Sunday, March 30, 2008

Physical Computer Attack

Turns out the idea I had for a computer virus that physically attacks people has happened.
An epilepsy support forum has been targeted with flashing javascript. The whole attack is very sick. Still I think I was right for pointing out the threat. The warning could have lead the epilepsy forum to turn scripting off. I do not know how a migraine forum could prevent trigger images though.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Let me be the first to say Holy Shit

*THIS POST IS FALSE the silica hydrogen compound is a room temperature metal and a superconductor but not both at the same time*
I have talked about the possibility of of a hydrogen based room temperature superconductor here. As described in that article I believed a metallic hydrogen could produce a superconductor that would be such an advance as to be reasonably called a paradigm shift.

It turns out someone has made a room temperature superconductor using hydrogen. The pressure required for the compound is not practical. Now that hydrogen has been shown to have these properties more research into practical compounds will be encouraged. The area has recently seen another practical improvement. The first ambient at normal temperature superconductor has been reported in the last few days also.

So what does a room temperature superconductor mean? I have no idea, but it is probably the biggest innovation in electricity since *Nicolas* Tesla. It is something so odd that you are much better spending your time figuring out what do do with it then trying to think what other people are going to do with it. But to give one of a hundred possible examples, with a superconducting power cable you can produce electricity anywhere and transport it without loss. This would increase energy efficiency by over 30%*.

So my bet on what the maximum temperature superconductor by the end of the year is out by at least 110K. If you want to make a bet you can do it here.

*edit. You lose about 10% of electricity to power line loses and about 20% to disparities in usage between different times. You can smooth out these disparities by transporting the electricity during your night to someone elses peak demand time of day.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Why is there more business news then science news?

If almost all economic growth is caused by science why are scientific advances not reported in more detail then some change in bank shares? If science is going to effect the economy and our lives much more then sterling doing badly against a basket of currencies or even a basket of scampi then it should be reported.

For news media "five hours of viewing would yield 71 minutes of politics, 26 minutes of crime, 12 minutes of disasters and 10 minutes of celebrities. Science, technology, health and the environment received just six minutes of coverage (with health and health care accounting for half of that."

One possible way to help fix this is betting markets for science. These would provide
1. a figure on science that the public could understand. For example imagine a news broadcast
"the market odds for 5 degrees global warming in 50 years today moved up 2% to 95%"
2. Provide a way to hedge. Resource futures allow people to guarantee they will earn a certain amount for their produce. Science prediction markets can provide a similar hedge. A company owning port space in northern Canada could bet against global warming to guarantee a certain minimum income.
3.To subsidise scientific research. Scientific prediction markets would reward scientists for being right.

You could claim that scientific market would not provide any mew information as research companies already know this information. If they do the public could still benefit from this knowledge. If they do they are better predictors of science then they are of resource prices which seems unlikely. The market in science futures should be every bit as valuable as the market for resource futures. A coal market might help you plan for electricity supply in 10 years time but so can a market of superconductors or one on fusion power.
Saying there is no need for science futures because private firms carry out research is like saying there is no need for resource futures because private companies grow/mine the materials.

Anyway if you think scientific prediction markets are a good idea or a bad one you can make a prediction here

Friday, March 14, 2008

Giving up on music

This makes me look like one of the monkeys at the start of 2001AD but I buy CD's. Lots of them. Almost everyone else I know gave up on new music a few years after leaving college. But I keep wandering round shops with handfulls of laser readable processed dinosaur bones like some sort of animal. I do not own an Ipod, I dislike the idea of Apple chaining up my files so I just continue to fill my house with disks.

The desert sessions 9&10 arrived yesterday and it is the last CD i will buy*. I will not buy new music until the music industry stops trying to steal from me. They are currently trying to make the internet more expensive and have less freedom. It is immoral for the record industry to take money from me for pirating when I do not pirate. Is is immoral for them to take freedom from me. It is immoral for them to sue 14 year old girls. It is immoral for them not to give the money they made suing p2p programs to the people they were suing for. I am not going to fund this behaviour anymore.

