Thursday, December 1, 2011

US military spending

The USA spends about as much on the military as the whole rest of the world combined!  This is clearly too much.  Does the US think that it is going to fight the whole world?  Does it think it could win such a fight?

Books versus journal articles

While working in fusion energy I collected far more journal articles than books.  While working in artificial intelligence I collected about the same number of journal articles but I bought (and read) far more AI books than fusion/plasma books.  Perhaps it is more difficult to get AI research published and this results in people assembling a larger number of book length collections of their work?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ultimate values

Life (or mechanical life like Asa H) has as its most fundamental values reproductive success and lifespan (survival).  (see my blogs of 21 Sept. 2010 and 19 Feb. 2011)  Agents occupy a volume in space-time.  Perhaps they should strive to occupy (or exert influence over) more space, not just have longer duration (lifespan). Life that is widely distributed has a better chance of survival if something happens to one of its habitats. Perhaps spreading out over space should be one of our ultimate values.  i.e. life spreads. If enacted, such a value would encourage work on space travel.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Intelligence and values

How intelligent you are depends upon how good your value system is.  If you have bad values you make bad decisions.

The human value system appears to be a kludge made up of a set of simple drives and aversions.  A better value system might be something like the network in my 21 Sept. 2010 blog.

Friday, October 21, 2011

formal systems <-----> informal description, a continuum

A good example of a formal system would be executables like my Asa H 2.0 lite (see my 10 Feb. 2011 post for a listing).

A good example of an informal description of (roughly) the same system is my graph in my 29 Sept. 2010 post. (One could make it more formal by adding details about what each node of the graph does, or by listing what quantities are sent from one node to another and when.)

A good example of a description that is less formal than executable code but more formal than my graph would be the equation set given in my 2006 paper on Asa H (Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci., Vol 109, # 3/4, pg 159).

What is mathematics? (by a nonmathematician)

1. a science of patterns (Composed of a number of different theories of patterns.)

2. language

3. a game

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Some history

Me 30 years ago running the small plasma device at the University of Singapore.

20 years ago my "Emporia source" experiment at Emporia State University.

Me (extreme right) 40 years ago in the beam-plasma group at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Monday, October 3, 2011


My book TWELVE PAPERS is available to download (free) from my website , Book.  It contains several years worth of work (~5), some old, some new, including the latest experiments with my AI Asa H 2.0   Included are initial efforts toward machine consciousness and natural language processing.

A kindle edition is available from amazon for $1.99 (ASIN: B005SVVEYC).

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Unemployment is one of the inherent failings (inefficiencies) of capitalism.  It's a way for the rich to lower the wages of the poor.  Norway and Sweden currently have the highest standards of living.  The USA needs to become more like them.  Norway and Sweden are socialist.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Isn't Spacex trying to do too many things at once?

Falcon 1e, ISS resupply, Falcon 9 heavy, recoverable Falcon 9, manned Dragon, plus ????
If you try to do too many things at once you end up being unable to do anything.
Evolving from a proven base like happened with Atlas V or Delta IV makes more sense to me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Physics is hard

Physics is hard to do.  As a consequence physics is hard for students to learn   AND    it is hard for teachers to teach.  Society should be grateful that it's possible to do physics at all.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why are there so many small businesses?

There is so little freedom and democracy in the work place and some people just can't stand working as slaves all day long.  They will do anything to gain some measure of control for themselves.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Faster than light signaling?

If neutrinos really can travel faster than light could we modulate them and send signals back in time?  Warn ourselves of dangers, etc?
(Note: various string theories contain tachyons)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Keep STS flying?

Armstrong, Cernan, et al want to bring back the shuttle.  George W. Bush and his congress and then Barack Obama and his congress did not think america could afford the cost of keeping the shuttle flying AND developing a new replacement.  What has changed? Is our economy better today?  Can we tax the rich to pay for it?

The shuttle is too dangerous to keep it flying any longer.  Obama extended its life several flights already.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


A better SLS design would allow for launch of crew without solid rocket boosters (which is safer) and a cargo only configuration which can include SRBs to boost payload mass.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Science as description of what we see in the world

If two people observe the same event they would use different sentences to record/describe it.  If a single person saw the same event on different days they would likely use different sentences to describe it.  In science we may use equations in place of sentences but again the description of some event is likely not going to be unique.

A set of sentences is not true of the whole world or at all times.  Similarly, our equations are only a good description of the world under the right conditions. (Classical mechanics is often times a good description of motion, but not if the motion is too fast.  General Relativity is often times a good description but not of the very tiny world of the atom.  Quantum mechanics is often times a good description, but not in too strong a gravity field...... And there are various sorts of mathematics you may use in order to formulate your descriptions.)

