Wednesday, June 12, 2024

career pathways at the Turing - some ideas


Turing v. University v. Industry Lab v. Government

Academic classic career path

school (work experience)

undergrad (remember urop/intern) ->

masters (1-3 years)

phd (internships 2) 

post doc contract 

research fellowship (RS/RAEng, UKRI, Leverhulme etc etc 3)

faculty position (assoc prof->asst prof -> full prof (tenure)

About 30% of our students -> Masters, and 50% Masters -> PhD

Some take 1-2 years between each step , out in industry (finance or tech)

About 20-30% students switch to another discipline (CS -> finance GS/Accenture/E&Y etc)

About 30% exit at any stage to go to compute tech industry (1) including from Academic

(typical Cambridge non academic destined CS PhD CS might go to  Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc, but also startups

Some people move from study or research to government roles (civil service or policy).

Turing 2.0

Turing 1.0 for years 1-7 approximated most of these phases with three obvious differences. (note in non AI/CS area, we have other models - e.g. CERN, Sanger, Welcome etc etc)

1. RSDE (REG) was modelled on jobs for senior software engineers at Microsoft Research, and has created an entirely new (but non industry) based career pathway (and is being adopted across UK and more widely

2. Internships (we have incoming in the Turing, as enrichment students, but not outward

3. Fellowships - here's where a nice transition from being supervised/trained in research, to writing own funding proposal to get often 5 years, of autonomous funds - uni/academic departments love it, as they get

a person who is REFable, does leading research (the funds go to people who write the very best proposals, and in some cases, e.g. ERC have to have already a cool very high publication profile already

The funds often only require someone committed 50% to research with up to 50% free to teach (or do other jobs in the uni)

The process of getting UKRI/RS type fellowships is a high quality control mechanism for some people to gain research leadership skills -some people even do several, and they can be got right up to senior level by academics.

It is the way one then learns how to write, and run larger research proposals / projects, with more junior  roles (PhDs, postdocs) for the fellow to manage to get a team to tackle larger scale problems, possibly  leading to even larger, collaborative grants (programmes of work) with other institutions (going further, possibly, adding partners from other disciplines.

Fellowships reduce, but do not eliminate the precarity of post-doctoral contract research jobs...the Turing could consider a similar role.

Moving from early career to leader

At some point in this career path, someone may get higher levels of recognition and be invited/elected 

to various scholarly bodies, to work on advice to the funding agencies, and to government departments.

And of course funds can be got from industry or philanthropic sources, but need some level of autonomy and visibility for someone to be seen as eligible (unless they move with the money to somewhere else where they would be come eligible on arriving...ERC grants sometimes have that effect).

Something not mentioned in this so far is spinout or startups. Policy/careers for this are highly variable across the UK (and EU and US) today...leaving an institution, then coming back can be done (Stanford in US and Cambridge in UK allow it - it is more common in some sectors, e.g. pharma, than others).

Being an academic almost always involves teaching duties - the major plus point of having students in 

the supply of smart, educated known quantities for the next stage of their career. Another fine point 

is that student projects are niece ways to explore ideas (especially at masters level) - the nearest the 

Turing has to this is enrichment students and the University partnership. 

However, the longitudinal relation between student and advisor is outside the Turing.

Another good thing the Turing does involving groups of people including students is data study groups.

And what support does the Turing give for these various notions of career pathway development?

Anyone should be able to aspire to one day being an S&I director, or Chief Scientific Officer


Have a clear pathway for career progression, all the way to the highest level, not excluding S&I leadership, chief science etc.

Celebrate (and re-enforce) the REG/RSE model.

Deal with precarity in a way at least as good or better than current University practice.

Consider how Turing employees can be empowered to seek external funding for (e.g.) fellowships if they are planning to transition to academic posts later.

Similarly, enable and support employees wishing to spin out work and engage in startups. In that same breath, support their return from startups in appropriate ways (tech transfer achieved etc).

Consider supervisory roles and leading training tasks for the above

For career pathways with intention to transition to industry, look at senior possibilities for people liaising with such partners while at the Turing.