*I will buy music from skint artists from their website Jape, David Kitt and Mumblin' Deaf Ro people like that.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is metallic hydrogen a black swan?

I have set up a prediction market for superconductor temperature here. One problem with this bet is black swan events

When betting on the price of gold or the score in a football match you know it is very unlikely to move outside certain ranges. Scientific knowledge does occasionally make huge advances though.

To take one example say someone creates metallic hydrogen at reasonable temperatures. This substance is estimated to have a superconducting temperature at near room temperature. Well 230 85 K but the upper end of this is at the level to completely change the world (with the huge assumption that the pressure metallic hydrogen existed at is practical).

In this case the prediction for the superconductor temperature is in two forms
1. Something similar to the current rate of change happens. A few degrees a year.
2. Something completely new comes along with really different properties (figure 2 here).

Metallic Hydrogen would not even be that novel. It has been modeled theoretically and we know people are trying to make it. Usually in prediction markets you have scoring rules that give out money/points based on how close to the answer you were. In these cases where huge changes have a reasonable chance of occurring these sorts of scoring rules might be unfair.

Say there is a 90% chance that research will continue along its standard path to 188K. Say there is a 5% chance that nothing will change. And say there is a 5% chance the maximum temperature will suddenly jump up to 270K. Does this mean that the market will sit at 193K? Will people in the lab who create a room temperature superconductor go out and bet heavily on their side moving the market (and making them money)? Will people ignore the black swan of room temperature superconductor and move the market to a “sensible” level? Humans do have a bias to ignore unlikely highly risky possibilities.

Could this bias make scientific prediction markets more profitable for those that create huge innovations?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Is anyone interested in science prediction markets?

I set up one to find out. Please go here and make a prediction. The bet is on what the highest temperature superconductor by January 1st 2009 will be.

You need about 20 predictions to have a reasonable estimate. Real money prediction markets have the advantage of giving a greater incentive to be correct. I think it would be funny to have physicists in finance doing physics for a change.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Superconductor betting. How and why.

Setting up a superconductor betting/information market would
1. Provide publicity to superconductor research
2. Provide incentives to develop and publish theoretical models of
metallic superconductors. Publishing the models would move the market
in the way you have already bet on.
This would make more cash for the model developer. The theoretical
models should aid the actual production of the materials.
3. Provide some incentive for the development of superconductor materials.
4. Provide some evidence on whether these sorts of information markets
work. Whether they encourage research and results. If they do they
could be used for other research areas.
5. It would provide an estimate as to how well markets predict and incentivise scientific development. There are results on how well they predict elections and sports games but not much on science. If these markets are useful at predicting and incentivising science they would be very valuable.

It to set up would need
1. To get someone famous to talk about it. One of the aims of the market is to provide publicity to the area of research and nothing provides publicity like a celebrity bet. Stephen Hawking famously loves a good bet.
2. To live in Ireland. We seem one of the only countries that allow this
sort of betting.
3. To figure out if this could be classed as a charity. You are
sponsoring scientific research. However you are also engaging in
betting which is illegal in most of the USA.

I will describe later the mechanism of a science prediction market that also allows donations to sponsor those that advance knowledge.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Useful Superconductors

FX prediction market has a bet on the likelihood of an alloy high-Tc superconductor by 2017. The current market value of this places it at 65% likely.

77 kelvin is given as the useful figure because this is the boiling point of Nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is in fairly cheap plentiful supply so if you can get a superconductor that works at that temperature it is useful for commercial applications.
Being malleable and ductile would also add to the practical applications of the superconductor. Malleable and ductile in this description are slightly ambiguous, I assume only metallic compounds can have these qualities but I could be wrong. So replace malleable and ductile with metallic in the post if that is a better description.

Superconductors have all sorts of known useful applications. It is such a weird property that trying to figure out what you can do with them is like a bronze age swordmaker trying to figure out all applications of iron.

This is an in depth description of the superconductivity phenomenon. Figure 12 shows the historical evolution of the maximum superconducting temperature.

If you look at this graph you can see that a metallic superconductor if current trends continue a metallic superconductor would be nearing the temperature of liquid nitrogen. This of course assumes that a metal could superconduct at this temperature.

