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Engineering students using a 3D printer

Why Engineering Can’t Be Reduced to the Laws of Physics

When we reduce the engineer’s mind to a computer, the source of innovation disappears

The fundamental problem of modern science is the problem of innovation. Where does novelty come from? This problem shows up in physics, biology, artificial intelligence, and economics. Within physics, the problem is how to account for the fundamental constants of reality. They are all precisely tuned to make sentient and intelligent life—life that can learn about itself and the universe—possible through science. Within biology, the problem is accounting for the source of highly complex genetic sequences that express finely tuned biological functions. In artificial intelligence, the challenge is identifying solutions that are relevant to a given scenario. In economics the problem is identifying the right products for the market. What do all these situations have in common? In each case, Read More ›

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3D illustration of Social Media text with CCTV cameras

Does Government Watch Us on Social Media? Yes… So Does Business

They may all be getting to know you way better than you feel comfortable with

Discerning public opinion on political and national security issues via social media platforms showed its worth during the Arab Spring of 2010. The protests, which began in Tunisia, spread throughout the Middle East, where social media were the key platform for expressing anger about corruption, poverty, human rights violations, unemployment, and authoritarianism. These protests resulted in changes to leadership and policy in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. They also resulted in immigration issues and sadly, even terror attacks, military conflicts, and civil war. Social media not only enables coordinated action such as rallies, strikes, resistance, riots, and other methods of activism but also provides status reports and communicates outcomes. One research team has developed an AI metric for predicting such events: Read More ›

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Incognito warrior in iron helmet and red cloak.

What would Plato Say About Antifa? Or Darwin?

A careful reading of Plato and Arendt goes a long way toward explaining the current scene—but it is unsettling reading

In college, I hated Plato. We read his Republic, and, as a patriot and an idealistic young (small “d”) democrat, I was appalled at the hegemony of the Guardians and at Plato’s disdain for democracy. It seemed to me that his Guardians were the archetypal totalitarians, and that it was a fundamental human right — enshrined in the Constitution — to be ruled only by consent of the governed. In my dotage, I am more sympathetic to Plato — it’s remarkable how much smarter the old philosopher has gotten in the past 40 years! I am still uncomfortable with Guardians, at least of the secular sort. But I think John Adams got it right when he observed that “our Constitution Read More ›

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Nerd with glasses hacking websites

Beware of Geeks Bearing Formulas—It’s Often Pseudoscience

Pseudoscience based on data without theory and theory without data undermine the credibility of real science, which is the key to human progress

Elsewhere I have warned of the perils of making decisions based on data without theory. For example, the patterns discovered by data-mining computer algorithms are often nothing more than meaningless coincidences. It is also perilous to go to the opposite extreme—to make decisions based on theory without data. Once upon a time, for example, economists were fond of sketching labor demand and supply curves and assuming that the economy was at their intersection. That is, labor demand is equal to supply, so that everyone who wants to work is working. The unemployed have chosen to be unemployed because they value leisure more than income. True believers were fond of this theory and little troubled by reality. Between 1929 and 1933, Read More ›

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underground

Why Reasonable People Think Near-Death Experiences Are Real

Distinguished engineers Walter Bradley and Robert J.Marks sift through the evidence

In a recent podcast, “Walter Bradley on Near-Death Experiences,” Center director Robert J. Marks discusses these experiences with Walter Bradley, after whom the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence is named. Dr. Bradley is an emeritus distinguished professor at Baylor University, formerly professor and mechanical engineering head at Texas A&M University. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-093-Walter-Bradley.mp3 Here are some selections from the transcript: (You can download the entire transcript here.) Marks and Bradley started with first principles: Is it reasonable to believe that there is anything out beyond the material world? Many people assume that science exists to defend materialism. But Walter Bradley has defended the idea that there is also an immaterial world, of which we are a part, in a Read More ›

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Baby girl in surprise talking on a vintage phone

