Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive February 2022

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Old Burned Church

Religion Journalism After God Is Declared Dead

Writer and editor Ed Simon examines and makes a case for the New Religion Journalism, offering us help with praying to a dead god

Ed Simon is one of the editors of a recent anthology, The God Beat: What Journalism Says about Faith and Why It Matters (2021). According to the publisher, Broadleaf Books (an imprint of 1517 Media, formerly Augsburg Fortress), the book highlights “personal, subjective, voice-driven New Religion Journalism” by young writers “characterized by their brash, innovative, daring, and stylistically sophisticated writing and an unprecedented willingness to detail their own interaction with faith (or their lack thereof).” Simon offers his own thoughts on religion, sympathetic to that perspective, in a recent article at Aeon: He starts with reflections on the view that mid-nineteenth-century British poet Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) expressed in his poem “Dover Beach,” that religious faith was receding in his world:…

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Technical price graph and indicator, red and green candlestick chart on blue theme screen, market volatility, up and down trend. Stock trading, crypto currency background.

Detecting BS Research: If It Seems Too Good to be True…

A recent Wall Street Journal article shows a near-perfect link between inflation and money. But a link that near-perfect raises suspicions

Two Johns Hopkins economists recently wrote a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled, “Jerome Powell Is Wrong. Printing Money Causes Inflation.” Their argument is that Federal Reserve chair Powell is mistaken in his assertions that there is not a close relationship between money and inflation. As evidence, they offer the chart below, showing that the rate of inflation can be predicted almost perfectly from the rate of increase of M2, a broad measure of money. The authors explain: The theory rests on a simple identity, the equation of exchange, which demonstrates the link between the money supply and inflation: MV=Py, where M is the money supply, V is the velocity of money (the speed at which it circulates relative to total spending), P…

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cropped shot of robot playing chess on wooden surface

Is AlphaZero Actually Superior to the Human Mind?

Comparing AI and the human mind is completely apples and oranges

The Google-backed AI company DeepMind made headlines in March 2016 when its AlphaGo game AI engine was able to defeat Lee Sedol, one of the top Go players in the world. DeepMind followed up this great achievement with the AlphaZero engine in 2017, which made the remarkable achievement of soundly beating AlphaGo in Go as well as one of the world’s best chess engines in chess. The interesting difference between AlphaGo and AlphaZero is that AlphaGo uses databases of top human games for learning, while AlphaZero only learns by playing against itself. Using the same AI engine to dominate two different games, while also discarding reliance on human games suggests that DeepMind has found an algorithm that is intrinsically superior…

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Exploring the Multiverse Some elements provided courtesy of NASA

Astrophysicists Lock Horns Over Whether Multiverse Must Exist

Ethan Siegel says it follows naturally from inflation; Adam Frank says inflation is not that robust a theory

Recently, online magazine Big Think challenged two astrophysicists, Ethan Siegel (Yes) and Adam Frank (No) to debate the question. From Ethan Siegel’s argument for the multiverse: If cosmic inflation and quantum field theory are both correct, then the Multiverse arises as an inevitable consequence of the two, combined… Those regions of space where inflation end and the hot Big Bang begins are each their own, independent Universe, and together, they make up a Multiverse. We may not be able to measure these other Universes, at least not just yet, but there’s every reason to expect that if inflation and quantum field theory are both correct, then the Multiverse inevitably exists. Ethan Siegel and Adam Frank, “Is the Multiverse real? Two…

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A.I.

Can Christian Ethics Save Transhumanism?

J. R. Miller looks at the idea that the mission to self-evolve through technology is “the definitive Christian commitment.”

In my recent article detailing the deadly dream of transhumanism (H+), I showed that when human personhood is treated as a contingent property tied to the process of unguided natural selection, there remains no definitive answer to the question, “What does it mean to be human?” With nature as the starting point, morality itself becomes a fluid concept which must evolve as humans use technology to achieve post-humanity. The moral implications are severe. The risk that some people may be harmed, suffer, or die during medical experiments is outweighed by the transhumanist perception of a greater social good that advances the species. But what about Christians who embrace H+? Can the Christian ethic save H+? Some Christians today leverage their…

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Abstract planets and space background

Future Technologies — Zoom! … or Doom?

