Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive July 2021

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Dna test in the lab. a laboratory technician with a dispenser in his hands is conducting dna analysis in a sterile laboratory behind glass

China Is Building the World’s Largest Global DNA Database

The government violates the country’s own privacy laws in the name of security and stability

A January 2021 study by a U.K. cybersecurity and privacy watchdog, Comparitech, found that China was the world’s worst offender for “widespread and invasive biometric data collection” out of ninety-six countries studied. The Chinese government aspires to build the world’s largest police-run DNA database. Its Made in China 2025 plan places a priority on building its biotechnology industry, which involves collecting a large number of DNA samples. The way Chinese authorities obtain DNA is often intrusive and without consent. In a previous article, we looked at how U.S. companies’ DNA sequencing and identification technologies end up in Xinjiang despite U.S. sanctions. In this article, we will look at how China is using DNA collection to further its national goals. China’s…

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Illustration of synapse and neuron on a blue background.

Will We Soon Be Able to Test Theories of Consciousness?

Proponents of two leading theories of consciousness are trying to develop tests for their models, in a hitherto baffling field

Science journalist and author Anil Ananthaswamy has written a thoughtful piece at New Scientist on the leading models of consciousness and their relationship to quantum mechanics (quantum physics). Are we reaching the point where we can test at least one of them? Ananthaswamy is well qualified to assess the arguments. He is the author of both Through Two Doors at Once (2018) on quantum physics and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2015) on the nature of the self. Models of consciousness that assume that “consciousness isn’t separate from the material reality that physics explains” (materialist or naturalist theories) fall into three general classes, as he explains. Analysts like Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett and Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano argue that consciousness…

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DNA sequence with colored letters on black background containing mutation

U.S.-Made DNA ID Equipment Is Being Sold to Xinjiang’s Police

Engineering professor Yves Moreau’s research shows that a more serious approach to existing sanctions against such uses is needed

The U.S. leads the world in DNA sequencing technologies. Unfortunately, two U.S. companies’ products are being used in China in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region despite the fact that the U. S. has placed sanctions on such uses. The sanctions were put in place because Chinese authorities surveil and detain Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities without legal precedent and engage in acts that are in violation of the Genocide Convention of 1948. The New York Times, for example, obtained ten contracts, along with government procurement documents, showing that Thermo Fisher Scientific’s and Promega’s equipment is being sold to Xinjiang police: The government procurement documents and contracts show that several Chinese companies sold Thermo Fisher equipment worth at least $521,165 to…

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man hand bitcoin

Using Benford’s Law to Detect Bitcoin Manipulation

Market prices are not invariably equal to intrinsic values

For a while, there was a popular belief among finance professors that the stock market is “efficient” in the sense that stock prices are always correct — the prices that an all-knowing God would set. Thus, investors can buy any stock, even a randomly selected stock, and be confident that they are paying a fair price. This belief was based on seemingly overwhelming evidence that changes in stock prices are difficult to predict. Efficient market enthusiasts argued that if stock prices are always correct, taking into account all currently available information, then any changes in stock prices must be due to new information which, by definition, is impossible to predict. Therefore, the evidence that changes in stock prices are hard to…

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Reflection of a man looking at a help wanted sign in a business window, economy concept

AI vs. the Pandemic: A Hopeful View of the Future of Work

A look at what was predicted and what really happened

In 2019, philosopher Jay Richards offered some thoughts on whether robots would take all our jobs, as widely predicted. In the meantime, the unforeseeable COVID-19 pandemic idled many more people than robots did or could have. But let’s take a look at how well Richards’ reflections in “Creative Freedom, Not Robots, Is The Future Of Work” have fared. Note: Dr. Richards was speaking at the launch of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence in Dallas, Texas on August 18. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-142-Jay-Richards.mp3 A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Richards started by pointing out that vast numbers of pundits were committed to the view that AI and robots will take our jobs: Jay Richards: Let me give…

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chemin vers le brouillard

Remembering a Biologist’s Remarkable Confession of Faith

Is it scientific misconduct to make science about materialist atheism?

My friend and colleague Casey Luskin has penned a poignant essay in memory of Richard Lewontin, a Harvard evolutionary biologist who passed away at 92 recently. Casey is a gentleman and a scholar, and very much disposed to finding the best in people. Indeed it seems there was much that was very good in Lewontin’s persona, and Casey highlighted it beautifully in his encomium. I am not of the opinion, however, that we should speak only good of the dead. The passing of a public figure is a good time to consider his impact, and Lewontin’s impact on American culture and science is something very much worth considering. By all accounts, Lewontin was a gentleman and a good friend and…

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The Earth from space. This image elements furnished by NASA.

