Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive February 2021

Machine learning , artificial intelligence , ai, deep learning blockchain neural network concept. Brain made with shining wireframe above multiple blockchain cpu on circuit board 3d render.

Why Oxford’s John Lennox Wrote a Book on AI Promises and Threats

His book 2084 leans on George Orwell’s 1984 but takes its inspiration from C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength

Recently, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed Oxford mathematician John Lennox on his latest book 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity (2020). He focused on why Lennox chose that theme and how far we have caught up with George Orwell’s 1984. Here are some excerpts from the combined interviews in “John Lennox on Artificial Intelligence and Humanity”: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-123-John-Lennox.mp3 A partial transcript follows, along with highlights, Show Notes, and Resources: Robert J. Marks (starting at roughly 1:40 min): Many of Orwell’s predictions about communism were proven. So what will be the effects of AI a century later in the year 2084? Replacing George Orwell is Dr. John Lennox who has written 2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future…

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Blue glowing multiverse in space

We Don’t Live in a Multiverse Because the Concept Makes No Sense

Neurologist Steven Novella and philosopher Philip Goff, both atheists, agree that there are many universes besides the one we live in

Cosmic fine-tuning is the observation that many of the values of the variables in the fundamental laws of physics specifically permit the existence of sentient life (life like us) within a very narrow margin of error. The likelihood of this happening by chance seems vanishingly small. It seems as if Someone expected us. How can we explain this? The fact that God created the universe explains fine-tuning. But for atheists, it’s a real conundrum. As a result, at Neurologica blog, neurologist Steven Novella (pictured) and philosopher Philip Goff have been discussing the most popular atheist explanation for fine-tuning, the “multiverse.” That is, there are countless universes out there, each with its own parameters, and ours just happens to be one…

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Road in dark forest

Sci-fi Saturday: A Future Where Dreams Have Been Privatized

Unfortunately, the dream Carlos wants is to see his missing family again and that's illegal …

“I Dream” at DUST by Juan Pablo Arriagada (February 20, 2021, 14.25 min, Spanish with English subtitles) “In the future, dreams have been privatized. Carlos will risk anything to have one last dream to see his missing family.” Severe language and violence warning. It’s an interesting concept: “It was just a matter of time before dreams became privatized and became a basic service. Only rich people can afford to dream. The people who can’t pay for it must work double shifts. Or buy this drug that makes them stay awake. And, by the way, it’s made by the same people that privatized sleep.” Carlos, an ex-cop whose family went missing, can afford one last dream in which he wants to…

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Jupiter's moon Europa in front of the planet Jupiter

Is Intelligent Life Found in Oceans Inside Planets and Moons?

The Ocean Planets Hypothesis is that intelligent beings may flourish in the interior oceans of the moons of gas giant planets — or within exoplanets — but they are trapped there

Readers will recall that last year, we were looking at science writer Matt Williams’s analysis of the various reasons that we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. (See the links below.) Last time out in November, we looked at the Transcension Hypothesis: The extraterrestrial intelligences exist—but after a Singularity, they became virtual intelligences, exploring inner space at an undetectably small scale. Williams has reported since then on some additional hypotheses so this week we look at a more conventional approach — the “Ocean Worlds” Hypothesis, that icy planets may have interior oceans that harbor life: To illustrate, there’s the search for life that is going on right now in the Solar System, which is almost entirely focused on…

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Black man in bed suffering from insomnia and sleep disorder

Sci-fi Saturday: What If Sleep Were a Distant Memory?

In a world going mad and dying from insomnia, a young woman may have a cure

“Don’t Forget to Remember” at DUST by Tom Rotenberg (February 23, 2021, 14:50 min) “A young woman must traverse an alternate dimension in order to save the world from a fatal form of insomnia.” (A flashing lights warning is posted. One might add a language warning.) The big challenge in writing about insomnia is not to contribute to it. The harrowing opening scene of this film clears that bar. We are asked to picture a world in which all humans have gone eight months without sleep and will eventually die in consequence. The government rations sleeping pills but that can’t go on indefinitely. The woman who is chosen to save humanity is guided by the outwardly inaudible voices of those…

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Oumuamua is a mildly active comet, and the first interstellar object detected passing through the Solar System.

