Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive April 2021

Mailman Delivering Mail

U.S. Postal Service Secretly Monitoring Social Media Posts

Legal experts don't understand why the Post Office is involved in online government surveillance

According to a government document obtained by Yahoo News, the U.S. Postal Service has been secretly monitoring the social media posts of American citizens. The covert operation, conspicuously known as the Internet Covert Operations Program (or iCOP), has been conducted by the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service. Normally, USPIS is responsible for protecting the functions of USPS as well as its employees. Branching out into online surveillance is both unexpected and surprising to many experts. “It’s a mystery,” University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone told Yahoo. “I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.” Likewise, Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy…

Neural networks of the human brain. 3d illustration of abstract nerve centers. Electrical impulses in brain. Bright full color

Young Filmmaker Tackles the Hype About Computing the Brain

In Silico, in which Noah Hutton sorts hope from hype, goes livestream today

Twelve years ago Noah Hutton (pictured), who had some background in neuroscience, heard prominent neuroscientist Henry Markram tell viewers in a TED talk that he had determined how to simulate a complete human brain, via supercomputers, within a decade. At the time, Hutton didn’t question that and he started to document the Blue Brain project that Markham directed, which started with a mouse brain. But then things stalled: As Hutton recounted in Scientific American yesterday, “there were magnificent fly-through visualizations of the first square millimeter of simulated rat brain set to The Blue Danube available in a visitor’s screening room, but a definite lack of progress along the road map towards a human brain.” There was, however, the recognition that…

Spread your influence and opinions to other people. Good cultural and powerful bad effect. Undue unwholesome sway. Business leader concept.

How Erik Larson Hit on a Method for Deciding Who Is Influential

The author of The Myth of Artificial Intelligence decided to apply an algorithm to Wikipedia — but it had to be very specific

Here’s another interview (with transcript) at Academic Influence with Erik J. Larson, author of The Myth of Artificial Intelligence: Why Computers Can’t Think the Way We Do (2021). The book was #2 at Amazon as of 11:00 am EST today in the Natural Language Processing category. In this interview, Larson talks about how he developed an algorithm to rank people by the amount of influence they have, using Wikipedia. That was one of the projects that got him thinking about myths of artificial intelligence. It began with his reading of Hannah Arendt, a philosopher of totalitarianism: Excerpt (0:04:25.0) Erik Larson: And she has a whole philosophy of technology that I was reading as background to write The Myth of Artificial…

set of Detective of Holmes times

Abduction: A Thinking Skill You Can Do But Computers Can’t

A Norwegian police detective fills us in on how to use abduction for better thinking

Ivar Fahsing, detective chief superintendent at the Norwegian Police University College, has “worked on some of the worst crimes in Norway for 30 years.” He had to hone his thinking skills but, he says, many of us have never learned to “make safe judgments under pressure.” He is also convinced that any of us can improve our skills and he offers some help from his experience investigating crimes. One skill he focuses on is abduction, which was Sherlock Holmes’s favorite method. Yes, Holmes always tells his sidekick and foil, Dr. Watson, that he uses deduction — but he doesn’t: In the Sherlock Holmes novels, our titular hero continuously assails Dr Watson, a man of science, about the merits of deductive…

Woman passenger sitting in the backseat and  selects a route when her self-driving car rides on the highway.

Tesla Continues to Walk Back Full Self-Driving Claims

In 2016, Tesla (TSLA) couldn’t tell enough people that its cars would soon drive themselves

In 2019, Tesla raised billions of dollars on the prospect of a fleet of a million robotaxis by the next year. However, starting on the Q3 2019 earnings call, CEO Elon Musk started walking back some of those claims. To begin with, in that earnings call, Musk started saying that “feature complete” really just meant that the “City Streets” version would be operable, not that it could actually drive without assistance. A year later, in regulatory filings with the California DMV, Tesla said, “As such, a final release of City Streets will continue to be an SAE Level 2, advanced driver-assistance feature.” In the accepted terminology around levels of self-driving, truly self-driving vehicles are classed as SAE Level 5. Level…

Face recognition and personal identification technologies in street surveillance cameras, law enforcement control.

Canada Orders Facial Recognition App to Cease and Desist

Your face is likely already stored in this app's database

In February, Canada released the findings of a year-long investigation into the US-based facial recognition app, Clearview AI. The investigation declared Clearview’s actions illegal within Canada and ordered the company to cease operations within the country and to remove all Canadian citizens from its database. “What Clearview does is mass surveillance, and it is illegal,” said Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien. So what is Clearview AI? And why has it raised the ire of our neighbors to the North? Clearview AI, Inc. Clearview AI is a facial recognition company marketed primarily to law enforcement agencies. It boasts a database of over 3 billion facial images “scraped” from public sources online such as news articles and social media sites. In other…

Padlock, China flag on a smartphone and China map, symbolizing the Great Firewall of China concept or GFW and all extreme Internet censorship in China

The Academy Award Goes to… 404

Chinese citizens were suddenly no longer allowed to know of an Oscar for Best Director won by a Beijing-born woman, let alone see the film

