Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive March 2021

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child hands showing a colorful 123 numbers agains wooden table. Concept of Child education, learning mathematics and counting

The Fundamental Problem With Common Core Math

Intuition relies on skill, not the other way around

In 2010, a bold effort to reform math curriculum was adopted by the majority of the United States. Known as “Common Core Math,” the goal of this endeavor was to establish a common foundation of mathematics education across the country, and to help bolster not only students’ mathematical abilities, but also their mathematical intuition. The goal was to help students think about math more deeply, believing that this will help them work with mathematics better in later years. Before discussing problems with this approach, I want to say that I appreciate the idea of helping students think more deeply about mathematics. After years and years and years of mathematics education, many students wind up thinking about mathematics as merely a set…

Heritage-Building
Heritage Building

Influential Think Tank Declines Big Tech Donations

The Heritage Foundation declined six-figure donations from Big Tech companies Facebook and Google in 2020, citing repeated censorship of conservative views

News website Axios obtained letters signed by Heritage Foundation‘s departing President Kay Coles James (pictured), addressed to the CEOs of both Facebook and Google in October 2020, explaining why Heritage felt compelled to decline the six-figure contributions from the companies. “We cannot in good conscience take money from a company that repeatedly, and blatantly, suppresses conservative speech on your platforms,” reads the letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.  A similar statement is made in the letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.  Heritage declined $225,000 from Google, and returned $150,000 that came from Facebook. The Heritage Foundation made several accusations against the companies in its letters, including: that Facebook suppressed their reach by blocking referral traffic; that Facebook targeted Heritage with third-party fact-checkers; and that Google…

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Teamwork and brainstorming concept with businessmen that share an idea with a lamp. Concept of startup

Why Human Creativity Is Not Computable

There is a paradox involved with computers and human creativity, something like Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems or the Smallest Uninteresting Number

In last week’s podcast, “The Chaitin Interview IV: Knowability and Unknowability,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician Gregory Chaitin, best known for Chaitin’s Unknowable Number, on a number of things, including whether computers can show creativity. Chaitin has thought a lot about that: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-127-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 21:34 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: We’re talking, just in general, about the unknowable. Roger Penrose recently won a Nobel Prize for his work with Stephen Hawking on black hole theory. He also wrote a book called The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and The Laws of Physics (1989) and he followed it up with The Shadows of the Mind:…

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group of school kids raising hands in classroom

Practicing the Basics: Teaching Math Facts in the Classroom

How to help students make deeper connections within mathematics with creative games.

Many people learn to hate math early on. One of the places where people learn to hate math first is in high-stakes speed testing for math facts. This has caused quite a bit of angst in mathematics education for people on both sides of this issue. On the one hand, some have advocated for getting rid of math facts memorization altogether. On the other hand, others have doubled-down, saying that we need speed tests in order to make sure that the cognitive load of arithmetic is limited for later mathematics work. While I fall more into the latter camp than the former, I do think that a more balanced approach to mathematics education may help students in the long run. …

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abstract metallic number background

The Paradox of the Smallest Uninteresting Number

Robert J. Marks sometimes uses the paradox of the smallest “uninteresting” number to illustrate proof by contradiction — that is, by creating paradoxes

In this week’s podcast, “The Chaitin Interview IV: Knowability and Unknowability,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician Gregory Chaitin on how he proved that the number that determines whether computer programs are elegant (in the sense of maximally efficient) is “unknowable.” As Dr. Chaitin explained in the segment published yesterday, any solution would be contradictory. Thus, his proof is a proof by contradiction. By way of illustrating the concept of proof by contradiction, Dr. Marks then offered his proof by contradiction that “all positive integers — numbers like 6 or 129, or 10 100 — are interesting.” This portion begins at 19:45 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: If [some…

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Young Man Identified by Biometric Facial Recognition Scanning Process from His Smartphone. Futuristic Concept: Projector Identifies Individual by Illuminating Face by Dots and Scanning with Laser

The New Retail: Cash or Face Scan? Is This Safe?