Astrobiologist Cautions Against Jumping the Gun in Spotting ET

Scientists he says, are cautious with good reason. There are many weird natural phenomena like Oumuamua out there.

At Nautilus, astrophysicist (and astrobiologist) Caleb A. Scharf offers some sobering reflections on the diligent search for extraterrestrial intelligences (ET) in recent decades: Despite this effort, there has been no evidence to date of extraterrestrial life. But that lack of evidence is not because the scientific enterprise is uniformly conservative, rigid, and close-minded, as implied by [astronomer Avi] Loeb and uncritically echoed by some columnists. It’s because no discovery or event has risen to the level where it is inexplicable in any other way. Could greater funding and support change that story? Perhaps, but the same could be said for almost any other ambitious scientific enterprise, and the answer cannot be known beforehand. Caleb Scharf, “The Alien-Haunted World” at Nautilus…

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A Group Of Large Radio Telescopes

Astrophysicist Warns: Aliens May Be Boring or Unreachable

Researchers are taking the emissions from the vicinity of exoplanet Proxima B seriously. But if it is truly a technological signal, what would follow?

Boring? How very un-Star Trek of them! But it’s possible, says Caleb A. Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University (pictured). He worries that, “Perhaps other life in the universe is, in the end, utterly dull.” Why might he think so? He is reflecting on the recent report of what may be a technological signal at roughly 982.002 MHz, coinciding with the direction of Proxima Centauri. If it is, what might the aliens turn out to be like? There’ll be some initial oddities, some curiosities that aren’t quite the things we planned for. A dull carrier wave signal for instance. Over time more evidence will show up, until eventually it’s clear that there are lots of species out there, puttering…

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eコマース

Could a Seattle Law Hobble Amazon’s Unaccountable Censorship?

John West discusses Amazon’s vulnerability in Seattle with Kara McKinney at Tipping Point

Recently, John West, Managing Director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, offered some thoughts at Tipping Point about Seattle legislation that could stymie Big Tech’s growing tendency toward viewpoint discrimination: Everyone is wondering what we can do about Big Tech censorship and it turns out there is a law on the books in progressive Seattle just waiting to be used. John West, “Big Tech Discrimination with John West” at Tipping Point (February 25, 2021) He’s referring to this law which forbids discrimination on the basis of, among other things, political ideology, seen as: any idea or belief, or coordinated body of ideas or beliefs, relating to the purpose, conduct, organization, function or basis of government and related…

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Schoolchildren writing on chalkboard in classroom during math lesson

Antiracism In Math Promotes Racism and Bad Math

If you are scratching your head over how math might be racist, you are not alone

Recently, a conglomeration of California education associations got together to work on a series of resources for mathematics teachers. The goal? Eliminate racism in mathematics classes by promoting Equitable Math. If you are struggling to imagine how mathematics could be racist, you are not alone. I am certain there exist racist teachers, and probably teachers who exhibit racist expectations of their students. I would support any reasonable action to get rid of or reform such teachers. But that is not the primary goal of these resources. The website, equitablemath.org, instead believes that the very way that mathematics is commonly taught is not just racist, but is specifically white supremacist. While I consider myself to be somewhat of a mathematics reformer…

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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.

Another AI Ethics Head at Google Gets Fired Over Diversity Issues

The AI ethics team and Google management may have very different ideas about what “ethics” means

On February 19, Google fired Margaret Mitchell, the AI ethics co-lead at Google Brain. Mitchell’s co-leading colleague, Timnit Gebru, had been fired in December, amid controversy. Both women were critical of Google’s diversity hiring record during the two years they worked together. The flashpoint in Mitchell’s case, for which she had been temporarily suspended earlier, hinged on claims of unauthorized use of files: In a statement, a Google spokesperson said Mitchell had shared “confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees” outside the company. After Mitchell’s suspension last month, Google said activity in her account had triggered a security system. A source familiar with Mitchell’s suspension said she had been using a script to search her email for material…

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Acceleration of Painted Dream

A Reader Asks: Is It True That There Is No Self?

