Category Archives: Rationality

CIUUK15: Less than 2 Weeks to go!

A Message from Daniel Lewis – Chief Co-organiser of the Computational Intelligence Unconference:

Computational Intelligence Unconference UK 2015
#CIUUK15
15th August 2015 : 10am – 6pm : Strand Campus, Kings College London

There are less than two weeks to go until the event, and everything is full steam ahead!

We’ve got so many high quality speakers we almost ran out of space on the schedule for them. Rohit Talwar and Prof. Murray Shanahan will be opening the unconference with a discussion about the future of artificial intelligence from a business and societal point of view. We’ve got a section on human-computer interaction with Blaise Thomson and James Ravenscroft. We’ve got a section on Smart Cities and the Internet of Things with David Beeton and Rajesh Bhardwaj. We’ve got a section discussing the practicalities of computational intelligence with Marcelo Funes-Gallanzi, Dr Leandro L. Minku and Peter Morgan. We’ve also got a health and medicine section with Pam Yoder, Hari Ponniah and Dr Yonghong Peng. Plus we’re also putting together a panel of politics/government experts from across the political spectrum to discuss the impact of AI and technology on policy.

It really will be an immensely interesting day, and we are very excited. We hope you are too. Have a look at the schedule on the website.

So far we have three sponsors confirmed: The Goodwill Company as Platinum Sponsors, AVNTK as Bronze Sponsors and ContactSingapore as tea&coffee break sponsors. We have also had a good number of you provide a little bit of crowdfunding sponsorship, which really does help! Plus we’ve had a couple of other offers recently which are yet to confirm. However, we are still short, and so if you personally or if your organisation can help then please do let us know. We are a non-profit organisation, and we don’t charge for admission, and so we are reliant on the generosity of sponsors. The email address is at the bottom of this email if you wish to get in touch about this.

 

You may also want to consider getting yourself a T-Shirt, and profits go towards the venue and catering costs. Get your T-Shirts here: https://www.tboom.co.uk/ciuuk15

CIUUK15 T-Shirt

There is still much to do. We will be updating the website over the next few days with the most recent information, and we will be responding to many emails which came through over the past few days about the event. (Apologies if you’re one of the people waiting for a response!). We will also try to put a list of nearby hotels on the website, just in case you’re staying in the area.

What can you do? Well, make sure you can still come. It’ll be on the 15th August 2015, and we will start at 10am – so try to arrive 15-20 minutes earlier. But no problems if you can only be there part of the date. If you booked multiple tickets, then please also make sure that you can still bring those people, and I will be asking for names of your plus-ones shortly before the event. Come to the event with ideas, come to share, and come with a problem-solving hat on.

The website is: http://ciunconference.org/uk/2015/  & the hash-tag is: #CIUUK15

Any questions then please do send them in my direction, I’d be happy to respond.

See you there!

Daniel Lewis

daniel@ciunconference.org

CIUUK15 Update

I’ve just sent out a message (similar to what is below) to our Computational Intelligence Unconference UK 2015 attendees…

At the time of writing we have 109 days to go (event is on 15th August 2015), we have 100 people already registered (our capacity is over 200) – 7 of which have given us some crowdfunding,  we have 5 speakers already confirmed (with much more time and space for additional talks/workshops). A very big thank you to those who have registered, and if you haven’t registered yet, then go do it now (website: http://ciunconference.org/uk/2015 )

But we need help! Here is how you might be able to help:

(1) Social Networking: We need help to get the word out about the event. If you have a twitter, facebook, linkedin or other social network account then it would be great if you could advertise the event. You can use our official Short-URL bit.ly/ciuuk15 and our official tag #CIUUK15

(2) Sponsorship: We are in urgent need of sponsorship. We’ve got to raise funds to cover the cost of the venue and the food & drink. We are doing our best to keep costs down and get the best deals. Ideally we need a few corporate sponsors, and preferably quite soon, however smaller organisations and personal donations will be very welcome (including crowdfunding offers). If you work for an organisation who could offer some sponsorship in return for marketing/advertising and bespoke audience-engagement, or if you could personally offer to cover the costs of attendance (which is roughly £60 a head), then please let me know as soon as possible. Even if you have a contact in a related company which might be interested in helping us out, then let them know and let me know. I will reiterate, we are non-profit, and are entirely organised by volunteers, and all incomings will go straight into venue/catering costs. The event is heavily dependent on the generosity of our sponsors and volunteers.

