On the Precipice of Christmas

Just lost a round $32 to the Atlantis Casino Reno. I had wanted to come to a corner of this casino and mope about landscaping. That’s right, landscaping. Today, I finally admitted to my wife that I have never before understood why so many people plant so much vegetation near their houses, and by near I mean touching. Why do people do so when it has been well known for decades that trees pull up moisture and rots wood used to build the house? The phenomenon is quite prevalent in the Bay Area. People do landscaping to their houses all the time like people do drugs to their own bodies.

And then it dawned on me today that they do it out of hedonic needs. The trees and flowers, so close you can touch and smell, they make people happy. So what if the house will fall down in 20 to 30 years? What comparison can you make with the happiness of the house’s residents for those number of years? A modern human being would always choose happiness of people over the happiness of dead wood. An ancient human being may also argue that since god created everything for humans, that this destructive servitude is most holy. There is no why. It just happens, by will of God and Humans. There is no why.

But I choose not to mope about soiled by my realization of how normal people think. Another idea to write about is the wonderful buildings of casinos. The Atlantis has two gigantic torches outside that blows 5-stories-tall flames every 30 minutes. The other casinos are also decadently extravagant. The artwork, the fanciful lighting, the domes, arches, fountains,… a single casino could have many architectural and distinctive features that come from centuries of history and art. Combined with modern day lighting, they look fantastic. The casinos here look like the originals of buildings and paintings that belong to a future museum. How do they get white walls so white? How do they make yellow walls work?

But this fantasizing is colored with the lens of twenty-teens. We go to museums to see these historical buildings because they are beautiful, difficult to create, and original (when they were created) in a few centuries time, what will actually attract humans to museums? It is not going to be casinos for sure. I mean, they won’t be able to get the smoke out of these buildings for another millennium.

Occasionally, some of us has the experience of being reminded that classic, museum-worthy, privately collectible and perpetually appreciating, transcendental art works from the past, they might have been nouvo and scandalous at their time of production, and they might have taken hundreds of years to gain their due desert of acceptance and appreciation. What we know for sure is that some sufficient number of human beings, at some remarkable times in the past, found such works appealing and decided to preserve them and propagate appreciation for them. Here and now I remark upon Reno casinos… I appreciate these whole buildings that art art.

Museum put on display historical intellectual arguments: who said what and influenced whom… visualized or represented in multi-media ways. We can watch great historical debates about politics and sciences. We can watch humanity decide what it wants to believe and wants to do. We can put on display Creationist Science versus Evolutionary Sciences, Climate change spectrum, Bayesian versus Frequentists, Empirical risk minimization versus… We can put on display the battle among titans of industries–IBM versus Apple, Tesla versus the rest, Intel versus Asia, AC versus DC, Amd versus NVIDIA, Ford versus Ferrari, … possibly many other struggle for dominance or survival. Perhaps these will be the legacies we will be remembered by. Our modern marvels will be the process that got us to that time and place where we are museum-worthy relics.

Right Quit-right Right

During my thanksgiving-induced food coma, I had run into a problem in my mind. Recall that we had begun to think about right and wrong, just and unjust, should and shouldn’t, could and couldn’t, could do to and could do onto, etc. in an abstract mind conception of the Action Space. Roughly speaking, with the rigor required at the outset of Nichomachean Ethics, Action Space is a set of all possible actions anybody or any body could do to another at a specified time. For a significant portion of this space, a subspace, we can describe actions in English sentence: “Eve gives Adam a forbidden fruit(at any time).” But we do not unnecessarily restrict us to these at this stage. Sets have interesting but practical operators that we use to model other aspects of our world, including: membership and subset relations, union and disjunction operators, etc. A hope is that using sets of actions we can both cover a lot of ground in representing our real world, and we leverage our innate understanding of these concepts to interpret the matters of Actions.