Retailers, anxious to speed up checkout lineups tend to brush off privacy and security concerns about payment by face recognition

The new face of retail is yours, according to a latest trend — paying with your face via biometric scanning. Russia’s largest food retailer, X5 Retail Group, in partnership with VISA and Sber (a bank), is introducing payment via facial recognition (face scanning) at the checkout counters of supermarkets and convenience stores. The trial at 52 stores succeeded well enough that the firm hopes to institute “facepay” (?) at 3000 stores. It works, at least technically, because we are more unique than we think: With the huge rise in digital wallets, biometrics – face or hand recognition – has started to become more popular as the safest means of protecting customers from identity fraud. Because nobody can replicate or guess…

Close-up Of A Robot's Hand Holding Stethoscope
Close-up Of A Robot's Hand Holding Stethoscope On Colorful Background`

Doctors Won’t Be Obsolete Anytime Soon

Despite fanfare and positive portrayals in pop culture, artificial intelligence “doctors” are failing to live up to the hype.

A careful analysis of British hospital records found that an annual average of 1,600 adults over the age of 30 had used outpatient child and adolescent psychiatry services and that a comparable number of youths aged 0-19 years old had used outpatient geriatric services. Tongue-firmly-in-cheek, the authors speculated that, “We are not clear why so many adults seem to be availing themselves of pediatric services, but it might be part of an innovative exchange program with pediatric patients attending geriatric services.” They also found that thousands of men used outpatient obstetrics, gynecology, and midwifery services each year, though there were fewer women availing themselves of vasectomies. These were clearly clerical errors made by fallible humans recording patient data. Could computers do…

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Abstract virtual binary code illustration on blurry modern office building background. Big data and coding concept. Multiexposure

Why the Unknowable Number Exists But Is Uncomputable

Sensing that a computer program is “elegant” requires discernment. Proving mathematically that it is elegant is, Chaitin shows, impossible

In this week’s podcast, “The Chaitin Interview IV: Knowability and Unknowability,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician Gregory Chaitin on his “unknowable number.” That’s the topic of this series, based on the fourth podcast. Last week, we tried getting to know the unknowable number. Today, let’s look at the question of how we know that the number is unknowable — instead of merely non-computable. Lots of things are non-computable but we do not expect that to be true of numbers. Let’s see what’s happening here, as Chaitin offers a walk through his proof that it really is unknowable: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-127-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 09:43 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks:…

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human brain on technology background represent artificial intelligence and cyber space concept

Why “the Mind Is Just a Computation” Is a Fatally Flawed Idea

Much modern neuroscience can be characterized as a collection of weak metaphors about the mind and brain. This is one of them

The computational theory of mind (CTM) is the theory that the mind is a computation (calculation) done by the brain. That is, the mind works by rule-based manipulation of symbols, which is what a computer does — computation. Thus our mental states are computational states. Several prominent philosophers have held this view, notably Hilary Putnam (1926–2016) and Jerry Fodor (1935–2017) , and more recently Matthias Scheutz, among several others. I believe that the computational model of the mind is fatally flawed. Here are some reasons: The most obvious reason is that all mental states have meaning — that is, they are intentional. Intentionality means that our thoughts are about something — there is always an object to which a thought…

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saturn and moon in the sky of a barren landscape

Sci-fi Saturday: “The Big Nothing” melds sci-fi and whodunit

The combination of the sci-fi and detective genres takes some skill to pull off but this Australian crew succeeds

“The Big Nothing” at DUST by Sharptooth Pictures (March 4, 2021, 37.54) “When the captain of an isolated mining station near Saturn is murdered, Detective Lennox is sent to investigate the three remaining crew members. Centered around a series of interrogations and flashback, Lennox discovers that everyone has a motive to kill. With otherworldly threats approaching and the killer amongst them, will everybody make it off the station?” “The Big Nothing,” a sci-fi detective drama, actually premiered in 2018 as a TV miniseries. The combination of the sci-fi and detective genres takes some skill to pull off. Both genres feature conventions that producers ignore at the story’s peril. For example, sci-fi should feature science. Of course the story can be…

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alien world, exoplanet in the habitable zone, planet with moon, water and plant life

Could the Universe Be Swimming in Watery Planets?

