Scientific Sense Podcast

Thursday, October 30, 2014

White alpha

A recent study from Michigan State University seems to prove what the Chicago school has been asserting for nearly half a century. Although the study claims to be “first of its kind,” the conclusions have been known to most academics for long. There is no alpha – risk adjusted excess returns – anywhere. And, by implication, a blind man, a high flying hedge fund manager or a super-smart financial advisor has an equal chance of making random alpha in the market.

Mad and fast money experts on financial TV have been perpetuating a farce. The only alpha they make is the money they get paid by the producers of the show. That is indeed, alpha - if they spent that time trading, they would have lost money and alpha, if they knew what that meant. A trillion $ sloshes around the markets – idiots trading back and forth – as if it means something. Then, there are tens of thousand of “financial advisors,” most not qualified to advise anybody and the rest helping to destroy wealth systematically, in fees. The financial services industry destroys wealth to that extent that if the industry is made illegal, the economy will grow by an additional couple of percentage points.

Value is only created by real companies, innovating and creating new products. Those, trying to monetize and trade on them, simply destroys value. And, those who “advises” the common woman on how to invest, destroys more.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Stating the obvious

A recent study that states that controlling Ebola in West Africa is the most effective way to decrease international risk (1) seems to state the obvious to most straight thinking humans. Hopefully, this study did not burn too much money proving what could have been obvious to any high school freshman in her sleep.

Yes, it is indeed better to stop Ebola in West Africa. However, it does not seem to have sunk in with the less endowed – politicians and celebrities. Ebola, the most incompetent virus, unable to transmit without physical contact and exchange of fluids, has been riding high. It has travelled far and wide, without paying airfare. It has made a joke out of those living in the most powerful state in the country, led by the incompetent. It has killed humans after they showed up for treatment in hospitals. And they have successfully jumped from human to human, apparently using protective gear.

Humans are, indeed, prone to dramatics – and more stupid than they could ever imagine.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Are we there, yet?

Recent news from Lockheed Martin that their engineers may have successfully tamed small scale fusion and practical generators, the size of a truck, could be available in a decade, is the type of discontinuity that the world has been craving for decades. The famous Skunk Works, may have done it again. Although academics are skeptical, if true, it will substantially change the game.

Humans, notorious for destructive tactics at the expense of strategy and damaging anything they touch, may still pull a rabbit out of the hat at the nick of time. Misguided environmentalists and compassionate politicians have been filling the airwaves with noise, with no benefit. The solution has always been zero cost energy and if the Lockheed engineers are right, it will mark one of the proud moments in the history of humanity. Now, they could afford clean water, air and environment, at no cost to society. They could shield the blue planet from countless projectiles from space. They could create airplanes that stay afloat and seaplanes that stay underneath for years – measuring, studying and rectifying the blue dot in the unimaginable void. They could print food, clothing, shelter and medications for anybody on demand. They could, possibly, bring happiness back to earth.

Engineers, behind thick glasses and adorable pocket protectors, may still save the world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Humanity, –0.1?

Ebola, with low transmissibility and dormant, delegated to the guts of fruit bats, has been creating havoc world over. It has been a wild ride for the virus, simply unimaginable to them. They were nearly done – they needed a human to come in touch and then many more as they overwhelm the original host. It required meticulous planning – as transmission is not easy. They could not move by water, air or anything else – transmission required physical touch of the bodily fluid emitted by the infected. And they have done it.

The 7.2 billion simply stayed back and witnessed as the incompetent virus spread. The solvers of problems and hoarders of wealth – from Seattle to Omaha and San Francisco to Mumbai – have been silent. As they bought and sold stocks and provided nets to those who could be at risk of Malaria, they simply forgot the few in West Africa – as they have been circumvented by not only the virus but also the rulers of the land. As their organs failed and fever overcame any remaining senses, they simply vanished from the face of the Earth. Humanity has shown its hand –they remain to be colloquial and local utility maximizers. Healthcare workers, without boarders, remain to be the only shining beacon – something with flickering hope.

Humans have shown their depth and it is as shallow as a cup of tea.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Erasing bad memories

A recent article in the journal Neuron describes how bad memories could be erased in mouse models using light. This has broad applications in humans if the experiment could be extended to complex systems. TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) - both carry similar markers in the brain.If these could be erased, that has beneficial impacts on humans suffering from such CNS disorders.