(3) Meet-ups/Hackathons: We have a seminar room, and we’re keen on having guest meet-ups and guest hackathons use the space for an hour or two each. So, if you lead or are a part of a (related) meet-up or hackathon, then please get in touch.

(4) Tutorials/Workshops: The same seminar room could also be used by a business or organisation for a tutorial/seminar/workshop. However, we may ask for a donation if the business is for-profit. Feel free to email me to find out more.

(5) Talks: We are also in need of more talks. Short talks and Long talks. If it’s a talk by a business then the business might also want to think about helping to sponsor the event. If its a talk from a personal perspective, or a very technical perspective, then the talk can be done freely (libre et gratis).

(6) Volunteering: We will need on the day volunteers. Volunteers will help manage the rooms and the microphones, and will help give out the badges/lanyards at start. We also need people to: bring cameras (still and moving); to help live tweet the event; and to blog before/during/after the event.

Contact me now if you can help. My email address is:
daniel [at] ciunconference [dot] org

More information about the event is on our website:
http://ciunconference.org/uk/2015
Kings College, London - 15th August 2015 – 10:00-18:00

On behalf of the organisation team, thank you for your interest, thank you (in advance) for your help, and to those of you attending, I look forward to seeing you on the 15th August 2015.

Daniel Lewis
* Chief Co-organiser of the Computational Intelligence Unconference UK 2015
* Founder & Chair of the Computational Intelligence Unconference Association (a Non-profit Unincorporated Association)
- Email: daniel [at] ciunconference [dot] org

Run up to the UK General Election 2015

When I began this blog I was intending to keep politics out of it, but here in the UK we’re in the run up to the election of national members of parliament, and it is rather exciting. I shall attempt to keep this reasonably impartial, but most importantly a rational post and one relevant to the present and future status of humanity.

The last UK general election (in 2010) was the first general election in many years to have been more than a “two horse race”. For many years we had just a two-party system of the Labour Party (who were in power from 1997 to 2010), and the Conservative Party. But in 2010, the Liberal Democrat Party (aka “LibDems”) became rapidly more popular, appealing to society who felt that the government had been treating society with too much of an authoritarian hand (and not very socially-liberal), and without openness in terms of the economy. It was very unlikely that the LibDems would have received a majority to rule the government from 2010, but it looked like they would increase their MPs and their share of the votes. The result was that Conservatives and Labour were not too far from being neck and neck, with the Conservatives winning more MPs and votes than Labour, and the LibDems came third place.

The LibDems, traditionally being both economically and societally “Centre-Left” had the option of either helping Labour to form a government, or helping the Conservatives form a government. Labour, was also, traditionally, a “Centre-Left” political party – and a coalition between the two would have been more politically similar. However, the talks broke down, and after all, more people voted for the the Conservatives than for Labour, and so the LibDems entered into talks with the Conservatives, and managed to form a government.  The Conservatives are very firmly a “Centre-Right” political party (both economically and socially). This Centre-Right-Centre-Left coalition is not so strange, the sister parties in Europe of both the LibDems and the Conservatives have been in coalition in national governments before, from what I understand they tend to offset some of their more radical policy-pledges, and try to implement basic social liberalism, and a strong capitalist private sector (i.e. neo-liberalism).

