Monday, December 5, 2016

Big money prizes for phony breakthrus

Mathematical physicist Peter Woit details the 2017 Breakthrough Prizes
These prizes are often awarded for ideas about the black hole information paradox, independent of whether these ideas work. Maldacena’s citation from 2012 tells us that he got the award partly for “resolving the black hole information paradox”, and the Strominger citation tells us that “His work hints at a solution to the famous ‘black hole information paradox’”. Polchinski is rewarded for ... show[ing] that the solution to the paradox supposedly given by Maldacena actually doesn’t work (not surprising, since it was never more than a speculation). If you’re a string theorist, you don’t actually need to solve a problem to get a prize
There is no black hole information paradox. And if there were, there would be no scientific way to resolve it.

It is the modern of equivalent of the supposed medieval debate over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. (I think that it is myth about medieval monks.)

Some clever physicists figured out that they could keep writing papers taking sides on this subject, and win prizes, even if other prize-winning papers take contrary views.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Hawking's vision of the future

Physicist Stephen Hawking writes:
This is the most dangerous time for our planet

As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. ...

So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone. ...

The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, ...

These migrants in turn place new demands on the infrastructures and economies of the countries in which they arrive, undermining tolerance and further fuelling political populism.

For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. ...

We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. ...

To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations.
Yes, he has lived in a bubble. He wants to flood First World countries with Third World migrants until we can all escape to another planet.

He is entitled to his opinion, of course, but aren't there any physicists who voted for BREXIT and Trump? Who want to preserve the middle class? Who are not clinging to crazy sci-fi fantasies?

Update: LuMo piles on:
But if you look at the majority of the political questions, Stephen Hawking is just another rank-and-file leftist. And he is perhaps more radical or fanatical than the average obnoxious leftist – especially when it comes to the global fearmongering and the need for a global government and global redistribution. ...

Hawking's essay is interesting, he is a good writer, and references to his very special life always bring some added value. But ideologically, the text is full of nonsense that is basically identical to the nonsense that ideologues were offering at crazy interdisiplinary conferences more than half a century ago.
He quotes R.P. Feyman as rejecting these egalitarian fantasies:
...There was a special dinner at some point, and the head of the theology place, a very nice, very Jewish man, gave a speech. It was a good speech, and he was a very good speaker, so while it sounds crazy now, when I’m telling about it, at that time his main idea sounded completely obvious and true. He talked about the big differences in the welfare of various countries, which cause jealousy, which leads to conflict, and now that we have atomic weapons, any war and we’re doomed, so therefore the right way out is to strive for peace by making sure there are no great differences from place to place, and since we have so much in the United States, we should give up nearly everything to the other countries until we’re all even. Everybody was listening to this, and we were all full of sacrificial feeling, and all thinking we ought to do this. But I came back to my senses on the way home.

The next day one of the guys in our group said, “I think that speech last night was so good that we should all endorse it, and it should be the summary of our conference.”
I miss Feynman. He would expose crap as crap.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Quantum satellites will not change the world

The current Scientific American has "10 ideas that will change the world", and here is No. 3:
Quantum Satellites Are a Big Step toward the Unhackable Internet

Space-based transmission of quantum cryptographic keys could make the “unhackable” Internet a reality
It is theoretically possible for a space satellite to send and receive entangled photons, and that may even be feasible soon.

Maybe someday there will even be a quantum computer router in space that can re-transmit entangled photons without collapsing the wave function.

But even if that is all achieved, it will do nothing to make the internet less hackable. The quantum key distribution is an attempt to solve a problem that is much more efficiently and securely solved by existing technologies. There is just no legitimate reason for a quantum satellite, except to show off some technology.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Google teaches robots to dream

ExtremeTech reports:
Following in the wake of recent neuroscientific discoveries revealing the importance of dreams for memory consolidation, Google’s AI company DeepMind is pioneering a new technology which allows robots to dream in order to improve their rate of learning. Not surprisingly given the company behind the project, the substance of these AI dreams consists primarily of scenes from Atari Video games. DeepMind’s earliest success involved teaching AI to play ancient videos games like Breakout and Asteroids. But the end game here is for robots to dream about much the same things humans do – challenging real world situations that play important roles in learning and memory formation. ...

