Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive November 2021

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Neuron close up

Human Neurons, Brains, Much More Efficient Than Animal Ones

What was formerly thought to be “junk DNA” differs between humans and chimpanzees and plays a role in brain development

What makes humans different should be straightforward, right? We should, for example, have more complex neurons than ferrets and macaques. But we don’t. We have simpler ones: Neurons communicate with each other via electrical impulses, which are produced by ion channels that control the flow of ions such as potassium and sodium. In a surprising new finding, MIT neuroscientists have shown that human neurons have a much smaller number of these channels than expected, compared to the neurons of other mammals. MIT, “A Striking Difference Between Neurons of Humans and Other Mammals” at Neuroscience News (November 10, 2021) The paper requires a subscription. In the most extensive study of its kind, nine other mammals were studied. Larger mammals have larger…

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Servers at sunset, cloud technology concept. 3d rendering

Harvard U Press Computer Science Author Gives AI a Reality Check

Erik Larson told COSM 2021 about real limits in getting machines that don’t live in the real world to understand it

The speaker told the audience that although computers can do many impressive things, they will never achieve artificial intelligence. Who is “they” in the sentence you just read? The audience or computers? You immediately know the answer. It’s computers, because we know that researchers are struggling how to figure out how to endow computers with AI. It makes no sense to talk about an audience having artificial intelligence. You intuitively understanding the meaning of “they” in the sentence without even having to think about it. What if the sentence had read: The speaker told the audience that although computers can do many impressive things, they will be sorry if they bought one of this year’s models. Again, it is obvious…

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Composite image of hacker holding laptop and credir card

Physicality Of Data: The Road To Inherently Safer Authentication

Even though the world is arguably far more at risk from uncontrolled data than from uncontrolled HHCs, there are no hordes of people demanding solutions — yet

“The Physicality Of Data And The Road To Inherently Safer Authentication” was originally published by Forbes, (October 8, 2021) David Kruger is Co-Founder and VP of Strategy for Absio Corporation and a co-inventor of Absio’s Software-defined Distributed Key Cryptography (SDKC). Two different classes of identifiers must be tested to reliably authenticate things and people: assigned identifiers, such as names, addresses and social security numbers, and some number of physical characteristics. For example, driver’s licenses list assigned identifiers (name, address and driver’s license number) and physical characteristics (picture, age, height, eye and hair color and digitized fingerprints). Authentication requires examining both the license and the person to verify the match. Identical things are distinguished by unique assigned identities such as a…

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Abstract virtual microscheme illustration on flag of China and blurry cityscape background. Big data and database concept. Multiexposure

The Great Race for Military AI and Quantum Computing Is On

And China is far ahead in both, analysts told COSM 2021

On the second day of the COSM 2021 conference, speakers asked — with appropriate skepticism — whether we could ever produce true Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). But the final day of the conference hosted a conversation on the realistically achievable forms of AI and quantum computing that may pose existential threats to modern life. Robert J. Marks, Director of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence (which hosted COSM) — also Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University — spoke first. The title of his 2020 book, The Case for Killer Robots: Why America’s Military Needs to Continue Development of Lethal AI , provides an unsubtle hint at his position. Marks thinks that AI will…

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Multimedia video concept on TV set in dark room

Culture Watch: “This is Us” Recognizes Limits of Machines

Let's hope that this becomes a trend of popular culture dealing with the realities of technology and its limitations

Most people do not recognize the inherent limitations of machines and algorithms. This is true even more in popular culture, which seems to be fixated on a narrative of machines becoming sentient and taking over. However, in a recent episode of the popular TV show “This is Us,” the limitations of computer algorithms came to the forefront, with the show not only recognizing the outlines, but getting the details correct. You might wonder why a TV drama is getting involved in the technical details of a discussion on the limits of computation. “This is Us” is a TV show which emphasizes the connections between generations — how the altruism and selfishness as well as the accomplishments and failures of each…

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industry metallurgical plant dawn smoke smog emissions bad ecology aerial photography

Physicality Of Data And The Road To Inherently Safer Computing

The software industry today is precisely where the chemical industry was in 1978; hazard control is a mere afterthought

