Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

# Monthly Archive April 2022

## Would Advanced Aliens Be Fully Mechanical? Or Like Octopuses?

Astrobiologist Dirk Schultze-Makuch muses on the possibilities

Musing on a recent open-access study at PNAS, astrophysicist Dirk Schulze-Makuch notes at BigThink a couple of things that separate really smart life forms from the others. One of them, he guesses, is bilateral symmetry (life forms whose left and right sides are mirror images): “symmetry requires less information for DNA to encode and allows more flexibility to develop future traits that may be advantageous.” He also notes that smart life forms tend to be mobile rather than stationary: “We don’t know of any intelligent plants or fungi, for the simple reason that stationary things don’t have to be smart.” Well, wait. It’s not so much that stationary life forms don’t have to be smart as… what good would it…

## The Physics of Consciousness: There IS Such a Thing?

There are no really good theories of consciousness but some physicists, including Roger Penrose, make a good stab at it. Jordan Peterson listens

Yes. Jordan Peterson talks to Roger Penrose about that: Dr. Peterson recently traveled to the UK for a series of lectures at the highly esteemed Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. This conversation was recorded during that period with Sir Roger Penrose, a British mathematical physicist who was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for “discovering that black hole formation is a robust predictor of Einstein’s general relativity.” Moderated by Dr. Stephen Blackwood. ___________ Chapters ___________ [0:00] Intro [1:00] Is Consciousness Computational? [3:20] Turing Machines [6:30] Determinism & the Arrow of Time [12:15] Consciousness & Reductionism [17:30] Emergent Randomness & Evolution [23:00] The Tiling Problem, Computation, & AI [29:30] Escher, Brains, Bach [39:00] Pattern Recognition & Intuition [45:30] Mathematical Representations…

## Sci Fi Saturday: The Vixen! She’s Back! Firefly TV Heats Up

So why is Captain Mal sitting naked in a desert? We get to hear the story leading up to that

The opening scene features Captain Mal sitting naked in a desert. A caption advises us that we must go back to seventy-two hours earlier to understand how that happened. Mal, you see, meets an old buddy and shares hugs and swapS banter until the buddy informs him that he is married. Mal is excited to hear this wonderful news until he sees a familiar face — Saffron, the vixen who’d tricked him into believing she was his bride in a previous episode. She is now hitched to Mal’s pal; so imagine the poor sap’s shock when the Saffron and Mal draw guns on one another. After a brief squabble, the swindled husband leaves Saffron in Mal’s angry hands. To save…

## The Cybercriminal Isn’t Necessarily Who You Think…

Chances are, the “human data collector” is just someone who works for a company that makes money collecting data about you

Veteran software developer David A. Kruger offered some thoughts on computer security recently at Expensivity and we appreciate the opportunity to republish them here as a series. Yesterday’s discussion focused on ruining cybercriminals’ lives by making their businesses unprofitable. And now, let’s look at who the cybercriminal typically is… it’s more complicated than his iconic hoodie. And it’s way worse too. Close Encounters of the Third Kind We have been taught to think of cyberattackers as being one of two kinds, criminal cyberattackers who gain control of others’ data to make money, or military/terroristic cyberattackers who gain control of others’ data to project military or political power. There is a third kind: Software makers who systematically destroy privacy, so they can gain control…

## How China Controls Hollywood — and Your Mind?

That is, if you pay any attention to Hollywood’s products

King’s College prof Robert Carle offers some thought about China and Hollywood at MercatorNet. On an elaborate apology tour (his words) Disney boasted that few people had seen its Kundun film. Good business strategy? Hey, it gets worse: By the turn of the century, Hollywood directors and producers had learned not to broach subjects (Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tiananmen) that offend the Communist Chinese. They had also standardised a lobbying process to get China’s approval for its films. Early in the movie’s life cycle, international distributors meet with Chinese film bureau officials. American studios have to satisfy layers of Chinese bureaucrats before a movie hits the market. Schwartzel recounts dozens of stories of how American films have been edited…

## The Great Paradox of Cryptocurrency: Is It Freer or Not?

Many insist it is freer but, as a new book reveals, that’s not clear

In a prepublication review of Tracers in the Dark: The Global Hunt for the Crime Lords of Cryptocurrency, Wired’s top editor Gideon Lichfield comments on the big crypto paradox: Its transactions are anonymous, but since every single one is public, stored on a blockchain that (by design) anyone can look at, they are like the broken stalks left by a thief fleeing through a wheat field—a bounty of data for experts in digital forensics, who can piece together identifying patterns. As Andy has previously written, this supposedly untraceable and secure form of money is in fact notoriously hard to launder and easy to steal, and the digital paper trails created by inexperienced criminals using it carelessly for more than a…

## No, Civilization Has NOT Won the War on Math. Not Yet Anyway…

The war on math is now coming down to the race — not the ideas — of mathematicians

