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Are High-IQ People More Likely to Use Drugs?

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Mat Hayward / Shutterstock.com

In 1884, a young researcher named Sigmund Freud was studying the mysteries of the human brain when he wrote an article about cocaine. The scientist extolled its benefits in a paper, “Über Coca,” chronicling how he felt when he used the drug. For the next 12 years, Freud habitually used cocaine as he wrote some of his most influential works, including his theories about the Oedipus complex, psychoanalysis, and the unconscious mind.

Many people think that Freud was abnormal. Conventional wisdom implies that smarter people are less likely to use drugs. But a study from Cardiff University in Wales found that people with higher IQs are more likely to indulge in illegal drugs than people of average or lower intelligence.

Researchers surveyed 7,900 British people born in April 1970.

At age 5 and 10, researchers measured their IQs and at 16 and 30, the researchers asked them to fill out surveys about psychological problems and drug use. By age 30, 35% of men and 16% of women admitted to smoking pot at least once in the past year, while 9% of men and 4% of women indulged in cocaine. People who copped to doing drugs also scored higher on IQ tests than those who did not partake.

Women in the top third of IQ scores were five times more likely to have used marijuana or cocaine than those ladies in the bottom third. Men with the highest IQs were almost 50% more likely to use amphetamines and 65% more likely to have used ecstasy.

Lead researcher, James White, provides several theories explaining why smarter people might indulge in drug use more frequently. He says that anti-drug campaigns often provide simple messages that might not appeal to smarter children. Also, bright people may experience more boredom and social isolation than their less intelligent peers. However, he thinks that attitudes might account for the differences:

"The likely mechanism is openness to experience," White told Time.com, "and, I think, it's also this idea of having an educated view of risk as well."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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