Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive October 2020

twin-moons-over-alien-desert-city-with-pyramids-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Twin Moons over Alien Desert City with Pyramids

Is the Brief Window for Finding ET Closing?

According to some scenarios, we could be past our best-before date for contacting aliens

Readers will recall that we have been looking at science writer Matt Williams‘ analysis of the various reasons that we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. We’ve listed (below) the many interesting ideas he has covered but now here’s a new one!: What if there is only a brief window during which a space-faring civilization can even develop? For the sake of the Brief Window Hypothesis, the key parameter is L. In this case, it can be defined as the amount of time a civilization can be expected to exist before succumbing to an extinction-level event. This could take the form of a natural disaster (an asteroid impact) or come in the form of self-destruction (nuclear or biological…

quantum-computing-concept-with-qubit-icon-3d-rendering-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Quantum computing concept with qubit icon 3d rendering

Will Quantum Mechanics Produce the True Thinking Computer?

Quantum computers come with real world problems of their own

Some hope that quantum mechanics can explain human consciousness. Maybe we are all quantum computers but don’t know it? Maybe quantum computers could think like people? There is an odd relationship between the human mind and quantum mechanics, the science of entities like electrons that are too small to be governed by ordinary physics. Some aspects of consciousness appear to be mediated by such elementary particles. Science writer Philip Ball explains, Nobody understands what consciousness is or how it works. Nobody understands quantum mechanics either. Could that be more than coincidence? Quantum mechanics is the best theory we have for describing the world at the nuts-and-bolts level of atoms and subatomic particles. Perhaps the most renowned of its mysteries is…

open-door-to-another-world-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
open door to another world

Everyone Seems To Be Looking For the “Seat of Consciousness”

Does consciousness have a seat at the table? Wait a minute. Isn’t consciousness the TABLE?

Prominent neuroscientist Christof Koch, whose theory of consciousness is linked to panpsychism, has a new paper at Nature: Human Behaviour. Ideally, many science notables would like to “naturalize” human consciousness—to make it the same sort of phenomenon as the wind in the trees in a universe where nothing has any intrinsic meaning that sets it apart from anything else or points to a higher order of things. That would, of course, make calculation easier. But is it true? Here’s the abstract: Electrical stimulation of the human cortex, undertaken for brain surgery, triggers percepts and feelings. A new study documents an ordering principle to these effects: the farther removed from sensory input or motor output structures, the less likely it is…

economic-crisis-stock-chart-falling-down-business-global-money-bankruptcy-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
economic crisis stock chart falling down business global money bankruptcy concept

Faster Computers Lead to More Wealth, Right? What Could Go Wrong?

What if fast computers get in the way of carefully considering information before starting trades?

In this week’s podcast, tech philosopher George Gilder and computer engineer Robert J. Marks, our Walter Bradley Center director, continued their discussion of the impact of artificial intelligence (AI). This time, they focused on the way AI affects the stock market, for better or worse. You can download Gilder’s new book, Gaming AI, for free here. The first part of the discussion between Gilder and Marks is here. Meanwhile… https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-106-George-Gilder.mp3 From the transcript: (Show Notes, Resources, and a link to the complete transcript follow.) Robert J. Marks: I had a friend, Jack Marshall, who was a professor of financial engineering. He was approached all the time by people who said, “I have beat the market by artificial intelligence.” And of…

a-child-with-epilepsy-during-a-seizure-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
A child with epilepsy during a seizure

Why, as a Neurosurgeon, I Believe in Free Will

The spiritual aspect of the human soul, sadly, leaves its signature in epilepsy

In his classic book, Mystery of the Mind, (1975) epilepsy surgery pioneer Dr. Wilder Penfield, asked a significant question: “Why are there no intellectual seizures?” Epileptic seizures can be experienced in a variety of ways—convulsions of the whole body, slight twitching of a muscle, compulsive memories, emotions, perceptions of smells or flashes of light, complex motor behaviors such as chewing or laughing or even walking, or subtle moments of inattention. But seizures never have intellectual content. There are no intellectual seizures, which is odd, given that large regions of the brain are presumed by neuroscientists to serve intellectual thought. It is all the more remarkable when we consider that seizures commonly originate in these “intellectual” areas of the brain. Yet…

father-and-child-reading-story-book-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Father and child reading story book