Legal scholar Jonathan Turley muses on the latest assault on math teaching in schools: We previously discussed the view of University of Rhode Island and Director of Graduate Studies of History Erik Loomis that “Science, statistics, and technology are all inherently racist.” Others have agreed with that view, including denouncing math as racist or a “tool of whiteness.” Now, as part of its “decolonization” efforts, Durham University is calling on professors in the math department to ask themselves if they’re citing work from “mostly white or male” mathematicians. According to the Telegraph and The College Fix a guide instructs faculty that “decolonising the mathematical curriculum means considering the cultural origins of the mathematical concepts, focusses, and notation we most commonly use.”  It adds: “[T]he question of whether we have allowed…

## Computer Safety Expert: Start Helping Ruin Cybercriminals’ Lives

Okay, their businesses. Unfortunately, part of the problem is the design of programs, written with the best of intentions…

Veteran software developer David A. Kruger offered some thoughts on computer security recently at Expensivity and we appreciate the opportunity to republish them here as a series. Yesterday’s discussion focused on agile software development. Today’s discussion looks at making life somewhat less comfortable for the guy who wants to steal your credit card number. Ruining the Economics of Cyberattack Would fully implementing controllable data and full scope authentication prevent every cybersecurity failure? Of course not. There are scenarios, particularly those aided by human gullibility, ineptitude, and negligence, where cybersecurity can and will continue to fail. However, cyberattacks are carried out by human beings for the purpose of acquiring money and/or exercising power, and there is a cost/benefit analysis behind every attack. Controllable…

## Not Just Plants — Even Fungi Like Mushrooms — Talk To Each Other?

They are NOT judging us but they do have complex communications systems interacting with their environment

The patterns that fungi like mushrooms use to communicate are said to be “strikingly similar” to those of human speech. But how?: Fungi send electrical signals to one another through hyphae—long, filamentous tendrils that the organisms use to grow and explore. The Guardian reports that previous research shows that the number of electrical impulses traveling through hyphae, sometimes likened to neurons, increases when fungi encounter new sources of food, and that this suggests it’s possible that fungi use this “language” to let each other know about new food sources or injury. Natalia Mesa, “Can Mushrooms “Talk” to Each Other?” at The Scientist (April 6, 2022) The paper is open access. That would make fungi, one of the kingdoms of life,…

## New Clue in the Problem That Haunts All Cryptography?

A string that has no description shorter than itself is a good bet for cryptography. If the hacker doesn’t know it, he can’t use shortcuts to guess it.

A central problem in all computer security (branch of cryptography) is the one-way problem. Cryptography should function as a one-way street: You can go north but you can’t go south. So if a hacker doesn’t have the code to go north, he can’t go anywhere. Which is where the computer security expert would like to leave the hacker… Is there such a thing as a one-way function in mathematics? Mathematician Erica Klarreich says, probably yes, and explains what it looks like: To get a feel for how one-way functions work, imagine someone asked you to multiply two large prime numbers, say 6,547 and 7,079. Arriving at the answer of 46,346,213 might take some work, but it is eminently doable. However,…

## Does Information Have Mass? An Experimental Physicist Weighs In

Physicist Melvin Vopson argues that information has mass; Eric Holloway replies that, if so, it must come from outside the universe. Meanwhile…

It’s generally held that information does not have mass. However, physicist Melvin Vopson, reflecting on the work of Rolf Landauer (1927–1999), offers a somewhat alarming view: Not only does information have mass but that — at the rate we humans output it now — its energy will outweigh Earth. Yesterday, Eric Holloway offered a response to that claim: Let’s accept that creation of information can indeed increase the amount of energy and mass in a system. But, according to the conservation of energy, the energy in a closed system remains constant. So, if Vopson is correct we now have a mystery because his theory is in tension with the conservation of energy. The only solution is that the system is…

## The Sweet Science of Agile Software Development

Effective security, as opposed to partial security, increases costs in the short run but decreases them in the long run

Veteran software developer David A. Kruger offered some thoughts on computer security recently at Expensivity and we appreciate the opportunity to republish them here as a series. Yesterday’s discussion focused on putting a lid on risks. Today’s discussion looks at the sweet science of agile software development — proactive, not reactive responses. Agile Software Development, Known Art, and Updates to the Rescue The “get out of it one piece of software and data at a time” requirement seems daunting, if not impossible, but it isn’t as bad as it sounds due to agile software development, the availability of “known art,” and the speed at which large-scale software changes propagate via the Internet. A key attribute of agile software development is frequently…

## Pinterest Bans Climate Change “Misinformation”

Pinterest might be the first company to implement such a strict ban, but what if it's not the last?

