Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive January 2021

A Physicist Asks, Was the Universe Made For Us? She Says No

But the question is more complicated than it appears at first

Sabine Hossenfelder thinks there is no way to determine an answer to the question of whether the universe was made for us because we have access to only one universe for data: There is no way to ever quantify this probability because we will never measure a constant of nature that has a value other than the one it does have. If you want to quantify a probability you have to collect a sample of data. You could do that, for example, if you were throwing dice.Throw them often enough, and you get an empirically supported probability distribution. But we do not have an empirically supported probability distribution for the constants of nature. And why is that. It’s because… they…

Your Soul Has No “Off Switch”

A major modern misunderstanding of the human mind is to assume that it is like a machine with an “on” and an “off” switch

I have written, in an earlier post, about the problem of “consciousness:” — that is, the problem inherent to the word itself and to the concept it conveys. I believe that “consciousness” is a mere narrative gloss on the mind — it denotes nothing beyond the mental powers of the soul. This is not just linguistic nitpicking. The concept of “consciousness” is much worse than useless. It leads us to misunderstand the mind in a profound way, as I will explain. The point may seem subtle but I believe that, if you think deeply enough about it, you will see that it is obviously true. First, I am not saying “consciousness” is an illusion. or possibly a delusion. This witless…

Will China Find Alien Life First? A Chinese Astronomer Says Yes

Whether either American or Chinese astronomers find anything, it will certainly be an interesting race

One Chinese astronomer, Tong-Jie Zhang, is working on it: In China, Zhang was tirelessly lobbying Chinese authorities to access FAST for his own research. Only recently was he granted the ability to use the telescope through the National Astronomical Observatories’ association. Initially, Zhang and his students had to conduct their observations at FAST while the telescope observed other targets, not allowing him to choose the areas he wanted. But after collaborating with Werthimer and students from the SETI Research Center on a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, Chinese officials eventually allowed Zhang a window of time with the telescope to shortlist specific solar systems that he and his collaborators believe can most likely harbor intelligent life. Over the next…

Sci-fi Saturday: Rescuing Lost People

Animated, in French, with English subtitles, but don't let that deter you

Here’s a very new (January 26, 2021), very short (5:41 min) animated video from Valérie Bousquie, Joséphine Meis, Côme Roy, Antoine Vignon, and Benjamin Warnitz. In a wild an inhabited desert, a team of rangers is in charge of rescuing people who got lost there. The film is in French with English subtitles (and the promo copy could have used an English-speaking editor). It’s not clear why it is science fiction and I found the story a little hard to understand. But the professional relationships sound pretty real and make it worth the watch. Note: Someone reviewed the film at Filmnosis, commenting, “Staged in a desert, a lot of work has been dedicated to environment and character design, polished framing,…

Who Is Allowed in the Smoke-Filled Rooms of Investment?

How the stock market is manipulated, using the GameStop episode as an example

Full disclosure: I continue to maintain positions in some of the stocks mentioned in this article. But, as you will see, my goal here is neither to promote stock or dissuade from it, but rather to ask a deeper question about who is allowed to do what about a stock. For those who are unaware, the last two weeks in the stock market have gone crazy. GameStop (GME), a company that continues to lose money, skyrocketed from $18/share to, as of the time I’m writing, just about$450 per share. That’s right the stock soared over 20 times in value over the period of a few weeks. Several other stocks have also skyrocketed, including AMC Entertainment (AMC) and Koss Corporation…

We try to understand why the universe seems fine-tuned for life

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, a frequent contributor to Mind Matters News, interviewed our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks on the nature of information. In this second part of the interview (here’s the first part), the question comes up: How do we know if something is an accident or not? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-118-Robert-Marks.mp3 A partial transcript follows. This portion begins at 11:02. Show notes and links follow. Michael Egnor: Aristotle said that in order to understand any process in nature, you really need to know four causes of that process. Note: The causes, according to Simply Philosophy are material, formal, efficient, and final. The material cause of a thing is what it is made of. A cat, for example, is made of…

Does Information Just Happen? Or Does the Universe Have Meaning?

