Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Monthly Archive April 2022

neuron cell with electrical pulses concept 3d illustration.

Our Neurons’ Electrical Synapses Are the Dark Matter of the Brain

These aren’t the familiar chemical synapses but a second set, the electrical synapses that enable currents to travel directly between neurons from pore to pore.

The universe has its dark matter, the 23% of matter that we know is out there but can’t see because it emits no light. The brain has its own “dark matter” too, in the form of electrical synapses. These are not the chemical synapses by which neurons transmit a stimulus from one cell to the next. They are a second layer of synapse that allows message-carrying currents to flow passively from one neuron to another through pores in the neurons’ cell walls. They are likely important because just about every type of animal except echinoderms (starfish and sand dollars, for example) has them — and yet we don’t know much about them: ”Electrical synapses are much rarer and are hard…

Cyber security and extortion

Ingredients That Cybersecurity Needs To Actually Work

Software makers continue to produce open data as if we were still living in the 50s, and the Internet had never been invented.

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 made the point that the hacker’s target isn’t networks, computers, or users; they are just pathways to the target —gaining control of data is the target. Today, we look at the ingredients that cybersecurity needs to work. Necessary Ingredients Data in this context is digitized information. Digital information is physical, as in, it’s governed by the laws of physics. Data is the result of software converting (digitizing) human usable information into patterns of ones and zeros that are applied to “quantum small” physical substrates: microscopic transistors, electrical pulses, light, radio waves,…

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

The Brain Unfolds Like a Drama, With Neurons in Different Roles

Researchers studying fruit flies hope that spotting the stages at which human neurons go missing or wrong can help develop treatments to insert or replace them

We are not accustomed to thinking of fruit flies as even having brains. But they have 120 types of neurons in their visual system alone (which could be why they are so pesky): In the research published in Nature, the researchers studied the brains of the fruit fly Drosophila to uncover the complete set of tTFs needed to generate the roughly 120 neuron types of the medulla, a specific brain structure in the visual system of flies. They used state-of-the-art single-cell mRNA sequencing to obtain the transcriptome — all of the genes expressed in a given cell — of more than 50,000 individual cells that were then grouped into most of the cell types present in the developing medulla… The…

Online Security Technology

What’s Wrong With Cybersecurity Technology?

Know your enemy: The target isn’t networks, computers, or users; they are pathways to the target —gaining control of data

Veteran software developer David A. Kruger offered some thoughts on computer security recently at Expensivity and we appreciate the opportunity to republish them here. He starts with “Root Cause Analysis 101” Now we’ll apply the lessons learned in yesterday’s discussion to cybersecurity: Lesson Learned 1: A pattern of multiple types of recurring related failures indicates the presence of an unidentified root cause. In cybersecurity, is there a pattern of multiple types of recurring failures that appear to be related? Yes! A cybersecurity failure occurs whenever a cyberattacker gains control of data and then:  1) views or plays it, 2) steals copies of it, 3) ransoms it, 5) impedes its flow, 5) corrupts it, or 6) destroys it. The lesson learned is that the…

Family with laptop, tablet and smartphone, everyone using digital devices

Escaping the “Truman Show” of Our Times

Effective methods intentionally hook us in, keep us engaged, and encourage behaviors that benefit them — and are often damaging for us

This story originally appeared at Newsmax. (April 5, 2022) as “Time to Write Our Own Stories, Not Big Tech” and is reprinted with permission. It’s one of the best movies of the late 1990s. In The Truman Show, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) has no idea his life is actually a popular TV show. Everything has been fabricated — his parents, his friends, his marriage, his job. But things start happening — a studio light falls from the sky, a fake elevator reveals a hidden backstage room. Suddenly, Truman is determined to discover the truth of his existence. Rebelling against the script being played out all around him, he begins a journey to seek the truth and discover the life he was…

A computer popup box screen warning of a system being hacked, compromised software environment. 3D illustration.

