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Interesting stuffs 11

Exciting things I learned and read during the week (22 Jan – 28 Jan) beside my current hard workload of PhD:

1. AI armed with multiple senses could gain more flexible intelligence

Deep-learning algorithms, in other words, are masters at picking up patterns, but they cannot understand and adapt to a changing world.

Children learn about the world by sensing and talking about it. As kids begin to associate words with sights, sounds, and other sensory information, they are able to describe more and more complicated phenomena and dynamics, tease apart what is causal from what reflects only correlation, and construct a sophisticated model of the world.

AI systems, on the other hand, are built to do only one of these things at a time. The hope is that these “multimodal” systems, with access to both the sensory and linguistic “modes” of human intelligence, should give rise to a more robust kind of AI that can adapt more easily to new situations or problems.

2. Can China create a world-beating AI industry?

“The logistics arm of, an e-commerce group, operates one of the world’s most advanced automated warehouses near Shanghai. In May Baidu, China’s search giant, launched driverless taxis in Beijing. SenseTime’s “smart city” ai models—urban surveillance cameras that track everything from traffic accidents to illegally parked cars—have been deployed in more than 100 cities in China and overseas. China has been deploying more aiassisted industrial robots than any other country. And in 2020 it surpassed America in terms of journal citations in the field.”

“Yes, China has made progress on ai,…But it almost certainly still lags behind America in terms of both investment and cutting-edge innovation”

“First, capital may not be being allocated efficiently…. Many state ai investments have been “reckless and redundant”….the rise of firms that falsely claim to be developing ai in order to suck up subsidies. One analysis by Deloitte, a consultancy, estimated that 99% of self-styled ai startups in 2018 were fake.”

“China’s second problem is its inability to recruit the world’s best ai minds, especially those working on high-level research.”

“Even more problematic for the party, its master plan ignored the cutting-edge semiconductors that power ai. Since its publication Chinese companies have found it ever more difficult to get their hands on advanced computer chips.”

3. Why Microsoft is splashing $69bn on video games

“In the longer term, Microsoft hopes to use its Azure cloud-computing arm to do for video games what Netflix did for films and tv. In 2020 it launched a game-streaming add-on to Game Pass that beams high-end games across the internet to a phone, tv or desktop. Running a game’s code in the cloud removes the need to own a powerful, pricey console or pc. The technology is tricky. Still, Microsoft hopes that as it matures, it will draw in more players, especially in middle-income countries where smartphones are common but consoles rare.”

4. Những nẻo đường xuân khắp Việt Nam

Shout out to these beautiful photos in Vietnam during spring days and for the most important holidays for Vietnamese – Lunar New Year. Love all the photos with the color, their frames, or the meanings behind these photos.

5. Kaiser Fung on Axis Zero and Spiral Charts

For the Axis Zero:

“Regarding the perennial question of whether to have your y-axis start at zero, I wrote, “If zero is in the neighborhood, invite it in.” Kaiser improves this advice by pointing out, first, that you should only worry about zero if it makes sense.”

For Spiral Charts:

“But . . . what is the purpose of the spiral, exactly? It’s not to convey the data. For that, we have the time series graph! The spiral is there to look cool, to get our attention. That’s not such a bad goal.”

“We recommend the click-through solution: Start with the eye-catching infoviz, then click on it to get the statistical visualization (in this case, the time series plot), then click again to get the spreadsheet with the raw data.”

“Ideally you can have a graph that is both statistically informative and surprisingly beautiful.”

6. Can We Really Be Friends with an Octopus?

“Enthralled by the octopus’s ingenuity, Foster, a filmmaker, decided to start visiting her every day. Over the following year, he documented her many remarkable behaviors: how she used shells and seaweed to defend herself from sharks, innovated new hunting strategies, regrew a limb after a serious injury, and eventually mated and cared for thousands of eggs. Foster’s daily observations became the basis for the 2020 Netflix Original My Octopus Teacher, which captivated audiences when it debuted and won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, among numerous other honors.”

Which is a really good documentary by the story that they capture in the movie and most amazingly for me is how they could record all those moments into the documentary. It is a way to find a comfort, to seek resilience of animals and see how breathtaking our sea nature is.

The apparent emotional connection between Foster and the octopus is precisely the aspect of the film that provoked such a strong response from audiences and critics”

“Upon further reflection, however, the true nature of their relationship becomes more ambiguous. Only one member of the pair speaks directly to the camera. Any conclusions about the octopus’s subjective experience are based entirely on interpretations of her often-enigmatic behavior. Maybe what looks to us like tenderness is mere curiosity or bemusement. Perhaps an ostensible embrace is actually a deflection. No doubt some people are extremely fond of octopuses, but can an octopus really be friends with a human?”

The octopus—a mollusk separated from vertebrates by more than 500 million years of independent evolution—has long been regarded as a reclusive and antisocial creature.”

“In the past decade, however, considerable evidence has challenged the octopus’s reputation as a loner.”

Not all octopus experts and caretakers are convinced that octopuses qualify as social creatures, however. Connor Gibbons, cephalopod facilities manager at Columbia University and a former senior aquarist at the New York Aquarium, does not think “social” is the right way to describe them. “I would even be hesitant to use the word playful,” he says. “It’s more that they are inquisitive or exploratory, that they show more interest in certain objects over others. The way their bodies work is so cryptic and amazing. They have their main brain and, at the base of each arm, a kind of mini brain. It’s awesome watching each arm work and explore almost independently, trying to figure things out. I think there’s a tendency to anthropomorphize them too much—to give them too many mammalian and human traits and emotions. They are very smart animals that display a certain level of critical thinking, but at the end of the day, they are so fundamentally different from us.”

