Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive September 2020

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Gray Mouse Lemur, microcebus murinus

Lemurs with Brains 1/200 the Size of Chimps’ Pass Same IQ Test

This new finding about mouse lemurs also makes human exceptionalism more exceptional
Researchers were surprise to discover recently that the mouse lemur, a tiny primate whose brain is 1/200th the size of a chimpanzee’s brain, did as well as great apes on a primate intelligence test. Read More ›
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Abstract 3d render, geometric composition, yellow background design with cubes

Interview: New Book Outlines the Perils of Big (Meaningless) Data

Gary Smith, co-author with Jay Cordes of Phantom Patterns, shows why human wisdom and common sense are more important than ever now

Economist Gary Smith and statistician Jay Cordes have a new book out, The Phantom Pattern Problem: The mirage of big data, on why we should not trust Big Data over common sense. In their view, it’s a dangerous mix: Humans naturally assume that all patterns are significant. But AI cannot grasp the meaning of any pattern, significant or not. Thus, from massive number crunches, we may “learn” (if that’s the right word) that Stock prices can be predicted from Google searches for the word debt. Stock prices can be predicted from the number of Twitter tweets that use “calm” words. An unborn baby’s sex can be predicted by the amount of breakfast cereal the mother eats. Bitcoin prices can be…

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Pair of ravens in courtship. Corvus corax

Why Does Science Embrace the “Talking Animals” Myth?

Many birds are quite smart but why do some researchers imply that they think like people?

In recent years, studies have confirmed a widespread cultural intuition that some birds, particularly corvids like crows and ravens, are “smart.” They show considerable problem-solving skills. Thus, they loom large in mythology as messengers and tricksters. For example, the Norse king of the gods (pictured) had two ravens as advisors. Oddly enough, science today retains the mythology and makes a curious use of it: New discoveries about the specifics of corvid brain organization and intelligence are framed as demonstrating that humans do not really have as exceptional thinking ability as we suppose: Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and…

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sunset on a yurt , in the grassland of Mongolia

High-Tech Suppression of China’s Mongol Region Provokes Protests

But Mongolian protesters against Chinese-dominated schools are threatened with loss of social credit, which means no jobs or loans

China is removing the Mongolian language and culture from the curriculum and textbooks in Inner Mongolia (see outline map), an autonomous region in China. In August, leaked government documents showed that language and literature, civics, and history will be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian in schools where Mongolian is the primary language. Additionally, the new textbooks replace stories about historic Mongolian heroes with Chinese ballads and expunge a popular folk verse that expresses pride in the Mongolian culture and language. In response, many parents in Inner Mongolia (called Southern Mongolia locally) have been keeping their children from attending school on September 1. In retaliation, state authorities threaten their jobs and social credit status: Southern Mongolia has quickly become a…

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Robot standing holding a pencil on notebook,retro vintage style

Can AI Write the Great American Novel? Or Compose Sports News?

It’s a split decision, say Rensselaer prof Selmer Bringsjord and Baylor computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks

In a recent podcast, Rensselaer professor Selmer Bringsjord discusses AI and creativity with computer engineering professor and Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks. The difference between writing novels and playing games like Go and chess is that writing novels does not mean winning according to a set of rules. A machine can be programmed with rules and do the calculations faster—much, much faster—than a human. A good novel requires creativity in the face of situations that are only partly definable. If a novel succeeds, many people agree that the writer has captured essential elements of human nature and life circumstances. That’s what makes the great novels so memorable. Sports reporting is somewhere in the middle in that a great…

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beautiful natural bright background (texture), peacock feathers, panorama

Believers in God Detect Patterns More Easily

Psychologists found that both devout Christians and Muslims unconsciously detected patterns in a test more quickly