Now, whenever two or more parties come together to form a coalition, it is obvious that neither party (particularly junior member(s)) is going to be able to implement every single one of their manifesto items. An example of this is that the LibDems strongly promised to remove fees for university study (which helped the LibDems receive many student votes!), the Conservatives did not allow them to implement that policy, and in fact university fees have risen. On the other hand, the LibDems did manage to secure a referendum on the general election voting system to try to move away from First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) and implement the Alternative Vote (AV) system, which is a preferential voting system (i.e. you order the candidates by your preference, and so if your first choice doesn’t get in, then your second choice will – meaning that every vote counts, and tactical voting is prevented). This referendum was done, but unfortunately was not voted for by the general public, and we are still stuck with the FPTP system, and the general public still feels like they have  to do tactical voting (i.e. voting for their 2nd or 3rd choice, when they feel their 1st choice “will never get in”). Psshht! It just doesn’t make sense – even if AV wasn’t the best system, it would have been a step forwards towards a proportional voting system. We’ve also had Scotland holding a referendum for independence, which was voted against by the Scottish people, but the result is that Scotland is getting more and more governmental power in their Scottish Parliament (which is good in my opinion), and also the Scottish people are becoming more enthusiastic in politics.

Anyway, we’ve had a LibDem – Conservative coalition for almost 5 whole years now, and members of both parties have been increasingly irritated by their own party. In fact, I used to be a member of the Liberal Democrats, but left last year simply because they officially stated that they want to be the middle-road between Labour and the Conservatives (meaning a removal of the “left” from “Centre-Left”, becoming a purely Centrist party). The Conservatives, also, were irritated by how much the Liberal Democrat dominated coalition policy.

Now it comes to the current situation.  The fact that we had a strong three-party dialogue in parliament in the past 5-6 years, and done so in such a public way (on TV, radio, and so much on the internet, especially via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter), means that the public is seeing that politics does not have to be about two political parties battling out. It can be much more than that, there are many different political parties out there, and many independent candidates (i.e. candidates not associated with a political party).

Two entire-UK “minor” parties have received a sharp increase in members and support. The first is the Green Party, a strongly socialist (“left”), anti-austerity party with a clear environmental and sustainability agenda, and all about doing the best for the common people in an anti-authoritarian way. The other is the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which is a strongly-pro-austerity, strongly capitalist party (“right”) and strongly authoritarian with an anti-immigrant and anti-european-union agenda. Both the Greens and UKIP have fully-costed manifestos, this is the first year that UKIP have a fully-costed manifesto, and the Green Party have always had a fully-costed manifesto as far as I’ve known them! I should add that obviously the costings are different, and their approaches are very different.

The Greens now have over 60,000 members in the whole of the UK, which is more than the membership number of the LibDems and UKIP, but not as many (yet!) as Labour or the Conservatives. I should add that I am now a member of the Green Party, as they are very close to my personal political views, much more than the LibDems ever were.

However, there is another aspect of this election, and that is regionalism. The Scottish National Party (SNP) is strongly on the rise due to the new found enthusiasm of the Scots for politics. The Welsh have also seen the enthusiasm of the Scots, and have a strong desire to have more powers given to the Welsh Assembly, which means that Plaid Cymru (which is “Welsh Party” in the wonderful Welsh language, it is said in anglicised way as “Ply-d Cumree”) is also on the rise. Both the SNP and Plaid Cymru, other than being regionalist and federalist, are “centre-left” (both economically and societally), they are strongly anti-austerity and have quite a substantial belief in sustaining our environment here in the UK. In the European Parliament & Union, the SNP and Plaid Cymru sit with each other as part of the European Free Alliance (EFA), which is in union with the European Green Party and the European Pirate Party. The SNP and Plaid Cymru are therefore friendly (and understandably so) with the Green Party here in the UK. The number of SNP and Plaid Cymru candidates could mean that they could impose some kind of “centre-left” coalition in government, and if they aren’t in cabinet, then they will certain provide a strong radical, anti-austerity, centre-left voice in the opposition.

So, we therefore have a total of 7 political parties getting a good amount of media attention. The two/three traditionally “big players” being:

  • the Conservatives,
  • the Labour Party,
  • the Liberal Democrat Party,

The two other UK-wide political parties:

  • the Green Party,
  • UKIP,

We then have the two main regionalist parties:

  • The SNP in Scotland
  • Plaid Cymru in Wales

This is without even going into much detail about Northern Ireland, which has its own political parties in the left, right and centre. These could have some kind of influence in Westminster too.

