gift Shop sells a large collection of…

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Technical price graph and indicator, red and green candlestick chart on blue theme screen, market volatility, up and down trend. Stock trading, crypto currency background.

Detecting BS Research: If It Seems Too Good to be True…

A recent Wall Street Journal article shows a near-perfect link between inflation and money. But a link that near-perfect raises suspicions

Two Johns Hopkins economists recently wrote a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled, “Jerome Powell Is Wrong. Printing Money Causes Inflation.” Their argument is that Federal Reserve chair Powell is mistaken in his assertions that there is not a close relationship between money and inflation. As evidence, they offer the chart below, showing that the rate of inflation can be predicted almost perfectly from the rate of increase of M2, a broad measure of money. The authors explain: The theory rests on a simple identity, the equation of exchange, which demonstrates the link between the money supply and inflation: MV=Py, where M is the money supply, V is the velocity of money (the speed at which it circulates relative to total spending), P…

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The Brady Bunch – Why Research Should Be Guided By Common Sense

Do our names really influence our choice in profession or the way our lives play out?

The credibility of scientific research is undermined by scientists torturing and mining data in a tenacious search for media-friendly results. Media-friendly findings tend to be entertaining, provocative, and surprising, and there is a good reason why they are surprising – they are wrong. Here is an example from BMJ, a top-tier medical journal. A paper with the alluring title, “The Brady Bunch?,” investigated “nominative determinism,” the idea that our surnames influence our choice of professions. With my name being Smith, I might have been predestined to choose to be a blacksmith or silversmith. That didn’t happen, but a newspaper article did find “a dermatologist called Rash, a rheumatologist named Knee, and a psychiatrist named Couch.” The authors of the BMJ…

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Mirror reflection of pyrite crystal on black background

Fool’s Gold: Even AI Successes Can Be Failures

Large doses of data, math, and computing power do not make a computer intelligent

I recently read this enthusiastic claim by a professional data miner: Twitter is a goldmine of data…. [T]erabytes of data, combined together with complex mathematical models and boisterous computing power, can create insights human beings aren’t capable of producing. The value that big data Analytics provides to a business is intangible and surpassing human capabilities each and every day. Anthony Sistilli, “Twitter Data Mining: A Guide to Big Data Analytics Using Python” at Toptal I was struck by how easily he assumes that large doses of data, math, and computing power make computers smarter than humans. He is hardly alone, but he is badly mistaken. Computer algorithms are really, really good at making mathematical calculations and identifying statistical patterns (what Turing winner Judea Pearl calls “just curve…

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Woman sleep on the bed turns off the alarm clock wake up at the morning, Selective focus.

Get Your 8 (or 5?) Hours of Sleep

Data misrepresentation may win you big gigs, but it makes a bad name for scientists

Matthew Walker is a professor of neuroscience and psychology and founder of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He has become famous for his book and a TED talk promoting the importance of sleep for health and performance. He even got a job at Google as a “sleep scientist.” Walker has a receptive audience because he is entertaining and his arguments make sense. In one of his books, Walker used a graph similar to the figure below to show that a study done by other researchers had found that adolescent athletes who sleep more are less likely to be injured. The figure is compelling, but there are several potential problems. The hours-of-sleep data were based on 112 responses to an online…

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Chatbots: Still Dumb After All These Years

Intelligence is more than statistically appropriate responses

In 1970, Marvin Minsky, recipient of the Turing Award (“the Nobel Prize of Computing”), predicted that within “three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being.”  Fifty-two years later, we’re still waiting. The fundamental roadblock is that, although computer algorithms are really, really good at identifying statistical patterns, they have no way of knowing what these patterns mean because they are confined to MathWorld and never experience the real world. As Richard Feynman famously explained, there is a fundamental difference between labeling things and understanding them: [My father] taught me “See that bird? It’s a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it’s called a halsenflugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling and even…

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Decreasing and increasing graph on chalkboard

The Cult of Statistical Significance — and the Neglect of Oomph

Statistical significance has little meaning when separated from practical importance

A central part of John Maynard Keynes’ explanation of the Great Depression was his assertion that household income affects household spending. When people lose their jobs and income, they cut back on their spending, which causes other people to lose their jobs and their income — propelling the economy downhill. Keynes’ theory was based on logic and common sense. It was later tested empirically with household survey data and with national income data compiled by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Figure 1 shows U.S. after-tax personal income and consumer spending for the years 1929 through 1940. Since income and spending both tend to grow over time along with the population, the data were converted to annual percentage changes. The observed statistical…

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Devastated kitchen in a demolition house

Zillow’s House-Flipping Misadventure

People know more about their homes and neighborhoods than algorithms could possibly know

Zillow has become the largest real estate website in the United States, with detailed data on millions of homes including square footage, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, year built, and price and tax history. If the home is or has been offered for sale or rent, there are also interior and exterior photographs and more. Zillow uses its massive database to provide proprietary computer-generated estimates of market values and rental values. When Zillow went public in 2011, its IPO filing with the SEC boasted that, [O]ur algorithms will automatically generate a new set of valuation rules based on the constantly changing universe of data included in our database. This allows us to provide timely home value information on a massive…

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Confident Businessman Crossing Arms on Front

Fake It ’til You Make It – The Power Pose Parable Part II

Where does p-hacking and the replication crisis leave the state of scientific studies?

Last time, we explored the findings of a 2010 psychological study, which concluded that assuming a “power pose” for two minutes increases testosterone (confidence) and decreases cortisol (stress). But it turned out that p-hacking affected the results of the initial study, and that subsequent studies debunked the “power pose” findings. Dana Carney, the lead author of the original paper, acknowledged the faults of the original study and updated her views “to reflect the evidence.” Today, we explore the implications: Carney’s willingness to acknowledge the p-hacks and to support efforts to redo the power-pose tests is convincing evidence that the p-hacks were well-intentioned. This was how a lot of research was done at the time. Joseph Simmons, Leif Nelson, and Uri…

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He is big boss and has power

Fake It ‘til You Make It — The Power Pose Parable

Why a study "proving" a unique way to boost confidence and reduce stress turned out to be wrong

A 2010 paper published in a top-tier psychology journal advised that “a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful.” The researchers had 42 people assume two positions for one minute each — either high-power poses (sitting in a chair with their feet on a desk and standing with their hands spread on a desk) or low-power poses (sitting in a chair with hands clasped between their legs and standing with their arms and legs crossed). Saliva samples were used to measure the dominance hormone testosterone and the stress hormone cortisol. Risk-taking was gauged by a willingness to take a bet with a 50 percent chance of winning $2 and a 50 percent chance of losing…

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money, piggy bank, finance

Destructing the Creative Destruction Myth

Debunking the argument that the Fortune 100 list is evidence of the productive vitality of capitalism

Joseph Schumpeter argued that capitalist economies are not stagnant and calcified but, instead, by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 1950 He believed that embedded in capitalism is an engine of change that revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 1950 Schumpeter was no doubt influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin had written that the “extinction of old forms is the almost…