John Brown

Towcester, United Kingdom

About John

Languages

English, French

Areas of Expertise

Control Engineering, Computing, Artificial Intelligence, natural language processing

Comments & conversations

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John Brown
Posted 3 months ago
Bill Gates: The next outbreak? We’re not ready
No antibiotics before was it 1940? Now farmers feed them to animals in CAFOs, where they never see the light of day, and many bacteria are becoming resistant. My father's family lost a child to scarlet fever, and my grandfather got shot through the throat by a German sniper so returned early, avoiding the flu'. I still remember spending 6 weeks in a darkened room when I got measles as a child. Things are changing fast in many directions. A mutated flu' is a big risk to the West, and preventing Ebola outbreaks will not address that issue. Our threats come probably not from Africa but from the Far East, where they have insanitary chicken markets. We had a few bird flu victims, but only a handful. It was brought by migrating birds. I think every threat has to be examined on its own merits. Saving Africa from Ebola will not address our flu' threat. The latest flu' vaccine has not worked on the latest mutated virus, and here in the UK deaths of the elderly are very elevated. It would be foolhardy to spend resources in the way Bill is suggesting.
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John Brown
Posted 3 months ago
Bill Gates: The next outbreak? We’re not ready
It is not helpful to conflate two very different problems. Spanish flu' spread because of the insanitary conditions in which young soldiers were housed while conducting wars on other peoples' territory. When they came home, they brought the flu' with them. Sierra Leone suffered so badly from Ebola because they had had a civil war in 2012, which prevented the latrines from being maintained properly. The president was issuing advice to mothers not to hold their children up outside the front door, because "the caca gets onto the food". There are stories on the Web of children in school relieving themselves in the surrounding bush rather than use the overflowing latrines. We saw TV pictures of an affected village where one man told us very proudly that he had 12 children. Imagine holding that lot up outside the front door. Countries around Sierra Leone escaped more lightly, including surprisingly Islamic countries where they have a tradition of washing their dead. Western aid to Africa is more sensibly spent on birth control and latrine building. At the same time we need to protect our borders from an influx of rapidly moving richer Africans who could bring the disease with them. We seem to have done that rather well. Combatting a possibly mutated deadly flu' at home is an important separate problem. We will need all our biologists and epidemiologists to do that here. We can't risk sending large numbers to Africa.
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John Brown
Posted 9 months ago
Nancy Kanwisher: A neural portrait of the human mind
A very comprehensive introductory overview. Nice to see 3-D images being rotated. Just 8 years ago, Gazzaniga was writing that hundreds of fMRI images were necessary to filter out noise. But Kanwisher suggests that is no longer necessary (except for her perceived bladder limitations). For detailed descriptions of recent research, see the two books by Dehaene. The 2nd one on consciousness treats an area that I thought I would not be too interested in (After readings Crick's early book some 8 years ago). But it no longer seems airy-fairy and somewhat religious. Consciousness is just another specialised brain area, or more correctly a committee of brain areas. I write software to analyse text, and neuroscience research is very helpful in generating ideas for new algorithms. Yet another reason to fund this important work. It should also support opthalmologists in diagnosing complaints involving brain-eye interaction, and the treatment of dyslexia and stroke-damage.
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John Brown
Posted 10 months ago
Martin Rees: Can we prevent the end of the world?
Yes, but oil makes fertilizer that makes food. Without cheap oil the NGOs will be able to feed far fewer people, whilst the populations are increasing. ISIS troops take the hydro-electric dam that provides water and electricity to a lot of Iraq, and have taken a number of oil wells. In Africa terrorist groups attack gas wells. They are fighting over water and power. Why does an ISIS fighter leave Luton to slaughter in Iraq? There is high unemployment amongst badly educated youths in Luton, and spending precious years in learning the Kuran reduces the effect of education, and makes one susceptible to radicalisation. We are stuck with human nature as it is. All we can do is to limit population. Your idea of the big bad elite selfish West in comparison to the noble savage of the third world, ignores all the facts. Projections of population growth are for 10 billion up from the current 7, and that mostly in Africa, which is already the seat of a lot of armed conflict. Your reference to the Industrial Revolution in Europe is very valid. The difference in Africa is that they expect the revolution to come from outside, and are not creating it themselves, so it is not self-sustaining. The Arab countries are a little different. A lot have powerful elites who do not have to work very hard to make good money from their oil. Their populations, whilst growing fast (Google "Qatar population") are fairly modest, certainly compared to say Egypt, but there the population is growing much less than say in Nigeria. In Kenya, Marie Stopes staff have been attacked and driven out of their premises. In Somalia, NGOs prefer to bribe the local terrorists to get food to the locals, endangering the West from which they get their donations.
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John Brown
Posted 10 months ago
Martin Rees: Can we prevent the end of the world?
Just Google: "Jordan/Israel/Egypt/Kenya population" etc. etc. All of them have quadrupled or quintupled their populations since 1950. The UK has only increased theirs by 20%, and other statistics suggest that immigration is responsible for a lot of that. We aren't elite. We are just prudent. And all the other countries, that have quadrupled, are feckless, imprudent, and have little regard for the consequences. The facts are there. Wars all over, following large population increases. NGOs don't like it being pointed out, since it limits their market share. Promisingly, Bangladesh has, very late on, realised the risk, and is now handing out contraceptive pills, with the aim of restricting family size to 3, which is 1 too much to maintain stability. The NGOs should be doing the same.
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John Brown
Posted 10 months ago
Martin Rees: Can we prevent the end of the world?
