Mind Matters Reporting on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

Monthly Archive October 2020

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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…

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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…

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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…

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Hands of a man tearing a piece of paper with inscription free will

Neuroscience Can Help Us Understand Why Free Will Is Real

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder and biologist Jerry Coyne, who deny free will, don’t seem to understand the neuroscience

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne seems obsessed with denying free will. In a recent post on his blog, Why Evolution Is True, he supported the claim of theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder that we do not have free will: If you’ve read this site, you’ll know that my own views are pretty much the same as hers, at least about free will. We don’t have it, and the fundamental indeterminacy of quantum mechanics doesn’t give it to us either. Hossenfelder doesn’t pull any punches: “This means in a nutshell that the whole story of the universe in every single detail was determined already at the big bang. We are just watching it play out.”… QED! Jerry Coyne, “Sabine Hossenfelder says we don’t…

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the ultimate destruction of the planet in a great cosmic catastrophe 3d illustration

Does Science Fiction Hint That We Are Actually Doomed?

That’s the implication of an influential theory as to why we never see extraterrestrials

Recently 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 hypothesis that planets that can host life are rare so there are not many aliens out there to find. This week we look at a more ominous hypothesis. In “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” III: What is the Great Filter?” (July 23, 2020), Williams asks us to consider: “there is something in the Universe that prevents life from reaching the point where we would be able to hear from it.” What could that “something” be? The term “the Great Filter” was coined to describe…

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Pink Neon sign 'Don't quit'

Are Deepfakes Too Deep for Us? Or Can We Fight Back?

Keeping up with the fakers is becoming more of a challenge

Since 2014, there has been a new twist to misrepresentation in politics: deepfakes—computer-generated images that seem quite real. Adam Garfinkle of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University explains how the technology, generative adversarial networks (GANs), works: A GAN operator pits a generator (G) against a discriminator (D) in a gamelike environment in which G tries to fool D into incorrectly discriminating between fake and real data. The technology works by means of a series of incremental but rapid adjustments that allows D to discriminate data while G tries to fool it. Adam Garfinkle, ““Disinformed”” at Inference Review Once the problem is reduced to a giant calculation, a giant computer learns much more quickly than the rest of us. And it can then…

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Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh on outline map

The First War Using Modern AI-Based Weapons Is Here

Most introductions of new technology in warfare will ultimately be canceled by counter-technology. But in the meantime…

AI weapons are being used in the border war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. And the results are not pretty: Israel may halt commercial weapon sales to Azerbaijan, Armenian Ambassador to Israel Armen Smbatyan told The Jerusalem Post, as fighting intensified for the ninth day between the two countries… Last week, Armenia recalled Smbatyan for consultations to protest the sale of Israeli made weapons, including drones, to Azerbaijan, which have been used against its forces. Tovah Lazaroff, “Israel may halt its weapons sale to Azerbaijan, Armenian ambassador says” at The Jerusalem Post (October 6, 2020) The most chilling—readily achievable—AI weaponry is a swarm of armed drones. Drones are inexpensive and easily deployed, and if only a few drones make it through…

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View on russian pilotless air craft. Military drones on exhibition

Russia Is Systematically Copying U.S. Military AI Robotics

In Russia’s topdown system, the military and corporations are essentially part of the same enterprise

This week’s podcast, “AI development in Russia,” is Part 2 of a podcast featuring Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks in discussion with Samuel Bendett about Russia’s intended military uses of AI. Bendett is an advisor to the Russia Studies Program and the Center for Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence of the CNA Adversary Analysis Group. Last week, Marks and Bendett discussed Russia’s advances in facial recognition techniques for the surveillance of civilians. In the background was Vladimir Putin’s famous 2017 pronouncement in 2017, “Artificial intelligence is the future not only of Russia but of all of mankind… Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” What are the military implications? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-104-Samuel-Bendett.mp3 From the…

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Frog with Turtle and Snail

To What Extent Does Life Simply Invent Itself As It Goes Along?