As the hoopla from the 92nd Academy Awards last weekend fades, if you search for “Chloe Zhao” on Google, you’ll discover a curious thing: She is the first Asian director and second female director to win an Academy Award for best director, for her film Nomadland. Search for “Chloe Zhao” or her Chinese name, “Zhao Ting,” on Baidu in China and you’ll find “only scattered links to deleted articles about the Academy Award honor” (Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2021). Posts on Weibo and WeChat congratulating her were removed within minutes of the announcement of her win for best director. Rewriting the story in the U.S. Zhao (pictured) was born in Beijing, went to a boarding school in the U.K.,…

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Motorsport racing track and car slammed brakes sign

Artificial Intelligence Slams on the Brakes

The problem of autonomous cars suddenly slamming the brakes is becoming well known and it has no known fix

Having just donated your well-worn 1994 Toyota Camry to charity, you’re driving a brand new 2020 Honda sedan on a major street, enjoying air-conditioned comfort on a sunny day, with the satellite radio service narrowcasting tunes from the soundtrack of your life. Then, WHAM! In a half second, the car slows from 45 to 20 — and you never touched the brake pedal. You never saw it coming but your neck is still reminding you painfully of your whiplash injury. A close family member experienced this exact scenario just a month ago. She never touched the brake pedal. What happened? The dealership’s sales representative had not explained each and every feature of this postmodern car and certainly didn’t warn about…

Crypto Currency Digital Market Monitor

Will Popularity Spell Doom for Bitcoin?

How is that possible? Well, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have a hidden weakness…

Cryptocurrencies, from Ethereum to Bitcoin to Dogecoin, seem to be all the rage these days. Altcoins (i.e., lesser-known cryptocurrencies) have become increasingly mainstream. The increasing fracturing and pluralism in the cryptocurrency space has meant that few people are directly trading with any particular currency. Most users go through trading and wallet platforms where the platform —not their own computers—hosts the cryptocurrency. Additionally, transactions are increasingly processed via third parties as well, not directly on the cryptocurrency platform. This separation between the user and the direct cryptocurrency platform has enabled a new option: a payment gateway for a website that collects payments in a number of different cryptocurrencies using a single set of tools. PayPal, one of the top gateways, recently…

IQ test Result, Very Superior Intelligence Quotient.

If IQ Is Inherited, Is the Intellect Simply Material?

A reader writes: I was reading your writings about mind and brain, and I was wondering about how IQ relates to all of this. Since IQ seems to have a large heritable component to it, and the only thing that can be inherited genetically is physical traits, does IQ and its heritability pose a threat to mind-body dualism? It seems to me that someone with an IQ of 75 would have a very different mental experience than someone with an IQ of 145, and that they would also make decisions very differently, which, to me at least, would pose a threat to free will as well, since wouldn’t a certain level of intelligence be required to make decisions freely in…

Concept of robots replacing humans in offices

Will Humans Ever Be Fully Replaceable by AI? Part 1

We must first determine, what is a person and what is the nature of the universe in which a person can exist?

The title question has been around for quite some time. In this discussion, I would like to take an ontological look at this question. What is the essential nature of being a person? To fully replace humans, what must AI machines become capable of? IF we want to consider the possibility of making humans obsolete, we need to know what is the essence of humanity? What is the ontological nature of a person? What characteristics define being a person? Even before we can address the essential nature of a person, we must identify the essential nature of the universe in which that person exists. What is the universe? How many dimensions does it have? Can the universe, or in it…

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Collage of portraits of young emotional people on multicolored background in neon. Concept of human emotions, facial expression, sales. Listening to music, delighted, winner, shocked. Flyer for ad

AI Prof Sounds Alarm: AI “Emotion Detectors” Are Faulty Science

An industry worth over $30 billion uses emotion recognition technology (ERT) on school children and potential hires

Kate Crawford, a principal researcher at Microsoft, and author of Atlas of AI (2021), is warning at Nature that the COVID-19 pandemic “is being used as a pretext to push unproven artificial-intelligence tools into workplaces and schools.” The software is touted as able to read the “six basic emotions” via analysis of facial expressions: During the pandemic, technology companies have been pitching their emotion-recognition software for monitoring workers and even children remotely. Take, for example, a system named 4 Little Trees. Developed in Hong Kong, the program claims to assess children’s emotions while they do classwork. It maps facial features to assign each pupil’s emotional state into a category such as happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, surprise and fear. It also…

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Futuristic heads up display blue green abstract interface

How the Explanatory Filter Can Help Quash Conspiracy Theories

I found Dembski’s explanatory filter quite helpful in investigating voter fraud claims

William Dembski’s explanatory filter is a decision strategy for identifying events that are unlikely to have happened purely by chance. The filter proceeds in three main steps, which can be illustrated via the plot device in Contact, a novel (1985) by Carl Sagan, followed by a film (1997): Eliminate events of large probability (necessity): A radio telescope receives a pattern of beeps and pauses. Perhaps the pattern seems strange to us but we could just be overinterpreting inevitable space noise. Eliminate events of medium probability (chance): The pattern turns out to be a sequence of prime numbers. However, large randomly generated numbers sometimes feature apparent patterns (five 5s in a row, for example) that don’t signify anything. Specify the event…

