Science

Interesting but worrying too:

The SmartGPA study uses passive sensing data and self-reports from students’ smartphones to understand individual behavioral differences between high and low performers during a single 10-week term. We propose new methods for better understanding study (e.g., study duration) and social (e.g., partying) behavior of a group of undergraduates. We show that there are a number of important behavioral factors automatically inferred from smartphones that significantly correlate with term and cumulative GPA, including time series analysis of activity, conversational interaction, mobility, class attendance, studying, and partying. We propose a simple model based on linear regression with lasso regularization that can accurately predict cumulative GPA. The predicted GPA strongly correlates with the ground truth from students’ transcripts…Our results open the way for novel interventions to improve academic performance.

That is from a new paper by Rui Wang, Gabriella Harariy, Peilin Hao, Xia Zhou, and Andrew T. Campbell (pdf).  Class attendance, by the way, does not predict grades very well.

For the pointers I thank Eric Barker and Dan Gould.

All-robot Japanese hotel

by on July 20, 2015 at 12:37 am in Economics, Science, Travel, Web/Tech | Permalink

robothotel

There is no great stagnation:

The English-speaking receptionist is a vicious-looking dinosaur, and the one speaking Japanese is a female humanoid with blinking lashes.

“If you want to check in, push one,” the dinosaur says.

The visitor punches a button on the desk, and types in information on a touch panel screen.

And so starts your stay.  All or most of the other functions are automated in some manner or another.  This bit is clever:

Another feature of the hotel is the use of facial-recognition technology, instead of the standard electronic keys, by registering the digital image of the guest’s face during check-in.

The reason? Robots are not good at finding keys, if people happen to lose them.

The establishment is called Weird Hotel.  Snacks are delivered by drones, but the robots still cannot make the beds.

You will find additional details here, good photos here, and a room goes for only $73 a night.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Mark Thorson.

The Commuter Graciousness Index, now in its third year, found that graciousness levels rose to 61.3 per cent in 2014, up from 42 per cent the year before. In 2012, the index stood at 38.6 per cent.

The index measures the perceived change in behaviour of commuters on public transport, and looks at three core behaviours: queuing up and giving way to fellow commuters, giving up seats to those who need them more, and moving in to allow more passengers to boardthe bus and train.

…In 2014, the LTA launched five cartoon mascots to promote more gracious behaviour among commuters: Stand-up Stacey, Give-Way Glenda, Move-in Martin, Bag-Down Benny and Hush-Hush Hannah.

They will continue to front the graciousness campaign, the LTA said, with a new three-dimensional look.

The full story is here, via Andrew Jackson.

The real internet of things

by on July 13, 2015 at 1:21 am in Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

From Daniel Miessler:

People are colossally underestimating the Internet of Things. It’s not about alarm clocks that start your coffee maker, or about making more “things” talk to each other on a global network. The IoT will fundamentally alter how humans interact with the physical world, and will ultimately register as more significant than the Internet itself.

The major technical components

  1. Universal Daemonization will give every object (humans, businesses, cars, furniture) a bi-directional digital interface that serves as a representation of itself. These interfaces will broadcast information about the object, as well as provide interaction points for others. Human objects will display their favorite books, where they grew up, etc. for read-only information, and they’ll have /connect interfaces for people to link up professionally, to request a date, or to digitally flirt if within 50 meters, etc. Businesses will have APIs for displaying menus, allergy information if it’s a restaurant, an /entertainment interface so TV channels will change when people walk into a sports bar, and a /climate interface for people to request a temperature increase if they’re cold.

  2. Personal Assistants will consume these services for you, letting you know what you should know about your surroundings based on your preferences, which you’ve either given it explicitly or it’s learned over time. They’ll also interact with the environment on your behalf, based on your preferences, to make the world more to your liking. So they’ll order a water when you sit down to eat at a restaurant, send a coffee request (and payment) to the barista as you walk into your favorite coffee shop, and raise the temperature in any build you walk into because it knows you have a cold.

  3. Digital Reputation will be conveyed for humans through their daemons and federated ID. Through a particular identity tied to our real self, our professional skills, our job history, our buying power, our credit worthiness—will all be continuously updated and validated through a tech layer that works off of karma exchanges with other entities. If you think someone is trustworthy, or you like the work they do, or you found them hilarious during a dinner party, you’ll be able to say this about them in a way that sticks to them (and their daemon) for others to see. It’ll be possible to hide these comments, but most will be discouraged from doing so by social pressure.

