Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive December 2020

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Green Iguana

Sci Fi: An Offer You Better Think About Carefully…

But the civil alien leaves a very nice business card. Do see that.

From DUST at YouTube: Henry, an apparently conventional exec somewhere has been selected to represent his species in what is supposed to be the “biggest trade agreement in the history of the planet.” Hint that we hope isn’t a spoiler: The aliens want our oceans. But the civil alien leaves a very nice business card. Do see that. Yer News editor gives this one 4 out of 5. Mainly because the sound was bad. The studio needs to fix that. Otherwise, it is an excellent look at corporate negotiation in Lizard Land.

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Hot air balloons flying over spectacular Cappadocia.Turkey

Help Mind Matters News Continue in 2021

In an otherwise bad year, you have a chance to make your mind matter

Please help Mind Matters News thrive in 2021 by donating to our sponsor. We live in a culture where human uniqueness is increasingly questioned, and where claims about “intelligent” machines replacing human beings are embraced without serious skepticism. So where can you go to separate fact and fiction when it comes to debates over humans and machines? If you are reading this article, you know where: Mind Matters News! We supply news, analysis, and weekly podcasts that explore issues relating to mind, brain, neuroscience, personal responsibility, free speech, automation, and the use and abuse of new technologies. We do this all from the perspective that humans are unique and can’t be replaced by machines. Under the editorship of Denyse O’Leary,…

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lego figurines in front of circuits with other figurines

How Do You Know That Your “AI” Isn’t a Human Being?

AI often depends not on geniuses, but on thousands of anonymous, toiling human workers

Many people think that AI happens without human intervention. In reality, many toiling workers help make it possible. In a piece at Medium on ethical dangers of AI, Dorothea Baur (pictured) lists four concerns but one stands out. And it’s not science fiction: 4. AI hype downplays human contribution AI hype is also part of stories that exaggerate the capabilities of AI in the present when effectively humans are still doing most of the work — we have all heard about the thousands of ghost workers who are manually labeling data to feed algorithms under dire working conditions. So, presenting something as machine intelligence when it’s actually human intelligence, is also dishonest and it deprecates the humans doing the real…

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quantum computer closeup

Could Slowing Quantum Processes Lead To More Useful Computing?

“Adiabatic” quantum computing slows down the process, in the hope of achieving more reliable quantum positions

In a recent 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 important to our future. They discussed the prospects of slowing down quantum computing to make it more useful (adiabatic computing). https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-110-Enrique-Blair.mp3 The discussion of quantum communication begins at approximately 58:47. The Show Notes and transcript follow. Enrique Blair (pictured): I guess the challenge with entangling massive numbers of quantum systems is that entanglement becomes much more fragile. In quantum communication, you just need pairs of photons to be entangled. One with another, that’s it. Whereas with quantum computing, you need many, many systems to be entangled, and that’s just…

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Quitting smoking - male hand crushing cigarette

Yellow Fingers Do Not Cause Lung Cancer

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and computer engineer Bob Marks look at the ways Big Data can mislead us into mistaking incidental events for causes

It’s easy to explain what “information” is if we don’t think much about it. But what if we ask a student, what does your term paper weigh? How much energy does it consume? More or less matter and energy than, say, lightning striking a tree? Of course, the student will protest, “But that’s not the point! It’s my term paper.” Exactly. So information is very different from matter and energy. It means something. Realizing that information is different from matter and energy can help us understand issues like the difference between the causes of a problem (causation) and circumstances that may be associated with the problem but do not cause it (correlation). In last week’s podcast, “Robert J. Marks on…

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ai, analysis, artificial intelligence, automation, big data, brain, business, cg, cloud computing, communication, computer graphics, concept, creative, cyber, deep learning, digital transformation

Why did the Human Brain Project Crash and Burn?

To simulate the human brain on a computer was a top flight EU project a decade ago. Today, a filmmaker explores the rubble dreams leave behind

The Human Brain Project from 2013 sounded like science fiction in an EU setting: We will build a brain in a decade: “And, if we do succeed, we will send, in ten years, a hologram to talk to you.” Well, we all got one thing right. It was fiction. Filmmaker Noah Hutton, a sympathetic observer, chronicled the decline, producing a documentary, In Silico, that focuses on booster Henry Markram who, according to his TED talk bio from 2009, was “director of Blue Brain, a supercomputing project that can model components of the mammalian brain to precise cellular detail — and simulate their activity in 3D. Soon he’ll simulate a whole rat brain in real time.” When the project started to…

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Medical tablet displaying cerebral activity

Why Are Some Scientists Turning Away From Brain Scans?

Sometimes, brain scans just sound like popular opinion. What's wrong?

Brain scans have brought us many benefits, including the discovery that people (or rats for that matter) can function normally without most of their brain. Without such scans, there was no way to be sure. But, as with any technology, there are problems: Studies of brain images have suggested that Republicans and Democrats have visibly different thinking, that overweight adults have stronger responses to pictures of food and that it’s possible to predict a sober person’s likelihood of relapse. But such buzzy findings are coming under growing scrutiny as scientists grapple with the fact that some brain scan research doesn’t seem to hold up. Such studies have been criticized for relying on too few subjects and for incorrectly analyzing or…

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Bangkok, Thailand 25 AUG 2020. Men hand using digital tablet for search information on Google.  Wireless Smartphone technology with intelligence search engine.

