Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive March 2021

Online education concept

How Stephen Wolfram Revolutionized Math Computing

Wolfram has not made computers creative but he certainly took a lot of the drudgery out of the profession

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 many things mathematical, including why math or engineering geniuses (Elon Musk came to mind, of course) can’t just follow the rules. This week, we look at Stephen Wolfram’s new program that checks your hard math. What can — and can’t — it do for mathematicians? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-126-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 13:22 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Gregory Chaitin: Now, there is what I regard as a piece of AI, so it might be interesting to talk about it. My friend Stephen Wolfram (pictured), the system he’s created,…

man hand bulb in nature

Why We Need to Stop Relying On Patents to Measure Innovation

The key to a nation's long-run economic growth is the effect of innovation on productivity, and has little to do with patent activity

Patent databases may be a smoke screen that hides the true issues, problems, and dynamics of innovation behind the illusion that innovation is booming—and that patent activity measures the boom.  We are said to live in a time of remarkable innovation, with the computer/information revolution often compared to the Industrial Revolution in allowing people to produce more while working less. Economists, consultants, and other business gurus are striving mightily to quantify this revolution and to understand its sources and implications. One popular metric is the number of new patents issued each year. For example, the pace of innovation might be gauged by the fact that there were 669,434 US patent applications and 390,499 new patents awarded in 2019, each triple the…

Eye close up

What if only part — not all — of your brain were transplanted?

You might end up seeing double out of an eye a thousand miles away

Recently, we’ve been discussing the concept of total or partial human brain transplants. What about transplanting an eye and the parts of the visual cortex it needs from one person to another? Which of the two people would be seeing out of that eye? The answer is not simple. As noted earlier, researchers may never succeed in transplanting both an eye and the hemisphere brain parts that the eye needs to function from one human being to another. But let’s assume a science fiction scenario — a thought experiment — in which there is an exchange. Jack gets Mary’s right eye/hemisphere and Mary gets Jack’s right eye/hemisphere. Both parties, who live on different parts of the planet, survive. For simplicity,…

Information censorship - Typewriter locked with a chain

Columbia Professor Wants Government to Regulate News Media

The journalism professor argued before a government regulatory committee that "an open market without regulation will always favor bad actors over good"

During a subcommittee hearing on misinformation, disinformation, and extremism in journalism, a Columbia University professor advocated for the regulation of news media to create “a more vibrant, truthful news environment.”  Emily Bell (pictured) is a professor of journalism at Columbia University, and founding director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. Prior to her appointment at Columbia, she was an award-winning writer and editor at Guardian News and Media in London. She offered her comments at a February 24 hearing titled, “Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media”, hosted by the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House’s Committee on Energy and Commerce. Bell testified as a witness. She sees a “policy role” for government to play in…

SpaceX Concept Spacecraft in orbit of the Earth. SpaceX Elon Musk Mars programm 3d render

Why Elon Musk and Other Geniuses Can’t Afford To Follow Rules

Mathematician Gregory Chaitin explains why Elon Musk is, perhaps unexpectedly, his hero

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 many things mathematical, including why great books on math, advancing new theorems, aren’t written much any more. This week, we look at why geniuses like Musk (whose proposed Mars Orbiter is our featured image above) simply can’t just follow the rules, for better or worse: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-126-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 7:57 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Gregory Chaitin: Look at Elon Musk (pictured). He’s my great hero. He’s a wonderful engineer and he’s a wonderful entrepreneur and he doesn’t follow the rules. Robert J. Marks: He doesn’t,…

Surrealistic image with a man lost in time, standing in a foggy street in front of huge clocks set to different times. Hour perception and time travel concept.

Sci-fi Saturday: Can We Live In More Than the Present Moment?

When a tech entrepreneur succeeds with time travel, he gets trapped in his own past errors

“Container” at DUST by Film Platter (February 23, 2021, 24:42) “The creator of a time machine becomes trapped inside his own creation where he must figure out the timing of his mistakes.” (Scenes of gruesome suffering so caution re kids.) In this Australian entry, time travelers need a container to isolate the effects of themselves and of time travel on the outside world. On this principle, an inventor finds a way to make time travel work — sort of. Or so he thinks. He achieves six minutes backward. But then he notices two things: The machine is continuing to count backward and there are drops of blood on the floor. He understates, “I’ve missed something here.” Then he notices he…

Extremely detailed and realistic high resolution 3d illustration of a Grey Alien standing in a forest

What If Extraterrestrials Can’t Afford To Take Chances With Us?

That’s the Dark Forest Hypothesis, riffing off the title of one of famed Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin’s novels

In recent months we’ve been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s coverage of the many reasons (links below) people have advanced as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last Saturday, we considered the Aurora Hypothesis: Given the difficulties and risks of space travel, extraterrestrials with advanced technology may have visited Earth only one in a million years, researchers say. Another hypothesis that Williams has examined is the Dark Forest Hypothesis. He begins by noting that space exploration necessarily conjures up the notion of risk: “Words like Rim, Edge, Fringe, and Verge, Beyond, Perimeter, and Periphery all conjure up feelings of intrigue and anxiety – no doubt, in different measures for different people”: This particular proposed…

black mathematics board with formulas

Why Don’t We See Many Great Books on Math Any More?

