Signal Boosts for May 2024
reading time:   ·   by nicky case

Since I no longer use Twitter 𝕏, I want a new way to share: 1) Stuff I liked, and 2) Why I liked them. Also, I gotta blog more.

So, introducing my first monthly Signal Boosts post! Just a list of links / papers / movies / books / videos / games / music / podcasts / whatever, that I saw last month & added value to my life. (It's like a "links post"[1], but fewer items & more in-depth.)

So without further ramble:

🌳 Are you a teenage programmer? Hack in the Canadian forest!

Old-timey drawing of a train going through a forest

TIME SENSITIVE OFFER: My friends at Hack Club are running a hackathon for high-schoolers, to make tech to help the environment. This week-long event takes place on a cross-Canada train, from Vancouver to Montréal, through some beautiful boreal forest!

Ticket price?... it's FREE. (with travel grants)

The catch is you have to be in high school (or earlier), and also there's limited seats. So, if you are a ≤ 18yo programmer or know someone who is, ask them to consider HACKING THE FOREST:

⏳ (apply soon, applications close June 10th!) ⏳


There's no describing this. You just have to see the trailer: (2 min)

If you're an artist with a low budget, this movie is inspiring, to show how much one can do with so little.

(4½ stars out of 5)

Watch on: Apple TV, Amazon Prime

Recommended for: lighthearted comedy movie night.

▶️ 3Blue1Brown's series on Transformers (e.g. ChatGPT)

A pi creature pointing at the "T" in "GPT"

Once again, Grant Sanderson (3Blue1Brown) delivers. This YouTube channel teaches tough ideas from math/computer science, with beautiful visualizations & intuitive explanations. This past month, Grant did it again, explaining the Transformer, the AI architecture behind ChatGPT, DALL-E, AlphaFold, and more!

It's a 3-part series, with 1 more part to come:

(Actually, this series is a sequel to his previous series, explaining the classic, "vanilla" Artificial Neural Networks. I found those super-valuable too; it even helped me code my own ANN from scratch!)

Recommended for: Folks with no prior knowledge of deep learning, but okay with calculus & linear algebra. (And if you're not comfy with those, check out Grant's series on those topics!)

📄 A Unifying Probabilistic View of Associative Learning

(warning: technical)

Gershman 2015 is one of those rare papers that: 1) takes a lot of different ideas from different fields, then 2) somehow unifies them all.

Context behind the paper:

This paper solves all those problems, by swiping ideas from Engineering & Artificial Intelligence:

This paper doesn't explain everything, of course. (For example, I'm not sure how this model can explain intermittent reward — the finding that you can make animals more obsessed, by rewarding them less often & unpredictably, the psychology of slot machines.)

But dang, if this paper isn't promising!

Link to paper, again

Recommended for: Cognitive science/Psychology/AI nerds, with undergraduate math capabilities. You can skim the more math-heavy parts and just look at the pretty pictures, that's what I did.

P.S: I learnt Kalman Filters through this video series and this picture-filled blog post.

📄 AI Alignment: A Comprehensive Survey


I spent a year writing a 20,000-word article on AI Safety, and right after launching I find this paper, which I fear made my work redundant.

(To be fair to myself, I think my thing's more layperson-accessible. Mine also has comics with a Robot Catboy Maid.)

In sum, the authors break up the AI Safety problem into 4 parts, with the acronym, RICE:

Robustness, Interpretability, Controllability, Ethicality (from paper, Figure 3)

I can't really summarize the paper beyond that, since it is, well, very comprehensive. It's 58 large pages, not counting references. Basically a mini-book.

Link to paper: Ji, Qiu, Chen, Zhang et al 2024

Recommended for: Folks interested in AI Safety/Alignment. Paper assumes some technical background.

🎙️ The Ezra Klein Show

Banner photo of New York Times' The Ezra Klein Show

A podcast where this guy (Ezra Klein) interviews folks, including some big names like Barack Obama and Sam Altman. Remember, "retweets are not endorsements".

Ezra has a rare combination of personality traits:

I don't know how he strikes the balance, but I'm envious. Anyway, despite name-dropping Obama & Altman earlier, I don't actually recommend starting with those specific interviews. Here's what I do recommend starting with:

Also, Ezra just has a soothing voice. Nothing like "neurotic Jewish nerd" rizz

Find this show on where-ever you get your podcasts. (I use PodBean)

Recommended for: Policy-wonk nerds. People tired of podcast-pundits pandering to you & not actually challenging your mind. People who need to fill up an hour on their daily commute.


This album just bops

Recommended for: fans of trans furry hyperpop

  1. Inspired by these blogs that also do monthly "Links Posts": Slime Mold Time Mold, Astral Codex Ten. ↩︎

  2. The only other case I remember of a live-action/animation-hybrid style like this, is James Lee's Nox: e.g. A Life Without Facebook (2018) ↩︎

  3. Millidge et al 2021 proposes a biologically plausible way for neurons to approximate Kalman Filters. (I haven't actually read this paper yet, just its abstract.) ↩︎

  4. Starkweather & Uchida 2021, tl;dr yeah dopamine signals pretty much are temporal difference errors. Note: Dopamine does NOT correspond to reward, it corresponds to UNEXPECTED reward. (prediction error!) ↩︎

  5. As far as I can tell, Ezra Klein is an atheist but unwillingly so. 2007 statement. He wants to believe, but cannot. Coz, I mean, the Holocaust kinda puts a fine point on the whole "how can a good, omnipotent God allow unnecessary suffering of innocents" problem. ↩︎