Artificial Intelligence Still Isn’t a Game Changer

Man vs machine

By Leonid Bershidsky
Bloomberg, 4 Dec 2017

Not much time passes these days between so-called major advancements in artificial intelligence. Yet researchers are not much closer than they were decades ago to the big goal: actually replicating human intelligence. That’s the most surprising revelation by a team of eminent scholars who just released the first in what is meant to be a series of annual reports on the state of AI.

The report is a great opportunity to finally recognize that the current methods we now know as AI and deep learning do not qualify as “intelligent.” They are based on the “brute force” of computers and limited by the quantity and quality of available training data. Many experts agree.

Read more here.

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Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to GP and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays here.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10-15 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

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Overcoming laziness (or how to get your butt off that sofa)

Lazy

I’m writing this to address the oldest of all problems for students: laziness. You know, “today I don’t feel like doing anything”?

What do all forms of work – writing an essay, tidying your room or bathing your dog – have in common?

The hardest part is getting started.

It’s a form of Newton’s First Law of Motion. Part of it states that every object will remain at rest unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. This is also known as inertia (layman explanation: when your butt is on the sofa, it’s very difficult to get it off. And if I may add Steven Ooi’s Law: the longer your butt is there, the harder it is to get it off.)

But once you do get your butt off and get started on your work, you find that it’s not so difficult, sometimes even pleasant, to continue. That’s the other part of Newton’s First Law at work: every object will remain in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force.

Thus a very simple solution to laziness is this: push yourself harder to get started. And the rest is not so difficult.

Need additional motivation? Give yourself a reward for work done. If you work for half an hour, you get to have your favourite drink. If you work for two hours, you get to watch a TV show or Youtube videos. And if you manage to plow through four hours of work (do take breaks along the way), then you get to go out. Our brains are wired in a way that’s not so different from monkeys or dogs – we are responsive to reward. But don’t give yourself those rewards or play before you work. That is a surefire way to reinforce laziness.

Finally, if you don’t like a certain kind of work (or a certain subject), learn to look at it from another angle. Sometimes a teacher makes you feel that a subject is so boring, but if you look at it in a different way (say, linking physics to your favourite sport like soccer: the force or trajectory of a shot), then it might actually take on a new life.

Sound basic principles in life are the foundation for doing well.

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Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to GP and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays here.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10-15 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

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Marbles, Mayhem and my Typewriter: the memoirs of Mano Sabnani

The cover of 'Marbles, Mayhem and My Typewriter' by Mano Sabnani

Former Business Times/TODAY editor, senior banker and legendary activist investor Mano Sabnani has published his memoirs. This wonderful and heartwarming book by my good friend holds rich narratives from Singapore’s early days and reminds us all what Singapore is really about. It offers many precious insights, not least of which is how even an ordinary person can find success and fulfilment by following a very simple, ethical set of principles. Mano belongs to that rare breed of human beings who speak so simply and yet hold such depth of wisdom. All of us, young and not so young, can benefit from hearing his story and his thoughts.

You can order this book direct from the author. Singapore-based buyers can just click here. Payment by Paypal or credit/debit card. Buyers outside Singapore, please click here. You will need to pay a little more for shipping.

(Disclosure: I rendered some assistance to Mano in the production of the book, but did not receive any remuneration for it. I will also receive no remuneration from the sales of the book.)

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Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from the National University of Singapore, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and General Paper tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to GP and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays here.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10-15 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

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Take breaks while you study

Memory

Dear students,

As you head towards those stressful final exams, you might feel compelled to lock yourself in your bedroom from 8 am to 10 pm and stare at your textbooks for 4 hours at a time.

That is not only a really torturous thing to do, but incredibly inefficient as well. Neurologists have found that our ability to concentrate and absorb information well continuously lasts only about half an hour on average (this research was mentioned by Dr Richard Palmer in his excellent book, Studying for Success). After half an hour, our ability to absorb falls precipitously and after an hour, most of us are essentially zombies pretending to study.

