DNA legislation: how the courts view your identity.

As part of a job application last month I wrote a draft blog post about DNA legislation. I thought I would put it here for posterity’s sake:

Last month the United States Supreme Court made a ruling that was in direct opposition to the European Court of Human Rights. The ruling, bought by the case ‘Maryland vs King’, was in regard to the collection of DNA of those in custody. It held that ‘taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment’. In contrast, the case ‘S and Marper v United Kingdom’, brought to the European Court of Human Rights in 2008, ruled that DNA collection of those in custody was in direct breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees ‘the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence’. In the ruling the

European Court said Article 8 ‘would be unacceptably weakened if the use of modern scientific techniques in the criminal justice system were allowed at any cost and without carefully balancing the potential benefits of the extensive use of such techniques against important private-life interests.  This disagreement between the courts highlights the ethical ambiguities that have arisen from the widespread adoption of DNA databases in the last 15 years.  Where should we draw the line between the state’s duty to maintain law and order and the individual’s right to privacy?

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Data Compression: What it is and how it works

Data compression is used everywhere. Mp3, mp4, rar, zip, jpg and png files (along with many others) all use compressed data. Without data compression a 3 minute song would be over 100Mb and a 10 minute video would easily be over 1Gb. Data compression condenses large files into much smaller ones. It does this by getting rid of data that isn’t needed while retaining the information in the file.

Does that mean information is different to data? Yes. Lets take an example: I ask Bob who won the Arsenal game. He then launches into a 30 minute monologue about the match, detailing every pass, throw-in, tackle etc. Right at the end he tells me Arsenal won. I only wanted to know who won, so all the data Bob gave me about the game was useless. He could have compressed the data he sent into two words, ‘Arsenal won’, because that’s all the information I needed. Data compression works on the same principle. Continue reading

How to build an Anti Aircraft Missile: Probability, Bayes’ Theorem and the Kalman Filter

Ever wondered how an Anti Aircraft Missile works? A plane can move at different speeds and altitudes, so how do you know when to fire your missile? Well you need to know two things: where the aircraft is now and where it will be a short time in the future. The reason you need to know where it will be in the future is because your missile takes time to reach the plane’s altitude, so you need to aim at where the plane will be, not where it is now. Engineers use a nifty thing called the Kalman Filter in order track objects and predict where they will be. The Kalman Filter isn’t just used for missiles, it also plays an integral role in GPS, self driving cars, auto pilot, AI and robotics. What is this Kalman Filter then? It’s a recursive way to use Bayes’ Theorem. What’s Bayes’ Theorem? It’s a useful tool in probability. What’s probability? Read on, you’ll find out. Continue reading

Big Data, Data Mining and Machine Learning: Under the Hood

In the last few years ‘Big Data’ and ‘Data Mining’ have become the buzzwords of the tech industry. It’s how Facebook knows what adverts to show you, it’s how iPhones correct your typing and, apparently, how the NSA decides whether you are a terrorist. But what do these buzzwords actually mean? What are computers doing when they’re ‘learning’ or ‘mining’? When asked, experts say in a serious tone ‘it’s a very complicated field that isn’t easy to understand’ but they’re lying. The principles are easy to grasp and you don’t need to be an expert to appreciate the potential of this subject or to think of applications yourself! Continue reading

When life hands you lemons

Is a lemonade stand actually a good way to make money?

As a rookie entrepreneur I have recently been trying to think of viable business ideas, but that is easier said than done. Yesterday it was beautiful so I decided to go to Clapham Common in London to clear my head and think of new ideas. After 15 minutes or so I became thirsty, and after realising that the nearest place to buy a cold drink was a 10 minute walk, I thought to myself: Is making a homemade lemonade stand on Clapham Common a feasible business idea? It is the most stereotypical thing for a kid who wants to be an entrepreneur to do, but in terms of starting a business I have a comparable amounts of knowledge! So I thought it would be fun to do a couple of calculations and put some thought into it. Here are the results: Continue reading