Researchers: Human Brains Are Prewired To Recognize Words

Zeynep Saygin at Ohio State and her colleagues challenged a long-standing belief that human brains are not pre-adapted to learn language: Humans are born with a part of the brain that is prewired to be receptive to seeing words and letters, setting the stage at birth for people to learn how to read, a new study suggests. Analyzing brain scans of newborns, researchers found that this part of the brain – called the “visual word form area” (VWFA) – is connected to the language network of the brain. “That makes it fertile ground to develop a sensitivity to visual words – even before any exposure to language,” said Zeynep Saygin, senior author of the study and assistant professor of psychology…

one-common-green-bottle-fly-being-eaten-by-a-venus-flytrap-flower-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
one common green bottle fly being eaten by a venus flytrap flower

How Plants Can Count and Remember With No Brain

Plants like the Venus Flytrap can time things by the chemicals circulating in their systems

How can a plant remember anything, we might wonder? One way is that it may have specific chemicals circulating in its system. Calcium, according to a recent discovery, turns out to be the element that prompts Venus flytraps to shut their traps on insects—but only on the second try: A Venus flytrap’s short-term “memory” can last about 30 seconds. If an insect taps the plant’s sensitive hairs only once, the trap remains still. But if the insect taps again within about half a minute, the carnivorous plant’s leaves snap shut, ensnaring its prey. Curtis Segarra, “How Venus flytraps store short-term ‘memories’ of prey” at ScienceNews The Venus’s trap is more complex than a mousetrap because the plant can’t just clamp…

chain-of-amino-acid-or-biomolecules-called-protein-3d-illustration-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Chain of amino acid or biomolecules called protein - 3d illustration

If AlphaFold Is a Product of Design, Maybe Our Bodies Are Too

The deeper we go into science, the more important our unique human contributions become

Recently, we’ve been looking at tech philosopher George Gilder’s new Gaming AI about what AI can—and can’t—do for us. It can’t do our thinking for us but it can do many jobs we don’t even try because no human being has enough time or patience to motor through all the calculations. Which brings us to the massive complexity of the proteins that carry out our genetic instructions—better knowledge of which would help us battle many diseases. Gilder notes that when DeepMind’s AlphaGo beat humans at the board game Go in 2016, it wasn’t just for the fun of winning a game. DeepMind cofounder Demis Hassabis (pictured in 2018) is more interested in real-life uses such as medical research (p. 11).…

doctor-with-mri-scan-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Doctor with MRI scan

Neuroscience Refutes Free Will? Addressing an Objection

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is not as good as Libet’s methods for assessing real-time effects

In reply to a post in which I pointed out that neuroscience strongly supports the reality of free will, commenter AaronS1978 makes a point at Uncommon Descent: First Michael Egnor is wrong about there being no brain wave activity with free won’t Patrick Haggard in 2014 discovered accidotal brain waves to free won’t I feel he kind of makes declarations, I understand his position philosophically and I do agree with a lot of it, but saying there is no activity before free won’t and saying it’s immaterial is incorrect Furthermore why wouldn’t there be brain activity when exercising your will? Wouldn’t that just mean that your soul was using your brain? Isn’t consciousness and conscious experience (hard problem of the…

black-swan-in-a-pond-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
black swan In a pond

It’s Hard To Estimate Highly Improbable Things Like Earthquakes

Some have hoped that AI would provide reliable help with predicting They have been disappointed

Investors often overreact to both good and bad news. When a company’s quarterly earnings turn out to be slightly below forecasts, its stock price might plunge 20 percent or more. Thus, when theoretical models of the stock market models assume that price changes conform to a bell-shaped curve of normal distribution, that assumption is more convenient than credible. Another inconvenient truth is that many investors are prone to chasing trends up or down. After a stock’s price has gone up, they rush to buy, which pushes the price even higher. When these two realities meet head-on, stock returns are sometimes more extremely good or bad than would be true of a normal distribution. On October 19, 1987, the S&P 500…

vehicle navigation system.jpg
Autopilot self-driving car system with no human intervention. Close up cropped image of hand of African male driver browsing the internet using smartphone and touchscreen in futuristic autonomous car

