DAILY DOSE: China touts its ‘phantom space strike’ capabilities; AI-fever has mathematicians delirious.


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If there was any doubt as to whether humanity would wage warm in and from space, rest assured we always to the wrong thing. First it was the American Space Force. Now, it’s the Chinese Space Force. The latest example being the development of a very starry-eyed “phantom space strike.” Per SCMP

A team of Chinese military engineers is developing a “phantom space strike” – a new tactic to overwhelm missile defences by creating a swarm of fake target signals from space.

They revealed the project to the public for the first time this month while announcing they had conducted a proof-of-concept computer simulation.

The modelling results were positive and the project would move to the next stage to tackle engineering challenges, the team said in a paper published in the Chinese-language Journal of Electronics and Information Technology on February 10.

In the simulation, a ballistic missile was launched against an enemy protected by a state-of-the-art missile defence system. The missile did not carry a nuclear or conventional warhead.

When will humanity surprise to the upside instead of racing to the bottom? My guess is never. http://bit.ly/3Z8dJ9P

Regardless of where you stand on the climate change debate, we can all agree that Venice without water in its canals is a terrible state of affairs. According to an article in Reuters, that is exactly the state of affairs at the moment – 

Weeks of dry winter weather have raised concerns that Italy could face another drought after last summer's emergency, with the Alps having received less than half of their normal snowfall, according to scientists and environmental groups.

The warning comes as Venice, where flooding is normally the primary concern, faces unusually low tides that are making it impossible for gondolas, water taxis and ambulances to navigate some of its famous canals.

The problems in Venice are being blamed on a combination of factors -- the lack of rain, a high pressure system, a full moon and sea currents.

Italian rivers and lakes are suffering from severe lack of water, the Legambiente environmental group said on Monday, with attention focused on the north of the country.

The Po, Italy's longest river which runs from the Alps in the northwest to the Adriatic has 61% less water than normal at this time of year, it added in a statement.

Nevermind the aesthetics, dry canals can’t be good for tourism. http://bit.ly/3IIFtMR

Another Covid-19 mitigation strategy bites the dust. This time, it’s in Taiwan. Per Channel News Asia,

Three years into the global COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan said people no longer have to wear masks at all times indoors though it is still keeping some restrictions in place.

People will still be required to wear masks in places like hospitals and medical institutions as well as on public transit, according to Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center on Monday (Feb 20). Restaurants and offices will no longer require masks.

Schools will see the relaxation of the mask rule in March, as the requirement is being eased in two parts.

Still, on the streets in Taipei, the island's capital, and in office buildings, many people continued to don a mask. In grocery stores, shoppers still wore face coverings.

Old habits die hard. It will take time. Nobody ditches their security blanket right away. http://bit.ly/41eOTHc

While Venice may be experiencing a dearth of rainfall, the opposite is the case in Brazil. Per the Associated Press,

Heavy rain caused flooding and landslides that have killed 36 people on the northern coast of Brazil’s Sao Paulo state, officials said Monday, while fatalities could rise.

Sao Paulo’s state government said in a statement that 35 died in the city of Sao Sebastiao and a 7-year-old girl was killed in neighboring Ubatuba. On Monday morning, more than 500 people were continuing search and rescue efforts.

Some of the hardest-hit cities that are under a state of emergency, including Sao Sebastiao, Ubatuba, Ilhabela and Bertioga, canceled their Carnival festivities as rescue teams contined a search for the injured and missing under the rubble.

“Our rescue teams are not managing to get to several locations; it is a chaotic situation,” said Felipe Augusto, the mayor of Sao Sebastiao. Later, he added there are dozens of people missing and that 50 houses collapsed in the city due to the landslides.

Augusto posted on social media several videos of widespread destruction in his city, including one of baby being rescued by locals lined up on a flooded street.

The natural disasters are really coming at a fast and furious clip. http://bit.ly/3IG7CEu

Everyone is jonesing for some AI in their lives. This time it’s the mathematicians who are hungry for an almost-all-knowing hand. Per Nature,

“As interest in chatbots spreads like wildfire, mathematicians are beginning to explore how artificial intelligence (AI) could help them to do their work. Whether it’s assisting with verifying human-written work or suggesting new ways to solve difficult problems, automation is beginning to change the field in ways that go beyond mere calculation, researchers say.

We’re looking at a very specific question: will machines change math?” says Andrew Granville, a number theorist at the University of Montreal in Canada. A workshop at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), this week explored this question, aiming to build bridges between mathematicians and computer scientists. “Most mathematicians are completely unaware of these opportunities,” says one of the event’s organizers, Marijn Heule, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Akshay Venkatesh, a 2018 winner of the prestigious Fields Medal who is at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, kick-started a conversation on how computers will change maths at a symposium in his honour in October. Two other recipients of the medal, Timothy Gowers at the Collège de France in Paris and Terence Tao at UCLA, have also taken leading roles in the debate.

“The fact that we have people like Fields medallists and other very famous big-shot mathematicians interested in the area now is an indication that it’s ‘hot’ in a way that it didn’t used to be,” says Kevin Buzzard, a mathematician at Imperial College London.

So what exactly are the implications of AI soaking up all of the information and skills it develops while working on all these projects? https://bit.ly/3xICq1a

While we’re on the subject of artificial intelligence, an article in Wired explores how DALL-E 2, the image generating AI, works its magic and how it has deep ties to physics. 

DALL·E 2 is a type of generative model—a system that attempts to use training data to generate something new that’s comparable to the data in terms of quality and variety. This is one of the hardest problems in machine learning, and getting to this point has been a difficult journey.

The first important generative models for images used an approach to artificial intelligence called a neural network—a program composed of many layers of computational units called artificial neurons. But even as the quality of their images got better, the models proved unreliable and hard to train. Meanwhile, a powerful generative model—created by a postdoctoral researcher with a passion for physics—lay dormant, until two graduate students made technical breakthroughs that brought the beast to life.

DALL·E 2 is such a beast. The key insight that makes DALL·E 2’s images possible—as well as those of its competitors Stable Diffusion and Imagen—comes from the world of physics. The system that underpins them, known as a diffusion model, is heavily inspired by nonequilibrium thermodynamics, which governs phenomena like the spread of fluids and gases. “There are a lot of techniques that were initially invented by physicists and now are very important in machine learning,” said Yang Song, a machine-learning researcher at OpenAI.

The power of these models has rocked industry and users alike. “This is an exciting time for generative models,” said Anima Anandkumar, a computer scientist at the California Institute of Technology and senior director of machine-learning research at Nvidia. And while the realistic-looking images created by diffusion models can sometimes perpetuate social and cultural biases, she said, “we have demonstrated that generative models are useful for downstream tasks [that] improve the fairness of predictive AI models.

It’s hard not to be amazed by the strides that have been made in artificial intelligence. Not so long ago, we were deep in the latest iteration of an AI winter. Let it be said, the thaw is pretty awesome. http://bit.ly/3Si1Pbk

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE CREDIT: Shujianyang.

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