The assertion that self is an illusion is not even wrong — it’s self-refuting, like saying “I don’t exist” or “Misery is green”

Sir, I am confused after reading the view of materialist philosophers regarding the sense of self. One of them, Thomas Meitzinger, a German philosopher and expert in conciousness, said that “There is no self” in his book. He said that self is an illusion produced by modules of brain. Is it so? Please help me understand this view. Thomas Meitzinger (pictured) is a prominent philosopher of mind who has a strong interest in artificial intelligence. I don’t know his work well, but what I do know of it, I find unintelligible. Perhaps it’s me, or perhaps he’s a sophist, or perhaps both. But this much is clear: My self cannot be an illusion, because having an illusion presupposes a self.…

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ethereum Crypto currency was found in the treasure box

Ethereum Is a Better Long Run Bet Than Bitcoin, Researchers Say

Cryptocurrencies in general are starting to be seen as part of a balanced portfolio

In an article featuring recent science research into the cryptocurrency market, Ross Pomeroy offers some researchers’ perspective on why Ethereum tends to be more stable than Bitcoin: Ethereum might be a better long-term investment than Bitcoin. The cryptocurrency Ethereum ranks second to Bitcoin in terms of popularity, yet two studies have shown that tends to be more stable and a better “safe-haven” investment during difficult economic times. As a team of researchers from Singapore wrote in the journal PLoS ONE, “Although both Bitcoin and Ethereum are digital tokens that serve as decentralised currency based on blockchain technology, there are crucial differences between them. While Bitcoin has positioned itself as an alternative monetary system in the financial market, Ethereum has mostly…

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close up of a red ant face in white

Can Insects, Bacteria, and Plants Have Personalities Too?

If personality amounts to observed individual differences in behavior, the answer is yes, though the issues are more complex for plants

Yesterday, we looked at a paper in which researchers reported that marmosets (a South American monkey) have personalities. Most of us would simply assume that they do and we are right to think so. Research on many vertebrate animal species shows that even reptiles and fish have personalities. Of course, the number of dimensions a vertebrate’s personality can have varies with its intellectual and lifestyle complexity. But now, what about the vast world of the invertebrates, the life forms whose body is not organized around a spinal cord terminating in a brain? Their body plans can vary from that of a starfish through to a honeybee. Can they have personalities, despite very different brain arrangements, including — in some cases…

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Sea turtle coming out of the shell

AI May Help Save Endangered Turtles via GPS Tracking “Eggs”

InvestEGGator “eggs” look real but they conceal GPS trackers, which could identify turtle egg smugglers

It’s an ingenious idea; too bad no one thought of it earlier: Place GPS-enabled decoy sea turtle eggs into nests on the beach and see where a smuggler takes them: The egg decoys, dubbed InvestEggator, were developed by the conservation organization Paso Pacifico to address the illegal trade of endangered sea turtles in Central America, where the eggs are smuggled from beaches and sold to restaurants and bars as a delicacy. Paso Pacifico-affiliated scientist Kim Williams-Guillen conceived and designed the decoys in response to a call for proposals from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge. Cell Press, “Tracking sea turtle egg traffickers with GPS-enabled decoy eggs” at ScienceDaily The paper is open access. Williams-Guillen…

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Silvery marmoset (Mico argentatus).

Why Do Researchers Wonder Whether Animals Have Personalities?

Every friend of dogs, cats, or birds knows what some researchers struggle to prove. Let’s take a look at what they found

Recently, a research team announced that marmosets — small highly social New World monkeys — display personality traits, whether they are wild or captive: Some individuals were fast to approach any novelty, while others were more careful; hereby showing a similar pattern to humans: for instance, some humans enjoy trying out new restaurants, whereas others prefer to eat in their favorite restaurant. What is more interesting, when comparing personality traits of monkeys in Austria across four years, the authors found that these monkeys are quite consistent in their personality traits (e.g., those that are explorative when they are younger, stay similarly explorative four years afterwards). University of Vienna, “Marmoset Monkeys Have Personalities Too” at Neuroscience News The paper is open…

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Border collie dog catching frisbee in jump

Researchers Disappointed By Efforts to Teach AI Common Sense

When it comes to common sense, can the researchers really dispense with the importance of life experience?

