Teaching stuff | Faculty of Physics and Mathematics
Why is the regulation of medicine an appropriate comparison? If you swallow a bottle of colored liquid and then you keel over the next day, then you know for sure it was poisonous. It has to be a government, really, that does this. How did you come to write a book about algorithms?
Back in in London, we had these really bad riots in London. Ever since, I have really thought a lot about the point that they made. I wanted to write something that united those three groups. Humans are sloppy and messy and irrational. What is your favorite algorithm?
There is some level of convenience in the way that people commit their crimes, as weird as it sounds to say that. This kind of algorithm has also been used in Egypt to track down where malaria-carrying insects are breeding, who Banksy is based on where his paintings have been found, and where bomb factories are. What is your least favorite algorithm?
It was a joke. These people are complete charlatans. With total junk, technically. What is the most dangerous algorithm? The places we would get our news, and especially our politics, tended to be universal. And what that meant was that when you had a national conversation about an issue, everyone was coming to that conversation with the same information.
What digital ecosystem do you personally live in? Apple, Google, Microsoft?
I tend to be more Apple because I think that they take privacy a bit more seriously. Apple photos are your photos. You keep them. When they do facial and image recognition on them, they use meta-level features of your data. Google on the other hand, totally own your pictures. They can use them to track with their facial recognition software, they can use them for their own experiments. So that is one of. Safari is also slightly more private in terms of the information that can be collected about you compared to Chrome.
Should we own our own data? So just in the same way that you would go to a high street bank to deposit your money, and they take care of it for you and they invest it wisely, and you see some kind of return on that investment, the data banker does that same sort of thing, but for data. It would be someone who operates on behalf of the consumer rather than on behalf of the company. Right now other people are making lots of money on our data.
So much money. I think the one that stands out for me is a company called Palantir, founded by Peter Thiel in Would you ever do 23andme? Not if I could avoid it. Should we try to make algorithms perfect? We should stop thinking about how accurate can you make an algorithm, and how few outliers can you end up having. Instead we should start accepting that algorithms are never going to be perfect.
Stop over-relying on them, and make it so that the very human habit of over-trusting machines is considered at every possible step of the process. Algorithms need to be designed for redress when they inevitably make mistakes. Compas software, which is used in courts, has forced us to quantify our biases. Is this a silver lining of algorithms? These algorithms that are in courtrooms have massive problems with them that re-. But I also am broadly in favor of them for exactly that reason. Humans are really sloppy and messy and irrational. What do you mean when you say that the best algorithms are the ones that take the human into account at every stage?
Essentially, the machine was wearing its uncertainty proudly at all stages. One where the algorithm is in control of the driverless car, and does most of the driving, except in an emergency where a human is required to step in and take over. And yet those are things that actually a computer is really good at. Do we need to develop a brand-new intuition about how to interact with algorithms?
I always think about when the iPhone was developed.
It was about how people really worked. Not just what they said they wanted, but how they really operated, right front and center at every stage of the design process. And how do you build something that is aware of that? But all these systems have drawbacks. For example, they rely on knowing the exact position of the Wi-Fi transmitters involved and need to be logged in to the network so that they can send known signals back and forth. This kind of setup is just too basic to reveal any useful detail about what goes on.
These guys have found a way to see through walls using ambient Wi-Fi signals and an ordinary smartphone. They say the new technique allows an unprecedented invasion of privacy. First some background. If humans were able to see the world as Wi-Fi does, it would seem a bizarre landscape. But despite the widespread transparency, this world would be hard to make sense of.
The distortion, and the way it moves, would be clearly visible through Wi-Fi eyes, even though the other details would be smeared. This crazy Wi-Fi vision would clearly reveal whether anybody was behind a wall and, if so, whether the person was moving. It looks for changes in an ordinary Wi-Fi signal that reveal the presence of humans. They do this by measuring the change in the signal strength as they walk around outside the target building or room.