Our equations are like a stenographer's shorthand.  Like some set of sentences our description of what we observe is always approximate and incomplete.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Should artificial intelligences have "multiple personalities?"

Multiple personalities may be a way for a mind to deal with an especially challenging environment.

Having multiple (differing) theories of a knowledge domain is better than having just one theory (R. Jones, Bulletin of the American Physical Society, March 2008, see also my website, philosopher, the laws of nature are not unique, also Peter Cheeseman in The Mathematics of Generalization, D. H. Wolpert, ed, 1995, pg 315).

One strategy for handling inconsistency in a knowledgebase is to devide it into consistent subsets of the knowledgebase and reason with each of these individually.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Research freedom

One of the things which is most important to me has always been the ability to decide the direction my research would take.  Working in an industrial research lab is then not a good match.  In industry the goal is financial reward and, in fact, financial reward in a very short time frame.  The free exchange of data and ideas is also limited by the desire to gain advantage over potential competitors.

Work at government ("national") labs is somewhat better but research objectives imposed "from above" are often irrational or based on poor values.  Congress seems to want to force NASA to build the SLS based on a "bigger is better" mythology (and to send contracts to congressmen's home districts). 20 ton science modules launched by Proton rockets were chosen for MIR even though the engineers wanted 7 ton modules (launched on the R-7) which could have been changed out frequently.

This leaves university laboratories as the best choice if you want to make your own decisions as to research goals and direction.  Even then you will find that many university departments want all staff to work in some one (of a few) directions that the department concentrates on.  To have anything approaching research freedom you must even choose your university employer carefully.  This reality placed many constraints on me.  The notion that "in america you are free" was simply nonsense.  These conditions drive some people out of science.

Many people have argued for the need for freedom in creative pursuits in general and science in particular.  What kinds of freedom are required and how much is needed is a matter of debate. "Various psychological studies do show that, in general, scientists .... are characterized by a need for autonomy..." DISCOVERING by Root-Bernstein, Harvard U. Press, 1989, pg 315

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bad Values

Congress wants to force NASA to build the SLS despite the existence of the Atlas V, Delta IV, and Falcon 9 rockets and at the same time it wants to kill the Webb space telescope despite the great successes of Hubble.  Science is exploration.  Sending people on sightseeing trips is not.

Friday, August 19, 2011

An AI at IBM

Modha, et al, report that IBM Research-Almaden is running a modular network of simulated phenomenological spiking neurons roughly equivalent in scale to a cat's brain or 4.5% of a human brain. (Comm. of the ACM, August 2011, vol. 54, # 9, pg 62) This "C2" simulator runs on an IBM Blue Gene supercomputing system but in order to reduce the power and space requirements in the future the plan is to employ newly developed neuromorphic chips.  Modha extrapolates to a human scale brain by about the year 2019.

I am not sure IBM will have the right functional brain modules identified by then or know how to wire them together.  Their work has been at a different level of abstraction. I see no provision for a value system for example.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tax the rich

The news last night was that the wealthiest 20% of the population have 84 % of the wealth.  What they didn't say was how the rich get that way.  The two most common ways to get rich are crime and inheritance.  Anything involving a sharp mind or hard work is, at best, in a very distant fourth place. (Marriage is in third place.) And a great deal of luck is involved as well.

The republican party was bought and is owned by the rich. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Solving the jobs shortage

When corporate profits and executive pay are at record highs and banks aren't lending like they should be the solution is simple; nationalize them (and hire and lend).

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Big science" (and technology) are very conservative

Because of the long lead time (designs must be finalized years or even decades in advance of use) and high price tags (multi billion dollars at risk) you won't see the very latest ideas in robotics in use on Mars nor the newest techniques in plasma science deployed on the ITER.  Rather, the newest work is confined to the university laboratories.


Itamar Arel, et al's DeSTIN architecture is quite similar to my Asa H.  It complements my work on Asa H since it makes use of Bayesian statistics.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A feature discovery heuristic

Search for patterns localized in space and/or time.  Temporal localization can be accomplished using the temporal sequence heirarchy built into Asa H (see my Trans. of the Kansas Academy of Science 2006 paper on Asa H). Temporal patterns are of various durations; i.e., of various scales.  Higher levels in the hierarchy record longer duration patterns. Spatial localization can be accomplished by deviding the visual field into a grid of cells.  Each cell contains a set of points in 2-D.  Patterns are learned over the points in each of these cells.  The cells can be overlapped and cells can be of various different sizes.