  4. Augmented Reality will enable us to see the world with various filters for quality. So if I want to see only funny people around me, I can tell Siri, “Show me the funniest people in the room.”, and 4 people will light up with a green outline. You can do the same for the richest, or the tallest, or the people who grew up in the same city as you. You’ll be able to do the same when looking for the best restaurants or coffee shops as you walk down an unfamiliar street.

I mostly agree…but when?  For the pointer I thank @elbowspeak.

Federal Judge Alex Kozinski (9th circuit) has written a scathing indictment of the US justice system. Kozinski starts out discussing a number of myths such as that eyewitness testimony or forensic evidence is highly reliable. Business Insider gives a quick rundown of this part of the paper but they clearly didn’t read very far because the incendiary material comes later.

Kozinski, writing in part based on his personal experience as a judge, says that prosecutors are too often running roughshod over justice:

…there are disturbing indications that a non-trivial number of prosecutors—and sometimes entire prosecutorial offices— engage in misconduct that seriously undermines the fairness of criminal trials. The misconduct ranges from misleading the jury, to outright lying in court and tacitly acquiescing or actively participating in the presentation of false evidence by police.

Discussing the Ted Stevens case he writes

Did Justice Department lawyers rend their garments and place ashes on their head to mourn this violation of their most fundamental duty of candor and fairness? No way, no how. Instead, the government argued strenuously that its ill-gotten conviction should stand because boys will be boys and the evidence wasn’t material to the case anyway.

…Instead of contrition, what we have seen is Justice Department officials of the highest rank suffering torn glenoid labrums from furiously patting themselves on the back for having “done the right thing.”

Under Imbler v. Pachtman prosecutors have absolute immunity from damages liability from misconduct committed in the course of their work. Kozinski is outraged:

Under Imbler, prosecutors cannot be held liable, no matter how badly they misbehave, for actions such as withholding exculpatory evidence, introducing fabricated evidence, knowingly presenting perjured testimony and bringing charges for which there is no credible evidence. All are immune from liability. A defense lawyer who did any such things (or their equivalents) would soon find himself disbarred and playing house with Bubba. The Imbler majority seemed reassured by the possibility that rogue prosecutors will be subject to other constraints.

…This argument was dubious in 1976 and is absurd today. Who exactly is going to prosecute prosecutors? Despite numerous cases where prosecutors have committed willful misconduct, costing innocent defendants decades of their lives, I am aware of only two who have been criminally prosecuted for it; they spent a total of six days behind bars.

…What kind of signal does this send to young prosecutors who are out to make a name for themselves? I think it signals that they can be as reckless and self-serving as they want, and if they get caught, nothing bad will happen to them. Imbler and Van de Kamp should be overruled. It makes no sense to give police, who often have to act in high pressure situations where their lives may be in danger, only qualified immunity while giving prosecutors absolute immunity. It is a disparity that can only be explained by the fact that prosecutors and judges are all part of the legal profession and it’s natural enough to empathize with people who are just like you. If the Supreme Court won’t overrule Imbler and Van de Kamp, Congress is free to do it by amending 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Read the whole thing, there is a lot more.

Skywatchers hoping to see a shooting star may soon be able to order them on demand.

A group of Japanese scientists say they have a shooting-star secret formula — an undisclosed chemical mixture packed into tiny, inch-wide balls that the team hopes to eject from a satellite to create on-demand meteor showers, AFP reports.

A Japanese start-up company called ALE is partnering with researchers at multiple universities to create the artificial meteor showers, which will cost around $8,100 per meteor for buyers. The researchers said the manufactured meteors would be bright enough to be visible even in areas with light pollution, like Tokyo, assuming clear weather.

The story is here, from Sarah Lewin, and for the pointer I thank Michael Komaransky.

An Abandoned Space Ship

by on July 4, 2015 at 7:32 am in History, Science | Permalink

Russian urban explorer and photographer Ralph Mirebs discovered an enormous, abandoned hangar in Kazakhstan.

Hangar1

Inside were the remains of the Soviet space shuttle program.

Hangar2

More amazing photos from the source here or from a secondary news piece here.

