From the “Preface to the English Edition” of “The Theory of Money and Credit” by Ludwig von Mises: “All proposals that aim to do away with the consequences of perverse economic and financial policy, merely by reforming the monetary and banking system, are fundamentally misconceived. Money is nothing but a medium of exchange and it completely fulfills its function when the exchange of goods and services is carried on more easily with its help than would be possible by means of barter. Attempts to carry out economic reforms from the monetary side can never amount to anything but an artificial stimulation of economic activity by an expansion of the circulation, and this, as must constantly be emphasized, must necessarily lead to crisis and depression. Recurring economic crises are nothing but the consequence of attempts, despite all the teachings of experience and all the warnings of the economists, to stimulate economic activity by means of additional credit.

Mathematicians of the day.

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From Numenta: The Path to Machine Intelligence

While there is nothing new in “The Path to Machine Intelligence” for those who are familiar with the work of Numenta, it is a nice high level summary for those new to hierarchical temporal memory theory.

Executive Summary

The idea of machines that operate on the principles of the human brain has been around for more than fifty years. However, for most of the history of artificial intelligence, progress has been measured by how well machines solve particular problems, such as playing chess, driving cars, or passing the Turing Test. Relatively few artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are based on an understanding of how the brain works and how it solves problems.

At Numenta we believe that the hallmark of intelligence is extreme flexibility, not the ability to solve any particular problem. The number of things humans can learn to do and the types of problems we can solve is vast. This versatility is a result of how our brains work. To build intelligent machines with equal flexibility, we need to understand the principles brains use to achieve this remarkable ability. Numenta’s approach to machine intelligence is unique; we start with a deep understanding of how the neocortex learns and what makes it so flexible, and then we replicate those principles in software. Intelligent machines designed this way can be applied to a great variety of problems, large and small, problems both that humans can solve as well as those that are beyond human capabilities.

The impact of intelligent machines will rival and likely surpass the impact of computers operating under traditional principles, i.e. computers with pre-programmed rules, rather than learning systems. This endeavor will involve many people and many companies around the world. At Numenta, we are completely transparent about how our learning algorithms work, even placing our software in an open source project. There is a growing community around the world that contributes to this open source initiative and is committed to our approach to machine intelligence.

A focus on flexibility, learning from the brain, and adhering to open collaboration is the path to machine intelligence.

The entire article can be read here (pdf file).

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China Is a Paper Tiger: The Hong Kong rising underscores China’s fragility by Justin Raimondo

Raimondo covers a lot of ground in “China Is a Paper Tiger: The Hong Kong rising underscores China’s fragility“. In the first paragraph, he echoes my comment from “A Cautionary Tale for Those Hellbent on Provoking Russia” about the US failing to designate China as the great enemy after the collapse of the USSR.

The rise of China as America’s chief rival on the international stage has long been a staple of our foreign policy pundits’ alleged wisdom. The Chinese, simply by virtue of their enormous population, have been deemed the inheritors of the earth. China, we are told, has been in the process of overtaking us in terms of virtually every metric imaginable: demographic, economic, and, most important of all, military. There’s just one problem with this Sinocentric view of the future: it’s based on nonsensical assumptions. And the central wrongheaded assumption – that China is a stable unitary country and will always remain so – is being disproved (once again) by the events now unfolding in Hong Kong.

For most of its long history China has been divided into warring regions – or, in the modern era, disparate factions with antithetical interests – with a strong unitary state presiding over a relatively stable empire the exception rather than the rule.

The ascension of Deng to heights reached previously only by Mao marked the de facto demise of Chinese communism. Oh, there would still be an entity calling itself the Communist Party of China, and CCP ideologues would still churn out polemics citing the Marxist classics and Mao’s published works: the old forms would remain, even in the total absence of any meaningful content. Rapidly abandoning the commandist, central planning-oriented model of economic development embraced by the old Maoist authorities, the “capitalist-roaders” Mao had denounced did exactly what the Chinese “left” had always accused them of plotting – they took China down the road to capitalism.

