Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Denyse O'Leary

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close up of a red ant face in white

Can Insects, Bacteria, and Plants Have Personalities Too?

If personality amounts to observed individual differences in behavior, the answer is yes, though the issues are more complex for plants

Yesterday, we looked at a paper in which researchers reported that marmosets (a South American monkey) have personalities. Most of us would simply assume that they do and we are right to think so. Research on many vertebrate animal species shows that even reptiles and fish have personalities. Of course, the number of dimensions a vertebrate’s personality can have varies with its intellectual and lifestyle complexity. But now, what about the vast world of the invertebrates, the life forms whose body is not organized around a spinal cord terminating in a brain? Their body plans can vary from that of a starfish through to a honeybee. Can they have personalities, despite very different brain arrangements, including — in some cases…

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Silvery marmoset (Mico argentatus).

Why Do Researchers Wonder Whether Animals Have Personalities?

Every friend of dogs, cats, or birds knows what some researchers struggle to prove. Let’s take a look at what they found

Recently, a research team announced that marmosets — small highly social New World monkeys — display personality traits, whether they are wild or captive: Some individuals were fast to approach any novelty, while others were more careful; hereby showing a similar pattern to humans: for instance, some humans enjoy trying out new restaurants, whereas others prefer to eat in their favorite restaurant. What is more interesting, when comparing personality traits of monkeys in Austria across four years, the authors found that these monkeys are quite consistent in their personality traits (e.g., those that are explorative when they are younger, stay similarly explorative four years afterwards). University of Vienna, “Marmoset Monkeys Have Personalities Too” at Neuroscience News The paper is open…

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newspaper on brown wooden table

Facebook Unfriends Australia, Blacks Out Critical News

It started as a trade dispute but the growing power of Big Social Media to impose news blackouts threatens freedom of information, even safety

Last week, in a business dispute with the government of Australia, Facebook wiped news from Australia from its 2.6 billion users’ feeds. Michael Cook (pictured), editor of Australia-based MercatorNet, explains what that meant: So when you checked your Facebook feed on February 18, you didn’t see anything from The Australian, The Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph or, initially, the Bureau of Meteorology, Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, Western Sydney Health, South Australia Health, various state health services and some state Governments. This is in the middle of the fire season and a Covid-19 pandemic, for which many people rely on Facebook for updates. You also didn’t see anything from MercatorNet or BioEdge,…

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Senior Care And Technology

Sophia the Robot Retooled to Help With Senior Care

Hanson Robotics sees a huge opportunity in the COVID lockdowns for a mass robot rollout that substitutes for human companionship

Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics is rolling out Sophia the Robot, to help people cope with loneliness during government-enforced isolation as a response to COVID-19. Brushing aside claims that human contact is preferred, firm’s principals see the lockdowns as creating new opportunities for the robotics industry. Founder and CEO David Hanson says, “Sophia and Hanson robots are unique by being so human-like. That can be so useful during these times where people are terribly lonely and socially isolated”: Social robotics professor Johan Hoorn, whose research has included work with Sophia, said that although the technology is still in relative infancy, the pandemic could accelerate a relationship between humans and robots. “I can infer the pandemic will actually help us get robots…

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The New Caledonian crow bird on the tree. Raven in tropical jungle

We Knew Crows Were Smart But They Turn Out To Be Even Smarter

We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the mysteries of animal intelligence

Recently, some researchers have claimed that crows — already known to be smart — are even conscious: Nieder’s experiment showed that the birds were actively evaluating how to solve a particular problem they were confronted with. In effect, they were thinking it over. This ability to consciously assess a problem is associated with the cerebral cortex in the brains of humans. But birds have no cerebral cortex. Nieder found that in crows, thinking occurs in the pallium—the layers of gray and white matter covering the upper surface of the cerebrum in vertebrates. Other studies support the notion that the bird brain can, in principle, support the development of higher intelligence. This idea had been dismissed in the past due to…

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Educational kids math toy wooden board stick game counting set in kids math class kindergarten. Math toy kids concept.

Yes, There Really Is a War on Math in Our Schools

Pundits differ as to the causes but here are some facts parents should know

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recently encouraged teachers to register for training that encourages “ethnomathematics,” an education trend that argues, “among other things, that White supremacy manifests itself in the focus on finding the right answer”: “The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so,” the document for the “Equitable Math” toolkit reads. “Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict.” … An associated “Dismantling Racism” workbook, linked within the toolkit, similarly identifies “objectivity” — described as “the belief that there is such a thing as being objective or ‘neutral’” — as a characteristic of White supremacy. Instead…

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Courthouse with judge's gavel and sign NO. concept of censorship and the production of restrictions and laws on restriction. Anti-popular laws, usurpation of power, conservative views. Lack of justice

“Disinformation”: Do We Really Need a “Reality Czar”?