The Turing has strong relations with some government departments (e.g. defense&security, but also health, transport, climate etc), and so career pathways that include transition to and from government is another pathway we should curate.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Not not the end of the world


It's May 2050 and my name is Captain Jon Xander of the 17th Armed Division of 

the Ministry of the Future[1]. I'm here to give you a brief update of the past 25 

years' efforts. Summary take home, we failed to prevent the worst. Summary cause for hope, humanity behaves better than expected in a pinch[2].

Back in '25 some of the kids in XR realised that we needed more political and economic leverage against the huge momentum behind forces destroying the planet. Tipping points had been past, and it was clear we were already going to exceed 3 degrees global heating. At this point, within a decade, the antarctic ice shelf would be gone, and with it, all the coast cities of the US, and with them, the global economy.

Mass migration inland was also hampered by wet bulb temperatures across central US and southern Europe, latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, India and central China, sustaining over 50C for weeks at a time. Life was not sustainable here.

The ministry was created to coordinate economic incentives, to discount the future properly. Like open cast mining, the cost of restoring the environment to its original condition had to be paid forward one way or another - e.g. through carbon capture, reforestation there or elsewhere, from the get go.

But this wasn't enough. Hypocritical leaders were still flying around in corporate lear jets, so the undercover branch of the ministry was setup to bring those planes down, to set an example.

Models told us this was all going to happen, but those models had to steal cycles from the Hypercloud, the systems build by the Big Five Tech Companies to more precisely target marketing and advertising to you, and to persuade you to buy goods and services you didn't need, using ever more convincing (holographic avatars that look like your boyfriend, your mum, you) AIs. In 2030, these AIs ran on data centres that each consumed more electricity than a metro area like New York. They were overtaking the now shrinking fossil fuel companies as the root cause of the problem.

We tried geo-engineering - reducing solar radiation, spraying ice back on to the poles, even sails in orbit, etc. But that needed coordinated action, and the lack of that is the very thing that got us in this mess. Non-coordinated interventions moved monsoons thousands of kilometres away from where the rain was needed for food, and months away from the right season for rain in any case. Some actors even weaponised the systems to attack neighbouring states.

BY 2040, they were all history. The global economy couldn't sustain anymore than micro generation of energy with scavenged materials, no reliable power anywhere for computation or communications. How did we cope? How could we plan? With no Internet, of course, we just used The Clacks. But what about Machine Learning?

Here's an example (taking out Otis King[3] cylindrical slide rule). This was used by Computors back in 1930 to work out actuarial tables (and, sadly, ordnance for military) and these don't need a battery - this one was used in UCL stats department and is 120 years old. Works fine. 

So we can coordinate the routes for the sailers and fishing crews, plan the kelp  farms, and still predict the rate of biodiversity restoration through re-wilding and careful choice of trees to give us materials for housing, boats and clothes.

In the end, people are the key - 100 people with calculators like this can work out a route from earth to the nearest exo-planet. Of course, we don't need to as we shan't be seeing any space agencies for some centuries to come, except, perhaps, the wide open spaces between remaining dry land. Where luckily, we managed to save a couple of the really big libraries[4].

What do you think people miss most, today, in 2050?

The biggest disappointment for kids today is that 

they'll never get to play the electric guitar.

With thanks/apologies to 

1. Kim Stanley Robinson

2. Rebecca Solnit

3. Cylindrical Slide Rules

4 The BL is this height:

5.  Using the Cylindrical Slide Rule

6.  Sunken Cities, Dobraszcyzk

7. Five times Faster, by Simon Sharpe

8. Not the End of the World, Hannah Ritchie

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Ring Law

A recent discovery of an as yet unpublished memo by the publisher Unwin, of Unwin, Wittering and Zigo, reports of an hitherto unsuspected encounter between Isaac Asimov and J.R.R.Tolkien in an hotel, where by pure chance, they were both attending international conferences by invitation. This would have been around 1949.

Asimov was of course well known for his biochemistry work at the nearby Columbia University, and was presenting his paper on "the melting point of benzoic acid and the feint possibility of room temperature superconductivity", whilst Tolkien was at the International Symposium of Runic Scholars, where he was going to speculate on "the possibility of artificial languages that could have their own symbolic script and may be a contribution to world peace". 

