The day when the singularity came

A philosophical sci-fi essay about what to do with your life using some new data, with a reading list for rainy Sunday afternoons

It was the 27th January 2016 when the penny finally dropped. It was reported that in October 2015, Google’s artificial intelligence program had beaten the European champion of the board game Go.1 She had a nagging feeling that this was not right. It was only a year and a half ago when she read the expert opinion that for computers Go is so much harder than chess that it would take ten years for a computer to beat a top professional human player. Continue reading

When are kids born? Anyway, when are babies conceived?

My current subject is the seasonality in the number of births. I have looked up the number of live births in several countries over a number of years with monthly resolution. My primary question is whether there are certain months of the year in which more babies are born than could be expected.

There are a few other related, truly intriguing questions, but we will not be able to say much about them based on the available data beyond mere speculation. The most directly accessible one is the seasonality in conception rate: to what extent is it defined by seasons (time spent indoors and the like), and how much influence does culture have on it? What would also be very interesting to find out is the seasonality in the number of sexual intercourses. Well, I can’t say much about the latter one, but I will explain why. Continue reading

The moat approach to scientific authority — Beware of the guru!

Warren Buffett, perhaps the greatest investor of all times, prefers his holdings to have what he calls a `moat’; some form of protection that sets a business apart from the competition, similarly to how a moat protects a castle from intrusion.1 The economic moat should function by making it impossible for rivals and new entrants to outcompete the established one. It can be a cost advantage, a well-known brand, a cemented connection with customers, infrastructure already in place, or special know-how, possibly a patent portfolio.

If you believe in keeping science open, then you should be wary when you sense something similar happening in research. Continue reading

Height matching for a harmonious-looking pair

I’m somewhat obsessed with the heights of people around me. I also have an interest in harmony and aesthetics. So I have been thinking what height proportions make a nice couple. If you are looking for a partner from the opposite sex (whether for a romantic relationship or for dancing), what height would be a good match to yours?

What follows is going to involve data analysis but there will be nothing inherently scientific about it. Continue reading

How Facebook could make money by letting users sell their friends

I originally wrote the entry as an online article and it ended up being quite long. So I decided to start with an extra summary to present the core idea briefly. Well, it made the whole thing that much longer.

Summary

Advertising connects demand with supply: it connects people who have money to spend to fill a need (or to splurge out on a luxury) with businesses which want to reach customers. It is in the buyers’ interest that they are only exposed to advertisements that help them in their purchasing decisions. It is in the sellers’ interest that their adverts mainly target consumers who are potential buyers of their goods or services.

In online advertising, buyers need information about products and sellers, while sellers need help to target their ads at potential buyers. Help might come from a dedicated provider (either by people employed for this task or in an automated way from some remote server), while the alternative is that it might be provided by some online community. These are independent aspects, as the table shows with some examples.

Recommending… seller to buyer buyer to seller
Centrally/algorithmically independent product reviews; Google AdWords, Amazon, eBay browsing history (Google, Amazon)
In a distributed fashion/socially Amazon, eBay; Pinterest ?

My observation is that I do not know any participant in the field with ? but Facebook is in a position to enter that space. Continue reading