Category Archives: Theory of Democracy

Biased, are we?

Intelligent systems and Racial bias – a couple of remarks

In http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-inherent-bias-of-facial-recognition, Rose Eveleth talks about the racial bias inherent in Facial Recognition systems. It is an interesting read. I would like, if I may, to make a couple of comments.

 

I must admit, first of all, that Rose Eveleth is correct. Face Detection and Facial Recognition systems suffer from racial bias. I have used many such systems, and they are all, always, racially biased. But I would just like to elaborate a little bit on that issue.

The underlying problem is simple – you need to train a system on a large “test set” of sample faces. Those “test sets” need to be generated by human beings, at a high cost. There are now two human biases coming into play:

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On the manipulability of votes

This is the first installment in a series about social choice and welfare. The structure will be: historical anecdote, followed by “spoon-feeding” the conclusions.

Senate tribunal
Senate tribunal

So, here go:

We are in the 1st century A.C.. Pliny the younger is the current “chairman” of the Roman  Senate. And he is faced with a difficult situation. Consul Africius Dexter was found dead. Was he murdered? Was it an assisted suicide?
The freedmen who worked on his estate are sent to trial in Rome. The Senate is debating their doom.

The Senate gets divided into three groups. In the first and largest group, Pliny the younger convinces the other senators that there is no case for conviction. The death of Africius Dexter was a suicide, or very likely so, and the freedmen should be exempt from charge. The second group, slightly smaller, includes senators who are not willing to clear the freedmen from guilt. But they are not convinced enough to demand a harsh punishment. They opt for exiling the freedmen.
The smaller group, the third, is composed of senators who would have the freedmen all executed.

Most Senators expect Pliny the younger to count the votes on guilt, first, and then on punishment. The outcome in that case would be guilt, and the lesser punishment of exile, not death.

But Pliny refuses. He claims that coupling the options of exile and death and pitting them as a couple against acquittal is wrong. What do these punishments have in common, he asks? Surely, the distance between death and exile is larger than the distance between exile and acquittal. Pliny wants to count all three options as equal, and see what option would gain a simple majority. That is, which option has the larger pool of supporters.
This would mean, conveniently, that acquittal would win.

But that did not come to pass. The third group, the ones who want a death sentence, they “lie” and go over to the second group. Together, they have signed a majority for exiling the freedmen – much to the dismay of Pliny. As he moans in a letter to a friend, that was foul play.

Was it?

The hardships of equality

This post is an attempt to clarify and generalize the main points of:
https://meandiscourse.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/risks_of_sex/

and explain why equality is an excruciatingly hard goal. Note that equality is meant, first and foremost, to be formal equality in front of the law. I am not interested here in questions of economical equality, although extreme economic inequality often has legal and social repercussions.

What does it take to create equality?
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Don’t compress it with that!

We had an issue at work. Our dev. team is managing a php server, which sends and receives binary KET files of constant size (say, 5kb) to production servers. I was rewriting some of the production servers and I notices that sometimes I’m getting TLE files in instead of KET files, and that they are 11 byte too big.

I checked it out. Apparently the dev. team was sending the KET files for compression (via php gzcompress). They were very much surprised to learn that the output files were larger than the original KETs. “Apparently”, they sighed, “gzip is not a very good compression. Let’s find another one”.

Which is the wrong conclusion. They have a meagre chance of finding a compression engine which wouldn’t expand the files. And this is a good excuse to explain this to the rest of the world.

An introduction to data compression

Mathematician’s digest:

Pigeon hole principle → no general compression scheme possible.

Range limitation → Data redundancy → range-specific compression possible.

Prima facie, compression is an impossible task.

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What did go wrong?

A few years back, a friend bought me Bernard Lewis’ “What went wrong” and asked me for a review. This is somewhat late – but you might find it interesting.

Lewis’ starting points seem obvious: is the 13th century, Islam was the future. The Islamic centers in Mesopotamia were the peak of civilization. 700 years later, Islamic Mesopotamia is poor and sordid.
He is searching for an answer in culture. That seemed weird to me. Culturally, the east – and especially the Islamic east – was not a lethargic culture.
And I think I have a better explanation now.
Reading material:
Weatherford, Jack (2004). Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (review). New York: Crown. ISBN 0-609-61062-7.

As people are the same, so are socioogical truths. It’s the same story in Israel, today, as well.

Pandaemonium

stop

At the heart of the current debate about immigration are two issues: the first is about the facts of immigration, the second about public perception of immigration.

