Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive June 2021

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Charting Consciousness.

Consciousness Is Mainly a Problem for Materialists

If you are not a materialist, there is no problem with understanding consciousness

Psychiatrist Joseph LeDoux, author of The Deep History of Ourselves (2019), offers an extract at Aeon, musing on the mystery of consciousness. In a way, his approach typifies the problem with the wholly materialist approach to the mind and the brain: Like all living things, humans are organisms, biological entities that function as physiological aggregates whose constituent parts operate with a high degree of cooperation and a low degree of conflict. But unlike other organisms, humans possess a rogue component – a brain network that can, at will, choose to defect and undermine the survival mission and purpose of the rest of the body. This is the network that underlies human consciousness, and especially our capacity for autonoetic, or reflective,…

Robot prints on a typewriter

The Great American Novel Will Not be Written by a Computer

It takes more than statistical genius to understand words and create works of art

I’ve written before about how computer algorithms are like Nigel Richards, the New Zealander who has won multiple French-language Scrabble tournaments even though he does not understand the words he is spelling. Computers can similarly manipulate words in many useful ways — e.g., spellchecking, searching, alphabetizing — without any understanding of the words they are manipulating. To know what words mean, they would have to understand the world we live in. They don’t. One example is their struggles with the Winograd schema challenge — recognizing what it refers to in a sentence. Another example is the inability to answer simple questions like, “Is it safe to walk downstairs backwards if I close my eyes?” A third type of example is the brittleness of language translation programs. Yet another…

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Bottom view close-up of four white surveillance cameras

What We Lose When We Stop Losing Things

What do we lose when we stop losing things? Amidst all this finding, do we risk losing part of ourselves?

To live is to lose. We’ve all felt the anguish of losing something important — keys, wallet, phone, bags, money, opportunities, loved ones. Loss is part of the human condition. Some things we find again, some we don’t. It has been this way throughout history. But the development of Bluetooth technology in the 1990s forever changed the way we interacted with our possessions. The wireless standard — developed by a consortium of early tech companies — uses low-power short-range radio waves to connect our gear to personal-area networks known as piconets. It got its name rather serendipitously from the medieval Scandinavian king Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson. And just as his rule united Scandinavia, so Bluetooth networking has united our favorite tech…

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Space and Galaxy light speed travel. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

No Free Lunches: Bernoulli is Right, Keynes is Wrong

What the Big Bang teaches us about nothing

Jacob Bernoulli made a now obvious observation about probability over three-and-a-half centuries ago: If nothing is known about the outcome of a random event, all outcomes can be assumed to be equally probable. Bernoulli’s Principle of Insufficient Reason (PrOIR) is commonly used. Throw a fair die. There are six outcomes, one for each face of the cube. The chance of getting five pips showing on the roll of a die is therefore one sixth. If a million lottery tickets are sold and you buy one ticket, the chances of winning are one in a million. This reasoning is intuitively obvious.  The assumption about the die is wrong if the die is loaded. But you don’t know that. You know nothing. So Bernoulli’s PrIOR…

Sad african american guy holding golden bitcoin

June Crypto Mayhem: A Tough Month for Cryptocurrencies

What has caused the dramatic drops in Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Etherium, and NFT values?

The month of June has been tough on the world of cryptocurrencies, with the past week being especially harsh. It is difficult to pin down a single, specific cause behind the pullback, as a variety of new and nagging concerns about the viability of cryptocurrencies continue to mount. As for the price action, Bitcoin dropped like a rock down below $30k this past week, less than half of what its high in the last year has been. The meme cryptocurrency Dogecoin lost over 60% of its value, down to $0.24 from a high of $0.72 earlier this year. Etherium has been cut in half, as have many other cryptocurrencies. The NFT market, whose enthusiasm has ridden on the back of…

Big brother electronic eye concept, technologies for the global surveillance, security of computer systems and networks