Advanced life forms

I have argued in favor of mechanical life (see my blog of 19 Oct. 2010). This can be engineered rather than an evolutionary kludge. (There would be no vestigial organs, etc.) In addition to repairing components or "melting them down," the fusion torch (Eastlund and Gough, WASH 1132, 15 May 1969) would create a fully closed matter cycle; mechanical life need not input new matter ("food") nor output any waste matter. In addition to chemical energy mechanical life could make use of nuclear (or other) energy, performing larger amounts of work than is possible with present-day ("natural") biological organisms. Mechanical life forms would be super organisms.

If space aliens are capable of traveling to earth we might expect them to be of this sort. (Because of the high energy demands for relativistic travel I assume these should be as small/light as possible.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

All knowledge is uncertain

The majority of published scientific papers are wrong (J. P. A. Ioannidis, PLoS Med, 2(8), 30 Aug 2005).  We must just do the best that we can.  (Science is still better than business where the majority of companies fail in 3 to 5 years and 90% of companies fail in 10 years.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Soccer is too low scoring.  I suggest that the goal be made bigger. Or will there be too many corner kicks?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Vector value in the human nervous system

I have argued that utility/value should be a vector quantity.  (My post of 19 Feb. 2011, my website,, philosopher, axiology, and references therein) Schultz (J. of Neurophysiology, 80: 1-27, 1998) notes that the responses of most dopaminergic neurons are similar, suggesting that this system carries a scalar signal.  Schultz and Romo, however, (J. of Neurophysiology, 63: 607-624, 1990)
report that different goups of neurons display both excitatory and inhibitory responses to the very same situation.  This would suggest vector reward signaling. (see the 2003 PhD thesis of Nathaniel Daw, Carnegie Mellon school of computer science)


We own 2 roombas (1 "roomba" model 4105 and 1 "roomba scheduler" model 4230).  I had thought to hack the roomba (Hacking Roomba, T. Kurt, Wiley, 2006) to produce and study an embodied agent. I have experimented with the roomba as it comes "out of the box."  I have a bookshelf thats a bit over a foot deep and about the same distance from a corner of the room.  Roomba gets stuck in that three sided box.  Roomba also gets stuck half under one cabinet, my rocker, and tries to climb up the base of a floor lamp (placed near the wall and a drape). As it is I don't think roomba will work even in a "slightly" cluttered room. (Most kid's rooms would be much more cluttered than that.) I suspect that if I hack roomba and control it with Asa H I might be able to produce behaviors that would fix these issues.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sixth sense

There are bacteria that can sense magnetic fields and sharks can sense electric fields.  These are real sixth and seventh senses.  But humans don't have them.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Free will in men and machines

There are a number of different theories of free will (R. Jones, 2002 annual meeting of the Kansas Academy of Science, Fort Hays State University):
Theory #1: Free will is a self-contradictory notion (Richard Double).
Theory #2: Free will, though conceivable, doesn't exist (Marvin Minsky).
#3: Some behavior randomization is used in order to make us unpredictable to adversaries/predators/competitors.
#4: "Free will" is simply a denial that CERTAIN SPECIFIC sorts of influences were operating.
#5: Cognitive system nonlinearity allows multiple responses to identical external stimuli.
#6: Decisions are based on history/path dependent (and approximate) processes.
#7: Different decisions can result under identical conditions if the agent deliberates for different lengths of time. ("Delay libertarian theory." "Anytime algorithms.")
#8: Quantum mechanics makes it impossible for the same decision to be made again under exactly identical conditions.
#9: An agent (using genetic algorithm or other unpatterned generator) creates rules for how it should decide on actions and tests them in its daily life. Such a random algorithm could just as well have created different rules. (We are most free when we are creative, doing something truly original/unique.)
#10: Everett-like multiple worlds, your decision determines which world you enter. (A strong "free will" requires extreme assumptions about physics.)
With our current knowledge I do not see how a strong free will (like that assumed in religion and the justice system) is possible.  On the other hand, a weak free will (like #3 above, for instance) is certainly reasonable.
I think what passes for free will in humans is a combination of a number of processes like #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, and #9 above.  Complex machines would be subject to the same principles.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Media Bias

In watching the Casey Anthony and DSK coverage I note that the US media has a strong pro-prosecution bias. The more rightwing media is the worst. People think they have to have someone to hold responsible.  Do people really believe in innocent until proven guilty?

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Cycle of Theory and Experiment

Science consists of a cycle of theory and experiment.  Experiments are needed to "keep us honest."  I have criticized Hutter's AIXI (Universal Artificial Intelligence, Springer, 2005) for offering no executables. (Joel Veness, Hutter, et al, now have provided pseudocode in "A Monte-Carlo AIXI Approximation", Dec. 2010 and C++ code on Veness' website,
But it's hard to get something more than qualitative results from AI experiments.  In my Asa H I have a choice of many clustering algorithms (or a combination of several of them), various similarity measures, a variety of feature extraction algorithms, and multiple extrapolation/learning algorithms.  I can also adjust the amount of processing time devoted to learning and to each kind of learning.  There are also a number of thresholds/learning rates/free parameters to set.  I have found that in these ways AI experimentation is much harder than the pure physics experiments I did 20 years ago.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

(How) Can Asa H (or other AIs) Exhibit Consciousness?

