Category Archives: MIT

The Decline of Computers as a General Purpose Technology

Source: MIT, 2019

We conclude that the virtuous GPT cycle that has driven computing for decades is ending. This paper provides evidence that the GPT cycle is being replaced by a fragmented cycle where computing separates into specialized domains that are
largely distinct and provide few benefits to each other. This trend will have important implications for individual users and for the economy more broadly.

  • Technological and economic forces are making computer processors less general-purpose and more specialized. This process has already begun, driven by a slowing of Moore’s Law and the success of algorithms like deep learning.
  • Specialization threatens to fragment computing into “fast lane” applications that get powerful customized chips, and “slow lane” applications that get stuck using generalpurpose chips whose progress is fading.
  • The virtuous, general-purpose technology (GPT) cycle that has driven computing for decades is ending and is being replaced by a fragmented cycle where computing separates into specialized domains that are largely distinct and provide few benefits to each other.
  • In the long term, this fragmentation could slow the overall pace of computer improvement, jeopardizing an important source of economic prosperity.

For users who can profitably switch to specialized chips, there are likely to be significant gains, as we’ve seen with deep learning and cryptocurrency. For those who can’t switch, the picture will be bleaker as universal chip progress slows and with it, much of their computing performance improvements.

On a larger scale, we argue that the switch to specialization will worsen the economics of chip manufacturing, leading to slower improvements. Therefore, the move to specialized chips perpetuates itself, fragmenting the general -purpose model and splitting off more and more applications

Related Resource:  MIT Working Paper,  Nov 2018


Washing Hands Matter

Source: MIT, Feb 2020

on average, only about 20 percent of people in airports have clean hands — meaning that they have been washed with soap and water, for at least 15 seconds, within the last hour or so.

The other 80 percent are potentially contaminating everything they touch with whatever germs they may be carrying, Nicolaides says.

“Seventy percent of the people who go to the toilet wash their hands afterwards,” Nicolaides says, about findings from a previous ASM study. “The other 30 percent don’t. And of those that do, only 50 percent do it right.” Others just rinse briefly in some water, rather than using soap and water and spending the recommended 15 to 20 seconds washing, he says.

That figure, combined with estimates of exposure to the many potentially contaminated surfaces that people come into contact with in an airport, leads to the team’s estimate that about 20 percent of travelers in an airport have clean hands.

Improving handwashing at all of the world’s airports to triple that rate, so that 60 percent of travelers to have clean hands at any given time, would have the greatest impact, potentially slowing global disease spread by almost 70 percent

Related Resource: CDC, Oct 2019

Follow Five Steps to Wash Your Hands the Right Way

Washing your hands is easy, and it’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. Clean hands can stop germs from spreading from one person to another and throughout an entire community—from your home and workplace to childcare facilities and hospitals.

Follow these five steps every time.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Daron Acemoglu in Conversations with Tyler

Source: Conversations with Tyler, Dec 2019

what makes China exceptional is that — like no other despotic, extractive society in history — it has a complete obsession with innovation and technology.

China is the first society that’s really systematically trying to do that. China wants to keep the despotic control of the Chinese Communist Party while at the same time be a leader in digital technology, leader in Telecom, leader in AI, and it’s pouring a lot of resources. It’s providing incentives, and the question is whether this is going to succeed. My view is, it is not a complete failure, but it’s not going to be a huge success.

there are tensions. You really need — you called it individualism. I’m happy to call it that. I would have called it something differently. But you need that individualism spark. You need that experimentation for the most radical type of innovations to take place, and China is missing that. It’s going to try to pour more and more resources to make up for it, but I’m not sure whether it’s going to work.

The Science and Math of Oobleck

Source: MIT News, Oct 2019

When you mix cornstarch and water, weird things happen. Swish it gently in a bowl, and the mixture sloshes around like a liquid. Squeeze it, and it starts to feel like paste. Roll it between your hands, and it solidifies into a rubbery ball. Try to hold that ball in the palm of your hand, and it will dribble away as a liquid.

Most of us who have played with this stuff know it as “oobleck,” named after a sticky green goo in Dr. Seuss’ “Bartholomew and the Oobleck.” Scientists, on the other hand, refer to cornstarch and water as a “non-Newtonian fluid” — a material that appears thicker or thinner depending on how it is physically manipulated.

Now MIT engineers have developed a mathematical model that predicts oobleck’s weird behavior. Using their model, the researchers accurately simulated how oobleck turns from a liquid to a solid and back again, under various conditions.

In all scenarios, the simulations matched the experimental data and reproduced the motion of the oobleck, replicating the regions where it morphed from liquid to solid, and back again.

To see how their model could predict oobleck’s behavior in more complex conditions, the team simulated a pronged wheel driving at different speeds over a deep bed of the slurry. They found the faster the wheel spun, the more the mixture formed what Baumgarten calls a “solidification front” in the oobleck, that momentarily supports the wheel so that it can roll across without sinking.

Kamrin and Baumgarten say the new model can be used to explore how various ultrafine-particle solutions such as oobleck behave when put to use as, for instance, fillings for potholes, or bulletproof vests. They say the model could also help to identify ways to redirect slurries through systems such as industrial plants.

“With industrial waste products, you could get fine particle suspensions that don’t flow the way you expect, and you have to move them from this vat to that vat, and there may be best practices that people don’t know yet, because there’s no model for it,” Kamrin says. “Maybe now there is.”

Harvard: Educate Leaders; MIT: Nurture Geniuses

Source: Marginal Revolution, Sep 2019

Using publicly released reports, we examine the preferences Harvard gives for recruited athletes, legacies, those on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff (ALDCs). Among white admits, over 43% are ALDC. Among admits who are African American, Asian American, and Hispanic, the share is less than 16% each.

Our model of admissions shows that roughly three quarters of white ALDC admits would have been rejected if they had been treated as white non-ALDCs. Removing preferences for athletes and legacies would significantly alter the racial distribution of admitted students, with the share of white admits falling and all other groups rising or remaining unchanged.

A Totally Black Diamond

Source: MIT News, Sep 2019

… a 16.78-carat natural yellow diamond from LJ West Diamonds, estimated to be worth $2 million, which the team coated with the new, ultrablack CNT material. The effect is arresting: The gem, normally brilliantly faceted, appears as a flat, black void.

AI Startups & AI Skills Impact on Pay

Source:, Aug 2019