This election, which will happen on the 7th May 2015, is going to be very interesting. My message to UK voters would be that this is no longer a two-party race, and you should not vote tactically, vote with both your heart and your head. If you feel that the Green Party (for example) won’t get in because Labour and the Tories are too strong in your area, don’t vote tactically because there might actually be hundreds of others in your constituency that think the same, and its only going to take vote-share change to change the elected candidate (if not this time then certainly next when people realised that the vote-share has changed). Vote with conviction and enthusiasm, and share your views. Do it rationally, and do it with the welfare of humanity in mind!

There is one final thing that I would like to add. I am saddened that candidates from all parties, but I’ve noticed particularly from the Labour Party, have become increasingly like robots. They’ll answer one question with an answer, then the next question which attempts to get different information out, they just use the same answer with the same words but perhaps in a slightly different order. Every party does this. The Labour Party does this in every answer, it feels like they have succumbed to an American approach to politics, incredibly polished but also fearful that its going to say something wrong. The Conservatives are using the word “chaos” too much. The LibDems are using the “middle-road” too much. I just wish that they could all just think for themselves, rather than churning out the output of a PR engine. Its far too materialistic for my liking.

Let’s change politics. Let’s change government. Let’s improve society!

For Freedom! For Equality! For Community!

Thoughts on… belief

I’ve always attempted to make this blog an outlet for very rational thoughts, and I don’t intend to change that. However, I feel drawn to mention about a part of my life which is important to me, but may seem irrational to others.

I am ordained, currently as a deacon, but “in-training” for the priesthood. The ordination was into a small independent Church which has a very interesting history, and has members around the world. It can be classed as a Christian church, in that it follows the philosophies surrounding Christ. However, its theology is a little different from mainstream churches, and radically different from what we might call the fundamental/evangelical churches. The church that I am involved in is very liberal and inclusive, it is very open to ecumenical work and does not attempt to “convert”. However, it does have apostolic succession and does make use of ritual. Its theology could be classed as “gnostic” in that its members attempt to get to know the divine. The divine which is everything that we can perceive, it is not supernatural, but very natural. In this way, we approach theology with both belief and knowledge, and apply the tools of logic and scientific thought. Its members can engage with and build friendships with atheists and theists alike.

This part of me, which could be classed as spiritual beliefs and knowledge, is important to me. I value it greatly, and it permeates and intermingles with my political and ethical thoughts, and enriches my knowledge-base and altruistic tendencies. However, I am always worried about talking about to my friends and contacts in computer science / engineering / mathematics. The reason why I fear talking about it, is simply because I know that many class themselves as atheist, and I worry that they may discredit my work and opinion in other areas simply because I am involved in religious work.

On the one hand, how can I call myself Christian, when (for example) a large amount of loud Christians espouse a creationist viewpoint (whereas I follow a evolutionary perspective firmly found in science)? On the other hand, why do so many atheists seem to denounce all forms of religious belief when (for example) religion provides prayer and meditation to billions of people – which has been proven to improve cognitive function (e.g. here), not to mention the positive impact of societal/communal work that a local religious community can offer?

It is really tough. It also does not help when the big churches “just don’t get it” when it comes to issues such as equality of gender in the episcopate, or equality of differing sexualities. I think this is probably why I ended up in an independent church – it is small and distributed, it doesn’t have the silliness of bizarre traditions (e.g. we’ve had women bishops for many years, and we would be happy to marry same-sex couples), and it approaches theology and life really logically and sympathetically.

So, I am torn. I have a few options. I could either (1) fully integrate my lives as both an applied computational intelligence researcher and an ordained person, getting the most value out of my belief and knowledge network and being happy but being in constant fear that some people may discredit my work. Or, (2) I could keep them separate and have separate lives, and continue to be frustrated at some of the things espoused by both the christian communities and the atheist communities. Or (3) I could carry on “as-is”, sort of having separate lives, but sometimes mentioning it carefully and after much consideration – but then never really being open and also being quite worried that people will misunderstand because I’ve not explained adequately enough.

