Mind Matters News and Analysis on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

Monthly Archive October 2018

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Hamlet: Did his perplexing neurotransmitters cause the tragedy?

The neuroscientist working from a mechanical perspective would study the material and efficient causes of Hamlet’s act of revenge.
It is essential to note that the Aristotelian neuroscientist, while delving into the complexities of Shakespeare’s remarkable psychological portrayal of this tortured man, can also study Hamlet’s murder of Claudius in just the same way that the mechanistic neuroscientist can. But he doesn’t lose the plot. Read More ›
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Peaceful code of conduct sparks rage in Silicon Valley

Hi tech firm’s code, based on ancient monks’ practice, deemed “just disgusting”
Whether or not the Rule of St. Benedict is suited to a high tech workplace, the strategy of frightening or policing people out of bad behavior implies low expectations. One thing it means is, there will be many more news stories about harassment to come. Read More ›
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Is Technology Neutral?

Or does it change our world whether we like it or not?
People tend to be one of two minds when it comes to technology. One group views technology as directional—altering those cultures it reaches. They construct plausible narratives about how this or that technology has changed our culture. The second group views technology as neutral. They dismiss the narrative put forward by the first group, explaining that such changes are due to forces within the culture, not to technology. Read More ›
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There is no universal moral machine

The “Moral Machine” project aimed at righteous self-driving cars revealed stark differences in global values
Whatever the causes of cultural differences, Brendan Dixon thinks that the Moral Machine presents mere caricatures of moral problems anyway. “The program reduces everything to a question of who gets hurt. There are no shades of gray or degrees of hurt. It is, as is so often with computers, simply black or white, on or off. None of the details that make true moral decisions hard and interesting remain.” Read More ›
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Yes, your brain is a machine—if you choose to see it that way

As a Nobel Prize physicist pointed out, our method of study determines what we learn

Anil Seth, a Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, gave a TED talk recently (linked below) in which he asserted that “the combined activity of many billions of neurons—each one a tiny biological machine—is generating our conscious experience…” So, is your brain really a biological “machine”? Or is that just an analogy, like saying that a restaurant kitchen is a “hive” of activity? If so, how good is the analogy? Why do we select the analogy of a “machine” rather than a different one? It’s an important question, as we will see, because the questions we ask of nature constrain the answers we obtain. A machine is an artifact. It is a human-built assembly of Read More ›

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Who assumes moral responsibility for self-driving cars?

Can we discuss this before something happens and everyone is outsourcing the blame?
Level 4 self-driving vehicles will bring with them a giant shift in the moral equation of driving. Unfortunately, in a culture that seems to think that the future will take care of itself, little thoughtful public discussion is taking place. My hope is to start a discussion of how coming technological changes will affect the future moral landscape. Read More ›
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How AI could run the world

Its killer apps, in physicist Max Tegmark's tale, include a tsunami of "message" films
In traditional fairy tales, an explanatory gap can be addressed by magic. After all, most readers will grant a writer one impossibility (for example, that a boy’s horse has human intelligence) just to get the story moving. Unfortunately, science fiction is one genre that doesn’t work that way. The author must make the claim sound like science, a problem Tegmark vaults right over. Read More ›
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How a Computer Programmer looks at DNA

And finds it to be "amazing" code
From 2006 through 2017, Dutch entrepreneur and software developer Bert Hubert contributed from time to time to a web page where he listed many of the ways the workings of DNA can be likened to coding decisions by programmers. Read More ›
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Self-driving vehicles are just around the corner

On the other side of a vast chasm…
Many cheerleaders have wrongly assumed that the progress from one level of automation to another should be a direct, linear process but it clearly isn’t. Rather, the transition from Level 4 to Level 5 automation is multiple orders of magnitude more difficult than all the other levels combined. Its completion should not be taken as a foregone conclusion. Read More ›
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Could AI write novels?

George Orwell thought so, as long as no thinking was involved
Serious literature will always be written, to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, in “blood, toil, tears and sweat” because imaging the human condition accurately is part of its nature. And if the writer lives in an unfree society, serious literature will also be written in fear. Read More ›
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Brain hacks

Do we understand the brain better if we see it as a computer?
Seeing the brain as a computer doesn’t tell us as much as we might think. When human beings build computers, we design them in a way that we can understand and use. So we think our brains must be like that too. Sure enough, in the vast complexity of our brains, we can surely find some elements that remind us of a computer. Others won’t.   Read More ›
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How do bitcoins work anyway?

And what's their future? A roundup for non-geeks

Everywhere these days one hears people foretelling the fortunes of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin—like so many fairies, good and bad, wishing around a cradle. Most people, including New Yorker staff writer Nick Paumgarten, have hoped to just avoid the scene, partly because few enthusiasts can even explain what the cryptocurrencies are or why they exist. But Paumgarten dove in and his recent long form article offers helpful explanations along with illuminating profiles of digital currency pioneers. First, why? Bitcoin and Ethereum enthusiasts want, in Paumgarten’s words, “a better, decentralized version of the World Wide Web—a Web 3.0—more in keeping with the Internet’s early utopian promise than with the invidious, monopolistic hellscape it has become. They want to seize back the tubes, and Read More ›

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Would Google be happier if America were run more like China?

This might be a good time to ask
A leaked internal discussion document, the “Cultural Context Report” (March 2018), admits a “shift toward censorship.” It characterizes free speech as a “utopian narrative,” pointing out that “As the tech companies have grown more dominant on the global stage, their intrinsically American values have come into conflict with some of the values and norms of other countries.” Read More ›
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AI computer chips made simple

The artificial intelligence chips that run your computer are not especially difficult to understand
Increasingly, companies are integrating“AI chips” into their hardware products. What are these things, what do they do that is so special, and how are they being used? Read More ›
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The $60 Billion-Dollar Medical Data Market is Coming Under Scrutiny

As a patient, you do not own the data and are not as anonymous as you think
Data management companies can come to know a great deal about you; they just don’t know your name—unless, of course, there is a breach of some kind. Time Magazine reported in 2017 that “Researchers have already re-identified people from anonymized profiles from hospital exit records, lists of Netflix customers, AOL online searchers, even GPS data of New York City taxi rides.” One would expect detailed medical data to be even more revelatory. Read More ›
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Does information theory support design in nature?

William Dembski makes a convincing case, using accepted information theory principles relevant to computer science
Intelligent design theory is sometimes said to lack any practical application. One straightforward application is that, because intelligence can create information and computation cannot, human interaction will improve computational performance. Read More ›
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George Gilder explains what’s wrong with “Google Marxism”

In discussion with Mark Levin, host of Life, Liberty & Levin
Gilder: Marx’s great error, his real mistake, was to imagine that the industrial revolution of the 19th century, all those railways and “dark, satanic mills” and factories and turbine and the beginning of electricity represented the final human achievement in productivity so in the future what would matter is not the creation of wealth but the redistribution of wealth. Read More ›
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Do we just imagine design in nature?

Or is seeing design fundamental to discovering and using nature’s secrets?
Michael Egnor reflects on the way in which the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has so often gone to those who intuit or impose desire or seek the purpose of things. Read More ›