Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive February 2022

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Artificial neuron in concept of artificial intelligence. Wall-shaped binary codes make transmission lines of pulses, information in an analogy to a microchip.

Can AI Really Be “Slightly Conscious”? Can Anyone?

It’s rare to see popular media actually call out nonsense re artificial intelligence. Here’s is what it looks like when it happens

On February 9, Ilya Sutskever,co-founder of fake text generator OpenAI, made a claim that was frothy even for Twitter: “it may be that today’s largest neural networks are slightly conscious.” it may be that today’s large neural networks are slightly conscious — Ilya Sutskever (@ilyasut) February 9, 2022 Well, “slightly conscious” is like being “slightly pregnant” or “slightly dead.” While Sutskever didn’t name any specific developments, he was likely referring to huge natural language processing systems like OpenAI’s enormous GPT-3 which can translate, answer questions, fill in missing words, and generate fake news. No thought process is involved. The system approximates vast masses of actual instances of language use. The more stereotyped the language use is, the easier it is…

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Midsection of doctor wearing lab coat

We Trust Nonsense From Lab Coats More Than From Gurus

This shocking study is relevant to how we decide what to believe from science sources about COVID-19

An international team of researchers staged a revealing experiment on who we believe when they are talking nonsense. The test of 10,195 participants from 24 countries asked questions about the credibility of the statements and about their personal degree of religiosity. How could the researchers be sure that the statements were nonsense? They were produced by the New Age Bullshit Generator, an algorithm that generates impressive sounding elements of sentences that make rough grammatical sense even if they make no other sense. Two statements were selected: The 10,195 participants in the experiment were presented with two meaningless but profound-sounding statements: “We are called to explore the cosmos itself as an interface between faith and empathy. We must learn how to…

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unique stone stand out from the crowd concept -

How Does Dualism Understand Personal Identity?

Both neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and theology professor Joshua Harris acknowledge weaknesses in their philosophies’ understanding of personal identity

In “The Body and the Soul” podcast, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews theology professor Joshua Farris on how a sense of personal identity is preserved (or not) in Aristotelian vs. Cartesian philosophy (both are dualist philosophies; they do not think that the mind is merely a product of the brain). Along the way, Michael Egnor talks about the remarkable way that neuroscience affirms a dualist view. https://mindmatters.ai/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/02/Mind-Matters-News-Joshua-Farris-Episode-2-rev1.mp3 A partial transcript and notes follow: Michael Egnor: Had it not been for neuroscience, which led me to a Thomist view, I would probably be a Cartesian because I do agree that there’s a great deal to say for it. Although my sense of Cartesianism is that the closer we get to Berkeley and…

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Quantum Wave

Study: Science Fiction Not As Strange As Quantum Physics Fact

At least, that’s what we can assume from a failed effort to disprove physicist Eugene Wigner’s thought experiment

According to prominent science writer John Horgan, a “radical quantum hypothesis” is creating doubt about objective reality: The author of Mind-Body Problems explains that, while quantum mechanics has been confirmed by countless experiments as well as by computer chips, it “defies common sense.” Specifically, it creates doubt about what “the facts” are. In 1961, physicist Eugene Wigner proposed a thought experiment, similar to the more famous Schrödinger’s Cat dilemma: Instead of the fabled cat in a box, imagine that a friend of Wigner is inside a laboratory monitoring a radioactive specimen. When the specimen decays, a detector flashes. Now imagine that Wigner is outside the lab. If Wigner’s friend sees the detector flash, he knows that the specimen has decayed.…

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Blue glowing antimatter

A Physicist Defends Imperfection in Our Universe: It’s Essential

We owe our existence, says Marcelo Gleiser, to the fact that our universe is full of lopsided, not balanced, quantities