Perhaps, what is most important is actually living a life of love towards humanity, and doing my best for the future of humanity. Living altruistically and ethically.

I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on this – particularly from those involved in computer science, and particularly from those who class themselves as atheists.

Once again, I’d like to highlight that I in no way wish the reader to convert to my belief system. That is certainly not my intention. From my perspective you can believe what you want, providing it doesn’t hurt yourself, me, or anybody else. Freedom! Equality! Community!

I will continue to think about this issue. However, in the meantime… Your thoughts?

Thoughts on… my postdoctoral position (late 2015 / early 2016)

I’ve been thinking about what happens after my PhD, I am due to complete it around October/November 2015. I would love to know for sure that I’ll be at X University doing Y research and Z teaching. As I am a strong believer in transparency and openness, I’d like to open up my careers search. Below you’ll find some details about me and what I am looking for, and if you can help me in any way then I would love to hear from you. Please contact:
danieljohnlewis [at] gmail [dot] com


 

Who (name): Daniel John Lewis
Who (current detail): Daniel is a PhD student in Engineering Mathematics (Intelligent Systems) at the University of Bristol, where he is researching a form of fuzzy data mining over hierarchical data sets. Due to complete PhD in October/November 2015. He has also received teaching experience while at the University of Bristol, and has assisted with “widening participation” programmes.
Who (background detail): Before beginning his PhD he worked for a non-profit on a Linked Open Data EU-funded project (LOD2). Before that he has had numerous positions in Semantic Web / Linked Data Consultancy and Web / Software development.
Who (other detail): He is also an events organiser (voluntary, e.g. Computational Intelligence Unconference), and has written technical documents for numerous online (e.g. IBM developerWorks) and print outlets (e.g. .net Magazine).
Who (languages spoken): English (mother-tongue), Italian (improving), Spanish (very basic)
Who (currently where): Bristol, England, United Kingdom.
Who (previously where): Oxfordshire, England, United Kingdom, and before that, Kent, England, United Kingdom.

Position wanted: Research position or Research+Teaching positions
To start: End of 2015 / Beginning of 2016
Location type wanted: A University or a Research institute. Public or private. I am only currently interested in university / research institute positions, and not for-profit business.
Location wanted: United Kingdom (preferably South England or South Wales), elsewhere in the European Union (preferably Italy or Italian-speaking Switzerland), or in the USA (preferably California), but open to other suggestions
Department wanted: Open to ideas, but could be Computer Science, Mathematics, Philosophy or Psychology
Research wanted: Can come with own ideas, or happy to work on existing ideas. Would be good to focus on Data Mining and/or Artificial Intelligence and/or Artificial General Intelligence. Preferably including the use of fuzzy set theory / fuzzy logic, would also be open to belief function research. Would also be happy to partake in research into Digital Humanities, Robotics and/or Smart Cities. Also happy to use my knowledge of Semantic Web / Linked Data.
Teaching: Would be happy to teach/lecture things relating to computer science, particularly artificial intelligence, logic and/or programming (primarily Python and/or C).

For more details about Daniel please visit his LinkedIn profile ( @danieljohnlewis ), and if you can assist with his search for a postdoctoral university position then get in touch via email. His personal email is:
danieljohnlewis [at] gmail [dot] com

(
Replacing the [at] with @, and the [dot] with .
This is for spam deterrence.
)

Thoughts on… conformity

“Eh! Put your shoes on mate,” an adolescent shouted as he and his “friends” walk near me. This is as I sit on a bench in a green and luscious public park on a sunny day at the beginning of Autumn in South West England.

I say nothing in response and act as if I did not hear what the lad vociferated. My feet being away from the sight of the majority of those in the park, and my feet also being clean and my nails being in reasonably good condition, they were not in an offensive state. I sit pondering why a young person wants me to conform, urging me to don footwear. Are we raising these people to exhibit obedience to the societal norms, even to the point of enmity? So that nobody considers the (ir)rationality of some forms of social convention, while they are applauded for challenging the out-of-the-ordinary not only by their associates but also by authority.