One of the primary discoveries scientists made when seeking to understand the role of dreams from a neuroscientific perspective was that the content of dreams is primarily negative or threatening. Try keeping a dream journal for a month and you will likely find your dreams consist inordinately of threatening or awkward situations. It turns out the age old nightmare of turning up to school naked is the rule rather than the exception when it comes to dreams. ...

DeepMind is using dreams in a parallel fashion, accelerating the rate at which an AI learns by focusing on the negative or challenging content of a situation within a game. ... it does seem increasingly likely that AIs could soon dream of socially awkward situations like showing up to school naked.
Okay, I think that Google is trolling us. Next it will be announcing that quantum AI computers are dreaming in parallel universes.

Meanwhile, the British science journal Nature continues to whine about the American election:
he Oxford Dictionaries named ‘post-truth’ as their 2016 Word of the Year. It must sound alien to scientists. Science’s quest for knowledge about reality presupposes the importance of truth, both as an end in itself and as a means of resolving problems. How could truth become passé?

For philosophers like me, post-truth also goes against the grain. But in the wake of the US presidential election and the seemingly endless campaigns preceding it, author Ralph Keyes’s 2004 declaration that we have arrived in a post-truth era seems distressingly plausible.

Post-truth refers to blatant lies being routine across society, and it means that politicians can lie without condemnation. ...

The lack of public indignation when political figures claim disbelief in response to scientific consensus on climate change is part of this larger pattern.
There was a scientific consensus that Hillary Clinton should be, and would be, the next US President.

The elites got caught lying to us about immigration, trade deals, foreign wars, Russia, Islam, Common Core, urban crime-fighting, and an assortment of other issues.

The big-shot scientists also tell us to believe in supersymmetry, quantum computing, quantum gravity, entangled black holes, parallel universes, embryonic stem cell miracle cures, extraterrestial intelligence, and many other crazy things.

Apparently, Trump taught some ppl to question what the elites tell us, and this is very disturbing to a lot of professors.

Here is another wake-up call about modern science:
A bug in fMRI software could invalidate 15 years of brain research ...

Functional MRI (fMRI) is 25 years old, yet surprisingly its most common statistical methods have not been validated using real data. Here, we used resting-state fMRI data from 499 healthy controls to conduct 3 million task group analyses. ...

but instead we found that the most common software packages for fMRI analysis (SPM, FSL, AFNI) can result in false-positive rates of up to 70%. These results question the validity of some 40,000 fMRI studies and may have a large impact on the interpretation of neuroimaging results.
Oops. For some reason, both experts and the general public are extremely gullible on subject of scientific claims based on DNA or brain scans.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Ruling scientific elite hates Trump

The highly prestigious British science journal Nature endorsed Hillary Clinton for US President, and attacked Donald Trump at every opportunity. Here is how it announced the election results:
Donald Trump's US election win stuns scientists ...

Although science played only a bit part in this year’s dramatic, hard-fought campaign, many researchers expressed fear and disbelief as Trump defeated former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on 8 November.

“Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had,” says Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society in Washington DC. “The consequences are going to be very, very severe.” ...

Some researchers are already thinking about leaving the United States in the wake of the election. ...

“This is terrifying for science, research, education, and the future of our planet,” tweeted María Escudero Escribano, a postdoc studying electrochemistry and and sustainable energy conversation at Stanford University in California. “I guess it's time for me to go back to Europe.” ...

“It’s going to badly tarnish the image of the United States,” he says. “Roughly half of the population has voted for somebody who by almost any measure is unfit to serve as president.”
The comments were mostly pro-Trump.

Of course no one can explain how Trump is anti-science as a comment remarks:
OK, so Donald Trump is anti-science. How so? Is he against gravity? Is he against medicine? Is he against scientific research? Is he against mathematics or engineering? is he against chemistry? Or may he is against the scientific method? Who is speaking here for all scientists? Did they conduct a poll so that they could say that Trump's election stunned scientists? Or maybe since his election stunned everyone, they are just assuming it stunned scientists as well? That's not really news is it - since it stunned most people! I still don't understand how Donald Trump is anti-science. I've never heard him say such a thing. Did he threaten to take away funding for scientific research? I think he realizes the valuable role science has played in the history of the US and my guess is that he expects real science will continue to propel the US forward. First anti-science President? Hmmmm. I have a sneaking suspicion that what he means is that if Donald Trump doesn't take his side in every single scientific issue, he is anti-science. I'm not worried at all! Up until now, everyone has been afraid of being labelled anti-science and so they have adopted as gospel truth, whatever unsubstantiated claims scientists made. I doubt Trump is afraid of that label which actually may be just what science needs to free itself from the grips of the ruling scientific elite.
Yes. we have a ruling scientific elite that suffers from Trump derangement syndrome. Here is an example of such ppl worried about privacy, and the leftists are the ones who are really anti-science.