When the public accepts a certain form of rule, smart revolutionary rulers keep the form but change the substance. This was the case when, after a century of political murders and civil wars, Augustus established the Principate while maintaining the form of the Republic. Even with the advent of full blown empire, the Roman ruling class kept the form of the Republic intact. Indeed, we see this in the US. In theory, the US is a constitutional republic. In reality, it is an oligarchy that is becoming increasingly tyrannical. An excellent example is the war on drugs. When the war on alcohol was won, it was via a constitutional amendment. This was an explicit acknowledgement that the federal government did not have the power to ban alcohol via statute. Yet somehow, the federal government was able to ban narcotics in the absence of a constitutional amendment, despite the fact that the constitution had not been amended to permit such an action.

The Hong Kong uprising ought to underscore a fact that hasn’t yet dawned on our foreign policy geniuses in Washington, D.C.: there is no “Chinese threat.” Far from posing a military challenge to the West, Beijing can’t even control one of its own major cities – and the mighty CCP is being humiliated by a 17-year-old boy! For all the predictions of its coming hegemony, the reality is that China is a paper tiger – which is exactly how Mao used to disdainfully refer to the United States. In which case the so-called “Asian pivot” – the strategic reorientation of US forces to meet the alleged “threat” from China – deserves to be re-branded the Asian Misstep.

This is an important point that should not be misinterpreted as belittling China. As Raimondo makes clear in his article, China has always been difficult to control from the center due to its immense population, regional cultural differences, and difficult geography. A rudimentary knowledge of Chinese history shows that Chinese rulers have always placed keeping what they have as their number one priority. Once this has been achieved, then they can think about imperial adventures. Given the enormous malinvestments due to money printing, the difficult cultural adjustments to the rapid changes of the past few decades, and the demographic time bomb due to the one child policy, the ruling class in China will be far too busy maintaining control to think about imperial adventures.

The entire article can be read here.

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A Weekly Dose of Hazlitt: What Is Progress?

What Is Progress?” is the title of Henry Hazlitt’s Newsweek column from September 19, 1955. Here we see that the current Keynesian nonsense of fiscal and monetary “stimulus” has plagued the US for decades.

At the adjournment of the last session of Congress, the
President at his press conference made some remarks
that require more serious examination than they have
yet received. It may seem a late date to hark back to
something that Mr. Eisenhower said on Aug. 4, but
his words on that occasion threw a great deal of light
on his philosophy of government, and on the policies
we may expect him to follow while he remains in office.
He remarked at that time that he had a “little list” of
“needed” legislation, of which at least four items were
still “absolutely vital to our future. . . . They are school
construction for our children, the health program, the
highway program, and the water resources.”

Now of course schools and health and highways
and water are vital to our future. But this is not exactly
what Mr. Eisenhower meant. He meant that it was
“absolutely vital” for the Federal government to subsidize
local school construction; for the Federal government to
reinsure private health insurance; for the Federal government
to provide enormous grants for highway construction;
etc. It is not only not vital for the Federal
government to do these things; it is dangerous politically
and economically. The notion that the Federal
government must take over such functions goes directly
counter to the principles of our Constitution and to our
ideals of local self-government.

Other remarks of the President at this conference
implied a broader philosophy no less disturbing. Mr.
Eisenhower pointed to the “almost unprecedented
prosperity” in America today, and implied that this
boom must be kept whirling at its present peak, or
beyond, with no slackening whatever. “If we are going
to keep that kind of thing moving,” he said, “it means
that there must forever be action, not only in the economic
and industrial field on the part of the individuals
in our system of free enterprise, but government as
well.” (My italics.) There are two implications in these

