Science

Is your car’s engine noise a lie?

by on January 22, 2015 at 1:48 am in Economics, Science | Permalink

Stomp on the gas in a new Ford Mustang or F-150 and you’ll hear a meaty, throaty rumble — the same style roar that Americans have associated with auto power and performance for decades.

It’s a sham. The engine growl in some of America’s best-selling cars and trucks is actually a finely tuned bit of lip-syncing, boosted through special pipes or digitally faked altogether…

Fake engine noise has become one of the auto industry’s dirty little secrets, with automakers from BMW to Volkswagen turning to a sound-boosting bag of tricks. Without them, today’s more fuel-efficient engines would sound far quieter and, automakers worry, seemingly less powerful, potentially pushing buyers away.

There is more here, from Drew Harwell.

The actual title is “Decision-Making under the Gambler’s Fallacy” (pdf) and the authors are daniel Chen, Tobias J. Moskowitz, and Kelly Shue.  Here is one short bit from what is more generally a very interesting paper:

We test our hypothesis in three high-stakes settings: refugee court asylum decisions in the US, a field experiment by Cole et al. (2013) in which experienced loan officers in India review real small-business loan applications in an experimentally controlled environment, and umpire calls of pitches in Major League Baseball games. In each setting, we show that the ordering of cases is likely to be conditionally random. However, decisions are significantly negatively autocorrelated. We estimate that up to 5 percent of decisions are reversed due to the gambler’s fallacy.

To make that more concrete, if a baseball umpire first calls a ball, the next pitch he is more likely to then call a strike.  Of course this may plague your paper refereeing decisions, whether or not you finish your next book, and your dating life.

The original pointer was from Cass Sunstein on Twitter.

That is a new (early 2014) and excellent book by Elaine Scarry, the subtitle is Choosing Between Democracy and Doom.  Here is one good sentence:

…the British government arranged a secure fallout shelter for 200 leading officials, it neglected to include the queen in its plans…

Here is a more thematic sentence:

The impossibility of “governing” nuclear weapons emerges across many pages of this book.

Recommended, and consistent with my long held view that the production of nuclear weapons represented one of the most fundamental revisions of the U.S. Constitution.  The discussion of nuclear submarines, and how hard it can be to send them revised orders, is both fascinating and scary.

Here is a bit more on the poker story Tyler mentioned yesterday.

An important variant of poker, heads-up limit hold’em (HULHE), has been essentially solved–meaning that a computer can now play the game so well that it wouldn’t lose much and might even win against a theoretically perfect player over a lifetime of play. Solving the game required new algorithms and significant computational power.

HULHE has 3.16 × 1017 possible states the game can reach, making it larger than Connect Four and smaller than checkers. However, because HULHE is an imperfect-information game, many of these states cannot be distinguished by the acting player, as they involve information about unseen past events (i.e., private cards dealt to the opponent). As a result, the game has 3.19 × 1014 decision points where a player is required to make a decision….There are two challenges for established CFR variants to handle games at this scale: memory and computation.

The solution supports some conventional strategies but also contains new insights:

Human players have disagreed about whether it may be desirable to “limp” (i.e., call as the very first action rather than raise) with certain hands. Conventional wisdom is that limping forgoes the opportunity to provoke an immediate fold by the opponent, and so raising is preferred. Our solution emphatically agrees (see the absence of blue in Fig. 4A). The strategy limps just 0.06% of the time and with no hand more than 0.5%. In other situations, the strategy gives insights beyond conventional wisdom, indicating areas where humans might improve. The strategy almost never “caps” (i.e., makes the final allowed raise) in the first round as the dealer, whereas some strong human players cap the betting with a wide range of hands. Even when holding the strongest hand—a pair of aces—the strategy caps the betting less than 0.01% of the time, and the hand most likely to cap is a pair of twos, with probability 0.06%. Perhaps more important, the strategy chooses to play (i.e., not fold) a broader range of hands as the nondealer than most human players (see the relatively small amount of red in Fig. 4B). It is also much more likely to re-raise when holding a low-rank pair (such as threes or fours) (44).

Why is this important? The only previous games of any difficulty that have been solved are perfect information games–games where each player knows everything that has previously happened. Tic-tac-toe and chess are perfect information games because everything that has happened is summarized in the state of the board. In imperfect games there is hidden information, such as in card games where the opposing players cards are hidden.