A new hypothesis of planet formation means that watery worlds may be common rather than rare

As the Mars Rover Perseverance motors around looking for evidence of past life on a now- mostly dry planet, some researchers are asking, can we be sure that most planets in our galaxy are dry? A common assumption among exoplanet experts is that most planets got their water via a chance hit early on from an icy asteroid. But researchers from the GLOBE Institute at the University of Copenhagen offer an alternative scenario, based on the millimetre-sized particles of ice and carbon that orbit all the young stars in our Milky Way galaxy. If masses of these particles are incorporated into a planet from its beginning, it isn’t a matter of chance whether the planet has water. It is a…

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Chimpanzee with a hand in its mouth

Bonobo Chimpanzees Adopt Orphans, a First for Great Apes

But this story is not what it seems. Let’s cut through some pop science assumptions. The real story is an argument that humans are not just animals

There’s been a stir recently among primate zoologists around two female bonobos who adopted infants from outside their group: During observations at the Luo Scientific Reserve in Wamba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the scientists saw the mother bonobos (Pan paniscus) carrying, grooming, nursing, and sharing food with their adoptees, who were in excellent health and treated well by their new social groups. The team’s analysis of DNA extracted from the infants’ faeces confirmed that the youngsters were genetically unrelated to the groups they lived in. “Bonobo mums open their arms to outsider orphans” at Nature Why do they do it? Various explanations are offered: The researchers suggest, “In both cases, adoptees had no maternal kin-relationship with their adoptive mothers.…

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matrix made up of math formulas and mathematical equations - illustration rendering

Getting To Know the Unknowable Number (More or Less)

Only an infinite mind could calculate each bit

In this week’s podcast, “The Chaitin Interview IV: Knowability and Unknowability,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician Gregory Chaitin on his discovery of the “unknowable number.” How can a number that is unknowable exist? Some numbers go on indefinitely (.999999999… ) but we can describe them accurately even if they don’t seem to come to an end anywhere. Some numbers, like pi (π), are irrational — pi goes on and on but its digits form no pattern. However, what does it mean to say that a number exists if it is unknowable? How do we even know it exists? That’s the topic of this series, based on the fourth podcast between Dr. Marks and Gregory Chaitin. Note:…

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Cell phone addiction.

Getting Used to Liquid Modernity

The only constant of liquid modernity is change, chiefly of the self, but also of the self's surroundings

(Reprinted with permission from the Engineering Ethics Blog of Karl Stephan (pictured) of the Ingram School of Engineering at Texas State University) I do not own a conventional smart phone.  Instead, I intentionally use a style of flip phone whose rugged case and physical numeric keypad buttons won’t be injured by a drop of three or four feet to a concrete surface.  It can receive some texts on its small screen, and I can even send texts after a fashion with the twelve numeric keys, tapping them rapidly one to four times to select the correct letter or punctuation mark.  It won’t do capitals, but you can read texts from me without capitals and still get the message.  It took me a while to…

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Serious african american student in headphones studying foreign language online

Researchers: We Learn Better Using Paper Than Laptops and Phones

Writing on paper involves more of our whole minds and even more of our bodies — and that aids retention

It doesn’t sound like good news in a digital society but at least hear the reasoning: A study of Japanese university students and recent graduates has revealed that writing on physical paper can lead to more brain activity when remembering the information an hour later. Researchers say that the complex, spatial and tactile information associated with writing by hand on physical paper is likely what leads to improved memory. “Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall,” said Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai, a neuroscientist at the University of Tokyo and corresponding author of the research recently published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. The research was completed with…