Chat bot concept

Here’s a Terrific Video Featuring Myth of AI Author Erik Larson

Larson, an AI professional, explains why the popular noise we hear about AI “taking over” is hype

I’ve been reviewing philosopher and programmer Erik Larson’s The Myth of Artificial Intelligence. See my earlier posts, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Here’s a terrific video interview that Larson did with Academic Influence. It was done before his book was released and gives a succinct summary of the book. It’s short (15 minutes, compared to the hour-long interview with Brookings described in my previous post). For not only the full video of this interview with Larson but also a transcript of it, go to the Academic Influence website here. For a nice period-piece video on Joseph Weizenbaum’s ELIZA program, check out this YouTube video:

Villa Melzi - Dante e Beatrice

One of the Greatest Poets Asks, Can We Be Good Without Free Will?

As a centuries old poem shows, materialism is a logical mistake and not really a coherent system of belief

Medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri, exiled for life from his native Florence, took the opportunity to write a magnificent trilogy — the Divine Comedy — in which he tours Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. The Comedy is more than a poetic masterpiece. It is a profound philosophical and theological reflection on this life and on eternity. Remarkably, although Dante’s immediate guides through the unseen worlds are, famously, the Roman poet Virgil (70 BC–19 BC) and later, a childhood sweetheart Beatrice (who died young), his philosophical guide is the philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas. The metaphysics, the ethics, and the theology of the Divine Comedy deeply reflect Thomas’s influence. That is remarkable, considering that Dante (1265–1321 AD), who was only a child…

Big brother

How Orwell’s 1984 Can Be Seen As an Argument for God’s Existence

Atheism is not only fundamental to the power of the Party in 1984 but is also its central weakness

University of Nebraska political science prof Carson Holloway (pictured) asks, “Does discrediting the existence of God promote enlightened thinking or a lack of objective reality?” Unpacking the social structure in George Orwell’s classic totalitarian dystopia, 1984 (1949), he observes that not only does the Party have the power of life and death but the atheistic Party faithful fear death as utter annihilation: Atheism is the moral basis of the Party’s unlimited hold on its own members because it makes them terrified of death as absolute nonexistence. Like any government, the Party in 1984 has the power to kill disobedient subjects. Party members, however, view death not just as the end of bodily life, but as a complete erasure of their…

Detective board with photos of suspected criminals, crime scenes and evidence with red threads

Why Computers Will Likely Never Perform Abductive Inferences

As Erik Larson points out in The Myth of Artificial Intelligence, what computers “know” must be painstakingly programmed

I’ve been reviewing philosopher and programmer Erik Larson’s The Myth of Artificial Intelligence. See my earlier posts, here, here, here, here, and here. Larson did an interesting podcast with the Brookings Institution through its Lawfare Blog shortly after the release of his book. It’s well worth a listen, and Larson elucidates in that interview many of the key points in his book. The one place in the interview where I wish he had elaborated further was on the question of abductive inference (aka retroductive inference or inference to the best explanation). For me, the key to understanding why computers cannot, and most likely will never, be able to perform abductive inferences is the problem of underdetermination of explanation by data. This may seem like a mouthful, but the idea is straightforward.…


Zoologist: Law of Evolution Can Predict What Aliens Will Be Like

Arik Kershenbaum’s new book argues that convergent evolution on Earth helps us understand what to expect from extraterrestrial life

Cambridge zoologist Arik Kershenbaum, author of Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy (2021), thinks that convergent evolution here on Earth can offer us guides to what must happen on other planets that can support life. “Convergent evolution” means that radically different life forms arrive at the same solutions. He told science writer Dan Falk in an interview: Sometimes this “convergence” of traits is for something obviously useful, like wings. But sometimes convergence produces bizarrely similar creatures that share so many characteristics, it can be hard to believe they’re not closely related. The recently extinct thylacine [a large predatory marsupial native to Tasmania and mainland Australia], for example, could easily be mistaken for a peculiar breed of dog, but it’s much more…

Visualization of Painted Dream

Sci-fi Saturday: “Limbo” Profiles a Future Approach to Punishment

The convict must live in a vision, induced during a coma, as the victim (or bereft loved one), in an attempt to rehabilitate him by teaching empathy

“Limbo” (2020) at DUST by Andrew Morris and Rob Silva (April 8, 2021 at DUST, 24:21) “One man’s search for his kidnapped daughter causes his reality to unravel.” A most interesting premise: In the future, there are no prisons. There are no institutions with high walls and barred cells. Instead, the convicted are placed into a coma and forced to live out their sentence within a dream, with reality inverted, as the victim of their own crime. You killed someone’s wife? Your sentence is a life where your spouse has been taken from you, leaving you to toil in grief and mental anguish. But for ‘inmates’ who are wrongfully convicted, and are forced to live in their punishing alternate reality…