Philosopher and physicist Marcelo Gleiser, author of A tear at the edge of creation (2013), sees lack of symmetry — lopsidedness — as essential to the nature of our universe: We left-handed people are a minority among humans, roughly a 1:10 ratio. But make no mistake: the Universe loves left-handedness, from subatomic particles to life itself. In fact, without this fundamental asymmetry in Nature, the Universe would be a very different place — bland, mostly filled with radiation, and without stars, planets, or life. Still, there is a prevalent aesthetic in the physical sciences that pushes for mathematical perfection — expressed as symmetry — as the blueprint for Nature. And, as is often the case, we get lost in a…

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Alien Planet with Moons

Recent Science Papers Support Science Fiction Premises

There isn’t a crystal clear boundary; both science and science fiction achievements require imagination

Good science fiction should start with science fact. But, of course, science is a dynamic enterprise that includes many current mysteries and uncertainties so there is plenty of room to develop an imaginative theme while exploring the edges. Here are five edges that a reader or writer may want to explore: ➤ It might indeed be possible to go through a wormholes to a distant galaxy, according to a recent paper. A wormhole, first envisioned by Einstein and Rosen in 1935, “is a special solution to the equations describing Einstein’s theory of general relativity that connects two distant points in space or time via a tunnel.” (LiveScience) It has long been considered at best hypothetical and at worst impossible but…

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Laser Cannon Incapacitates Enemy Satellite In Space

Firefly Episode 3: Should Some People Be Left To Die?

After the space crew rescues the survivor of a pirate attack, Captain Mal faces off against The Shepherd on whether God can save even that man.

Episode 3 begins with a friendly game of basketball… or something like it. Simon, a doctor who has joined the Firefly crew, notes that there appear to be no rules to the game as he watches from the balcony. The game is interrupted by a “proximity alert” and the crew discovers a wrecked ship floating in space. The captain decides to check it out and they quickly discover that the ship has been attacked by the infamous Reavers. We’d seen their ship once in episode one, and we’d heard some ominous descriptions of what they do to their prisoners: “If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And,…

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Sick woman trying to sense smell of fresh tangerine orange, has symptoms of Covid-19, corona virus infection - loss of smell and taste, standing at home. One of the main signs of the disease.

Has the Human Sense of Smell Declined in Recent Millennia?

Researchers found that people with “ancestral” genes perceived various odors as more intense

Recently, a group of researchers embarked on an unusual experiment. They screened the genomes of 1,000 Han Chinese people to find genetic variations that were linked to the way participants perceived 10 different scents, including musk and underarm odor. They then repeated the experiment for six odors in an ethnically diverse group of of 364 people to check their results. They reported that people who had “ancestral” versions of the scent recognition genes perceived the odors as more intense: Participants carried different versions of the musk and underarm odor receptor genes, and those genetic variations affected how the person perceived the scents. In combination with previously published results, the researchers find that people with the ancestral versions (the version shared…

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Aerial view over Cupertino in Bay Area, California on a sunny day.

Is It Really the End for Silicon Valley or Just a Reboot?

A COSM 2021 panel looked at the effect of remote work, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, on iconic locations like the Valley

“Is It the End for Silicon Valley?” was one of the discussions at COSM 2021 (2:00 pm, Wednesday, November 11, 2021). It featured Babak Parviz, Vice President of Amazon Inc. but best known as the inventor of Google Glass, who served as moderator Lynne Robinson, mayor of the City of Bellevue Walter Myers III, Principal Engineering Manager at Microsoft, and Bob Metcalfe, Engineer, Entrepreneur, and Professor of Innovation. The conversation turned on whether, in the internet age, one needs to work in any specific locality, like Silicon Valley. Some of their comments relating to where people will live in relation to their work and the problems they will face are transcribed below: Work where you live or live where you…

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Fact Checkers Stifle Story on Government-Funded Crack Pipes

When official sources contradict each other, who has the authority to decide what is misinformation and what is not?