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center wanted to know “why and how brains come to believe in gods.” They explored that question using a concept in psychology called implicit pattern learning. Explicit learning is conscious but implicit learning is unconscious. For example, explicit learning is mastering the times tables in arithmetic class. Implicit learning is absorbing, without consciously thinking about it, the way the teacher treats others. The researchers’ hypothesis was: “people whose brains are good at subconsciously discerning patterns in their environment may ascribe those patterns to the hand of a higher power” To test that, they studied people who believe in God in the United States and in Afghanistan, using a conventional test for unconscious pattern learning: For…

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robotic arms in a car plant

Elon Musk Tweet Shows Why Many Doubt Origin of Life Studies

Musk was talking about the origin of machines, not life, but the principle is, perhaps surprisingly, the same
Creating a machine that manufactures or a cell that reproduces is much harder than creating a prototype of either. It’s a search for a search. Read More ›
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Artificial Intelligence self aware android robots patrolling a destroyed city. 3d rendering

Did the Smart Machines Destroy the Aliens Who Invented Them?

A smart deadly weapon could well decide to do without its inventor and, lacking moral guidance, destroy everything in sight
The Beserker hypothesis suggests that we haven’t heard from alien civilizations because they’ve been wiped out by their own killer robots. Well, if robotics ran amok… Read More ›
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Evolving Technology

Can Computers Evolve to Program Themselves Without Programmers?

How much computing power would we need to evolve the programmer’s intelligence via Darwinian evolution

At Science earlier this year, we were told that “Researchers have created software that borrows concepts from Darwinian evolution, including ‘survival of the fittest,’ to build AI programs that improve generation after generation without human input.” Critics say it’s not that easy. Computer scientist Roman Yampolskiy (pictured) discusses the problem in an open access paper, starting with a joke: On April 1, 2016 Dr. Yampolskiy posted the following to his social media accounts: “Google just announced major layoffs of programmers. Future software development and updates will be done mostly via recursive self-improvement by evolving deep neural networks”. The joke got a number of “likes” but also, interestingly, a few requests from journalists for interviews on this “developing story”. To non-experts…

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Girl business woman sitting at a wooden table with a laptop and discussing a new project with her mentor boss teacher. The man is fooling around. New business development concept

Why Intelligent Women Marry Less Intelligent Men

Are they trying to avoid competition at home as well as at work? Or is there a statistical reason we are overlooking?

When I read that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s late husband was a wonderful man but less accomplished than his wife, I was reminded of “Ivy,” one of the most impressive students I ever had the privilege to teach. Ivy excelled in her coursework, won a prestigious scholarship for postgraduate study in England, went to a top-five law school, clerked for a Supreme Court Justice, and is now a law professor at a great university. Like Ruth Ginsberg (1933–2020, pictured), Ivy married a man who is very nice but less intelligent than she. This is not an unusual situation. I made a list of the dozen most intelligent female students with whom I’ve kept in touch over the years. These women are…

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Entrance gate to Persepolis Persia Iran Gate of All Nations

How Much Can New AI Tell Us About Ancient Times?

An ambitious new project hopes to use the predictive text that cell phones use to unlock their stories

Many researchers hope that AI will leading to a“golden age” of discovery for lost languages, hard to decipher writings, and badly damaged Biblical scrolls. Algorithms can chug through vast numbers of possibilities of interpretation, presenting the scholar with probabilities to choose from. But even powerful algorithms have their work cut out for them. For example, of the hundreds of thousands of clay (cuneiform) tablets that survive from an ancient part of the Near East called Mesopotamia, many are damaged. We may know the language but we don’t know what’s missing from the text and what difference the missing part makes to what is being said. Experts try to fill in the missing parts but guessing at all the possibilities is…

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virtual keyboard

SwiftKey Co-founder: Computers Can’t Just “Evolve” Intelligence

Can vain hopes for AI spring from a wrong understanding of evolution?
Ben Medlock asks us to look at self-organization as a principle of life, lacking in computers. Read More ›
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Curious boy looking out the window with binocular

Has Microsoft Ever Really Innovated?