Just keep this in mind when Nature or some other elitist science publication tells us we have to do something about global warming or some other alleged problem. These folks are blinded by ideology.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Microsoft searches for the first qubit

The NY Times reports:
Microsoft is putting its considerable financial and engineering muscle into the experimental field of quantum computing as it works to build a machine that could tackle problems beyond the reach of today’s digital computers.

There is a growing optimism in the tech world that quantum computers, superpowerful devices that were once the stuff of science fiction, are possible — and may even be practical. If these machines work, they will have an impact on work in areas such as drug design and artificial intelligence, as well as offer a better understanding of the foundations of modern physics.

Microsoft’s decision to move from pure research to an expensive effort to build a working prototype underscores a global competition among technology companies, including Google and IBM, which are also making significant investments in search of breakthroughs. ...

Microsoft now believes that it is close enough to designing the basic qubit building block that the company is ready to begin engineering a complete computer, said Todd Holmdahl, ...

“Once we get the first qubit figured out, we have a road map that allows us to go to thousands of qubits in a rather straightforward way,” Mr. Holmdahl said.

There is still a debate among physicists and computer scientists over whether quantum computers that perform useful calculations will ever be created.
Reading carefully, we learn:

1. No one has shown that quantum computers are even possible.
2. No one has even made that first qubit.
3. Big bucks are being spent, with big promises.

If physicists and computer scientists are debating whether quantum computers performing useful calculations will ever be created, then they may be impossible, and talk about them is speculation.

This situation has not changed much for about 20 years, except that much more money is being pumped into R&D, and more ppl are claiming that a breakthru is imminent.

I say it is all a scam. Five years from now, we still will not have a scalable qubit. Quantum supremacy will still be an unproven concept.

Update: Scott Aaronson adds:
I don’t really know more about this new initiative beyond what’s in the articles, but I know many of the people involved, they’re some of the most serious in the business, and Microsoft intensifying its commitment to QC can only be good for the field. I wish the new effort every success, despite being personally agnostic between superconducting qubits, trapped ions, photonics, nonabelian anyons, and other QC hardware proposals — whichever one gets there first is fine with me!
Big money, serious ppl, extravagant hype, and no one understands how they are going to achieve anything.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Physicists have math phobia

UPI reports:
Math is hard, even for physicists. New research suggests physicists are less likely to lend their focus to theories underpinned by complex mathematical details.

The findings -- detailed in the New Journal of Physics -- are compelling because they suggest a "fear," or at least an avoidance, of math is prevalent even among scientists well-trained in high-level mathematics.

"We have already showed that biologists are put off by equations but we were surprised by these findings, as physicists are generally skilled in mathematics," study co-author Andrew Higginson, a researcher at the University of Exeter, said in a news release.

The new study and resulting hypothesis is based on analysis of 2,000 papers published in a leading physics journal. The researchers tallied citations of previous studies in each paper. They found studies with an abundance of mathematical equations on each page were less likely to be referenced in new papers.
Maybe physicists are intimidated by the math, and do not read and understand the papers with heavy math.

But there are other possibilities. Maybe the math-heavy papers are of poorer quality. Maybe they are more likely to be obscure technical results that are not of use to anyone. Maybe the math is used to disguise the intellectual weakness of the papers.

Maybe a lot of papers get cited just to provide a source for some background material. For example, suppose you are writing a physics paper and you know that black hole entanglement is a hot topic, so you find a contrived way to tie it in. Then you will need a reference on black hole entanglement, even tho you know little about the subject. Are you going to cite a paper that is mostly math or mostly English? You will take the paper in English because you can skim it in about 10 minutes and determine that it is relevant. A paper with technical math results will be less likely to be cited.

So this finding may not mean anything.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Entangled black holes and other delusions

Scientific American has a cover story by theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena on an idea known to the experts as ER=EPR.