Self-Driving Cars: Waymo Beats Tesla By Picking the Right Target

Trying to get the human out of the loop, as Musk proposes, becomes increasingly costly as the complexity increases

Full self-driving has been a contentious topic in the last few years. In 2016, Elon Musk started claiming that his cars had all the hardware needed to do full self-driving, and that the software would be there by 2019. You would be able to summon a car from across the United States and it would drive across the country, recharging as needed, to pick you up, no driver needed. He has specifically indicated that he means Level 5 autonomy, which means that no driver is needed at all. The driver can sleep, watch a movie, or just hang out in the back seat. In fact, in 2016, he indicated that drivers were merely there for regulatory purposes. Musk’s claims about…

books-old-stacked-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Books, old, stacked.

Why Wisdom Is Not and Cannot Be a “Science”

Some have tried to make the pursuit of wisdom a “scientific” endeavour. That is not going well.

A curiosity of our age is the effort to “naturalize” traditional values, to treat them as an outcome of evolution. Evolution we are told, took us in a slightly different direction from that of the apes but it did not put us in contact with a wisdom beyond this world. There is no such thing. That conflicts with traditional accounts of wisdom. Wisdom has been seen as different from “knowledge,” “intelligence” or “street smarts.” They are all very useful, of course. But wisdom is a view of the world from a great distance, which enables clarity about the big issues. For example, from Boethius, about 1500 years ago: Indeed, the condition of human nature is just this; man towers above…

getting-to-know-the-neighbors-at-the-country-houses-in-village-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Getting to know the neighbors at the country houses in village

Why Is AI a Key Battleground in Philosophy and Religion?

Tech philosopher George Gilder explains. Spoiler: He thinks humans will win

In this week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviews futurist George Gilder on “How AI is gaming intelligence.” Their discussion stems from Gilder’s new book, Gaming AI: Why AI Can’t Think But Can Transform Jobs (free for download here). https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-105-George-Gilder.mp3 From the transcript: (Show Notes, Resources, and a link to the complete transcript follow.) Robert J. Marks (pictured): In general, do you see AI as a new demotion of the human race? This is pretty serious prose. George Gilder: Well, it declares that the human mind is just a machine that can be simulated by computer algorithms … thus demoting the human endeavor from being the center of everything, to becoming a mere planet of a larger…

distant-planet-system-in-space-with-exoplanets-3d-rendering-elements-of-this-image-furnished-by-nasa-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Distant planet system in space with exoplanets 3D rendering elements of this image furnished by NASA