Zombie

Thus the intelligent thing to do is to take a 5 to 15 minute break every half an hour or so. This will refresh your brain and reset your receptiveness to information, and when you restart, you will perform at a high level again.

So what should you do during that 5 to 15 minute break? Well, anything that helps you to recuperate and revive, from taking a walk to dancing to sipping your favourite drink. But I don’t recommend staring at your phone or even worse, lying down (that break is likely to last a lot longer than 15 minutes!).

Other research has also found that sitting for long periods increases your risk of an early death. Thus the approach of taking breaks and getting up while studying is crucial for your good health, too!

Of course, different students perform differently when studying. You might also find that your concentration lasts longer when you’re revising your favourite subject. Thus for myself, I have no fixed intervals whenever I study or read. Whenever I find my performance fading away, I take a break.

All the best for your exams!

Steven Ooi

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Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to GP and student life.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

General Paper sample essays here.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10-15 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

 

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The hoarder’s anguish and inability to discard things

28oct_opinion_art

You might ask yourself, why read an article like this for General Paper? It’s not on one of the so-called “hot topics” like globalisation, ageing population, cloning and so on. But the world is limitless and so is GP. For all you know, the next comprehension paper could be on the subject of mental health. And wouldn’t the local information on the Hoarding Taskforce (with the IMH, HDB and so on) in Singapore be useful?

As I’ve said many times before, GP is not a ‘studying’ subject. It’s a reading, thinking, talking (discussion), writing subject. So read, think, talk, write. Widely. And enjoy the journey.

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Chong Siow Ann

The Straits Times
PUBLISHED OCT 28, 2017, 5:00 AM SGT

Hoarding is a condition that is difficult to treat, and the authorities often have no right to intervene, even if angry neighbours complain, since a man’s home is his castle.

Many Americans would know about the Collyer brothers whose fatally intertwined lives have been a cautionary tale for children who don’t clean up their rooms and adults who let themselves slide into an undisciplined and unbridled accumulation of possessions.

Homer and Langley Collyer were the scions of a distinguished family (their father was a respected if eccentric gynaecologist who canoed to work from Harlem to Bellevue Hospital). The two brothers lived in a four-storey brownstone in Manhattan, in the first half of the 20th century. Homer had a law degree from Columbia University and Langley studied engineering. Both worked for a while, and quite inexplicably stopped working one day and withdrew into their mansion. The massive house fell into disrepair: broken windows were not replaced, the front stoop with its balustrades collapsed, and rubbish piled high in the basement entrance. Rumours of money stashed in the decaying mansion led to numerous break-ins.

Read more here.

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Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to GP.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

General Paper sample essays here.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10-15 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

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Harvey Weinstein and the Silence of the Men

Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein at a party after the 2016 Academy Awards.

Women may hold up half the sky as Mao Zedong once said, but they do not as yet hold half the power in the working world. Thus the sexual harassment and victimisation of women continues to be prevalent and a dirty little poorly-kept secret from the office to the laboratory to the movie set. The powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was recently revealed to have preyed on women for years, triggering much catharsis, angst and soul-searching in the entertainment industry.

This commentary is from writer and director Lena Dunham.

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This past week, reports that Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed women for years came to light, making it crystal clear that not every woman in Hollywood has had the chance to walk our path. Abuse, threats and coercion have been the norm for so many women trying to do business or make art. Mr. Weinstein may be the most powerful man in Hollywood to be revealed as a predator, but he’s certainly not the only one who has been allowed to run wild. His behavior, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.

The use of power to possess and silence women is as likely to occur in a fast-food restaurant as it is on a movie set, and Hollywood has yet another chance to make a noisy statement about what we should and should not condone as a society. A liberal-leaning industry, we have been quick to condemn Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and, yes, the president. We do not accept sexual abuse as “locker room talk.” So why the deafening silence, particularly from the industry’s men, when one of our own is outed as having a nasty taste for humiliating and traumatizing women?