Decades ago, Gregory Chaitin reminds us, mathematicians were not forced by the rules of the academic establishment to keep producing papers, so they could write key books.

In our most recent 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 mathematical, including whether math is invented or discovered. This time out, Chaitin talks about why he thinks great books on math, advancing new theorems, aren’t written much any more: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-126-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 02:49 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: You don’t hear the word “scholarship” very much anymore in academia. Gregory Chaitin: And people don’t write books. In the past, some wonderful mathematicians like G. H. Hardy (1877–1947, pictured in 1927) would write wonderful books like A Mathematician’s Apology (1940)…

Field of poppies

Does Freezing the Brain’s “Connectome” Offer Hope of Immortality?

Some cryogenics researchers are looking at methods of freezing the brain’s memory apparatus in the hope of reviving it one day and saving it as an artificial intelligence

According to Philip Jaekl, a writer with neuroscience training, the connectome is the “ complete network of neurons and all the connections between them, called synapses.” Taking a leaf from Sebastian Seung’s book, Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, he argues, “You are your connectome.” In that case, Seung’s “you” is very complex. Many types of memory are mediated through the connectome. Jaekl writes, Thus, a key to unlocking the correspondence between the connectome and memory is to elucidate the entire circuitry of the brain. Tracing the wiring at this scale is no easy task when considering the sheer complexity involved. A mere cubic millimetre of brain tissue contains around 50,000 neurons, with an astonishing total…

Red and Blue Spiral Fractal Background Image, Illustration - Vortex repeating spiral pattern, Symmetrical repeating geometric patterns. Abstract background

Mathematics: Did We Invent It Or Did We Merely Discover It?

What does it say about our universe if the deeper mathematics has always been there for us to find, if we can?

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 (pictured) on how math presents us with a challenging philosophical question: Does math image deep truth about our universe? Or do we just make up these math rules in our own minds to help us understand nature? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-126-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 00:39 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Gregory Chaitin: Deep philosophical questions have many answers, sometimes contradictory answers even, that different people believe in. Some mathematics, I think, is definitely invented, not discovered. That tends to be trivial mathematics — papers that fill in much-needed gaps because…

a man using digital tablet with building hologram and internet media icons. Smart city, 5g, internet and networking technology concept

Nevada Announces New Cities in State To Be Run By Big Tech

The zones promise technological freedom, but what are the dangers to handing so much political power to big corporations?

Nevada is courting technological business by offering them the opportunity to develop cities independent of government regulation. In his State of the State address on January 19th, Nevada Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak announced proposed legislation to create “Innovation Zones” in order “to jumpstart the state’s economy by attracting technology firms.” The long-term vision for these Innovation Zones is a county independent of local government, run solely by a technological corporation for the purpose of pursuing advanced technology without the red tape of bureaucracy. The proposed legislation draft calls “traditional forms of local government” “inadequate” in their ability “to provide the flexibility and resources conducive to making the State a leader in attracting and retaining new forms and types of businesses…”…

Details of diversity used horse reins

Can Big Tech and Big Social Media Be Reined In?

A number of strategies to limit their power or make them share the wealth are being evaluated, both among governments and private think tanks

Big Tech’s recent censorship moves have revived the debate about what, exactly, the new social media are? Are they publishers like HarperCollins or carriers like Ma Bell? Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act exempts the Bigs from liability as publishers. But, unlike carriers, they can act against messages in their system that they don’t like. Generally, they benefit from a fuzziness that is not granted to other institutions. It’s probably not accidental that most Big Social Media are domiciled in the United States. Canada, to name just one other country, does not offer Twitter that protection. The scale of the conflict is expected to grow and a number of strategies to limit the Big Social Media’s power or…

DNA Computing - Abstract Illustration

Is Computing With DNA the Wave of the Future?

We are running out of conventional space to store information and life forms’ DNA stores it much more efficiently

Why would we want to compute with DNA? Well, first, we are fast approaching the limit of how small we can make computers. So some scientists are turning to the designs in nature for help: The issue with transistors is that they now exist at the scale of a few nanometers in size—only a few silicon atoms thick. They can’t practically be made any smaller than they are now. If they get any smaller, the electrical current flowing through the transistor easily leaks out into other components nearby or deforms the transistor due to heat, rendering it useless. You need a minimum number of atoms to make the transistor work and we’ve functionally reached that limit. John Loeffler, “What is…

Spiral Background.

Hard Math Can Be Entertaining — With the Right Musical Score!

Gregory Chaitin discusses with Robert J. Marks the fun side of solving hard math problems, some of which come with million-dollar prizes

In last week’s podcast,, “The Chaitin Interview II: Defining Randomness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician and computer scientist Gregory Chaitin on his method of describing true randomness:. If no theory is simpler than the data you are trying to explain, then the data is random. They also discussed the work of true randomness but also on how Ray Solomonoff (1926–2009), another algorithmic information theory founder, who pursued the “shortest effective string of information that describes an object.” But now, for a lighter touch, we learn that a musical comedy was made of Fermat’s Last Theorem. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-125-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 19:24 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: If you…

The first model of the computational mechanism is an arithmometer.

