AI: Act As If You Are Creative

By Shlomo Maital

      It is now apparent that Artificial Intelligence will hugely impact everything, and already has.  AI has been around since 1956!   But the latest breakthroughs of generative pretrained transformer (GPT) AI, using natural language, have been rapid and massive.  The breakthrough stems from the confluence of several powerful ideas, all at once —   machine learning,  deep learning, and neural networks. 

       Microsoft, Google, and others, are competing fiercely in the AI battleground.  I have used ChatGPT  (OpenAI, funded by Microsoft) a lot,  and now, am trying BARD (Google).  I did this in part because one of the forefathers of AI,  Geoffrey Hinton, and a principal in BARD, has left Google, warning of the dangers of AI. 

       I’ve spent my career studying creativity and innovation.  So naturally I’m keenly interested in whether AI can come up with creative ideas.  And the answer, weirdly, seems to be yes.  Here is what I found.

        1.  I taught Bard a creativity algorithm, developed and used by my friend and colleague Arie Ruttenberg, called Zoom in/Zoom out. [See our book Creacking the Creativity Code]. But Bard knows everything.  “I think this is a great way to generate ideas”, Bard said,  and proceeded to accurately explain Zoom in/Zoom out in just a few words.  Amazing. BARD responds in just seconds.

         2.  I told Bard to use the algorithm to create a new food that 8 year olds love, that fills all their nutrition needs (vitamins, minerals), but is a food they will absolutely love.  All I got was fruit and yogurt.  Seriously?  I severely reprimanded Bard.

           3.  Bard apologized.  (Really!).  “This is not creative”, I told it.  “Can you please think of an innovative creative yogurt dish, one not yet existing, that 8 year olds will love?”     Sure, Bard said.  Here is an innovative and creative yogurt dish. 

          And here it is.  You be the judge.

  Yogurt Bark:  Ingredients: 1 cup plain yogurt. ½ cup granola. ¼ cup chopped fruit (berries, peaches, mangoes).  ¼ cup chocolate chips.

   Line a baking pan with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, granola, fruit and chocolate chips.  Spread the mixture evenly on the prepared baking sheet.  Freeze for at least 2 hours, or overnight.  Break the bark into pieces – and enjoy!

     What do you think?  Creative?  Innovative?  Know any 8 year olds?  Want to try it?

Zoom in/Zoom out: (as per BARD itself). 1. Zoom in. Analyze the problem in detail. 2. Zoom out: look for solutions outside of your immediate area. 3. Zoom in: Start to evaluate possible solutions. Which are most feasible? Which are most likely to solve the problem? 4. Zoom out: Once you have evaluated possible solutions, start to implement them, try them out. You may need to modify, make some changes on the way. More tips: Be creative; Be persistent; be open minded.

What worries Hinton (as told to the New York Times):

His immediate concern is that the internet will be flooded with false photosvideos and text, and the average person will “not be able to know what is true anymore.”

He is also worried that A.I. technologies will in time upend the job market. Today, chatbots like ChatGPT tend to complement human workers, but they could replace paralegals, personal assistants, translators and others who handle rote tasks. “It takes away the drudge work,” he said. “It might take away more than that.”

Down the road, he is worried that future versions of the technology pose a threat to humanity because they often learn unexpected behavior from the vast amounts of data they analyze. This becomes an issue, he said, as individuals and companies allow A.I. systems not only to generate their own computer code but actually run that code on their own. And he fears a day when truly autonomous weapons — those killer robots — become reality.

“The idea that this stuff could actually get smarter than people — a few people believed that,” he said. “But most people thought it was way off. And I thought it was way off. I thought it was 30 to 50 years or even longer away. Obviously, I no longer think that.”

Autism:  Breakthrough from Jerusalem

By Shlomo Maital

  Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction, and repetitive or restricted patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities.  It manifests very differently in each person.

   A report by the US Center for Disease Control (CDC)  reveals:  1 in 36 eight-year-olds (2.8%) in the US had autism in 2020 — a jump up from 1 in 44 (2.3%) in 2018.  Autism is more frequent among boys, but the prevalence of autism among girls has increased to over 1%.