Space Aliens Could in Fact Be Watching Us

Using the methods we use to spot exoplanets. But if they are technologically advanced, wouldn’t they be here by now?
Last week, we looked at the ominous “Great Filter” hypothesis about why the space aliens never show up: Something dreadful almost always happens to prevent a civilization from reaching the point of easy space-faring. Probably something to do with mutually self-destructive warfare. But this week, let’s start with something different first. Let’s look at the possibility that the extraterrestrial intelligences could be alive and watching us right now, using the very same methods we use to spot exoplanets. A recent open-access astronomy paper tried to calculate which aliens could actually spot us by whether Earth dims the Sun when passing it: These sudden drops in luminosity are very slight, but detectable nonetheless. These dimming events can yield other important data as well, allowing astronomers to determine the length of an exoplanet’s year, its temperature, and its chemical properties, the latter of which can be used to discern rocky planets from gas giants. Other detection techniques exist, such as the Doppler method, but the transit method continues to be the most reliable and straightforward. The number of stars that we can observe through our telescopes seems almost endless, but the transit method means we’re caught in a rather glaring observational selection effect. With the transit technique, we can only spot exoplanets that pass in front of their host stars from our line of sight. George Dvorsky, “Aliens From These Worlds Could Be Watching Us Right Now” at Gizmodo Of course, a life-bearing planet might be out of our line of sight but, as Dvorsky points out, astronomers have already spotted thousands of exoplanets, which enables some sort of analysis. And, he says, observers there might be able to detect whether an industrial civilization exists on Earth (composition of gases, for example). The projected James Webb telescope could do that for their planets too. But now, on the other side, let’s look at the Hart-Tipler Conjecture: “Extraterrestrial intelligent beings do not exist” (1980). If they did, within 300 million years, they would have developed advanced technology and be here by now.” Or maybe by 650,000 years. Either way, they have had enough time. Here are some of the actual constraints of space exploration: As we may guess, a conjecture that the aliens must have reached or contacted us if they really existed is not popular among searchers of the skies. Consider a 2015 discussion at Universe Today by Toronto researcher and science writer Paul Patton of the Hart-Tipler conjecture. As Patton notes, that hypothesis originated nearly a half century ago in a paper by astronomer Michael H. Hart. The paper doesn’t seem to be open access but an astronomy letter responding to it may be found here. And how did eclectic Tulane physicist Frank Tipler become involved? Patton tells us that Tipler extended the argument in 1980, pointing out that even if they couldn’t visit Earth themselves, intelligent aliens could certainly have developed intelligent robots that could. Curiously, Tipler made that point long before artificial intelligence (AI) triumphed in many strategic games like Go, chess, and StarCraft II. So if we want to say that Tipler is wrong, we need something more compelling than “We don’t like his idea.” As it happens, those who persist in the search for extraterrestrial intelligences often become impatient with such skeptics. Patton, for example, cites alternative authorities like Carl Sagan (1934–1996): Besides assuming that interstellar travel is feasible, Hart’s argument is based on very specific and highly speculative ideas about how extraterrestrials must behave. He assumed that they would pursue a policy of unlimited expansion, that they would expand quickly, and that once their colonies were established, they would last for millions or even billions of years. If any of his speculations about how extraterrestrials will act aren’t right, then his argument that they don’t exist fails… Paul Patton, “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” II: Questioning the Hart-Tipler Conjecture” at Universe Today As might be expected, Carl Sagan and William Newman responded in 1981, offering a more hopeful analysis, based on the spread of animal populations: For Newman and Sagan, the absence of extraterrestrials on Earth doesn’t mean that they don’t exist elsewhere in the galaxy, or that they never launch starships. It just means that they don’t behave in the way Hart expected. They conclude that “except possibly in the very early history of the Galaxy, there are no very old galactic civilizations with a consistent policy of conquest of inhabited worlds; there is no Galactic Empire”. Paul Patton, “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” II: Questioning the Hart-Tipler Conjecture” at Universe Today Well, we don’t really have a good reason for being sorry about the absence of a Galactic Empire, do we? Maybe the aliens view the current turmoil here on Earth as a kind of distant soap opera. Maybe they’re just a studio audience and the show sells advertising in a distant galaxy. The audience can never get here, in the same way that we can’t intervene in a historical drama to save the heroine from the stake. Can we prove that’s not true? Anyway, next Sci-Fi Saturday, we will look at another account of why we don’t see the aliens! You may also enjoy these accounts of why we do not see the aliens: 1.Are the Aliens We Never Find Obeying Star Trek’s Prime Directive? The Directive is, don’t interfere in the evolution of alien societies, even if you have good intentions. Assuming the aliens exist, perhaps it’s just as well, on the whole, if they do want to leave us alone. They could want to “fix” us instead… 2.How can we be sure we are not just an ET’s simulation? A number of books and films are based on the idea. Should we believe it? We make a faith-based decision that logic and evidence together are reasonable guides to what is true. Logical possibility alone does not make an idea true. 3.Did the smart machines destroy the aliens who invented them? That’s the Berserker hypothesis. A smart deadly weapon could well decide to do without its… Read More ›
artificial-intelligence-composition-on-the-subject-of-future-technologies-3d-rendered-graphics-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Artificial Intelligence. Composition on the subject of Future Technologies. 3d rendered graphics.