Cornell: Earth Could Be Seen by ET Far More Easily Than Thought

Using analytic software, researchers can determine whether Earth would be visible from a given star system

According to Cornell and American Museum of Natural History researchers, “Scientists have identified 2,034 nearby star-systems — within the small cosmic distance of 326 light-years — that could find Earth merely by watching our pale blue dot cross our sun”: Scientists at Cornell University and the American Museum of Natural History have identified 2,034 nearby star-systems — within the small cosmic distance of 326 light-years — that could find Earth merely by watching our pale blue dot cross our sun. That’s 1,715 star-systems that could have spotted Earth since human civilization blossomed about 5,000 years ago, and 319 more star-systems that will be added over the next 5,000 years. Exoplanets around these nearby stars have a cosmic front-row seat to…

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Artificial intelligence

What If Your AI Started To Talk Like a Human? — Sci-fi Saturday

Should you just shut it down and leave the building?

“Intelligentia” (2020) by Ken Shinozaki (at DUST July 7, 2021, 11:12 min) “Lisa receives a butler A.I. to Turing test, and over the course of the procedure, she discovers the A.I. is not what it seems and her entire world disrupted.” Review: It’s a harrowing tale with a strong performance by Rain Fuller as Lisa and C. J. Baker as her boss. Lisa seems to be on the brink of a breakdown. Which the AI, “Eugene,” seems to have spotted… “Eugene” soon takes charge of the interview. And it becomes clear that “Eugene” is a conscious being. It’s fun sci-fi and well worth the watch. But a bit implausible toward the end. We are told that “Eugene” — essentially just…

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Virus bacteria cells background

What If the UAP (UFOs) Are Much Simpler Life Forms Than We Think?

Why assume, if the unexplained phenomena are ET, that they are more advanced than we are? What if the opposite is true?

Readers will recall that on June 25, the Pentagon released a nine-page report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UFOs) which signaled a significant change in attitude from debunking to carefully assessing. That is, we don’t know what’s out there but it’s something and we had better find out. The report references 144 incidents, of which investigators “could not explain”143. First, some reactions from science writers at Futurism: They were generally “disappointed” by the report’s uncertainty, accompanied by tantalizing hints: Reports of strange sightings made by US military pilots emerged after The New York Times published a series of mysterious videos in 2017, captured by military personnel and showing unidentified objects that seemed to defy the laws of physics. The June report,…

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Petals of Oscillation

Quantum Physics: Is Everything Determined? Egnor vs. Papineau

Physicalist philosopher David Papineau is clearly unhappy with the implications of quantum mechanics, as neurosurgeon Michael Egnor sets them out

Yesterday, we published the fifth portion of the debate between materialist philosopher David Papineau and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, where the key issue was “Can traditional philosophy help us understand the mind vs. the brain?” In this final instalment, we look at the portion which starts roughly at 47 min where Papineau and Egnor start to talk about quantum physics, the physics that governs electrons, which famously do not obey the same rules as larger particles and are also the most basic level of the brain (partial transcript): Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist.” On that view, “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He…

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Group of neanderthal hunting a bison

New Find Pushes Symbolic Thinking Further Back in Human History

A Neanderthal find from 51,000 years ago is another piece in the puzzle of the origin of abstract human thinking

At one time, scientists believed that only some groups of humans possessed the ability to think symbolically. Neanderthals were held to be an example of humans who could not do so. But more recently, as George Dvorsky tells us at Gizmodo, a 2019 finding at the Unicorn Cave in the Harz Mountains in central Germany challenges that belief: Patterns deliberately etched onto a bone belonging to a giant deer are signs that Neanderthals possessed the capacity for symbolic thought. Neanderthals decorated themselves with feathers, drew cave paintings, and created jewelry from eagle talons, so it comes as little surprise to learn that Neanderthals also engraved patterns onto bone. The discovery of this 51,000-year-old bone carving, as described in Nature Ecology…

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Behind a clock

Is Technology Running Backward?

Technology isn't adding value anymore. It's adding expense.

I’ve been a computer nerd since I was a young child. My dad bought the family a TI 99/4A before I even went to Kindergarten, and I basically started programming when I learned to read. As I grew up, the thing that fascinated me most about technology was the ability to automate.  Automation, in theory, is supposed to make people’s lives better. It’s supposed to take the drudgery out of work, to leave people to focus on the more creative aspects of their work. With a word processor, I can type, correct, spellcheck, rewrite, and reorganize in an instant. I can even maintain old drafts easily. With a spreadsheet, I can keep track of all my income, expenses, grades, goals,…

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Tree brain with human head cape, idea concept of think  hope freedom and mind , surreal artwork, dream art , fantasy landscape, imagination of nature

Can Traditional Philosophy Help Us Understand Mind vs. Brain?

Michael Egnor asks us to look back to the traditional idea that the soul is the “form” of the body

Yesterday, we published the fourth portion of the debate between materialist philosopher David Papineau and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, where the key issue was “Is the mind simply what the brain does?” Today, we look at the portion which starts roughly at 36 min where Papineau and Egnor start to talk about traditional philosophical ways of thinking about the soul and the body (partial transcript): Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist.” On that view, “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all there is), often called “materialism.” Michael Egnor: In the…

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Red and green men meet for a treaty. Candidates Political Debate. civilized resolution of conflicts and disputes, search for compromise. Networking in business. Negotiation platform.

Will Florida’s Law for Diversity of Thought at Universities Work?