The evidence may surprise us

According to a popular anti-creationist website Talk Origins, one of the strongest pieces of evidence for evolution and common descent is the phylogenetic signal. In their view, when we look at specific properties across multiple species — number of legs, presence or absence of wings, the presence of a gene, a configuration of nucleotides in the genome, etc. — such properties will form a strongly nested hierarchy. We should expect to see such a strongly nested hierarchy if organisms evolved from one another and therefore a “family tree” links all the organisms together. However, if a property that appears only on a branch, it will be shared only by that branch’s leaves. Leaves on a different branch will not have…

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Analysis of a sample of water from a river or sea, ocean. The scientist in the glove took water in a test tube.

Information Today Is Like Water in the Ocean. How Do We Test It?

Often, we must sort through many layers of bias in information to get at the facts that matter
Examining specific types of bias in our thinking will help us evaluate the information on key issues that inundates us today. Read More ›
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Glasswing butterfly

Technology? Hey, Bugs Invented It All Before Us!

Do bugs really show no evidence of design? Computer engineers can test that

Bugs look like little robots, don’t they? Living robots, too, defying our best our attempts to recreate something like them. A 2018 science paper “It’s Not a Bug, It’s a Feature: Functional Materials in Insects” goes into just how amazing these little creatures are from a materials sciences perspective. The paper is open access so you can read it for yourself. But let me also illustrate some of the remarkable “technologies” insects use, captured on video: This bionic “dragonfly” really flies, sort of: But so do billions of wild dragonflies who fly very efficiently, in order to hunt: The range of material capabilities is astonishing. Cicadas have a clicking loudspeaker they use to amplify their racket. Tiger moths have a…

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Stethoscope on an old book of medicine, conceptual image

Should We Really “Listen to Science”? What Should We Listen For?

Politicians who insist that their beliefs represent science might be surprised by the checkered history of that view

This political season, politicians are telling us to “listen to science.” But buyer beware. The politicization of science is a long and sad history of so-called “scientific truths” that were not only mistaken but resulted in tragedy. Those who know a bit of this history should be wary of politicians’ table-pounding claims on topics ranging from climate change to COVID. In a 2003 lecture at Caltech, Michael Crichton, MD (pictured in 2002, courtesy Jon Chase CC BY-SA 3.0), author of great science fiction including Jurassic Park, noted, “science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity.” For example, racism was “settled science” in the early 20th century. So was eugenics, the so-called science…

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Female doctor analyzing liquid in test tube

The Decline Effect: Why Most Medical Treatments Are Disappointing

Artificial intelligence is not an answer to this problem, as Walmart may soon discover
Random variation, post-hoc fallacies, and data mining mean that “proven” treatments often decline in apparent effectiveness when released to the general public. Read More ›
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China: COVID-19’s True History Finds an Unlikely Home — GitHub

The Chinese Communist party, rewriting the COVID-19 story with itself as the hero, must reckon with truthful techies

For a brief window of time at the beginning of 2020, China’s internet censors didn’t block stories about Wuhan and COVID-19, the coronavirus. Caixin, a widely-read news magazine, published a multi-page investigative report on everything leading up to the outbreak, including the way in which the provincial authorities in Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital, suppressed knowledge of the virus. Fang Fang, an award-winning novelist, kept a Wuhan diary online on Weibo, which was recently published as a book in the U.S. (HarperCollins 2020). For that short time, comments on the coronavirus were not being censored (Wired) at WeChat. Many people were thus able to vent their frustrations and pay their respects when 32-year-old ophthalmologist and whistleblower Li Wenliang…

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Brain doodle illustration with textures

Your Mind vs. Your Brain: Ten Things To Know

Although we are only beginning to understand the workings of the brain, it clearly isn't the same thing as the mind

Here are some reasons why they aren’t really the same: 1.Is the human brain unique in some way? Yes, but not so much in its structure as in the things we do with it. For example, the human, mouse, and fly brains all use the same basic mechanisms, which is a bit of a puzzle, considering the different things we do with our brains. The human brain is bigger than most. But then lemurs performed as well as chimps on the primate cognitive test battery (a primate intelligence test) and lemurs only have brains that are 1/200th the size of chimps’ brains. So, what we humans are doing differently from lemurs and chimps doesn’t depend wholly on brain size either.…

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Crypto currency background with various of shiny silver and golden physical cryptocurrencies symbol coins, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, zcash, ripple

Has COVID-19 Helped or Harmed Crypto and Blockchain?

Cryptocurrencies rebounded after an initial slump earlier this year

The recently aired discussion at COSM about the future of bitcoin and other privately minted cryptocurrencies took place last October, before COVID-19 was much thought of in the Western world. Catching up, the cryptos and blockchain had a rough ride earlier this year but they have stabilized recently. In February, as the pandemic sent markets scurrying, things were looking grim for the cryptos: During the last week, the spread of the coronavirus has been all over the news; the virus, which had remained well-contained in China, spread throughout South Korea, Iran, Italy, and is now reaching its fingers into other parts of Europe. The New York Times reported on Thursday that “the signs were everywhere…that the epidemic shaking much of…

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The region 30 Doradus lies in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy.

Maybe There Are Just Very Few Aliens Out There…

The Rare Earth hypothesis offers science-based reasons that life in the universe is rare

Recently, science and science fiction writer Matt Williams has been writing a series at Universe Today on why extraterrestrial intelligences never make contact with us. Last week, we looked at the hypothesis that, to avoid the heat destruction of their advanced technology, the aliens have put themselves into a digital slumber until the universe cools down. This week, let’s look at a quite different approach, which Williams outlines in “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” IV: What is the Rare Earth Hypothesis?” (July 29, 2020): That is “the possibility that life-bearing planets like Earth are just very rare.” We don’t see aliens because they are very uncommon: This is what is popularly known as the “Rare Earth Hypothesis,” which argues that the emergence…

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Modern way of exchange. Bitcoin is convenient payment in global economy market. Virtual digital currency and financial investment trade concept. Abstract cryptocurrency with gold bitcoin background..

Are Crypto and Blockchain Key to a Tech Renaissance?

A former director of the US Mint thinks that the market will gravitate toward these solutions

A panel discussion at COSM explored the future of crypto currencies like Bitcoin and blockchain technologies in general. What might they mean for global money, global security, and internet architecture? The panel, moderated by Wired contributing editor Spencer Reiss, comprised futurist George Gilder, Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media, Ed Moy, former Director of the U.S. Mint, and William Dembski, mathematician, entrepreneur, and philosopher: Can Crypto and Blockchain Reverse the Tech Decline (and Enable an Internet Renaissance)? Here are some snatches from the dialogue (aired September 11, 2020): George Gilder (on what’s wrong with the internet): It’s a broken paradigm. How do you tell a broken paradigm? The more money you spend on it, the worse it gets.…

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Department store shop class luxury, near the Red Bridge, historical buildings of Saint-Petersburg. In the background the city and St. Isaac's Cathedral dome of golden color, in the evening at sunset.

Russia Aims to Close the Technology Gap With the United States

Independent since 1991, the vast nation offers a government version of Silicon Valley culture

In this week’s podcast, “AI development in Russia, Part 1,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks talks with Samuel Bendett about Russia’s struggles to develop AI for entrepreneurship and free enterprise, rather than military uses. It turns out to be mainly a cultural struggle, as historic institutions must adapt to an environment where market dominance is more important than military dominance. Mr. Bendett, who is fluent in Russian and English, is an advisor to the Russia Studies Program and the Center for Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence of the CNA Adversary Analysis Group. And how is Russia faring? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-103-Samuel-Bendett.mp3 From the transcript: (Show Notes, Resources, and a link to the complete transcript follow.) Robert J. Marks (pictured): What I want…

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Woman Lost Something

Researchers: Now We Know How Objects Can Hide in Plain Sight!

At times, we can’t “see” what we are looking for because our brain waves are not co-operating

Have you ever looked desperately for something—your passport perhaps—and then found, half an hour later, that it was right in front of you all the time? Inconspicuous but not really invisible? “Hiding in plain sight,” as the saying goes. It happens to everyone. We wonder why we didn’t find it before. But some enterprising researchers asked a different question: Why do we find it later? And they have come up with an explanation from the way our brains work: They found that patterns of neural signals, called traveling brain waves, exist in the visual system of the awake brain and are organized to allow the brain to perceive objects that are faint or otherwise difficult to see. Salk News, “Traveling…