The facts are relatively straightforward. Immigration is a good and the idea that immigrants come to Britain to live off benefits laughable. Immigrants put more money into the economy than they take out and have negligible impact on jobs or wages. An independent report on the impact of immigration commissioned by the Home Office in 2003, looked at numerous international surveys and conducted its own study in Britain. ‘The perception that immigrants take away jobs from the existing population, or that immigrants depress the wages of existing workers’, it concluded, ‘do not find confirmation in the analysis of the data laid out in this report.’ More recent studies have suggested that immigration helps raise wages except at the bottom of the jobs ladder where…

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Simple rules to avoid Memory Leaks in C

Below are several short tips which will help you survive C programming. I’ll be adding and amending this from time to time.

The most terrifying aspect of the C programming language is closely related to it’s core strength. Programming in C is all about using pointers – which are memory locations. Thus, in C, when you need a variable to work with to store numbers and manipulate them, you don’t have to deal with the variable directly – you use it’s address, instead. This is, of course, a really stupid thing to do when you just have to use a single variable to store a single number. But it is an enormously useful strategy when sending that variable off to a distant procedure, or when dealing with large arrays.

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Wikileaks, BBBGs and grand stupidities

The usual strategy in this Blog is to wait until the recent, important event is old and all public interest is lost, before I comment on it.

This is not because I abhor of readership, but because I feel that in order to say an intelligent thing about a subject, I need time to contemplate. This time I did the contemplation before it happened. So I am about to do my thing while the wikileaks scandal is still raging. Here are my 2 cents. And I will start with the sound-byte:

19 year-old boys are not adults. Give these boys weapons (the ultimate in big-boom-generating toys), train them to kill, and send them on to a conflict-ridden zone. Now, guess: what they will do there?

If you even imagine that they will do anything other than killing, then you’re a damn fool.

The army is not the problem. It is simply not the solution. You can’t expect a bunch of kids with big guns to build a nation state. Nor should you send them on to do serious police work. It is not their job, it is not their expertise. You train them to fight a war, send them out to face an enemy, and they find themselves in the middle of civilian population. Anyone seriously suggesting that no atrocities will ensue is either a god-damn lier, or pathologically stupid.

Let me repeat myself, at the risk of being crude:

An army is not a peace-keeping force. It is a fighting force.

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One small in favor of Direct Democracy

I’m not quite sure that I like the idea of a direct democracy. But here is a small thought in favor:

Nancy Goldstein, down at the Washington Post, has a piece about the race for senate in Delaware, where she claims for the underdog. There are two candidates in Delaware. One seems like an experienced, rational, thoughtful, man. The other is a disgruntled, confused, and quite wacky, woman (But, no, this is not a gender issue!). Whom would you choose? Nancy Goldstein chooses the wacky girl, which is the one easier to identify with. The rational man is too arrogant. Too know-it-all. Most of all, he is not in need of your sympathy, so he doesn’t get it. Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party candidate in Delaware, was more human – erring, confused, stressed. It stands in her favor in the debate, though the magic is less likely to actually help her win the race.

This is not new stuff. Those who know ancient Greek history should be reminded of Aristides and Themistocles. The others would do well to recall the surprising success of extreme politics throughout the 20th century. It should also remind you of what happens on shows like American Idol, where professionals have meager chance of winning. It is always the not-so-perfect girl-next-door who wins, seemingly “against all odds” – but very likely because she is not so annoyingly perfect. Or have a look at this fact: poll after poll shows that the Israeli public is mostly moderate, but abhors of moderate politicians. A majority wants good policy, but they want it delivered by flawed politicians.

So, if the public is much better at choosing policies than it is in choosing policy-makers, then perhaps, if we let the public choose the policies instead of the policy makers, we will enjoy better policies.

Atheism and Socialism

Or:

Should Atheists admire Monotheism, the same way Socialists love Capitalism?

When I first read Karl Marks’ The Communist Manifesto, I was very much surprised. I expected a demeaning rebuke of Capitalism, a scourge of fire scathing evil wealthy industrialists. But I found nothing of the sort. The Manifesto struck me as a paean for capitalism. It is full to the rim with the praise of capitalism. Marks and Angels are charmed with capitalism. There are a couple of (very big) issues which make capitalism the greatest peak of civilization (so far) in their eyes.

  • The first point is that capitalism has brought an age of limitless capability. Steam BoatsFrom their perspective in the middle of the 19th century, it is more than understandable. As they rightly exclaim, humans can now cross vast oceans in mere weeks. Fertilized crop yield vast amounts of food. For the first time ever, the medical establishment is doing more good than harm. Medicine actually works(!). And on and on. The list is endless. Capitalism has unleashed an enormous power. This power can do much good, and it does.
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Another proof that 0=2

Time for a math riddle. Haven’t done these in a while. Well, haven’t done any in this blog, when I come to think about it. OK. That was enough thinking. Let’s get down to biusiness.