A Book Review: The Tyranny of Big Tech

A beautiful defense of the common man and woman against a technological elite

“Our republic has never been more hierarchical, more riven by class, more managed by an elite than it is today,” writes Josh Hawley in The Tyranny of Big Tech. Who might that elite be? According to Hawley, it’s not our politicians, our lawyers, our Ivy League graduates, or our Hollywood celebrities. It’s Big Tech – those big names like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, and Google that have embedded themselves in our lives to an almost irreversible degree. Hawley has spent his career as a U.S. Senator, and formerly as Missouri’s Attorney General, holding Big Tech accountable where others don’t dare tread. In investigations, in legislation, and now in this book, Hawley has confronted the antitrust and privacy violations committed by…

Gold chess piece on computer mainboard. Concept of IT strategy, making decision, technology background.

Why AI Chess Champs Are Not Taking Over the World

Mastery of closed-world games does not mean that AI can take over and run everything

At one time, the AI that beat humans at chess calculated strategies by studying the outcomes of human moves. Then, it turned out, there was a faster way: In October 2017, the DeepMind team published details of a new Go-playing system, AlphaGo Zero, that studied no human games at all. Instead, it started with the game’s rules and played against itself. The first moves it made were completely random. After each game, it folded in new knowledge of what led to a win and what didn’t. At the end of these scrimmages, AlphaGo Zero went head to head with the already superhuman version of AlphaGo that had beaten Lee Sedol. It won 100 games to zero. Joshua Sokol, “Why Artificial…

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people standing in front of paintings

AI Restores Lost Parts of Rembrandt’s Night Watch

The iconic painting’s edges were cut off to fit a certain space in a town hall in 1715 and the cut parts were never recovered

The Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) is practically synonymous with the Old Masters school of painting in the Western world. But one of his paintings did not fare well over the years. As Isis Davis-Marks at the Smithsonian Magazine tells it, In 1642, Rembrandt van Rijn completed a dynamic painting called The Night Watch, which depicts the captain of an Amsterdam city militia urging his men into battle. But in 1715 someone cut all four sides of the canvas to hang it on a wall in Amsterdam’s Town Hall, and the strips seemingly vanished into thin air. Isis Davis-Marks, “Lost Edges of Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ Are Restored Using Artificial Intelligence” at Smithsonian Magazine (June 25, 2021) Here’s what’s left:…

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The universe inside us, the profile of a young woman and space, the effect of double exposure. scientific concept. The brain and creativity. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Do Larger Brains Make Us Human? Is That All?

Brain organoid studies suggest a “key genetic switch” that makes human brains grow larger than ape brains

In a study of “mini-brains” (brain organoids), the size of a pea, grown in a dish and incapable of further development, researchers have discovered a “key genetic switch” that makes human brains grow three times larger than primate brains: This new research, published in the journal Cell, used brain organoids to show that this transition occurs more slowly in humans compared to gorillas and chimpanzees – over seven days, compared to five. The progenitor cells in human brain organoids not only retained their cylindrical shape for longer, but also split more frequently so more cells were produced. This was linked to a gene called ZEB2, which switches on sooner in gorilla brain organoids than in human. By delaying the effects…

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Human brain with an implanted chip.

Can Implanted Computer Chips Cure Depression?

Brain–computer interface (BCI) is promising for paralysis and prosthetics but raises concerns in the treatment of depression

Brain computer interface (BCI) shows promise in treating paralysis or enabling prosthetics to work almost naturally. But BCI for treating depression sounds like hype: Say goodbye to pills, therapy, and all that. With such gloomy prospects, it was only a matter of time scientists realized there must be better ways to treat depression rather than pills. After all, drugs only work because they act on certain brain regions to modulate the concentration of certain neurotransmitters, like serotonin or dopamine. Therefore, in the end, the regulation of mood depends on stimulating brain signals in certain parts of the brain — that is, neurons firing — and this can be done more accurately by just zapping the neurons directly with electricity. Diego…