The computer revolution did not show that information could be produced from nothing

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, a frequent contributor to Mind Matters News, interviewed our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks, a computer engineer, on the nature of information. Information makes a huge difference to what happens among human beings. But it is not like matter or energy. It doesn’t weigh anything or generate heat. How can we understand it scientifically? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-118-Robert-Marks.mp3 A partial transcript follows. This portion begins at 01:10. Show notes and links follow. Robert J. Marks: Well, my background is not in biology, but it is in computer science and computer engineering. And one of the things we do is do artificial intelligence. And I think maybe your question translated to artificial intelligence is, can anything happen in artificial…

To Succeed, Understand Difference Between Influence and Power

Do you wonder why some people are listened to and not others, regardless of the value of their ideas? Well, read on…

At business mag Forbes, some have begun to consider the difference between influence and power: Swarthmore College has been rated the best liberal arts college in the U.S. by Academic Influence, a new college rankings method that uses artificial intelligence technology to search massive databases and measure the impact of work by individuals who’ve been affiliated with colleges and universities throughout the world. Last Monday, Academic Influence released its first-ever ranking of American liberal arts colleges – those four-year institutions that are relatively small in size, focus on bachelor’s level education, emphasize direct engagement with professors, provide an enriched residential experience, and insist on broad grounding in the liberal arts along with focused study in a major. In brief, here’s…

What If Many People Ditched Government Currencies for Bitcoin?

Are cryptocurrencies our best bet for a fair global currency system?

Picture a world racked by economic issues like coronavirus, where people begin ditching government (fiat) currencies for Bitcoin. Small changes are are underway: The chief economist did not mention that a growing number of jurisdictions are already embracing bitcoin for tax payments. For example, the canton of Zug in Switzerland announced that it will start accepting bitcoin for tax payments this year. Several other local governments in Switzerland have made a similar announcement, such as Zermatt. Recently, the mayor of Miami said that he is working on allowing payments for city services in bitcoin. Furthermore, a growing number of stores are accepting bitcoin payments. Payments giant Paypal, for example, is planning to allow people to use cryptocurrency to pay for…

Does the Ability To Think Depend on Consciousness?

From a medical perspective, “consciousness” adds nothing to the description of mental states

The title question might seem like a strange one but it is vitally important if we are to interpret neuroscience correctly and if we are to understand the mind–brain relationship. In my view, the capacity for thought does not depend on consciousness. The term “consciousness” is at best meaningless and at worst an impediment to understanding the mind. “Consciousness” is a very vague term and, ultimately, I don’t think it has any useful meaning at all, apart from other categories such as sensation, perception, imagination, reason etc. Aristotle had no distinct term for it. Nor do I think did any of the ancient or medieval philosophers. Consciousness is a modern term that seems to subsume all of the sensate powers…

Can Deepfakes Substitute for Actors?

Would you care if the actor is a real person or not?

When our Walter Bradley Center director, Robert J. Marks, was discussing with Eric Holloway the events that really made a difference in AI, one very interesting issue that came up was the use of deepfakes to substitute for actors in films. Robert J. Marks: Eric, how is Disney using deep fakes in entertainment? Eric Holloway: Well, Disney is using deep fakes and entertainment as a way to capitalize on not having to hire lots of really expensive actors. So you can have a few expensive actors, they do their thing, and then you copy their body movements and face. And now you can just hire a bunch of cheap actors and stick the expensive actors faces on them. Or you…

How China Has Tried To Suppress Coronavirus Science

So far as investigative journalists have been able to determine, the suppression came directly from the top

An investigation by the Associated Press reveals what everyone has suspected since the beginning of the SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) pandemic: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been keeping a tight rein on the publication or distribution of any scientific research on the coronavirus conducted within the country. AP recently found out just how extensive the muzzling of scientific findings has been. Its report also confirms that the orders came from the top: The AP investigation was based on dozens of interviews with Chinese and foreign scientists and officials, along with public notices, leaked emails, internal data and the documents from China’s cabinet and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It reveals a pattern of government secrecy and top-down control…

Will Mediocrity Triumph? The Fallacy That Will Not Die

Economist claims: It is a fundamental economic truth that businesses converge to mediocrity. Is he right?

Nearly 100 years ago, a famous economist named Horace Secrist wrote a book with the provocative title, The Triumph of Mediocrity in Business. He had spent ten years collecting and analyzing data on the success of dozens of companies in dozens of industries during the years 1920 to 1930. For each measure of success, he used the 1920 data to divide the companies in each industry into quartiles: the top 25%, second 25%, third 25%, and bottom 25%. He then calculated the average value of the success metric for the 1920 top-quartile companies every year from 1920 to 1930. He did the same for the other three quartiles. In every case, the companies in both the top two quartiles and the bottom two…