Astrophysicist Adam Frank sees a new role for us as galaxy gods as exhilarating but others aren’t so sure

Astrophysicist Adam Frank asks us to consider where we are on the Kardashev Scale for evaluating civilizations in the galaxy — or, at least, evaluating our own progress: Originally proposed in 1964 by Nikolai Kardashev (1932–2019) and later modified in 1973 by Carl Sagan (1934–1996), the scale measures a civilization’s technological advances from 1 to 3 (or maybe 5) by how much energy it can call upon to do things. Currently, we are not even a Type 1 on that scale and Frank offers some thoughts on that, asking, in particular, whether such advances are universal in the galaxy anyway: The classification scheme Kardashev used was not based on social systems of ethics because these are things that we can…

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Extremely detailed and realistic high resolution 3D image of an Exoplanet. Shot from space. Elements of this image are furnished by Nasa.

Former Astronaut Names Planet He Thinks Most Likely To Have Life

Researchers now seek to narrow down the list of exoplanets for the James Webb Space Telescope to research from thousands to dozens, to avoid wasting time

Former astronaut Chris Hadfield, with nearly 5000 known exoplanets to choose from, names Kepler-442b, 1200 light years from Earth, as an “excellent” one for the James Webb Space Telescope to have a look at: An excellent planet for @NASAWebb to have a look at. https://t.co/AutXPXInJW — Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) February 19, 2022 At Futurism, Victor Tangermann explains that researchers now week to narrow down the list of exoplanets from thousands to dozens, to avoid wasting space telescope time: In a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal in 2015, a team of astrobiologists argued that several exoplanets identified by NASA’s Kepler and K2 missions, including Kepler-442b, were highly likely to possess liquid surface water, like Earth. “We ranked the known Kepler…

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Cattle in pen

Firefly Episode 5: Brawls That Don’t Make Sense, Part 1

In this episode, after the cattle are unloaded, characters act in an uncharacteristic way in order to create a plot crisis

The vast quantities of cow dung left on the ship after a shipment of cows was dropped off is a telling omen for how this episode unfolds. We do get some much-needed exposition in the form of hints and flashbacks regarding the Shepherd and River Tam’s past but, apart from that, Episode 5 is by far the worst. While the first four episodes had some weak moments, they’ve been funny and enjoyable. Episode 5 dives into the incoherent. We open with the cows from the previous episode being unloaded from the ship and herded into a corral. Mal (Captain Malcolm Reynolds) and his crew work the herd like real cowboys which is enjoyable, but as they’re working, Simon Tam begins…

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Astronaut on rock surface with space background. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

After Months in Space, Astronauts’ Brains Are “Rewired”

The “very new and very unexpected” changes in fluid flow and shape can last for months after a return to Earth

The effects of long-term space travel on humans are only beginning to be understood: In a new study, a collaborative effort between the European Space Agency and Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, researchers have explored how cosmonauts’ brains change after traveling to space and back. And they showed how the brain adapts to spaceflight, finding that the brain is almost “rewired,” and both fluid shifts and shape changes occur. These changes can last for months after a person returns to Earth, the researchers found. The strange brain changes that the team observed were “very new and very unexpected,” study lead Floris Wuyts, a researcher at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, told Space.com. Chelsea Gohd, “Cosmonaut brains are ‘rewired’ by space…

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Federleicht

Our Sense of Touch: So Sharp It Spans a Single Fingerprint Ridge

Each of tens of thousands of sensory neurons is tuned in to a tiny surface area of the skin

If you’ve ever wondered why your sense of touch, even on the dead surface of the skin, seems so acute, researchers looked into that and shared their findings last year: Sensory neurons in the finger can detect touch on the scale of a single fingerprint ridge, according to new research published in Journal of Neuroscience. The hand contains tens of thousands of sensory neurons. Each neuron tunes in to a small surface area on the skin — a receptive field — and detects touch, vibration, pressure, and other tactile stimuli. The human hand possesses a refined sense of touch, but the exact sensitivity of a single sensory neuron has not been studied before. Society for Neuroscience, “Fingerprints Enhance Our Sense…