That’s a question worth asking, with a history of litigation winning out over innovation

An interesting question in a 2010 discussion thread at Quora is “Why has Microsoft seemingly stopped innovating?” A deeper question is “Has Microsoft ever innovated?” Microsoft’s Bill Gates should be celebrated as a gifted and highly competitive entrepreneur and businessman. But his background as a computer scientist and student of algorithmic information theory is questionable. For this reason, Bill Gates’ assessment of the future of AI should be questioned. Undergraduate Gates dropped out of Harvard University to pursue the founding of Microsoft. He was a knowledgeable programmer with early computer hardware but his more significant talents as an entrepreneur did not require deep studies in computer science. Much of his success came from his business instincts and his team of…

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abstract binary code science computing center

Can AI Really Evolve into Superintelligence All by Itself?

We can’t just turn a big computer over to evolution and go away and hope for great things

At Science earlier this year it was claimed that Darwinian evolution alone can make computers much smarter. As a result, researchers hoped to “discover something really fundamental that will take a long time for humans to figure out”: Artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving—literally. Researchers have created software that borrows concepts from Darwinian evolution, including “survival of the fittest,” to build AI programs that improve generation after generation without human input. The program replicated decades of AI research in a matter of days, and its designers think that one day, it could discover new approaches to AI. Edd Gent, “Artificial intelligence is evolving all by itself” at Science (April 30, 2020) How does that work? The program discovers algorithms using a…

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The  man wiht a CPU.

Will a Brain-Computer Interface Be a Boon or a Nightmare?

BCI is probably coming anyway, and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing largely depends on how we choose to use it

Talk about a scary headline from an impressive research group!: “The Brain-Computer Interface is coming — and we are just so not ready for it” from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Okay, what’s going on? Both more and less than we think, depending on what we focus on. The Bulletin, published since 1947, is best known for a Doomsday Clock which expresses how close the editors think we are to nuclear war and climate apocalypse. An article in the current edition of the Bulletin covers the remarkable advances in prosthetics in recent years, in hooking up neurons (which use electrical signals) to electronic limbs, enabling much better control of prostheses. But the startling thing to realize is where researchers…

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Call for papers (Cfp, science)

From Nature: A New, Topflight Computer Science Journal

Starting in January 2021, it proposes to tackle a key problem in computer use in science - replication of findings

The Springer Nature Group is launching a new online-only journal,Nature Computational Science. It is described as a “dedicated home for computational science” and we are told: Recent advances in computer technology, be it in hardware or in software, have revolutionized the way researchers do science: problems that are too complex for human or analytical solutions are now easier to address; problems that would take years to solve can now be unraveled in days, hours, or even seconds. The use and development of advanced computing capabilities to analyse and solve scientific problems, also known as computational science, has undoubtedly played a key role in transformational scientific breakthroughs of our last century, making progress possible in many different disciplines. Elizabeth Hawkins, “A…

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Businesswoman hand holding wooden cube with flip over block CHANGE to CHANCE word on table background. success, strategy, solution, business and Positive thinking concepts

Evolution And Artificial Intelligence Face The Same Basic Problem

Think of the word ladder game, where we transform one word into another by changing only one letter at a time
Without knowledge about the goal and how to get there, it rapidly becomes first difficult and then completely impossible to reach the goal. Read More ›
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speak no evil

Psychologist: Children Use Reason, not Gut, for Moral Problems

Audun Dahlis thinks that the case against moral reasoning has begun to unravel

A psychology prof (pictured) at University of California, Santa Cruz offers us a surprising message about children: They do not rely merely on feelings, but rather reason, when making moral choices: For decades, research on children – unlike research on adults – has overwhelmingly concluded that participants do reason about moral issues. (Strangely, psychological research often portrays children more favourably than it does adults.) In one classic study from the 1980s, researchers interviewed six- to 10-year-old children in the United States. They asked about several fictional moral violations: for instance, a child who pushed another child off the top of a slide. When asked why pushing was wrong, children typically explained that it could hurt the victim. Accordingly, most children…

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kung fu bamboo stick.jpg

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…

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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…