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Mind Matters Reporting on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

Monthly Archive August 2020

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tropical hurricane approaching the USA.Elements of this image are furnished by NASA.

Female Hurricanes: How A Mass of Hot Air Became a Zombie Study

When a reporter first asked me about a study claiming that “Female Hurricanes are Deadlier than Male Hurricanes,” I was skeptical

It is once again hurricane season on the East Coast and social media are reliably abuzz with reports of a debunked study that claimed that hurricanes given feminine-sounding names are deadlier than those given masculine-sounding names. (Full disclosure: I was one of the debunkers.) When a reporter initially asked me about this study, titled “Female Hurricanes are Deadlier than Male Hurricanes,” I was skeptical. Hurricane names alternate between female and male on a schedule set before the hurricane season begins so any relationship between name and death toll was surely coincidental. I looked at the study and discovered that the authors were not arguing that female hurricanes are inherently deadlier but that sexist humans die because they don’t take female Read More ›

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Rear view of Asian woman working and online meeting via video conference with colleague

How to Teach and Hold Meetings in “Mixed Mode” in the COVID Era

Teachers and facilitators face a challenge when some students are online in quarantine and some are in front of them in person
In the current COVID-19 environment, the economy may be opening up but some people are still sick or in quarantine. This means that more and more meetings are run in a mixed mode — a combination of in-person and online participants. Read More ›
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Technology addicted family: parents and child use laptop and mobile phones. Modern family values - Mom, dad with daughter obsessed with devices overuse social media, internet addiction concept.

If New Tech Enhances Our Lives, Why Does It Make Us Crazy?

It doesn’t have to. Let’s think this through

It has never been easier to connect but somehow we don’t. Andrew McDiarmid, author of the blog Thinking and thriving in the digital age, asks us to consider why loneliness (and suicide) have accompanied the rise of new communications technology. And he offers a challenge: Here are just a few questions to ask yourself about each tech tool you have. Is using this tool a wise use of my time? Does it encourage me to think for myself? Does it enable me to use my God-given abilities and spiritual gifts? Does it help me accomplish what God wants me to do? Does using this tech compromise my witness to others by causing me to stumble or get distracted? Does it Read More ›

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Futuristic Science Fiction Bedroom Interior with Planet Earth View in Space Station, 3D Rendering

When Science Fiction Comes to Life…

Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it sometimes grows out of it

A senior editor at Wired told us a while back that science fiction writer H. G. Wells’s 1914 tale, The World Set Free, formed part of the inspiration for the atomic bomb, exploded over Hiroshima in 1945. … in the novel Wells imagines a new kind of bomb, based on a nuclear chain reaction. In this science fiction story Wells imagines that atomic energy would be discovered in 1933 (20 years in his future), and that the bomb would first explode in 1956. Wikipedia notes, “As fate or coincidence would have it, in reality the physicist Leó Szilárd read the book in 1932, conceived of the idea of nuclear chain reaction in 1933, and filed for patents on it in Read More ›

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Augmented reality application for retail business concept. Hand holding smart phone with A/R application on screen to finding interested product in the store.

The Amazing Things We Can Do with Virtual and Augmented Reality

The “father of virtual reality,” Thomas Furness, talks to Robert J. Marks about his vision for the future

In a recent podcast, “Robert J. Marks and Thomas Furness on VR and AR,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks continued his discussion with the “grandfather of virtual reality,” Thomas Furness. They focused on the cutting edge of virtual reality today. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-094-Thomas-Furness.mp3 Transcript. Partial transcript: Robert J. Marks: So, Dr. Furness, we have been talking about a number of fascinating things, but there’s still some things that I’d like to talk to you about. Another one is ARToolworks. Now, AR stands for augmented reality. Thomas Furness: Now, the difference really is between the VRs generally, where you are completely immersed in a computer-generated environment. That’s all you see is the computer generation of images. AR, on the other hand, Read More ›

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red lifeboat

Business Prof: Stop It! The World is NOT Running Out of Stuff!

