Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive May 2021

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“Sentiment Analysis”? Why Not Just ASK People What They Think?

My computer science professor always told me,”Never solve a problem you can eliminate.”

AI researchers are trying to develop algorithms that pick up on cues within a written text that reveal the writer’s emotional state (sentiment analysis). Recently, Mind Matters News reported on a new algorithm for processing sarcasm in social media posts — a good example of trying to infer sentiment from text. My computer science professor always told me,”Never solve a problem you can eliminate.” It seems to me that a lot of machine sentiment analysis can be bypassed by simply asking the users to report their feelings when writing the posts. That may seem obvious but, these days, obvious answers are in short supply. Many people insist on finding the most complicated way to solve problems. Asking a user for…

double exposure of the Passion of the Christ

The Brain Prosperity Gospel: Can “Neurotheology” Be Real Science?

The study of the neuroscience of mental states, including religious belief, is a reasonable pursuit but neurotheology, as a science, faces huge obstacles

Neurotheology is the study of the neuroscience associated with spiritual experience. It is a growing field. In a recent essay, Andrew Newberg, a prominent researcher, discusses recent advances: The field of neurotheology continues to expand from its early origins several decades ago to the present day. In its simplest definition, neurotheology refers to the field of scholarship that seeks to understand the relationship between the brain and our religious and spiritual selves. As I always like to say, it is important to consider both sides of neurotheology very broadly. Thus, the “neuro” side includes brain imaging, psychology, neurology, medicine, and even anthropology. And the “theology” side includes theology itself, but also various aspects related to religious beliefs, attitudes, practices, and…


Sci-fi Saturday: In “No Guarantee,” Brain Uploading Proves Costly

In a ruined mid-21st century Britain, a couple gains tickets to a virtual world — if their brains can be uploaded. But can they?

“No Guarantee” (2016) by Stuart Black and Nick Mather (at DUST, May 11, 2021) 5:22 min. A couple living in the ruins of London 2056 must decide whether they should upload their consciousnesses into the mysterious Cloud 9.” Fuller description: “London 2056 – the city is dying and those living in the smog-clogged ruins live by their wits. Those who can afford to opt out of the desperation upload their consciousnesses to Cloud 9. This is advertised as a one way ticket to virtual heaven – but can the Company who run it really be trusted? Virgil and Mary have different attitudes: she wants to go, he doesn’t. Can she persuade him to ‘ascend’ before he dies from terminal illness?…

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Can the Machine Know You Are Just Being Sarcastic?

Researchers claim to have come up with an artificial intelligence program that can detect sarcasm on social media platforms

There’s an old joke about the bored engineering student slouched in the back of the Remedial English Grammar and Composition class. The instructor was lecturing on the use of negatives. In some languages, she explained, negatives can be piled on top of one another without changing the overall negative (“no”) meaning. But in English, adding two negatives together creates a positive. For example: “I am never going there again.” means just what it says (“never”). but “I am not ‘never going there again’” means that maybe you are going there again (“yes, if some changes are made”). The first negative negates the second. The teacher went on to say, “But there is no language in the world in which two…

Aliens Invade

Sci-Fi Saturday: In Fenestra, the Aliens Land in a Domestic Drama

As the alien ships loom worldwide, the cheating boyfriend thinks he can just come back…

“Fenestra” (2020) at DUST by Jason Sheedy (May 13, 2021, 3:49 min) “A heartbroken woman must contend with a cheating boyfriend — and an incoming alien invasion.” Review: Okay. What if the aliens land just as a guy wants his woman to know that he is sorry for cheating on her after six faithful years. Of course, he counts on coming back to her amid the chaos. But maybe his stepping out was happening at just the right time for her… Who is she anyway? Erin Ownbey does a good job of looking pretty fed up and Brett Brooks of just not getting it. Impressive alien ships. “Fenestra” is under four minutes in length, which is handy if you would…

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Cognitive Scientist: Earliest Humans, Homo Erectus, Had Language

Homo erectus needed a language to enable such remarkable achievements over 100,000 years ago, he says

Many experts believe that language has been a late development in human history. As Daniel Everett puts it, “many paleoanthropologists view erectus as little more than a skinny gorilla, of few accomplishments, far too stupid to have language, and lacking a vocal apparatus capable of intelligible speech.” Everett (pictured) disagrees and asks us to look at some facts from paleontology: Evidence that erectus had language comes from their settlements, their art, their symbols, their sailing ability and their tools. Erectus settlements are found throughout most of the old world. And, most importantly for the idea that erectus had language, open oceans were not barriers to their travel. Erectus settlements show evidence of culture – values, knowledge structures and social structure.…

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Scientists Try To Understand How One-Celled Life Forms Learn

Artificial intelligence may offer a model for learning without a brain

According to a recent article in The Scientist, in the mid-twentieth century, several labs produced results that suggested that one-celled organisms could learn, in the sense that they could alter future behavior based on past experience. At the time, such findings were dismissed as flukes or mistakes because it was unclear how a unicellular life form like paramecium, with no brain or nervous system, could store memories. Today, a team from Harvard, Rutgers, and MIT is taking a second look at the findings of learning in paramecium: We exhume the experiments of Beatrice Gelber on Pavlovian conditioning in the ciliate Paramecium aurelia, and suggest that criticisms of her findings can now be reinterpreted. Gelber was a remarkable scientist whose absence…

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Will AI Change — or Eliminate — the Mind-Body Problem?