This framing gives us an immediate idea to compare the size of action spaces. Suppose there is an Action Space that represent the actions permitted by the U.S. constitution L. Now, we can also have the action space specified by the United State Code(USC). We can very safely demand that when interpreted their action spaces USC \subset C. And we say that the Constitution of the United States of America grants strictly more freedom than the USC. The set of actions permitted by the prior is a strict superset of those permitted by the latter. More actions means more rights, liberties and freedoms. Fewer actions means more constrained and fewer choices. Strictly more free is a partial ordering of all action spaces. In a less strict sense of freedom, we can also compare cardinalities of two action spaces. But clearly this ordering is not very useful: have all the rights to sneeze in various poses is not nearly as important as the right to take a sip of water. Of course that can too be ameliorated with utilitarian’s individual utility function or the social welfare function, and other such attempts so as to produce a useful ordering of preference over action spaces.

Having considered many perspectives on permissibility and selection of actions, and considering conservative believes about our physical universe and all that we could possibly be concerned with, we have come to designate an API with which thinking and controlling systems may interact with our faculties that deal with rules of law and right and wrong. We suspend our fear of making a homunculus argument as we do not say we have found or made such modules of this artificial intelligence, but merely that we want to separate these concerns to reduce the complexity of reasoning. The separation is not physical, all the thinking could be produced on the same gray matter or CPU. The interface can also be defined implicitly, for visualization, consider looking at a hyperplane through which these two separate functions connect.

For the purpose of characterizing whether an action is permitted by a determining agent or subcomponent E, we ask that a permission function $latest P_E$ to be accessible.

P_E(a, t, H, n=N) -> [permissible|impermissible]

The parameters are typed:

  • a \in A is an action of the action space
  • t \in T is a set of timestamps in question.
    • $latex T” is a predesignated time indexing which is a set of objects known as timestamps. It is is totally ordered. For convenience we also include the open and closed contiguous sets of timestamp called intervals or ranges using ‘[]()’ symbols. We use the symbol < to mean before, > to mean after and = to mean at the same time.
    • time t can be a single timestamp or a set of timestamps. The function is polymorphic.
    • The type of time parameters should be be inferred from context if ambiguous: happening at “a time t” means a single timestamp, “happening at time/times t” means occurring for all time in set t.
    • Often T is specified to be the real numbers or integers. In this case a reference must be set for the time 0, as well as scale explaining what duration of 1 means in the physical world.
  • H is the whole history of the world up to t.
    • History has, among other information, the timestamp of now $H_n$ which is the maximal time about which we have information through H. Calling it now is more positive than the end of history.
    • Regarding performed actions, H is a log of actions that have been taken each with timestamp of when they were taken. We use a convenience expression did(a,h,t=T,n=N) to check if an action was reportedly taken in h at time t. Not specifying t asks if the action was ever taken. did(a,h=h) is an injective function. An action is taken or not taken, it cannot be unknown.
  • n is the nature of the world. It may contain matter such as the laws of physics, existence of god, etc. Since we care most about the nature that we are in, by default this parameter is specified as the nature of our world. We should be able to query for information such as number: \pi, e, c, N_A etc.

P_E therefore yields the result that we use to decide whether an action is permissible or not under some system of determination for propriety and preference. The answer, as given by E, is E’s answer at time t. An agent, upon receiving the permissible result from E will understand that the action they asked about is permitted at the time in question given history of the world leading up to time t, and our nature.

….The E is member of world and accessible as part of nature. We could also imagine historical E’s that are result of history: made computer, wrote programs, program decides…..

In considering the permissibility of actions we should also for functional purposes suppose the existence of the doit function. doit(a, t, h, n=N)=(h',n'). All that doit does is that it instantaneously adds the action to history and nature at time $latext t$. and reports the results of that insertion. When specified, a natural action is one which does not change nature: doit(a, t, h, n=N)=(h',n) and a supernatural action is one that changes nature: doit(a, t, h, n=N)=(h,n').

Two actions a_1, a_2 are homopotent if doit(a_1, t, h, n=N) =doit(a_2, t, h, n=N). This equivalence relation creates equivalent classes of actions. Such classes exist even the Natural language descriptions can have many descriptions of the exactly same action. We will prefix homopotency with historic and natural for equivalence that match only history and only nature respectively.