Read more in the New York Times.

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Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as a GP and English tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to General Paper.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

GP model essays here.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10-15 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

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‘Longer life expectancy creates more problems than benefits.’ Discuss. (A-levels 2016)

Poor elderly 02

An elderly lady pushes a cart of scrap materials in South Korea (Picture: Tech in Asia)

By Steven Ooi, website owner and GP tutor (retired)
B.A. (First Class Honours), NUS

Imagine waking up one day with your wife of 32 years. “Good morning, dear,” you say with a smile, as you have every morning for over three decades. Her eyes narrow with suspicion and she asks, “Who are you?”

This tragic circumstance – dementia – is one that befalls more and more people every year even as we celebrate the feats of science in concocting more and better treatments for illness and stretching out our sojourn on this increasingly less mortal coil. It is one of many immense costs that the human race bears on individual, familial and societal levels – for greater longevity. As biological science strides on towards its likely tipping point into a Brave New World, it is imperative that we examine whether longer life expectancy is more a blessing or a bane. The problems wrought by the constant uptick in our years of life are, in my view, of such magnitude that they have preponderance even over the undoubtedly great advantages that they bring. Thus, I take the position that longer life expectancy does indeed bring us more difficulties than dividends.

It is not possible to deny the boost to the quality of many human lives that more time on earth bestows. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a formidable mountain to climb – and the more time we have, the better our chances of reaching the windy summit of self-actualisation. If we consider the typical example of a person born at the start of the 20th century, he would have had only about 40 years to pursue his aspirations as a human being. He would probably have had to marry young if he wanted to see his children’s 20th birthday, which would mean less time to pursue his formal education to empower himself. After the rigours of starting and supporting a family, he would have only at most 10-12 years to pursue other goals and interests. With such a short runway, it is difficult to even ‘find oneself’. Today, however, people live for 60 to 80 years in most countries. They can wait till their mid-20s or later to get married (and society is more open to the option of not marrying at all), and have more time before and after marriage to find the path in life that leads them to happiness. A young adult today is likely to have the luxury of trying out at least three or four different career paths, travel to many more places if he is of reasonable means, move on from bad relationships or marriages to better ones, and essentially explore life and find fulfilment.

However, the passage of the years is not always so kind. Medical science at this point is more adept at increasing our lifespan than our healthspan. It often keeps us alive but in a highly fraught condition where quality of life is, sadly, so poor that the individual may question if it is worthwhile to even go on living. Examples abound, from dementia to diabetes to kidney failure. All are epidemics that are sweeping across the world. Government statistics in Japan, for instance, project that the number of dementia sufferers over 65 is expected to jump from 4.62 million in 2012 to 7 million by 2025. Dementia rises in part because medical science has weaker ability to preserve the brain than the rest of the body – scientific understanding of the brain lags behind that of other organs, as the brain is by far the most complex part of our anatomy. Diabetes is caused by many factors but age is an important one. Kidney failure, which sometimes is brought about by diabetes, is on the rise and as it is difficult to obtain a legal transplant, most patients need to be on dialysis for many years – an excruciatingly painful procedure that lasts for four hours, three times a week. The indignities of ageing have always been with us, but a longer mortal existence prolongs and often aggravates them. It brings immeasurable physical and emotional pain to the aged, and immense heartache to their loved ones watching them suffer.

Some would argue that a longer life allows one to become wiser with the benefit of greater experience. They add that society too profits from the collective sagacity of a larger number of members in their 60s and older. For instance, older workers can guide their younger colleagues through challenging situations with their steady hand and perspicacity and grandparents are around longer to share their insights with their grandchildren.