Google’s Leading AI Ethics Researcher Fired, Amid Controversy

Her research team targeted Google’s “cash cow”: advertising

Timnit Gebru, a leading AI ethics researcher, was fired from Google early this month under circumstances that have raised suspicions across the industry: On December 2, the AI research community was shocked to learn that Timnit Gebru had been fired from her post at Google. Gebru, one of the leading voices in responsible AI research, is known among other things for coauthoring groundbreaking work that revealed the discriminatory nature of facial recognition, cofounding the Black in AI affinity group, and relentlessly advocating for diversity in the tech industry. But on Wednesday evening, she announced on Twitter that she had been terminated from her position as Google’s ethical AI co-lead. “Apparently my manager’s manager sent an email [to] my direct reports…

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burst set of random numbers glowing on a black background

How Spooky “Quantum Collapse” Can Give Us More Secure Encryption

If entangled photons linked to random numbers are transmitted, parties on either end can know, via high error rates, that they’ve been intercepted.

In a recent 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 important to our future. They discussed “quantum communication” (generally, quantum encryption) and why safer quantum encryption might be easier to achieve than general quantum computing. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-110-Enrique-Blair.mp3 The discussion of quantum communication begins at approximately 55:32. The Show Notes and transcript follow. Robert J. Marks: I know there’s lots of interesting quantum communication today. The NSF and the Department of Defense are throwing big bucks at it. What is it, just roughly? Enrique Blair: Quantum communication really is the use of quantum mechanics to share information in a secure manner.…

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Cybernetic Brain. Electronic chip in form of human brain in electronic cyberspace. Illustration on the subject of 'Artificial Intelligence'.

AI: Still Just Curve Fitting, Not Finding a Theory of Everything

The AI Feynman algorithm is impressive, as the New York Times notes, but it doesn’t devise any laws of physics

Judea Pearl, a winner of the Turing Award (the “Nobel Prize of computing”), has argued that, “All the impressive achievements of deep learning amount to just curve fitting.” Finding patterns in data may be useful but it is not real intelligence. A recent New York Times article, “Can a Computer Devise a Theory of Everything?” suggested that Pearl is wrong because computer algorithms have moved beyond mere curve fitting. Stephen Hawking’s 1980 prediction that, “The end might not be in sight for theoretical physics, but it might be in sight for theoretical physicists” was quoted. If computers can now devise theories that make theoretical physicists redundant, then they are surely smarter than the rest of us. The program behind the…

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A girl in a hat on top of a hill in silence and loneliness admires the calm natural landscape and balloons.

Why Consciousness Shows That Materialism Is False

The mind refutes materialism in a rather straightforward way

My friend and colleague Bill Dembski, a leading advocate of intelligent design of the universe and life forms, has done a superb short interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn on Closer to Truth. Bill takes a position that will surprise many fellow Christians—he doesn’t believe that consciousness represents an insurmountable challenge to materialism: Bill makes the point that much of the popular argument hinges on shifting meanings of “materialism” and “consciousness.” By contrast, he argues, the design inference in biology is a much more effective challenge to materialism. I agree that design in nature is an effective challenge to materialism. But I also believe that the mind refutes materialism in a rather straightforward way—and in much the same way that evidence…

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Everyone Has A Story, typed words on a vintage typewriter. old paper. close-up. my history

Do We Really Remain the Same Person Throughout Our Lives?

Or is the continuity of our selves just an illusion?

That’s an interesting question because most cells in our bodies will die and be replaced a number of times. Many brain cells die but they are not replaced. They are just gone. So what, if anything, remains the same? One well-known professor of psychology, Susan Blackmore (pictured), argues that there is no continuity between our present selves and our past selves: Susan says there is an “illusion of continuity”, but what we think is “us” is just a “multiple parallel system” with “multiple parallel things going on”. So, she says, “the so-called me now is just another reconstruction. There was another one half an hour ago, and there’ll be another one, but they’re not really the same person, they’re just…

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Chinese English Bible.

China’s Door-to-Door Census Now Identifies Religious Believers

Census takers are urged to keep their eyes open for evidence of religious activity

China will complete its seventh census, begun on November 1, on December 10. New features that have prompted concern include: Residents must indicate whether they have family members in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan or if they have any family members outside of the country and those who are over sixty must indicate their state of health (Reuters, November 2, 2020). Some have resisted answering census takers’ questions for fear of losing rights and privileges under the new Social Credit System. But more than that, some seven million census takers go door-to-door, interviewing residents and entering information that goes directly to the government via mobile apps. Bitter Winter talked to several census takers who said they were instructed to pay…

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Illustration of an extraterrestrial wearing a spacesuit standing on a mountaintop looking at the blue sky on an alien planet.

