I have always wondered why setting goals is advantageous. Instead of saying “I want to lose 10 pounds this month” why not just attempt to lose as much weight as possible? An empty argument about this is that “but then if I did lose more than 10 pounds I wouldn’t feel satisfied since I didn’t break a goal I set myself”. This is quite bizarre thinking. Goals make you happy because of the effect they have on the universe. You’re happy because you lost weight not because you achieved a goal. But there is a small amount of truth to this. I found finally understood the nature of goals.

Goals are self fulfilling prophecies. As you achieve more goals the power of goals as self fulfilling prophecies increases. This is because your confidence in them increases and in the realm of mind, your expectation of achieving a goal increases the probability that you will succeed in that goal. That’s the nature of it.

So therefore it would be a bad idea to often set yourself goals that you can never achieve, such as losing 100 pounds in a month. Because this means that the moment you set the goal you have a strong belief that you won’t complete this goal because you’ve never completed any of your previous goals.

This is why setting realistic goals is beneficial to you. Setting goals which are too easy is a waste of time. You want to be at the point where setting the goal makes the difference between achieving it or not. You would’ve lost 1 pound in a month without setting yourself that goal, making the process of setting such a goal wasteful. You need to be setting goals that you wouldn’t have achieved without setting that goal.

With this new understanding of goals it surprisingly does make sense to be happy that you completed a goal because it gives you more power over your decisions. Your belief in goals increases as a result of finishing a goal therefore goals you set in the future will have a greater probability of success.

Optimizing the goals you set for yourself is key. I recommend setting goals which you think have a 50% chance of success to maximize your growth. The further you stray from 50% the less influence you have over whether it is completed or not. If you think your chance of success is 99% then it doesn’t really matter what you do, you’re going to succeed anyway. If your chance of success is 1% then it doesn’t really matter what you do, you’re going to fail anyway.

With this new understanding of goals, I began to value them a lot more. I started to build a program to visualize goals. The basic idea is for it to visualize the probability that you succeed for a range of goals by analyzing goals you input in the past along with the record of if that goal was completed. It uses the information in a very strict way. It can only work with goals that are time based such as “jog for 30 hours in the next 2 weeks” or “spend 40 hours per week learning to program”.

Here is an image of the program.


This graph visualizes 2 goals, one was successful and the other was not. The goals shown were the following:

8 hours work in 24 hours: Success

12 hours in 24 hours: Failure

Before I go further explaining what is shown, I need to explain the logical deductions about the ability of this person to work using the information from a single goal. Here are the simple deductions:

If a person does x hours of work in y hours he must therefore be able to do x hours of work in z hours where z >= y. This is fairly intuitive – it wouldn’t make any sense for a person to not be able to do the same amount of work given more time.

If a person does x hours of work in y hours, he must therefore be able to do Minimum(0, x-z) hours work in y-z hours where z <= y. This one’s slightly harder to grasp. The basic idea is to think about the worst case scenario of how a worker might complete his work and then work for that. Perhaps there is a worker who always waits 16 hours before starting his goal. If he set a goal to do 8 hours work in 24 hours, he would succeed. But this deduction also means he can do 7 hours work in 23 hours, 6 hours work in 22 hours and so on.

These logical deductions can basically never be wrong without weird assumptions (such as a person being able to do more work with a smaller time limit). It could be true that a person is motivated more when there’s less time left but if you’re given more time then you’re inevitably going to end up with a small amount of time left at some point.

Back to the graph. Here it is again with the goals annotated.


It could be that a work does do more work given less time, but that isn’t calculated by the algorithm. It just assigns it an unknown value for that amount of time.

If the areas overlap, they mix colors. If green overlaps red it becomes yellow.



This is how the graph looks once I’ve added the goal 14 hours work in 20 hours, success. The old success goal has been totally eclipsed (because the new goal does more work in less time) and there has been some overlap creating a yellow area to represent a 50% chance of success. In reality the edge would never go straight from 50% to 100% it would be a gradient but this will be shown wen the user has completed many goals so it becomes a gradient. Trying to do it using an algorithm would result in incorrect values – it’s impossible to know just how the transition from 0% success to 100% success will be. There’s not enough data to do this (and there never will be) without potentially creating bias. By bias I mean some users could look better than other users even though they’re just as capable overall as a result of how the algorithm might change their results.