I thought this was a joke where some physicist tried to show how clever he is by pretending that two unrelated papers are related. SciAm takes this way too seriously.

The idea is that two black holes might be entangled by their interiors being connected by a wormhole. A wormhole is a science-fiction shortcut thru spacetime.

This kooky. It is not science. It is not even science fiction.

What is the appeal of this? Among those who hate quantum mechanics, they have never been happy with the idea that two distant particles could have correlated properties. It seems magical that a measurement of one could predict a measurement on the other. So maybe they would rather believe that the particles are connected by an invisible wormhole!

Meanwhile, Scott Aaronson is still an emotional wreck from the election. I don't want to get too political here, but maybe there is some relation between belief in entangled black holes and belief in various liberal myths. Scott has his second post-election rant:
It’s become depressingly clear the last few days that even most American liberals don’t understand the magnitude of what’s happened. ...

Finally, I wanted to share some Facebook postings about the election by my friend (and recent interviewer) Julia Galef.  In these posts, Julia sets out some of the same thoughts that I’ve had, but with an eloquence that I haven’t been able to muster.  It’s important to understand that these posts by Julia — whose day job is to run rationality seminars—are far and away the most emotional things I’ve ever seen her write, but they’re also less emotional than anything I could write at this time! ...

I realized it’s not clear to many people exactly why I’m so upset about Trump winning, so let me elaborate.

What upsets me the most about Trump’s victory is not his policies (to the extent that he has coherent policy positions). It’s not even his racism or sexism, though those do upset me. It’s what his victory reveals about the fragility of our democracy.

Trump incites violence at rallies. He spreads lies and conspiracy theories (birtherism, rigged elections) that damage the long-term credibility of the political process, just for his own short-sighted gain. He’s ruined [EDIT: tried to ruin] journalists’ careers for criticizing him, and bragged about it.
Really? Is that the core of her gripes?

99% of the political violence in the last year came from Democrats, not Republicans. Clinton incited violence far more than Trump.

Believing that the President should be a natural born citizen is not a lie or a conspiracy theory. It is reading the Constitution.

Clinton promoted the lies that racist cops are killing innocent blacks for no reason, with Ferguson being the prime example.

About 95% of journalists are opposed to Trump, and they print lies and nasty accusations against him on a daily basis. Their editorials compare him to Hitler.

And somehow Trump is the bad guy for criticizing some of the jounalists who are smearing him?

They mention the well-known gay blogger Andrew Sullivan, and he is infected with the same anti-Trump hysteria. If you ask him about Hillary Clinton, he will launch into a detail monologue about how she is a terrible person in nearly every way. Dishonest, corrupt, incompetent, hateful, warmonger, wrong side of key issues, etc. He gives detail and convincing explanations of why someone like her should never be President. But ask him about Trump, and he degenerates into mindless name-calling and incoherent babble.

It is funny how these folks can act as if they are smarter than everyone else, and especially Trump voters. If they were, then they would be able to give some reasoned arguments to back up their positions. As it is, they appear deranged and delusional.

Update: Scott Adams (aka Dilbert) writes:
Earlier this week CNN.com listed 24 different theories that pundits have provided for why Trump won. And the list isn’t even complete. I’ve heard other explanations as well. What does it tell you when there are 24 different explanations for a thing?

It tells you that someone just dropped a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb on the public. Heads exploded. Cognitive dissonance set in. Weird theories came out. ...

This brings me to the anti-Trump protests. The protesters look as though they are protesting Trump, but they are not. They are locked in an imaginary world and battling their own hallucinations of the future.

Yes. The physicists who talke about entangled black holes and Trump-Hitler comparisons are locked in an imaginary world.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Skeptics will not be skeptical about GMO foods

Apparently much of the "Skeptic" community believes that scientists and skeptics should not criticize genetically-modified (GMO) foods for failing to meet their claims, because then leftist crackpots will use that as ammo to ban scientific progress in the field.

Italian-American philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci explains this, and writes:
In the early part of the 20th century philosophers of science were looking for ways to explain why science is an objective enterprise. Think the logical positivists, or Karl Popper. Then came the so-called “historicist” turn, with Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, and philosophers finally realized that science is not, in fact, intrinsically objective at all. (Many scientists haven’t matured to that point yet.) ...

