Archive for The New York Times


Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2023 by xi'an

a journal of the plague, sword, and famine year [far North]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2023 by xi'an

Read Le sabre des Takeda (Furin kazan, 風林火山) by Inoue Yasushi, a very interesting book set between Japanese history and feudal novel, with surgical descriptions of battles and psychological tensions. This book reminded me in some aspects of a novel of Yoshimura Akira on the earthquake of Kantô by its insistence on minutiae. Even though the style may be destabilizing, the central character, Yamamoto Kansuke, is fascinating. This is the first book by the author that I read, but I am now considering reading his Hunting Gun (as well as watching the 1969 movie with Mifune that was inspired from that book, if I can locate a copy). I also came across A Winter’s Promise, by Christelle Dabos. This is the first volume in The Mirror Visitor, which I bought in the airport in Milano. In English, despite the original being in French, which may help in distancing from the YA tone that sometimes permeates the style. An interesting creation nonetheless, hopefully keeping up till the fourth volume! As an aside, I found my Kindle inexplicably covered by condensation one evening, although this did not prevent it from working. Possibly correlated with my falling asleep while reading from it the night before.

Had great reindeer dishes in Lapland, as well as poorly cooked Arctic crab, despite magnificent specimen displayed in the aquarium of the restaurant. And made a trip back to the Ethiopian restaurant we visited for my 60th B party, this time without the excitement of having our laptops stolen and then retrieved. (Just as well since Tony Lelièvre was not part of the dinner party this time!)

Watched World War Z on a lazy Sunday night upon my return from Lapland, which I found appalling at many levels and unbearably US-centric (or just plainly racist). The scene where the zombies assail the West Bank separation wall is particularly shocking! I also watched Steel Rain, a South Korean manga turned into a movie about a fantasy coup in North Korea. Very fantasist and detached from reality, but still manageable.


Posted in Books, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2023 by xi'an

I got pointed out at an interesting NTY editorial of March 8, 2023, on ChatGPT written by Noam Chomsky, Ian Roberts and Jeffrey Watumull.

“we fear that the most popular and fashionable strain of A.I. — machine learning — will degrade [linguistics] and debase our ethics by incorporating into our technology a fundamentally flawed conception of language and knowledge.”

Starting with a quote of Jorge Luis Borges, most appropriately for the dystopian prospects brought by the new chatbots. And seeing the arrival of these machines as something trivial that operates in contrast with the human mind by making use of terabytesque amounts of data and (cleverly) extrapolating to suit the question. Which is to state that they are merely (?) much better interfaces at reproducing patterns found in their data bases. This remains a technical feat but given the lack of reliability of their output (cf my exam answers) and the correlated lack of uncertainty in their assessment, they are very much useless at explanations. (But sometimes usefull as typewriting monkeys for recommendation letters.)

“The crux of machine learning is description and prediction; it does not posit any causal mechanisms or physical laws.”

The second part of the tribune points out the amorality of such platforms, unable to reach a moral position. This is illustrated by Q&As about the morality of terraforming an other planet (which I cannot connect with morality if there is no sentient life on that planet). While I see the point as a fundamental distinction between humans and AIs, I would feel uncomfortable with the latter producing moral judgements as this would imply a choice of moral rules in their training, as there is no universal moral ground beyond the “obvious”… (Actually, by presenting arguments in an authoritative manner, rarely with provisions for being wrong or incomplete, ChatGPT is agreeing on lying by omission!)

“Given the amorality, faux science and linguistic incompetence of these systems, we can only laugh or cry at their popularity.”

même pas peur [not afrAId]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2023 by xi'an

Both the Beeb and The New York Times are posting tonight about a call to pause AI experiments, by AI researchers and others, due to the danger they could pose to humanity. While this reminds me of Superintelligence, a book by Nick Bostrom I found rather unconvincing, and although I agree that automated help-to-decision systems should not become automated decision systems, I am rather surprised at them setting the omnipresent Chat-GPT as the reference not to be exceeded.

“AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity (…) recent months have seen AI labs locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control.”

The central (?) issue here is whether something like Chat-GPT can claim anything intelligence, when pumping data from a (inevitably biased) database and producing mostly coherent sentences without any attention to facts. Which is useful when polishing a recommendation letter at the same level as a spelling corrector (but requires checking for potential fake facts inclusions, like imaginary research prizes!)

“Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human-competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization?”

The increasingly doom-mongering tone of the above questions is rather over the top (civilization, nothing less?!) and again remindful of Superintelligence, while spreading propaganda and untruth need not wait super-AIs to reach conspiracy theorists.

“Such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders. Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable (…) Therefore, we call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4. This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in”

A six months period sounds like inappropriate for an existential danger, while the belief that governments want or can intervene sounds rather naïve, given for instance that they lack the ability to judge of the dangerosity of the threat and of the safety nets to be imposed on gigantic black-box systems. Who can judge on the positivity and risk of a billion (trillion?) parameter model? Why is being elected any guarantee of fairness or acumen? Beyond dictatures thriving on surveillance automata, more democratic countries are also happily engaging into problematic AI experiments, incl. AI surveillance of the incoming Paris Olympics. (Another valuable reason to stay away from Paris over the games.)

“AI research and development should be refocused on making today’s powerful, state-of-the-art systems more accurate, safe, interpretable, transparent, robust, aligned, trustworthy, and loyal. In parallel, AI developers must work with policymakers to dramatically accelerate development of robust AI governance systems.”

While these are worthy goals, at a conceptual level—with the practical issue of defining precisely each of these lofty adjectives—, and although I am certainly missing a lot from my ignorance of the field,  this call remains a mystery to me as it sounds unrealistic it could achieve its goal.

a journal of the plague, sword, and famine year [no end on sight]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2023 by xi'an

Read the second volume of The Craft Sequence, Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone,  with great difficulties as I found the story (again) poorly constructed, despite some characters being mostly well-designed (no connection with volume 1, except for taking place in the same universe, if at another time period). Mixing steampunk and hard fantasy involving gods does not work well in general and particularly there…. Following a New York Tĩmes review of the sequel, I also went very quickly through the Unwanted Dead, a first volume by Chris Lloyd, HWA Gold Crown for Best Historical Fiction winner for 2021, following a (s)hell-shocked PTSD-ed Paris police detective during World War II, when German troops arrive in the city. Not very realistic imho, as the nosy inspector happens to cross paths with Hitler during his very brief and unique visit to Paris as well as in Compiègne, and with a disappointing resolution of the wagon murders, but well-documented and with no obvious anachronism (except the unlikely presence of bathrooms in all apartments!, and the detective drinking whisky). (A wee nitpicking: Neuilly-sur-Seine (west of Paris) seemed to be confused with Neuilly-Plaisance (east of Paris), but the author acknowledged to me a general tendency to confuse east and west, just like I usually confuse right and left…) Overall, I found the Berlin Noir (Philip Kerr’s) novels more impressive and engaging!

Had a matcha flan in Paris, following a tip from Le Monde!, but was somewhat disappointed by its mild flavour, if comforted by the hojicha kokicha (made solely of tea stems) they served. And an excellent Filipino dinner in Kenilworth. And a yummy lamb Turkish Gözleme next to the ATI in London. While snacking the rest of week on Mysore dosas made on the street next to the Statistics Department at Warwick.

Watched (via a neighbour screen, on the flight to Martinique!) La Nuit du 12, a French thriller that got elected as Film of the Year (2022) by the Le Masque & La Plume (France Inter) audience, following a police investigation in the Maurienne valley after a particularly grisly murder of a young girl, one of the most fascinating aspects being that the crime remains unsolved despite the police efforts. In an impromptu home-made (!) Michelle Yeoh cycle, rewatched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon after reading a particularly positive article in The Guardian. While the fighting scenes are definitely worth watching, esp. the trio fight on ice, the story remains rather lame. And Everything Everywhere All at Once, which I had also partly watched in the plane, but found highly unsatisfactory overall as lacking purpose, despite some great scenes between Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis ! Concurring with the strongly critical analyses in The New Yorker and the Guardian at the failure of the Daniels to find a purpose and a pace. (To quote from the latter, “these often impressively nutso formal backflips land in a position of pedestrian sentimentality, and then upbraid anyone resisting the viscous flood of sap for their cynicism.”) The scenes around the Everything Bagel are interminable…

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