   It is not clear why autism has increased in frequency, nor whether it is simply being diagnosed better or whether it is on the rise.

   And sadly, there is no specific medicinal intervention for the treatment of autism.

   Today, the daily Haaretz * reports this:  “Researchers from the Hebrew University have identified a molecular mechanism that may be related to autism – a mechanism that involves the compound nitric oxide…they found that the concentration of this compound in the brain may contribute significantly to the onset of autism.  The findings are based on experiments in laboratory animals and also on human cells.  Identifying the molecular mechanism hypothesized to be involved in autism may aid in efforts to develop treatments for autism.  The study was published (yesterday) in the journal Advanced Science.”

    According to Haaretz, the study was led by Dr. Haitam Amal, a pharmacologist and neuroscientist.  His research began at MIT in 2015 in the lab of Prof. Steven Tannenbaum.  Tannenbaum first discovered, in the 1970’s, that a key neurotransmitter, nitric oxide, NO,  consisting of one atom of oxygen and one atom of nitrogen,  is made in the human body.  In four years of research, Haaretz reports, Amal showed that in mice whose genome had been mutated to cause autism, there is an increase in this molecule, NO.

    In 2002, a key article said this about NO as a neurotransmitter (compound crucial in transmitting electronic signals among the neurons in the brain):

    “The discovery that nitric oxide (NO) functions as a signalling molecule in the nervous system has radically changed the concept of neural communication. Indeed, the adoption of the term nitrergic for nerves whose transmitter function depends on the release of NO or for transmission mechanisms brought about by NO (Moncada et al., 1997) emphasizes the specific characteristics of this mediator.”

    The discovery by Dr. Haitam Amal and his team at the Hebrew U.  of Jerusalem brings hope that perhaps one day, by treating the excess of NO among those on the autism spectrum, this disorder can be treated successfully.

* Gideon Lev. “Israeli researchers discover a molecular mechanism in the brain that is linked to autism.” Haaretz, May 23, 2023, p. 9  (Hebrew).

   See also:

Tripathi, M. K., Kartawy, M., & Amal, H. (2020). The role of nitric oxide in brain disorders: Autism spectrum disorder and other psychiatric, neurological, and neurodegenerative disorders. Redox Biology34, 101567.  

We Are All Much Alike – 99.6%

By Shlomo Maital

    It has been 20 years since the Human Genome project published the full map of human genes, based on blood samples drawn from 12 anonymous blood donors in and around Buffalo, New York.

    This week, in Nature,  the genome of a set of 47 new “reference” genomes taken from individuals on four continents (Africa, both of the Americas, and Asia) was published.  

    According to The Economist:  “The idea of the Human Pangenome Project, the organization behind the publications, is that rather than relying on a single “reference” genome, it would be better to have several, and to ensure that between them they capture as much of the genetic diversity of Homo sapiens as possible.”

    One of the key findings:  “Compared with the total size of the genome, the amount of diversity in question is small. Two people picked at random will share around 99.6% of their DNA.”

    So, on average,  let’s say, a radical white supremacist who reviles and attacks those whose skin color is black, brown and yellow,  shares on average 22,197 genes out of the total of 22,287 protein-coding genes in the human genome.  That is, all but 90 genes. 

     Conclusion:  Hatred, racism, violence – it must be social, based on nurture, not nature.  Because by nurture, we humans share a largely common set of genes.   We are all much alike, genetically.  We are all, literally, brothers and sisters.

     99.6%.  Let’s keep that in mind.


AI: Try This One On!

By Shlomo Maital

   A follow up to my previous blog on ‘sentient’ or ‘intuitive’ AI:

    The Microsoft scientists gave an advanced version of their AI Chat GPT4 software (not yet available to the public) a challenge:

Prompt: Can you write a proof that there are infinitely many prime numbers,  with every line that rhymes?

GPT-4: Yes, I think I can,

Though it might take a clever plan.