Why “Critical Theory” Might Shape Your Life Going Forward

Critical Theory has begun to rule the public square and we need to understand it

2020 was the year that Critical Theory came to dominate culture in America. It ruled academia for a half century but only in the past year has it begun to rule the American public square as well. Perhaps you’re not interested in Critical Theory but Critical Theory is interested in you. It behooves us to understand it better, because it will be a central theme in American culture for the foreseeable future. For readers who are not familiar with it, I provide here a synopsis. There is a connection to Darwinism at the heart of Critical Theory, as we will see. Critical theory is, at its root, cultural Marxism. It emerged from the failure of Leninism to capture the hearts…

What We Can Do To Prevent More Online Censorship

Encrypted email can be an end-around social media companies' monopoly of free speech

With all the concern about major social media companies deplatforming those they disagree with, there is a concern that these companies’ monopoly on social media will eliminate free speech. New social media platforms such as Gab, Parler and MeWe have popped up to offer freer alternatives. Yet even that is not without peril, as deplatforming can happen lower down the technology stack. Parler was recently kicked off AWS (Amazon Web Services). However, in the midst of all the hubbub we’ve forgotten the original social network: email. Email is still here. The distance between email and modern social media may be smaller than it first appears. Lets make a short list of the perceived differences between social media and email, and…

Why Medical Device Companies Use Priorities Created by Toy Makers

The priorities followed by product developers arise from the ontology they use

The priorities of product development teams arise from the ontology, the beliefs about the nature of reality, they follow. One of the greatest values of defining that ontology is to identify blind spots and wrong assumptions. When the source of priorities is clear, improved, more adaptable options become possible. As Clayton Christensen (1952–2020, pictured) has said: To grow profit margins and revenue, he observes, such companies tend to develop products to satisfy the demands of their most sophisticated customers. As successful as this strategy may be, it means that those companies also tend to ignore opportunities to meet the needs of less sophisticated customers — who may eventually form much larger markets. A hierarchy of products starts with the components,…

The Infinity Mirror Trap: Part 2: The Thought Determinism Paradox

The infinity mirror experience shows that thought determinism cannot explain all human thoughts

In Part 1 of this series, we saw how the belief that “every human thought is an illusion” proves empty and powerless when trying to account for the infinity mirror experience. Part 2 here puts another view held widely by science-trained people, materialism, to the same mirror test. Materialism is the view that everything we observe results from the interplay of matter and energy. Under materialism, each human’s every thought is produced by electrochemical events in the brain. As Marvin Minsky, an artificial intelligence pioneer, wrote in Society of Mind (1988), “Everything, including that which happens in our brains, depends on these and only on these: A set of fixed, deterministic laws and a purely random set of accidents.” Philosopher…

Sci-fi Saturday: A Robot Helps an Old Fellow Rediscover Life

The robot is very well done and how he gets a name is charming

The short sci-fi film, “This Time Away” (13:23) is by Magali Barbe Nigel is an elderly man living as a recluse, haunted by his past and memory of the family he once had, until an unexpected visitor arrives and disrupts his lonely routine. No spoiler, the visitor is a robot, abandoned by children in his back yard. The relationships seem a bit unrealistic. Lots of people abandon their elderly relatives, of course. But we are being asked to believe that a robot was the big solution. In this case, it feels like magic. Well, watch it and see what you think. The robot is done really nicely. Worth watching. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci-fi Saturday:…

Can Robots That Work With People Ever Be Safe?

Robot IQ offers five reasons why not

Cobots are robots designed to be friendly to people. But some doubt that friendship will work: It can be tempting to think of risk as an either/or situation — either your application is safe or it isn’t. In reality, risk is a sliding scale and you can never get rid of all risks completely. You can only know the true risk of a particular task by performing an adequate risk assessment. You need to do this whether the robot is collaborative or not. Truth: cobot safety can be changed to suit task performance The reality is that cobots have always been high-performance robots suitable for a range of industrial applications. Instead of being lesser robots, as some people mistakenly believe,…

Sci-fi Saturday: What If an Old Man Could See His Mother Again?

It is a hard film to watch if you lost a loved one, but worthwhile

A bit sad but worth seeing. (4:01 min from Nick Naum & Csaba Nagy) An old man, with a receding memory, pays to view synthetic recreations of his mother and childhood. I had a hard time watching this film because I would so like to see my parents (who died in their nineties) again, especially when they were young. But I can tell you this: My father once got a call from the country for old men. In case you ever wondered, yes, it’s real. It’s too bad if some people are scamming about it. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci Fi Saturday: A fight for the winning ticket In a 2040 superstorm, engulfing the planet,…