Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The implacable state; Autonomous AI; 23andMe as a family investment

I was reduced to helpless, incandescent fury this morning by the unexpected arrival of a speeding ticket. I had been caught on camera on the way to my mother's funeral on Monday, Dec 21st 2015. I have applied for the driving awareness course option and will let you know in due course how it went, if accepted.

I visualise the Speed Enforcement Unit putting this together, chuckling as they did so.

Turns out I was doing 35 mph in a 30 mph section of the A-road at Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol. Once my head-banging, visceral anger had subsided (a trip to the gym helped considerably) I found the list above of more or less lame excuses (none of which work) quite amusing.


Robin Hanson has an interesting piece about a newish book, 'Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy' by Prof. David Mindell at MIT. The book argues:
"If robotics in extreme environments are any guide, Mindell says, self-driving cars should not be fully self-driving. That idea, he notes, is belied by decades of examples involving spacecraft, underwater exploration, air travel, and more. In each of those spheres, fully automated vehicles have frequently been promised, yet the most state-of-the-art products still have a driver or pilot somewhere in the network. This is one reason Mindell thinks cars are not on the road to complete automation.

“That’s just proven to be a loser of an approach in a lot of other domains,” Mindell says. “I’m not arguing this from first principles. There are 40 years’ worth of examples.”
As someone who is interested in AI and its impact on the automation of everyday tasks, I promptly bought the book (Kindle) and will let you know how compelling I think his arguments are. After my speeding ticket I am thinking wistfully - and defensively - about Google cars. How does anyone drive on a regular basis in the UK without collecting 12 points in short order and losing their licence?


In August 2014 I persuaded my mother to donate a spit sample to 23andMe. Eventually I was able to show her the report plus the much more detailed information from Promethease. My mother had no technical interests and in particular no background in genetics. Nevertheless she read all the material in the folder with close attention for half an hour and then took possession of it, refusing to allow its contents to be shared with anyone else, even close family.

I think there was a little bit of magical thinking here, as the information was in no way earth-shattering. However, the reason I signed her up was in anticipation of a future where 23andMe provide a full genome description and we actually know what it means. It's a family history gift to future generations. I might have mentioned to her that we could clone her from this data, bring her back memoryless, but I doubt she took it on board!

My father unfortunately died in 2009, before 23andMe got into business. I have some of his personal effects in storage anticipating future DNA profiling ... .

On an adjacent topic, it's interesting to see the latest genomic news on the ancestry of the Irish. Razib Khan has an in-depth discussion.

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