Fewer than 4,000 tigers roam across the Asian continent today, compared to about 100,000 a century ago. But researchers are proposing a new way to protect the big cats: redefine them.

The proposal, published this week in Science Advances, argues current taxonomy of the species is flawed, making global conservation efforts unnecessarily difficult.

There are up to nine commonly accepted subspecies of tigers in the world, three of which are extinct. But the scientists’ analysis, conducted over a course of several years, claims there are really only two tiger subspecies: one found on continental Asia and another from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali.

If the tiger is redefined more broadly, the emphasis can be on saving tigers as a whole, rather than having to treat subpopulations in very particular and sometimes inefficient ways.  Monetary theory enters into this problem as well:

At the heart of the debate is a concept called “taxonomic inflation,” or the massive influx of newly recognized species and subspecies. Some critics blame the trend in part on emerging methods of identifying species through ancestry and not physical traits. Others point to technology that has allowed scientists to distinguish between organisms at the molecular level.

[Nearly 200,000 ‘new’ marine species turn out to be duplicates]

“There are so many species concepts that you could distinguish each population separately,” Wilting said. “Not everything you can distinguish should be its own species.”

That is all from Robert Gebelhoff.

Babbler birds babble non-babble

by on July 2, 2015 at 1:58 pm in Science | Permalink

A study of the chestnut-crowned babbler bird from Australia revealed a method of communicating that has never before been observed in animals.

The bird combines sounds in different combinations to convey meaning.

The findings could help in the understanding of how language evolved in humans, researchers report in the online journal PLOS Biology.

Co-researcher Dr Andy Russell from the University of Exeter said: “It is the first evidence outside of a human that an animal can use the same meaningless sounds in different arrangements to generate new meaning.

“It’s a very basic form of word generation – I’d be amazed if other animals can’t do this too.”

There is more here.  You will find further coverage here.

More on Asteroid Defense

by on July 1, 2015 at 7:25 am in Economics, Science | Permalink

In a very good piece on the risk from asteroids the Washington Post quotes me going all crunchy-granola:

Tabarrok says his hope is that private efforts in space will one day soon focus on mining asteroids for valuable resources. If you have miners and private developers working with asteroids in space, that could inadvertently make it easier to defend the planet against an asteroid collision.

And of course, there is the option that people on Earth could somehow get the motivation to work together, and asteroid defense might ultimately be a reason for unifying the world, says Tabarrok.

“The idea that the whole planet is potentially under threat from an asteroid does make us think that the world is our home, and we’re all in this together – Spaceship Earth, to get a little crunchy granola. And that makes us think a little more about our fellow travelers, our fellow world residents, that we’re all in this together.”

I may have to turn in my hard-headed economist card.

Today is Asteroid Day, the anniversary of the largest asteroid impact in recent history, the June 30, 1908 Siberian Tunguska asteroid strike. The Tunguska asteroid was only about 40 meters in size but the impact was 1000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.

Large asteroid strikes are low-probability, high-death events–so high-death that by some estimates the probability of dying from an asteroid strike is on the same order as dying in an airplane crash. To mark asteroid day, events around the world, including here at the observatory at George Mason University, will discuss asteroids and how we can protect our civilization.

Tyler and I are signatories to the 100X Declaration which reads in part:

There are a million asteroids in our solar system that have the potential to strike Earth and destroy a city, yet we have discovered less than 10,000….

Therefore, we, the undersigned, call for…A rapid hundred-fold acceleration of the discovery and tracking of Near-Earth Asteroids to 100,000 per year within the next ten years.

I am also a contributor to an Indiegogo campaign to develop a planetary defense system–yes, seriously! I don’t expect the campaign to succeed because, as our principles of economics textbook explains, too many people will try to free ride. But perhaps the campaign will generate some needed attention. In the meantime, check out this video on public goods and asteroid defense from our MRU course (as always the videos are free for anyone to use in the classroom.)

By the way, can you identify the easter egg to growing up in the 1980s?

Stephen Curry set a record In May of this year:

It took Reggie Miller 22 games to set an NBA playoff record of 58 three-pointers for the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 playoffs. Now, Stephen Curry has broken that mark in just 13 games.

