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What Goes Right and Wrong When We Predict a High-Tech Future

A pundit who predicted the internet also thought that the horse would be nearly extinct by now

An article in Ladies’ Home Journal predicted 2001 a century earlier. Here’s a video version: Futurism is a hit and miss business: Fast food is predicted (3:40) but so is the extinction of the horse (3:20). Apparently, the futurist, John Elfreth Watkins, Jr., did not foresee a future for horses in recreation and sports except for “the rich.” He predicted the internet and wireless communications in principle (5:57, 13:29): “A husband sitting in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago.” But, surprisingly, he did not see much of a commercial future for the airplane but rather favored dirigibles and electrified ships (8:20ff). He predicted high-speed trains but also…

Bull market trend, green growth arrow. Stock Exchange and concept of a trading chart. Low poly, wireframe 3d Raster illustration. Abstract polygonal image on blue neon background

The Stock Market Keeps Rising Despite COVID. Is It Nuts?

I’ve been asked whether advanced AI can explain the conundrum

What is going on? Our GDP has collapsed and 16 million people are unemployed. Thousands of small businesses and dozens of billion-dollar companies have gone bankrupt, including California Pizza Kitchen, Hertz, JCPenney, Neiman Marcus, and Brooks Brothers. Yet, the stock market keeps hitting all-time high after all-time high. The stock market is supposed to be related to the economy. When the economy booms, corporate profits explode; when the economy collapses, profits crater. That’s what happened during the Great Depression when stock prices fell 90 percent and the unemployment rate averaged 19 percent for a decade. Now, stocks and the economy are moving in opposite directions. What is going on? A friend who knows that I live, breathe, and teach investments…

Cars on road highway in traffic jam

Autonomous Vehicles Are Not a “Rich Person’s” Technology

A transportation expert tells Jay Richards, alternative transport may disrupt the transportation industry but only in the short term

Jay Richards talked recently with Tom Alberg, Founder of the Madrona Venture Group and Co-chair of the ACES Northwest Network, about ACES’ efforts to bring Automated, Connected, Electric, and Shared vehicle technologies to the Puget Sound region: The Benefits of ACES Vehicle Technology A partial transcript follows: Jay Richards: Well, you were chairing the panel on autonomous vehicles and you’re part of an initiative here in Seattle. What do you think is the most important takeaway from that? Tom Alberg: I think that it’s really a combination of technologies. It’s both new technologies and it’s changed business models. So we formed a group here in Seattle called ACES, Autonomous, Connected, Electric, and Shared. “Shared” is really kind of the Uber…

Oh no!

Six Limitations of Artificial Intelligence As We Know It

You’d better hope it doesn’t run your life, as Robert J. Marks explains to Larry Linenschmidt

The list is a selection from “Bingecast: Robert J. Marks on the Limitations of Artificial Intelligence,” a discussion between Larry L. Linenschmidt of the Hill Country Institute and Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks. The focus on why we mistakenly attribute understanding and creativity to computers. The interview was originally published by the Hill Country Institute and is reproduced with thanks. Here is a partial transcript, listing six limits of AI as we know it: (The Show Notes, Additional Resources, and a link to the full transcript are below.) 1. Computers can do a great deal but, by their nature, they are limited to algorithms. Larry L. Linenschmidt: When I read the term “classical computer,” how does a computer function? Let’s build on…

Antibiotic resistant bacteria inside a biofilm, 3D illustration. Realistic scientific background

Do Bacteria Warn Others While Dying from Antibiotics?

