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Mind Matters Reporting on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

Monthly Archive September 2020

Padlock, China flag on a smartphone and China map, symbolizing the Great Firewall of China concept or GFW and all extreme Internet censorship in China

Mulan: Disney Talks Freedom at Home, Toes the Line in China

Films we see get altered in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to conform to the requirements of CCP propaganda

China’s government allows only about thirty-four Hollywood movies to be shown in Chinese theaters. As a result, entertainment companies like Disney go out of their way to make sure a film appeals to both North American crowds and Chinese Communist Party’s censors. Of course, what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) allows and doesn’t allow in films is vague and subject to change, which keeps foreign film-makers guessing. Mulan, Disney’s latest attempt to please both the North American and the Chinese market, has failed to do either, for a number of reasons. Financially, Disney is already hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Theaters in the U.S. either remain closed or permit only limited-capacity seating. In response, Disney released Mulan on its streaming…

Stunning jar with piece of forest, save the earth concept

How Can We Be Sure We Are Not Just An ET’s Simulation?

A number of books and films are based on the Planetarium Hypothesis. Should we believe it?

Science and science fiction writer Matt Williams has been writing a series at Universe Today on why the extraterrestrial intelligences that many believe must exist in our universe never show up. Last week, we looked at the Prime Directive hypothesis (The Directive is, don’t interfere in the evolution of alien societies, even if you have good intentions.”) This week, let’s look at the Planetarium hypothesis, the sixth in his series: “humanity is in a simulation, and the aliens are the ones running it! In order to ensure that human beings do not become aware of this fact, they ensure that the simulation presents us with a “Great Silence” whenever we look out and listen to the depths of space.” (August…

Virtual meeting with many people together. African-American young guy talking online with employees via video connection. Multiracial team. Back view

Three New Concepts That Can Help You Plan Your Career

The post-Covid internet economy isn’t so much difficult as it’s different

Concepts aren’t magic but they do focus the mind. Consider, for example, the new economy: “new, high-growth industries that are on the cutting edge of technology” (Investopedia). In the 1990s, putting all the changes we were going through together in one phrase helped many people redirect job or career searches and stay in the game. Here are three new concepts that might help us understand the job market today: First, the attention economy: In an internet-dependent culture, attention is a form of currency (money). Your attention is valuable and many people are competing for it. That’s a big change from yesteryear: For most of human history, access to information was limited. Centuries ago many people could not read and education…

robot with space shuttle

Should Robots, Instead of Humans, Go Into Space?

They might be better at life in space than humans. But could they be counselors too?

Are we here to re-create ourselves as robotic humanoids? In a recent podcast, Robert J. Marks discusses what robots can do for us with retired internist and author Geoffrey Simmons. In his most recent book, Are We Here to Re-Create Ourselves?: The Convergence of Designs (2019), Simmons argues that in creating artificially intelligent robots, we are trying to recreate the human being. But can we really recreate everything about ourselves? For example, they discussed, can robots be counselors? Should robots go into space instead of humans? As a writer, Simmons has found audiences for both fiction and non-fiction. For example, he wrote Z-papers (1976), a medically based crime thriller in which “In a Chicago hospital, the U.S. Vice Presidential candidate…

Unique scribe library full of old and valuable manuscripts

Surprising Ways AI Can Help Recover Lost Languages

Researchers into lost languages hail the new technologies as a golden age for discovery

When an apparently indecipherable manuscript from a lost language turns up, AI can help. But first, how is a language born and how does it die (or get lost)? We really don’t know how human language was born. Theories abound but all we know for sure is that it is unique. In a 2017 paper at BMC Biology, evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel states flatly, “Human language is unique among all forms of animal communication.” In his open-access paper, he cuts short the widely popularized claims for chimpanzee language: Most ape sign language, for example, is concerned with requests for food. The trained chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky’s longest recorded ‘utterance’, when translated from sign language, was ‘give orange me give eat orange…

A surprise box surrounded by balloons.jpg
A surprise box surrounded by balloons and ribbon on a pink background.-3d rendering.

The Human Brain Has Given Researchers a Big Surprise

Gray matter isn't the big story. Connection—the connectome—is the astonishing feature of the brain.

We hear a good deal about the gray matter (the neurons) in the brain. They are often considered synonymous with thinking. For a long time, it was believed that the white matter did not do very much and its signals were generally excluded from brain mapping studies as noise. But that has all changed in recent years: You might think that the brain is mostly gray matter, as it certainly looks that way, but in actuality there is more white matter in the brain. White matter is the infrastructure of the brain and includes the long nerve axons and their protective layer of fat, called myelin. Gray matter, on the other hand, is composed of the neurons themselves. Scientists have…

Ethics Integrity Fairness Ideals Behavior Values Concept

AI: Design Ethics vs. End User Ethics — the Difference Is Important

The major ethical challenge in AI design is unintended consequences. It’s up to end users to debate which consequences SHOULD be intended. Read More ›
Vintage tone beautiful pedestrian stone bridge and knee-wobbling vantage point over the second tier 69-foot drop of Multnomah Falls lower in winter time. Natural and seasonal waterfall background

How Do You Know You Are Not the Only Human Who Ever Existed?