“The Physicality Of Data And The Road To Inherently Safer Computing” was originally published by Forbes, August 24, 2021. David Kruger is Co-Founder and VP of Strategy for Absio Corporation and a co-inventor of Absio’s Software-defined Distributed Key Cryptography (SDKC). Our current concept of cybersecurity is to defend against attacks and remedy failure by erecting more and better defenses. That’s a fundamental mistake in thinking that guarantees failure. Why? Because it’s mathematically impossible for a defensive strategy to fully succeed, as explained in the previous installment of this article series. Another even more fundamental mistake in thinking is that cyberattackers are the cause of our woes. They aren’t. They’re the effect. A hazard is a potential source of harm. Cyberattackers target certain…

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Ghostwriter In Office. Creative Ghost Writer

Book Review: “Ghost Work” Flops in Economic Understanding

"Ghost workers" are those unseen workers behind artificial intelligence

Here at Mind Matters, we have often covered the way that humans are used to supplement Artificial Intelligence. Artificial intelligence has generally been misunderstood as replacing human effort in society, while, in reality, it is usually leveraging it, instead. Whether using humans to find good training data, mining content for intentionality, or even using humans directly within machine learning algorithms, today’s most prominent “AI” systems are actually strange hybrids of humans and computers. As a matter of fact, the market for human supplementation of AI is so large that Amazon has an entire service built around it. While much of this work is done either for free (oftentimes through games on the Internet) or through traditional paid office work, a growing amount is being done through “microtasks,” through systems…

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

Astronomer: We Can’t Just Assume Countless Earths Out There

He points out that the Principle of Mediocrity is based on faulty logical reasoning

Dartmouth physicist and astronomer Marcelo Gleiser wrote recently that the Copernican Principle has been misused to imply that Earth is somehow insignificant. That, he says, is a philosophical attitude, unrelated to the science. We don’t know where Earth stands in relation to other planets because we do not yet have telescopes capable of getting much detail about planets outside our solar system. Gleiser, author of The Island of Knowledge (2014), has also tackled the Mediocrity Principle (because Earth is nothing special, there must be countless intelligent civilizations out there). According to Britannica, “Widely believed by astronomers since the work of Nicolaus Copernicus, this principle states that the properties and evolution of the solar system are not unusual in any important…

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Beautiful water waves -  Splashed water wave in clean blue water, clean filtered water ready for drinking

Why AI Can’t Really Filter Out “Hate News”

As Robert J. Marks explains, the No Free Lunch theorem establishes that computer programs without bias are like ice cubes without cold

In Define information before you talk about it, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed engineering prof Robert J. Marks on the way information, not matter, shapes our world (October 28, 2021). In the first portion, Egnor and Marks discussed questions like: Why do two identical snowflakes seem more meaningful than one snowflake. Then they turned to the relationship between information and creativity. Is creativity a function of more information? Or is there more to it? And human intervention make any difference? Does Mount Rushmore have no more information than Mount Fuji? Does human intervention make a measurable difference? That’s specified complexity. Putting the idea of specified complexity to work, how do we measure meaningful information? How do we know Lincoln contained more…

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Girl in orange shirt standing near house robot

Silicon Valley Insider: Why Friendly Super-AI Won’t Happen

Venture capitalist Peter Thiel talks about the Great Filter hypothesis: Why should we assume a superior artificial intelligence would be friendly?

In a wide-ranging talk at the recent COSM 2021 conference (November 10–12), Peter Thiel (a PayPal and Facebook founder) expressed concern that people worry a great deal about artificial intelligence that thinks like people (AGI) but the real push now is for massive “dumb” surveillance AI peering into every detail of our lives, for the benefit of either government or the corporate world. He went on to say that he doubts that artificial general intelligence (AGI) — “superhuman software that can do everything that we can do” — would, in any event, be “friendly.” That is, that it “won’t kill us.” If it is intelligent enough to be independent, why should we assume so? “Friendly” is a human value, hard…

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When Oxygen Becomes the Most Precious Commodity — Sci-fi Saturday

This sci-fi riff on what where atmospheric pollution could lead us offers beautiful renderings of abandoned advanced civilizations, housed in caves