The first is that it is the function and duty of the
Federal government to keep a boom constantly whipped
up to a peak by unceasing government policies of spending,
subsidies, and credit inflation. A widely held economic
theory today is that it is not the duty and function
of the government to balance its budget annually, but
rather to “compensate” for the oscillations in the private
economy—building a budget surplus, taxing heavily,
and contracting credit in boom times, but running a
deficit, reducing taxes, and expanding credit in times
of depression or unemployment. Even if we grant (I
don’t) that this theory is sound from an economic point
of view, it should now be obvious to everyone that it is
politically unworkable. For the government in power
always acts as if it were “fighting a depression.” It never
admits that it is in an inflationary boom which it is its
duty to dampen down. This is now being proved afresh
by the present Administration. It has been proved over
and over again here and in Europe, since the end the
last world war. Continue reading

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Sensory-motor Integration in HTM Theory by Jeff Hawkins

“Sensory-motor Integration in HTM Theory” is the title of a lecture by Hawkins from the spring of this year. Up to this point, Hawkins had focused on sensory data. Here, he begins to incorporate motor behavior with some hints regarding focus and attention.

Slides from the talk can be found here (pdf file).

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Political Economy Quote of the Week for 20140929

“The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens.” – Leo Tolstoy. H/T Robert Higgs.

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From SciTechDaily: MIT Chemists Use Modified Anthrax Toxin to Deliver Cancer Drugs

In a newly published study, researchers from MIT show that a modified version of the anthrax toxin can be used to deliver antibody drugs to kill cancer cells.

Bacillus anthracis bacteria have very efficient machinery for injecting toxic proteins into cells, leading to the potentially deadly infection known as anthrax. A team of MIT researchers has now hijacked that delivery system for a different purpose: administering cancer drugs.

“Anthrax toxin is a professional at delivering large enzymes into cells,” says Bradley Pentelute, the Pfizer-Laubauch Career Development Assistant Professor of Chemistry at MIT. “We wondered if we could render anthrax toxin nontoxic, and use it as a platform to deliver antibody drugs into cells.”

In a paper appearing in the journal ChemBioChem, Pentelute and colleagues showed that they could use this disarmed version of the anthrax toxin to deliver two proteins known as antibody mimics, which can kill cancer cells by disrupting specific proteins inside the cells. This is the first demonstration of effective delivery of antibody mimics into cells, which could allow researchers to develop new drugs for cancer and many other diseases, says Pentelute, the senior author of the paper.

Hitching a ride

Antibodies — natural proteins the body produces to bind to foreign invaders — are a rapidly growing area of pharmaceutical development. Inspired by natural protein interactions, scientists have designed new antibodies that can disrupt proteins such as the HER2 receptor, found on the surfaces of some cancer cells. The resulting drug, Herceptin, has been successfully used to treat breast tumors that overexpress the HER2 receptor.

Several antibody drugs have been developed to target other receptors found on cancer-cell surfaces. However, the potential usefulness of this approach has been limited by the fact that it is very difficult to get proteins inside cells. This means that many potential targets have been “undruggable,” Pentelute says.

“Crossing the cell membrane is really challenging,” he says. “One of the major bottlenecks in biotechnology is that there really doesn’t exist a universal technology to deliver antibodies into cells.”

For inspiration to solve this problem, Pentelute and his colleagues turned to nature. Scientists have been working for decades to understand how anthrax toxins get into cells; recently researchers have started exploring the possibility of mimicking this system to deliver small protein molecules as vaccines.

The anthrax toxin has three major components. One is a protein called protective antigen (PA), which binds to receptors called TEM8 and CMG2 that are found on most mammalian cells. Once PA attaches to the cell, it forms a docking site for two anthrax proteins called lethal factor (LF) and edema factor (EF). These proteins are pumped into the cell through a narrow pore and disrupt cellular processes, often resulting in the cell’s death.