I’ll start by noting Euclid’s proof,

Which shows that primes aren’t just aloof.

Assume we have a finite list,

Of primes, and that none have been missed.

Multiply them all together,

And add one, just to be clever.

The result will be a number,

That has no prime factors, oh wonder!

But every number has a prime,

That divides it, it’s just a matter of time.

So we’ve found a contradiction,

And our finite list needs eviction.

There must be infinitely many primes,

And that’s the end of my rhyming lines.

  Get it?   It’s a reductio ad absurdum proof.  Assume we have a finite list of all the prime numbers.  Multiply them together.  Add one.  The result will be prime. But we said at the start, we have a finite list of all primes..and now we’ve added another.  Oops.  So our initial assumption must be wrong. Hence, there are an infinite number of primes.   This was Euclid’s proof.    And it rhymes.

    I think as an editor I would change the third last line: And our finite list utterly lacks conviction.  And lines does not rhyme with primes.  Just a quibble.

    But hey!  ChatGPT is cool.  And it deserves its full name.  Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer. 

    Transformer you bet!

     You can read the entire 150 page scientific paper here:

Is AI Becoming (More) Human?

By Shlomo Maital

   Here is a puzzle.  Can you solve it?

    “Here we have a book, nine eggs, a laptop, a bottle and a nail.  Please tell me how to stack them onto each other in a stable manner.”

     How would you solve it?

      This was the puzzle Microsoft computer scientists posed, to a new artificial intelligence algorithm.

       Here is its solution:

   “Put the eggs on the book.  Arrange the eggs in three rows with space between them. Make sure you don’t crack them.  Place the laptop on top of the eggs, with the screen facing down and the keyboard facing up.  The laptop will fit snugly within the boundaries of the book and the eggs, and its flat and rigid surface will provide a stable platform for the next layer.”

   Now, think about it.  This is not, say, “find me the smallest ten-digit prime number”.  That is fact finding.  It is,  “think about how you can solve this puzzle, by understanding or picturing the physical elements involved and how they might combine.”

     Microsoft scientists claim that in order to solve this puzzle, their AI algorithm had to have some sort of intuitive understanding of the physical world. 


     You be the judge. 

      AI first became a scientific discipline as early as 1956.  There were many ups and downs, mostly downs.  Now, 67 years later, the breakthroughs are coming fast and furiously, as the combination of neural networks, machine learning, and deep learning, drive AI algorithms to do amazing things that are now very close to human intelligence and in some ways surpass it. 

     This was reported by Cade Metz, in the New York Times, May 16. 

Fake News, Fake Science: An Epidemic

By Shlomo Maital

              The epidemic of fake news is a result of demand and supply.  Supply – an army of fakers who often use sophisticated AI tools to make up conspiracy stories.  Demand – a larger army of those who are willing to believe anything that makes them feel good and look good.   Of course, this is hugely troubling.  It erodes the foundation of trust on which society is built.

              But now, we find that there is also fake science —  fraudulent papers published in scientific journals.   This is from a forthcoming article in Science: 

    Around a third of studies published in neuroscience journals, and about 24% in medical journals, are “made up or plagiarized,” according to a new paper.   The research, referred to as a preprint — meaning it has not yet been peer-reviewed — looked at 5,000 published papers, as first reported by Science.

     Using a simple, automated detection system the researchers looked for two telltale signs: Whether an author was registered with a personal, rather than institutional, email address, and if the author listed their affiliation as a hospital. The papers flagged as potentially fake were then checked by humans. About 1,500 of the papers were likely fraudulent, the researchers concluded.

  Fake science, too, is generated by supply and demand.  Demand —  academic departments that count publications as a condition for tenure or employment.  Supply —  scientists struggling to keep their jobs or gain promotion, struggling to get research funds, and battling publish or perish,  choose to lie and publish rather than foster truth and perish.

    If not only our news media but our scientific journals are riddled with fakes, then we are in big trouble.   