Of course challenging a law breaker or an enemy of human rights & liberties, is, in my eyes a positive idea. However, what doesn’t make sense is the challenging of a person when they have their natural feet exposed in a natural park, feeling the natural and alive grass between their toes, and the warming sun falling comfortably on their skin.

Is my act of footnakedness really so irrational?

Why should my barefootedness be banned?

I wonder whether we (as in all of society) are teaching (both in the classroom and at home) with too much authoritarian rule, that much of the current young generation is having trouble thinking “outside of the box”.

My point is… conformity to the norm does not necessarily equate to conformity to what is natural and/or best. We need to be maximising happiness for as many as possible, while protecting human rights & liberties. This is one direction that humanity will truly be able to progress.

[p.s. this is a true story, written on paper very soon after it happened on 17th September 2014]

MIRI: Machine Intelligence Research Institute

MIRIx Bristol – October 2014

This invite is about MIRIx, a set of local events affiliated to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (based in California) – one of the worlds best known research organisations of “Friendly AI“. I am the volunteer organiser for “MIRIx Bristol”, and I’d like to get our first meeting off the ground. MIRIx will be held at the University of Bristol in South West of the United Kingdom.

We are planning to have our first meeting in October 2014 (date to be confirmed), and if the reader is interested in attending, then please do send an email to me. We will have to vet applications for attendence. This is partly due to security, as the event will be held on university premises, and partly because numbers will be limited.

Although the event is likely to be made up largely of University of Bristol staff and students, we may well have visitors from outside of the university – particularly those who are involved in Friendly AI research  / MIRI / “Less Wrong” Community.

We will be talking about the combination of Probability and Logic, in particular we will discuss the paper:
“Definability of Truth in Probabilistic Logic” by Christiano, Yudkowsky, Herreshoff, Barasz

We will also discuss work on Bayesian Logic Networks by the famous Stuart Russell.

We are hoping to have snacks and drink available (for free, thanks to sponsorship). However, this is to be confirmed.

This blog post will be updated when the date is confirmed and when the food & drink sponsorship is confirmed. Thank you for your patience.

Thoughts on… formality

The following is entirely based on observation…

Formality is an interesting one isn’t it? We, as humans, seem to resort to formal speech when we meet somebody new, or when we talk about business. But why?

It comes naturally to my mind that rapport can be built between two people if they match their tone of language, style of dress, and even breathing rates. This would lead on to the indication that those who have particular styles or ways-of-life, seemingly manage to connect quite naturally and are able to work together successfully. This is magnified when the people involved also share particular areas of knowledge and interest.

Formality, in this context, is about taking a particular form. It seems to me that “formality” is often associated with business environments. These environments require wearing a particular type of dress, “formal wear”, indicating a two or three piece suit, or some other kind of office wear. These environments also seem to bring out a type of language from people which is quite foreign from their day-to-day speech. This language, when fully employed, sometimes comes out in a robotic fashion.

As humans are naturally beings which are both intuitive and logical, both emotional and rational, it seems very odd to me that we would try to remove all forms of the intuitive and emotional, from speech, whether that speech is “day-to-day” or “formal”.

Surely it would be better if we tried to transact conversation however rapport would guide us. Providing (and advocating) a careful balance of tolerance and personal belief. Why enforce, or try to enforce, conformities on those to whom it does not come naturally?

I would imagine that both the enforcement of conformity (authoritarian method), and the truly open rapport method (anti-authoritarian method), could lead to what we call tribalism. Tribalism has its pros and cons. One of the largest “con” is hatred between tribes, another large “con” is that it is extremely difficult to build bridges between tribes. So if we were to implement the anti-authoritarian method of non-formality.