Why Linguist Noam Chomsky Is a Great Scientist of Our Era

He singlehandedly rid linguistics of a stultifying (and technically mistaken) behaviorism

Noam Chomsky (right, in 2017) is, in my view, the best scientist of the past half-century. His work fascinates me, which is not a necessary criterion for being a great scientist—but it helps! I hasten to add that I do not share his politics—I’m of a conservative bent. But his theory of linguistics is brilliant and represents an anthropological, biological, and even metaphysical insight unrivaled in science since relativity and quantum mechanics. A case can be made that Chomsky’s insights are more profound than even those of modern physics, because they plumb the human soul in ways that physics cannot. To understand Chomsky’s achievement, it’s helpful to understand what linguistics was until Chomsky transformed it in the 1950s. Philosophers and Read More ›

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into the deep woods, atmospheric landscape with archway and ancient trees, misty and foggy mood

Is Sci Fi Brain Decoding Becoming a Reality?

To what extent can the inner workings of thought and dream be measured through correlation?

Today I want to look at something slightly different. After stumbling upon a piece by Cassidy Ward titled “Inception’s dream-reading technology is becoming reality” over at SYFY Wire, I started thinking more about the idea of reading our dreams. He’s talking about Inception, a 2013 film from Christopher Nolan, of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight fame: The protagonist, Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), is a thief who makes his living stealing corporate secrets by invading a target’s dreams. Our dreams are meant to be safe, untouchable. They are constructed of our most private thoughts, unbidden even by our own conscious selves. To invade them is to invade the most sanctified halls of our minds. If we’re not safe in our Read More ›

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China stock market graph ticker

Tech Investment Analysts Strategize How to Deal With China Today

China’s assertions of power in recent years have left many uncertain about the future of business relationships

Recently, Jay Richards interviewed Dr. Bob Kelly, Managing Partner of Ignition Partners, focusing on the panel he moderated at COSM 2019,“The Crisis of Big Tech: The US and China.” They explored the technological competition between the U.S. and China and what it means for the future. The panelists were futurist George Gilder, Wendy Liu, China market strategy analyst at multinational investment bank UBS, and Gary Rieschel, a venture capitalist in China and the United States. From the interview: Jay Richards: So what was the core controversy if you had to summarize it neutrally? Bob Kelly: I guess I’d say the core controversy really is what stance do we as Americans, or in the technology arena, take towards China? And there’s Read More ›

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Binary code with China flag, data protection concept

Charges Reveal Extent of China-Sponsored Hacking in the West

Targets have included COVID-19 labs, dissidents, and religious groups
What’s new about the most recent indictment is the acknowledgment that China is working with known cybercriminals. Read More ›
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Business Finance Marketing and Budget Report

What Happened When 1950s China Dreamed of “Total Information”?

When China rejected random sampling in favor of exhaustive enumeration of individuals, masses of “data” flooded in, but what did it mean?

A historian of modern China recounts the outcome of a momentous decision that China’s new Communist rulers made in the 1950s. They decided to abandon conventional methods of gathering statistics that use probability and adopted the method of exhaustive counting of everybody and everything. Why did their dream of total information became a nightmare? Harvard historian Arunabh Ghosh (right), author of Making It Count: Statistics and Statecraft in the Early People’s Republic of China (2020), explains that in the 1950s, newly communist China faced a choice about how to survey the population accurately while making “a clean break with the past.” For philosophical reasons, debates about how to gather statistics came to the fore: In a speech in 1951, Li Read More ›

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Smiling multiracial friends talk using sign language

Did We Learn Sign Language Before We Learned to Speak?