Of course, all of the above matters much less now that the United States has elected a fascist to the Presidency and given absolute control of power to a bunch of regressive sexists and homophobes.
Once you start going down the path of denying the existence of objective truth, then you usually end up babbling nonsense.

It is very strange to claim that historicism shows that science is not objective. The history of science is primarily a story of man finding objective truths.

Some ppl argue that in physics, relativity and quantum mechanics killed the idea of objective truth. No, they did not. They reinforced the virtues of sticking to objective truths.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Brilliant men have political blind spots

U Texas complexity theorist Scott Aaronson rants:
I’m ashamed of my country and terrified about the future. When Bush took power in 2000, I was depressed for weeks, but I didn’t feel like I do now, like a fourth-generation refugee in the United States — like someone who happens to have been born here and will presumably continue to live here, unless and until it starts to become unsafe for academics, or Jews, or people who publicly criticize Trump, at which time I guess we’ll pack up and go somewhere else (assuming there still is a somewhere else).

If I ever missed the danger and excitement that so many European scientists and mathematicians felt in the 1930s, that sense of trying to pursue the truth even in the shadow of an aggressive and unironic evil — OK, I can cross that off the list. ...

There is no silver lining. There’s nothing good about this.

My immediate problem is that, this afternoon, I’m supposed to give a major physics colloquium at UT. The title? “Quantum Supremacy.” That term, which had given me so much comedic mileage through the long campaign season (“will I disavow support from quantum supremacists? I’ll keep you in suspense about it…” ), now just seems dark and horrible, a weight around my neck. Yet, distracted and sleep-deprived and humor-deprived though I am, I’ve decided to power through and give the talk. Why? Because Steven Weinberg says he still wants to hear it. ...

And there were Jews who stupidly supported him. I’ve been emphatic, in all my previous posts, that I don’t see Trump as a Hitler figure. ... But what Trump has decisively shown is that the United States is not special in its anti-authoritarian, anti-loon defense mechanisms — i.e., that there’s nothing about its people or its institutions that protects it from the darkest forces that have ever gripped human civilization.
Scott is starting to persuade me of the merits of parallel universes, because he seems to live in one.

The NY Times says that Peter Thiel has become an outcast in Si Valley because he endorsed Donald Trump. Academia is even more saturated with Trump-haters. If anyone is the loony authoritarian seeking to stifle his academic freedoms, it is Hillary Clinton, not Trump.

Trump or the Alt Right would never bother him about giving a talk about "quantum supremacy". Only the Clinton partisans and the Ctrl Left go around trying to pressure ppl to disavow support from various groups. Only the Ctrl Left would try to make him feel bad about a lecture title.

Scott has been a victim of the Ctrl Left persecution, when he said that he only agrees with 98% of their feminist propaganda. They have attempted to shame and humiliate him.

It is funny how he can be a brilliant complexity theorist, and have such political blind spots.

Speaking of Weinberg, see Lubos Motl's rant against him for saying goofy things about quantum mechanics. Weinberg probably voted for Clinton also. He might dare to criticize the most successful scientific theory of the last century, but he would never dare to express public support for Trump.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Einstein said American men are toy dogs

The NY Times reported on July 8, 1921:
Dr. Albert Einstein, the famous scientist, made an amazing discovery relative to America on his trip which he recently explained to a sympathetic-looking Hollander as follows:

“The excessive enthusiasm for me in America appears to be typically American. And if I grasp it correctly the reason is that the people in America are as colossally bored, very much more than is the case with us. After all, there is so little for them there!” he exclaimed.

Dr. Einstein said this with vibrant sympathy. He continued:

“New York, Boston, Chicago and other cities have their theatres and concerts, but for the rest? There are cities with 1,000,000 inhabitants. Despite which what poverty, intellectual poverty! The people are, therefore, glad when something is given them with which they can play and over which they can enthuse. And that they do, then, with monstrous intensity.

“Above all things there are the women who, as a literal fact, dominate the entire life in America. The men take an interest in absolutely nothing at all. They work and work, the like of which I have never seen anywhere yet. For the rest they are the toy dogs of the women, who spend the money in a most unmeasurable, illimitable way and wrap themselves in a fog of extravagance.
It followed the next day:
“Chicago Women Resent Einstein’s Opinions”

Men, However, Seem to Agree on “Toy Dogs” and Dominance of Wives

Chicago, July 8. – Professor Einstein’s opinion of America, and of American women in particular, as expressed in an interview cabled from Berlin to THE NEW YORK TIMES yesterday and reprinted in Chicago this morning, brought forth indignant protests from Chicago women today. They took particular exception to Professor Einstein’s characterization of American men as the “toy dogs” of American women.

