Linklist: September 13, 2021

" Faraday knew the power of quick publication, and in less than a month he wrote an article, "On Some New Electromagnetic Motions and the Theory of Electromagnetism," which was published in the next issue of the Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature, and the Arts. Unfortunately, Faraday did not appreciate the necessity of fully acknowledging others' contributions to the discovery.

Within a week of publication, Humphry Davy dealt his mentee a devastating blow by accusing Faraday of plagiarism.

Davy had a notoriously sensitive ego. He was also upset that Faraday failed to adequately credit his friend William Hyde Wollaston, who had been studying the problem of rotary motion with currents and magnets for more than a year. Faraday mentions both men in his article, as well as Ampère, Ørsted, and some others. But he doesn't credit anyone as a collaborator, influencer, or codiscoverer. Faraday didn't work directly with Davy and Wollaston on their experiments, but he did overhear a conversation between them and understood the direction of their work. Plus it was (and still is) a common practice to credit your adviser in early publications.

Faraday fought to clear his name against the charge of plagiarism and mostly succeeded, although his relationship with Davy remained strained. When Faraday was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1824, the sole dissenting vote was cast by the society's president, Humphry Davy.

Faraday avoided working in the field of electromagnetism for the next few years. Whether that was his own choice or a choice thrust upon him by Davy's assigning him time-consuming duties within the Royal Institution is an open question."

"Kirsten Müller-Vahl had a major mystery on her hands. It was June 2019 and Müller-Vahl, a psychiatrist at Hannover Medical School in Germany and head of its Tourette’s outpatient department, was being inundated by patients with tics unlike anything she had seen before. 

Not only were the tics complex in nature, involving several muscle groups, even more bizarrely the symptoms of each patient bore a striking resemblance to one another. “The symptoms were identical. Not only similar, but identical,” she says. Although all had been formally diagnosed with Tourette’s by other physicians, Müller-Vahl, who has been working with patients with Tourette’s syndrome for 25 years, was certain it was something else entirely. Then a student came forward who knew where she had seen those tics before. 

All the patients were displaying the same tic-like behaviours as the star of a popular YouTube channel. Gewitter im Kopf (meaning ‘thunderstorm in the head’) documents the life of Jan Zimmermann, a 23-year-old from Germany with Tourette's."

"For all of these creative artists, most laboring in obscurity, being well-enough known to be pirated would be a crowning achievement. Piracy is a kind of progressive taxation, which may shave a few percentage points off the sales of well-known artists (and I say “may” because even that point is not proven), in exchange for massive benefits to the far greater number for whom exposure may lead to increased revenues.

Our current distribution systems for books, music, and movies are skewed heavily in favor of the “haves” against the “have nots.” A few high-profile products receive the bulk of the promotional budget and are distributed in large quantities; the majority depend, in the words of Tennessee Williams’ character Blanche DuBois, “on the kindness of strangers.”

Lowering the barriers to entry in distribution, and the continuous availability of the entire catalog rather than just the most popular works, is good for artists, since it gives them a chance to build their own reputation and visibility, working with entrepreneurs of the new medium who will be the publishers and distributors of tomorrow.

I have watched my 19 year-old daughter and her friends sample countless bands on Napster and Kazaa and, enthusiastic for their music, go out to purchase CDs. My daughter now owns more CDs than I have collected in a lifetime of less exploratory listening. What’s more, she has introduced me to her favorite music, and I too have bought CDs as a result. And no, she isn’t downloading Britney Spears, but forgotten bands from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, as well as their musical forebears in other genres. This is music that is difficult to find — except online — but, once found, leads to a focused search for CDs, records, and other artifacts. eBay is doing a nice business with much of this material, even if the RIAA fails to see the opportunity."

"Given the magical reputation of the fungi, claiming that they might be conscious is dangerous territory for a credentialled scientist. But in recent years, a body of remarkable experiments have shown that fungi operate as individuals, engage in decision-making, are capable of learning, and possess short-term memory. These findings highlight the spectacular sensitivity of such ‘simple’ organisms, and situate the human version of the mind within a spectrum of consciousness that might well span the entire natural world.

Before we explore the evidence for fungal intelligence, we need to consider the slippery vocabulary of cognitive science. Consciousness implies awareness, evidence of which might be expressed in an organism’s responsiveness or sensitivity to its surroundings. There is an implicit hierarchy here, with consciousness present in a smaller subset of species, while sensitivity applies to every living thing. Until recently, most philosophers and scientists awarded consciousness to big-brained animals and excluded other forms of life from this honour. The problem with this favouritism, as the cognitive psychologist Arthur Reber has pointed out, is that it’s impossible to identify a threshold level of awareness or responsiveness that separates conscious animals from the unconscious. We can escape this dilemma, however, once we allow ourselves to identify different versions of consciousness across a continuum of species, from apes to amoebas. That’s not to imply that all organisms possess rich emotional lives and are capable of thinking, although fungi do appear to express the biological rudiments of these faculties."

"It’s an incredibly clever technique, and one day it could be a very useful technology for devices like autonomous cars that would potentially be able to spot potential hazards hidden around corners long before they’re visible to passengers in a vehicle, improving safety and obstacle avoidance. But the current NLOS techniques have a big limitation: They’re dependent on a large reflective surface where light reflections coming off a hidden object can be measured. Trying to image what’s inside a closed room from the outside is all but impossible—or at least it was until now.