For convenience of notation, we can query nature and history for, among other things, the deed of past actions: did(a, h, t=\emptyset, n=N)

We are conscientious of many other potential problems of our present endeavors. Mathematicians has given us many concerning thoughts about sets of things. One example of a problem with these innings is that most of our computational machinery have known limitation that terminability of a function is unknowable—eg the Halting Problem.

In practical implementation the function may produce a response that is either permissible nor impermissible. If we have to wait for ever, then this function is not useful. If we do not know whether it terminates or not, then we do not know if we can use the result or not. Of course, Software Engineers have long worked around this issue by creating time-box around functions. Each function evaluation is surrounded by machinery that will wait patiently for a result, but if some preset time box is exceeded, the efforts to evaluate said function is suspended and the invoking agent is informed that the function did not function as expected. Since time pass as surely as we can time it, this time boxing wrapper approach guarantees us that we can implement a function with this signature:

P_E(a, t, H, n=N) -> [permissible|impermissible|indiscernible]

Users of our API are warned and required to handle the case when such a component fails to function. Such demand is not unreasonable as there are many such safety implements in most modern artificial computational systems. The result of indiscernible expresses no opinion regarding the action. The user of this API may choose conventions on how to react to the result. A information security implementation may choose to be conservative by reacting to indiscernible as if the answer is impermissible to ensure security. Where as human legal system may choose to be liberal and interpret indiscernible reaction as permissible granting maximal freedom when in doubt.

Another oft-used software engineering safety technique is that of rate limiting. The provider of P_e API may choose to rate limit how much any single agent may query the API. Rate limiting helps to mitigate finial of service(DOS) attacks on the permissions system. In reality, this rate limit is enforced by our limited implementations. In theory, a rate limit on API invocation allows to analyze the ability of a real agent to follow the directions of a permission function under realistic constraints. Rate limits can be expressed as a limit on requests can be made within any contiguous interval of a certain set period of time (ie queries per second (qps)), or it may be a rough restriction in the form of interval between requests, among many other choices.

For a third problematic example, we shall eponymously name it the quit-right problem. It is a shady imitator of the Russel Paradox. The problem is self explanatory: Are quit-right actions members of our action space? Can one consider the right to give up a right? If so, can we quit all quit-rights rights? Can we quit a quit right the action itself?

Legal theory has a convenient solution to this problem. In legal arrangements, one can make something called a default rule and another that is called mandatory rule. A default rule applies if there is no forceful contract or declaration to its contrary. Mandatory rules, on the other hand, are those rules that cannot be overwritten irrespective of contracting or forceful declarations. Certainly quit right is an action we can imagine to be part of a legal action space, but a legal action space will not contain quit right actions for actions that are mandatorily protected. Some commonplace examples are the potency of Nondisclosure Agreements (NDA) in the rules of law. In this case a natural person or other legal entities may contract away their right of speech and other expressions—they quit their right of speech and freedom of expression. However, no matter if you sign with a in $2^10000000$ bits of cryptographic signature carved into stone, you can not sign away your life to be taken by another individual. It will always be called into question whether that other individual is responsible for advertently or inadvertently cause your loss of life irrespective of your renunciation thereof. The force of such system is infinite, the person may not change his right to change his right to life, he may not give himself permission to give himself permission to contract or declare away his life, and is on and so forth.

Now, those are a subject itself quitting its own right. Again using a easy target of human life, the action space still contain actions such as the state killing you. Under some circumstance states maintain the right to kill you in its action space for purpose of capital punishment. The American government actually also has the right to modify its own right regarding capital punishment within the confines of its constitution.

But what does the quit-right action look like in the action space? Let’s for simplicity of expression designate a macro $q(e, a, s, t=\infty)$ to mean the action:

quit the right to take action a in the permissibility determining system e on all such times on or after timestamp s and before time t.

The meaning of macro q(e, a, s, t)

If P_e(q(e, a, s, t), s_<, u) is permissible, and if q(e, a, s, t) was successively taken in history u\in h then P_e(a, s_>, h,...) returns impermissible.