The Two Faces of Inflation: We’re Chasing the Wrong Culprit

By Shlomo Maital

    In Roman mythology, Janus was the god of doors, gates, and transitions. Janus was the middle ground between  concrete and abstract dualities such as life/death, beginning/end, youth/adulthood, rural/urban, war/peace, and barbarism/civilization.

    And today, 2023, Janus is a great analogy for inflation.  Inflation has played a trick on us.  During the COVID pandemic, we had inflation in the prices of goods. Janus Face One. Today, we have inflation in the price of services. Janus Face Two.

But Central Bank policy is still chasing Face One as the culprit. And we ordinary citizens will pay the price.

     The two inflations — they are NOT the same thing, they are different illnesses, and they have different cures and mitigating policies.  But are our Central Bankers agile enough to adapt?

     Here is what Matt Levin,  writing on the Marketplace website, observed last December, when new price data were published:  “The core price index for November was up 4.7% year-over-year. That’s down from a 5.0% increase in October. So, overall, it’s heading in the right direction.    But drilling deeper into those numbers, you see a story of two inflations: Price levels for goods dropped 0.4% from October to November, while price levels for services went up by 0.4% over the same period.   When the pandemic hit, we gorged ourselves on Pelotons, sofas, air fryers. So, the prices of goods went up, and that whole supply chain mess didn’t help. Then, we got through the delta variant and omicron and decided to gorge ourselves on flights, hotels and eating out.   

      “It’s all services inflation now. And it’s going to be a battle between goods prices declining and service sector prices rising, and also how people choose to spend their money,” said Drew Matus, chief market strategist at MetLife Investment Management.

       Goods prices are driven by costs of production and how productivity curtails them. This is a supply side phenomenon.  Because we do not really know much about how to foster supply-side policies, Central Banks battle goods inflation by raising interest rates and curtailing credit.  This can and does lead to recessions.  We may be in one now, or heading toward it. 

        Services prices, in contrast, are in large part a demand phenomenon —  as we  emerge from lockdown, the economy transitions back to service-driven —  but the labor supply is not matching the boom in demand, as the Great Resignation still keeps many out of the low-paying service jobs. 

         How do you control services inflation?  By labor market policies.  Training.  Competition.  Not by interest rate hikes.   Yet both the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, knowingly facing services inflation,  continue to drive interest rates upward, risking recession (the EU may already be in the midst of one).

         Why?  The US Fed was too late in hiking interest rates.  It cannot now admit a grievous erroneous policy, especially after dropping the ball in three large bank failures, with its bank regulators asleep at he switch.

         The US Fed has a ridiculous unattainable inflation target of 2%, and is stubbornly sticking to it.  If it persists, it will cause much suffering, because recessions are far worse than inflations.  Inflations are numbers, the stickers on the price of goods and services.  Recession is losing your job, losing income, losing healthcare.  There is no symmetry here. 

         Is anybody listening?        

One Good Thing:  Learning Life from Calculus

By Shlomo Maital

     Rebecca Peterson

Rebecca Peterson was named Teacher of the Year in the US.   She is a high school math teacher from Tulsa, Oklahoma,  and is an immigrant with a Swedish mother and in Iranian father.   She says her Iranian name means bearer of good news, and she embraces it.

       She has a powerful message for us all.  It’s called One Good Thing.  Here are her own words, as told to the NPR program Here & Now:

     “May we walk this life together. With open hearts and open hands…   In the end maybe we’re all.  of us just walking each other home.”  

       “I teach in a very diverse, culturally rich district. We have 62 languages represented in the Union Public Schools.  …I was on the brink of of leaving, honestly, in the middle of my first year. Really didn’t think I’d come back after my first year  ….then I found this community blog called One Good Thing, and it was a collective of educators from all over the country that committed to writing good things that happened in their classroom.   And they live by this mantra that every day may not be good but there’s one good thing in every day. And that quote just hit me hard, right? Because I didn’t ignore the demands of my job. But it did insist on taking ownership of my day. And so I started writing.

     “One day I just opened that blog platform and wrote one good thing that happened that day. The next day I did the same. The next night did the same. And after a decade —  Writing good things on my last day of school last year was my 1,400th  post.    