I’m still working on this, it’s a growing project. The hardest part is trying to get goals to work together. Setting goals of different types is quite tricky since one goal may be more important than another. The basic problem is that if you set two different goal types in the same period, it makes it look worse than if you just did one of those goals alone since you’d have more time to do it (since you wouldn’t spend any time on a goal you didn’t set) but it would show up on the graph the same. This is why I haven’t yet fully figured out how to use multiple goals together.

I suspect the solution is for the user to input their idea ratio of goals in. For every 2 hours of programming, do 1 hour of jogging and such. And I suspect the ideal ratio of people will change according to how much time they have. If its only 20 hour in the next week all of that should be sleep (sleeping is a goal – you aim to sleep when you go to bed) – it would be crazy to try to have less sleep than this.

Programming Puzzle: Unbiased Selection Algorithms

Programming Challenge: Unbiased Results

There is a set of sets of characters. Your task is to produce an algorithm which outputs a set of characters by taking exactly one random character from each of the sets of characters with probability 1/(total possible outputs). There is one rule. Once you select a character from a set, that character can’t be selected all remaining sets. For example with
{{A, B, C} {A,B}} if you choose A from the first set, the legal choices from the second set becomes {B} – choosing A would result in a collision and this is not legal. It is assumed that there is always a solution – you never have to worry about there being no possible solutions (so you will not encounter sets such as {{A},{A}}).
The potential combinations are {A,B},{B,A},{C,A},{C,B}. (note that {B,C} and similar is not possible since C is not in the 2nd set (output is in the same order as the sets are in))
You must make an algorithm which can pick these potential outputs with equal probability.
A naive and incorrect solution works as follows:

0. create an empty set for the output
1. start at the first set of characters
2. generate a random number from 0 inclusive to the cardinality of the set of characters exclusive.
3. Select that character and append it to the output set.
4. remove that character from the remaining sets which have not yet had a character picked from them
5. if the cardinality of the output set is the same as the cardinality of the set of sets, terminate. Else, iterate to the next set of characters and go to step 2

The problem of this is obvious. The order of the sets affects the probability of producing certain outputs and makes it wrong. If the order is {A,B}{A,B,C}, the probabilities of each permutation are as follows

A B 1/2 * 1/2
A C 1/2 * 1/2
B A 1/2 * 1/2
B C 1/2 * 1/2

But if the order is {A,B,C},{A,B} the probabilities of output is

A B 1/3 * 1
B A 1/3 * 1
C A 1/3 * 1/2
C B 1/3 * 1/2

as you can see, they don’t all have the same probability of output. this is an error. What is the solution to this problem?

General Intelligence Does Not Exist

There is a specific case of the use of the word general that is entirely inapprpriate – intelligenece. The problem is that we don’t know and possible it may be impossible to know what constitutes as general intelligence. We do not the significance of what we don’t know.

To assert that an entity has general intelligence would require you to know everything. It’s sort of like how you need to know the entire Earth’s surface area before you can say that someone has explored most of it.

Artificial Intelligence has many people in it working together towards a “General Intelligence”. What they are really doing is moving towards human-like intelligence. This term is a much more accurate description of what they are working towards.

The strange thing about intelligence is that you can not understand all the thoughts of an entity smarter than yourself. This means that a human could never intentionally create an AI greater than themselves. It would require some kind of randomness to create the AI. If you keep generating AI by means of simply producing random code, eventually, you will produce something more intelligent than yourself.

Ants are smarter than humans when it comes to working in large crowds. Humans often crush themselves to death in large crowds. It’s very surprising to say the least that ants behave more intelligently than humans. They have almost no brain compared to us. We can build fusion reactors and smash particles into each other at the speed of light but the tasks that ants accomplish every day are too much for us.

Swarm intelligence is an intelligence we lack. When we’re being crushed to death by people running away from a fire in a crowded building, people scream. This makes it hard. I’ve never really understood this response, screaming achieves nothing other than making it more difficult for those around you to communicate. If you were in isolation screaming does make sense. Anyway, the simple rules that ants have triumph over our neocortex. It reminds me of cellular automata in which simple rules can create complex beautiful behavior.