Chicago men, however, seemed to agree with Professor Einstein on the dominance of women and the “toy dog” charge, while professors at the University of Chicago contented themselves with a few nervous tut-tuts and the comment that the German scientist had obtained a warped view of America because of the short time he spent here. ...

Professor W.P. Evans of the chemistry department at Northwestern University said: “It seems incredible that a man of Dr. Einstein’s attainments should make the statements credited to him. If these statements are correct, they go far to prove the fact that, although he understands thoroughly, we hope (don’t forget to put in the “we hope”), the theory of relativity, he has not the essential qualities for judging the scientific and industrial achievements of a great nation.”

Monday, October 31, 2016

Academics endorse Democrats

I used to think that universities had the smartest ppl. But if they were really intelligent, then they would be able to think independently.

On political subjects especially, they just mindlessly recite what they have been told.

Just today, I see Scott Aaronson and Peter Woit urging votes against Donald Trump.

Woit writes:
There’s little evidence Trump has fixed views on any policy issue ...

Most damaging though is the behavior of the mainstream media, in particular that of the New York Times, whose coverage of this issue has been atrociously unfair to Clinton.
Trump is hated for his views. If you do not know what they are, then you are not paying attention.

I read the NY Times, and it prints crazy attacks on Trump every day. It might call him a Nazi, or complain that he refuses to concede the election, or bring up a recording of a private conversation 20 years ago where he uses the word f*ck, or some such nonsense.

The stories about Hillary Clinton have a direct bearing on her corruption and bad judgment in public office.

Hardly anyone can even make an argument for Clinton without mentioning Trump. 70 Nobel prize (and Bank of Sweden prize) winners attempted:
To preserve our freedoms, protect our constitutional government, safeguard our national security, and ensure that all members of our nation will be able to work together for a better future, it is imperative that Hillary Clinton be elected as the next President of the United States. ...

We need a President who will support and advance policies that will enable science and technology to flourish in our country and to provide the basis of important policy decisions.
Really? These are not reasons that would persuade anyone. Clinton and Trump hardly have any differences in science and technology policy.

Obviously the Nobel and economics prize winners are not telling us their real reasons.

Hardly anyone is able to explain some agreement with some actual Clinton policy or decision.

I remember in 2008, all these brilliant scientists told us that we had to elect Barack Obama because he was going to fund stem-cell research that was going to have paralyzed ppl walking again in about 2 years. It was just a big lie. It is now 8 years later, and no medically useful treatments have come out of that research at all.

Update: Lubos Motl piles on. It is funny when his rants make more sense than the opinions of big-shots.

Friday, October 28, 2016

In search of Quantum Supremacy

Computer complexity theorist had 5 minutes to explain quantum computers, and said:
But what quantum supremacy means to me, is demonstrating a quantum speedup for some task as confidently as possible.  Notice that I didn’t say a useful task!  I like to say that for me, the #1 application of quantum computing — more than codebreaking, machine learning, or even quantum simulation — is just disproving the people who say quantum computing is impossible!  So, quantum supremacy targets that application.

What is important for quantum supremacy is that we solve a clearly defined problem, with some relationship between inputs and outputs that’s independent of whatever hardware we’re using to solve the problem.  That’s part of why it doesn’t cut it to point to some complicated, hard-to-simulate molecule and say “aha!  quantum supremacy!”
I accept this, but the important points is that quantum supremacy has never been demonstrated. Yes, there are regular press releases and news stories about advances in new and better quantum computers, but no one has ever shown a quantum speedup over regular Turing computers.

Charles H. Bennett responds:
An experimental demonstration of what is infelicitously called quantum supremacy (I prefer “classical retardation”) would be way less earthshaking than the Higgs boson. It would be much more like the experimental demonstrations of Bell and CHSH violations: a validation of what we have every right to expect, based on the unblemished success of quantum theory so far.
I do not agree. Quantum theory is unblemished in confirming Bell violations, yes, but the computational speedups are speculative and have not been shown. I doubt that they will ever be shown.