Such a topic also makes me think about the use of language. Is it truly ethical to enforce a particular style of language? Granted we have to actually teach the next generations how to use the language that we use in order that we can pass down concepts and history, but why are neologisms so frowned upon? Why are subtle modifications in language structure so frowned upon? Just by looking into the history of the English language you’ll find that it has changed quite a bit in the last 100 years, and is basically unrecognisable if you go back 1000 years. We even have regional differences – for example, I bet that it would annoy quite a few people to hear what is spoken in Bristol as “Warez ee to?”, which means “where is he?”, not only is the word “where” seemingly merged with the word “is”, but the “h” is dropped in “he”, and the word “to” is appended, which to some is more seemingly problematic than the word “at” which would sometimes be added in various other regions of the world. My point is to perhaps let it be, and let language evolve. In some cases regional dialects are not “new”, but have history longer than the authorised bibles.

One problem does come to mind though, which is learning a language. In which case it is useful to have a common basis.

Anyway, I have digressed quite a bit from my original topic. So I’ll end the post here.

Thoughts on… thinking and decisions

At the University we have weekly meetings for the Intelligent Systems Lab (ISL), that we cleverly call “LabMeets.” So, the topic today diverged from the usual talk on some aspect of computer intelligence, and was a brief talk followed by a short recording of an interview – the topic was essentially the Behavioural Economics of Daniel Kahneman. I was suitably impressed enough to write up some of my notes, and to exercise the liberal art of rhetoric. Although economics might at first seem quite distant from artificial intelligence, it is actually quite closely related.

As mentioned, the first section of today’s LabMeet was a brief overview of a paper by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky entitled “Choices, Values and Frames” published in 1984 in American Psychologist. This paper showed that people tend to be “risk-averse” when the outcomes are seemingly positive, whereas “risk-seeking” when the outcomes are negative. A number of examples were given which highlight that given exactly the same scenario, the language of two different options has a direct relationship to the option chosen. This is a key aspect of decision-making, and therefore having an objective view allows for a more rational decision. It matters quite a lot to humanity, because it means that humans can very easily be manipulated, just through the use of language.

Kahneman also wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow. Which, as far as I am aware, goes into more detail about this particular theory. In the labmeet, we watched a youtube video of an interview with Kahneman regarding Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman describes two systems which the brain uses:

  • System 1: Is, in essence, the part of the mental processes which includes intuition and subconscious thought. It is that “gut feeling,” and is our fast response unit.
  • System 2: Is, in essence, the more logical and rational mental processes. It (usually) takes more time to get a result from System 2 than it does from System 1, just because it takes time to calculate.

Considering one particular example. If somebody is on a short-term winning streak (e.g. in some kind of sport, or perhaps in playing the stock markets), our intuition (i.e. System 1) might tell use that that person is worth promoting or investing in. However, our rational mind (i.e. System 2) well tell us that statistically somebody that has been better than average for a lot longer (even if he/she is not currently having a winning streak), is better to promote or invest in. With this in mind System 2 is usually the better to go with.

However, we spend most of our lives, as humans, living in System 1 and it works for us most of the time. It is just that when the difficult decisions come, the result from System 2 will usually be the best decision. This is related to the regression towards the mean phenomenon.

What was also said was about leadership, and Kahneman mentions in the video that in terms of presidents of the USA; George Bush was more of a System 1 thinker, whereas Barack Obama is more of a System 2 thinker.

From my own point of view, I couldn’t help thinking that both System 1 and System 2 obviously have their pros and cons. I wonder, from a brain-improvement perspective, how this particular theory could help. Would it be possible to make our intuitions correct for more complex decisions (i.e. improving system 1 while retaining the speed), and would it be possible to improve our more rational brain by making our day-to-day lives more rational and making our rational thought incorporate the intuitive nature of our very being? It also leads me back to one of my previous blog posts where I consider how machines might deal with rationality and irrationality of humans.

Just some thoughts, and I’d be happy to hear yours…

Thoughts on… rationality

I’ve recently become quite interested in the idea of the technological singularity, which is basically where artificial intelligence becomes more intelligent than human intelligence. What form this takes, and how we get there is not known, but it is not uncomprehendable that we accidentally or purposefully build an artificial general intelligence which evolves itself beyond the level of its creators intelligence.