I strongly advise against using the phrase “general intelligence” again. Use human-like intelligence instead. Perhaps it will turn out that there’s a huge space of problems that we cannot comprehend that are parts of everyday life. That we’re not even aware of. I sometimes get the idea that, perhaps just as we can only view a small part of the visible spectrum (and the non-visible spectrum does have profound consequences on our body) perhaps our mind can only ‘see’ a very small space of problems.


Information Visualization Isn’t Easy

Knowing how to best represent a set of quantitative information is not easy. I strongly recommend a quick read of the Wikipedia entry on Misleading Graphs and if you want to read a whole book try The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte. Instead of remphasizing the need for displaying information in the simplest way possible, I’m going to give examples of how not to display information. Sometimes the errors are only small. But those errors will always be notiable, they affect how people interpret the information. First up, WordPress’s graphs


The problem here is that when the view count is 0 the colour is grey – it should just be a lighter shade of yellow. The sudden shift from 1 as yellow to grey as 0 suggests there is a fundamental difference between 1 and 0. There isn’t, as I explained in my my https://emphatious.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/zero/. Wikipedia correctly uses a colour to show a semantic difference. White is used to represent the fact that there is no information available in the following graph.Image

However, this graph isn’t without its own problems. Can you figure out what the problem is? It’s incredibly difficult to realize the problem as it is a very deep one. Think about colours.

The most obvious problem is that the graph does not use a gradient. groups of GDP are lumped together for no reason. There should be no groups. instead of $800-$1600 being one colours, $900 should be a little more red than $850, $950 a bit more red than $900 and so on. They are essentially rounding figured for no reason. If you had a graph showing $11.53 million profit in Q1 and $12.42 million profit in Q2, would you round them? Rounding them serves no purpose. All it does is reduce accuracy… nothing is improved.

There is a much more subtle assumption made by this graph. It might not be wrong but it isn’t explained. The assumption is that the utility of money increases logarithmically. Look at the groups, they increase logarithmically.

The designers of the graph took it upon themselves to change how the information is shown. Instead of something that’s 10x the size quantitatively being 10x brighter or bigger (10x more intense in some way represented visually) on the graphic, they’ve made it log_10 times brighter. That’s an arbitrary operation done without justification. I do expect that if I were to ask the designer of the graphic why he did this, he would reply with the unforgivable line
“because if it weren’t like that, it’d be hardest to tell the difference between countries with low income. For example, almost all of Africa would be very similar in colour”.
If your goal is to let everyone know the exact GDP of countries, use a table not a graphic.

It is not a dilemma that people would see only a small difference in the colours of African countries because there is only a small difference in the GDP of African countries.

One last puzzle. Can you spot what’s wrong with this graph?


The problem is that again they’ve grouped things together when not necessary. But more importantly, look at the way the “Barely Dem” and “Barely GOP” are coloured. They are different to the others in that their centers are not coloured. This destroys the semantic meaning of the colours of the graph. It was originally that the colour represents the strength of the likelihood but not the colour AND how much white is in the center also represents it, adding complexity without adding any information.

One last error in this graph is that they have changed the size of Alaska. This is only confusing. The graph is being totally warped by the designer who felt that the shape of Alaska was awkward to work with.This makes the graph now entirely subjective. The designer could’ve also changed the shape of all other states – the integrity of the graphic is entirely destroyed by this decision.

Accuracy is Everything

Accuracy is everything

If you want to become a good debator and an effective communicator, accuracy in your statements is essential. I make a conscious effort to avoid using words such as “really” or “actually” when it adds no meaning to the sentence. Instead of saying “1 + 1 is actually 2” I just say “1 + 1 is 2” because by using “actually” I undermine my sentences without it in, because “actually” acts an an intensifier in boolean statements (where as “very” is used in continuous statements “1 + 1 is very 2” wouldn’t make sense but “the sky is very bright” does make sense because the potential brightnesses take on a continous space) but this makes no sense. A statement is either true or false. It can’t be, no matter how much you want it to be, half true or mostly true.