In an internet-linked global society, protecting diversity of thought becomes even more important

A new Florida law, which took effect July 1, asks universities to survey “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” annually on their campuses, to find out how free students, faculty, and staff feel “to express their beliefs and viewpoints.” Ohio Northern University law professor Scott Gerber explains, The problem DeSantis has identified is not unique to Florida — Indiana’s Republican governor signed a similar bill last month — and it traces directly to the political biases of the processes by which faculty are hired. Many of the same colleges and universities that tout tenure as a way to encourage free thought censor it by not allowing conservative and libertarian faculty candidates who think freely to get in the door. I once…

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Psychology concept. Sunrise and woman silhouette.

Egnor vs. Papineau, Round 4: Egnor Defends the Mind vs. the Brain

Philosopher David Papineau does not feel that neurosurgeon Michael Egnor is being “entirely helpful” at this point…

Yesterday, we published the third portion of the debate between materialist philosopher David Papineau and neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, where the key issue was “Could there have been a material cause for the Big Bang that is held to have started our universe?” For Egnor’s opening statement, go here. Here’s Papineau’s reply. Today, we look at the portion which starts roughly at 26:30 where they start to talk about the human mind. Is the mind simply “what the brain does”? Papineau begins: Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist.” On that view, “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He is considered to be one of…

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Father And Son Competing In Video Games At Home

Why Did Video Gamers Uncover Fraud More Easily Than Scientists?

Video gamers are subject, a psychologist tells us, to much more rigorous constraints than scientists

In a recent article at The Atlantic, King’s College psychologist Stuart Ritchie, author of Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth (2020), has noted a curious fact: Video gamers are much quicker to spot fraud than scientists. The video game fraud he focuses on involved a gamer’s claim that he had finished a round of Minecraft in a little over 19 minutes, a feat he attributed, Ritchie tells us, to “an incredible stretch of good luck.” “Incredible” is the right choice of word here. “Dream,” as the player was known, later admitted — in the face of skepticism — that he had “inadvertently” left some software running that improved his game — thus disqualifying…

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Big bang explosion in space

Round 3: Egnor vs Papineau: The Big Bang Has No Natural Beginning

In the debate between theistic neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and naturalist philosopher David Papineau, the question gets round to the origin of the universe itself

Michael Egnor begins this portion of the discussion by asking What caused the Big Bang? What causes the singularities at the core of black holes? (Yesterday, we published materialist philosopher David Papineau’s reply to neurosurgeon Michael Egnor. For Egnor’s opening statement, go here. Starts, roughly, at 21:30 min: David Papineau: I don’t think it’s a coherent question. It’s like asking what causes the number five. I mean, you’re misapplying the notion of cause to the beginning of the material universe. … I’m not following. I said all physical effects have a physical cause, and you’re going to give me a counterexample of a physical effect that doesn’t have a physical cause, so what would that be? Note: The Big Bang,…

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Seniorenpaar mit Rollator unterwegs mit Tochter

Computer Program Predicts When Seniors Have 6 Months to Live

Developed in Canada, the program is further evidence that medicine is growing increasingly impersonal

As if we needed further evidence that medicine is growing increasingly impersonal, the Canadian Medical Association Journal has published a study that claims a computer program can predict when seniors have six months to live. From the Global News story: Amid a lack of proper support for Canadians receiving home-based support towards the end of their lives, a new risk calculator is helping predict how long seniors have left to live. The Risk Evaluation for Support: Predictions for Elder-Life in the Community Tool — dubbed ‘RESPECT’ for short — can predict death within six months, and was developed using data from more than 491,000 community-dwelling adults aged at least 50 years who used home care between 2007 and 2013. Always with the acronyms to hide…

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question mark letters

The Most “Woke” Company Could Contribute Most to Online Bias

Google has got to be one of the "Wokest" companies but there is a lesson in how Timnit Gebru got fired

Here’s a paper worth revisiting, “On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big?” (March 3, 2021), if only for the principal author’s trouble associated with publishing it. Although Google had hired Timnit Gebru to do ethics consultation, an executive, Megan Kacholia demanded that she remove all suggestion of her affiliation. In the ensuing uproar, Gebru ended up no longer employed there. The paper in question was, in Gebru’s mind, pretty unobjectionable. It surveyed the known pitfalls of so-called large language models, a type of AI software — most famously exemplified by a system called GPT-3 — that was stoking excitement in the tech industry. Google’s own version of the technology was now helping to power the…

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Microfono tenuto in mano conferenza

Round 2: Philosopher Papineau Replies to Neurosurgeon Egnor

Dr. Papineau is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all there is), often called “materialism.”

Yesterday, we published a portion of the transcript of the debate between materialist philosopher David Papineau amd neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, in which Egnor explains how, despite early atheism, the practice of medicine led him to believe that there is a God and that the mind is not simply what the brain does. He offered three reasons. Today, here’s a transcript of David Papineau’s reply. Starts, roughly, at 9:00 min: Note: Dr. Papineau is a “physicalist,” a form of materialism according to which “the mind is a purely physical construct, and will eventually be explained entirely by physical theory, as it continues to evolve.” (Philosophy basics) He is considered to be one of the best defenders of naturalism (nature is all…