21 February 2008

'Bout time somebody sorted this out

Oxford to Study Faith in God:

University of Oxford researchers will spend nearly $4 million to study why mankind embraces God. The grant to the Ian Ramsey Center [sic] for Science and Religion will bring anthropologists, theologians, philosophers and other academics together for three years to study whether belief in a divine being is a basic part of mankind's makeup.
Here is a summary of the project from the Ramsey Centre. In addition to the areas listed above, there will also be a psychologist on the team, but how come there are no neuroscientists? Evolutionary biologists? It seems like these fields would be kind of relevant.

Just not shaping up to be a great week for CU

First, the Board of Regents votes to accept oil-industry exec Bruce Benson as President of the University of Colorado. Here in Boulder, this move is somewhat unpopular -- from anywhere in town, you can feel a kind of menacing rumbling coming from campus. I assume plans for protests are already underway.

UPDATE: This just in, in a memo from the CU Board of Regents:

The Board of Regents recognizes that this decision is unpopular among some important groups. We believe Mr. Benson will reach out to constituents in the first months of his presidency to build bridges and create partnerships, both inside and outside the university.
That Benson had better be one smooth-talkin' sonnuva gun, I say.

Meanwhile, Max Karson is back again -- locals will remember his name from last year when, as a junior at CU-Boulder, he was arrested, suspended and banned from campus after making 'threatening' remarks about the Virginia Tech shootings. (Wikipedia entry describing several other incidents resulting from Karson's enthusiastic exercising of his First Amendment rights.) The latest news is his 'satirical' anti-Asian column in the Campus Press, which has CU officials stepping all over themselves trying to apologize.

UPDATE: Here is a 2006 article in which Karson explains why he works so hard at being inflammatory.

MEANWHILE, the last surviving faculty member who was fired during CU's McCarthy-era Communist witch-hunt died this week.


08 February 2008

07 February 2008

News: Biofuels STILL not the answer

Recent research supports what tech-savvy enviros have known for awhile now: biofuels have alot going for them -- they're cool, easy to understand, easy to engineer and easily integrated into our current car-addiction -- but they are not particularly green. I'll concede that biofuels might be a necessary stop-gap solution, and might at least help decouple the US from the middle east. Unfortunately, the biofuels bandwagon has all the makings of a great political initiative, for the reasons listed above, and is certainly acting to decrease the sense of urgency around the clean energy issue.

The great thing about the research community, though, is that it consists partly of people who like to optimize current solutions (marginally better biofuels, solar power, etc.) and partly of people who like to invent brand-new solutions that will take decades to be ready for scale-up. From a distance, this transition (from re-engineering old energy sources to adopting all new ones) will probably look very neat, the way things do in history texts, but personally I wouldn't mind sitting out the next 30 years or so, which won't look so smooth up close.

Neurotic robots better at strategy games

Mind Hacks points to some fascinating AI research:

[Researchers] used the popular strategy game Age of Mythology and created four software 'bots' to play the computer which were loosely based on the 'big
' personality traits.

When they compared their successes, the version designed to simulate 'neurotic' personality traits came equal first in number of games won, but was the clear winner when the average time to victory was compared. It was deliberately designed to overestimate the value of current resources and had a tendency to resort to extreme playing styles - tending at times towards aggressive play, and at other times, overly defensive strategies.
Research slides here. So how come a neurotic computer player (as opposed to aggressive, defensive, or normal players) did better vs. a standard rational computer player? I guess if you're a computer playing a computer, any 'element of surprise' works in your favor, even when it sacrifices some of the gains you could win from playing with maximum rationality. As a human playing a 'neurotic' AI script, is there a comparative advantage to being even more neurotic?

Related link: algorithms for winning rock-paper-scissors.

06 February 2008

Microsoft : Google : : Clinton : Obama

Via Wired:

Microsoft employees have donated a total of about $130,000 to Clinton, far more than any of the other six major candidates, according to a searchable database of the political donations at Fundrace, a project of the Huffington Post. At Google, donations favored Obama over the New York senator by $97,771 to $46,610. Yahoo staff also donated more money to Obama's campaign by almost two-thirds.
An interesting stat, if accurate, but possibly not too surprising, since it seems to indicate that employees of the (technologically and culturally) conservative Microsoft support the mainstream, respectable,workhorse candidate, while employees of the (technologically and culturally) progressive Google organization support the more progressive and far-out guy. Another stat reported in the Wired story: the only 'Republican' candidate to receive a sizable chunk of money from any of these three groups was Ron Paul (Microsoft employees lead the charge here too, closely followed by Google employees).

Some excerpts on this:
"I will reaffirm our commitment to basic research, invest in clean energy, combat global warming, create the millions of jobs that I think come from doing both of those, reemphasize math and science education, and ensure that America is training the future innovators of our country. America will once again be the innovation nation." (Clinton, Remarks at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Oct. 2007)

“Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and
let's invest in scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America.” (Obama, Presidential Announcement Speech, Feb. 2007)

"I believe that [universal high-speed internet access] can be best accomplished through deregulation and allowing the free market to work. Federal grants and subsidies will only elevate certain providers while holding back others. If the high-speed Internet access market is allowed to work without interference, fierce competition will drive down prices, as it did with dial-up access. [...] The government has no constitutional authority to interfere in market transactions such as mergers. Legitimate concerns about the abuse of customer privacy should be addressed via private contracts between companies and consumers, with companies being held liable at common law for any breaches of their customer's privacy." (Paul, Cnet interview, Jan. 2008).