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Audio waveform abstract technology background

Researchers: Ultrasound Can Control Neurons, Bypassing Implants

A Salk team is researching it, not just to control mice but to control cells now controlled by pacemakers, insulin pumps, electrodes, and other therapies

Light has been used to turn cells on and off for over a decade. The process, called optogenetics, can be therapeutic but because light can’t get through tissues, the light source must be embedded in the skin or beneath the skull. A new method, sonogenetics, which means using sound instead of light to control cells, may show promise in regulating pacemakers and insulin pumps, among other things: In a new study published today (February 9) in Nature Communications, researchers report they’ve found a way to use ultrasound to noninvasively activate mouse neurons, both in culture and in the brains of living animals. The technique, which the authors call sonogenetics, elicits electrical activity in a subset of brain cells that have…

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Super macro shot tiny fruit flies on the top of a banana skin

Single Neurons Perform Complex Math — Even in Fruit Flies

The fly wants something simple — to avoid getting swatted or eaten, for example — but that requires some algebra

We may not think of our neurons as performing complex calculations but they must do so in order to determine where sound is coming from or where a moving object is headed. For a long while, how they do it has been a mystery. Recently, researchers at the Max Planck Institute reported that they have “discovered the biophysical basis by which a specific type of neuron in fruit flies can multiply two incoming signals,” the “algebra of neurons”: We easily recognize objects and the direction in which they move. The brain calculates this information based on local changes in light intensity detected by our retina. The calculations occur at the level of individual neurons. But what does it mean when…

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The forest and the trees are in the light. Concepts of environmental conservation and global warming plant growing inside lamp bulb over dry soil in saving earth concept

Business Prof: We Live in an Era of Unprecedented Abundance

If we’re not making good use of it or it’s not fairly distributed, those are different problems

At COSM 2021, business studies prof Jay Richards of the Catholic University of America spoke with Gale Pooley, also a business studies prof at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, on a fact we don’t hear much about in popular media focused on current events: Increasing knowledge and the subsequent dropping over of time prices have ushered in a vast improvement in standards of living. Many will ask, what about rising prices? Well, for example, we must compare rising prices due to various global events today to what things cost in the past: At COSM 2021, Pooley focused on the fact that, in real-world economics, the value of our time is the most critical factor we need to figure in: Brigham Young University…

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Young man putting goods on counter in supermarket

Government Mulls Money That Can Only Be Spent on Approved Items

Programmable digital currency restricts citizens’ freedoms for “socially beneficial outcomes”

A story from mid-last year reveals a creepy side to digital currency: “The Bank of England has called on ministers to decide whether a central bank digital currency should be ‘programmable’, ultimately giving ‘the issuer control over “how it is spent by the recipient”: Tom Mutton, a director at the Bank of England, said during a conference on Monday that programming could become a key feature of any future central bank digital currency, in which the money would be programmed to be released only when something happened. He said: “You could introduce programmability – what happens if one of the participants in a transaction puts a restriction on [future use of the money]? “There could be some socially beneficial outcomes…

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brain wave on electroencephalogram, EEG for epilepsy, illustration

Will Your Life Flash Before Your Eyes When You Die?

Sophisticated neuroscience equipment accidentally captured the complex brain states of the final moments of a dying patient.