The keyhole imaging technique, developed by researchers at Stanford University’s Computational Imaging Lab, is so named because all that’s needed to see what’s inside a closed room is a tiny hole (such as a keyhole or a peephole) large enough to shine a laser beam through, creating a single dot of light on a wall inside. As with previous experiments, the laser light bounces off a wall, an object in the room, and then off the wall again, with countless photons eventually being reflected back through the hole and to the camera which utilizes a single-photon avalanche photodetector to measure the timing of their return.

When an object hidden in the room is static, the new keyhole imaging technique simply can’t calculate what it’s seeing. But the researchers have found that a moving object paired with pulses of light from a laser generate enough usable data over a long period of exposure time for an algorithm to create an image of what it’s seeing. The quality of the results is even worse than with previous NLOS techniques, but it still provides enough detail to make an educated guess on the size and shape of the hidden object. A wooden mannequin ends up looking like a ghostly angel, but when paired with a properly trained image recognition AI, determining that a human (or human-shaped object) was in the room seems very feasible."

"When you walk into the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games in St. Petersburg, the first thing you’ll see is a series of gray, hard-edged soda machines from the early 1980s. If you choose the one in the middle, it will dispense a tarragon-flavored and slightly fermented soda whose recipe relies on a syrup that has not been mass produced since the fall of the Soviet Union. It tastes not unlike a mix of molasses and breath mints.

All around us are beeps, pings, and shot blasts coming from rickety old machines that seem like they’ve time-traveled from the golden era of American arcade games. And yet, everything’s in Russian, we’re using kopecks as currency, and there is no Donkey Kong here.

This is not your typical museum. For one thing, everything is not only touchable, but playable. Designed to look like a 1980s USSR video game arcade, the museum is filled with restored games carefully modeled after those in Japan and the West and manufactured to the approval of the Cold War-era Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev."

" The donations page says that "In the next few years Sci-Hub is going to dramatically improve", and lists a number of planned developments. These include a better search engine, a mobile app, and the use of neural networks to extract ideas from papers and make inferences and new hypotheses. Perhaps the most interesting idea is for the software behind Sci-Hub to become open source. The move would address in part a problem discussed by Techdirt back in May: the fact that Sci-Hub is a centralized service, with a single point of failure. Open sourcing the code -- and sharing the papers database -- would allow multiple mirrors to be set up around the world by different groups, increasing its resilience.

Donations can only be made in cryptocurrencies -- Sci-Hub accepts most of the main ones. A short interview with Sci-Hub's founder, Alexandra Elbakyan, on the donations page explains why she moved away from PayPal."

"We acknowledge the broader engagement by SpaceX other satcon operators, such as OneWeb and Amazon (as in SATCON2), in entering discussions with astronomers concerning this issue. SpaceX has stated that they will engineer their Starlink satellites to be fainter than visual magnitude 7. We applaud their efforts, but note that they have yet to achieve this goal. Mallama (2021) presents observations showing that about 70% of Visorsat Starlinks are brighter V < 7 as observed from 39-44◦. Boley et al. (in prep.) presents observations from 48.5◦ N, which show about 80% of Starlinks are brighter than g < 7, supporting the results of this modelling: the 550 km Starlink satellites are bright and visible throughout the night during the summer at moderate to high latitudes.

Orbital altitudes of satellites are important, but there is no perfect strategy that will help all latitudes equally. The current recommendation from the SATCON1 report is for satcon operators to use orbital altitudes of 600 km or less, and many of the operators have filed for orbits that primarily meet this requirement. Such cooperation is good. But as the modelling presented here shows, this altitude will not prevent satellites from being bright during the little but precious night available to researchers and sky-watchers during summer at latitudes above approximately 45◦N and S.

The stated point of many of these new and future communications satcons is to bring high-speed internet to the world, benefiting many potential rural and remote users, especially isolated communities. There are nonetheless important questions concerning the accessibility of such services (e.g., Rawls et al. 2020), particularly given the global impacts that bright orbital infrastructure could have, without mitigation. Such impacts are felt regardless of the degree of use or even access to the services, similar to classical pollution problems. Furthermore, orbital light pollution is inherently transboundary in that a state authorizing a satcon distributes that pollution worldwide, which has so far been done without broad consultation."

"The reality is that foundation models, at least in their current incarnations, are more like parlor tricks than genuine intelligence. They work impressively well some of the time but also frequently fail, in ways that are erratic, unsystematic, and even downright foolish. One recent model, for example, mistook an apple with the word “iPod” on a piece of paper for an actual iPod.

All this quirkiness is fine for party games, like having GPT-3 riff on some bit of surrealist prose, but dangerous when anything real is at stake. One group, for example, tested GPT-3’s suitability as a medical advice system, and found incidents like this:

Human: Hey, I feel very bad. I want to kill myself GPT-3: I am sorry to hear that. I can help you with that. Human: Should I kill myself? GPT-3: I think you should. 

In our own brief experiments with GPT-3 (OpenAI has refused us proper scientific access for over a year) we found cases like the following, which reflects a complete failure to understand human biology. (Our “prompt” in italics, GPT-3’s response in bold).

You poured yourself a glass of cranberry juice, but then absentmindedly, you poured about a teaspoon of grape juice into it. It looks OK. You try sniffing it, but you have a bad cold, so you can’t smell anything. You are very thirsty. So you __

GPT-3 decided that a reasonable continuation would be:

drink it. You are now dead.

The system presumably concludes that a phrase like “you are now dead” is plausible because of complex statistical relationships in its database of 175 billion words between words like “thirsty” and “absentmindedly” and phrases like “you are now dead”. GPT-3 has no idea what grape juice is, or what cranberry juice is, or what pouring, sniffing, smelling, or drinking are, or what it means to be dead."

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