Category Archives: Essays

One way AGI might not happen

Basically, comp sci hasn’t had its arse handed to it yet. 

Some people think some physicists are arrogant condescending arseholes. It’s more true to say that most physicists reliably become arrogant and condescending for a short period of time during their career. I know I did. Learning a science that, for hundreds of years has been zeroing in on fundamental truths of the universe will do that Continue reading One way AGI might not happen

Islamophobic? Maybe

There is a significant overlap between those who criticise Islam and those who have a cultural fear of Middle Eastern Muslim migrants. The latter is surely what people mean when they speak of Islamophobia: a crude, xenophobic attitude towards people who wear Middle Eastern clothes, eat foods containing a lot of cumin, pray facing the same way and often the men have beards and the women wear headscarves! This kind of stupid fear of foreigners is all too familiar in my country, recent examples of which include our disgraceful attitude towards asylum seekers from the Middle East (including from countries we’d invaded), the 2005 race riot in Sydney and hysterical opposition towards the building of mosques. Similar reactions to migrants from North Africa and the Middle East are of course even more familiar to Europeans.

Unfortunately for the pure-hearted critic of fundamentalism (of any kind), it’s very hard to disentangle one’s invective against the obvious inhumanity of certain preachings contained in The Quran, from the ugly dislike that many white Westerners (secular, Christian, or other) have of recent Muslim migrants. Continue reading Islamophobic? Maybe

The philosophy of mathematics: interesting

In fact it’s a fascinating topic and one that I’m weirdly obsessed with, so much so that when some friends decided to form a  quarterly essay club I decided to make my contribution a quick, non-technical and — frankly —  inaccurate account of the topic. Everything about this sounds exactly as nerdy as it is.

UPDATE: revised version of essay here (PDF).

Continue reading The philosophy of mathematics: interesting

The Struggle

Completing an ill-conceived PhD thesis is a lot like strangling to death, someone you once loved.

It’s been four years of wonderful freedom and tenure. Through this time you’ve nurtured your baby into a child and naturally grown quite attached. It may have been your partner, your supervisor, or maybe a voice from within but you’ve been told it’s time to finish. It’s difficult, no parent thinks their child is ready for submission into the real world. After all, you’re a parent now.

As the good student you are, you have a nice plan for how you’ll finish the thesis. “Maybe I could start taking a day a week off work so I can write it up in a nice cafe?” you say. How cute. Continue reading The Struggle

Science Communication: Hopeless?

Last year my colleague (and  I suppose  friend) Mathew McGann and I participated in the Canberra focus group for the Australian Science Communicators (ASC) audit of how the discipline is doing in Australia. The results of this audit can be found here.

Mat and I put forward the views that we’ve been debating among ourselves for years. No doubt those views will continue to change as we learn more, but at the moment I think I can summarise what we see as the problems with science communication (SC) with a few questions which don’t seem to be answered at the moment. Continue reading Science Communication: Hopeless?

How to Sound Smart to Dumb People

Reading this article by my friend Zoya Patel, editor of Lip magazine, about people who use the word feminazi, I was reminded of something I used to tell my students about the language they chose to use in essays (though it applies to any written or verbal communication). I told them that they could, if they wanted, use pseudo-formal language, the kind that the police use when talking to the media. The sergeant will say, “Police apprehended the individual”, instead of: “We arrested him.” I told them that this sort of language would make them sound smart to dumb people, and dumb to smart people. Continue reading How to Sound Smart to Dumb People