TED Talk: How Algorithms Affect Shape Our World

60 Minutes said most stock trades are made by computers without human involvement designed by math wizards for pennies of profits per trade over billions of trades. Milliseconds become important to beating the competition (other computers) by being faster. Getting close to or in the stock exchange buildings has physical effects.

Of course, a bad algorithm or synergy of algorithms can crash the stock market. Getting to the point where no one really understands the system is pretty risky which is why people trade stocks, right?

Special Characters Are Meaningful Too

Dear Google,

When you treat special characters such as underscores, colons, and hyphens as a space, you corrupt my search for a single term into multiple terms, aka not what I sought, so I get too many useless results. Function names, class names, or file  names ought to be treated as a single word not several words. Even when I place quotes around them you treat it as two concurrent words not a single word.

Please correct your algorithms or at least give me the option to have your product work correctly. Maybe like Google Book Search you should have Google Code Search? Software is information too.

Thanks!

Ezra

I Write Like Me

Check which famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of the famous writers.

Not trusting a single sample, I tested fifteen writing samples including stories and blog posts (excluding those with block quotes). The Cory Doctorow result was the most common at six.

I write like
Cory Doctorow

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I also received David Foster Wallace (3), Arthur Conan Doyle (3), J.K. Rowling (2), Isaac Asimov (1).

There was a clear pattern to the results.

  1. Cory Doctorow: Topic was work. Analyzer probably keyed on the dispassionately objective word choice.
  2. David Foster Wallace: Topic was my personal life. Analyzer probably keyed on me portraying the  absurdities.
  3. Arthur Conan Doyle: Topic was adventure story originated in high school. I probably thought too much like Sherlock Holmes then.
  4. J.K. Rowling: Topic was also adventure story composed in early college. I probably thought too much like Harry Potter then.
  5. Isaac Asimov: Topic was science. Its hard not to use scientific jargon when writing about science.

That there would be a difference between my high school and college story writing was interesting. The difference depending on whether I was writing about work, personal, or science was also interesting. I would have liked to see almost every sample I chose of my writing to reflect a single author. Otherwise, it seems results skewed towards word choice not style.

From the developer, Dmitry Chestnykh on how this works.

Actually, the algorithm is not a rocket science, and you can find it on every computer today. It’s a Bayesian classifier, which is widely used to fight spam on the Internet. Take for example the “Mark as spam” button in Gmail or Outlook. When you receive a message that you think is spam, you click this button, and the internal database gets trained to recognize future messages similar to this one as spam. This is basically how “I Write Like” works on my side: I feed it with “Frankenstein” and tell it, “This is Mary Shelley. Recognize works similar to this as Mary Shelley.” Of course, the algorithm is slightly different from the one used to detect spam, because it takes into account more stylistic features of the text, such as the number of words in sentences, the number of commas, semicolons, and whether the sentence is a direct speech or a quotation.

Bayesian filters I’ve seen given an item a score to how likely an item is something. I would like to see the strength of the scores, including distributions, and comparison of a given result to other close results. Guess I am just someone who wants to know why?

Racist Camera?

This is actually kind of amusing. Dark skinned Desi and light skinned Wanda demonstrate the HP’s MediaSmart webcam tracking software can track her but not him.

HP says:

We are working with our partners to learn more. The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. We believe that the camera might have difficulty “seeing” contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting. Voodoo Blog

… and…

It has been reported that lighting conditions can affect the performance of the face tracking feature. To improve performance of the face tracking feature try to increase the light to the face while decreasing the amount of light in the background. HP Support

When skin is dark, there isn’t much of a contrast between the eyes and upper cheek in anything other than studio lighting. Sounds like HP’s partners didn’t do much testing for real world conditions. Even my Canon SD800IS camera has a face auto detection feature which seems to have a hard time when dark skinned faces are in shadow. Here is where it is good not to be black enough. 🙂

P.S. Did you notice how he almost called Wanda his wife. Freudian miscegenation?

JPG Lossable

Why you should never use ‘Save’ when working on a jpg image – SympleByte

In typical ‘you never get something for nothing’ fashion, the greatest asset of a jpg image is also its greatest downfall. Most people know that a jpg image is a compressed image, which means that it has been compressed using an algorithm that makes the file size smaller. This can be a huge advantage when trying to transfer the image electronically, which is what you’re doing every time someone looks at your webpage. Some people know that the method used to create jpg images is what is called a ‘lossy’ compression algorithm, which means the image you end up isn’t quite the same as the image you started out with. What a lot of people don’t know is that every time you save a jpg image you decrease the quality of that image, which can be a real problem if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing.

Machines Better Programmers than Humans

… Computers now create programs that solve complex problems better than programs designed by people….

Grasemann and Miikkulainen applied genetic algorithms to solve the fingerprint compression puzzle in work supported by the National Science Foundation’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate. They provided their computer with the basic programming instructions needed to compress graphic images and then waited for a better algorithm to be born. The progress of the evolving program was tested at each generation. After 50 generations, the genetic algorithm consistently outperformed the human-derived WSQ.

Machines Better Programmers than Humans

Goody! First my job could be going to offshore outsourcing. Now my job could be going to a computer.