A Facebook fact-checking group censored a report released this week that the Biden Administration is providing grants that would fund the distribution of crack pipes to the addicted, labeling it as containing “partly false information” and burying any posts containing the report in users’ news feeds. The Washington Free Beacon reported on Monday that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is operating a $30 million grant program for harm reduction, a strategy to combat drug addiction that seeks “to reduce the negative personal and public health impacts of behavior associated with alcohol and other substance use.” Perhaps the best known harm reduction tactic has been the exchange or distribution of clean needles to the addicted. Now, it would…

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model of the human brain, the concept of medical health, intellectual capabilities, the study of the activity of the cerebral cortex, psyche and consciousness

Researchers Locate 440 Genes That Develop Each Brain Differently

Large-scale MRI and genetic datasets are helping us understand the common variants of the genes that help build the human cerebral cortex

To map regions of the brain to specific genes, researchers at the University of California – San Diego did genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of the regional cortical surface area and thickness of 39,898 adults and 9,136 children. That is, they scanned complete sets of DNA (genomes), looking for genetic variations. They were especially interested in variations that might be associated with a problem like autism, epilepsy, or dementia. By and large, construction of the human brain is determined by heredity, though factors like environmental exposures also play a role, particularly during sensitive periods of neurodevelopment during childhood. Large-scale MRI and genetic datasets have increasingly illuminated the common genetic variants that help build the human cerebral cortex — the outer, layered…

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Choosing the High Road or Low Road

My Challenge to Two Atheists Who Deny Free Will

There is too much of this nonsense in the science blogosphere. If Pigliucci or Coyne would like to debate free will, they can consider this a challenge from me

Of all of the materialist cults, free will denial may be the most bizarre. Nothing could be more obvious in everyday life that in a very real sense we generally have the option to choose our acts. We choose mundane things like what to have for breakfast and what clothing to wear and we make moral choices every day. The denial that we have the freedom to choose is essentially the assertion that we are robots, enslaved to our physics and chemistry and incapable of freedom. Obviously this view of humanity is deeply insulting – it’s just a slur – but is also rank nonsense. In fact, it’s self refuting and obviously so. At his blog, Why Evolution is True,…

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Gold coins in the form of bitcoin on a bag with dollars

DOJ Arrests Couple for Huge Bitcoin Heist — Who Are They?

Cryptocurrency doesn’t depend only on technology; it depends on trust, and trustworthiness

On the morning of February 8, DOJ announced that they had made an arrest in the $3.6 billion Bitcoin heist from Bitfinex from 2016. They arrested Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife, Heather Morgan. However, little information was conveyed about the pair. Some digging, however, revealed two individuals by those names who worked together in a variety of technology startups, at least one of which is cryptocurrency-based. While we don’t know for certain if these are the same individuals, the profiles are very similar, and other media seem to be reporting that they are the same. The profile here is on the two individuals we were able to identify, and have not confirmed they are identical to the ones in the…

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x-ray image of spine

Man With Severed Spinal Cord Walks Again, Thanks to AI Implant

Most of us would have said that Michael Rocatti, whose spinal cord was severed in a motorcycle accident in 2017, would never walk again. But he did.

Rocatti had lost all feeling and motion in his legs after the motorbike crash. But thanks to electrodes implanted in their spines in experimental surgery in Lausanne, Switzerland, he and two other young men (29–41) were able to “to stand, walk, ride a bike and even kick their legs in a swimming pool” again. (Guardian) He is slow and unsteady but he is walking. The implant provides a bridge between the brain and the nerves that are severed from it: When prompted, the device sends activity-specific pulses of electricity to various nerves that were cut off from the central nervous system, allowing the Rocatti and other paralyzed people to send the appropriate stimulation and instructions to their legs. Rocatti and…

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Bearish stock financial, bear market chart falling prices down turn from global economic and financial crisis.