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In that way, it is possible to number-crunch the position. The researchers say that by walking back and forth a few times outside a room or building, they can reliably locate the transmitter. Provided nothing moves inside the target building, the Wi-Fi signal will be constant. But any small movement changes the signal in a way that is straightforward to measure. Walking around creates large distortions, and even an action like typing creates small changes that a smartphone Wi-Fi receiver can pick up. The team go on to say that they have tested this approach using Nexus 5 and Nexus 6 An-.
Additional transmitters improve the accuracy of the approach. The most promising form of defense seems to be adding noise to the signals; the researchers are hoping to develop this in more detail in future. For the moment, this risk has been largely overlooked. That will need to change quickly.
You have probably never heard of William Kingdon Clif-. He is not in the pantheon of great philosophers — perhaps because his life was cut short at the age of 33 — but I cannot think of anyone whose ideas. This might seem strange given that we are talking about a Victorian Briton whose most.
Everyone would agree that our behaviour is shaped by what we take to be true about the world — which is to say, by what we believe. And if I believe that stealing is wrong, then I will pay for my goods before leaving the store. What we believe is then of tremendous practical importance. False beliefs about physical or social facts lead us into poor habits of action that in the most extreme cases could threaten our survival.
But it is not only our own selfpreservation that is at stake here. As social animals, our agency impacts on those around us, and improper believing puts our fellow humans at risk. I think critics had. If you still believe this is an exaggeration, think about how beliefs fashioned in a cave in Afghanistan lead to acts that ended lives in New York, Paris and London.
And letting ourselves become hosts to these false beliefs is morally wrong because, as we have seen, the error cost for society can be devastating. Yet reality, once. In turn, this enormous pool of stored belief is used by algorithms to make decisions for and about us.
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If there was ever a time when critical thinking was a moral imperative, and credulity a calamitous sin, it is now. Rural areas are conspicuously ignored, as if urbanization will expand inexorably. A lost ar-. We have had a century, at least, of visions of future cities. They come now as greenwashing corporate sales pitches and escapist fantasies. Shorn of its radical edge, cyberpunk has largely become a form of retro-futurist nostalgia. With notable exceptions Afrofuturism is one , the countryside upon which all cities are reliant is largely disregarded.
Developments in motion—including climate change, technological innovations, and their side effects—already point the way to plausible outcomes. Leaving the city behind, initially the Earth looks the same as it has for some time: terraced farms like contour lines on topographic maps, the arterial systems of rivers. Go high enough, and the view would be sub-.
It would look almost peaceful from afar. But not on the ground. The large industrial centers that power fossil-fuel pollution are at risk—the Pearl River Delta is one—but disproportionate consequences are poised to fall upon areas that did little to contribute a Oxfam. Signs of environmental decay are evident even from the skies.
Colossal hulks of glacial ice are dissipating in the Alps, the Himalayas, and the Rockies. What is for now called the Dead Sea is becoming a desert; eventually, it could sprout strange statues of salt. Rusted ships line the ground. The area is being redeveloped into a seabed forest to combat climate change in the region. Australia, for example, long resisted links between climate change and the calamities visited upon the country long after its Angry Summer of India had been a heatdeath forerunner, with much of its population having no access to adequate shelter or air conditioning as the country boiled, resulting in thousands of deaths.
As temperatures rise in countries of temperature complacency, infrastructure will begin to deteriorate.
Electricity demands will cause brownouts, extinguishing the lights and the sight of eclipsed cities from the air. But it will also bring fans to a halt. In a rural setting, the story told from above will be one of absences: herds of animals missing from traditional migration routes and villages lying eerily still and silent. The tower heats molten salt to more than 1, degrees Fahrenheit, which is then used to create steam and generate electricity. Each can power hundreds of thousands of homes and save equal tons of carbon emissions.