In the UK, our primary schools are neglecting repairs to buildings, in order to cope with inflated pupil numbers from immigrants who have a higher birth-rate than the indigenous people. This is of course a little local problem, but when we look at the numbers leaving North Africa in boats for Italy, and the numbers being made homeless in Syria, Iraq and in the Jordanian refugee camps, we see the potential size of the problem. Africa and the Middle East are in continual conflict, manufacturing refugees on a large scale. As the population of Africa grows, competition for resources will increase, and conflicts will become more common. The rain forest is being destroyed in Brazil, to grow maize to produce animal feed to supply a growing demand from a middle class in developing countries. People do not behave rationally, and the "theory of the commons" dictates that they will destroy any resource that they can externalise from their balance sheets. The NGOs would like us to believe that population is levelling out, but the evidence is against them. I would like the wars and suffering to stop. I would like population control.
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John Brown
Posted 10 months ago
Martin Rees: Can we prevent the end of the world?
Yes, of course you're right. Some countries will survive, by quite ruthlessly eliminating immigration. The technology is there to do that, but so far humanitarian scruples have stopped its use. Amazingly, western countries are still sending medical personnel to Africa to try and limit the spread of Ebola. Self-interest would dictate that we just watch whilst disease corrects the local over-population problem. Africa is now predicted to grow its population by over 3 billion well within a lifetime. If so, the West will get used to a lot of disease and a lot of warfare on our TV screens. More likely, journalists will just stop reporting it, as happened with the killing fields of Cambodia. On the other hand, Africa will more than likely burn down its rain forest, as the Brazilians are already doing. Carbon dioxide levels will soar, and sea rise and bad weather will wipe out a lot of the marginal countries like Bangladesh. Western countries will turn into rigid police states in order to curb illegal immigration and terrorist activity by the immigrants who have already got in. It isn't pretty. I still see population control as the most pressing problem for our society.
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John Brown
Posted 10 months ago
Martin Rees: Can we prevent the end of the world?
Overpopulation is the biggest risk. All the wars and terrorist activity we see currently spring from this cause. Economies cannot provide jobs for young men so without hope of a house, wife and children, they take up the Kalashnikov instead. This applies even to people in British cities like Bradford, Birmingham and Luton. Meanwhile, countries like Italy and Britain find it impossible to seal their borders against economic immigrants or terrorists, often religiously motivated, from the overpopulated countries. This is an uncontrollable problem, which doubles in size about every 25 years. The time for NGOs to spend half their income on birth control, and the other half on feeding the hungry masses, arrived perhaps 25 years ago. But they just cannot be bothered.
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John Brown
Posted 11 months ago
Suzana Herculano-Houzel: What is so special about the human brain?
Swinging from branch to branch involves very high speed calculations about how body trajectory will intersect with a chosen branch, and about the load-bearing characteristics of the branch. We had to do all this at the same time as keeping track of our prey, or attackers, and our compatriots in our troupe. Cows and whales and rodents don't have to process things so quickly. Whales do hunt in packs, but in a slow physical environment with a lot of passive buoyancy. Rats do quite a bit of jumping, but not much branch-to-branch, and they do not hunt cooperatively in packs. So short axons and the resulting tightly-packed neurons are necessary to do the calculations quickly enough to avoid missing the branch and falling to your death. Start eating cooked food, and you have lots of shared time around the fire to apply the same processing ability to inventing and learning language (although the recent preference for computer games takes us back to the fast spatial calculations). A journey through the trees is a remembered sequence of trees and their load-bearing branches, in 3-dimensions. A journey through a sentence is not much different. On the face of it this is one-dimensional, although Chomsky has shown that there is simultaneously a phrase structure organisation over the sequence of words. Then of course our opposing thumbs, which are really great for hanging onto branches, soon allow us to use sticks as tools to root out insects. It is not so far from that to knapping flint, and handling sequences of operations in the manufacture of more complex items.
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John Brown
Posted 12 months ago
Simon Anholt: Which country does the most good for the world?
Its too simplistic. I think the Boko Haram problem illustrates it well. The west is now agonising about whether to send in soldiers, or military advisers, or to set up drone surveillance or what. What we have seen everywhere is that where western governments do intervene, they then stir up the resentment of the locals, and everything works out worse than it would have been had we just turned off the TV and looked the other way. Iraq is now a perfect example of that, where supposedly rational Sunni muslims are now supporting extremist Islamist organisations, because they might get a bit of power and profit out of it. They are dancing with the devil, in the belief that they can stop the dancing once they have achieved their aims. A similar thing is going on in the Ukraine. I just don't know how we can fight against these evils. One thing that I am absolutely sure of, is that the evils emerge once the population has grown too large for the country to support. Every country where Islamist extremism is rife, has quadrupled or quintupled its population since 1950. People in the UK are guiltless in this regard, at least. We now have peak oil, peak water, peak land, and peak living space, across the globe. The wars that were predicted over these shortages, are now ongoing. Stopping population growth is problem number one, and any individual, religion or government that chooses to do nothing about it, is in the camp of the guilty. NGOs like Oxfam argue that the developed world can afford to keep feeding and supporting a growing third world population. Since these organisations continually try to make me feel guilty over problems that I did not cause. I have become very resistant to anybody who starts out by trying to do this to me.