Zuckerberg’s New Meta Pummeled by Stock Market

Meta (Facebook reimagined) faces a gauntlet of challenges only months after Zuckerberg announced his new "metaverse" initiative

Last October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be undergoing a major facelift to become Meta. The Facebook platform we all know and love would remain as is, but Meta would become Facebook’s parent company with a primary focus of developing the “metaverse,” an immersive online experience that Zuckerberg called “the next frontier” of the internet. But Meta is off to a rough start. Facebook’s parent company shed more than $230 billion in market value Thursday, a one-day loss that is the biggest ever for a U.S. company and increases pressure on a stock market long powered by technology shares…. The Facebook parent company surprised investors with a deeper-than-expected decline in profit and a downbeat outlook. The company…

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It’s Time for a Public Conversation About Social Media Companies

A company whose platform is built on the backs of content creators owes some responsibilities to those creators

Amid the ongoing cancel culture that is rampant among social media companies, there is a large undercurrent of people who say things like, “These are private companies, and they can do what they want.” The idea behind this is that social media companies do not owe you their product, and that is not of harm to you, the consumer. Especially since you are not paying for their product, why should they have to listen to you? To see why this thinking is flawed, we need to think back to the history of these platforms and what is needed to make them work. Why is anyone on Facebook or Twitter at all? Because that is where everyone else is. To be…

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ecosystem terrarium with small plants

Philosopher: We Can’t Prove That We Aren’t Living in a Simulation

David Chalmers looks at the issues, step by step, in an excerpt from his new book, Reality+, and rules out proving that it is false

Philosopher David Chalmers, best known for the phrase “Hard Problem of consciousness” and the philosopher’s zombie thought experiment. tells us that we can’t actually prove that we are not living in a simulation: “You might think we have definitive evidence we’re not in a simulation. That’s impossible.” The idea that we live in a simulation is basic to The Matrix films. People use the expressions red-pilled and blue-pilled every day now. The idea also underlies one of the explanations offered for why we don’t see extraterrestrials; according to the Planetarium Hypothesis, we are living in their “planetarium.” It’s not just films and ET lore. Elon Musk has claimed to take seriously that we are aliens’ sims. So does Neil deGrasse Tyson (“Neil…

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Teen Boy Posing As Twin Brothers

The Philosopher’s Zombie Still Walks and Physics Can’t Explain It

Various thinkers try to show that the zombie does not exist because consciousness is either just brain wiring or an illusion, maybe both

Canadian science journalist Dan Falk tells us, the philosopher’s zombie thought experiment, “flawed as it is,” demonstrates that physics alone can’t explain consciousness. Not that many physicists haven’t tried. But first, what is the philosopher’s zombie (sometimes called the p-zombie)?: The experiment features an imagined creature exactly like you or me, but with a crucial ingredient – consciousness – missing. Though versions of the argument go back many decades, its current version was stated most explicitly by Chalmers. In his book The Conscious Mind (1996), he invites the reader to consider his zombie twin, a creature who is ‘molecule for molecule identical to me’ but who ‘lacks conscious experience entirely’.” He does everything he is supposed to do but experiences…

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Cute little baby looking into the camera

The Mystery of How Newborns Know Things Gets Deeper

But learning more about it may help us understand autism spectrum disorders better

Neuroscientist Giorgio Vallortigara ponders the mystery of how exactly babies quickly recognize things when they are born — like human faces — that they simply cannot have learned. We might call it “imprinting” or “instinct” but that’s just a classification, not an explanation. The author of Born Knowing (MIT Press, 2021) decided to start with chicks. That’s a bit simpler. Psychology students know, of course, that newly hatched chicks seem to know that they should follow their mother and do what she does. But what specific cues enable them to identify their mother? It turns out, according to his and colleagues’ research, that they are looking for specific geometrical patterns: Chicks need to actively explore and learn about their environment…

Cheerful family in a car on a road trip

Driving Technology Needs Public Scrutiny

It is not good enough for safety-related data to be made available to regulators. They must be made available to the public at large

As more and more automation is added to automobiles, the need for public review and scrutiny becomes ever more clear. Unlike other technologies, cars are used on public roads at high velocities, so everyone has an interest in understanding the safety implications of decisions made by car manufacturers. As such, it is important that all safety-related data be made publicly available and subject to public scrutiny. It is not good enough for these things to be made available to regulators. They must be made available to the public at large. To see why, let’s look at the history of Tesla claims about the safety of its Autopilot system. Note that the Autopilot system, despite the confusing name, is not the same thing…