The True Cause of Cybersecurity Failure and How to Fix It

Hint: The cause and fix are not what you think

Veteran software developer David A. Kruger offered some thoughts on computer security recently at Expensivity and we appreciate the opportunity to republish them here. He starts with “Root Cause Analysis 101” The classic line “I have a bad feeling about this” is repeated in every Star Wars movie. It’s become a meme for that uneasy feeling that as bad as things are now, they are about to get much worse. That’s an accurate portrayal of how many of us feel about cybersecurity. Our bad feeling has a sound empirical basis. Yearly cybersecurity losses and loss rates continually increase and never decrease despite annual US cybersecurity expenditures in the tens of billions of dollars and tens of millions of skilled cybersecurity…

Common Earthworm (Lumbricus Terrestris)

Evolutionary Psychologist Argues That Worms Feel Pain. But How?

Wait. Barash’s hypothesis overlooks the fact that suffering is more than an alarm system. An alarm could be going off in an empty building

A web site for fans of earthworms tackled the question recently: Yes, it is now accepted that worms feel pain – and that includes when they are cut in half. They do not anticipate pain or feel pain as an emotional response, however. They simply move in response to pain as a reflex response. They may curl up or move away, for example, from painful or negative stimuli. Aimen Mirza, “Do worms feel pain? (Can Earthworms Sense Painful Stimuli?)” at WORMMY (October 12, 2021) Possibly in line with the growing support for panpsychism in science, University of Washington evolutionary psychology professor David P. Barash, asks us to consider that worms do indeed feel pain in a deeper sense than an…

Apple iPhone 8 with Twitter Logotype on a Screen

Dorsey Talks Decentralization and Musk Buys Twitter Share

Will this be the upset many free speech advocates hope it could be?

Last week, I wrote about the buzz around internet decentralization, especially as there appears to be talk at Twitter of moving in such a direction. The buzz continues, this time with vocal support from former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, coinciding with a bold financial move from Elon Musk. On April 2, Dorsey reminisced on Twitter about the early, decentralized days of the Internet, and said that centralization “really damaged the internet. I realize I’m partially to blame, and regret it.” The problems of social media platforms have been made clear in the past few years, specifically when it comes to data privacy and how to handle (or even define) harmful content while also respecting free speech. But there isn’t as much…

Positive girl resting on the couch with robot

Soylent AI is…people!

OpenAI advertises itself as AI-powered, but at the end of the day, the system is human-powered

In the sci-fi movie, “Soylent Green,” the big reveal is that a food called soylent green is actually made from human beings, the catchphrase being “soylent green is people.” Likewise, as I discovered from a recent exchange with OpenAI’s GPT-3, “soylent AI is people.” GPT-3 is the product of AI company OpenAI. The company made headlines in 2019 with the claim that their AI model was too dangerous to publicly release. OpenAI is not a mere research company. While their publicly stated goal is fairly modest – “Aligning AI systems with human intent” – their CEO Sam Altman has bigger plans. He left his very successful role as president of Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture capital…

Brain surgery

What Would Head or Partial Brain Transplants Do To Consciousness?

Researchers had some success swapping rodent heads (though there’s a catch) but no luck with monkeys. And then animal lovers weighed in…

Science writer Max G. Levy, profiling Brandy Schillace’s book, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher (2021), reminds us of the strange case of neurosurgeon Dr. Robert White (1926–2010) and his quest to develop human head transplants — or, as he liked to put it, body transplants. A new body for your old head… an offbeat form of immortality. White started with rhesus monkeys. At Case Western Reserve University, starting in 1970, he attempted many such transplants. Only one attempt succeeded (sort of). Without the usual spinal connections and thus without access to a body, the monkey head lived only nine days. Another such monkey head transplant was reported in 2016 — carried out by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University, China…

alien planet landscape, beautiful forest the surface of an exoplanet

NASA Develops a Scale for Assessing the Chances of ET Life

We’ve come a long way from mere snatches of (maybe) information to the need for standards in evaluating the expected incoming mass

Geoscientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, co-author with William Bains of The Cosmic Zoo (2017) and a number of other books on planetary habitability, thinks science needs standardized scales for assessing claims about extraterrestrial life. There are lots of claims: life on Mars detected by the Viking landers (1976), fossil life in a Mars-origin meteorite (1996), phosphine on Venus (2020) … all have some evidence in their favor. But scientists need a way to express degrees of certainty. Recently, NASA has proposed the Confidence of Life Detection Scale (CoLD), featuring seven benchmarks. The main problem is that evidence that might suggest life could just as easily be a non-biological process: Consider Jupiter’s moon Europa. A large asteroid impact could have volatilized ice on…

Prohibited development of bioweapon in a lab. A dropper and a Petri dishes with human blood sample and a row of ampoules with a bio-hazard sign, close-up, selected focus.