I am not a pedant, but I am often called it. Another phrase I avoid like the plague is “too”. This word is misused to often. It should only be used for shortening sentences when the long form of the sentence is easily deduced. So the sentence “There is an amount of water being poured into that bucket such that water is flowing out of it and onto the floor” is simplified to “There is too much water being poured into the bucket”. But people rarely think about the long form of the sentence, they use the “too” shorthand so often that they don’t even bother to think about the longer form of the sentence they’re shortening. As a result, in their mind the long form of the sentence evolves to something like “there is an amount of water being poured into that bucket such that something bad is happening” and use too always in this sense, so it becomes meaningless when used in some cases. One example is “Don’t eat too much pie” which is short for “Don’t eat an amount of pie such that something bad will happen”. It’s a barren tautology almost. No one would ever do something that they thought was bad. By saying it, you do nothing to help the person – no information is contained in the sentence.

English is not rigorous but I take pride in meaning everything I say. I don’t use metaphors. I hate them. It’s just butchering my language. Stop it. Don’t make demonstrably false statements and then say “but it’s not false, it’s a metaphor”. Just because a sentence can be constructed without breaking the laws of grammar does not make it coherent. Metaphors are basically art but made it language rather than a paintbrush. I don’t hate analogies that help people understand things more by means of pattern recognition. I do find metaphors that are blatantly false annoying, such as “A lifetime is a day, death is sleep; a lifetime is a year, death is winter”. All of those are false statements.

Here’s an analogy that explains my position. It’s like I’m an air traffic controller and the local radio station decides that it will broadcast songs on the same frequncy I’m on. Sure it sounds great. But people will die as a result. I’m trying to communicate with pilots and you’re making this much more difficult by blasting your art over our communication. It’s sort of muddying the language I’m using. Take your art to another medium – it isn’t suitable to use English in this way. I don’t buy into the hand waving “it’s a metaphor” when I point out that the statement “Death is winter” is false… and neither should you.

“Literally” was a word that used to mean something. Sadly, so many people have begun to attempt to use it an an intensifier that it has started to lost all meaning. “She was literally the hottest girl I’ve ever seen” strictly means that the girl I saw had the highest temperature of all girls I’ve ever seen. It does NOT mean “She was the most attractive girl I’ve ever seen and I’m not lying”. This is basically the path English is going down by having so many people use metaphors. But at least people know when they’re using metaphors. So it doesn’t matter too much. Where as people who use ‘literally’ incorrectly are unaware of their errors.

The Weath Gap

The rich keep getting richer. This itself isn’t a problem. It’s just that if the wealth was distributed more evenly society would be a better place. There is one simple way to achieve this. By paying people according to how much money the company made in the past x days (where x is the number of days between payments).

The algorithm used would take a lot of designing but once made it could be used for all companies. It would be appropriate for any companies.

Reality is fluid. Many of our systems are rigid and therefore sub-optimal.It’s odd that people don’t really understand this. Suppose I say “worker A should be paid $19,435.24 this year” most people would react “that’s an oddly specific number, why not $19,000.00?”. Yet if I said “This large rock has a mass of 19,435.24kg” it would be met without the raising of eyebrows. It would be strange indeed if the mass of every rock I found was divisible by $1000.00.

It’s as though people are saying that I need justification for having a number which strays away from numbers with an accuracy of more than 2 or so points. This accuracy is their own system and doesn’t reflect reality. People basically believe that if you have a number with few trailing zeros like 19,435.24 then you need justification from straying from the solid, proven value of of 19,000.00. But that’s nonsense. 19000 in base 2 is 100101000111000. There is nothing special about numbers that have lots of trailing zeros in base 10. The number of trailing zeros a number has in base 10 has no impact on how much a worker should be paid. They’re not linked in meaningful way so to attack someone for suggesting a number with no trailing 0’s in base 10 is meaningless. There would be tempted to say “buy you cannot notice a difference between $19,000.00 and $19,435.24 and I would say “I can notice the difference between any numbers that are not equal because the just-noticeable difference does not exist“.

It is known that it makes sense to pay people more if the company is more successful since they contributed to it and there is more money available to hire better people. There should be an algorithm that automatically calculates the ideal amount to pay people. I don’t know exactly how that algorithm would look, but I know some of its properties.