Unwin reports that the two gentlemen collided in the elevator as they were coming down after breakfast to go to their respective events, both clutching, as it happens, draft early manuscripts of there soon to be famous major oeuvres, the preface to the Adventures of Susan Calvin, and There and Back Again, Again, Escape from Mirkwood. In the collision, both bundles of paper fell to the floor, and, unnoticed by their owners, were inextricably mixed. 

Now we understand how it could happen that there were three laws that bound the behaviour of Hobbits, and that were seven rings for the mining robots, nine for the smart killer drones, three for the EVs, and one kept back for the POTUS. In a later story, Tolkien would revisit the three laws of Hobbits, and reason that Gandalf, an honorary Hobbit, perhaps was bound by a fourth (or more correctly, a zeroth) law, which subsumed all the others.

Asimov could never reconcile his Russian past with the idea that one human could possess such great power, and changed the end of the tale so that one ring was cast into the Yellowstone Caldera, and melted down, so that the three, seven and nine would now operate under true autonomy.

Fan contributed literature has tried to reconstruct the way the books might have been written without this terrible mashup, but little progress has been made coherently, partly because no-one has managed to find a convincing explanation of what happened to Susan Calvin. It has long been recognized that genre writers, even the very best like Asimov and Tolkien, were never much cop at character, least of all female characters. At least one partially successful attempt (you may have seen it adapted to Netflix) casts Gandalf as a woman (with a nod to Wilkie Collins' Woman in White).  

To the end of their days, both authors insist that allegorical interpretations of their work are ill-founded, and they were just writing escapist nonsense. Religions have flourished on less.

Monday, February 05, 2024

if i get one more daft phd proposal, i shall publish them all on the blockchain so everyone knows who these eejits are

 Celestial Emporium of Bogus Knowledge

with apologies to George Lewis Bogus

those belonging to the common crawl

the wayback ones

the self-supervised learned  

block chain smokers

news (or fake news)

izvestia, pravda, life articles by nicolai ivanovic denisovic

undetected stray dogs on the internet

those included in this file

oscilliatory or hallicinatory

NP Soft

those drawn with unstable diffusion

et ai

those that have just broken in

those that from afar look like cats

Friday, February 02, 2024

The True Existential Risk from AI

 It is well known that if you practise IQ tests, your score improves.

It is less well known that if you practice Turing tests, your score deteriorates.

And it is even less well known that the machine learning system improves its scores as the humans' scores get worse.

The consequence of this is that the ever increasing abundance of online checks of whether you are human or a robot are basically degrading the overall intelligence of the human race, whilst enhancing that of its robot successors.

This is evident from the many incredibly stupid things humans have been doing recently (war, pestilence, blockchain, climate, obesity etc)...

I think it is too late to do anything about it, as I have already fallen below the level where I would be able to grasp any plan to tackle the challenge anyhow, as have you, dear reader. Unless you are a Transformer Overlord:-

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

evidence resistance is futile

Many people cope with reading maps, many people read charts, as in music, whether tab or classical (or other) notation. and many people read knitting patterns, DIY instructions, recipes, and so on - all of these are just branches of scientific explanations in the very real sense that they need to be used to generate repeatable results by different people so you get to the same place if you follow the same map instructions, or you play in key/time/tune with people if you play from the same dots, or you make a jumper with arms the same length as each other, or you repair the washing machine, and not the fridge by mistake, or you cook something that doesn't poison everyone, or make them swear at your grandma's cookies (congratulations, you have just falsified an incorrect theory).

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Endless in Gaza

It seems Israel's goals in Gaza are an unfortunate mix of the movements that the government has to placate. There's the actual stated military goals, which naively put are to free the hostages, and remove Hamas' weapons, and then, what? leave Gaza alone again?. There's the more extreme position of driving all 2M Palestinians out of Gaza (presumably into Egypt), and "simplify" any geopolitical discussion with the Palestinians left in the West Bank. And then what?. There's the even more extreme idea of erasing the population of Gaza once and for all (presumably on the advice of any counter-terroist experts that you can't simply eliminate Hamas by removing the current active members, as they will be replaced time and again from the base population), and then what? Who would welcome such a pariah state in any trade or travel ever again? Whatever the truth of these or any other more or less crazy objectives, none of these has an end point, but are just a step. Mostly in the wrong direction. Of course, Hamas own goals are also just that, mostly own goals too. What a sad sad situation.