He is now up in the 80s I believe.  Curry, by the way, is NBA MVP and his team is probably on the verge of winning the Finals.  The three-point strategy seems to be working: for Curry, for the Golden State Warriors, and also for last year’s champions, the San Antonio Spurs.

Yet the three-point shot has been in the NBA since 1979 (!), and for most of those years it was not a dominant weapon.

What took so long?  At first the shot was thought to be a cheesy gimmick.  Players had to master the longer shot, preferably from their earliest training.  Coaches had to figure out three-point strategies, which include rethinking the fast break and different methods of floor spacing and passing; players had to learn those techniques too.  The NBA had to change its rules to encourage more three-pointers (e.g., allowing zone defenses, discouraging isolation plays).  General managers had to realize that Rick Pitino, though perhaps a bad NBA coach, was not a total fool, and that the Phoenix Suns were not a fluke.  People had to ponder the expected value concept a little more carefully.  Line-ups had to be smaller.  And so on.  Most of all, coaches and general managers needed the vision to see how all these pieces could fit together — Arnold Kling’s patterns of sustainable trade and specialization.

In other words, this “technology” has been legal since 1979, yet only recently has it started to come into its own.  (Some teams still haven’t figured out how to use it properly.)  And what a simple technology it is: it involves only placing your feet on a different spot on the floor and then moving your arms and legs in a coordinated (one hopes) motion.  The incentives of money, fame, and sex to get this right have been high from the beginning, and there are plenty of different players and teams in the NBA, not to mention college or even high school ball, to figure it out.  There is plenty of objective data in basketball, most of all when it comes to scoring.

Dell Curry, Stephen’s father, was in his time also known as a three-point shooter in the NBA.  But he didn’t come close to his son’s later three-point performance.

So how long do ordinary scientific inventions need to serve up their fruits?  I am a big fan of Stephen Curry, but in fact his family tale is ultimately a sobering one.

Addendum: Tom Haberstroh fills in the history.

Hybrid reviewing systems

by on June 13, 2015 at 3:03 pm in Science | Permalink

Gabriel Power emails me:

I have not seen anyone discuss this possibility of a hybrid open/classic referee process: Editors approve set of X reviewers (say 300). Then, every submitted paper can be reviewed by any approved reviewer. Editor then considers all reviews. If no review, then editor assigns or desk rejects. Issues: Incentives? Selection bias? Matching author quality with reviewer quality? Conflicts of interest? Pros and cons? I think it is intriguing. Sincerely yours — Gabriel Power

I would stress the goal is not to find the “best” reviewing system.  Rather we are looking to set different reviewing systems in competition with each other.

Laugh Now (while you can)

by on June 8, 2015 at 7:21 am in Science | Permalink

Here’s a video of robots falling over on the first day of Darpa’s 2015 robot challenge, a challenge set up after Japan’s nuclear disaster at Fukushima in order to encourage development of robots capable of navigating a disaster area.

Keep in mind that the first Darpa Grand Challenge for driverless vehicles was held in 2004 and not a single vehicle came to close to finishing the course and most failed within a few hundred metres. Did I mention that was in 2004?

AI Darwin

by on June 6, 2015 at 10:41 am in Science | Permalink

Wired: For the first time ever a computer has managed to develop a new scientific theory using only its artificial intelligence, and with no help from human beings.

Computer scientists and biologists from Tufts University programmed the computer so that it was able to develop a theory independently when it was faced with a scientific problem. The problem they chose was one that has been puzzling biologists for 120 years. The genes of sliced-up flatworms are capable of regenerating in order to form new organisms — this is a long-documented phenomenon, but scientists have been mystified for years over exactly what happens to the cells to make this possible.

The first sentences exaggerates (this is neither the first such discovery nor did the AI have no help from humans) but the discovery of how flatworms regenerate is real and unlike say proofs of the four-color theorem the theory is readily comprehensible to humans:

What the computer discovered was that the process requires three known molecules and two proteins that were previously unknown. This discovery, says Levin, “represents the most comprehensive model of planarian regeneration found to date”.

“One of the most remarkable aspects of the project was that the model it found was not a hopelessly-tangled network that no human could actually understand, but a reasonably simple model that people can readily comprehend,” he adds. All this suggests to me that artificial intelligence can help with every aspect of science, not only data mining but also inference of meaning of the data,”

AddendumOriginal paper and another useful discussion from Popular Mechanics.