First, it wouldn’t take the form of x + …. there would be no addition whatsoever in the calculation. It would all be based on multiplication and exponentiation. There would be no base rate. Reality is fluid, no part of it is rigid, everything is vibrating, and our calculations must reflect that.

Secondly, as input, it would only require the important of that persons job and the amount of profit the company made that year. As the importance of the job increases their salary increases and the dependency of their salary on the profits of the company also increases. So those at the top would lose more of their salary (as a proportion) than those lower down if the company showed a loss that year.

With the automation of many low skilled jobs, it’s inevitable that the rich will get richer. The skill level of jobs that can be automated will steadily increase as AI improves. First it was the people on assembly line. Next it will be stock brokers. Then it will be the programmers who made those stock buying algorithms. This will be the end of capitalism. People will revolt. When the top 0.1% controls 99.9% of the wealth a revolt will trigger.

I don’t know when or how this will happen, but it will happen. It is just the nature of capitalism. If you take any normal looking system and extend it out for a long time, its ultimate fate will always appear strange. Some say the fate of this universe is just dead. Entropy will increase so much that it will become impossible to support life. Other scientists say that the universe goes in one big cycle. After the big bang is the big crunch.

We Need A Revolution In Battery Technology

The desire for better batteries has never been greater. With so many mobile devices comes an even greater need to have reliable batteries with a much greater capacity. The best batteries we have are atrocious compared to gasoline and other forms of energy. Here is a graph from Wikipedia


The bottom left corner shows Lithium Ion Batteries. Their energy density is 0.72MJ/kg 1and 1.5MJ/l. Compare that to 47.2MJ/kg and 34MJ/l for gasoline.

Suppose we had a massive breakthrough right now that gave us a battery technology with those energy densitiies. Many impossible things would be very possible. It wouldn’t just be that our phones and laptops lasted longer, entire industries would change. Electric cars would immediately wipe out all the competition. That alone id a dignificant change.

Electric cars which last a long time are a dream. Much queiter for one, and more environmentally friendly. They’re not perfect- that electricity they’re using has to come from somewhere and in some cases it comes from a coal power plant. It is more efficient than allowing each car their own engine though, so it’s a big positive. Cities in China would be most impacted. Over there their cities are riddled with smog and electric cars would go a long way to solve that proble.

All those gasoline statinos would go out of business and that’s a good thing. They are inherently unsafe. To get more petrol is a dangerous job. A truck full of the stuff has to drive there. That’s crazy. There have been many incidents where a tanker has overturned and killed people in the explosion. There have even been incidents in poor countries like africa where people have gathered around an overturned tanker and tried to gather up the petrolium gasoline that has been spilled only to be killed by a huge explosion trigged by only a tiny spark.

Climbing mount everest would be much less challenging. The mose difficult aspect of it is the cost. If that was removed it would be tough. With batteries with high densities, clothes with heating built into them would work. Think how an electric blanket works except instead of being the shape of a blanket it would be clothes shaped and run on a battery. It would be fantastic. Of course it would still be very tough to climb mount Everest and would take a lot of training but that’s a lot of the difficulty taken out of it, dealing with the cold.

Tools that typically use gasoline or diesel would now use electrical power via batteries. Things like lawn mowers and leaf blowers. It would make them slightly quieter as there is no engine inside them but more importantly they would be more safe and more reliable. Dealing with oil is a dirty job.

I think that making these devices entirely electronic makes it easier for software to be used with it. Instead of having many buttons that do different things, there would just be a touchscreen on the device that had all the options you needed after you navigated through the easily understood menu. This means there’s fewer moving parts and hence increases the reliability of the device. In cars in particular there’s far too many buttons and knobs. All of that could go with the introduction of a touchscreen panel.

Rocket ships would still have to be powered by fuel. A battery could never generate the power needed for liftoff without being of a too large size. It basically needs a controlled explosion in order to get sufficient thrust for escape velocity.

It would revolutionize our world. The breakthrough would be undoubtedly one of the biggest breakthroughs of all time. We need a genius to help us solve our issues. Many scientists are working on this problem as we speak but none of them are bright enough to solve it. There have been small success stories such as making batteries with a greater power output but less capacity. More money needs to be put towards paying scientists to find materials and methods to reach this goal.