Scientists are learning more about the complex ways bacteria overcome efforts to control them

That’s what we learn from a new open-access paper in Nature titled “Dead cells release a ‘necrosignal’ that activates antibiotic survival pathways in bacterial swarms.” It’s sometimes described as “screams,” but it’s actually a release of chemicals, which amounts to the same thing: a warning to prepare for an onslaught of antibiotics. The scientists also noted another curious factor: The cascade of genes turned on by necrosignals not only protected the surviving swarm from antibiotics, but promoted future resistance to the compounds that killed their comrades. What’s more, the scientists realized that subpopulations of swarm bacteria were genetically variable; some were more susceptible to the antibiotics than others. Swarms of bacteria may collectively cultivate different subpopulations as an evolutionary survival…

Digital globe with mosaic of images
Digital globe with mosaic of images

Why Some Nation States Are Banning TikTok

The United States is not alone in questioning the social medium’s allegiance to the Chinese government

Why is TikTok so controversial? It’s the first Chinese technology company that has reached a billion users outside of China. Its main demographic is Generation Z—teens and twenty-somethings. If you take a look at TikTok videos, most are goofy and irreverent. They’re frenetic shorts of everything from fashion tips to pranks and, of course, (bad) dancing. TikTok’s stated mission is to “inspire creativity and bring joy.” What could go wrong? Here’s what. Working with China, as Disney and the NBA can attest, comes with certain strings attached, including acquiescing to the Chinese Communist Party’s rules for acceptable speech. Because ByteDance, which owns TikTok, is a Chinese company (although partly owned by investors from the U.S. and Japan), the Chinese Communist…

White swan mask on black wooden surface. Empty space.

New Book Takes Aim at Phantom Patterns “Detected” by Algorithms

Human common sense is needed now more than ever, says economics professor Gary Smith

Pomona College economics professor Gary Smith, author with Jay Cordes of The Phantom Pattern Problem (Oxford, October 1, 2020), tackles an age-old glitch in human thinking: We tend to assume that if we find a pattern, it is meaningful. Add that to the weaknesses of current artificial intelligence and “Houston, we have a problem,” he warns: The scientific method tests theories with data. Data-mining computer algorithms dispense with theory and search through data for patterns, often aided and abetted by slicing, dicing, and otherwise mangling data to create patterns. Gary Smith, “Phantom patterns: The big data delusion” at IAI News (August 24, 2020) Many of the patterns so detected are obviously spurious, for example: A computer algorithm for evaluating job…

Aerial view of New York downtown building roofs. Bird's eye view from helicopter of cityscape metropolis infrastructure, traffic cars, yellow cabs moving on city streets and crossing district avenues

Microsoft Flight Simulator: Promise and Problems of Big Open Data

For some software, bad data doesn’t matter; for other software, working off of month-old data could be life-threatening

Last week, Microsoft released its critically acclaimed Microsoft Flight Simulator, to much cheering and applause. The game creates a photorealistic journey across the planet. Artificial intelligence combines multiple data sets to create a magnificent virtual experience of flying through the world. The data comes from satellite maps for terrain and texture information and OpenStreetMap to add three dimensional information to city data, such as building heights and other information. Combining all these data sources generates a 3D world using a variety of AI photogrammetry techniques. The program then streams this world to you as you fly through it. Additionally, the system streams in real-world weather data, so that the weather experienced in any part of the world is transmitted to…


Common Reasons for Dismissing Miracles Are Mistaken, Study Shows

Religious people are more likely to say they’ve experience a miracle but they aren’t the only ones who do

In a research article published in Review of Religious Research in July, sociologist Edwin Eschler comes to some unexpected conclusions about who experiences miracles—defined as “any experience in which a person believes an event or outcome was influenced by supernatural agents”: For example, ➤ Well-educated and well-to-do people are just as likely to say they have experienced a miracle as poor and uneducated people—if they encounter an existential threat in life: Q: What were your major findings? Eschler: Well, first and simplest was that 57% of respondents had experienced a miracle of some kind. We’re not talking about a fringe belief/behavior. But more important was what I didn’t find: education had no relationship with experiencing miracles at all. Respondents with…

Conceptual image of international logistics, featuring a docker, looking at the unloading of a container ship by huge cranes in the

How the Docker Revolution Will Change Your Programming, Part 1

Since 2013, Docker (an operating system inside your current operating system) has grown rapidly in popularity