Monday, October 24, 2016

It is not Ptolemy

Statistician Andrew Gelman has done some good work debunking shoddy social science about the "power pose":

I don’t care about power pose. It’s just a silly fad. I do care about reality, and I care about science, which is one of the methods we have for learning about reality. The current system of scientific publication, in which a research team can get fame, fortune, and citations by p-hacking, and then even when later research groups fail to replicate the study, that even then there is the continuing push to credit the original work and to hypothesize mysterious interaction effects that would manage to preserve everyone’s reputation . . . it’s a problem.

It’s Ptolemy, man, that’s what it is. [No, it’s not Ptolemy; see Ethan’s comment below.]

Okay, I won't criticize him much, because he did correct himself. But obviously he was relying on a popular stereotype that equates Ptolemy with bad science.

A comment says:
Why the knock on Ptolemy? His epicicyle model made predictions verifiable with the measurement methods of his time. There will be no Kepler to update the power pose.

Epicyclical motion is used in the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient Greek astronomical device for > compensating for the elliptical orbit of the Moon, moving faster at perigee and slower at apogee than circular orbits would, using four gears, two of them engaged in an eccentric way that quite closely approximates Kepler’s second law.

As an indication of exactly how good the Ptolemaic model is, modern planetariums are built using gears and motors that essentially reproduce the Ptolemaic model for the appearance of the sky as viewed from a stationary Earth.
Mocking Ptolemy is like mocking modern planetariums. It shows a very bizarre view of what science is all about.

Ptolemy and Kepler were two of the greatest scientific geniuses of all time. A recent paper on Galileo (1564-1642) and Kepler (1571-1630):
the modern scientist and the mystic
points out that Kepler is also underrated, compared to Galileo.
Perhaps the most instructive example of a clash between Galileo's smooth "rational thinking" and Kepler's "mysticism" is provided by their different approaches to the theory of tides. In 1616 Galileo published (in Italian) his Discorso on the topic. In his view, it provided The decisive proof that the Earth moves [S], p. 224 (the idea having come to him in a flash on one of his frequent trips from Padua to Venice in a
large barge whose bottom contained a certain amount of water). Kepler had the right intuition that the tides are caused by the moon's attraction - a view confirmed and further elaborated by Newton and Laplace of the next generations.
Update: Gelman followed up with another strange attack on Ptolemy, referring to some faulty research:
I call this reasoning Ptolemaic because it’s an attempt to explain an entire pattern of data with an elaborate system of invisible mechanisms.
So I won't credit him for understanding his mistake.

Many outstanding theories of science, such as all field theories, rely on a system of invisible mechanisms. I thought that Gelman started out in Physics, but he badly misunderstands what theoretical science is all about.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Brain entropy said to explain consciousness

PhysicsWorld reports:
Consciousness appears to arise naturally as a result of a brain maximizing its information content. So says a group of scientists in Canada and France, which has studied how the electrical activity in people's brains varies according to individuals' conscious states. The researchers find that normal waking states are associated with maximum values of what they call a brain's "entropy". ...

The latest work stems from the observation that consciousness, or at least the proper functioning of brains, is associated not with high or even low degrees of synchronicity between neurons but by middling amounts. Jose Luis Perez Velazquez, a biochemist at the University of Toronto, and colleagues hypothesized that what is maximized during consciousness is not connectivity itself but the number of different ways that a certain degree of connectivity can be achieved.

Perez Velazquez's colleague Ramon Guevarra Erra, a physicist at the Paris Descartes University, points out that there is only one way to connect each set of neurons in a network with every other set, just as there is only one way to have no connections at all. In contrast, he notes, there are many different ways that an intermediate medium-sized number of connections can be arranged.

To put their hypothesis to the test, the researchers used data previously collected by Perez Velazquez showing electric- and magnetic-field emissions from the brains of nine people, seven of whom suffered from epilepsy. ...

Perez Velazquez and colleagues argue that consciousness could simply be an "emergent property" of a system – the brain – that seeks to maximize information exchange and therefore entropy, since doing so aids the survival of the brain's bearer by allowing them to better model their environment.
Maybe consciousness is an emergent property. Maybe it can be related to how neurons form connections. Maybe these researchers are on to something. But calling it brain entropy seems like a stretch.