Scientists have proposed perhaps a hundred different definitions of intelligence.  Asa H (Trans. Kan. Acad. Sci., vol. 109, # 3/4, pg 159, 2006) satisfies most all of these.  But the question of consciousness is a more difficult issue.
There are a number of different theories of consciousness (Some Theories of Consciousness, Ann. Mtg. Kan. Aca. Sci., Hutchinson, April 2000, R. Jones):
#1. There is no consciousness (behaviorism.
#2. Consciousness exists but plays no useful role (Roger Carpenter).
#3. The brain acts like layer after layer of feature detectors (Comm ACM, Nov. 1990, pg 63, fig. 8) starting from things like edge detectors and leading into something like grandmother cells (though these can be distributed).  You are conscious of your grandmother when this cell (or set of cells) is active.
#4. Feedback is the key to consciousness.  As in Elman neural networks you can see your own thoughts/internal signals/internal state as feedback inputs from the hidden layers.
#5. Consciousness is the contents of the global workspace, the blackboard of a blackboard architecture.
#6. Spreading activation in a semantic network.  What are conscious are the active nodes.
#7. Message aware control system (Scientific Approaches to Consciousness, Schneider and Pimm-Smith, pg. 65, Cohen and Schoolers eds., Lawrence Ehrlbaum, 1997)
#8. Metaprocessing.  Modules watching modules.
#9. Self-consciousness is your model of you, which is a part of your model of the world.
#10. Consciousness is a serial algorithm running on parallel hardware (Dennett, Consciousness Explained, Little Brown). Leads to feedback.
#11. Consciousness is the contents of the various modules' buffers (J. R. Anderson, How can the human mind occur in the physical universe?, Oxford U. Press, 2007, pg 243)
#12. Consciousness is emergent.
#13. There are multiple (various kinds of ) consciousness, many of the above.
If theories 1, 2, or 3 are correct there is nothing we need to do with Asa H.  A recurrent network like an Elman network can be unrolled and equated with a purely feedforward network.  This could be equated with a multiple layer Asa H network.  Alternatively, feedback links can be added to Asa H. This might take care of theory 4. A blackboard is a memory with multiple access (and, possibly, access control logic). If the messages between the Asa H layers are equated to blackboards this would take care of theory 5.  Asa H is a kind of semantic network as in theory 6.  As in theory 8 Asa H has certain modules (extrapolators, deduction system, etc.) watching other modules and upper layers watching the contents of the lower layers.
Are these the right kind of modules?  Are they watching the right things? Asa H can form grandmother cells.  One of these could be a "me" cell (as would develop with a robot seeing itself in a mirror for instance).  This takes care of theory 9. We would like to run Asa H on parallel hardware, theory 10.  Asa H has the kind of buffers needed for theory 11.  Do we have the right modules? Theory 12 usually assumes that emergence occurs as the size of the semantic system increases.  We are constantly trying to scale Asa H up.
Theory 7 is not a clear match with Asa H.
Asa H (and other AIs) may be conscious depending on what is the correct theory of consciousness.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Of the last 14 books I bought 3 were available in electronic form. (Actually, 1 was kindle and 2 were nook and I only own a kindle reader.)  Also, the price of an ebook is usually a substantial fraction of the price of the book in paper.  In fact, the price of an ebook is sometimes greater than the price of the book in paper (a current example is Minsky's "The Emotion Machine").

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Creativity experiments with Asa H

I have argued that our concepts and our science is not unique (my blog of 29 August 2010 and of 31 December 2010 , my poster at the American Physical Society meeting Bull. Am. Phys. Soc., vol. 55, #1, 2010 and my website Asa H learns its own concepts at each layer in its hierarchy.  It will be interesting to see what concepts it forms, where they resemble our own, and where they are unique. By adjusting thresholds so as to require finer scale clustering one can produce more and more precise concepts.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


In my blogs of 16 Sept. 2010 I gave advice on how to begin research and then build up a research program. This is a continuation of that advice.

Some researchers are "polymathic," their research is diversified.  A good example would be Leo Szilard who did work in:
X-rays in crystals
nuclear physics
metallurgy and engineering (his patent of the nuclear reactor with Fermi and his weapons work)

There are disadvantages to this style of work.  More time must be spent on "getting up to speed" in each new research area.  One must learn different tools, methods, and basic knowledge and get to know and be known by different sets of colleagues.  This impacts what journals you can hope to publish in and what funding you can hope to obtain.