Will AI Start the Next Pandemic? It Easily Could.

It’s a bigger risk than we might think, as an experiment written up in a Nature journal has shown

In a recent paper at Nature Machine Intelligence, three drug discovery researchers share an unsettling result from their experiment with AI drug discovery. Their normal practice when getting AI software to motor through thousands of possibilities (which might take human researchers years) is to penalize toxicity and reward bioactivity. They wondered what would happen when they decided to reward both toxicity and bioactivity — to challenge their artificial intelligence — modeled on open source software — to create a lethal bioweapon: To narrow the universe of molecules, we chose to drive the generative model towards compounds such as the nerve agent VX, one of the most toxic chemical warfare agents developed during the twentieth century — a few salt-sized grains…

dramatic lit image of a bloody crime scene with a knife on the floor

Firefly Episode 9: A Medical Heist — the Best So Far

Simon, with access to medical equipment, diagnoses his erratic sister’s neurological issues — after she has unaccountably stabbed Jayne

This is my favorite episode so far. It’s a classic heist with all the traditional beats! The crew is sitting around the table talking and eating while Jayne cleans his gun. He keeps spitting on the various parts for some reason, and Simon asks him to stop. He doesn’t. Jayne keeps spitting on the parts, glaring at Simon all the while River, Simon’s sister, gets up, grabs a butcher knife, and slashes Jayne across the chest. Jayne hits her, but she looks up, stares at the big man, and says, “He looks better in red.” With the stakes suddenly raised, the mystery of what happened to River surges to the forefront again. It’s time to get some answers. It so…

Two stingrays are swimming on the blue sea near the underwater rocks and white sand.

Did Researchers Teach Fish To “Do Math”?

Some test fish learned how to how to get food pellets but the difficulty, as so often, lies with interpretation

University of Bonn researchers think that they may have taught fish to count. They tested the fact that many life forms can note the difference in small quantities between “one more” and “one less,” at least up to five items. Not much work had been done on fish in this area so they decided to test eight freshwater stingrays and eight cichlids: All of the fish were taught to recognize blue as corresponding to “more” and yellow to “less.” The fish or stingrays entered an experimental arena where they saw a test stimulus: a card showing a set of geometric shapes (square, circle, triangle) in either yellow or blue. In a separate compartment of the tank, the fish were then…

We studied together now were graduating together. Portrait of a group of students taking selfies on graduation day.

Historically Black Colleges/Universities Crush School Rankings

According to a new metric that rewards per-dollar effectiveness as opposed to the benefits of lavish endowments, they took three spots out of the top five

While popular rankings of colleges and universities — like that of U.S. News and World Report — have always been top secret, journalist Malcolm Gladwell, working with a team of Reed College researchers, managed to “crack the code.” And, as Academic Influence tells it, an unhappy truth emerged: What troubled Gladwell is that schools like Dillard University and Reed College could never, given the way college rankings were set up, receive the recognition they deserved. The whole ranking system was rigged against them. Gladwell focused especially on Dillard University, an HBCU [historically Black college or university] in New Orleans. By making its mission to serve underserved populations, Dillard was, in effect, getting penalized by U.S. News & World Report, which puts a premium in its…

Girls eye with paint and earth
Girls eye with paint and earth

New Scientist Offers a Sympathetic Account of Panpsychism

A serious, long form article shows that physicalism (“the mind is just what the brain does”) is failing

Panpsychism, the view that all nature participates in consciousness, has been growing under the radar for some time in science. But it is now coming into plainer view. New Scientist is one of the last places one might have expected to find a serious, long-form account of panpsychism — one that, in the context, amounts to a defense. Yet that’s just what science writer and filmmaker Thomas Lewton has been permitted by the editors to do. He tells us about his own journey at his site: “Studying physics, I thought telescopes and particle colliders would offer firm answers, but instead they raised more questions.” And at New Scientist, he tells us why: It can seem as if there is an…