The brain, source and cause of most human strife, remains to be largely unexplored by modern science. Memories, responsible for most pain for humans, have been left untreated as medicine follows complex brain altering mechanisms in the treatment of diseases. The ability to selectively erase memories could usher in a new era in the treatment of CNS disorders. A massive and misunderstood organ, the brain, holds the keys to happiness and diseases in human systems.

Memories – with a negative skew of disutility – are likely bad for humans. The ability to erase them could substantially enhance individual and societal utility.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pipe dreams

A recent article in Physical Review Letters claims a novel form of “dark matter” known as “flavor-mixed multi-component dark matter.” The authors, who ran a large number of simulations on a super computer, conclude that they have successfully solved many of the vexing questions in the standard model – such as, “what exactly is the 80% of the stuff out there that shows gravity and if we do find it what may cause them not to collapse?.” These appear to be questions that a child will ask if faced with the status-quo theory. Adding a few flavors and components seem to show that the standard model is in fact “correct” and the “exotic dark matter,” is a bit more exotic than initially thought.

The amount of time, money, effort and computer time wasted to prove an incorrect framework that does not explain most of the observational data is alarming. This is a very rich area for physicists, mathematicians and engineers, as a complex and likely incorrect theory provides significant empirical flexibility to invent particles, fields and flavors. Academics, driven by the need to publish papers, are likely to simulate more garbage to prove what has been stated. In the process, they move humanity away from knowledge. There is little difference between fiction and current research in high energy physics.

Common sense, which has been “quantum evaporating” for a century, has to return to this field for it to move forward. This is unlikely to be aided by faster computers or wasteful grants.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Quantum AI

A recent article in the Journal of Physical Review claims that the application of quantum mechanics driven algorithms can substantially improve the performance of robots and other automatons that use artificial intelligence. This appears to be in the right direction as it is known for a while that the brain itself is a quantum computer. Mediocre and linear attempts at artificial intelligence by leading engineering schools have brought ill-repute to the field of AI for long.

The “new idea” brings into focus the need for robots to be flexible – able to learn and act descriptively, not prescriptively. Computer behemoths and computer science departments in universities have been battling with software and hardware constructs, totally useless for AI for many decades. To make matters worse, they showcase stupid applications such as Siri and Jeopardy winning Watson as examples of AI. These ideas have kept a generation of computer scientists bottled up, chasing irrelevant and incongruent ideas, in an attempt to create intelligence artificially.
Perhaps, we are approaching the exit of the dark ages of computing, held hostage by incompetent companies. The idea that intelligence is dependent on both qualitative and quantitative information come as a shock to the traditionalists, but much has been written about it. For any straight thinking person, it should be clear that intelligence cannot be coded in conventional languages and run on conventional computers.

Search companies and space administrations run by the government are unlikely to advance this field. It will require creative and uninhibited minds of the next generation, less worried about world domination.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mathematical segregation

Recent research from Duke, that seems to confirm earlier studies, shows that human habitats tend to get segregated if the density exceeds certain threshold. They find that cities are more likely to get segregated along racial, ethnic and other dimensions, when the proportion of occupied sites to total available sites exceed 25%. They argue that mathematical simulations show such a result. Perhaps, a simpler explanation for the finding is that available space and associated options allow the inhabitants to delay the decision to segregate. As density increases, they are forced to exercise the option to segregate as further delay reduces their value. In either case, it is instructive to note that the need to segregate for humans is as fundamental as food and sex. The timing of their segregation decision is simply value maximizing and market based.

It seems humans, shackled to their clan legacy, are unable to break from the hard wired needs to be close to their own kind and far from the rest. What is ironic is that for most of their history – from 100,000 years to 10,000 years – the characteristics they used to identify clan membership included know-how and family ties. Modern humans, while maintaining the desire to segregate, have found much less substantial aspects to segregate – such as the color of skin and political affiliations. And recently, they have overlaid that with even more meaningless attributes – such as religion and location.

Those holding out for a more peaceful world, should understand that humans are ill-equipped to rise above the legacy they have been handed. In an attempt to rationalize it, they seem to have made it worse.