Certainly nowadays interdisiplinary work is very important but for many researchers it is better to stick to some research theme.  One theme I followed in my fusion energy work was open system end plugging.  A more popular fusion energy theme is tokamak studies.

Sticking to a research theme has various advantages.  It is easier to keep a steady source of funding.  Once learned, you stick to a common set of tools, methods, and basic knowledge.  You become known in the community and by the journals you need access to in order to publish your results.

Friday, June 3, 2011

More Experiments With Asa H

I have been working on the following abstract for a conference early next year:

Our recently developed "Asa H" software architecture (KAS Transactions 109 (3/4): 159-167) consists of a hierarchical memory assembled out of clustering modules and feature extractors. Various experiments have been performed with Asa H 2.0:
1. prefer extrapolation from real recorded patterns over extrapolation from synthetic cases
2. record signal input only when it changes by several standard deviations
3. include the number of times a pattern has been seen as a contribution to this pattern's utility
4. weight a pattern's feature more if the feature's standard deviation is smaller
5. search for short sequences common to longer patterns which have high utilities
6. search only until a "close enough" match is found
7. if a component of a case vector varies less (as measured by its standard deviation) then value it (weight it) more
8. as a postprocessor Asa outputs can be made the reference input commands to adaptive approximation based controllers
9. after some number of tries if we can't improve all components of a vector utility then approximate with a scalar utility
10. store and update a mean and standard deviation for time warpage and spatial dilation.  Use these as components in the subsequent degree of matching
11. longer memory for very low utility cases (so we can avoid them)
12. prefer pattern changes that involve agent output change
13. try randomness detection as a filter at the input and at other levels in the network hierarchy
14. compression by blending; if V1 and V2 are similar enough replace them with their vector average

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

(One sort of*) Attention

In Asa H (Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci., vol. 109, pg 159, 2006) a similarity measure (usually a vector dot product) is used to decide if an input vector, IN, falls into some category, Ini. If the dot product of IN with Ini > ThA (some threshold value) then IN is a member of category i. 

One can add a second threshold, ThB < ThA and if IN dot Ini < ThB then IN is not a member of category i.

If, however, ThB < IN dot Ini < ThA then we can look more closely at the degree of match between IN and Ini.  For instance, we can tune the time warping or spatial transformations like scaling, shifting, rotating, etc. to see if a better match is possible (>ThA).

*Various sorts of attention have been employed in Asa H.  As the input comes in as a function of time we may stay with the currently active case/category, i , so long as the match remains strong enough (similarity measure exceeds some threshold TH).  We can avoid search until the match drops below TH.  This is a sort of attention (to category i) present in Asa H 2.0 lite (see my blog of 10 Feb. 2011)

Thursday, May 26, 2011


NASA's MPCV makes good use of the work done on Orion but water landing seems to me to be a step backward.  I would also add something like Soyuz's orbital compartment.  But that could be added later and launched separately.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


It is difficult to define progress.  If the values of each individual human can be averaged or summed and so extended to all of society then what is desired is long life for the individuals (i.e. an increasing average life expectancy) and a growing population. (See my Theories of Value Change, Trans. Kansas Academy of Sci., 2006 and my blog of 21 Sept. 2010)  If this is the correct definiton of progress then resource limits would demand that mankind soon expand into space.
The situation could be improved if humans could be replaced by nanoscale artificial intelligences. (see google group , 15 March 1999, R. Jones)
(Life's "purpose" is to perpetuate and expand itself.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

7 Careers

Carl Bialik in The Wall Street Journal (3 Sept. 2010) cites 7 as the likely number of careers one will have in a working lifetime.  I note that is just the number I've had:
(And the average career lasts more than 5 but less than 8 years.) 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

If we only had the Parom tug

The russians are uncertain about letting the Dragon too close to the ISS.  Dragon has had only one test flight after all.  If we only had a reliable and proven Parom tug it could go get the Dragon (or other cargo capsules) from a safe distance.  Only a time proven technology would then approach the ISS. (It would also be useful for delta IV, delta IV heavy, or atlas V launched payloads.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Does Falcon 9 Heavy have too many engines?

