Mathematical Models of Innovations

January 18, 2017

Interesting article spotted in The MIT Technology Review:

And yet the process of innovation is something of a mystery. A wide range of researchers have studied it, ranging from economists and anthropologists to evolutionary biologists and engineers. Their goal is to understand how innovation happens and the factors that drive it so that they can optimize conditions for future innovation.

This approach has had limited success, however. The rate at which innovations appear and disappear has been carefully measured. It follows a set of well-characterized patterns that scientists observe in many different circumstances. And yet, nobody has been able to explain how this pattern arises or why it governs innovation….

The adjacent possible is all those things—ideas, words, songs, molecules, genomes, technologies and so on—that are one step away from what actually exists. It connects the actual realization of a particular phenomenon and the space of unexplored possibilities.

But this idea is hard to model for an important reason. The space of unexplored possibilities includes all kinds of things that are easily imagined and expected but it also includes things that are entirely unexpected and hard to imagine. And while the former is tricky to model, the latter has appeared close to impossible.

What’s more, each innovation changes the landscape of future possibilities. So at every instant, the space of unexplored possibilities—the adjacent possible—is changing…

The team has also shown that its model predicts how innovations appear in the real world. The model accurately predicts how edit events occur on Wikipedia pages, the emergence of tags in social annotation systems, the sequence of words in texts, and how humans discover new songs in online music catalogues…


Photography Mapped

January 5, 2017

photographymapped

Screenshot from the interactive graphic

Following on from last year, I plan to do a few more photowalks in London this year. Part of this will be me getting to know my cameras better and hopefully using them better. From the controls, there are obviously a large number of options, which can sometimes seem overwhelming (I’m very much an amateur in this).

I recently came across an interactive graphic from Simon Roberts (a London based animator and designer) that helps quite a lot. The link is here and there’s a screenshot of the interactive site above:

A big part of my day job is using design and animation to make complex things more comprehensible – through this project I’m applying these skills to photography…

I adapted this design into an interactive diagram to help you explore the connections yourself. There are a total of 23,814 different photo combinations you can take (although most of those are either very overexposed or underexposed).


What If Technology Was Aligned To Your Values?

January 4, 2017

A series of three short videos on how technology could better align with your needs/values.


Santa’s On His Way

December 24, 2016

 

santa-on-bike-2

Spotted in a neighbour’s garden…and usually there’s an imaginatively dressed scarecrow in the summer!


Decisions Versus Engagement and Curiosity

December 17, 2016

From David Brooks in the NYT:

And this is my problem with the cognitive sciences and the advice world generally. It’s built on the premise that we are chess masters who make decisions, for good or ill. But when it comes to the really major things we mostly follow our noses. What seems interesting, beautiful, curious and addicting?

Have you ever known anybody to turn away from anything they found compulsively engaging?

We don’t decide about life; we’re captured by life. In the major spheres, decision-making, when it happens at all, is downstream from curiosity and engagement. If we really want to understand and shape behavior, maybe we should look less at decision-making and more at curiosity. Why are you interested in the things you are interested in? Why are some people zealously seized, manically attentive and compulsively engaged?


The Clash of Intuition with Probabilities

December 17, 2016

From an interesting article by Michael Schermer in Scientific American on how probabilities can seem unintuitive (the neuroscience of chance):

Have you ever gone to the phone to call a friend only to have your friend ring you first? What are the odds of that? Not high, to be sure, but the sum of all probabilities equals one. Given enough opportunities, outlier anomalies—even seeming miracles—will occasionally happen.

Let us define a miracle as an event with million-to-one odds of occurring (intuitively, that seems rare enough to earn the moniker). Let us also assign a number of one bit per second to the data that flow into our senses as we go about our day and assume that we are awake for 12 hours a day. We get 43,200 bits of data a day, or 1.296 million a month. Even assuming that 99.999 percent of these bits are totally meaningless (and so we filter them out or forget them entirely), that still leaves 1.3 “miracles” a month, or 15.5 miracles a year.

Thanks to our confirmation bias, in which we look for and find confirmatory evidence for what we already believe and ignore or discount contradictory evidence, we will remember only those few astonishing coincidences and forget the vast sea of meaningless data.

We can employ a similar back-of-the-envelope calculation to explain death premonition dreams. The average person has about five dreams a night, or 1,825 dreams a year. If we remember only a tenth of our dreams, then we recall 182.5 dreams a year. There are 300 million Americans, who thus produce 54.7 billion remembered dreams a year. Sociologists tell us that each of us knows about 150 people fairly well, thus producing a social-network grid of 45 billion personal relationship connections. With an annual death rate of 2.4 million Americans, it is inevitable that some of those 54.7 billion remembered dreams will be about some of these 2.4 million deaths among the 300 million Americans and their 45 billion relationship connections. In fact, it would be a miracle if some death premonition dreams did not happen to come true!

 


The Enjoyment of Reading

December 13, 2016

how-to-read-more

A handy set of principles from Austin Kleon (see also here).

I read quite a lot, both fiction and non-fiction. Some of the fiction comes through book club suggestions and this sometimes violates the reading recommendation 4 above. There have been a number of such books that I wouldn’t have finished unless there was a deadline and a physical meeting.

Interestingly some books I wouldn’t say I enjoyed exactly but nevertheless found demanding and were ultimately quite worthwhile. It’s also fascinating to hear others’ viewpoints and to challenge and discuss them. I guess this is social reading.

Regarding personal reading, I’ve left many books after the first chapter or that point where they seem to be fizzling out. Oddly I tend to feel a bit guilty or dissatisfied about this and recently came across this:

“I believe that the phrase ‘obligatory reading’ is a contradiction in terms; reading should not be obligatory… If a book bores you, leave it; don’t read it because it is famous, don’t read it because it is modern, don’t read a book because it is old…. If a book is tedious to you, don’t read it; that book was not written for you.

Reading should be a form of happiness, so I would advise all possible readers of my last will and testament—which I do not plan to write—I would advise them to read a lot, and not to get intimidated by writer’s reputations, to continue to look for personal happiness, personal enjoyment. It is the only way to read.” – Jorge Luis Borges

I think there’s another mode, that of intelligently skimming books, especially non-fiction. In particular many business related books often have little truly original content and what there is tends to be splattered around, often subsumed in the obligatory sample or illustrative stories. You can read this as a common complaint in Amazon reviews.

Paradoxically of course if someone wrote a really concise book and cut out all the superfluous filler, they’d then get lambasted as being too expensive for so little content!

So I think it might be a useful skill to eke out the gems as quickly as possible and then just move on. I presume this is what professional reviewers attempt to do all the time, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.

Regarding keeping stacks of books (that you may never read), I’ve written about this before (see here and image below)…

Tsundoku