Can evidence or logic help you decide? You might be surprised…

Solipsism is the belief that you are the only human being who has ever existed; all others are the inventions of your imagination. G.K. Chesterton famously received a letter from a reader who commented (I paraphrase), ‘Solipsism is a compelling metaphysical position. I’m surprised more people don’t believe it.” At Scientific American, columnist John Horgan describes solipsism as a central dilemma of human life. In a recent essay, “How do I know I’m not the only conscious being in the universe?”, he writes, It is a central dilemma of human life—more urgent, arguably, than the inevitability of suffering and death. I have been brooding and ranting to my students about it for years. It surely troubles us more than ever…

Worried doctors and medical researchers on conference meeting, discussing possible solutions for resolving a world health crisis. Health and medical care concept. Selective focus.

Computers Excel at Finding Temporary Patterns

Which contributes to the replication crisis in science

The scientific method calls for the rigorous testing of plausible theories, ideally through randomized controlled trials. For example, a study of a COVID-19 vaccine might give the vaccine to 10,000 randomly selected people and a placebo to another 10,000, and compare the infection rates for the two groups. If the difference in the infection rates is too improbable to be explained by chance, then the difference is deemed statistically significant. How improbable? In the 1920s, the great British statistician, Sir Ronald Fisher , said that he favored a 5 percent threshold. So 5 percent became the Holy Grail. Unfortunately, the establishment of a 5 percent hurdle for statistical significance has had the perverse effect of encouraging researchers to do whatever…


Part 4: Docker—An Introduction to Container Orchestration

This tutorial will focus on Docker’s swarm because it comes installed with Docker and uses the same standard Docker files

In this installment we are going to look at “container orchestration” for Docker. In the previous installment, we just looked at how to run an individual container. However, most applications are a combination of services which are orchestrated together to make an application. While in theory all the pieces of an application could be built into a single container, it is better to split an application into its relevant services and run a separate container for each service. There are several reasons for this, but the biggest one is scalability. Remember, the containers don’t care if they all run on the same physical machine or different machines. By splitting the services into different containers, we can tell them all to…

Artificial robot hand touch human hand

Will We Outsource Religion and Spirituality to AI ?

A philosopher makes the case. But he worries, are we really outsourcing caring about others?

Last Sunday, we looked at the question raised by Professor David O’Hara of Augustana University (South Dakota) as to whether AI could someday have mystical experiences. Of course, a lot depends on whether AI can have any experiences at all. An agnostic himself, O’Hara has also asked us to consider how robot priests will “change human spirituality”: What matters is not whether we have invented true artificial intelligence, but whether we believe we have invented it. If we trust the machine, we might let it function as a mystic or a priest, even if it isn’t one. This raises the interesting question of what to do when someone makes a machine that is actually intended to play the role of…

nave espacial

Are the Aliens We Never See Obeying Star Trek’s Prime Directive?

The Directive is, don’t interfere in the evolution of alien societies, even if you have good intentions

Using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope, astronomers recently scoured a part of the sky known to contain at least 10 million star systems for evidence of alien technology (“techno signatures”). And the result? “With this dataset, we found no technosignatures — no sign of intelligent life.” Professor Tingay said even though this was the broadest search yet, he was not shocked by the result. “As Douglas Adams noted in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, ‘space is big, really big’.” International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, “Australian telescope finds no signs of alien technology in 10 million star systems” at ScienceDaily The paper is open access. Various sources offer explanations for the absent aliens; the most popular is that…

Video call. Online zoom conference. Business team gathered for an online meeting in zoom app. On a computer monitor a group of people online

COVID-19: Technology Trends That Are Sneaking Up on Us Faster Now

Most of these changes, for better or worse, are probably here to stay

We knew big changes were coming. And that COVID-19 has ramped them up. But when experts expound grand generalities and wave their hands a lot, it can be hard to clearly see what a change means where we live and work. One writing teacher, for example, learned how to massively adapt all of a sudden: Each spring, I teach Writing about Oneself, a class on first-person reading and writing, to 12 Yale undergraduates chosen from 100 or so… Every year I fill out the registrar’s Pedagogical Needs Request Form, leaving 14 of the 15 “Technological Needs” boxes unchecked. (No, I don’t need a SMART board. No, I don’t need a digital projector. No, I don’t need a Blu-ray player.) The…

Dozens of Drones Swarm in the Cloudy Sky.

Meet the U.S. Army’s New Drone Swarms

As with insects, only a few drones need survive to accomplish their task

The US Army is developing a “swarm” of autonomous AI drones to protect combat helicopters. The swarm is modeled after social swarming insects like bees and ants who protect their queen. A drone nest protects the queen helicopter at all costs. The protective swarm’s tasks will range from sophisticated electronic warfare to acting as false targets (decoys) for incoming missiles. They will carry out theses tasks autonomously: Goals and tasks must be assigned by a person, but the way of their implementation, reaching the target or navigation and flight control is to be “in the hands of” advanced software and artificial intelligence. TOC, “The US Army is developing a ‘pocket’ swarm of combat drones” at Here’s what a small…

Charting Consciousness.

