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Bad beef

Not sure how much to be concerned about mad cow disease in the US.  The article is a little scare mongery and doesn’t seem to have an entirely accurate grasp on prions.  However, it does seem like the US isn’t investigating and regulating beef to sufficiently insure it is safe of contamination from mad cow.  This is par the course for regulation in general for food from what I gather.  However vCJD is a bit worse than most other things one has to worry about with food these days.   I think if mad cow were to become a real problem regulators would be able to control it, but it isn’t clear they’d be able to before-hand.  Regardless it seems like it is another point in favor of grass-fed, non-factory farmed beef.

Passing Turing

A lot of hoopla is being made about the supposed passing of the Turing test.  Supposed because it passed a particular test set up, which may or may not have been an adequate simulation of Turing’s abstract test.  Then there is the question of whether passing is actually an indicator of any real intelligence or thinking.  Regardless, this is a milestone of sorts, though we’ll have to see if it is repeatable now.

Personally, I think a properly rigorous version of the Turing Test would be a good test for intelligence, but I doubt this was rigorous enough.  From previous transcripts of when judges were fooled I could see how in some cases they might be if the actual human wasn’t cooperative.  I wasn’t able to find transcripts between the judge and the human confederate for recent tests to see how they compare.  However, to be an adequate test, the humans would have to be cooperative.  If they are trying to fool the judge too, then it is more of measure of the human than the computer.  The depth of the depth and nature of some of the interactions also seem to be too limited.  The 5 minutes does come from Turing, but I don’t think he was envisioning roughly 1 simple exchange per minute.  I certainly don’t think that is sufficient interaction.  Perhaps when the transcripts to this test are released we’ll see something different though.

The limited interactions of this set up of the tests allows programmers to write programs to fool the judges instead of programs to exhibit intelligence.  In this case it was to pose the program as someone who could not communicate intelligently.  While this is a clever tactic to “winning” it doesn’t meet the purpose of the test.  With more depth a judge would be able to dig enough to make the distinction between an entity that didn’t communicate intelligently because of cultural/language/etc barriers and an entity that wasn’t capable of intelligence.


Saudi Arabia has reported an increase in the number of people with MERS.  This is not something to worry about in and of itself.  An increase in reported infections does not mean more infections.  It may, but it is just as likely that doctors are just looking for it more now that they know to do so. And finding out there are more people getting infected than previously observed could also show us that the mortality rate isn’t as high as the current reported rate (~1/3).

There is concern that MERS will end up behaving like SARS did and become a global epidemic.  So far this hasn’t happened, in part because it doesn’t seem to transmit between people very easily and might also not actually be that deadly.  With the early scrutiny being placed on MERS it is unlikely to become a problem even if it does mutate.  Except for one heightened risk factor: pilgrimages.  If the virus mutates to become more communicable amongst people, it will be much more difficult to control its spread with a lot of people entering and leaving Saudi.  If MERS does mutate, will Saudi and other countries be willing (or even able) to put in place the same controls that helped contain SARS, especially if they would interfere with the Haj and other pilgrimages?