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Tag: University of California

The gardening gift

Sunday, 30 June, 2019

What a life! Diplomat, dissident, defector, poet, Nobel Prize winner… Czesław Miłosz did it all, and more. After World War II, he served as Polish cultural attaché in Paris and Washington but, disillusioned with Communism, he defected to the West in 1951. His resulting book, The Captive Mind, exposed the pernicious effects of Marxist orthodoxy on his generation of idealists. “Written before the Berlin Wall went up, The Captive Mind was a key factor in eventually bringing it down,” noted Clive James in Cultural Amnesia.

When the Polish intelligentsia was being “wiped out half by one set of madmen and half by another”, Miłosz found strength in the Bible because it “provided a standard of authenticity against a much more dangerous language, the language of legalized murder,” writes James, a confirmed atheist. Of his own position regarding the Good Book, James declares: “But without the scriptures we poor wretches would be lost indeed, because without them, conscience itself would become just another disturbance of the personality to be cured by counselling. We are surrounded by voices telling us that everything will come right if we learn to love ourselves. Imagine the torment of Jesus in his passion, if, on top of the sponge of vinegar and the spear, they had offered him counselling as well.”

From 1961 to 1998, Miłosz was professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley, and he punctuated his stay in the USA by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. Fellow Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, described Miłosz as “among those members of humankind who have had the ambiguous privilege of knowing and standing more reality than the rest of us.” Born on this day, 30 June, in 1911, Czesław Miłosz died on 14 August 2004 in Kraków.

Gift

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Czesław Miłosz (1911 – 2004)

Our garden


Bubble Wrap, Barbed Wire and Bionic Eyes

Sunday, 6 May, 2018 0 Comments

All three are examined by Ben Ikenson and Jay Bennett in their work Ingenious Patents. Originally published in 2004, the book explores some of the most innovative of the 6.5 million patents granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office since Thomas Jefferson issued the first one in 1790. The updated issue has new entries on everything from the iPhone to 3G wireless to CRISPR.

Speaking of CRISPR, the full name of patent US No. 8,697, 359 B1 (PDF) issued on 15 April 2014 is “CRISPR-Cas systems and methods for altering expression of gene products.” This gene editing tool was developed at the University of California, Berkeley and further improved at The Broad Institute, which partnered with Harvard and MIT to work on multi-celled organisms. CRISPR can be used to modify crops and livestock, as well as to treat humans with ailments such as leukaemia, but the ramifications of genetic engineering are just starting to seep into the public mind. Along with the radical treatments for a variety of diseases the technology promises, come fears of what might happen when unsavoury scientists get their hands on CRISPR. Yes, it will be great to remove life-affecting diseases before birth, but it’s scary to think parents might be able to design babies to be faster, stronger or better looking. Only the rich could afford this, hugely increasing inequality. So the world needs to treat CRISPR with extreme caution.

Note: Following litigation, the US Patent Trial and Appeal Board decided last year that UC Berkeley would be granted the patent for the use of CRISPR in any living cell, while the Broad Institute would get it in any eukaryotic cell — cells in plants and animals.

Patents


Glossolalia: Aramaic lessons

Friday, 20 May, 2016 0 Comments

This is the week of Pentecost, which is associated (Biblically) with “speaking in tongues,” a phenomenon linguists call glossolalia. So, in honour of all things semantic, we’re devoting this week’s posts to language. We started on Monday with Singlish, followed up on Tuesday with decacorns, moved on to Euro English on Wednesday and met Parsey McParseface yesterday. To end this mini-series, it’s time to consider whether past language can tell us anything about present and future language.

First, the present: A new study from the Gallant Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley has major implications for how we understand language structuring in the brain. Published in Nature on 28 April, “Natural Speech Reveals the Semantic Maps That Tile Human Cerebral Cortex” reveals that we use our entire brain — and not just the temporal lobe, as once believed — to group words by meaning. Every “brain dictionary” appears to be unique, but they share some surprising similarities.

Now, the past: Aramaic was once the lingua franca of empires, but today it’s reduced to about half a million speakers, who call it Assyrian, Chaldean, Mandaic and Syriac, to name but four varieties. According to the Bible, the Aramaeans were named after Noah’s grandson Aram and they started out a small nomadic group. By the 11th century BC, however, they ruled large tracts of Mesopotamia, covering parts of modern-day Turkey, Syria and Iraq, including the fabled city of Babylon. Modern Aramaic Aramaic was the English of its day and unified a large number of peoples across an enormous region. It was a sign of sophistication; it was the key to experiencing life beyond the parish, and it was the language Jesus spoke.

There are many differences between English and Aramaic — English is apparently easy to learn, while Aramaic is not — but that had little effect on English’s emergence as a global language, or on Aramaic’s rise and fall argues John McWhorter in “Where Do Languages Go to Die? The tale of Aramaic, a language that once ruled the Middle East and now faces extinction.” Snippet:

“At this point, I am supposed to write that English’s preeminence could end as easily as Aramaic’s. Actually, however, I doubt it: I suspect that English will hold on harder and longer than any language in history. It happened to rise to its current position at a time when three things had happened, profoundly transformative enough to stop the music, as it were: print, widespread literacy, and an omnipresent media.

Together, these things can drill a language into international consciousness in a historically unprecedented way, creating a sense of what is normal, cosmopolitan, cool even — arbitrary but possibly impregnable. If the Chinese, for example, rule the world someday, I suspect they will do it in English, just as King Darius ruled in Aramaic and Kublai Khan, despite speaking Mongolian, ruled China through Chinese translators in the 13th century C.E. Aramaic held sway at a time when a lingua franca was more fragile than it is today.”

As John McWhorter notes, literacy and media are driving the dominance of English. Those Gallant Laboratory finding about the brain’s semantic maps were published in English in Nature, the world’s most cited scientific journal. Empire is playing a role as well. The Gallant Laboratory is located in California, not in China. If the Chinese rule the world someday, “I suspect they will do it in English,” says McWhorter. Maybe. But Beijing has imperial ambitions, too, and the language of the Ghost Fleet masters and commanders will not be English. More about that another day, however.


Learning about machine learning

Tuesday, 15 March, 2016 0 Comments

On Friday, here, we watched Stephen Wolfram speak about the next language. What it’s going to be is undefined, but if we want computers to do increasingly complex things, a shared language will be required. This “code” will express our needs, our wishes, in a way machines can understand. Wolfram’s profound belief is that coding for this future has a philosophical, humanistic, perhaps, divine, purpose. Most people, however, see it in a more prosaic light: learning about the “soul of the machine” is about getting a job.

Enrollment in machine learning classes is soaring in the US, and universities are scrambling to add classes to meet an unprecedented demand writes Jamie Beckett in an NVIDIA blog post. At Carnegie Mellon University’s Machine Learning Department, enrollment in ‘Introduction to Machine Learning’ has jumped nearly 600 percent in the past five years. Applicants to its machine learning Ph.D. program have doubled in six years and the university has added its first undergraduate course on the topic. At the University of California, Berkeley, enrollment in ‘Introduction to Machine Learning,’ has nearly tripled in less than two years says Beckett.

Quote: “In the old days, you had to take an introductory computer class so you’d know how to use a computer at work,” said Lynne E. Parker, division director for the Information and Intelligent Systems Division at the National Science Foundation. “Today, students are recognizing that whatever their chosen field, there’s going to be some automation of the knowledge work — and that’s machine learning.”

Note: Coursera is offering Machine Learning Foundations: A Case Study Approach.

machine learning