When people discuss the difficulties with the N-1 rocket they frequently cite its 30 engines. (This number was used to help keep the price of the N-1 down.)  Certainly no airplane would be fitted with 30 engines.  On the other hand the R-7 became a very reliable launcher with its 20 main engines. (After some number of failures during development.) Are 27 engines (Falcon 9 Heavy) just too many?  I guess time will tell.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Nature of Science

Tony Rothman has criticized physics teaching for not emphasizing the approximate character of physical theory (and science in general and knowledge of all sorts). (The Man Behind the Curtain, American Scientist, vol. 99, pg 186, May-June 2011)
In my general education classes I begin with a handout that contains the quote from Einstein that Rothman cites: "When mathematical propositions refer to reality they are not certain; when they are certain, they do not refer to reality" (1921) I also quote Stephen Jay Gould  "Science does not deal in certainty, so 'fact' can only mean a proposition affirmed to such a high degree that it would be perverse to withhold one's provisional assent." (Time magazine, 23 Aug. 1999) and Bertrand Russell  "All knowledge is in some degree doubtful, and we cannot say what degree of doubtfulness makes it cease to be knowledge, any more than we can say how much loss of hair makes a man bald." (Human Knowledge, Simon and Schuster, 1948,  pg 497)
For many years I have been giving this handout.  Throughout my course I then try to point out as many of the assumptions and approximations as I can. I hope other teachers will follow suit.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Debye Shielding

We usually expect that a biased electrode in contact with a plasma will affect only its immediate surroundings.  The plasma will tend to shield itself from the applied electric potential.  The characteristic shielding distance being the Debye length. 

This is not the case for biased gun electrodes which can project a nonneutral plasma beam relatively long distances across a magnetically confined plasma (Controlling the plasma potential across a magnetic field, Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci., vol 93, pg 125, R. Jones, 1990)

Some G.O.F.A.I.

Schank proposed scripts for dinner parties, restaurant dining, and airports.  If we were to hope to formalize all of human experience we had better not need too many such scripts.  Gerard de Nerval "Having early desired to know the exact number of actions possible to the theater...found...twenty-four." (The thirty-six
dramatic situations, Georges Polti, The editor company, 1917)  Gozzi expanded this to 36 and Schiller and Goethe tried to find more but failed. Universal scripts based on Polti's list would include such things as:
loss,  misfortune/disaster,  pursuit,  obtaining,  imprudence,  ambition,  sacrifice,  rivalry some of which I know how to formalize as code.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Robert E. Lee's Biggest Mistake

Robert E. Lee should have accepted command of the Union army and so shortened the civil war. He had mistaken loyalties.

Turbulent Pinch

Back in 1983  I demonstrated that turbulence could improve plasma confinement in an internal ring machine. (Plasma Physics, vol. 25, pg 901, 1983 and other publications, see, publications)
At that time I couldn't get funding to continue the work but now MIT (and others) are pursuing the "turbulent pinch" (PSFC/JA-10-22, Boxer, et al, Dec. 2010 and Nature Physics, 6, pg 207, 2010).  Better late than never.  We still have an energy problem.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is Information Energy?

I was presenting a poster on Saturday at the Kansas Academy of Science meeting (on my theory of thought) when a colleague said to me he had heard that "information IS energy." (Taking the old adage "knowledge is power" very literally.)  Perhaps he had in mind the "Information Converted to Energy" article of Nov. 19, 2010 posted on But if information IS energy then, by relativity, it IS mass and, furthermore, a flashdrive (or other memory device) when travelling at high speeds would have more mass and information (and different amounts of information as seen by different observers).  This seems like a good counter argument against the idea that information IS energy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Little Problems, Big Problems, and Reductionism

Small, simple problems can be solved completely.  A "hello world" program can be written that is bug free. An application in propositional logic is not subject to Godel's incompleteness theorem and may be provably correct.
The operation of a Turing machine, however, may prove inconsistent and typical real world computer programs contain bugs.
We can try, then, to decompose big problems into a set of small, simple ones which can be solved independently and then combined (reductionism).  Of course, the interconnections between the little pieces can not be too complex and numerous or we may fail during the recombination step. 
Large, difficult problems that are NOT decomposable may have to be APPROXIMATED by some decomposition that we hope is "close enough."  There may be several such approximations that give different answers to the original problem.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Notes and Note taking

So what CAN we do to boost student learning?  Some years ago I had to teach an introductory physical science course.  In order to force students to take notes I had them keep notebooks which I then periodically collected and graded.  I found these to be quite poor.  I know that I was never taught to take notes and I suspect our current crop of students weren't either.  Probably more time should be devoted to notes and note taking.  (By the way, student notes are not the same thing as teachers notes.  My notes for my lectures remind me WHAT to talk about, the ORDER in which I want to talk about things, and the details of some difficult topics, but they would not be good STUDENT notes.  What you record when you are first learning a subject is something rather different. My notes are more about how to present things.  Student notes should be more content oriented. My research notes and files might be a better model for what student lecture notes should look like.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Quality of College Education

In the 1940s only 5% of americans got a college degree.  Today over 27% get a degree and over 50% of americans have taken at least some college classes. We are nolonger working with just "the best and brightest."  For this reason the quality of college education has declined. (Not to say there aren't other reasons as well. The intrusion of business into education, the decline in government funding, etc.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Moore's Law and Human-level Artificial Intelligence