  • Time is a totally ordered set of timestamps. These corresponds to wall clock time in our world. The set has membership as well as open and closed interval as.
  • Action Space actions has success and failure return codes.
    • doit succeeds only when action is permitted.
    • doit returns a history. Suppose we can query that history for whether an action was taken in time range. The behavior of doit is then definable on the function’s input and output.
    • other agents can be invoking doit as well, it does not affect present agent…$
    • permit, forbid only when the stated modifications to subactionspace is permitted

The resignation to these rights are targeted for a specific permission function P_e to allow us to perform activities permitted by one system and disallowed by another, e.g. law and conscience, rationality and greed, etc. Since we have not introduced macro and action variables or even functions within the action space, we skirt issues like writing a macro that when expanded produces q(q(q(q( ad infinitum. But even when that is enabled, it will not be a problem because for uninterpretable actions we have a convenient indiscernible result to resort to when we receive obnoxious or pathological questions and actions that we can certainly deem unreasonable, irrelevant, or useless.

Now then, we may say that if an agent has taken an action q(e, a, s, t) then we expect P_e(a, u, H_u) to return impermissible \forall u.s\leq  u < t.

So far we have not distinguished actors(subjects) and objects of action. But it does not hinder our efforts. An action space built constructively using verbs and nouns into a transitive action space. We can also explore by building increasingly more complex action space, for example by increasing valency of verbs used to construct a action space. In such spaces, the action passed to the quit-right macro may contain a subject not covariant with the object. In such a situations, the action a q(e, b does...) in which actor a quits an action for b. The DMV(a), for example, has the right to take an action that forbids a person(b) from driving according to traffic law(e) according to e: A motorist has the API to ask the question P_e(q^a(e, b drives...)...) and receive an affirmative answer of permissible.

More to come…

Academic freedom with Goog

Just saw NPR news about Gebru being fired/resigning for reason related to publication dispute with Google the company. Some many number of people signed letter to ask for transparency and reconsideration.

Honestly, HR is not the most customer friendly or innovative department of silicone valley companies—on average. There are certainly awesome HR individuals and HR leaders that I’ve encountered, but there surely are some seriously uncaring individuals, senior leaders and policies that acted inhumanely and unreasonably. This quotation from Gebru, as published by a very sympathetic review in the Washington Post, is something that perhaps most minorities can write with significant degree of sincerity:

Gebru recounted her most recent experience in the email as an example of why she had given up on advocating for diversity inside Google. “[S]top writing your documents because it doesn’t make a difference,” she wrote. “[Y]our life gets worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people, you start making the other leaders upset when they don’t want to give you good ratings during calibration

This advocacy she speaks of represent a swath of disparate and dissenting opinions regarding various modes in which minorities are treated. When “reasoning” with the employee through normal management chain fails, the mighty HR steps in and uses company business related performance reviews (known as calibrations at Google) to enforce the company’s stance. The only exception here is that one of Gebru’s job is to improve minority inclusion at Google—by losing her own inclusion she has created a self-fulfilling failure to perform her duties to the company. Also, her declaration that writing documents is useless is self defeating as well. As a scientist, a big part of her work will be to document and publish her learnings and believes. Quit writing documents is quitting the job. Sigh… the troubles we have in the computer industry.

It is certainly not surprising that Gebru had to separate from Google. Recall recent episode of her very civilized and reasonable discussion with LeCunn on Twitter. Sadly, I empathize with both of them. Being a minority who likes to think about the reasonable, I definitely feel her frustration from lack of acknowledgement and consideration. But I also feel the scientific curiosity that I imagine LeCunn has for the science.

The problem here is what we do not know. 3 hours after the NPR articles published, I do not see the paper whose quality is in dispute on pre-publication sites. It is highly unlikely that Google will respond publicly to explain why it does not want Gebru at al. to talk about why Google’s core technology is inherently racist and environmentally damaging.

