Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive November 2020

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Blue glowing quantum laser in space with rippled beam

The Final Ambiguous Truth About Schrödinger’s Cat

Schrödinger came up with the cat illustration to explain quantum mechanics to interested people who were not physicists

In last week’s podcast, “Enrique Blair on quantum computing,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks talks with fellow computer engineer Enrique Blair about why quantum mechanics is so strange. Inevitably, the discussion turned to what really happened with Schrödinger’s cat, the one who is either dead or alive only if we actually look at it. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-110-Enrique-Blair.mp3 [Schrödinger’s cat starts approximately at 21:50.] The Show Notes and transcript follow. Excerpts from the transcript: Robert J. Marks (pictured): We hear a lot in popular culture about Schrödinger’s cat. Now, Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961) was one of the guys who formulated quantum mechanics. He won a Nobel Prize for it. He was trying to explain quantum mechanics to a layperson and he used…

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Computer error

Can AI Really Know When It Shouldn’t Be Trusted?

Some researchers claim to have taught AI how to recognize its own untrustworthiness. Others say that’s impossible

Recently, we were told that artificial intelligence is now smart enough to know when it can’t be trusted: How might The Terminator have played out if Skynet had decided it probably wasn’t responsible enough to hold the keys to the entire US nuclear arsenal? As it turns out, scientists may just have saved us from such a future AI-led apocalypse, by creating neural networks that know when they’re untrustworthy. David Nield, “Artificial Intelligence Is Now Smart Enough to Know When It Can’t Be Trusted” at ScienceAlert (November 25, 2020) That’s a big claim. Intelligent humans often can’t know when they are untrustworthy. These deep learning neural networks are designed to mimic the human brain by weighing up a multitude of…

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high risk cholesterol test results

Can an 18th Century Statistician Help Us Think More Clearly?

Distinguishing between types of probability can help us worry less and do more

Thomas Bayes (1702–1761) (pictured), a statistician and clergyman, developed a theory of decision-making which was only discussed after his death and only became important in the 20th century. It is now a significant topic in philosophy, in the form of Bayesian epistemology. Understanding Bayes’ Rule may be essential to making good decisions. Let’s say that you are a generally healthy person and have no symptoms of any illness and no specific risk factors for any illness. Acting on a friend’s suggestion, you get screened for a variety of diseases, just to be sure. Of the diseases you test for, the HIV test comes back positive. You read on the package that the test is 99.6% accurate. Are you more likely…

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Man in gray long sleeve shirt sitting on brown wooden chair

Neuroscientist: Your Brain Isn’t for Thinking, Just Surviving

Lisa Feldman Barrett hopes that her materialist perspective will help us deal with our current anxieties

Last Sunday, we featured the views of philosopher Samir Chopra, who argues that anxiety, while distressing, is a normal outcome of our human ability to see the past and the future as well as the present. A pig gets anxious when he sees that his trough is empty. But he cannot, by nature, know that he is destined for the menu at a local fast food place, let alone that all his kin have gone that way. Knowing the past and sensing the future opens up both great powers and vast avenues of anxiety for a human mind. But, in an op-ed in the New York Times, psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett (pictured), the author of Seven and a…

Quantum particle, quantum mechanics

How Scientists Have Learned To Work With the Quantum World

It’s still pretty weird, though

In last week’s podcast, “Enrique Blair on quantum computing,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks talks with fellow computer engineer Enrique Blair about why quantum mechanics is so strange. But scientists have learned to work with QM, despite many questions, like how to work with particles that can be in two different places (quantum superposition): https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-110-Enrique-Blair.mp3 [Starts at approximately 13:16.] The Show Notes and transcript follow. Excerpts from the transcript: Robert J. Marks: What’s superposition? What’s going on there? Enrique Blair: Quantum superposition is really a mathematical description. We use wave functions to describe these particles. There’s a wave function for the photon going through Slit One and a wave function for the photon going through Slit Two. To…

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Space dust abstract galaxy

Does the Slow Pace of Evolution Mean That ET Life Is Rare?

That’s the contention in a recent paper by astrobiologists at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute

In a new paper, researchers affiliated with Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute use the assumptions we make about the evolution of life on Earth to estimate the likelihood of it happening the same way elsewhere. And the numbers do not look good. As a science writer puts it: There are countless naturally occurring, but extremely lucky ways in which Earth is special, sheltered, protected, and encouraged to have evolved life. And some key moments of emerging life seem much more likely than others, based on what really did happen. Caroline Delbert, “Intelligent Life Really Can’t Exist Anywhere Else” at Popular Mechanics In the paper, the Oxford group concludes, It took approximately 4.5 billion years for a series of evolutionary transitions…

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Blue glowing multidimensional energy sphere isolated on black

New Sky Catalog Reveals Most Likely Sites for Alien Technology

“Exotica” lists phenomena for which conventional natural explanations don’t seem to work well

We’ve been looking at reasons why we don’t see extraterrestrials, even though many scientists are sure they must exist. One enterprising research group has now assembled Exotica, a catalog of strange phenomena in space, which might help us search more efficiently. If extraterrestrials exist and are technologically advanced, they would leave a “technosignature,” which might at first only be seen as astrange phenomenon in space: Breakthrough Listen, the initiative to find signs of intelligent life in the universe, today released an innovative catalog of “Exotica”—a diverse list of objects of potential interest to astronomers searching for technosignatures (indicators of technology developed by extraterrestrial intelligence). The catalog is a collection of over 700 distinct targets intended to include “one of everything”…

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Black diagonal chain, a blockchain concept, double

Can Blockchain Help Ensure Fraud Free Voting?

Could blockchain have prevented the current controversy around voter fraud in the recent U.S. election?

In Wednesday’s meeting between Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Republican senators from the Pennsylvania legislature about potential voter fraud in the state, one state senator suggested blockchain as a potential cure for the type of voter fraud being alleged. A company called VOATZ has the technology to do this and was mentioned by name. Blockchain is the secret sauce that keeps bitcoin working. Each new bitcoin transaction is encrypted as a new link in the chain, which is distributed to numerous sites. If anyone tries to change a link in the blockchain, everyone who stores the bitcoin blockchain knows it, so the fraud is detected and removed. The beauty of blockchain is that trust is assured among people who…

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Fembot Robot Playing Chess with Woman

Are Computers That Win at Chess Smarter Than Geniuses?

No, and we need to look at why they can win at chess without showing even basic common sense

Big computers conquered chess quite easily. But then there was the Chinese game of go (pictured), estimated to be 4000 years old, which offers more “degrees of freedom” (possible moves, strategy, and rules) than chess (2×10170). As futurist George Gilder tells us, in Gaming AI, it was a rite of passage for aspiring intellects in Asia: “Go began as a rigorous rite of passage for Chinese gentlemen and diplomats, testing their intellectual skills and strategic prowess. Later, crossing the Sea of Japan, Go enthralled the Shogunate, which brought it into the Japanese Imperial Court and made it a national cult.” (p. 9) Then AlphaGo, from Google’s DeepMind, appeared on the scene in 2016: As the Chinese American titan Kai-Fu Lee…

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Symmetrical quantum mechanics waves

Here’s Why the Quantum World Is Just So Strange

It underlies our universe but it follows its own “rules,” which don’t make sense to the rest of us

In this week’s podcast, “Enrique Blair on quantum computing,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks talks with fellow computer engineer Enrique Blair about why Quantum mechanics pioneer Niels Bohr said, “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” Let’s look at some of the reasons he said that: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-110-Enrique-Blair.mp3 The Show Notes and transcript follow. Enrique Blair: It’s really quite different from our daily experience. Quantum mechanics really is a description of the world at the microscopic scale. And it’s really weird, because there are things that initially we thought maybe were particles but then we learned that they have wave-like behaviors. And there are other things that we thought were waves and then we…

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Educated school kid lifting world globe chalk doodle drawing on green chalkboard for education concept

To Fix Math Education, See It as a Program That Needs an Update

As a computer programmer, I’ve seen this problem in my work: The basic idea is still sound but “fixes” have made it too complex

In this series we are looking at ways that math education can be reformed. In contrast to some other math reform efforts, we are not trying to fundamentally rewrite what math education is doing but to simply admit that we can do better and see where that takes us. (See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.) Here in Part 4, let’s look at specific content issues that, I will argue, we could improve when we do a curriculum revision. Mathematics is an old subject. We have inherited quite a bit of mathematical thought. We must educate future generations so as to make sure that this hard-won knowledge is not lost. But one of the biggest impediments to our task…

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Two young businesspeople or scientists with robotic hand standing in office, talking.

Computer Prof: Feds Should Avoid University, Seek Entrepreneurs

Too much time at the U is wasted on getting papers into theoretical journals, not enough time spent on innovation, he contends

In a recent podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks spoke with Robert D. Atkinson and Jackie Whisman at the prominent AI think tank, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, about his recent book, The Case for Killer Robots—a plea for American military brass to see that AI is an inevitable part of modern defense strategies, to be managed rather than avoided. It may be downloaded free here. In this fourth part (here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), the discussion turned to what the government’s top priority in tech policy should be: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-109-Robert-Marks.mp3 The discussion of a top priority in tech policy begins at 20:31 (A portion of the transcript follows. The whole transcript is here. Notes…

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digital world

China’s Eyes Are Watching Africa Closely

In exchange for help with high-tech communication systems, China gets to install mass surveillance technology

Depending on who you talk to, the twenty-year relationship between China and several countries in the African Union has been described as everything from mutually beneficial to asymmetric and dysfunctional right down to exploitative and neo-colonialist. Recent pre-COVID-19 surveys indicate that citizens of several African nations see their country’s interaction with China as largely positive. But if some African science fiction writers are any indicator, others see a dystopian future. The current onslaught of high-tech surveillance technologies from China provides a chance to compare the two views. Recently, I have written about racial tensions between African nationals and local government in Guangzhou amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and about how the pandemic has worsened African countries’ debt crisis, particularly due to…

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Bored student girl during math lesson

Helping Students See How Math Benefits Them in the Long Run

To keep them motivated, we need to answer the “Why bother?” question honestly and directly

In this series we are looking at ways that math education can be reformed. In contrast to some other math reform efforts, we are not trying to fundamentally rewrite what math education is doing but to simply admit that we can do better and see where that takes us. (See Part 1 and Part 2.) Here in Part 3, we will concentrate on making the curriculum more “conscious” of what students are supposed to be learning in mathematics. One of the primary complaints students have about higher mathematics is that they don’t see where they are going to use the information later in their jobs. There are a number of ways of answering this question but first I want to…

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Black and Caucasian Female Scientists have Work Related Discussion, Male Researcher Joins Them. They Work in a Modern Laboratory/ Research Center.

Is the Research Money for AI Spent at Universities Just Wasted?

A computer engineering prof tells an AI think tank about the time a four-star general visited his university

In a recent podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks spoke with Robert D. Atkinson and Jackie Whisman at the prominent AI think tank, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, about his recent book, The Case for Killer Robots—a plea for American military brass to see that AI is an inevitable part of modern defense strategies, to be managed rather than avoided. The book may be downloaded free here. In this third part (here are Part 1 and Part 2), the discussion turned to stalled AI research at universities: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-109-Robert-Marks.mp3 The discussion of the state of AI research begins at 17:48 (A portion of the transcript follows. The whole transcript is here. Notes and links follow below.) Rob Atkinson: You…

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Maths class

Straight Talk About Fitting the Math Curriculum to the Student

We need to avoid pushing too much too soon, lest students come to see themselves as “bad at math” when they are just not ready for it

In this series we are looking at ways that math education can be reformed (Part 1 here). In contrast to some other math reform efforts, we are not trying to fundamentally rewrite what math education is doing but to simply admit that we can do better and see where that takes us. This article, Part 2, will concentrate on improving math education by better identifying where students are when we encounter them. Mathematics curriculum is generally developed with a goal of “fitting it all in.” That is, educators assume that people learn at a relatively fixed pace. They then pace the lessons so as to fit all of them into the curriculum in the right amount of time. However, this…

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Social media facebook dis-like

Facebook Goes After Research Group Studying Its Ad Policies

The researchers received information from volunteers in order to study apparent violations of ad policies during the recent U.S. election

Facebook, one of the most ambitious companies in modern history—it is, after all, contemplating its own currency—is also trying to shut down an academic research group it doesn’t Like. The Ad Observatory, a project of NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, monitors ads on Facebook. In the most recent American election, they studied “Which candidates, super PACS, and dark money groups are spending most on Facebook advertising nationwide? What topics do they emphasize and what objectives do they seek to achieve with ads?” The project asked volunteers to install a plugin, Ad Observer, that automatically scrapes ads presented on Facebook and sends them in. Why does it matter? Because most of us see only a small proportion of the ads that…

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Robot Close Up

AI Is Not Nearly Smart Enough to Morph Into the Terminator

Computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks offers some illustrations in an ITIF think tank interview

In a recent podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks spoke with Robert D.Atkinson and Jackie Whisman at the prominent AI think tank, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, about his recent book, The Case for Killer Robots—a plea for American military brass to see that AI is an inevitable part of modern defense strategies, to be managed rather than avoided. It may be downloaded free here. In this second part ( here’s Part 1), the discussion (starts at 6:31) turned to what might happen if AI goes “rogue.” The three parties agreed that AI isn’t nearly smart enough to turn into the Terminator: Jackie Whisman: Well, opponents of so-called killer robots, of course argue that the technologies can’t be…

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Jellybean Candy in a Jar

The Wisdom of Crowds: Are Crowds Really Wiser Than Individuals?

According to the theory, with a large number of guessers, the median number is very likely to be close to the true value

Statistician Sir Francis Galton went to a country fair in 1907 where a prize was to be awarded to the person who made the most accurate guess of the butchered weight of an ox that was on display. Galton collected and analyzed the 787 guesses and, not surprisingly, found that some guesses were far too high and others were much too low. However, the average guess (1,197 pounds) was only 1 pound lower than the actual weight (1,198 pounds). The average was more accurate than the guesses of the vast majority of both the amateurs and the experts. In the 1980s, a finance professor named Jack Treynor (1930–2016) performed a similar, and now legendary, experiment with jelly beans. Professor Treynor…

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Girl solving mathematical addition

How Can We Really Fix the Way Math Is Taught?

First, we must understand why we teach math in the first place

Many people recognize that there are problems with modern mathematics curricula. However, the solutions proposed by current would-be math reformers are, I fear, worse than the cure. Some reformers want to stop having kids memorize their arithmetic facts, some want kids to just use computers to solve their problems, others think that the way we teach mathematics is racist, and still others seem to want to just greatly reduce the quantity of math education altogether. In this first part of a four-part series of short posts, I want to look at the most basic question: Why do we teach math? Earlier this month, an article by Yoree Koh in the Wall Street Journal took a look at the “Movement to…