An MIT algorithm better at pattern recognition than human intuition

Computers have a reputation for being able to churn through numbers with limited intuition. Now, though, an algorithm developed by researchers at MIT to find predictive patterns in unfamiliar data has performed better than two-thirds of human teams.

The researchers, from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, are trying to take some of the strain out of analyzing large data sets, by creating algorithms that can identify interesting features hidden in gigantic pools of figures…

They give examples such as this, for instance:…In a database containing, say, the beginning and end dates of various sales promotions and weekly profits, the crucial data may not be the dates themselves but the spans between them, or not the total profits but the averages across those spans.

Spotting that kind of insight is much easier for humans than it is for computers, and it’s what the team has been trying to get an algorithm to achieve. The result is a piece of software that they call Data Science Machine, and to test it they entered a prototype into a series of data science competitions, where it was pitted against human teams to identify predictive patterns in unfamiliar data sets…

Across the three competitions in aggregate, it managed to beat 615 of 906 human teams. And in two of the three competitions, its predictions were 94 percent and 96 percent as accurate as the winning teams (in the third, it only managed to be 87 percent as accurate as the winners). But, as MIT News points out, the human teams spent days, weeks, or in some cases months reaching their conclusions; Data Science Machine took between 2 to 12 hours at the most.

Gizmodo like many sources trying for popularized science abuse the language. Intuition is lousy word for what these scientists are about – even if they may use it themselves trying to explain things. The first paragraph does a better job when it says…”find predictive patterns in unfamiliar data”.

Most people talking about intuition are thinking about some kind of spooky manifestation.

Apple fears dopers are using the iPhone 6s as a scale, eh?

In a recent post on Medium, dev Ryan McLeod says he and his friends created a digital scale app that worked using Apple’s new 3D Touch pressure-sensing feature.

Called Gravity, they submitted it to the App Store, only to have it rejected for “having a misleading description.” To show the app in action, the team then submitted a video to Apple, but were told that “the concept of a scale app was not appropriate for the App Store.”

No reason was given beyond this. Apple is well-known for its subjective, and sometimes harsh, App Store decision-making process. In terms of digital scale apps, the company’s refusal to accept them could be over concerns that people will damage their devices by placing things on the screens — or the possibility that digital scale apps may be used for weighing drugs

“We have a strong respect for the subjective process Apple uses to maintain a selection of high quality apps,” McLeod notes on Medium. “But [we] do hope for a day when Gravity can be one of the hand-picked, who-knew-a-phone-could-do-that-apps anyone can download on the App Store and have in their pocket.”

Har. No doubt someone will contrive a workaround.

Senate passes CISA cybersecurity bill that takes away more civil liberties

The US Senate overwhelmingly passed a controversial cybersecurity bill critics say will allow the government to collect sensitive personal data unchecked, over the objections of civil liberties groups and many of the biggest names in the tech sector.

The vote on Tuesday was 74 to 21 in support of the legislation. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders voted against the bill. None of the Republican presidential candidates (except Lindsey Graham, who voted in favor) were present to cast a vote, including Rand Paul, who has made privacy from surveillance a major plank of his campaign platform.

Ahead of the vote a group of university professors specializing in tech law, many from the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy, sent an open letter to the Senate, urging them not to pass the bill. The bill, they wrote, would fatally undermine the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA).

Led by Princeton’s David S Levine, the group joined a chorus of critics including many of the largest technology companies, notably Apple, and National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden in calling for CISA to be scrapped…

Yes, I know how much weight testimony from scientists, university experts means to Congress. Almost enough to buy a cop of weak coffee.

Despite protestations that CISA was not a surveillance bill, co-sponsors Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein discouraged their colleagues from voting for amendments to mitigate what senators called unreasonable invasions of privacy, including one notifying citizens that their data was being examined. Amendments from Ron Wyden, Al Franken, Patrick Leahy, Dean Heller and Chris Coons all failed, though Wyden’s failed by a very narrow vote.

The American Banking Association and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) applauded the passage of the bill. “The legislation passed by the Senate today bolsters our cyber defenses by providing the liability protections needed to encourage the voluntary sharing of cyber threat information…”

A couple of gangs who really care about individual privacy, eh?

CISA was negotiated and marked up in secret. Corporate lobbying group The US Chamber of Commerce has been the only consistent champion of the legislation outside the halls of the Senate; the editorial boards of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post both published opinions in favor of the bill today.

The data in question would come from private industry, which mines everything from credit card statements to prescription drug purchase records to target advertising and tweak product lines. Indeed, much of it is detailed financial and health information the government has never had access to in any form…

The tech companies that consistently work to protect individual security have worked hard to oppose this bill. You know who they are. Another chunk are sitting on the sidelines hoping no one notices they’re doing nothing, hoping to benefit somehow if the bill passes. RTFA for the Who’s Who.

Mostly, our wonder-boys-and-girls in Congress are getting ready for the 2016 elections. Everyone talks about cyber security while we live in the belly of the beast that works hardest, dedicates the most money on the planet to spying on everyone outside or inside our borders. Any politicians working for the party line that we must trust the alphabet soup of spies from NSA and DHS to protect our personal freedoms – ain’t worth trusting.

UN backs away from discussion of decriminalisation of drugs

Sir Richard Branson leaked the report

United Nations officials have called for the possession and use of all drugs to be decriminalised by governments, in a private report hailed as a “turning-point in drug policy reform”.

But the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) immediately distanced itself from the controversial conclusions, which were leaked by the Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, and insisted they did not represent the UN’s official position.

The briefing paper argues that criminalising drug use increases death rates among addicts and has led to the jailing of millions of people for non-violent offences.

It also warns of “high levels of discrimination” against drug-users and says the human rights of large numbers have been breached because they are illegally held in custody.

It concludes: “The international drug control conventions do not impose on member states obligations to criminalise drug use and possession for personal consumption. Member states should consider the implementation of measures to promote the right to health and to reduce prison overcrowding, including by decriminalising drug use and possession for personal consumption.”

The paper is understood to have been written by Monica Beg, who heads the HIV/Aids section of the UNODC, which is based in Vienna.

Sir Richard, a member of the global commission on drugs policy, described the statement as a “refreshing shift that could go a long way to finally end the needless criminalisation of millions of drug-users around the world”.

He said he was disclosing its details because its release had been vetoed just before it was due to be circulated at a conference in Malaysia.

The tycoon said: “I am hearing that at least one government is putting an inordinate amount of pressure on the UNODC. Let us hope the UNODC, a global organisation that is part of the UN and supposed to do what is right for the people of the world, does not do a remarkable volte-face at the last possible moment and bow to pressure by not going ahead with this important move.”

But, the UN did bail on publication and discussion. No one – yet – is admitting who put the brakes on change.

We all can guess. It has to be a nation not only committed to foot-dragging; but, with sufficient clout, economic and otherwise, to intimidate UN officials.