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Labrador Welpe und junge Frau geben sich ein High Five

Researchers: Dogs Are Hardwired To Understand Us

Recent research on nearly 400 Labrador puppies reveals a genetic basis for a tendency to look to humans for guidance

Considerable mystery surrounds the question of why dogs achieve a close emotional relationship with humans. Chimpanzees are genetically very much closer to us but few of us bond with them. So the ability is not obviously genetic — but recent findings point to at least one genetic component: Puppies seem naturally adapted to learn the significance of a common human communication method, pointing: Scientists have known for more than 2 decades that dogs understand the logic behind a surprisingly complex gesture: When we point at something, we want them to look at it. That insight eludes even our closest relatives, chimpanzees, and helps our canine companions bond with us. But it’s been unclear whether pooches acquire this ability simply by…

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hand of scientist holding flask with lab glassware in chemical laboratory background, science laboratory research and development concept

A Question Every Scientist Dreads: Has Science Passed the Peak?

Gregory Chaitin worries about the growth of bureaucracy in science: You have to learn from your failures. If you don’t fail, it means you’re not innovating enough

In this week’s podcast, “The Chaitin Interview III: The Changing Landscape for Mathematics,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician and computer scientist Gregory Chaitin on many things, including whether the great discoveries in science are behind us — not due to lack of creativity or ability on the part of scientists — but to the growing power of corporate and government bureaucracies to stifle research. But then a question arises: Could science, succumbing to the swamp of bureaucracy, be losing that inventive edge? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-126-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 24:56 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Gregory Chaitin: What did an airplane engineers say once in a speech I heard? He said, “In the…

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Afro-american boy hiding in ruined building, escaped from dysfunctional family

Woke Medicine Is Very Bad for Everyone’s Health

The issues raised by Critical Race Theory are real but I believe that the diagnosis is deeply flawed

Critical Race Theory and claims about structural racism in American society are infiltrating medical care and education. There is a major effort in medical education today to indoctrinate students and resident physicians into Critical Theory. This is, in my view, a deeply misguided approach.The issues raised by Critical Race Theory are real but I believe that the diagnosis is deeply flawed. The question we face is: how can we protect medical education and practice from this latest iteration of Marxism, and at the same time work to improve deficiencies in education and medical care that Critical Race Theorists correctly point out? It is undeniable that there are structural problems in medicine. Many of these problems impede good medical care, especially…

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Castaway in bureaucracy

Gregory Chaitin on How Bureaucracy Chokes Science Today

He complains, They’re managing to make it impossible for anybody to do any real research. You have to say in advance what you’re going to accomplish. You have to have milestones, reports

In last week’s podcast, “The Chaitin Interview III: The Changing Landscape for Mathematics,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician and computer scientist Gregory Chaitin on how Stephen Wolfram’s software has taken much of the drudgery out of math. At the same time, in Chaitin’s view, a threat looms: A new, more bureaucratic, mindset threatens to take the creativity out of science, technology, and math: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-126-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 19:45 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: I was sitting down tallying, I think, the intellectual giants that have introduced new mathematical ideas, brand new. I was thinking of people like Claude Shannon, Lotfi Zadeh, yourself… I don’t know if we…

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technician standing in front of giant circuitboard, slight zoom effect

For Computers, Smart Is Not the Same Thing as Fast

In response to a reader’s good question …

In a recent article, I argued that computers are not, and never can become smarter. An insightful reader wrote to ask, “What if smartness is defined by speed?” This is a good point. The debate revolves around the definition of “smart.” and if we define “smart” as “fast”, then since computers are certainly getting faster they will necessarily become smarter. Such a definition has intuitive appeal. Think of the world’s best chess player versus a beginner. One of the big distinctions is the chess expert will choose a good move more quickly than a beginner, and in general will play faster than a beginner. As such, play speed demonstrates a certain level of intelligence on the part of the player.…