That being said, I have to question whether longer lives truly lead to wiser heads. If this were the case, then the wise men and women of today would overshadow their predecessors from generations past. But this is widely recognised to not be the case – even today, we often turn to the sayings and writings of Confucius, St. Augustine, Dr Sun Yat-sen, Machiavelli, Aristotle and other great thinkers, leaders and revolutionaries for guidance and enlightenment – no less often than we do the influential minds of today. Very few of these legendary thought leaders lived lives that would be considered long by today’s standards. I also question the value of vast experience in today’s world owing to the exponential rate of change driven by technology. Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors that can fit onto an integrated circuit doubles every two or so years, is a good representation of this accelerating change. A doubling of computing power every two years may not have much perceptible impact initially, when it is rising from a low base. However, when it crosses a certain threshold, it has seismic repercussions which then grow faster and faster in absolute terms. In recent years we have begun to see – and feel – the prescience of Gordon Moore. Job security has greatly diminished or even evaporated for hundreds of millions; social media has redefined the way we communicate with others and sometimes even our relationships; and whole industries from retailing to entertainment to medicine are being reshaped by robotics, big data and artificial intelligence. In such a context of exponential change, the lessons from the past become less and less relevant, and possibly even a liability. The longer we live, the higher our tendency to become attached to our familiar ways of doing things. Undoubtedly, there are highly adaptable seniors who are very willing to discard dogma and constantly acquire new ways of doing things but unfortunately, they are the exception rather than the norm.

The prospect of more and more octogenarians, nonagenarians and even centenarians looks even bleaker when we consider the ramifications for societies and nations. While it is unquestionable that human beings love their parents, the cold, hard reality is that the longer we stick around, the more we are likely to burden our children and also society and the state. The oft-prescribed solution of advancing the retirement age is a limited one, for reasons mentioned earlier: medicine is better at raising lifespan than healthspan, and the explosive pace of change in the world that makes it increasingly an uphill task for older workers to stay employable. As parents’ lifespans relentlessly extend, it takes a heavy toll on family finances, with heartbreaking results. South Korea, a society traditionally steeped in reverence for age, today has the highest elder poverty rate in the industrialised world at nearly 50 percent. A Channel NewsAsia documentary revealed that in Myanmar, impoverished families are discarding their elderly folk by the roadside. Increasingly, the onus will fall on the state to help the elderly, but state coffers even in the world’s richest countries are already straining to provide for the legions of retiring baby boomers, to say nothing of the expenses that are to come as retirees live longer and longer. Many experts have spoken of America’s “pension bomb”, as data from Bloomberg shows that half of American states have pension funding shortfalls of 25 percent or more. Illinois, for example, promised its employees US$199 billion in retirement benefits in 2015. It is US$119.1 b short.

Despite the apparent “miracles” of medical science, our improvements in longevity are not the fountain of perpetual youth – or quality of life, or employability. While I unreservedly acknowledge the utility of experiencing life’s joys, personal growth and a pursuit of self-actualisation that a longer life brings, it is most difficult to see these as adequate compensation for the extended years of poor health, suffering and indignity as well as the crippling effects on families and the state to the point that it may bring bankruptcy to many countries in the years to come – and with it, the looming spectre of a longer life for us today coming at the expense of the needs and happiness of future generations.

Therefore, it is my considered opinion that longer life expectancy on balance is more a bane than a blessing to the human race. As scientists urge us to continue funding their relentless quest for yet another medical ‘breakthrough’, we will have to collectively engage in a very hard conversation about the desirability of extending our individual lives ever further into the horizon – and whether those resources would be better expended on other human needs and hopes.

Copyright 2017 Steven Ooi. All rights reserved. No part of this work is to be reproduced without the express written consent of the author. Please feel free to share this essay by providing a link to this page.

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Website owner Steven Ooi, a First Class Honours grad from NUS, retired from a distinguished 14-year career as an English and GP tutor in 2016. He continues to blog on issues of concern to GP.

To view tutors recommended by him, click here.

More GP model essays here.

English or GP tutors keen to be listed on this website (consistently ranked top 10-15 on Google) as a Recommended Tutor, please email stevenooi18 @ yahoo.com (remove the spaces). Tutors in other subjects interested in having links to their website are also welcome to contact him.

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