Alongside the circles and rectangles of blue solar panels, mistaken by pilots and birds as mirages of water, other geometric shapes are visible. Shaped and colored like the sweep of old radar. They tap deep into ancient aquifers beneath the surface, underground oases used to make the desert bloom, helping to sustain the skyscrapers of the planned wonder-city of Neom in Saudi Arabia.
The blue circles are pivot irrigation systems near the city of As Sulayyil, Saudi Arabia. A central well dispenses water for farming in arid areas. These gigantic clouds of dust blow in from Mongolia, swallowing buildings and streets. A similar plague struck Sydney in — the opaque orange and yellow light it brought inspired the color palette of Blade Runner And in India, the dust waves were so destructive, they left bodies in their wake. China has long been working on a solution.
With the Gobi Desert consuming an alarming amount of grassland well over 1, square miles annually , the Chinese government initiated a forestation plan in meant to last almost a century. Woods and vegetation have been planted as a bulwark to keep the wasteland at bay, to bind the soil and act as a windbreak while hosting an abundance of wildlife. Rows of trees were projected to extend for miles in the plans, and even the dunes were shown bound with grids of desert-hardened greenery. Other nations have followed suit. Deforestation continued elsewhere—legally and illegally, but always in the interest of commerce under the guise of national sovereignty and economic liberalization.
National parks in Southeast Asia and the. Americas might soon be given over for timber, mining, and the production of rubber, palm oil, and soybeans. The former site of the Aral Sea, between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, was catastrophically allowed to dry up in the communist Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature. There, what was once a seabed is newly covered in 4 million hectares of freshly planted Saxaul trees, surrounding the remains of a ship graveyard with rusting landlocked boats.
Those stresses are exacerbated by climate change. Attempts to double food production over the next half century are visible today from the air. The enormous tapestry of plastic greenhouses in Almer? Intensive farming is becoming imperative: Get more from less through hydroponics, LED lights, and biodomes.
While this is ideal for leafy greens, the staple foods that support the global population—rice, wheat, potatoes, and so on—have long remained resistant to growing indoors. Insects as an industrially produced source of protein also remain a hard sell. Life will become more precarious in the meantime. For all the startling advances in technology, humanity remains bound to basic but unsated needs—shelter, food, and most pressing of all, water. Advances in desalination might not keep pace with demand or keep costs low. Violence will likely ensue, as will political upheaval. As you soar over the Tibetan Plateau, the cloud-seeding chambers that the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is constructing would come into view.
Each one would appear marked by a trail of clouds creeping over the land for miles, sown with silver iodide to encourage rainfall. Rumors of weather being used as a future armament have arisen, presumably intended to engineer droughts or deluge. But these are just the beginning. As rural areas deplete further, cities will buckle under the pressure. Much of the waste has already sunk into the depths of the sea, depositing microplastics into the food chain. Skimming over the blacksand beaches of Iceland, you would catch sight of the birch forests cut down by the Vikings a thousand years ago but gradually regaining a foothold on the island.
Signs would be less encouraging farther north, with a sea-ice-free Arctic every summer. A plan by Arizona State University to increase the layers during winter by pumping water onto the existing ice might remain on the drawing board. Exploration for oil and other minerals will not. Autonomous cargo ships, without a human on board, pass silently by one another, Frankensteinlike, borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.
No city is an autarky. For their survival, they rely on the countrysides they conveniently ignore. Humanity has long pushed unsavory essentials outside city boundaries—tanners, abattoirs, garbage dumps,. But the relationship between the city and the country is symbiotic. Just as the urban nervous system extends over countries in terms of communications and transport, the rural reaches into the urban, bringing electricity, harvests, and fresh water, and taking away waste.
For decades, ignoring the destruction of the environment was possible because it took place far from metropolitan centers. A major Living Planet Index study by the World Wildlife Fund highlights the devastation wrought on animals, many of which humans depend on for survival. We no longer have the luxury of turning a blind eye. With climate change, humans are beginning to appreciate that cities are not separate from the environment. Home Teaching Research and Publications.
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