“One of the first octopuses Nitz raised was an algae octopus (Abdopus aculeatus) she named the Once-ler after the narrator of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. She and her daughters would stand in front of the Once-ler’s tank and wave their whole arms as though they were undulating blades of kelp. Eventually, the Once-ler started waving back, imitating their movements with a single arm while keeping all the others tucked neatly beneath her or stuck to the glass. It became a frequent ritual.

When the Once-ler started laying eggs, Nitz steeled herself for what would happen next. As female octopuses brood, they become sluggish and start to deteriorate, losing pigmentation and muscle tone and forming lesions that never heal. The Once-ler spent most of her time with half her body inside her den, guarding her eggs, occasionally extending an arm to probe a piece of food, though she eventually stopped eating altogether. One morning, Nitz woke up and found thousands of baby octopuses, each smaller than a grain of rice, bobbing and spinning through the tank. The Once-ler had torn apart her den to help her children swim free. Now, she was sprawled on the bottom of the tank, sickly pale, her mantle heaving with every labored breath. Nitz sat in front of the tank with her daughters, her hand on the glass, crying softly as their beloved octopus’s breathing became slower and heavier. Suddenly the Once-ler did something none of them expected in those last moments: she inhaled deeply, raised her arm, and waved. “I waited for more breaths, but there weren’t any,” Nitz recalls. Maybe that final gesture was merely a muscle spasm caused by short-circuiting neurons. Perhaps, in their grief, Nitz and her family were seeing what they wanted to see. Still, Nitz says, “it felt for all the world like she was waving goodbye.”

7. Book Review: Why Our Emotions Are So Powerful

“But much of the time, Mlodinow argues, that’s a good thing. Emotion, as Charles Darwin came to believe, often supplies an evolutionary advantage. It can help us solve problems more quickly and incisively than we could with reason alone. The smell rising from a jug of spoiled milk triggers the emotion of disgust, setting the stage for your decision about what to do next (dump it straight down the drain, most likely).”

“Other insights are more philosophically interesting, like Mlodinow’s reflections on research showing that it’s possible — at least in animals — to enhance determination by sending laser light into certain brain regions. “By stimulating the right handful of neurons, we really can increase resilience,” he writes. Findings like this could potentially upend the moral value we accord some emotional states. We’ve long viewed determination as a litmus test for character, but if scientists can evoke something like grit with the flip of a switch, is that litmus test still valid?”

“The final chapters of “Emotional” deliver the biggest payoff, exploring research-tested ways to regulate emotion to produce better outcomes and softer landings. Compared to instinct, Mlodinow points out, emotion leaves far more room for personal agency — for crafting a tailored, deliberate response that aligns with your goals and well-being.

If, say, you’re stressed about being 10 minutes late to a meeting, you can tell yourself, “This won’t bother anyone because they know I am usually on time,” a reappraisal that will dampen the fear and guilt you might otherwise suffer. And if a friend ghosts you, you could consider other life commitments that might prevent them from getting in touch, which might help you feel sympathy rather than resentment. “If there are different ways of looking at something, which lead to different emotions,” Mlodinow writes, “why not train yourself to think in the way that leads to the emotion you want?”

8. The environmental case for buying a coal mine

“To understand what carbon leakage means, imagine you and almost everyone in your town agreed to switch to more climate-friendly electric cars – apart from one or two rogue neighbours. To their delight, those bad neighbours might discover that the gas-guzzling, polluting trucks at the local dealer had gone on sale, due to lower demand in the area. So, they take advantage: they buy the truck and “free-ride” off the back of everyone else’s decision to go electric, amping up their carbon footprint in the process.”

“Carbon leakage is a bit like this, but on an international scale. If a group of nations decide to sign a treaty that rolls back their reliance on coal, thereby reducing global demand, then it can benefit the rogue countries that haven’t joined stringent climate pledges. Lower demand reduces the price of coal, so these hold-outs soon learn that they can cheaply amplify the amount of fossil fuel they extract and burn, rather than investing in, say, wind or solar.”

Having acquired all those cheap mines and shutting down their own, a coalition of climate-concerned nations could then leave thousands of tonnes of coal in the ground – and simply wait. As the reserves of easier-accessed coal elsewhere dwindled and the price started to rise again, the market would have nowhere to go. “It would no longer lead to the opening up of [previously low-profit] coal mines, because those are the exact coal mines you have already purchased,” says Harstad.”

“It wasn’t possible to just let the mines rot. They would have a moral responsibility to the site and its workers, as well as legal obligations to cultivate and clean up the land over the longer-term. The goal was to make the shutdown a just transition. “We thought we could actually play a role in this,” says Krueger.”

Buying up relatively cheap coal mines on a large scale could be one more tool that the world has to ensure a just transition away from fossil fuels, and to keep thousands of tonnes of the black stuff from ever being combusted.”

9. Lithium batteries’ big unanswered question

“The current shortcomings in Li battery recycling isn’t the only reason they are an environmental strain. Mining the various metals needed for Li batteries requires vast resources. It takes 500,000 gallons (2,273,000 litres) of water to mine one tonne of lithium. In Chile’s Atacama Salt Flats, lithium mining has been linked to declining vegetation, hotter daytime temperatures and increasing drought conditions in national reserve areas. So even though EVs may help reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over their lifetime, the battery that powers them starts its life laden with a large environmental footprint.”

“The steadily increasing market demand for EVs already has companies across the automobile industry spending billions of dollars on increasing the sustainability of Li batteries. However, China is currently the largest producer of Li batteries by far, and subsequently ahead when it comes to recycling them.”

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