Last week, Pinterest banned climate change misinformation from its platform, becoming the first major social media company to do so outright. The policy raises free speech concerns. Since not all scientists agree on the nature of climate change, what causes it, and what the solutions are, how is the issue to be discussed if alternate points of view are banned from public platforms? Pinterest is an image-sharing social media site, where users share ideas that they can “pin” to their own boards on everything from recipes to interior design to fashion. On April 6, Pinterest announced their new climate misinformation policy, aimed at “remov[ing] content that may harm the public’s well-being, safety or trust.” As of the policy announcement, any…

## Does Information Weigh Something After All? What If It Does?

At the rate we create information today, one physicist computes that in 350 years, the energy will outweigh the atoms of Earth

In the 1960s, IBM researcher Rolf Landauer (1927–1999) observed that if the logical information in a computational system decreased, then the physical entropy in the system must increase (Landauer’s Principle). This conclusion follows from the principle that the entropy in a closed system can never decrease. A decrease in the logical information corresponds to a decrease in entropy. And factoring in the principle that the entropy cannot actually decrease, the physical system itself must increase in entropy when the information decreases. This increase in entropy will result in the emission of heat, and a reduction of energy in the system. Now Melvin Vopson, a physicist at the University of Portsmouth, has taken Landauer’s principle to the next logical step. He…

## Cybersecurity: Put a Lid on the Risks. We Already Own the Lid

Security specialist David Kruger says, data must be contained when it is in storage and transit and controlled when it is in use

Veteran software developer David A. Kruger offered some thoughts on computer security recently at Expensivity and we appreciate the opportunity to republish them here as a series. Last week’s discussion focused on the ingredients that cybersecurity needs to work. Today, the focus is on putting a lid on risks. Put a Lid on It Fortunately, we have at our disposal untold millions of man hours of safety engineering focused on safely extracting benefits from the use of hazardous things. For example, our homes and the highways we travel on are chock full of beneficial things that can easily kill us, such as high voltage electricity, flammable/explosive natural gas, and tanker trucks filled with flammable or toxic chemicals driving right next…

## A Catholic and a Hindu Tackle Woke culture

In a wide-ranging discussion, Michael Egnor and Arjuna Gallagher look at Woke culture, abortion, euthanasia, and microaggressions

In a recent series of Mind Matters News, podcasts, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed Arjuna Gallagher, a Hindu who lives in New Zealand. The first podcast looked at what the world’s 1.2 billion Hindus generally think about the mind and the second explored the Hindu view of free will and evil. The third podcast addressed the question, “What do Hindus think about the Big Bang?” Now, the fourth and final podcast asks, what do Hindus think of current science and culture issues, especially the flowering of Woke Cancel Culture, abortion, and euthanasia? Gallagher hosts a YouTube channel called Theology Unleashed, which has featured many guests discussing the spiritual dimension of our lives — for example, philosopher David Bentley Hart and neuroscientist…

## Can We Teleport? Find a Wormhole? Survive the Universe’s Death?

Many ideas, once thought science fiction, have become science fact. How will these ones fare?

If anyone thinks that, by definition, none of this stuff could possibly happen, it’s worth remembering that many people would have said that decades ago about invisibility or the bionic hand. But here we are. Some things are impossible in principle, some in practice. In other cases, all we can do is see where we are in relation to the problem. Could humans be teleported to Mars? With teleportation, as in Star Trek, geologists could get from Houston to Mars to pick up some rocks injust minutes. Science writer Marcus Chown tells us that one reason the feat was considered impossible in the recent past was the inability to be certain of every atom in a human body, due to…

## Firefly Episode 10: Jealousy Divides the Firefly Crew in Space

And yet jealousy plays a key role in saving Mal and Wash from a villain’s sadistic torture

Episode 9 marks a turning point for the series. The previous episodes have been somewhat hit and miss but so far, there’s only been one outright bad episode (Episode 5, which broke all the “rules” of consistent character). However, at best thus far, the series has been very… episodic. That is, a handful of the characters recurs but the events from the preceding episodes seem to have no effect on the upcoming ones. But with Episode 9, that changes. The transition from Episode 9 to 10 starts off on a promising note. We see the events of Episode 9 actually affecting the events of Episode 10. This is a trend that continues as the story builds to a crescendo. That…

## How Plants Talk When We’re Not Around

Some aspects of plant behavior can be studied in the same terms as animal or human behavior

One genuine surprise in recent decades has been the discovery that plants have nervous systems like animals and use some of the same compounds in communications — for example, TMAO to relieve stress and glutamate to speed transmission. Biologist Peter Rogers pointed out recently that the similarities may shed a bit of light on issues around anaesthesia. Surprisingly, it is possible to anesthetize a plant. The shameplant (Mimosa pudica) and the Venus flytrap demonstrated that: Thirty years after anesthesia debuted in the operating room, Claude Bernard, a French physiologist, demonstrated that the shameplant (Mimosa pudica), which bashfully folds into itself when touched, was unresponsive to touch after exposure to ether, a commonly used anesthetic. The plant also folds into itself…