That aside, I have watched a few of the talks from the Singularity Summit of 2012, and stumbled across one talk by Julia Galef (of CFAR) on “Rationality and the Future“. Rationality is an important on its own, but it has a special relationship with singularity theory. It seems to me (and those of you in this particular field, please do feel free to correct me), that rationality is important in singularity theory for the following reasons:

  1. Machines are programmed to be rational. Programming languages are based on mathematics – such as algebra, calculus, geometry and proof. It is this “proof” theory which allows us to test, and be confident that an algorithm (or whole software) will act in a certain way.
  2. Rationality allows us to define beliefs, intentions and desires (BDI). As humans, this has, or at least should have, an implication on the decisions we make and the actions we perform thereafter. The same stands for an artificial intelligence – in machine learning algorithms the results may or may not match up with reality or even rationality, and those decisions will lead into action for an intelligent agent. PEAS (Performance measure, Environment,. Actuators, Sensors) theory also comes to mind.
  3. Also from what I’ve seen in singularity topics, there is plenty of opinion. Some opinion is based on reasonable speculation, and some is based on pure guesswork. (Although it sounds as if expert opinion and non-expert opinion when it comes to singularity is somewhat similar in its estimations on when singularity will occur. See talk on How we’re predicting AI by Stuart Armstrong). This means that rational thinking is essential for humans to sort through the strong theories, and the weak theories. Having assumptions is something necessary as we don’t know everything, and those things that we do know exhibit levels of uncertainty and vagueness, but the important thing is to actually specify for any particular statement that you are taking such an assumption.

So the problem with the above is that almost every human is at least sometimes irrational. There are very few people that are able to live completely rationally. Uncertainties and vagueness permeates our understandings and our communications, not to mention that we do things wrong because of physical limitations (temporal or permanent). This is not necessarily always a bad thing – for example, when we fall in love (could be with a person, or a place), we might have our reasons for falling in love, but these reasons might not necessarily match up with science and mathematics, if they do then scientific and mathematical reasoning is not necessarily at the front of the mind of the human.

The talk by Galef, mentioned (and I am paraphrasing here) that one of her students came to her saying that he did not know whether to move away from family and friends in order to take a much higher paid job. To which Galef rephrased the problematic decision to being if you were already in that job, would you take a very big pay cut in order to move back to your family and friends. To which the answer was apparently “no”. Galef said that this rephrasing of the decision got around the problem of the Status Quo, in that people prefer to stay in a situation than move from it – even if it is the irrational option.

It is a good example, and rephrasing a decision can allow for more reasonable decision making. It also depends on how much we hone in on one or the other forms of decision. For example, in the decision about moving for a job, there could be an element of risk involved – the what-if’s could creep in, for example what if I don’t make friends, what if I lose the job, what if I am not comfortable in the place where I live. The level of risk might be too much for a rational move. In other words the level of risk is greater than the level of pay increase. Likewise risk can creep in to the inverse – if I stay where I am, then what if I lose my job, what if I lose my friends or upset my family, and what happens if my environment changes dramatically. The level of risk might be too much for a rational stay. We could also go into much more depth of reasoning, and actually give value to staying or going. This is turning the irrational into the rational… but do we always need to go into such depths of reasoning? Particularly as we’re sometimes irrational anyway, can we not hone our decisions without becoming so rational?

At the moment I don’t know the answer to this final question, or even know whether it is very important. What I do know is that this irrationality, or at least just the uncertainty and vagueness, is the reason why I became involved in and continue to be interested in Fuzzy Set Theory and Fuzzy Logic. Fuzzy attempts to model these shades of grey, allows for them to be reasoned, and does not have the requirement of definitive input or output. Probability theory is another area which helps with uncertainties, and I am very convinced that there is use for Fuzzy Probabilities and Possibility theory in Artificial Intelligence. Particularly if we combine such reasoning systems with knowledge bases (and that is where my knowledge of Semantic Web / Linked Data and Databases comes in handy).

These are just my initial thoughts on rationality for this blog, as I go along in my research into fuzzy theory and artificial intelligence I’m sure I’ll have more. Plus, I’m sure they’ll develop the more I consider singularity too.

Please feel free to comment.