Take a point on the complex plane. Take one which is on the unit circle:

z=e^{i\theta}

Now replace \theta with \phi = \frac{\theta}{2\pi}. We get:

z=e^{i\theta}=e^{2\pi\i\phi}

Which by the simple laws of arithmetic gives us:

z=e^{2\pi\i\phi}=\left(e^{2\pi\i}\right)^\phi=1^\phi=1

So every point on the unit circle is 1!

As a simple consequence we get 1=-1. Add 1 on both sides and get 2=0.

QED.

Can you spot the error?

Moses: A lesson in leadership

Happy Passover to all three readers of my Blog. Today, we shall read a sermon about great leadership at work, and of the relevance of ancient Judaism to our current political life.

These week we, Jews, celebrate the exodus – the miraculous escape of more than half a million Jews from slavery in Egypt. Their 40-years journey through the desert. Mount Sinai. The giving of the Torah. And the epitome of leadership: Moses.

Out of sheer sloth, I will assume that my readers are verse in the stories. For those who are not, take a look at wikipedia. What interests me is the great leadership shown by Moses (and his God). Through the first chapters of their tour of the Sinai desert, it becomes apparent that the people are not fit to be led by the great leader. They tire him by relentlessly asking to be fed, defended, and led. They show more interest in golden statues than in abstract deities. What Moses does in the story, reminds me of Berthold Brecht’s remark regarding the true followers of Moses – The governing party of the late German Democratic Republic:

The people had forfeited the confidence of the government and could win it back only by redoubled efforts.Wouldn’t it be easier to dissolve the people and elect another in their place?

Which is exactly what Moses does. The great leader takes his people on a 40 year travel, so as to rid himself of the bickering mob, and remould their children into a rough warrior-like tribe, capable of mass murder. The People is not fit – so he replaces it. A towering moral example if there ever was one.

Should I have dubbed this post  “a lesson in soviet-type leadership”?

Is crime good?

No, it is not. Of course. But.

Take a look at Dennis vanEngelsdorp’s TED lecture:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Dennis vanEngelsdorp: a plea for bees…“, posted with vodpod

And here is my strange thought:

The extent of parasitic behavior (and predatory behavior is an example of such) is a very good measure of a population’s health. A prosperous population has many parasites. As a population’s health deteriorates, the predators and parasites are the first to disappear.

Can you use this benchmark for human populations? If so, it would probably mean that the more prosperous a human society becomes, the greater will be the amount of a-social behavior it can tolerate.  So, can crime be a measure for cultural success?

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Brother, can you spare me a viable Economic Theory?

Prof. Robert Nadeau, through Scientific American claims that current economic theory is a severe (and irrational) hindrance to fighting global warming.
(the exact link is:
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=brother-can-you-spare-me-a-planet ).
The claim is:
  1. Current (neo-classical) economics is based on false premises.
  2. These false premises include this important premise: That nature is irrelevant to economic growth (and that natural resources are boundless).

Because the irrelevance of nature is a premise of Economic Theory, it is not surprising that it pops up as an outcome of Economic Theory. Given the type of models they work with, economists have to claim that fighting global warming is economically inviable. And when they do so, it’s a tautology – what they are actually saying is: “since we assume that nature is irrelevant to Economics, no action to save natural reasorces could possibly be cost-beneficial”. A claim which is, of course, absurd.

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More power can be much less

Some people I’ve been talking with have been wondering how an extremely mediocre person such as Ulmert got to be the prime minister of Israel. Well, it is nigh time I start writing on subjects I fully comprehend. So, I present to you another lesson in election theory – when can more power mean less power?

We’ll take an example from voting theory, because it is a nice example with interesting lessons, and it demonstrates several aspects of game theory. Suppose we have three people on a committee: Alex, Bob, and Chris. They need to choose between options a, b, and c. A very reliable method of voting is the simple majority vote. In this method, each committee member gives his vote to one option. The option with the largest munger of votes wins.

The trouble is, what happens on a tie? Say Alex votes a, Bob votes b, and Chris votes c. Then each option got 1 vote, and it’s a tie. How do you break a tie?

There are two obvious (and common) tiebreaker rules. The first is to define some option as the default. In case of a tie, that specific option wins. Slightly more common is to define one of the committee members as chairman – giving him the right to decide in case of a tie.

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