Moore's law is often used to predict when human-level artificial intelligence will be achieved. But the
single-processor performance increase predicted by Moore's law ended in 2004 (Computer, January
2011, pg 31). This places limitations on some, but not all routes to human-level AI.  Inherently parallel
approaches (like genetic algorithms for example) can still be expected to exhibit performance growth
close to that previously seen.  The end of Moore's law for the single processor simply reduces the
number of viable approaches to (human level) AI. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Practical Applications of Asa H

Asa H software can be used in much the same way as neural network programs like Brainmaker, Neurosolutions, etc. It can also be used in place of some statistical routines like those in Unistat or
case-based reasoning systems like some of those described in Janet Kolodner's book Case-Based
Reasoning, Morgan Kaufmann, 1993.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Normative Intelligence

My "artificial intelligence" work might best be described as work on a normative intelligence.  Following Sutton
and Werbos I believe that a rational system "handles all of the calculations from crude inputs through to overt actions in an adaptive way so as to maximize some measure of performance over time". (Skeptic, vol. 12, # 3, pg 14, 2006)  An outline of the subsystems that might be employed to accomplish this is presented on my website ( under cognitive scientist, theory of thought.  My current Asa H 2.0 software is such a system.

I have just read Tenenbaum et als paper "How to grow a mind: ..." in the current issue of Science (vol 331, pg 1279, 2011)  While I find this an excellent and useful paper I note that it lacks things like a value module and so I do not think it is a complete intelligence or "mind."  Once again I am also struck by the fact that human minds may not work in the way we would want a more rational mind to operate.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Definiton of Analog Computing

Mathematical modeling studies/solves sets of mathematical equations in an attempt to predict or describe how some physical system behaves. Analog computing is just the inverse of mathematical modeling.  We track the behavior of physical systems in order to understand/solve mathematical equations.  Analog computing would not HAVE to be continuous and involve real numbers but it frequently will be.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Setting parameters in Asa H

Asa H has a number of parameters which are not easy to set.  Th2 is a threshold value which is used to determine if two patterns are so similar that they can be considered to be the same pattern.  L is a learning rate which determines how big a step is taken during extrapolation. Th3 is a threshold that determines if a vector component is small enough to neglect.......
There are a half dozen to a dozen such parameters in Asa H and it is difficult to decide on their values.
One way to tune these parameters is the following:
The set of parameters can be treated as a vector and Asa H can be run for a period of time in a typical environment while we record the Utility gains during the run.  A second set of parameters can be employed in Asa H while it is run in the same (or very similar) environment and the Utility gain is again recorded.
Using these two vectors and utilities (or a larger set) we can then extrapolate using the Asa H extrapolation algorithm in order to improve the vector (i.e. adjust the threshold/parameter values) in an effort to improve the utility gains.  This procedure can be repeated to gradually tune the parameters.

Friday, March 4, 2011

In The Matrix

Konrad Zuse suggested that we might live inside a computer.  Because of the halting problem running a piece of software seems to be the only way to know what any given program will do.  So the problem of evil is solved, "the great programmer" can't know how his program will function until he runs it.  We who live in the program can survive death, the programmer can rerun our routine whenever he likes.

I have argued against us living in a simulation by saying that our behavior is too inefficient, our programmer would have to be incompetent.  But perhaps he is just exploring what a given set of algorithms will do and, because of the halting problem, can't know in advance how things will go.

But of course such extraordinary beliefs would require extraordinary evidence.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Are the Laws of Nature Markovian?

The present laws of physics are Markovian.  The state of the world at the current time step, t, depends only on the state of the world at the previous time step, t-1.  (If there happen to exist closed timelike curves in our world then general relativity suggests that this may not be true even in physics.)

But other sciences may propose laws which are nonMarkovian.  Biology (evolution) has the memories stored in DNA, cognitive science has long term and short term memories, economics may exhibit behavior (cooperation) that depends on a memory of past events, etc.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Value pluralism again

It's reasonable to value patterns that are longer and which occur more frequently.  In Asa H lite Duration(A) is the length of pattern A and N(A) is the number of times pattern A has been seen.  But should these two values be given equal weight and combined as a product? i.e., should the utility of pattern A be U(A)=Duration(A)*N(A) as it is in Asa H lite?