Can an artificial intelligence program that calculates really understand mathematics? Or is that a “hard ceiling” for AI?

In last week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed Concordia University philosopher Angus Menuge on the difficult mind–body problem: Dr. Menuge sees mind–body interaction as a transmission of information between two realms; our minds and bodies are one integrated system with a translation function… like developing and then writing down an idea. But what about artificial intelligence? We are told that artificial general intelligence (AGI) is now pushing towards a machine that can totally duplicate the functions of the human mind. But what if the mind is not simply a mechanical function of the brain? What if it is non-algorithmic and non-computable? This portion begins at 29:04 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow.…

Disabled student in class room.

Paralyzed Man Writes, Using Only Imagination — and an Algorithm

With implanted electrodes, the volunteer, 65, achieved 90 characters per minute

The science media has been abuzz these last few days with news of man paralyzed from the neck down who was able to type using only his thoughts — communicating via a brain implant: A 65-year-old man had two grids of tiny electrodes implanted on the surface of his brain. The electrodes read electrical activity in the part of the brain that controls hand and finger movements. Although the man was paralyzed from the neck down, he imagined writing letters softly with his hand. With an algorithm, researchers then figured out the neural patterns that went with each imagined letter and transformed those patterns into text on a screen. Anushree Dave, “Brain implants turn imagined handwriting into text on a…

scientific publication

Inside the Economics of Science Papers

Here’s an inside look at who pays if you read for free

When a scholarly paper is published, someone has to pay. Publishers like Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), my professional society, and Springer charge big bucks to read their papers. The fees are billed to individual subscribers and, more commonly, to companies and universities who want to give their employees access to the papers. My own university, Baylor, like most research universities, has a considerable library budget on account of these publisher fees. There is growing pressure to kill these fees in favor of “open access” to scholarly papers. Thus, anyone can read a scholarly paper at any time for free. Free access takes the money from the pockets of publishers so they push back. Someone has to pay,…

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Why Some Think Emergence Is Replacing Materialism in Science

Materialism, in the form of reductionism, posits a world without novelty — but that is not the world we live in

Many of us might need a pause to recall just what the word “reductionism” means. But we surely recognize it when we hear it: “Humans are nothing but big-brained apes,” “The mind is just what the brain does,” or “The Earth is a mere speck in a not-very-interesting galaxy.” That, materialists tell us, is What Science Shows. But is it? Really? In an article at BigThink, University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank (pictured) argues that reductionism is — for good reasons — fading in science: “Reductionism offers a narrow view of the universe that fails to explain reality.” It is slowly being replaced: Reductionism is the view that everything true about the world can be explained by atoms and their…

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How Would Angus Menuge Resolve the Mind–Body Problem?

From his background in computer science, he sees mind–body interaction as a transmission of information between two realms

In last week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed Concordia University philosopher Angus Menuge on the difficult mind–body problem: What, exactly, is the connection between wanting a drink of milk and carrying out the actions that produce one? Wants are immaterial but they connect with material things. How? In an earlier post, we looked at Dr. Menuge’s account of how various philosophers have approached this problem. Dr. Marks then asked him, What is your take? Where do you fall in these different models? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-133-Angus-Menuge.mp3 This portion begins at 22:31 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Angus Menuge (pictured): I think there is some truth to substance dualism, although I don’t myself entirely like…

conceptual image Chinese stock exchange with digital currency, devaluation of bitcoin or growth of Chinese e-rmb

Will China’s Digital Yuan Displace the US Dollar in Global Trade?

The U.S. dollar became the world’s reserve currency because it was stable and easily transferable. It also enabled the U.S. to penalize sponsors of terrorism and genocide

China has just launched its Digital Currency Electronic Payment System, called variously the electronic yuan or electronic renminbi (abbreviated e-CNY or e-RMB). It will likely thwart Alipay and WeChat Pay’s dominance in China’s financial tech market and allow the government to track almost all financial transactions in real time. There are, of course, international implications to China being the first country to roll out a digital currency backed by the central bank. Can the Digital Yuan Compete with the Dollar for Global Dominance? Some analysts now see China’s move to a digital currency based on blockchain technology as intended to displace the dollar. Right now, eighty-eight percent of global trade interactions are in U.S. dollars, followed by the euro, and…

Drones fly over the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. A natural landscape with drones flying over it. quadrocopter

Marks: We Can’t Do Without Autonomous Killer Robots in Combat

As an expert in swarm intelligence, he thinks drone swarms offer specific advantages

Over a year ago, Robert J. Marks argued in The Case for Killer Robots for developing autonomous military weapons. As an expert in swarm intelligence, he thinks drone swarms should be given priority: Two battling drone swarms can have numerous agents who, in order to be effective in combat, individually require reaction times in the milliseconds. Humans cannot react quickly enough for one, let alone hundreds, of interacting swarm agents. Autonomous operation can be appropriate. Marks asks us to picture two gunslingers in the Old West, facing each other on Main Street. The faster draw wins. The second fastest draw is usually dead. Military strategists call the response to a threat the OODA loop: observe–orient–decide–act. Swarm conflict, in Marks’s view,…

Ideas escape from brain of pensive african man

How Have Various Thinkers Tried To Solve the Mind–Body Problem?