It’s clear that most games in the real world (and that includes “games” of nuclear strategy, bargaining, and detection and monitoring) are imperfect information games. Even though the sample space for HULHE is very large it’s smaller than these real world strategy games (and smaller than other forms of poker). Nevertheless, it’s clear that people are “solving” the real world games not by working through the sample space but by pruning it. A combination of search and heuristic pruning in the perfect information game of chess has already produced computers that are better than any human player. What the solution to this relatively small and somewhat unimportant imperfect information game indicates is that the computers are soon going to be better than you and I at the “human” capabilities of threat, bluff and deception.

The method, which extracts drugs from bacteria that live in dirt, has yielded a powerful new antibiotic, researchers reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday. The new drug, teixobactin, was tested in mice and easily cured severe infections, with no side effects.

Better still, the researchers said, the drug works in a way that makes it very unlikely that bacteria will become resistant to it. And the method developed to produce the drug has the potential to unlock a trove of natural compounds to fight infections and cancer — molecules that were previously beyond scientists’ reach because the microbes that produce them could not be grown in the laboratory.

Studies on people will start in about two years, the NYT article is here.  Here is the underlying Nature article.

Alternatively, here is a claim that James Harden is the future of basketball.

I thank numerous MR readers for related pointers.

…”the internet is now a major driver of the growth of cognitive inequality.” Or in simpler terms, “the internet makes dumb people dumber and smart people smarter.”

The post is here, Kevin’s earlier post on that theme is here.

Here is the final paragraph from a recent MRI paper by Farrow, Burgess, Wilkinson, and Hunter, “Neural correlates of self-deception and impression-management“:

Taken together, one appealing ‘pop-psychology’  interpretation of these results would be that being excessively honest with ourselves (‘faking bad’ at self-deception) is our least indulged in pursuit while giving out the best possible image of ourselves to other (‘faking good’ at impression-management) is a behaviour with which we are much more familiar and practised.

From the abstract you can read that “Our neuroimaging data suggest that manipulating self-deception and impression-management…engages a common network…”

Robin Hanson has suggested related hypotheses in the past.  Caveat emptor, for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

The polity that is Singapore

by on December 23, 2014 at 7:50 am in Current Affairs, Law, Science | Permalink

The city-state will open one of its neighborhoods to driverless cars in 2015…

Combined with a version of Uber it would seem, there is more here.

“Digital preservation is really just an oxymoron at this point,” says Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive. “It’s really just putting plus and minus electronic charges on plastic — and that plastic has an extremely short half-life. So that most digital media, even if you take it and store it correctly, is probably not going to last more than eight or ten, maybe 15 years.” By contrast, with 35mm film, “we just need to put it into a cold, dark, dry place, pay the electricity bill, and it will last for 500 to a thousand years.”

In one of the most famous examples of the perils of digital preservation, when the makers of Toy Story attempted to put their film out on DVD a few years after its release, they discovered that much of the original digital files of the film — as much as a fifth — had been corrupted. They wound up having to use a film print for the DVD.

From Bilge Ebiri, there is more here.

Printing Cancer Killing Viruses

by on December 19, 2014 at 4:50 am in Economics, Science | Permalink

Cell biologist Andrew Hessel of Autodesk is designing viruses in software to attack a specific individual’s cancer and then using DNA Printers to create the viruses as a drug. Here from an interview with New Scientist (gated).

It’s really about making a specific medicine tailored to one person–“N-of-1″ medicine–rather than try to make it a best fit for a whole population. My vision is to create a personalized treatment that can be made in a day by printing bespoke cancer-fighting viruses.

I’m not fully convinced by his economic model but it may be useful as a vision-goal:

I see the business model shifting away from the blockbuster-drug model of the pharma industry–getting the best product for the most people and charging the most for it–to more of a Netflix model, in which you might purchase a subscription for all-that-you-need medicine to manage your cancer.

…I’m pretty sure I can get the virus printing costs down to a dollar a dose. The virus itself is designed by algorithms using diagnostic data from the patient. That info is put into a program that will design the cancer-fighting virus, so the cost of design is cheap. Then there’s testing, and there is no simpler test than on the patient’s own cancer cells in a dish. So that whole process should cost less than $100 end-to-end. If you are on a cancer subscription model paying $100 a month, I see that as ultimately profitable.

Hessel is also far too sanguine about the FDA who he thinks will allow this under “compassionate use.” No way – not today when the FDA prohibits 23andMe from even providing information about DNA and its probable consequences, see my post Our DNA, Our Selves. To make this a reality we will need scientific breakthroughs and also A New FDA for the Age of Personalized Medicine.

In particular, about 57% of the papers accepted by the first committee were rejected by the second one and vice versa. In other words, most papers at NIPS would be rejected if one reran the conference review process (with a 95% confidence interval of 40-75%)

Here is another framing:

If the committees were purely random, at a 22.5% acceptance rate they would disagree on 77.5% of their acceptance lists on average.