     “One post that really stands out is this. It was right before the pandemic actually, and a student came up to me and said I don’t have a lot of money but it’s Teacher Appreciation Week and I wanted to give you something and he had asked me earlier what my favorite song was and he pulled out a Viola from.  He had learned how to play ”For good from wicked” * for me, and he had, like many of my students, had undergone a lot of trauma and a lot of tragedy. He had lost his mum a few years before that.

    “Then when he concluded, he said I’m gonna get choked up. Thank you for being a mother figure in my life. And so moments like that, we have to hang on to as educators.  

        Calculus as a Life Lesson: Rebecca continues:    “As you know, calculus has two branches. Differential and integral.  I feel like calculus has a lot to teach us beyond mathematics.

     “Differential calculus teaches us that things change the slowest at extrema. Similarly, in life, our highs and lows often seemed to move at a totally different place than the rest of our everyday rhythms.

     “Then in integral calculus we use infinitesimally small pieces, small rectangles to calculate the whole. Inch by inch we get closer to the full picture, but we need every little slice to understand the grand view.

       “In life, sometimes it feels like we’re moving at a snail’s pace along the X axis, of course, but never forget that each little slice is needed to form the whole picture. Or progressing towards our calling infinitesimal inch by infinitesimal inch. Remember — this in your season of waiting. We are still moving forward as slowly as it feels sometimes.”

         Let’s try what Teacher of the Year Rebecca does daily.  Write One Good Thing.  In your head, or on paper; on a blog or in a diary.  One good thing.  After a year – 365 good things.  Maybe this is a powerful anti-depressant?

         Thanks Teacher of the Year, for the math lesson, that becomes a life lesson.

*  the last words of the song:  “And because I knew you, Because I knew you, Because I knew you, I have been changed, For good”.

 Why Red Bull Wins Nearly Every Time

By Shlomo Maital

     Formula 1 (F1) racing involves 10 teams, two cars per team, that race on tracks around the world, before a rapt audience of some 800 million viewers.   It’s an expensive sport.  The Red Bull team is said to spend $400 m. yearly, and that does not include drivers’ salaries or other items.  (Red Bull is an energy drink,   majority controlled by Thailand’s Yoovidhya family, which invented the drink decades ago.  It sells some 11 billion cans yearly. Red Bull invests heavily in sports marketing). 

     Last year, there were 22  F1 races.  Red Bull’s cars, and drivers Sergio Perez and lead driver Max Verstappen, won 17 of them;  Ferrari won four, and Mercedes won one.  

      This season, 2023, there have been three F1 races so far:  Bahrain,  Melbourne and Saudi Arabia.  Red Bull cars won them all – two, with driver Verstappen, one, with driver Sergio Perez.

      Few sports are dominated so heavily by a single team.  Why?

      Writing on the planetf1 website, Oliver Harden gives seven reasons.  They can serve as key success factors for technology businesses as well.  Here they are:

     Best driver:  Max Verstappen has won 26 of the last 46 races, back to 2021 when he won the title as top driver.  He is tough, resilient, and very cool under pressure…and pressure is very high in F1 racing. 

      Best ‘wingman’:  Red Bull’s second driver Sergio Perez finds the right balance between supporting Verstappen but never threatening his dominance.  Sometimes, the #2 person in an organization is as vital as #1.  Especially when #1 is the visionary, and #2 is the operations head (as with Israel’s Mobileye – Prof. Amnon Shashua, #1, is the visionary, Ziv Aviram, #2, a seasoned skilled operations manager). 

     Best car:  It helps when your product or service is best – twice, ten times better than competitors.  Verstappen was asked, in which areas is the RB19 better than its predecessors?  “Everywhere”, he said.  Continual improvement and innovation are vital.  Red  Bull’s car is powered by a terrific Honda engine, and of course engines are key in F1 racing.