As businesses move more and more infrastructure online due to the effects of competition (not to mention COVID-19), finding the best way to manage that infrastructure becomes more and more important. Docker enables development teams to have more reliable, repeatable, and testable systems that can be deployed at massive scale with the click of a button. In this series, we are looking under the hood at Docker, an infrastructure management tool that has rapidly grown in popularity over the last decade. A new infrastructure element has been quietly taking over for managing server-side code deployments. Docker was first released in 2013, and has seen an exponential rise in usage for developer deployments. Over the last seven years, Docker has quietly…

Graphene molecular nano technology structure on a green background - 3d rendering

Why the Brain Can’t Be Understood Simply in Terms of Particles

For the same reasons as a basketball cannot be understood wholly as a “sphere,” the brain is more than particle physics in action
In a review of theoretical physicist Brian Greene’s latest book, philosopher Edward Feser explains why mathematics can’t capture all of reality. Read More ›
UCAV(Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) military drone

After Thursday’s Dogfight, It’s Clear: DARPA Gets AI Right

In the dogfight Thursday between AI and a pilot, AI won. But what does that mean?

AI prevailed against a human in DARPA’s recent AlphaDogfight trials. Given that DeepMind’s AI achieved the level of grandmaster in the StarCraft II video game, AI beating a human in a simulated closed world contest is not impressive. What is impressive is AlphaDogfight’s role in DARPA’s overall plan for the development of AI in the military. DARPA, the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has been called the US military’s “Department of Mad Scientists.” Its mission is to prevent strategic military surprise by supplying fertile ground where new and revolutionary ideas can sprout and grow. DARPA founded the internet and gave us the GPS (Global Positioning Satellite system) that guides our Google map directions. Less well known is DARPA’s…

Cat looks strange look in the night

Some Mysteries About Cats … Solved!

Pet dogs outnumber cats but they’ll never excel at creating the aura of mystery at which the cat effortlessly succeeds

Following up on the ways cats are intelligent, it might be fun to look at how humans got involved with them. It turns out that there are reasons why we have always found cats mysterious, compared to dogs. Why are people so fond of cats? There are lots of reasons but here’s an interesting find: Domestic cats’ meows for attention are said to be unique to their relationship with humans. Oxford neuroscientist Morten Kringelbach has found a way to map human responses via magnetoencephalograph (MEG) studies that measure electrical activity in our brains in real time. He found that the cry of a baby triggered a response in the orbitofrontal cortex before study subjects had identified the sound consciously. Adult…

Genetic engineering and gene manipulation concept. Hand is replacing part of a DNA molecule.

Gene Therapy: IT Meets Medicine, But Who Is In Charge?

A biotechnology CEO would like to see patients have more power in determining advanced treatments

Jay Richards talked recently with Matt Scholz, Founder & CEO of Oisín Biotechnologies, about the challenges and promises of the information theory of biotech, especially as related to medicine: The panel in which Scholz participated at COSM 2019 focused on how artificial intelligence can make a difference in medicine: From the interview: Jay Richards: So how would you distill this panel? It was you and Babak Parviz, formerly of Google Glass and now from Amazon (and formerly Google Glass) and Lindy Fishburne, who’s on the funding side of information technology and biology. Matt Scholz: The panel was put together ranging from the computational side of it to the actual therapeutic side and finance. So I think that made it a…

Glorious Sky - Elements of this Image Furnished by NASA

Bernardo Kastrup Argues for a Universal Mind as a Reasonable Idea

The challenge, he says, is not why there is consciousness but why there are so many separate instances of consciousnesses

In a recent podcast, Michael Egnor continued his discussion with philosopher and computer programmer Bernardo Kastrup; This week, the topic was panpsychism and cosmopsychism. (Last week, the topic was why consciousness couldn’t just evolve from the mud.) A partial transcript follows: (The complete transcript is here. The Show Notes and Resources are below.) Dr. Kastrup made clear that he is not a panpsychism but rather a cosmopsychist. He explains the difference, defining panpsychism as follows: Bernardo Kastrup (pictured): Panpsychism, well, to be more accurately called constitutive panpsychism, it’s the notion that at least some of the elementary particles that constitutes the universe, at least some of them, are fundamentally conscious. In other words, they have experiential states, fundamental experiential…

