Humility, incompetence, education, and the Dunning-Kruger effect

Donald Trump: a great example of how ignorance can warp your perspective of your competence compared to others. Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey via Flickr. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Donald Trump: a great example of how ignorance can warp your perspective of your competence compared to others. Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey via Flickr. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Dunning-Kruger effect has had a lot of press recently because of Donald Trump. Almost two decades ago, in their very readable paper, Unskilled and Unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,  Cornell psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning showed that incompetent people lack the ability to gauge their own incompetence if they have even a tiny amount of knowledge in a particular area. (If I need to explain the connection to Trump at this point, we probably shouldn’t get into a political discussion…) For example, explain Dunning and Kruger, “most people have no trouble identifying their inability to translate Slovenian proverbs, reconstruct an 8-cylinder engine, or diagnose acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.” However, if they think they know anything at all about a domain, even the people with the least ability – after objective testing – think they are above average. Read More …

New paper: Being Analog

IMG_0957I attended the 3rd International Workshop on Optical SuperComputing in Bertinoro, Italy, back in November. I don’t get out so much these days, so I was pretty shocked when a total of 10 people showed up (or was it 11, you’d think I’d remember!) It’s a shame, because there is some interesting stuff going on in this field…

In any case, despite a couple talks delivered remotely, the program turned out to be pretty thin (perhaps not surprising given the attendance). So I offered to give a presentation about my stuff, even though it’s not strictly about optical. The talk, called Being Analog, was well received, so they asked me to write it up as a paper for Springer’s Lecture Notes on Computer Science (which had a deal to do the proceedings). Uploaded it today: so here it is, hot off the presses, if you’re interested.

Photo: The view out of my window from Bertinoro Castle.

Originally posted on Brains and Machines.

300Mb of soul

CapricaSo I finally got around to watching Caprica, the spin-off pilot from the mostly-wonderful Battlestar Galactica. As a scientist, I’m usually pretty happy to just let the science-fiction bits of such programs wash over me: to just suspend disbelief and treat them as fantasy. With Battlestarthis was particularly easy to do, as so little of the science was really explained. But with Caprica, the way they said you could create a virtual human personality was so plausible, well-explained, and—in my view—so completely wrong, that I thought it worth putting something on the record. Read More …

Augmentation or alienation?

Photo from 'Playing God' by Paula Garfield and Rebecca Atkinson.I’ve been trying to think about how the cultures of those with and without augmented senses may diverge, and the difficulties this may cause. The problem is already being grappled with by deaf people deciding whether to give their children cochlear implants, and the chance of a more “normal” life, or whether to encourage them to embrace signing and the deaf community. So, when I heard last week about a play on this subject here in London, Playing God by Paula Garfield and Rebecca Atkinson, I immediately bought tickets. Though it’s a departure, I thought I’d review it and some of the issues it raises here. Also, the play’s on until August 4th, so I wanted to discuss it right away while there is still an opportunity for people to go and see it if it’s of interest. Read More …

Feeling robots’ pain

The packbot: one of iRobot's products for the military.A few weeks ago, the British press was abuzz with stories about robot rights. A collection of roboticists and philosophers got together to debate the issue at the Dana Center in London as a result of a quasi-governmental report published towards the end of last year. This sparked a discussion on the influential BBC radio program Today: a show that is thought to have the ears of the political class running the UK. Read More …

Hail to the neuromorphic engineers

This robot is driven by a circuit based on the nervous system of a lobster.Mark Tilden changed my life. In about 1998 I started to become interested in analog computing for intelligence and came across a paper called Living Machines Mark wrote with Brosl Hasslacher a few years earlier. In it they talked about analog electronic creatures that were were very different to any other robots I had seen before. The ‘nervous networks’ that drove them were made of very few transistors, capacitors, and resistors—dozens rather than hundreds—and yet they, together, performed a rich, natural, and robust set of behaviors. The sun-seeking robots were even being used for interesting applications like satellite guidance and mine-clearing. It was a great story and it helped me understand what was important about intelligence in a way I hadn’t before. Read More …