The idea that humans first communicated by complicated gestures and only later learned to speak is popular among cognitive scientists. Kensy Cooperrider explains

The origin of language is considered one of the hardest problems in science. Like the origin of consciousness, it attracts a great many theories. Cognitive scientist Kensy Cooperrider is a stout defender of the idea that human language started as sign language—a gestural “protolanguage” —hundreds of thousands of years ago. It’s not a new idea. It goes back to Étienne Bonnot de Condillac’s Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge (1746) and remained popular in the 19th century. In the 20th century, it was championed by University of Colorado anthropologist Gordon Hewes (1917–1997), who introduced the idea of studying ape communications in the early Seventies, to gain more insight. In general, apes communicate more by gesture than by voice. An Read More ›

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Inner Life of Super Human AI

GPT-3 Is “Mindblowing” If You Don’t Question It Too Closely

AI analysts sound unusually cautious in pointing out that it doesn’t live up to a lot of the hype

Last week, Jonathan Bartlett wrote about the somewhat misleading buzz around the new OpenAI third-generation software, GPT-3 (Generative Pretrained Transformer). And now—for a change—much of the industry has begun to seem socially distant, so to speak, from the reckless hype that has accompanied other releases. For example, one article starts off breathlessly: The artificial intelligence tool GPT-3 has been causing a stir online, due to its impressive ability to design websites, prescribe medication, and answer questions… Its predecessor, GPT-2, made headlines for being deemed “too dangerous to release” because of its ability to create text that is seemingly indistinguishable from those written by humans. While GPT-2 had 1.5 billion parameters which could be set, GPT-3 has 175 billion parameters. A Read More ›

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Lady in Glass

Interview With a Woman (or Women) Formerly Called Susan Blackmore

A professor of psychology argues that there is no continuity between our present selves and our past selves

Much of modern philosophy of mind is a compendium of New Age gibberish. An exemplar of this mess is Susan Blackmore, a Visiting Professor (Psychology) at the University of Plymouth. She is an atheist, a “skeptic,” and a prolific author. When she was interviewed in 2016 about her philosophy of mind, remarkably, in addition to the usual atheist denial of immortality of the soul and of free will, she denied personal continuity over time. How does Blackmore account for the doggedly persistent sense we have of personal continuity? “Parallel processing” is her explanation. Blackmore points out that there are many brain pathways that are active simultaneously when we perceive, think, and act. What does that have to do with personal Read More ›

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Twitter handle with care

What’s the Main Thing We Should Learn from the Big Twitter Hack?

Yes, Twitter got control of its platform back but not before its credibility in security matters was significantly weakened

As we reported at the time, on July 15, hackers gained control of a number of Twitter “Blue Checkmark” accounts. Twitter hands out Blue Checkmarks to accounts that exert heavy influence and have verified identities. That status permits many parody accounts to operate without generating confusion over who is really tweeting, the account or the parody. In any case, on Twitter, the Blue Checkmarks have quite a bit of power. They get access to analytics on their posts so they can measure (and manipulate) their engagement with their followers. Many influencers look for “Blue Checkmark” status to see if an account is worth engaging with. Twitter even allows the “Blue Checkmarks” to filter their conversations so as to limit them Read More ›

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Candy stripe flatworm

How Can Life Forms Show Intelligence With No Brain?

A Wall Street Journal piece points to the flatworm as an example

At the Wall Street Journal this weekend, Alison Gopnik a developmental psychologist and author of a number of books on child and infant learning, pointed to the learning skills of life forms without a brain and offers some insights: It might seem obvious that you need a brain to be intelligent, but a new area of research called “basal cognition” explores whether there are kinds of intelligence that don’t require neurons and synapses. Alison Gopnik, “Learning Without a Brain” at Wall Street Journal (July 26, 2020) If we look at the behavior of slime molds and the blob at the Paris Zoo, it’s not at all obvious that a life form needs a brain to be “intelligent.” Not if all Read More ›

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pregnant woman holding her tummy while standing near garden shed

Ethics Prof Slams Claims About Why Pregnant Women “Nest”

Evolutionary psychology is among the “scienciest” of the sciences; implicit belief does not require serious evidence