Recently, researchers were able to study the brain of an 87-year-old patient while administering treatment for epilepsy. Dr Raul Vicente of the University of Tartu, Estonia and colleagues were using continuous electroencephalography (EEG) to detect the seizures but during the recordings, the patient had a heart attack and passed away. Thus they were abled to record the activity of adying human brain: “We measured 900 seconds of brain activity around the time of death and set a specific focus to investigate what happened in the 30 seconds before and after the heart stopped beating,” said Dr Ajmal Zemmar, a neurosurgeon at the University of Louisville, US, who organised the study. “Just before and after the heart stopped working, we saw…

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Tunnel of light

Agnostic Psychiatrist Says Near-Death Experiences Are Real

They change lives but he is unsure what they mean

Psychiatrist Bruce Greyson, emeritus at the University of Virginia, tells us that he first started thinking about near-death experiences many decades ago when a young woman, rescued from suicide, asserted that she had seen a spaghetti stain on his tie during an out-of-body experience. She could not have known that he had gone to considerable pains to conceal the embarrassing mark from colleagues. Nothing in his background had prepared him, as a young psychiatrist, for taking seriously the possibility that the mind could be detached from the brain. He grew up with a chemist father who had a great love for science but no metaphysical convictions. But he just could not forget the spaghetti stain episode and that background prompted…

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The Brady Bunch – Why Research Should Be Guided By Common Sense

Do our names really influence our choice in profession or the way our lives play out?

The credibility of scientific research is undermined by scientists torturing and mining data in a tenacious search for media-friendly results. Media-friendly findings tend to be entertaining, provocative, and surprising, and there is a good reason why they are surprising – they are wrong. Here is an example from BMJ, a top-tier medical journal. A paper with the alluring title, “The Brady Bunch?,” investigated “nominative determinism,” the idea that our surnames influence our choice of professions. With my name being Smith, I might have been predestined to choose to be a blacksmith or silversmith. That didn’t happen, but a newspaper article did find “a dermatologist called Rash, a rheumatologist named Knee, and a psychiatrist named Couch.” The authors of the BMJ…

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Freedom Convoy 2022 sign

No-Buy Lists Are the Next Big Thing After Debanking

When a big online financial service like PayPal works closely with government to monitor citizens, it is violating its founding ideals

Yesterday, Jonathan Bartlett was writing about the way banks were becoming political in terms of who they are choosing to do business with, otherwise known as debanking. Another trend to watch for is no-buy lists, according to former PayPal COO David Sacks: When I helped create PayPal in 1999, it was in furtherance of a revolutionary idea. No longer would ordinary people be dependent on large financial institutions to start a business. Our democratized payment system caught fire and grew exponentially with millions of users who appreciated its ease and simplicity. Traditional banks were too slow and bureaucratic to adapt. Instead, the revolution we spawned two decades ago inspired new startups like Ally, Chime, Square, and Stripe, which have further…

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Friends group having addicted fun using mobile smart phone - Close up of people hands sharing content on social media network with smartphone - Technology concept with millenials online with cellphone

Do Our Minds Really Extend Into Our Smartphones?

An Australian philosopher proposes a startling view — that our minds start to inhabit our environment via our technology

British tech philosopher Tom Chatfield offers a profile of the work of Australian philosopher of mind David Chalmers, who is known for iconic concepts such as the Hard Problem of consciousness and the Philosopher’s Zombie, both pointing to the fact that there is no “easy explain” for human consciousness. Chalmers had started out in math but drifted to the study of consciousness at a propitious time; in the early 1990s, information theory was reinvigorating the field. At a time when some were looking for the consciousness switch in the brain or proclaiming consciousness to be an illusion, Chalmers suggested an alternative “non-reductive” approach to consciousness, a form of panpsychism: … every form of information processing entails an irreducible component constituting…

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Female vocal recording. Young girl with microphone and headphones in recording studio. Recording of vocal, blogger, reading text, voice acting.

Deepfakes Can Replicate Human Voices Now — Maybe Yours

Digitally faked voice tech has already been used to perpetrate a big bank fraud

It’s not just your face that can be convincingly replicated by a deepfake. It’s also your voice — quite easily as journalist Chloe Beltman found: Given the complexities of speech synthesis, it’s quite a shock to find out just how easy it is to order one up. For a basic conversational build, all a customer has to do is record themselves saying a bunch of scripted lines for roughly an hour. And that’s about it. “We extract 10 to 15 minutes of net recordings for a basic build,” says Speech Morphing founder and CEO Fathy Yassa. The hundreds of phrases I record so that Speech Morphing can build my digital voice double seem very random: “Here the explosion of mirth…