Using these two graphs and this bet we can have some evidence of what the current trends in these class of superconductors is and also how likely people believe these trends are to continue. From this information we can estimate if actions have an effect on the development of this class of superconductors.

One way to encourage superconductor research would be to offer a prize for new metals that increase the highest temperature of superconductivity. Superconductor research is materials research that is not overly expensive. However it does require a reasonable level of investment. As such any prize for the development of new superconducting materials would need to be considerable. The producer of a metallic superconductor could expect to make significant commercial results from the discovery.

Theoreticians however do not need as much money. They could make a prediction on the properties of metallic superconductors and not have to go through the cost of actually producing the materials.

So if you could give a prize to the most accurate prediction of the future of metallic superconductors this would slightly encourage experimental research into metallic superconductors. It would I believe more strongly affect theoretical examination of the problem.

I believe we should use a form of betting market to incentivise research into superconductors. I will describe how this market would be designed and the pros and cons of the scheme in another post.

If you have any opinions on how to phrase the question so that knowing the answer requires more knowledge in this area to be acquired. How to judge the question reliably and in a trustworthy way is another important question.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Prediction markets: For realreal or for playplay?

When running a prediction market is it more accurate to use play money (karma) or real money? This paper here and the easier to read presentation description here provide evidence it does not effect the markets accuracy. Both result in accuracies much greater then the average opinion of the people in the market.

This means that people with more confidence betting larger amounts tend to be more accurate. People without strong opinions being less involved in predictions seems to increase accuracy.

It is interesting to wonder why money does not seem to benefit accuracy. Could it be that using money attracts some of the wrong kinds of bettors? Would some combination of real and play money provide more accurate predictions? In this case there would have to be different types of bets in the real and play money that both happen to be of similar accuracy.

If it is the case that people bet the same with real and play money could it be that money is just a karma substitute?

One important factor with the use of real money is that it rewards those who are right in a way that they can eat. Karma does not butter any parsnips. For using prediction markets in science I think you should reward those who make accurate predictions in a way that aids their making predictions in future.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bias and Netflix Prize

The Netflix prize aims to get an algorithm that judges better how people rate items.This article in wired talks about the use of examining human biases to help you rate items.

I find human cognitive biases fascinating and used them to develop a lottery number generator. What biases could affect the netflix prize?

Genetic Bias. As this article describes numerous of our biases/opinions have a genetic basis.

The article reports on how your opinions on X-Rated movies has a genetic component. Now unless you have an identical twin in your Netflix set (they are 0.2% of the world population) this information may not be of much use. Still I think it is interesting that because some opinions have a genetic component peoples Netflix ratings probably have a genetic component.

There is a list of cognitive biases here. If I think of any others that are relevant to the Netflix prize I will post an article.

Off hand I would expect these effects
1.Bandwagon effect. If everyone you know says a film is good you will probably go along with them to some extent.

2. Post-purchase rationalization. Your ratings are likely to be slightly higher then your real feelings. The fact you went and rented the film means you have a certain investment in it being good. If you then say you were wrong you are admitting being wrong to some extent. People hate to admit being wrong.

3.Zero-risk bias. This is tenuous but i think users are more likely to rate a .5 movie as 0 then a 4.5 movie as 4. One bias i have not heard mentioned is how people will order films based on how this will make them look.

This slate article describes he phenomena. I expect that people will also overrate pretentious movies on the grounds that no one want to give Battleship Potemkin as 1 and Porkies 2 as 5.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why use prediction markets for science?

I got a very good comment on this article

“Cold fusion cannot be confirmed by a popularity context, or by politics, and not even by asking experts. There is only one way to confirm that it exists: by experiment…. Objective, replicated instrument readings are the one and only standard of truth in experimental science.”
This is correct, if everyone in the world thinks the world is flat it is still not. The only standard of truth is experimental science. However prediction markets do provide scientists with publicity, understandability and money. All these are useful.

Prediction markets give the public a readable figure on how likely *people think* a certain event is*.

They provide a method to clear FUD from scientific debates. For example when climate change skeptics are asked to bet on their prediction they suddenly become less supportive of their criticisms.