A famous bet between two top thinkers settled that a long time ago

Recently, Jay Richards interviewed Dr. Gale Pooley, Professor of Economics at BYU-Hawaii, on the myth that we are running out of resources and doomed to future scarcity. Even though media pundits often claim it is true, the numbers say it is a myth. The story begins with a famous bet between two professors… From the interview: The bet was whether basic commodity prices would rise between September 29, 1980 and September 29, 1990. The professors who made the bet were Stanford insect biologist Paul Ehrlich (1932–), author of bestseller The Population Bomb (1968), and economist Julian Simon (1932–1998) Ehrlich bet yes and Simon bet no. Gale Pooley: First of all, what was interesting about Julian Simon, he reads Ehrlich’s book Read More ›

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Antibiotic resistant bacteria inside a biofilm, 3D illustration. Biofilm is a community of bacteria where they aquire antibiotic resistance and communicate with each other by quorum sensing molecules

In What Ways Are Bacteria Intelligent?

As antibiotic resistance grows, researchers are discovering that these microbes are not just single, simple cells

Recently, Princeton University physicist Robert Austin challenged his graduate student Trung Phan to design a maze that he (Austin) couldn’t solve: Austin, Phan discovered, tended to retrace his steps when he encountered a dead end. So Tran decided on a maze without dead ends. The true purpose of the experiment, as Sophia Chen recounts at Wired, was to design a maze that bacteria can solve with remarkable skill based on their colony organization which, if you like, stands in for a brain: Curiously, bacteria—single-celled organisms that are among the simplest living things—are well known for working together, creating problem-solving units that are more than the sum of their parts. For example, to protect themselves from your immune system, the bacteria Read More ›

Atomic Bomb Dome Panorama in Hiroshima
The Atomic Bomb Dome Panorama in Hiroshima and the surounding garden in autumn at sunset on the side of Motoyasu River in Japan, with the Peace Memorial Park

Stark Lessons from the 75th Anniversary of the Atomic Bomb

Nuclear weapons have not been used to destroy a city since Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Seventy-five years ago today an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Einstein’s equation E=mc2 showed that 700 milligrams of mass (m), less than a third of the weight of a US dime, could be converted to enough energy (E) to destroy a Japanese city. The atomic bomb ended WWII. Advanced technology such as the atomic bomb not only wins wars but gives pause to otherwise aggressive adversaries. For this reason, I argue in my book, The Case for Killer Robots,that the United States must continue to develop cutting edge lethal AI for military use. As described in John Hersey’s essay “Hiroshima” in the New Yorker (1946), the effects of the atomic bomb were horrifying for the civilian population. Human beings Read More ›

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Dog playing the shell game with her human. Concept of training pets, domestic dogs being smart and educated

In What Ways Are Dogs Intelligent?

There is no human counterpart to some types of dog intelligence

At Gizmodo recently, George Dvorsky adopted the useful, though somewhat unusual, strategy of determining dog intelligence by focusing on what dogs can’t do. He starts with the premise, as put by University of Exeter psychology professor (and dog expert) Stephen Lea, who says that domestication “has radically altered the intelligence of dogs.” Not so much raised or lowered it as changed its nature from the type of intelligence we would expect from a wolf: “Dogs are very good at what they’re bred to do — they’re excellent at doing those things, and in some cases even better than other species we think are intelligent, such as chimps and bonobos,” Zachary Silver, a PhD student from the Comparative Cognitive Lab at Read More ›

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Engineering students using a 3D printer

Why Engineering Can’t Be Reduced to the Laws of Physics

When we reduce the engineer’s mind to a computer, the source of innovation disappears

The fundamental problem of modern science is the problem of innovation. Where does novelty come from? This problem shows up in physics, biology, artificial intelligence, and economics. Within physics, the problem is how to account for the fundamental constants of reality. They are all precisely tuned to make sentient and intelligent life—life that can learn about itself and the universe—possible through science. Within biology, the problem is accounting for the source of highly complex genetic sequences that express finely tuned biological functions. In artificial intelligence, the challenge is identifying solutions that are relevant to a given scenario. In economics the problem is identifying the right products for the market. What do all these situations have in common? In each case, Read More ›

Atomic Bomb Dome Panorama in Hiroshima
The Atomic Bomb Dome Panorama in Hiroshima and the surounding garden in autumn at sunset on the side of Motoyasu River in Japan, with the Peace Memorial Park

Does Government Watch Us on Social Media? Yes… So Does Business

They may all be getting to know you way better than you feel comfortable with

Discerning public opinion on political and national security issues via social media platforms showed its worth during the Arab Spring of 2010. The protests, which began in Tunisia, spread throughout the Middle East, where social media were the key platform for expressing anger about corruption, poverty, human rights violations, unemployment, and authoritarianism. These protests resulted in changes to leadership and policy in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. They also resulted in immigration issues and sadly, even terror attacks, military conflicts, and civil war. Social media not only enables coordinated action such as rallies, strikes, resistance, riots, and other methods of activism but also provides status reports and communicates outcomes. One research team has developed an AI metric for predicting such events: Read More ›

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Incognito warrior in iron helmet and red cloak.