“Life support” at DUST by Saleh Jamsheer (at DUST November 12, 2021, 6:02 min, animated) A seeker finds himself distressed by his dependencies and is constantly searching for a way to survive without his life support. Review: The story is set in an age of atmosphere meltdown. Space-suited humans live in caves and, when things go wrong with their air supply, they are rescued by aerial drones. Favorite line from rescue drone: “Would it be a bad time to say I told you so?” (Shaykha Sayyar as N.O.V.A. and Voice of Authority) Um, yes, N.O.V.A. Now please ask us a challenging question. The central character, 178 (Saleh Jamsheer), finds himself in the ruins of a civilization started by drone hybrids…

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Science fiction interior - a hallway with reinforced gate.

Physicist: Does Captain Kirk Die Going Through the Transporter?

The problem has kept her up at night for decades, she says, and it appears we are no closer to an answer

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder is genuinely puzzled and asks readers for possible solutions: Does Captain Kirk die when he goes through the transporter? This question has kept me up at night for decades. I’m not kidding. And I still don’t have an answer. So this video isn’t going to answer the question, but I will explain why it’s more difficult than you may think. Sabine Hossenfelder, “Does Captain Kirk die when he goes through the transporter?” at BackRe(Action) (October 23, 2021) Why so difficult? Assume that all the information about a person is contained in the exact configuration in which it appears at one moment in time. Hossenfelder accepts that as the correct view. So the transporter converts you into…

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Robots dancing in the park. Artificial intelligence industry in China.

COSM 2021: Kai-Fu Lee Tries His Hand at Future Casting

The former president of Google China thinks that China is well equipped to lead the world in AI

At COSM 2021, Kai-Fu Lee — computer scientist, writer, venture capitalist and former head of Google China — provided a future cast of the five ways artificial intelligence will change the world. Lee’s predictions are compelling because he takes a tempered view of the capabilities of AI. Lee says some people misunderstand AI. It can’t replicate the human brain because it works differently from the brain. AI is good at using large amounts of data for numerical optimization and individualization, but very poor at extraction analysis, common sense, insight, and creativity. Lee told the gathering: … of course [AI] has no self-awareness, consciousness, or emotions or love. So, it is actually quite a good complement for human beings because we’re…

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Jim Tour at COSM 2021 on our zero carbon future

Flash Graphene: Born Again Plastic Is Planet-Friendly

Chemist James Tour outlined a new approach to carbon waste at COSM 2021: Use electricity to turn it into graphene, to be recycled as new materials

Remember that mindblowing scene in Back to the Future II where Doc Brown shows up in his flying Delorean and throws trash into the “Mr. Fusion” unit in the back — and it’s instantly converted into fuel? We aren’t quite there yet. But if what Rice University synthetic chemist James Tour told COSM 2021 proves right, then we can take current trash — e-waste, food waste, useless wood, discarded plastic, old tires, etc. — and reclaim it at low cost to make materials that we can incorporate into many technologies. Tour and his team have developed methods for turning carbon waste into graphene, an allotrope of carbon that can be stacked to form graphite (best known as the “lead” in…

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Golden coins and hourglass clock. Return on investment, deposit, growth of income and savings, time is money concept.

Economics As If Time, Not Money, Drives the Bus

Business prof Gale Pooley told COSM 2021 that the information society has vastly increased the goods that our time will buy by increasing and automating knowledge

Brigham Young University business prof Gale Pooley figures that not only does time drive the bus but economics is much easier to understand if we take that fact seriously. That was one key point in his wide-ranging talk at COSM 2021 yesterday, “Knowledge vs. Doom.” As we all struggle with inflation, it’s worth looking at the money we earn simply from the perspective of how much of our time was spent earning it: “Money is time” essentially means that we buy things with money but we really pay for them with our time. Instead of dollars and cents, we can use hours and minutes to price things. We can use “time prices.” As he told the audience, Yale University economist…

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Matt Scholz at COSM 2021 on Innovations in Biotech

Manipulating Molecules: Combining Info + Nano for Better Medicine

At COSM 2021, scientists like Jim Tour and entrepreneurs like Matt Scholz offer a window into how we are learning to manipulate the building blocks of life