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hunting

Killing People for “Likes” on an Alien Planet: Sci-fi Saturday

If only this crisp tale didn’t sound so much like the social media we actually know

“Happy Hunting” at DUST by Jess Wolinsky and Jordan M. Hahn (June 22, 2021 at DUST, 2020 at IMDB, 8:06 min) Content warning: Suicide depiction Happy Hunting is a story of Tyler (also known as @66Shadow), an influencer who will do anything to gain followers. In his quest for fame, he now finds himself live-streaming on the nearby planet Proxima Centauri B, where researchers infected with a cosmetic abnormality are hunted for sport, to break @SgtSurge’s kill record. Tyler hunts with precise skill, allowing him to track and kill three victims despite their pleas for mercy, all while hamming it up for his drone companion, who live-streams his every move. He is then attacked by a potential fourth victim, catching…

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They Knows.

The Pentagon’s UAP (UFO) Report Signals a Sharp Attitude Change

The brass have committed themselves to going “wherever the data takes us”

As promised, the Pentagon released its UAP (UFO) report. And what did they find? First, they … lack sufficient data to determine the nature of mysterious flying objects observed by American military pilots including whether they are advanced earthly technologies, atmospherics or of an extraterrestrial origin. Steve Gorman, “Watershed U.S. UFO report does not rule out extraterrestrial origin” at Reuters via Yahoo News (June 25, 2021) But read on: The report marked a turning point for the U.S. government after the military spent decades deflecting, debunking and discrediting observations of unidentified flying objects and “flying saucers” dating back to the 1940s. Steve Gorman, “Watershed U.S. UFO report does not rule out extraterrestrial origin” at Reuters via Yahoo News (June 25,…

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Admiring the lake from a pier

When You Are the Only Human Left— Sci-Fi Saturday

Are you the only human left alive or are you the only one who is not alive?

“Martha” at DUST by Alexandra Blue (May 27, 2021, 16:19 min) “Martha wakes up one morning and gets ready, listening to music, brushing her teeth and cramming in breakfast like any other day. But this is no ordinary day. When she leaves the house she shares with her mother, she realizes that everyone has disappeared, and she is the last person on Earth.” Review: The film begins deceptively peacefully with an untidy teen, on her own briefly while Mom is on (apparently) a business trip. Then, abruptly, she discovers a near-impossibility: A car crashed into a tree with no one in site and the key still in the ignition. Good turn of the plot, that. No King Kongs. No Godzillas.…

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close up photo of green leafed plant

If You Do Something to a Plant, Will It Remember?

Depends. Plants turn out to be more and more like animals. NOT like people but like animals

Plants, we are learning, have internal means of remembering and keeping track of things: In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers from Nara Institute of Science and Technology have revealed that a family of proteins that control small heat shock genes enables plants to ‘remember’ how to deal with heat stress… “Heat stress is often repeating and changing,” says lead author of the study Nobutoshi Yamaguchi. “Once plants have undergone mild heat stress, they become tolerant and can adapt to further heat stress. This is referred to as heat stress ‘memory’ and has been reported to be correlated to epigenetic modifications.” Epigenetic modifications are inheritable changes in the way genes are expressed, and do not involve changes in the…

Text paper trees

Science Journalist: No Hype. Consciousness Is a HARD Problem!

Michael Hanlon reflected on the many futile efforts to “solve” consciousness

British science journalist Michael Hanlon (1964–2016), co-author with Tracey Brown of In the Interests of Safety (2014), had some sobering things to say about the trivial pursuit of an easy theory of consciousness. Considering materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett and less materialist philosopher David Chalmers (who coined the term the “Hard Problem of Consciousness”), he reflects, Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Daniel Dennett wrote that: ‘Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery.’ A few years later, Chalmers added: ‘[It] may be the largest outstanding obstacle in our quest for a scientific understanding of the universe.’ They were right then and, despite the tremendous scientific advances since, they are still right today. I do not think that the…

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Robotic man cyborg face representing artificial intelligence 3D rendering

How To Flummox an AI Neural Network

Kids can figure out the same-different distinction. So can ducklings and bees. But top AI can't.