Canada dodged a bullet in 2014. The United States will not be so lucky if it adopts Big Tech's new proposals against “disinformation” online

Recently, a New York Times technology columnist, back from a consult with Big Tech in Silicon Valley, urged U.S. President to appoint a “reality czar” to go after people who provide “disinformation” online. He concedes, “It sounds a little dystopian, I’ll grant.” Well yes, rather. And the czar would probably soon find himself in conflict with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But Kevin Roose (pictured), who says he has spent several years tackling “our national reality crisis”, begs us to hear the czar’s supporters out: This task force could also meet regularly with tech platforms, and push for structural changes that could help those companies tackle their own extremism and misinformation problems. (For example, it could formulate “safe…

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Female reporter or TV journalist at press event. Journalism concept.

In Big Tech world: The Journalist as Censor, Hit Man, and Snitch

Glenn Greenwald looks at a disturbing trend in media toward misrepresentation as well as censorship

At Substack, one of an increasing number of independent news and opinion sites, lawyer and civil rights activist Glenn Greenwald looks at a disturbing trend in journalism today. The rise of the journalist as tattletale and censor, rather than investigative reporter: A new and rapidly growing journalistic “beat” has arisen over the last several years that can best be described as an unholy mix of junior high hall-monitor tattling and Stasi-like citizen surveillance. It is half adolescent and half malevolent. Its primary objectives are control, censorship, and the destruction of reputations for fun and power. Though its epicenter is the largest corporate media outlets, it is the very antithesis of journalism. Glenn Greenwald, “The Journalistic Tattletale and Censorship Industry Suffers…

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Newton's Cradle with red ball

Sci-fi Saturday: A Girl With Kinetic Powers Faces a Choice

Should she help relatives with activities she knows to be wrong?

“Kinetic” at DUST by Kylie Eaton (February 4, 2021, 05:05 min) “When Aunt Drea solicits her help with criminal activities, young Jess’s emotions spin out of control, releasing powers she’d rather keep hidden.” This “short” short film is well executed. The rural ambience is quite realistic. But “Kinetic” breaks a fundamental rule of sci-fi. For sci-fi to be a classification in art or literature, the key requirement is that the powers or circumstances must have a basis in science. None is offered here except the assertion that the girl inherited the powers from her mother and grandmother. That’s a viable idea in tales of the supernatural but not in science fiction. We have not established how the kinetic powers came…

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Grownup daughter soothe aged mother holds her hand feeling empathy

Sci-fi Saturday: What If an Old Man Could See His Mother Again?

It is a hard film to watch if you lost a loved one, but worthwhile

A bit sad but worth seeing. (4:01 min from Nick Naum & Csaba Nagy) An old man, with a receding memory, pays to view synthetic recreations of his mother and childhood. I had a hard time watching this film because I would so like to see my parents (who died in their nineties) again, especially when they were young. But I can tell you this: My father once got a call from the country for old men. In case you ever wondered, yes, it’s real. It’s too bad if some people are scamming about it. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci Fi Saturday: A fight for the winning ticket In a 2040 superstorm, engulfing the planet,…

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Social media concept.

Many are questioning the sudden shutdown of Parler

Opponents see the move as an attempt to enforce a social media monopoly

Recently, an alternative social media platform, roughly equivalent to Twitter, was forced offline after Amazon terminated it services: “Without AWS, Parler is finished as it has no way to get online,” the complaint said. “And a delay of granting this TRO by even one day could also sound Parler’s death knell as President Trump and others move on to other platforms.”Parler’s lawsuit argues that Amazon has unlawfully sought to restrain competition by eliminating a player from the market.It also claims Amazon breached its contract with Parler by not providing Parler 30 days’ notice of termination — and that its actions interfere with Parler’s relationships with current and future users. Brian Fung, “Parler sues Amazon for cutting off its services” at…

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colonnade in medieval spanish monastery of Santo Estevo

Can Religion Improve a Person’s Mental Health?

That’s a big claim but there is considerable evidence for it. The question is, what does the evidence mean?