Astronomer Bets a Cup of Coffee That We’ll Encounter ET by 2036

Seth Shostak points to the increase in the number of exoplanets identified and the increase in computing power

Seth Shostak, iconic astronomer who directs the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), is so confident that the vast increase in computing power, based on Moore’s Law, will make the difference in detecting signals from alien civilizations that he will bet you a cup of Starbucks coffee that we make contact by 2036. Moore’s Law (1965) originally held that computers would double in power every two years. But today’s pace is actually faster than that. And on the horizon is quantum computing and carbon computing, which would speed things up while reducing energy consumption. So Shostak (pictured) is looking at considerable reinforcements for a systematic search. He stresses that the search for ET is now largely computerized: “We don’t sit in…

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weird ice planet

We Won’t Find ET on Ocean Planets, Researchers Say

We will see few extraterrestrials if a great many promising exoplanets are Waterworlds

Science writer Matt Williams has been writing a series on the question of why, despite the size of our galaxy, we see no other intelligent life forms. It could be, he suggests, that “many planets out there are just too watery!” Williams points out that, although water covers 71% of Earth’s surface, it is only 0.02% of the planet’s mass. If the proportion were much higher, Earth would be an ocean planet because the water would surface. It’s an open question whether an ocean planet would feature highly technologically developed intelligent life forms. Dolphins, for example, are quite intelligent but they do not seek to use any technology. The question of whether a planet could have too much water arose,…

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Concept of a futuristic quantum data center, supercomputer running with physical waves

Why Google’s “Quantum Supremacy” Isn’t Changing Much—Not Yet

Quantum computing was suggested by physicist Richard Feynman in 1982; the supremacy battles are quite recent

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 important to our future. One thing they discussed was Google’s claim to quantum supremacy. What does it mean? Does it matter? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-110-Enrique-Blair.mp3 The discussion of quantum supremacy begins at approximately 47:55. The Show Notes and transcript follow. Excerpts from the transcript: Robert J. Marks (pictured): Google recently announced they had achieved quantum supremacy. What is quantum supremacy, and how does that relate to the quantum computer and the other computers that we use today? Enrique Blair: It’s a pretty interesting buzzword. Maybe the first thing to mention is what…

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Question Signs

Information Is the Currency of Life. But What IS It?

How do we understand information in a universe that resists resolution into one single, simple system?

At first, “What is information?” seems like a question with a simple answer. Stuff we need to know. Then, if we think about it, it dissolves into paradoxes. A storage medium—a backup drive, maybe—that contains vital information weighs exactly the same as one that contains nothing, gibberish, or dangerously outdated information. There is no way we can know without engaging intelligently with the content. That content is measured in bits and bytes, not kilograms and joules—which means that it is hard to relate to other quantities in our universe. In this week’s podcast, “Robert J. Marks on information and AI, Part 1.” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews Walter Bradley Center director and computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks on how we…

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quantum computer

How Quantum Computing Can and Can’t Help Us Here in Macro World

Quantum computing could easily break down current encryption schemes

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, yet an intrinsic part of the way our universe works. They discussed whether quantum computing will be in our future any time soon? In our cell phones? What difference will it make? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-110-Enrique-Blair.mp3 The discussion of quantum computing begins at approximately 37:31. The Show Notes and transcript follow. Excerpts from the transcript: One significant thing that quantum computing could do is enable more secure encryption. Robert J. Marks: Let’s get to quantum computing. This is the thing that’s in the news everywhere. There was the announcement that Google has built…

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student term paper showing 'a' grade

Can a Computer Write Your Paper for You Someday Soon?

GPT-3 recently came up with a paragraph that—a pop psychologist agreed—sounded just like him

This summer the OpenAI lab, backed by $1 billion in funding from Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, released an updated version of GPT-3, a text generator that produces convincing sentences by analyzing, among other online sources, Wikipedia, countless blog posts, and thousands of digital books. According to a recent story by Cade Metz in the New York Times, one GPT-3 programmer decided to target pop psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. Could GPT-3 really come up with a paragraph that sounded just like him? Kaufman himself (pictured) was really impressed with this one, on the subject of becoming more creative: I think creative expression is a natural byproduct of growing up in a diverse world. The more diverse the world is, the more…

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Theory of Everything concept

Can a Powerful Enough Computer Work Out a Theory of Everything?

Some physicists hope so even if it would put them out of work. But is it possible?

Recently, prominent physicists were asked whether a sufficiently powerful computer could come up with a Theory of Everything, by the sheer power of crunching numbers. As a recent New York Times article by Dennis Overbye shows, physicists were divided and uncertain: “It might be possible, physicists say, but not anytime soon. And there’s no guarantee that we humans will understand the result.” But doubt, in the view of multiverse theorist Max Tegmark, means we are guilty of “carbon chauvinism”—the idea that humans could be smarter than computers. The late Stephen Hawking thought that computers would replace humans and was alarmed by the prospect. According to Overbye, Hawking had been warning that computers would start to replace physicists in particular since…