A recent experiment showed that AI still does not show common sense: “Current machine text-generation models can write an article that may be convincing to many humans, but they’re basically mimicking what they have seen in the training phase,” said [PhD student Yuchen] Lin. “Our goal in this paper is to study the problem of whether current state-of-the-art text-generation models can write sentences to describe natural scenarios in our everyday lives.” University of Southern California, “New test reveals AI still lacks common sense” at ScienceDaily The paper is open access. Essentially, fake news bots can sound like the New York Times or marketing copy by generating mimics, after taking in thousands of natural examples. But it isn’t thinking about any…

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font, lead set, book printing

The Myth of “No Code” Software (Part III)

The complexities of human language present problems for natural language programming

Many visions of the future include humans programming through “natural language” — where humans merely state what they want and computers “figure out” how to write code that does what is requested. While there have been many demos that have led people to believe that this will be possible, the truth is, the idea has so many problems with it, it is hard to know where to begin. Let’s begin with the successes of natural language programming. Wolfram|Alpha is probably the best-known natural language programming system. You type in a command in natural English, and Wolfram|Alpha converts that command into native Mathematica code and runs it. In 2010, Stephen Wolfram announced that Wolfram|Alpha signified that natural language programming really was…

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newspaper on brown wooden table

Facebook Unfriends Australia, Blacks Out Critical News

It started as a trade dispute but the growing power of Big Social Media to impose news blackouts threatens freedom of information, even safety

Last week, in a business dispute with the government of Australia, Facebook wiped news from Australia from its 2.6 billion users’ feeds. Michael Cook (pictured), editor of Australia-based MercatorNet, explains what that meant: So when you checked your Facebook feed on February 18, you didn’t see anything from The Australian, The Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph or, initially, the Bureau of Meteorology, Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, Western Sydney Health, South Australia Health, various state health services and some state Governments. This is in the middle of the fire season and a Covid-19 pandemic, for which many people rely on Facebook for updates. You also didn’t see anything from MercatorNet or BioEdge,…

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How Walter Bradley Broke Down Campus Anti-Christian Prejudice

Bradley has been a very successful mechanical engineering researcher but he has never lost sight of larger goals, such as religious freedom at universities

In Thursday’s podcast, “The Life of Walter Bradley With William Dembski (Part II),” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks and design theorist William Dembski reflect on the biography they have written about a remarkable engineer, Walter Bradley, For a Greater Purpose: The Life and Legacy of Walter Bradley. In Part I, they discussed Bradley’s work in helping develop appropriate industries using sustainable technologies in the developing world. Here in Part II, they look at the way Bradley politely but effectively insisted on respect for the rights of religious students and faculty, as well as others. And got it. Robert J. Marks: When Walter Bradley was a professor, one of the things that he wanted to do was to talk…

new technologies, a child uses a futuristic processor for augmented reality. high technology and communication concept. TV

Theoretical Physicist Argues, the Sim Universe Is Pseudoscience

It’s a lot of fun in science fiction and some scitech celebs buy in. But Sabine Hossenfelder and others explain why it’s fiction

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder does not like the notion that we are living in a giant computer sim. Elon Musk likes it (“Elon Musk says there’s a ‘one in billions’ chance reality is not a simulation”) and so does Neil deGrasse Tyson (“Neil deGrasse Tyson says it’s ‘very likely’ the universe is a simulation”). Philosopher of science Nick Bostrom advanced that view in a seminal 2003 paper in Philosophical Quarterly. Former Astronomer Royal Martin Rees is sympathetic to it. Some call it the Planetarium hypothesis, when it is cited as a reason we do not see intelligent extraterrestrials. One source offers “15 irrefutable reasons” why, like Neo in The Matrix (1999), we might be living in a universe that is…