What would Plato Say About Antifa? Or Darwin?

A careful reading of Plato and Arendt goes a long way toward explaining the current scene—but it is unsettling reading

In college, I hated Plato. We read his Republic, and, as a patriot and an idealistic young (small “d”) democrat, I was appalled at the hegemony of the Guardians and at Plato’s disdain for democracy. It seemed to me that his Guardians were the archetypal totalitarians, and that it was a fundamental human right — enshrined in the Constitution — to be ruled only by consent of the governed. In my dotage, I am more sympathetic to Plato — it’s remarkable how much smarter the old philosopher has gotten in the past 40 years! I am still uncomfortable with Guardians, at least of the secular sort. But I think John Adams got it right when he observed that “our Constitution Read More ›

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Nerd with glasses hacking websites

Beware of Geeks Bearing Formulas—It’s Often Pseudoscience

Pseudoscience based on data without theory and theory without data undermine the credibility of real science, which is the key to human progress

Elsewhere I have warned of the perils of making decisions based on data without theory. For example, the patterns discovered by data-mining computer algorithms are often nothing more than meaningless coincidences. It is also perilous to go to the opposite extreme—to make decisions based on theory without data. Once upon a time, for example, economists were fond of sketching labor demand and supply curves and assuming that the economy was at their intersection. That is, labor demand is equal to supply, so that everyone who wants to work is working. The unemployed have chosen to be unemployed because they value leisure more than income. True believers were fond of this theory and little troubled by reality. Between 1929 and 1933, Read More ›

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underground

Why Reasonable People Think Near-Death Experiences Are Real

Distinguished engineers Walter Bradley and Robert J.Marks sift through the evidence

In a recent podcast, “Walter Bradley on Near-Death Experiences,” Center director Robert J. Marks discusses these experiences with Walter Bradley, after whom the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence is named. Dr. Bradley is an emeritus distinguished professor at Baylor University, formerly professor and mechanical engineering head at Texas A&M University. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-093-Walter-Bradley.mp3 Here are some selections from the transcript: (You can download the entire transcript here.) Marks and Bradley started with first principles: Is it reasonable to believe that there is anything out beyond the material world? Many people assume that science exists to defend materialism. But Walter Bradley has defended the idea that there is also an immaterial world, of which we are a part, in a Read More ›

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Baby girl in surprise talking on a vintage phone

Why Linguist Noam Chomsky Is a Great Scientist of Our Era

He singlehandedly rid linguistics of a stultifying (and technically mistaken) behaviorism

Noam Chomsky (right, in 2017) is, in my view, the best scientist of the past half-century. His work fascinates me, which is not a necessary criterion for being a great scientist—but it helps! I hasten to add that I do not share his politics—I’m of a conservative bent. But his theory of linguistics is brilliant and represents an anthropological, biological, and even metaphysical insight unrivaled in science since relativity and quantum mechanics. A case can be made that Chomsky’s insights are more profound than even those of modern physics, because they plumb the human soul in ways that physics cannot. To understand Chomsky’s achievement, it’s helpful to understand what linguistics was until Chomsky transformed it in the 1950s. Philosophers and Read More ›

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into the deep woods, atmospheric landscape with archway and ancient trees, misty and foggy mood

Is Sci Fi Brain Decoding Becoming a Reality?

To what extent can the inner workings of thought and dream be measured through correlation?

Today I want to look at something slightly different. After stumbling upon a piece by Cassidy Ward titled “Inception’s dream-reading technology is becoming reality” over at SYFY Wire, I started thinking more about the idea of reading our dreams. He’s talking about Inception, a 2013 film from Christopher Nolan, of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight fame: The protagonist, Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), is a thief who makes his living stealing corporate secrets by invading a target’s dreams. Our dreams are meant to be safe, untouchable. They are constructed of our most private thoughts, unbidden even by our own conscious selves. To invade them is to invade the most sanctified halls of our minds. If we’re not safe in our Read More ›