However, this system can be made harmless by removing the sections of the LF and EF proteins that are responsible for their toxic activities, leaving behind the sections that allow the proteins to penetrate cells. The MIT team then replaced the toxic regions with antibody mimics, allowing these cargo proteins to catch a ride into cells through the PA channel.

The rest of the article can be read here.

The paper, “Delivery of Antibody Mimics into Mammalian Cells via Anthrax Toxin Protective Antigen”, can be read here. Below is the abstract.

Antibody mimics have significant scientific and therapeutic utility for the disruption of protein–protein interactions inside cells; however, their delivery to the cell cytosol remains a major challenge. Here we show that protective antigen (PA), a component of anthrax toxin, efficiently transports commonly used antibody mimics to the cytosol of mammalian cells when conjugated to the N-terminal domain of LF (LFN). In contrast, a cell-penetrating peptide (CPP) was not able to deliver any of these antibody mimics into the cell cytosol. The refolding and binding of a transported tandem monobody to Bcr-Abl (its protein target) in chronic myeloid leukemia cells were confirmed by co-immunoprecipitation. We also observed inhibition of Bcr-Abl kinase activity and induction of apoptosis caused by the monobody. In a separate case, we show disruption of key interactions in the MAPK signaling pathway after PA-mediated delivery of an affibody binder that targets hRaf-1. We show for the first time that PA can deliver bioactive antibody mimics to disrupt intracellular protein–protein interactions. This technology adds a useful tool to expand the applications of these modern agents to the intracellular milieu.

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From Battling superbugs with gene-editing system

Battling superbugs with gene-editing system” relates new research using genetic engineering to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Using a gene-editing system that can disable any target gene, they have shown that they can selectively kill bacteria carrying harmful genes that confer antibiotic resistance or cause disease.

Led by Timothy Lu, an associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science, the researchers described their findings in the Sept. 21 issue of Nature Biotechnology. Last month, Lu’s lab reported a different approach to combating resistant bacteria by identifying combinations of genes that work together to make bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics.

Lu hopes that both technologies will lead to new drugs to help fight the growing crisis posed by drug-resistant bacteria.

In the new Nature Biotechnology study, graduate students Robert Citorik and Mark Mimee worked with Lu to target specific genes that allow bacteria to survive antibiotic treatment. The CRISPR genome-editing system presented the perfect strategy to go after those genes.

CRISPR, originally discovered by biologists studying the bacterial immune system, involves a set of proteins that bacteria use to defend themselves against bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria). One of these proteins, a DNA-cutting enzyme called Cas9, binds to short RNA guide strands that target specific sequences, telling Cas9 where to make its cuts.

Lu and colleagues decided to turn bacteria’s own weapons against them. They designed their RNA guide strands to target genes for antibiotic resistance, including the enzyme NDM-1, which allows bacteria to resist a broad range of beta-lactam antibiotics, including carbapenems. The genes encoding NDM-1 and other antibiotic resistance factors are usually carried on plasmids—circular strands of DNA separate from the bacterial genome—making it easier for them to spread through populations.

When the researchers turned the CRISPR system against NDM-1, they were able to specifically kill more than 99 percent of NDM-1-carrying bacteria, while antibiotics to which the bacteria were resistant did not induce any significant killing. They also successfully targeted another antibiotic resistance gene encoding SHV-18, a mutation in the bacterial chromosome providing resistance to quinolone antibiotics, and a virulence factor in enterohemorrhagic E. coli.

In addition, the researchers showed that the CRISPR system could be used to selectively remove specific bacteria from diverse bacterial communities based on their genetic signatures, thus opening up the potential for “microbiome editing” beyond antimicrobial applications.

To get the CRISPR components into bacteria, the researchers created two delivery vehicles—engineered bacteria that carry CRISPR genes on plasmids, and bacteriophage particles that bind to the bacteria and inject the genes. Both of these carriers successfully spread the CRISPR genes through the population of drug-resistant bacteria.

The entire article can be read here.

H/T GeekPress.

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