Tablet displaying scan of brain activity

Brain Scans Can Read Your Mind—in a Dozen Conflicting Ways

A recent study involving 70 research groups identified sharp limitations in the value of brain imaging (fMRI) in understanding the mind

In the 1990s, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) — imaging the brain in action via blood flow—seemed like a dream come true. Medical and social science researchers who flocked to use it are not going to be happy with a recent study of its limitations: There was little meaningful agreement among seventy research teams from around the world about what their results meant. In an article aptly titled “Seventy Teams of Scientists Analysed the Same Brain Data, and It Went Badly,” a neuroscientist fills us in: The group behind the Nature paper set a simple challenge: they asked teams of volunteers to each take the same set of fMRI scans from 108 people doing a decision-making task, and use them…

Female student holding pencil and examination paper

Don’t Blame AI for the British A-Level Test Scandal

When 39 percent of the final grades assigned during COVID-19 were lower than teacher predictions, it was headline news. But what happened?

Many years ago, when I was a young assistant professor of economics, I had to endure a minor hazing ritual—serving for one year on the admissions committee for the PhD program. As a newbie, I was particularly impressed by a glowing letter of recommendation that began, “This is the best student I have had in 30 years.” The applicant’s test scores were not off-the-charts but the letter was number 1. A dean who chaired the admissions committee year after year advised me to calm down because this professor wrote a recommendation that celebrated “the best student I have had in 30 years” every year. The committee had a chuckle at my expense. I’ve now been teaching for nearly 50 years…

Cat and robotic vacuum cleaner in the room. Fluffy british shorthair cat is playing with a robotic vacuum.

In What Ways Are Cats Intelligent?

Cats have nearly twice as many neurons as dogs and a bigger and more complex cerebral cortex

It’s hard to come up with an interspecies IQ test. We live in a world where dogs are smarter than wolves in some ways but wolves are smarter than dogs in others. So much depends on what we want to measure. So let’s look at cats in relation to dogs because dogs have been studied so much more. Dogs are often seen as smarter than cats because they can do more jobs for humans. But humans bred dogs for millennia to do those very jobs. Cats have also made themselves useful to humans by killing pest rodents. But we best help the cat kill rodents just by getting out of his way. Thus, to assess cat intelligence vs. dog intelligence,…

Bottle of prescription medication.

The “Morality Pill” Hormone Does Not Make People “Nicer”

After an initial buzz as a “love hormone” we should all be dosed with, oxytocin started to reveal a big down side

Recently, we looked at the revival of enthusiasm for a morality pill on the grounds that it could make people do what authorities say with respect to COVID-19. Many of these proposals focus on the neuropeptide oxytocin. As a current advocate explains, These substances interact directly with the psychological underpinnings of moral behavior; others that make you more rational could also help. Then, perhaps, the people who choose to go maskless or flout social distancing guidelines would better understand that everyone, including them, is better off when they contribute, and rationalize that the best thing to do is cooperate. Paul Crutchfield, The Conversation, “‘Morality pills’ may be the US’s best shot at ending the coronavirus pandemic, according to one ethicist”…

The Settlers of Catan

In Science, We Can’t Just “Settle” for Data Clusters

The board game, Settlers of Catan, offers a clear illustration of what can go wrong when we are duped by data clusters

Settlers of Catan is an incredible board game created by Klaus Teuber, a German game designer. It has been translated into dozens of languages and tens of millions of sets have been sold. The basic four-player board consists of 19 hexagons (hexes) representing resources: 3 brick, 4 lumber, 4 wool, 4 grain, 3 ore, and 1 desert. Players acquire and use resources based on dice rolls, card draws, trading, and the location of their settlements and cities. Part of the game’s seductive appeal is that there are many, many ways to arrange the 19 hexagons and successful strategies depend on how the hexagons are arranged. The rules are simple but winning strategies are complex and elusive. The official rules of…