Yesterday COSM 2021, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, synthetic organic chemist James Tour, and biotech entrepreneur Matthew Scholz looked at how nanotechnology (working directly with very small things, like molecules) will advance biology and medicine. “Oscar Wilde said nature imitates art,” Meyer opened by saying. And today we’re going to see that “technology is now able to imitate and even in some ways, improve upon nature.” He noted that since the 1960s we’ve been learning that living cells function because of the actions performed by molecular machines—those molecular machines are built using information. For example, consider the cell’s power source: A rotary engine called ATP synthase in the mitochondria of cells produces the energy. As a camshaft with lobes spins…

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Peter Thiel at COSM 2021 on Artificial General Intelligence

Peter Thiel: Artificial General Intelligence Isn’t Happening

That whole transhumanist movement is slowing down, he told COSM 2021. But, he adds, What IS happening should sober us up a lot

In his talk yesterday at COSM 2021, venture capitalist and philanthropist Peter Thiel — the ultimate Silicon Valley insider, prophet, and sometimes needed gadfly — offered a cold shower for transhumanism, The Singularity, the computers we will supposedly merge with by 2030, and all that. Those things, he thinks, are uncertain. We should worry about what’s happening now in everyday time, to which, in his view, too few are paying heed: The growth of total AI-based surveillance and the disappearance of privacy. Thiel considers arguments about whether computers that think like people will ever be developed to be “above his pay grade.” Given that he is reputed to be worth $3.7B dollars, that’s a polite way of saying that such…

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George Gilder and Niall Ferguson at COSM 2021 on Doom

Historian Supports New Anti-Cancel Culture University

Niall Ferguson hopes that the new University of Austin will unite traditional wisdom with new technology in a spirit of free enquiry

At COSM 2021 yesterday, prominent historian Niall Ferguson talked about his decision to sign up with the new University of Austin, founded in explicit opposition to rampant political correctness and censorship on university campuses, which is beginning to affect quality scholarship. In response to a question from the floor, Ferguson, author of Doom: The politics of catastrophe (2021), outlined the seriousness of the problem: Well, it’s just been announced this week that we’re trying to create a new university, University of Austin, committed to the fundamental principles of, of academic freedom of free inquiry. And the reason we have to do this is that we see so many limitations on free inquiry and academic freedom at the established universities. The…

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Global cyber attack around the world with planet Earth viewed from space and internet network communication under cyberattack with red icons, worldwide propagation of virus online

The Physicality Of Data And The Road To Cybersecurity

With cyberattacks trending upward, remember that cyberattack potential is always greater than cyberdefense potential 

“The Physicality Of Data And The Road To Cybersecurity” was originally published by Forbes, July 28, 2021. David Kruger is Co-Founder and VP of Strategy for Absio Corporation and a co-inventor of Absio’s Software-defined Distributed Key Cryptography (SDKC). This article is the second in a series on the physicality of data. The first part is here. Cybersecurity failures have been trending sharply upwards in number and severity for the past 25 years.   The target of every cyberattack is data — i.e., digitized information that is created, processed, stored and distributed by computers. Cyberattackers seek to steal, corrupt, impede or destroy data. Users, software, hardware and networks aren’t the target; they’re vectors (pathways) to the target. To protect data, the current strategy, “defense in…

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A small building among the rocks

How Do We Know Lincoln Contained More Information Than His Bust?

Life forms strive to be more of what they are. Grains of sand don’t. You need more information to strive than to just exist.

In Define information before you talk about it, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed engineering prof Robert J. Marks on the way information, not matter, shapes our world (October 28, 2021). In the first portion, Egnor and Marks discussed questions like: Why do two identical snowflakes seem more meaningful than one snowflake. Then they turned to the relationship between information and creativity. Is creativity a function of more information? Or is there more to it? And human intervention make any difference? Does Mount Rushmore have no more information than Mount Fuji? Does human intervention make a measurable difference? That’s specified complexity. Putting the idea of specified complexity to work, how do we measure meaningful information? What if an information-rich entity were scattered…