Philosopher Angus Menuge explains why traditional physicalism (the mind is just what the brain does) doesn’t really work

In last week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed Concordia University philosopher Angus Menuge on one of philosophy’s biggest headscratchers, the mind–body problem. In the second part, they looked at a big question, if the mind and body are so different, how can they interact? We know we are not just bodies, and a number of models of the relationship are offered. Menuge offers a look at some of them: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-133-Angus-Menuge.mp3 This portion begins at 15:50 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Some philosophers don’t think the mind–body problem is as big a challenge as it is made out to be. Angus Menuge (pictured): Well, there are some like Richard Swinburne, who is…

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Researchers Make a Trillion Aluminum Atoms Behave as Single Wave

Such demonstrations show that quantum computers, which could solve much bigger problems much faster, are viable

Just recently, researchers managed to “entangle” two very tiny aluminum drums as if they were merely quantum particles — a first that helps pave the way for quantum computing. But it’s an unsettling first because the world above the level of the electron (macroscopic world) is supposed to behave according to Newton’s classical physics rules, not weird quantum rules under which two entangled particles sync no matter how far apart they are (non-locality). Like conductors of a spooky symphony, researchers have ‘entangled’ two small mechanical drums and precisely measured their linked quantum properties. Entangled pairs like this might someday perform computations and transmit data in large-scale quantum networks. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), “Quantum drum duet measured” at…

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China Sharply Reins in Big Tech Amid All-Digital Currency Rollout

Ant Group must turn over its vast customer database to the government in exchange for the easing of strict regulations

Earlier, we looked at what China’s new digital yuan, also called Digital Currency Electronics Payment or e-CNY, will mean for Chinese citizens. The rollout may relate to billionaire e-commerce founder Jack Ma’s critiques of China’s regulators and subsequent (temporary) disappearance. Also to the subsequent denial of his Ant Group’s billion-dollar initial public offering on the Shanghai index. Since then, the Chinese government has cracked down on several Big Tech companies while promoting the digital yuan. How China is rapidly reining in its Big Tech industries Chinese media have been promoting the second annual Double Five (i.e., May 5) Shopping Festival in Shanghai. This month-long state-organized shopping festival is part of “National Consumption Promotion Month.” The first Consumption Month festival, held…

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Who Will Your Boss Believe? You or That Glitzy New Computer?

In the largest miscarriage of justice in decades, the British Post Office chose to believe the computer, resulting in bankruptcies, jail, and suicide. At last the truth emerged…

Texas State professor of electrical engineering Karl Stephan (pictured) has the story, reprinted with permission from his blog Engineering Ethics. Dr. Stephan is the author of Ethical and Otherwise: Engineering in the Headlines, a collection of his writings on ethics and technology: Suppose you enjoy a secure government job at which you work diligently, and you have advanced to the managerial position of a sub-postmaster in Post Office Ltd, the quasi-public organisation that provides postal services in most of the UK.  Then your organisation installs a new computerised system called Horizon that promises to eliminate a lot of paperwork accounting and make things easier for everybody.  But soon after it is installed, you find that your accounts are not matching up with…

Circle of people. Teamwork. Business meeting. Negotiations, reaching consensus in disagreements. Joint problem solving. Conflict resolution through dialogue. Compromise. Cooperation and collaboration

Consensus Gives Us Information Only If We Are Free to Doubt

There are so many credentialed people on the internet with sufficiently differing views that it sometimes seems as if we could find an expert somewhere to support almost any harebrained idea. So how does a non-expert figure out the truth? Most of us lack the time, training, and inclination to investigate most subjects sufficiently so we are often urged to adopt the consensus opinion. While an individual expert may have wild and crazy ideas, the consensus will most likely be an average informed view. But it’s not that simple. Most of the time it is impossible for the public to determine the consensus opinion. What is usually labeled as consensus opinion is what media believe it to be. And the…

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Neurons electrical pulses. Interconnected neurons with electrical pulses.

How a Materialist Philosopher Argued His Way to Panpsychism

Galen Strawson starts with the one fact of which we are most certain — our own consciousness

In 2018, science writer Robert Wright interviewed physicalist philosopher Galen Strawson (pictured) who, in a long conversation, explained the logical steps by which he — a philosopher who holds that nature is all there is and that everything is physical — also came to believe that consciousness underlies everything. Wright published a long excerpt from the discussion in June 2020, in which Strawson explains his reasoning. Wright starts things off by noting that “In recent years more and more philosophers seem to have embraced panpsychism—the view that consciousness pervades the universe and so is present, in however simple a form, in every little speck of matter.” Indeed, even publications like Scientific American have run panpsychist opinion pieces in recent years.…