An alternative is to keep Duration(A) and N(A) as components of a vector utility.  Instead of preferring pattern A to pattern B when U(A)>U(B) we might check to see if (Duration(A)>Duration(B) AND N(A)>N(B)) OR (Duration(A)>Duration(B) AND N(A)=N(B)) OR (Duration(A)=Duration(B) AND N(A)>N(B))

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Asa H. 2.0 lite in BASIC

There are many versions (~100) of Asa H 2.0.  This is a lite version without many "bells and whistles" (time warping, image manipulation, etc.)
(Line 166 should read: Th3=.05)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Strangling the Economy

Science drives economic progress.
Science is done in the universities.
The business influences and methodologies are making it more and more difficult to be a professor.
Few americans are willing to become physicists anymore. This dates from just after the moon landings.
(In K-12 fully 50 % of new teachers quit the profession within 5 years. At all levels teachers are poorly paid
and badly treated.)
The high price of fuel/energy results from poor funding of research into things like fusion energy.
Much medical diagnosis could be done more economically by computer expert systems.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Definition of "algorithm"

There are a number of different definitions of the term "algorithm." My present thoughts are an extension of the work of Noson Yanofsky.
"Programs" decompose desired functionality into a complete sequence of exact operations like: if then else,
equals, add, subtract, multiply, divide, greater than, less than, unequal, AND, OR, for next, goto, do while, do until, etc.  These operate on real numbers, integers, vectors, matrices, character strings, etc. Programs are executable in some programming language.
"Algorithms" decompose desired functionality in terms of an incomplete description using informal operations (perhaps in pseudo code) like: look up, insert, replace, return, etc.  These operate on models, states, goals, sets, costs, sequences, etc.  Many different programs (in the same or different programming languages) may implement  the same algorithm.
Algorithms are a stage in the refinement process from an informal specification toward the creation of an executable program.

Friday, January 21, 2011

An Advantage To Being An Engineer

If, as a physicist, you develop a system of turbulent thermal insulation and its theory this may not be so important if inertial confinement fusion is chosen for power reactors.
As a teacher, what you accomplish is a function of how bright your students are and how hard they work.
A computer scientist who develops analog or hybrid computers may be made obsolete by the progress in digital machines.
As an inventor, the creation of the tandem mirror or tandem cusp may not be very significant if closed magnetic fusion systems are chosen. Similarly, a magnetic hairpin limiter for a Tokamak may be obsolete if we use laser fusion systems.
A philosopher who has spent his time developing a theory of value pluralism will have wasted his time if value monism proves to be correct.
An engineer may have an easier time judging his success and the value of his work.
An aerospace engineer will know if his rocket climbs into space.
A software engineer will know if his control software keeps the plant working within the desired parameter range.
As a vacuum engineer I know over what range of vacuum pressures my chamber operates.
(But, of course, an engineer's product may be of uncertain reliability, safety, and cost and people may not want it.  You can design an aircraft but a competitor's product may get the contracts.  Your software may be subject to security risks or crash frequently.  A cheaper substitute may be available.)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NASA manned space plans

I am fearful that NASA is going to build something on "the cheap" that will turn out to be both crappy and dangerous.

It would be better that we either:

1. Tax the rich so that we can pay for something good.


2. Stop U.S. manned space flight for a decade or so.


3. Fund the russian manned space effort. It makes no sense for the US, Russia, China (and India?) to all have similar manned spacecraft and independent launchers. Not to mention Dragon, Falcon 9, Delta IV, and Atlas V.  There is too much duplication of effort. Cooperation could save a lot of money.  Each nation need not have its own national launchers and spacecraft.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Capitalism's Fatal Flaws

Capitalism has a number of fatal flaws.  Three of these are:
1.  Utility theory and the monetary system assume value monism.  But, in fact, value pluralism is correct, not value monism. (See, philosopher, axiology and references therein.)  If you have bad values you make bad decisions.
2.  For a hundred years we have known that groups can make better decisions than individuals can. (The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki, Random House, 2004)  We should not have chairs, deans, presidents, bosses, CEOs, rather, decisions should be taken by worker's councils. Democracy is more efficient than dictatorships. This is why I am a DEMOCRATIC socialist.
3. The world capitalist system depends upon growth. It is a Ponzi scheme. But world resources are limited. Our economy needs to stabilize and, in fact, shrink a bit.  If things continue as they have I fear our species will enter a period of (more or less violent) Volterra oscillations.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Historical Preservation of Electronic Records and Objects

More and more theses and other scholarly materials are being made available only in electronic form.  This has been a concern of mine since the time a few years ago when I found that I had an electronic file that no one on our campus could open. While written texts can be preserved for hundreds or thousands of years "electronic records that are not moved out of obsolete hardware and software environments are very likely to die with them." (David Bearman, D-Lib Magazine, April 1999, vol. 5, #4)  Bearman recommends the "migration (of) electronic records systematically before they become inaccessible, so that they are always available to current generations of software and hardware."  Unfortunately, I have not been doing this and I don't know of anyone who has.

I recently heard a military historian voice concern that David Petraeus' emails would not be preserved like Eisenhower's diaries were.