Computers Are Getting Faster But Are They Getting Smarter? No.

Computers are Turing machines, limited to operations that can be completely understood in relation to their programming

Won’t quantum computers be smarter than regular ones? No. Still No. What about optical computing, computing with DNA, or some other exotic form of computation? Always No. A skeptical reader might ask, Why such a definitive answer? How do you deal with the spectacular performance of deep learning? What about AlphaGo Zero? What about Watson? What about the infamous Deep Blue? What about quantum supremacy? Don’t these examples all disprove your point? No. All forms of computation past, present, and future will be physical. And all physical phenomena can be modeled by a Turing machine (pictured). No matter how fast the computer runs, the computer will never be more powerful than a Turing machine. A Turing machine consists of five…

Thumbs up on bricks wall

Facebook Exec Admits the Company Has Too Much Power

He worries, talking with an undercover reporter, that Zuckerberg is 36 and is “the ruler” of two billion people

In a video titled “KING ZUCK: Facebook Global Planning Lead Reveals Dire Need For Government Intervention In Facebook” (March 15, 2021), we hear an insider’s view from Benny Thomas, Facebook’s Global Planning Lead— who told what he knew to a Project Veritas undercover reporter. From the undercover interview: Benny Thomas: I’ll make less money but it will be a better thing for the world. Facebook and Google are too powerful and they need to be made less powerful … It needs to be broken up the way the telecom companies were broken up and the oil companies were broken up.” No king in the history of the world has been the ruler of two billion people. And he’s 36. [a…

3d rendered medically accurate illustration of the human cell anatomy

A New Theory Links Consciousness to Bioelectricity

Consciousness as a function of bioelectric fields? That’s a remarkable idea because it includes the notion that our individual cells are conscious

Bioelectricity is the electricity produced by living organisms as they go about the business of moving, breathing, digesting, etc. Bioelectric currents differ from electric currents that power machines because they consist of ions (molecules that carry an electric charge) rather than electrons. (Encyclopedia.com). But it is still electricity. So what’s the link with consciousness? Evolutionary biologist and lawyer Tam Hunt argues, Nature seems to have figured out that electric fields, similar to the role they play in human-created machines, can power a wide array of processes essential to life. Perhaps even consciousness itself. A veritable army of neuroscientists and electrophysiologists around the world are developing steadily deeper insights into the degree that electric and magnetic fields—“brainwaves” or “neural oscillations”—seem to…

Real Php code developing screen. Programing workflow abstract algorithm concept. Lines of Php code visible under magnifying lens.

How did Ray Solomonoff Kickstart Algorithmic Information Theory?

He started off the long pursuit of the shortest effective string of information that describes an object

In last week’s podcast,, “The Chaitin Interview II: Defining Randomness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician and computer scientist Gregory Chaitin on how best to describe true randomness but also on what he recalls of Ray Solomonoff (1926–2009), described in his obit as the “Founding Father of algorithmic information theory.” https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-125-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 10:30 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Gregory Chaitin (pictured): Ray Solomonoff was interested in prediction but I was more interested in looking at a given string of bits and asking, does it have structure or not, and the incompleteness results regarding this question. For example, most strings of bits have no structure, according to this definition. They…

Businessman gives the bitcoin man.selective focus.block chain Technology concept.War of bitcoin,Digital currency.

The Startling Energy Costs of Bitcoin

As Bitcoin gains credibility, power consumption worries grow

Most people are aware of the rising price of Bitcoin. Despite the fact that most people are unaware of how to transact in it, and few merchants take it as a form of currency, Bitcoin is becoming an increasingly popular investment. As interest in Bitcoin grows, a few people are starting to take notice of the startling energy costs associated with Bitcoin transactions. As Mind Matters has been pointing out for years, the energy costs associated with having a “trustless” system such as Bitcoin is immense, with Bitcoin transactions generally costing 400,000 times as much energy as a single transaction on the Visa network. According to the BBC, the Bitcoin network – which, again, very few people are regularly transacting in – now consumes more energy than the…

light at the end of the tunnel

The MD Who Studies Near Death Experiences Is NOT Religious

Greyson was motivated by a desire to understand experiences that materialist approaches have simply not explained satisfactorily

Last week, we talked about psychiatrist Bruce Greyson and his new book, After (2021), discussing near-death experiences (NDEs). The Guardian ran an interview with Greyson the same day, in which he offers some perspectives that may be useful in trying to sort out the issues: ● Modern neuroscience does not have a simple answer that dismisses NDEs. When I ask Greyson why he decided to publish After now, after all these years, he explains that “we had to wait until we had enough knowledge about near-death experiences to be able to understand what was going on,” by which he means not that we know what NDEs are, but that advances in science have allowed us to rule out a heap…