Evolutionary psychology continues to take a beating, as more people reflect on its central claim: Aspects of our psychology, which we think are the products of reason and emotion applied to personal and historical experience, really stem from the survival and reproduction mechanisms of human and other ancestors of whom we have no historical record. Arianne Shahvisi (above right), senior lecturer in ethics at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, joins philosopher Subrena E. Smith in critiquing of such vast claims. Her focus in a recent article at Psyche is claims about why expectant mothers “nest,” that is, spend a lot of time housecleaning and stocking up. Now, if you are not an evolutionary psychologist, you might hazard a guess that Read More ›

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Black Chimpanzee Mammal Ape

But, in the End, Did the Chimpanzee Really Talk?

A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine sheds light on the motivations behind the need to see bonobos as something like an oppressed people, rather than apes in need of protection

Recently, Michael Egnor commented on radical primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s effort to level the playing field between humans and bonobos by including the latter as authors of a research paper on animal welfare: “Non-human animals don’t have abstract knowledge-making and practices that would allow them to be meaningfully consulted. It is reality, not anthropocentric bias, that has left animals out of this decision-making process.” There is a larger and very interesting story around that paper, recently relayed at Smithsonian Magazine by Lindsay Stern (right), a PhD candidate in comparative literature at Yale and author of a novel, The Study of Animal Languages. Her article tells us a good deal about the motivations of those who, essentially, see bonobos not as apes Read More ›

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Medical technology concept. Electronic medical record.

Top Tech Analyst: Human Biology Is Too Complicated for Humans

He hopes to be able to customize medicine for every person by building a virtual proxy for every person

Recently, Jay Richards interviewed Craig Mundie former Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer, who is currently president of of Mundie and Associates, which coaches CEOs on technology strategy and organizational design. The topic was what AI can do for medicine and healthcare. Mundie’s dream is to build an AI that rivals human intellect. While many worry that AI can aid totalitarian rule, he sees himself as more pragmatic; it can, he says, be used for good or ill just like any other technology. He explained to Richards why we need AI to dominate health care: From the interview: Craig Mundie: I think there are a few big trends that are happening. Really big computers that are good at doing artificial Read More ›

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Senior man in a wheelchair using a virtual reality device

VR Pioneer Founded Off-Campus Lab to Work On Practical Uses

RATLab, founded in 2005, gave unlikely students a chance to work on serious virtual reality projects

In a recent podcast, “Rats in the Technology lab” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks continued his discussion with the “grandfather of virtual reality” Thomas Furness. Furness shares his tribulations and triumphs with RATLab (Rats in the Technology lab), which is an “incubator” for innovative ideas in technology. All the employees are RATs (Rocking and Thinking). Furness is, of course, King Rat. So how did it get started and what happened then? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-092-Thomas-Furness.mp3 Transcript. Partial transcript: Thomas Furness (right): Well, I was enjoying my activity at the university, certainly a wonderful place to do research. But it is a bureaucracy, and I’ve found that sometimes having worked for the Air Force for the Department of Defense for 23 years, Read More ›

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hand of god

Built to Save Us from Evil AI, OpenAI Now Dupes Us

When combined with several metric tons of data, its new GPT-3 sometimes it looks like it is “thinking.” No, not really

OpenAI started life in 2015 as a non-profit organization whose mission was to safeguard humanity from malevolent artificial intelligence (AI). The founders’ goal was to ensure that when superhuman AI arrived, its inborn purpose was to serve humanity rather than subjugate it. In 2019, OpenAI transitioned to a for-profit company based in San Francisco and secured a one billion dollar investment from Microsoft. Things seem to have moved on from there. There’s a good question whether superhuman AI is even possible, as we have pointed out repeatedly here at Mind Matters News. While some of the AI tasks seem impressive, oftentimes when you look under the hood, what you find is a very expensive party trick or a staged demo. Read More ›