""Richard Lindzen says he's willing to take bets that global average temperatures in 20 years will in fact be lower than they are now." (thanks to William Connolley for the tip). Given his widely-promulgated views, I took this quote at face value and contacted him to arrange a wager. A payoff at retirement age would be a nice top-up to my pension.

Now here's the kicker. Richard Lindzen will indeed accept a bet - but only if offered odds of 50:1 in his favour!"

Another advantage of prediction markets is they provide a way for scientists to make money by being right. Being right is something we should encourage scientists to be. If the market is inaccurate you can make money betting against it.

The scientific method does change over time

That talk gives the following additions to the scientific method over time.
2000 BC - First text indexes
200 BC - Cataloged library (at Alexandria)
1000 AD - Collaborative encyclopedia
1590 - Controlled experiment (Roger Bacon)
1600 - Laboratory
1609 - Telescopes and microscopes
1650 - Society of experts
1665 - Repeatability (Robert Boyle)
1665 - Scholarly journals
1675 - Peer review
1687 - Hypothesis/prediction (Isaac Newton)
1920 - Falsifiability (Karl Popper)
1926 - Randomized design (Ronald Fisher)
1937 - Controlled placebo
1946 - Computer simulation
1950 - Double blind experiment
1962 - Study of scientific method (Thomas Kuhn)

There is a big push at the moment to have papers properly blinded so reviewers do not know who they are reading.

An mp3 talk on how the scientific method has changed is here.

So it might be odd but it is not heretical to suggest that the funding of science or even some elements of the scientific method can be altered to take markets into account. This will not alter the place of experiments but could alter the rewards and incentives available to scientists.

*edit. As Dunc correctly pointed out.

How likely is cold fusion?

How likely do people think it is that cold fusion is a real phenomenon? Based on how likely people view cold fusion it can be used to decide whether to spend time/money/effort investigating it.
The Fx prediction market has a bet
“Cold fusion of deuterium in palladium can produce over 10 watts/cc. net power at STP (standard temperature and pressure). Cold fusion is discussed on the fusion newsgroup.”

The judging of this statement could be quite difficult due to ambiguities. However the statement is currently thought to have a 12% likelihood of being true. This means there is about a 1/8 chance that cold fusion is a real phenomenon according to the market. I believe that if people really believed cold fusion was this likely more mainstream research would be studying it. The market could be inaccurate in that
1. The question and judging of it are viewed as too ambiguous to trust.
2. Because real money is not used in this market the market is distorted by irrational bettors.

One problem with the field is that it has attracted cranks and conspiracy theorists. This now makes it difficult for a legitimate researcher to look into the area. The 12% figure could be accurate and some grand conspiracy against cold fusion exists. It is a feature of conspiracy theories that this hypothesis is likely to be supported by believers in such a conspiracy even though other explanations may be more accurate. Another possibility is that the 12% figure is accurate but that researchers fear being dismissed as cranks if they research the area.

Imagine the case where the market was overly optimistic and it used real money. A researcher with evidence against cold fusion could bet heavily against it. Then she would publish a result that showed it to be less likely. When the value of her bet (idea futures) increased she could then sell her “no cold fusion” bet and make a profit. As shown in this post people who provide evidence against conspiracy theories are frequently the subject to abuse.

So how likely do you think cold fusion is?

Will the seed vault be used?

PPX has a bet on whether the doomsday vault designed to hold 4.5 million samples of plant life will be needed in its first year. The seed vault is a bank of biodiversity to counteract the problems of farming moving to a low number of species. If a plant becomes endangered seeds of the plant can be taken from the vault and used to reintroduce the plant. Storing seeds of many varieties means that if conditions devastate one species of plant being grown other similar species with different genes can be used to resist the unfavorable conditions.

The PPX market currently places the chances of the seed vault being used in its first year at 25%. This is a very high probability as if the seed vault is used a serious environmental problem must be underway. The vault is only a final insurance policy against conditions leading to species extinction rather then something for common usage. Imagine you invented a insurance policy that people believed had a ¼ chance of being used in its first year. You would wonder why no one had this policy before?