Why AI Geniuses Haven’t Created True Thinking Machines

The problems have been hinting at themselves all along

As we saw yesterday, artificial intelligence (AI) has enjoyed a a string of unbroken successes against humans. But these are successes in games where the map is the territory. Therefore, everything is computable. That fact hints at the problem tech philosopher and futurist George Gilder raises in Gaming AI (free download here). Whether all human activities can be treated that way successfully is an entirely different question. As Gilder puts it, “AI is a system built on the foundations of computer logic, and when Silicon Valley’s AI theorists push the logic of their case to a “singularity,” they defy the most crucial findings of twentieth-century mathematics and computer science.” Here is one of the crucial findings they defy (or ignore):…

infrastructure-portuaire-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
infrastructure portuaire

Making Docker Work in Your Computer Infrastructure

Here are some best practices for building Docker images

If you use Docker to manage your infrastructure, you need to put time into thinking about how to build it. Here is a quick rundown of the things to keep in mind: Smaller is Better By itself, Docker makes great use of filesystem space. Because each container only holds the changes from the images, a little bit of image bloat doesn’t directly impact the server adversely. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t worry about bloat at all. Not only should we not waste space without reason, images that are too big cause other problems that you need to be aware of. The most important consideration is attack surface. Every program that you have on your image is a potential…

intelligent-robot-cyborg-using-digital-globe-interface-3d-rendering-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Intelligent robot cyborg using digital globe interface 3D rendering

Why AI Geniuses Think They Can Create True Thinking Machines

Early on, it seemed like a string of unbroken successes …

In George Gilder’s telling, the story goes back to Bletchley Park, where British codebreakers broke the “unbreakable” Nazi ciphers. In Gaming AI, the tech philosopher and futurist traces the modern concept of a machine that really thinks for itself back to its earliest known beginnings. Free for download, his concise book also explains why the programmers were bound to fail in their quest for the supermachine. But let’s start with why they thought—and many today still think— it could work. Success emboldened the pioneers to dream of a final AI triumph They had every reason to be emboldened by success. Special computers called “bombes,” created by Alan Turing’s team, broke every version of the famous Enigma code used by the…

concept-of-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Concept of

Do We Really Have Free Will? Four Things to Know

Free will makes more sense of our world than determinism and science certainly allows for it

Free will is a contentious topic in science these days. Theoretical physicists weigh in sharply on one side or the other. Just this month, based on quantum mechanics, mathematician Tim Andersen says maybe and theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder says no. Based on cosmology, the study of our universe, physicist George Ellis said yes last June. With free will, as with consciousness, we don’t fully understand what’s involved. All insights from science are partial so we can’t look to science for a definitive answer. But maybe science can offer some hints. Here are four that might be helpful: 1.Has psychology shown that free will does not really exist? Psychological research on free will has supported the concept of free will but…

robot-concept-or-robot-hand-chatbot-pressing-computer-keyboard-enter-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Robot concept or robot hand chatbot pressing computer keyboard enter

Can a Machine Really Write for the New Yorker?

If AI wins at chess and Go, why not? Then someone decided to test that…

Tech philosopher and futurist George Gilder (pictured) has a new book out, Gaming AI. Short and sweet, it explains how artificial intelligence (AI) will—and won’t—revolutionize the economy and human life. Get your free digital copy here. And now, below is a short piece he wrote, unpacking one of the book’s themes—the claim that AI can do anything that humans can do. Find out why he says no: Ilya Sutskever (pictured) may be the smartest man in the world you have never heard of. No sweat, I hadn’t heard of him either. Still under 40, he’s part of the all-male Google mindfest around “Google Brain.” His IQ honed at Open University of Israel and mentored by Artificial Intelligence (AI) pioneer Geoffrey…

china-flag-and-praying-patriot-man-with-crossed-hands-holding-cross-hoping-and-wishing-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
China flag and praying patriot man with crossed hands. Holding cross, hoping and wishing.

How China’s Technocracy Uses the Pandemic to Suppress Religion

The pandemic provided a pretext to install surveillance equipment in churches and surveil believers online

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the ways that technology can lead either to greater accessibility or greater oppression. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now using the same technologies that have given many people around the world access to religious materials and church services during the pandemic to forcibly stop religious gatherings and restrict the distribution of religious materials within China. Although the CCP is officially atheist, over 60% of the population adheres to a recognized religion; 30.8% practice Chinese folk religions, 16.6% Buddhism, 7.4% Christianity, 4.2% ethnic religion, and 1.8% Islam. Authentic numbers may be higher, given the risk of punishment for practicing certain religions in China. The Chinese government has persecuted, tortured, and imprisoned Falun Gong members…