Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Course Catalog: Classical Composition

Description: This is a course on classical music composition that will teach the principles of melody, harmony, and orchestration.  However, this course does not teach you to form you musical ideas.  That comes from your talent.  If you don't have it, you can become an orchestrator.  The distinguished alumni of this course usually breaks with the principle we teach them and write great music nevertheless.  (Shostakovich, Debussy)

Course Credit: None

Pre-Requisites: No technical pre-requisite.  However, one should try to live a life of calamity, solitude, and mental instability through the achievement of at least one of the following:

  1. Unfulfilling / unrequited love for a string of women who are outside of your social class, for example members of the aristocracy or the royals.  See Beethoven.
  2. If you are homosexual, the unfortunate need to oppress your orientation due to social pressures of your society.  See Tchaikovsky.
  3. Have a high infant mortality rate.  See Bach.
  4. Losing of either vision or hearing.  (See Beethoven or Rodrigo)
  5. Live under a repressive Communist dictatorship (Shostakovich)
  6. Lastly, having your wife engaging in an affair with one of your best friend.  (Schumann)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

AI-assisted political science

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, there has been much debate on the radio about the gun policy in the United States.  The gun advocates stress that banning ownership of guns will not take it out the hands of criminals and decrease violent crime.  Both sides of the debate totes different statistics in order to support their own side.  During the presidential debates, there were numerous occasions where numbers were presented and its truthfulness contested by Obama and Romney.  One instance that comes to mind was when the factual accuracy of Romney's tax policy for the middle class was in dispute.

I think this is one area where information retrieval / data science /weak AI (doesn't mean crappy AI, but just to distinguish it from the well-defined Strong AI term) can really contribute to the public sphere.  Imagine a Google or Wolfram Alpha type program that parses the content of a debate and automatically checks for factual accuracy: gun crime rate, economic data, demographics, tax rates, tax codes etc, perhaps via an overlay on the screen.  This really would sway public discussions from "what are the facts" vs "what is the right policy".  It also prevents cheating and mis-representation of facts.

To push this idea further, imagine an AI-assisted data retrieval / analytics program for the common masses.  To take an example, I wanted to draw a simple correlation graph of gun ownership rates by country vs homicide rate by country.  Just to answer this one simple question, I had to manually enter / merge two separate tables found on Wikipedia, and then filter the data for missing entries using MATLAB, and perform a plot.  This set of computer skill, in the short future, is beyond the common knowledge of the average citizen, yet they need these types of questions answered concretely in order to vote on the right candidate / policy for this country.  How about a more advanced search  / analytics that would, given a question in natural language format, e.g. "Has the crime rate in NYC decreased after 1990?", it would automatically retrieve & clean the relevant data and perform the relevant statistical analysis.  (Regression, classification, etc.)  Currently Google / Bing can answer factual questions, but they are still one step away from answering analytical questions.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Richard Dawkins on the evolutionary basis of morality

I was just watching a Richard Dawkins lecture at Randolph-Macon Women's College on YouTube.  He was asked a question about the basis of atheistic morality.  Dawkins proposed that our moral sense comes from the fact that our pre-historic ancestors lived mostly with next-of-kins hence 1) altruism will benefit the preservation of similar genes 2) there's a high probability of being in long-term contact with these individuals who can then reciprocate the good will.
I would propose that altruism serves to improve upon another evolutionary survival objective, the preservation of the species.  When pre-historic human beings lived in tribes, there was a high risk of destruction from other animals, diseases, and natural elements.  Hence at some point, competition to extinguish a rival member of the same species is out-weighed by the risk that the size of the species might fall below a critical threshold and threaten extinction.  For example, you don't want to kill Adam for stealing your girlfriend because he and you can work together when the tigers attack tomorrow night.
If we think about tribes and animal social organizations as entire units, then that unit would be evolving to maximize its survival as a whole.  If a society randomly generated a moral sense that does not include any altruism in an "attempt" to maximize individual benefits, that group as a whole (and consequently the individual) might have a lower probability of survival because the survival benefits that are derived from the group would be lost (i.e. strength in numbers).  In another words, when the survival of the individual is linked to a certain critical mass and critical health of his immediate social organization unit, this species would likely evolve some moral sense due to the pressure of natural selection even though this moral sense, on the surface, appears to be anti-beneficial to the individual upon a first-order examination.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Similarity between music performance and muay thai

I'm writing a somewhat satirical comparison between music performance (mainly violin) and muay thai.

  1. In violin, you practice boring etudes and scales in order to improve your fundamentals so you can better play your beautiful pieces.  In Muay Thai, you practice boring conditioning, mitt, and heavy bag drills in order to improve your athleticism and technique so you can better hold out in your fights.
  2. In violin, technique alone is not enough.  At a high enough level, there's a deep, almost unteachable, element of artistic creativity and musicianship that brings the techniques alive in a coherent work of musical art.  In Muay Thai, technique alone is not enough.  At the high level, you need a great sense of strategy, movement, and mental determination that is almost unteachable to bring all your techniques together in a work of martial art.
  3. In violin performance, you "practice-perform" your pieces by getting nervous and playing in a Masters class.  In Muay Thai, you "practice-fight" by sparring with partners.
  4. Before a violin performance, you become frigging nervous about messing up.  Before a Muay Thai bout, you become frigging nervous about losing and getting messed up.
  5. In a Muay Thai fight, if you mess up you might get embarrassed and/or knocked out.  In a music performance, if you mess up you might get embarrassed and/or knocked out.
  6. When you're too old to be a travelling musician, you become a teacher in a music school.  When you're too old to be fighting professionally, you become a coach in a gym.
  7. If you cannot make a living performing music, you can always teach the instrument.  If you cannot make a living fighting Muay Thai, you can always become a coach or personal trainer.