Science writer John Pavlus identifies a key limitation of artificial intelligence: The first episode of Sesame Street in 1969 included a segment called “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.” Viewers were asked to consider a poster that displayed three 2s and one W, and to decide — while singing along to the game’s eponymous jingle — which symbol didn’t belong. Dozens of episodes of Sesame Street repeated the game, comparing everything from abstract patterns to plates of vegetables. Kids never had to relearn the rules. Understanding the distinction between “same” and “different” was enough. Machines have a much harder time. One of the most powerful classes of artificial intelligence systems, known as convolutional neural networks or CNNs,…

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Live lobster in the aquarium. Product in the supermarket. Close up photo of big lobsters in water tank for sale

Can Crabs Think? Can Lobsters Feel? What We Know Now

In Switzerland, it is now illegal to boil a lobster alive. Are the Swiss right? Is it cruel?

Because crustaceans have shells, we may tend to think of them as like machines. Yet crustaceans, along with octopuses, show some surprising abilities and complexities. Take crabs, for example: A new Swansea University study has revealed how common shore crabs can navigate their way around a complex maze and can even remember the route in order to find food … Spatial learning is quite complicated, so figuring out how it works in crustaceans gives us a better understanding of how widespread this ability, and learning in general, is in the animal kingdom.” The researchers tested 12 crabs over four weeks, placing food at the end of the maze each time. The route to the end of the maze required five…

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Warning, cancel culture spreading fast

Black American Conservatives Lead Fight Against Cancel Culture

They “trigger” bullies when they say what they think needs to be said, not what the Cancel mob insists on hearing

British writer Douglas Murray dissects social media’s Cancel Culture, in a typically unsparing fashion: All ages have their orthodoxies. And if writers, artists, thinkers and comedians do not occasionally tread on them, then they are not doing their jobs. Meanwhile human nature remains what it is. And just as some children will always pull the wings off flies and fry small ants with their toy magnifying glasses, so a certain number of adult inadequates will find meaning in their lives by sniffing around the seats in the public square until they find an aroma they can claim offends them. Douglas Murray, “How to fight back against ‘cancel culture’” at Spectator (January 24, 2020) Black American conservatives “trigger” Cancel Culture when…

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

How Do We Know the Machine Is Right If No One Knows How It Works?

We don’t, and that’s a problem, says Oxford philosopher John Zerilli

Oxford philosopher John Zerilli, author of A Citizen’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence (2021), asks us to consider how machine learning, the most widely used type of AI, might be deciding our lives without our knowing it: There are many reasons not to take job rejections personally, but there’s one in particular you might not consider: you might have been screened out by an algorithm that taught itself to filter candidates by gender, surname or ethnicity – in other words, by factors that have nothing to do with your ability to do the job. Even if you’re unfazed by the spectre of runaway robots enslaving humanity, this little tale shows how the ascendancy of machine learning (ML) comes with risks that…

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hand of ants

The Most Promising Defense Against Militarized Drone Swarms

An EMP ray beam could disable an AI swarm like a can of bug spray against a swarm of ants

Want to be scared about a use of artificial intelligence in the military? Watch the leftist video Slaughterbots or the beginning of the movie Angel Has Fallen starring drone-targeted Morgan Freeman. Swarms are hard to defeat. Kicking over an ant hill and stomping on most of the agents in a swarm doesn’t derail the ants’ collective mission. Come back in a week and the anthill is rebuilt. Likewise, if all of the agents in a drone swarm aren’t taken out, the drone swarm can still accomplish its mission. As I mention in The Case for Killer Robots, autonomous swarms of drones are among the scariest applications of AI in military weapons. Russia has developed and tested military drone swarms. So has the United States military. General John…