The next day, Jeff Dean published a google doc presenting his view of this incident. One obvious takeaway from Dean’s postmortem write up is that, somewhere in some of her communications, Gebru challenged the mystery, anonymity and opacity of “the official Google internal review process” that assesses scientific qualifications of prospective publications. Her challenge may have been that the review process has excessive and unaudited (white/discriminative and profit-only focused) power. Google apparently has kept that process a secret even to its subjects and in light of this very public revolt.

Interestingly, many academicians and institutions come out in support of Gebru. Some many dozens of hours later MIT tech review published writing based on draft of the paper. MIT seems to also take the position that there is unclear and inconsistent behavior on the part of Google.

The concerning problem is Google’s monopoly. If you look carefully, the organizers of the public challenge letter to Google uses a Gmail address. Google’s infrastructure powers so many silicone valley companies that if there were any unconscious systemic or cultural bias, they would be ingrained in the business infrastructure that every silicone valley company depends on. How do you learn about academic freedom or ethics or AI? Well, you will undoubtedly Google it. Leaders of startups are recruited from Google to bring their magic Google mojo to power new startups. Software is taken, for free, from Google because others do not have the tech… Lint from under the nails of the likes of Dean become treasures of the industry when they are unearthed from Google.

This is not a company. This is a center of a civilization. While it is very brave for a few researchers to stand up to it to demand something, the outcome and benefit of this divisive exercise is not clear at all. The signatories of the complaint letter certainly cannot all resign from their jobs under leads who wishes to uphold the values and methods that worked so great at Google.

My firm belief is that we need to build more common ground by working on creating the common ground. We need for people of all kinds to come closer and closer to discuss and improve shared core principles. And I definitely mean that the shared principles are truly shared: when presented with similar situation, different people owning the same principles react and decide essentially for the same reasons.

Despite our biological similarities, despite our common humanity, common ground does not come for free. Despite our shared computer protocols for global exchange of information. All that needs to be said must still be said to build understanding. Demands for apologies and submission to a point of view, while righteous to do for the righteous, doesn’t really build common ground, it doesn’t improve shared understandings.

But I will always end my commentary on this subject by saying that my people, my ancestors were not enslaved for centuries. My direct ancestors had not had the pleasure of being subjects or objects of European men. My parents were not firehosed or beaten to shot or burned or segregated for the color of their skin. I will humbly acknowledge that I have lesser cultural and genetic sensitivity and immunity to racism and imperialism. This leaves me with a gaping chasm of doubt about my views regarding the forgoing news. Maybe I really don’t know how bad things really are and what radical means of resistance or revolution are required for a true change for the better.


A week later, some big wigs have weighed in. One unavoidable observation is that University of Washington prof is taking Jeff Dean’s side. Perhaps Dean’s matriculation there had this kind of politics. behind it as well?!

Here is one question is if you were behind the veil of ignorance, and you don’t know if you are minority or not, you don’t know if you’re rich or not and you don’t know if you have knowledge or not, would you:

  • Want to work with someone like Gebru or Dean.
  • Would you want to manage Gebru or Dean?
  • Would you want to be managed by Gebru or Dean?
  • Would you cite Gebru or Dean regarding the safety and ethics of Google inc taking on the same position as their paper?
  • Would you follow either one’s leadership in terms of ethics or social justice.

I cannot imagine myself wanting to be any where near either of these two characters. I would probably have to cite both opposing opinions since BOTH of them have knowledge about the matter far beyond my cognition and experience. But honestly, I do have to factor into consideration that Dean is really protecting a possibly very evil industry that he was instrumental in creating. I also must factor into the citation that Gebru is highly leveraged in the Identity Politics market. One cannot conscientiously discuss the very polarizing political topic without acknowledging these objectively existing aspects of these characters. In either case, although I fear for my own personal safety and sanity to come into proximity of these people, I do have to say that they are highly valuable assets of our society. Their existence enriches us all, and quite possibly quantified in similar orders of magnitude. IMMHO, this is great!

… some time later… 🎇 The formation of a minority union is a nice touch. Hope to see more…