That is from Eric Price on the NIPS experiment, there is more here.

For the pointer I thank a loyal MR reader.

Those are the topics of a new paper by Güell, Mora, and Telmer, which is interesting on multiple levels.  The abstract is here:

We propose a new methodology for measuring intergenerational mobility in economic well-being. Our method is based on the joint distribution of surnames and economic outcomes. It circumvents the need for intergenerational panel data, a long-standing stumbling block for understanding mobility. It does so by using cross-sectional data alongside a calibrated structural model in order to recover the traditional intergenerational elasticity measures. Our main idea is simple. If ‘inheritance’ is important for economic outcomes, then rare surnames should predict economic outcomes in the cross-section. This is because rare surnames are indicative of familial linkages. If the number of rare surnames is small this approach will not work. However, rare surnames are abundant in the highly-skewed nature of surname distributions from most Western societies. We develop a model that articulates this idea and shows that the more important is inheritance, the more informative will be surnames. This result is robust to a variety of different assumptions about fertility and mating. We apply our method using the 2001 census from Catalonia, a large region of Spain. We use educational attainment as a proxy for overall economic well-being. A calibration exercise results in an estimate of the intergenerational correlation of educational attainment of 0.60. We also find evidence suggesting that mobility has decreased among the different generations of the 20th century. A complementary analysis based on sibling correlations confirms our results and provides a robustness check on our method. Our model and our data allow us to examine one possible explanation for the observed decrease in mobility. We find that the degree of assortative mating has increased over time. Overall, we argue that our method has promise because it can tap the vast mines of census data that are available in a heretofore unexploited manner.

There are ungated versions here.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

“Something out there is killing everything, and you’re probably next.”

You can view the talk here.  It is called “The Great Filter.”

You can file this one under “Questions that are rarely asked.”  The authors are Bauman, Gale, and Milton and the subtitle is Cross sectional study of political affiliation and physical activity.  It seems, in fact, that the armchair socialists are up out of their chairs:

Objective To examine the validity of the concept of left wing “armchair socialists” and whether they sit more and move less than their right wing and centrist counterparts.

Design Secondary analysis of Eurobarometer data from 32 European countries.

Setting The study emanated from the authors’ sit-stand desks (rather than from their armchairs).

Participants Total of 29 193 European adults, of whom 1985 were left wing, 1902 right wing, 17 657 political centrists, and 7649 politically uncommitted.

Main outcome measures Self-reported political affiliation, physical activity, and total daily sitting time.

Methods Linear models were used to examine the relation between physical activity, sitting time, and reported political affiliation.

Results The findings refute the existence of an “armchair socialist”; people at the extremes of both ends of the political spectrum were more physically active, with the right wing reporting 62.2 more weekly minutes of physical activity (95% confidence interval 23.9 to 100.5), and the left wing 57.8 more minutes (20.6 to 95.1) than those in the political centre. People with right wing political affiliations reported 12.8 minutes less time sitting a day (3.8 to 21.9) than the centrists. It is those sitting in the middle (politically) that are moving less, and possibly sitting more, both on the fence and elsewhere, making them a defined at-risk group.

Conclusions There is little evidence to support the notion of armchair socialists, as they are more active than the mainstream in the political centre. Encouraging centrists to adopt stronger political views may be an innovative approach to increasing their physical activity, potentially benefiting population health.

The full paper is here, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

*Do No Harm*

by on December 12, 2014 at 1:35 am in Books, Medicine, Science | Permalink

I loved this book, which is written by a neurosurgeon with a knowledge of behavioral economics (he even has designed a talk  “All My Worst Mistakes,” based on Daniel Kahneman’s work).  The subtitle is Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery and the author is Henry Marsh.  Here is one bit:

…as the brain has the consistency of jelly a sucker is the brain surgeon’s principal tool.

Here is another:

All that really matters is that I am as sure as I can be that the decision to operate is correct and that no other surgeon can do the operation any better than I can.  This is not as much of a problem for me now that I have been operating on brain tumours for many years, but it can be a moral dilemma for a younger surgeon.  If they do not take on difficult cases, how will they ever get any better?  But what if they have a colleague who is more experienced?

And another:

Few anaesthetists believe what surgeons tell them.

How about this one?:

‘There are operations where one really doesn’t know what’s going to happen,’ I muttered to Mike.

Highly recommended, it is already out in the UK, in the U.S. coming out in May 2015.  It has made many best of the year lists in the UK.  Here are some related videos.