Using nicotine as a cognitive enhancer

For the past few months I’ve been experimenting with nicotine as a nootropic. A nootropic substance is one that improves cognitive function without any harmful effects, and ideally is non addictive and non habit forming. A lot of nootropics do not have hard science backing them up. Nicotine is one of the very few that has scientific literature showing general cognitive benefits.

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Why defeating Trump in 2020 may be really hard

[Crosspost from Facebook]

Currently waves of anti-Trump protests are sweeping the nation, in light of his unethical and likely un-constitutional executive order restricting the safe passage of immigrants and refugees. Since the women’s march on Washington I’ve heard two or three different people now say there is no way Trump will be re-elected in 2020. Everyone who wishes Trump to be defeated should try to cultivate a realistic view on how difficult it might be. Under my current calibration, my 95% confidence interval for Trump winning in 2020 is is 20%-85%. That factors in a ~10% chance he will be impeached. Here’s my thinking: Continue reading

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My AI article for middle schoolers: “Robots and Mechanical Men”

This is a piece I wrote in June, 2015 for “Stony Brook Frontiers Magazine“, a graduate-student run STEM review magazine for middle school students. I had the idea to do an article on AI, as it is a technology that will become pervasive in the next few decades. AI/ machine learning is a good career path for young people, especially as many jobs are susceptible to replacement by AI. 

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Testing out decision trees, AdaBoosted trees, and random forest

Recently I experimented with decision trees for classification, to get a better idea of how they work. First I created some 2 dimensional training data with 2 categories, using sci-kit-learn:

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The AI control problem is more pressing than the consciousness question

A lot of people commented during and after the recent Ethics of AI conference at NYU that we still don’t know what the necessary conditions for consciousness are, and that this problem lingered like an elephant in the room. The implication seemed to be that this problem cast a pale on a lot of the work that was discussed at the conference. One commentator even summarized the conference as a ‘road to nowhere‘ at least partially because of this issue. 

The ‘conditions for consciousness problem’ is critically important, and the reasons for this were articulated especially well by the panelist Susan Schneider. Several important ‘forks in the road’ in the future development of mankind hinge on whether we think the AIs we create are conscious:
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Some subtler problems with Wikipedia articles

Wikipedia has a lot of problems, including some subtle but serious ones that seem difficult to fix without radical changes to how the platform operates.

I’ve watched the growth of Wikipedia since my first edit, which was in 2004. Since then, I’ve accrued 16,044 edits. 10,287 of those were in 2007, when I was very active as an anti-vandalism patroller. Over the years I’ve created 68 pages in total. Wikipedia has always had obvious problems such as vandalism, systemic bias, and link dropping, which are being addressed by a variety of concerted efforts.  Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of more subtle problems with Wikipedia articles, which has caused me to seek out higher quality sources of information. To put it bluntly, Wikipedia articles are just not very well written. They lack logical progression and consistency in their style and level of technical depth. Of course, it’s difficult for the Wikipedia platform to achieve either, since many different authors are constantly adding and subtracting sentences from every article.  Continue reading

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Recursion is slow

Recursion is something that many computer science majors consider elegant. However, in simulation, speed far outweighs how many lines of code are underneath. [That is one reason why physicists still code in Fortran.]

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An introduction to the water structure problem

Although the macroscopic properties of water have been heavily studied, there are things we don’t understand about this ubiquitous substance. In this post, I will provide an introduction to the problem of describing water’s structure. At first glance, the idea of a liquid having structure seems preposterous. Indeed, liquids cannot maintain a structural arrangement of atoms like solids can. Instead, the atoms/molecules tumble past each other in constant state of motion. This allows for the defining property of the liquid state – the ability to fill a container.   Continue reading

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Our Nature Communciations paper – ice-like phonons in liquid water

Our paper, “The hydrogen-bond network of water supports propagating optical phonon-like modes” was published on January 4th in Nature Communications (full open access pdf). A press release about our work has been issued by the Stony Brook Newsroom and picked up by news aggregator Phys.org.

Our work shows that propagating vibrations or phonons can exist in water, just as in ice. The work analyzes both experimental data and the results of extensive molecular dynamics simulations performed with a rigid model (TIP4P/eps), a flexible model (TIP4P/2005f), and an ab-initio based polarizable model (TTM3F). Many of these simulations were performed on the new supercomputing cluster at Stony Brook’s Institute for Advanced Computational Science.

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“Accelerando” by Charles Stross

AccelerandoAccelerando_(book_cover)
by Charles Stross
2006, 415 pg

“There is an intrinsic unknowability about the technological singularity. Most writers leave it safely offstage or invent reasons why it doesn’t happen. Not Charles Stross. Accelerando lives up to its name, and is the most unflinching look into radical optimism I’ve seen.” – Vernor Vinge

During winter break I finally read Accelerando.  I say “finally” because this book was first recommended to me in 2009 at the (now defunct) Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute transhumanism club. Accelerando is notable as being perhaps the first novel to have a storyline which traverses directly through a technological singularity.
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