Best Tech Chief:  F1 teams each have a technical director, who supervises design and construction of the ‘platform’ (the car).  Red Bull has Adrian Newey, the most successful racing car designer in history.  And he works with an old fashioned drawing board and pencil.  He may be far more important than even the driver Verstappen.

    Best team principal:  Christian Horner is the team principal,  essentially the CEO of the racing operation.  He knows talent when he sees it, and has cultivated Newey, given him latitude to pursue other interests.  “We took the road less travelled,” Newey wrote in his autobiography, and Horner supported him in this strongly.

     Best strategy:  In the Bahrain race, Verstappen and Perez were two of only 3 cars that switched to soft tires at the first round of stops.  Turned out, this gave Red Bull a very early advantage that never dissipated.  Tire strategy, pit stops, etc. are all part of racing strategy.  The Red Bull strategy is “attack, attack, attack” – and the principal strategy engineer is Hannah Schmitz, who may be the best in her position in the business. 

    Best pit crew:  Racing cars stop for fresh tires and gasoline.  Red Bull’s pit stop team (at times, pit stops are only 8 seconds – full tank, 4 new tires!)  has broken records for the fastest-ever stops. And when a race can be won with a fraction of a second ahead of a competitor, pit stops are vital.

    If Red Bull fell short on even one of the 7 key factors, it would not dominate.  Domination requires getting all the pins in a row….

Chava Willig Levy: 1952-2023

By Shlomo Maital

       My wife Sharona’s cousin, Chavi Willig Levy, passed away on April 6, at her home in Long Island, on the first day of Passover.   She was 71.  

       The bare facts of her amazing life story appeared on the yeshiva world  website:

      “Chava was three and a half years old when poliovirus invaded her life. Vacationing with her family in the idyllic Catskills during the summer of 1955, she suddenly developed a high fever and weakness, rendering her unable to stand. After rushing her to the hospital, her family received the devastating news that all families of that generation feared: Their precious Chavale had polio.  Chava spent the next few months hospitalized with the support of an iron lung. Ultimately although she could breathe on her own, she was left paralyzed from the neck down. She navigated life in a motorized wheelchair. “My current accommodations include a ceiling lift that transfers me to and from my motorized wheelchair and a ventilator used for about 14 hours a day, so that my overworked breathing muscles can rest. I need assistance to get dressed, go to the bathroom and bathe. I use dictation software to type. If I may say so, I’m a really good cook, but my helper becomes my arms and my partner in the kitchen.”

      Chavi just missed the salvation of the polio vaccine.  It was administered widely starting around the time she fell ill.  The result:  the incidence of polio in the United States fell from 18 cases per 100,000 people to fewer than 2 per 100,000.  Credit Pittsburgh’s wonderful Doctor Jonas Salk.

       Her husband, Rabbi Michael Levy, spoke these words in synagogue, just before her casket was put on board an El Al plane to Israel, for burial there, near Jerusalem.  One is not allowed to eulogize on Passover, a holy festival.  He found a creative way:

      “Chavi has a message for you. I’m speaking in her name:

         Chavi: “The first day of Passover was my last day on Earth. God gave me a glorious seder and welcomed me to heaven the very next day.  Seder means order. 

        “You the living — get your life in order now ! If you love someone tell him now!  Don’t wait until August.  Thank people now, don’t say well I’ll get around to it. 

        “Chavi says, do what I did, don’t let anybody stop you from forging ahead with your dreams! Many people who have big brains —  they said I would never walk, they said I would never get an education and a career,  they said I will never marry, they said I would never have children,  I would never write a book, I would never produce a podcast.

       “I did all of those things, thanks to God,  and just remember only God decides what’s possible and not possible —   so start now

      “I’m in a happy place. I know what you’re doing!  I want to see by the end of Passover that you are deeply happy within the bounds of Torah and that you have embarked on a new career, on a new dream, on a new relationship —  and at the end of Passover I want to hear, I want to hear you saying,  I did this!  I renewed my days and my dreams — because that’s what Chavi told me to do.”

= = = =

     Rest in peace, Chavi.  You touched a huge number of lives.  And we will do as you say. 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital