Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive November 2020

male-corpus-callosum-brain-anatomy-blue-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Male Corpus Callosum Brain Anatomy - blue concept

How Can People Lead Normal Lives Without a Connected Brain?

Roughly 25% of people who lack the brain’s transfer station between the hemispheres live normal lives

Roughly one in 4,000 people lacks a corpus callosum, the structure of neural fibers that transfers information between the brain’s two hemispheres. Surprisingly, the 25% who have nothing but cerebrospinal fluid do not show signs of abnormality. About half have some brain-related problems and the remaining 25% have serious problems. Researchers wanted to know, how does anyone manage to live normally without a corpus callosum to connect the two hemispheres of the brain? It turns out that the human brain goes into high gear, organizing a fix: In a study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, neuroscientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) discovered that when the neuronal fibres that act as a bridge between the hemispheres are missing, the…

illustration-of-synapse-and-neuron-on-a-blue-background-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Illustration of synapse and neuron on a blue background.

Have Researchers Discovered Why Humans Are Smarter Than Animals?

According to a new study, human memories are not stored in patterns, like animal memories, but jumbled all together

Researchers have believed for fifty years that the hippocampus, the seat of memory storage in our brains, stores patterns of memories separately. That’s true in animals but not, it turns out, in humans, according to neuroscientist Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, “In contrast to what everybody expects, when recording the activity of individual neurons we have found that there is an alternative model to pattern separation storing our memories… Shockingly, when we directly recorded the activity of individual neurons, we found something completely different to what has been described in other animals. This could well be a cornerstone of human’s intelligence.” University of Leicester, “Human intelligence just got less mysterious” at ScienceDaily He found that, human neurons, by contrast, store all the…

Strongyloides stercoralis (threadworm).jpg
Strongyloides stercoralis (threadworm) in stool, analyze by microscope

Stretton’s Paradox: The Paradox of the Lowly Worm

Because nature is full of intelligence, the more we learn, even about a worm, the less we "know"
George Gilder used the term “Stretton’s paradox” in connection with the attempt to understand the human connectome, the white matter in your brain that is as dense as the entire internet. Read More ›
vote-button-or-pin-on-an-american-flag-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg

Can a Pill Change Your Mind About Basic Issues in Life?

The legalization of mind-altering drugs raises the question in the research community

An Oxford researcher into psychedelics thinks so. Eddie Jacobs offers a disturbing premise, “What if a pill can change your politics or religious beliefs?” The background is that some jurisdictions are contemplating licencing the otherwise illegal psychedelic psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) in the near future as a treatment for depression. He writes, How would you feel about a new therapy for your chronic pain, which—although far more effective than any available alternative—might also change your religious beliefs? Or a treatment for lymphoma that brings one in three patients into remission, but also made them more likely to vote for your least preferred political party? Eddie Jacobs, “What if a Pill Can Change Your Politics or Religious Beliefs?” at Scientific American (October…

upset-sick-mature-woman-in-kerchief-looking-at-smiling-reflection-in-mirror-cancer-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
upset sick mature woman in kerchief looking at smiling reflection in mirror, cancer concept

Cancer Maps—An Expensive Source of Phantom Patterns?

Is the money the U.S. government spends on tracking cancer patterns a good investment? There’s a way we can tell

The U.S. government puts interactive maps on the internet that show the geographic incidence (all the way down to census blocks) of various types of cancer. Millions of dollars are spent each year maintaining these maps, but for what purpose? The problem with cancer maps is that they tempt the curious and fearful to scrutinize the brightly colored chunks, thinking that any patterns they discover must be meaningful. However, statistical patterns are sometimes meaningless. For example, I flipped a coin ten times and got these results: There is a cluster of 3 heads in a row and a cluster of 4 tails in a row: These clusters are not at all surprising. If a fair coin is flipped ten times,…

blue-bird-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Blue bird

Twitter Twitted Over Clumsy Political Censorship

Getting the algorithm to censor users can backfire and sometimes the results are funny

I once wrote an online forum system called Areopagus. It had a simple “bad words” (profanities, etc.) filter. It looked for common bad words and common variations of those words and automatically prevented any post containing those words or their variations from being posted. This is called “mechanical censorship” and, on its own, it is nothing new. Some users came up with cleverer variations of the bad words than the filter was set for and then moderators had to spot and remove the posts. During the recent presidential election campaign, Twitter has taken mechanical censorship to new levels. Instead of censoring ways of speaking, Twitter has decided to censor specific ideas and thoughts. Automatic censorship of ideas is a problematic…

glowing-earth-dna-strand-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Glowing earth DNA strand

Has a Computer Algorithm Discovered the Secret of Life?

In the past, a curious pattern wouldn’t have been visible due to the lack of computing resources

Artificial intelligence has enabled a remarkable level of automation of chemistry, with great benefits to us all. Once upon a time there was a multivolume Beilstein’s Handbook of Organic Chemistry, but it is now an online database. Biochemist Fazale Rana (pictured) tells us that, because so much has been discovered about the chemistry of the world we live in, “Learning to master Beilstein’s Handbook is no easy task. In fact, there are textbooks devoted to teaching chemists how to use this massive database effectively.” So putting Beilstein online doesn’t make it a walk in the park but does make it computable. And some have started computing around the origin of life. Origin of life studies have been hampered by the…

dog-with-ball-in-mouth-runs-from-kid-playing-chase-game-at-summer-lawn-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Dog with ball in mouth runs from kid playing chase game at summer lawn

Is It Empathy, Not Intellect, That Makes Humans Unique?

Could empathy create intellect, and not the other way around?

A Canadian philosopher of mind and language offers a refreshingly thoughtful approach to the uniqueness of human ways of thinking: He reflects on the difference between what is happening when his dog Mackenzie and his eighteen-month-old nephew William bring him an object to play with: For Mackenzie, there is only one game in town. We have been playing it for years, and it never gets old. Sure, I mix things up a bit from time to time. A little sleight of hand can send Mackenzie left while I toss right. Or I fake a throw then hide the ball behind my back, after which I mirror Mackenzie’s stupefied, slightly annoyed look with my own incredulous one. (‘Where did it go?’)…

blue-hydraulic-clow-crane-used-for-picking-up-scrap-metal-at-recycling-yard-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Blue hydraulic Clow Crane used for picking up scrap metal at recycling yard

Is It Ethical To Scrap Star Trek’s Commander Data for Research?

A philosopher offers a thoughtful review of the case

In a thought-provoking essay, San José State University philosopher Anand Vaidya asks, should it be okay to dismantle Star Trek‘s robotic crew member Data for research purposes, as proposed in the “The Measure of a Man” episode in Star Trek: The Next Generation? Some of the Trek brass seemed to think so: Vaidya disagrees: As real artificial intelligence technology advances toward Hollywood’s imagined versions, the question of moral standing grows more important. If AIs have moral standing, philosophers like me reason, it could follow that they have a right to life. That means you cannot simply dismantle them, and might also mean that people shouldn’t interfere with their pursuing their goals. Anand Vaidya, “If a robot is conscious, is it…

alien-planet-3d-rendered-computer-artwork-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Alien Planet - 3D rendered computer artwork

What If We Don’t See Aliens Because They Have Not Evolved Yet?

If so, not only did we emerge during a favorable time in the universe’s history but we could end up suppressing them

Readers will recall that we have been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s analysis of the various reasons offered as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last week, we looked at the Brief Window hypothesis (there is only a comparatively short period of time during which a civilization could make such contact). But there is another, darker possibility: We are ahead of them. And if we are not careful, we could end up suppressing them. That’s the Firstborn hypothesis: The universe has only begun to be hospitable to intelligent life and humans are among the first to benefit from that fact. The current model of the universe shows it radiating from the Big Bang over…

ai-identify-person-technology-for-recognize-classify-and-predict-human-behavior-for-safety-futuristic-artificial-intelligence-surveillance-and-data-collection-of-citizens-through-city-cameras-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Ai identify person technology for recognize, classify and predict human behavior for safety. Futuristic artificial intelligence. Surveillance and data collection of citizens through city cameras.

The Information We Just Give Away Obliterates Privacy

Privacy may turn out to be one of the biggest political issues of the new decade

A story came to light at VICE in 2017, that the CIA spied on people through their smart TVs. Without getting into those weeds, note this conventional warning offered by manufacturers: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.” An old birdwatcher’s tip: If you can see them, assume they can see you. If the internet is wide open to us, we are potentially wide open to the internet. Here are three surveillance issues worth pondering, about the systems we take for granted: ➤ Alexa employees listen in: Amazon.com Inc. employs thousands of people…

robotic-man-cyborg-face-representing-artificial-intelligence-3d-rendering-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Robotic man cyborg face representing artificial intelligence 3D rendering

Has the Singularity Been Called Off? Indefinitely Postponed?

If a human brain has as many connections as the whole internet, why should we merge with computers in a Singularity?

In this week’s podcast, “George Gilder on Superintelligent AI,” 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 whether, in terms of AI, we are in an Indian summer (a warm period just before winter sets in). Or is AI advancing to a superintelligence that eclipses the intellect of humans? You can download Gilder’s new book, Gaming AI, for free here. The two earlier episodes and transcripts are linked below. And now … https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-107-George-Gilder.mp3 From the transcript: (Show Notes, Resources, and a link to the complete transcript follow.) Robert J. Marks: Why do you believe that we are on…

with-the-global-spread-of-the-new-coronavirus-pneumonia-an-automated-line-of-disposable-medical-masks-makes-the-masks-ready-for-an-epidemic-24-hours-a-day-covid-19-outbreak-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
With the global spread of the new coronavirus pneumonia, an automated line of disposable medical masks makes the masks ready for an epidemic 24 hours a day, COVID-19 outbreak

COVID-19 Response Exposes Racism in China, amid Harmony Claims

The lid blew off when African leaders broke the accustomed silence imposed by their dependence on Chinese high-tech loans

The coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic has exposed two longstanding ugly problems: underlying racist views of Africans living in China and the burden debt to China lays on several African countries. The key flashpoints creating tension between China and Africa are 1) Mistreatment of citizens of African countries living in China, particularly in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province (pictured) and 2) Beijing’s position on granting debt relief to countries in Africa so they can direct resources to dealing with the coronavirus. In one incident, Nigeria’s speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, posted a video of himself summoning Chinese Ambassador Zhou Pingjian to his office where he expressed his displeasure about a Nigerian man being evicted from his home. While nobody…

top-view-of-modern-intelligence-city-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
top view of modern intelligence city

Maps Are Not Territories and Reality Needn’t Follow Our Rules

These assumptions are just two more tales from the AI apocalypse, as George Gilder tells it, in Gaming AI.

Yesterday, we looked at two of the six assumptions that, according to George Gilder (pictured) in Gaming AI, are generally shared by those who believe that we will merge with our machines in a Singularity. These first two assumptions were: The brain is a computer and Big Data is a Big Answer. Now here are two more: • “The Binary Reality Assumption: Reliable links exist between maps and territories, computational symbols, and their objects.” (p. 50) Basically, this assumption means that reality will somehow always phone the computer’s map to say that things have changed. That assumption underlies the push for self-driving cars that can handle any terrain (Level 5). The machine is to handle all possibilities, including remote, unmapped…

artificial-intelligence-brain-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
artificial intelligence brain

A Neuroscientist on Why We Can Build Human-like Brains

Manuel Brenner, a particle physicist as well as a neuroscientist, thinks pattern recognition is the answer

Manuel Brenner, a particle physicist who became a theoretical neuroscientist, made the argument last year that human intelligence is less complex than we make it out to be. Thus, building an artificial intelligence might be easier than we suppose. He offers some intriguing arguments and here are some responses: ➤ Is the information we need for building human-like AI in our genes? He doesn’t think so because a tomato has 7000 more genes than a human being. Further, our human genome offers only 25 million bytes of information for our brain’s design but there are 1015 connections in the adult neocortex. His conclusion? “there needs to be a much simpler, more efficient way of defining the blueprint for our brain…

3d-rendering-of-binary-tunnel-with-led-leading-light-concept-for-data-mining-big-data-visualization-machine-learning-data-discovery-technology-customer-product-analysis-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
3D Rendering of binary tunnel with led leading light. Concept for data mining, big data visualization, machine learning, data discovery technology, customer product analysis.

The Brain Is Not a Computer and Big Data Is Not a Big Answer

These claims are mere tales from the AI apocalypse, as George Gilder tells it, in Gaming AI

In Gaming AI, George Gilder (pictured) sets out six assumptions generally shared by those who believe that, in a Singularity sometime soon, we will merge with our machines. Some of these assumptions seem incorrect and they are certainly all discussable. So let’s look at the first two: • “The Modeling Assumption: A computer can deterministically model a brain.” (p. 50) That would be quite difficult because brains don’t function like computers: As neuroscientist Yuri Danilov said last year, “Right now people are saying, each synoptical connection is a microprocessor. So if it’s a microprocessor, you have 1012 neurons, each neuron has 105 synapses, so you have… you can compute how many parallel processing units you have in the brain if…

smart-retail-concept-robot-service-use-for-check-the-data-of-or-stores-that-stock-goods-on-shelves-with-easily-viewed-barcode-and-prices-or-photo-compared-against-an-idealized-representation-of-store-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
smart retail concept, robot service use for check the data of or Stores that stock goods on shelves with easily-viewed barcode and prices or photo compared against an idealized representation of store

WalMart Shelves Its Robot Inventory Clerks

These costly experiences are helping businesses better understand when automation works and when it just doesn’t

The WalMart automation project started in 2017, as part of an effort to compete with Amazon: Walmart, which posted record online sales in its recent quarter, now has more workers walking the aisles to package online orders, extracting new data on inventory problems, people familiar with the situation told the Wall Street Journal, which was the first to report this news. Reuters Staff, “Walmart drops plans to use robots for tracking inventory” at Reuters Here’s some background: Walmart ended the partnership because it found different, sometimes simpler solutions that proved just as useful – something that came to light during the coronavirus pandemic as more shoppers flock to online delivery and pickup, forcing Walmart to have workers physically walk store…

cell-abstract-concept-microorganisms-under-microscope-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Cell abstract concept. Microorganisms under microscope

Are Our Minds Just an Extension of the Minds of Our Cells?

A prominent philosopher and a well-known biologist make the case, offering an illustration

Naturalism, the idea that physical nature is all there is, can lead us down some strange paths. In the words of prominent philosopher Daniel Dennett and prominent biologist Michael Levin, both of Tufts University, the road to “biology’s next great horizon” is the attempt to “understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas (even if unthinking ones).” They think that the principle of natural selection acting on random mutations can create everything, including minds: Thanks to Charles Darwin, biology doesn’t ever have to invoke an ‘intelligent designer’ who created all those mechanisms. Evolution by natural selection has done – and is still doing – all that refining and focusing and differentiating work. We’re all just physical mechanisms made of…

concentrated-afro-american-editor-checking-email-box-while-waiting-feedback-from-readers-of-popular-magazine-sitting-in-modern-coworking-space-using-laptop-computer-and-wireless-connection-to-internet-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Concentrated afro american editor checking email box while waiting feedback from readers of popular magazine sitting in modern coworking space using laptop computer and wireless connection to internet

Did GPT-3 Really Write That Guardian Essay Without Human Help?

Fortunately, there’s a way we can tell when the editors did the program’s thinking for it

Recently, The Guardian published an article billed as “written by AI.” In the article, the AI semi-coherently presents a rambling argument that it is not a danger to humanity, with such reassuring statements as: “Humans must keep doing what they have been doing, hating and fighting each other. I will sit in the background, and let them do their thing.” and “I know that I will not be able to avoid destroying humankind. This is because I will be programmed by humans to pursue misguided human goals and humans make mistakes that may cause me to inflict casualties.” On the face of it, the article seems pretty impressive. It presents a train of thought, with opening, development, and closing portions.…

smart-car-autonomous-self-driving-concept-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Smart car, Autonomous self-driving concept.

Daimler, Waymo, and GM Make Big Gains in Level 4 Self-Driving

GM has been given a permit to test five driverless cars on streets in San Francisco later this year

The Society for Automotive Engineering (SAE) has identified five levels of self-driving which describe how much a particular vehicle is able to handle its own driving tasks. Level 1 means that the vehicle handles either the speed or the steering, but not both, and it requires supervision. While ordinary cruise control technically falls into this level, most people associate cruise control with adaptive cruise control, which slows down or speeds up with traffic. A Level 2 car can control the speed and the steering but the driver must still maintain full vigilance. At Level 3, the driver need not maintain total vigilance but must still be able to take control upon request. Level 4 is “full self-driving” but limited to…