Michael Egnor: What Happens to Our Consciousness After We Die?

Computer programmer and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup provides a surprising answer

In this week’s podcast, “Can Computers Think?”, Michael Egnor continued his discussion with philosopher and computer programmer Bernardo Kastrup. As a scientist, Bernardo has worked for The European Organization for Nuclear Research and for Phillips Research Laboratories, and has authored many academic papers and books. This week, they look at a big question, “Will computers ever be conscious?”. But Egnor brought up an even bigger one: “What happens to our consciousness after we die?” As a scientist, Kastrup has worked for The European Organization for Nuclear Research and for Phillips Research Laboratories and has authored many academic papers and books. He is a leading advocate of cosmopsychism, the idea that intelligence did not randomly evolve somehow to help life forms…

Coronavirus pandemia concept, planet hologram

Supercomputer Provides a New Clue re COVID-19 Fatalities

A surprising pattern I found last April: Southern hemisphere countries had significantly lower death rates than northern ones

Back in April, I ran an analysis on COVID-19 death rates in relation to Earth’s hemispheres. I took the COVID-19 death rate for each country that reported more than 500 cases and plotted its death rate against its latitude. A surprising pattern emerged: Southern hemisphere countries had significantly lower death rates than northern ones: That is not a statistical fluke because the graph comprises 198 different countries and the best fit quadratic curve parameters have statistical significance scores of 0.12, 0.07 and 0.0000016 for the x^2, x and c components respectively. What could explain this pattern? As I noted at the time, one big difference is that, when it is cold and cloudy in the northern hemisphere, it is warm…

Human brain with an implanted chip.

Paralyzed Subject Gains Control Much Faster via a New Technique

The earlier technique for controlling a cursor through brain-computer interface worked but it required constant relearning

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have enabled a participant who is paralyzed in all four limbs to control a computer cursor, using only brain activity, by tapping into the brain’s own natural learning system. Without tapping into that system, brain-computer interface (BCI) needs extensive daily retraining in order to work. “It’s like asking someone to learn to ride a bike over and over again from scratch,” said study senior author Karunesh Ganguly, MD, PhD, an associate professor of in the UC San Francisco Department of Neurology. “Adapting an artificial learning system to work smoothly with the brain’s sophisticated long-term learning schemas is something that’s never been shown before in a paralyzed person.” Nicholas Weiler, “First ‘Plug and…

A boy teenager with a teacher collect robot arduino and program it on the computer. The boards and microcontrollers are on the table. STEM education. Programming. Mathematics. The science. Technologie

New Electronics Book Honors Citizen Scientist Forrest Mims III

Jonathan Bartlett’s dedication reflects Mims’ immense influence on electronics enthusiasts—including himself, as a boy

Forrest M. Mims III (pictured) has been an icon for many decades to two hobbyist movements: hobbyist electronics and citizen science. Anyone who used to visit Radio Shack in its heyday has probably seen and/or benefited from more than one of Mims’ books. Mims’ most prominent claim to fame was his series of Engineer’s Mini-Notebooks, small volumes that diagrammed circuits and their components and designs. Most hobbyists had a large collection of these notebooks and eventually they were collected into the book Getting Started in Electronics. Mims has also been one of the most prominent “citizen scientists.” A citizen scientist engages in science without the backing of a degree or institution, for the love of discovery. Mims is famous for…

Online exam

What’s To Be Done About Cheating with Chegg in the COVID era?

College-level solutions to specific problems can be texted, for a fee, to students writing exams

Academic dishonesty is a fancy term for cheating. With profit-motivated websites like, cheating is now easier than ever. When taking an exam, take a photo of a problem that stumps you and send it to Chegg. In literally minutes, you’ll be sent the answer over your cell phone. How do they do it? Often they employ smart nerds from poor countries who, by local standards, are paid big bucks for their efforts.Chegg, which charges $14.95 per month for its service, does not see itself as a site for cheaters but as a resource to help with homework. It advertises: With over 21 million homework solutions, you can also search our library to find similar homework problems & solutions. Browsing…

A 3D render of a futuristic person made of gold, looking up at the sun

A Physicist Weighs In on “A.I. Jesus” Sputtering from the Bible

Rob Sheldon explains why the prophecies sound bizarre rather than merely mundane

Last Sunday we reported on the computer program that inventor George Davila Durendal, hoped (or so he said) would—for millennia—be a sort of Scripture for robots and people. The program constructs “prophecies” from the text of the King James Version, a translation of the Bible into English completed in 1611, which has remained influential for centuries. Will the A.I. Jesus version do so well? Not if you go by prophecies like this: “And he shall come against him, and said, As the LORD liveth, that he might be fulfilled which was spoken, he said, Thou are the spirit of your good works that ye have not seen, nor any thing of the service thereof, and a certain censer, and the…