In 2020, a year when Americans’ perception of their own mental health dropped significantly, we are told that Gallup reported: The only demographic subgroup who didn’t report a decline were those who attend religious services weekly. That group showed an increase of 4 percent compared to 2019. Joe Carter, “New Study: Frequent Churchgoers Have Better Mental Health” at Gospel Coalition Carter cites several sources arguing for the benefits of religion but, in truth, it’s not really a new idea. Religion gives people something to believe in, provides a sense of structure and typically offers a group of people to connect with over similar beliefs. These facets can have a large positive impact on mental health—research suggests that religiosity reduces suicide…

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Close up portrait of a common raven (corvus corax)

At Scientific American: Ravens Are As Smart As Chimpanzees

Birds have a different brain structure from mammals but that doesn’t appear to limit natural intelligence

We wrote about this earlier but now Scientific American has weighed in. Researchers were trying to address the deficiency in studies of raven intelligence that focused only on whether the bird knew that the researcher was hiding something: A new study that that tries to address that deficit provides some of the best proof yet that ravens, including young birds of just four months of age, have certain types of smarts that are on par with those of adult great apes. The brainy birds performed just as well as chimpanzees and orangutans across a broad array of tasks designed to measure intelligence. “We now have very strong evidence to say that, at least in the tasks we used, ravens are…

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3D Illustration Emotionen als Freisteller

Can We Teach a Computer to Feel Things? A Dialogue…

Okay, There’s the computer’s side… and then there’s the dog’s side. Listen to both

The dialogue got started because of a gifted computer nerd, Rosalind Picard, also a playwright (pictured), who decided to become an evangelical Christian in midlife (approx 2019). As she tells it, “a flat, black-and-white existence suddenly turned full-color and three-dimensional.” The director of MIT’s Media Lab, she had also written a book in 2000 called Affective Computing which seems to suggest that one could somehow give emotions to machines. I asked Eric Holloway to help me figure that one out: O’Leary: Emotions are based on actual well-being or suffering. How can something that is not alive have actual emotions? Don’t think of people here!; think of dogs. Dogs have emotions. When my computer is giving trouble, I certainly hope it’s…

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Futuristic high speed travel through tube. could illustrate data travel

Faster Than Light? How About Faster Than Thought?—a Film Review

A free sort DUST sci-fi film looks at the plight of an astronaut testing the concept

Science fiction can teach us useful science concepts so it is hardly a waste of time. For example, what about “faster than light”? Albert Einstein thought nothing in this universe would travel faster than light (FTL). He might be right or wrong but if we can’t beat the speed of light light, we won’t ever see a lot of possibly interesting things in the universe. It’s just too vast. So science fiction has been trying to beat the speed of light since forever. Anyhow, here’s a short film about it, “Hyperlight” by Adam Stern: “FTL”: “A lone astronaut testing the first faster-than-light spacecraft travels farther than he imagined possible,” attempting to establish communications with a colony on Mars: My favorite…

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Green Iguana

Sci Fi: An Offer You Better Think About Carefully…

But the civil alien leaves a very nice business card. Do see that.

From DUST at YouTube: Henry, an apparently conventional exec somewhere has been selected to represent his species in what is supposed to be the “biggest trade agreement in the history of the planet.” Hint that we hope isn’t a spoiler: The aliens want our oceans. But the civil alien leaves a very nice business card. Do see that. Yer News editor gives this one 4 out of 5. Mainly because the sound was bad. The studio needs to fix that. Otherwise, it is an excellent look at corporate negotiation in Lizard Land.

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Bangkok, Thailand 25 AUG 2020. Men hand using digital tablet for search information on Google.  Wireless Smartphone technology with intelligence search engine.

Google’s Leading AI Ethics Researcher Fired, Amid Controversy

Her research team targeted Google’s “cash cow”: advertising

Timnit Gebru, a leading AI ethics researcher, was fired from Google early this month under circumstances that have raised suspicions across the industry: On December 2, the AI research community was shocked to learn that Timnit Gebru had been fired from her post at Google. Gebru, one of the leading voices in responsible AI research, is known among other things for coauthoring groundbreaking work that revealed the discriminatory nature of facial recognition, cofounding the Black in AI affinity group, and relentlessly advocating for diversity in the tech industry. But on Wednesday evening, she announced on Twitter that she had been terminated from her position as Google’s ethical AI co-lead. “Apparently my manager’s manager sent an email [to] my direct reports…

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Cat looking to little gerbil mouse on the table. Concept of prey, food, pest.

Can We Find Purpose in a Universe With No Underlying Purpose?

That’s the ambitious goal of a prominent science writer

British science writer Philip Ball offers us a guide to a very interesting project: an attempt to “naturalize” the idea of agency, that is, make the desire to do things—the mouse’s desire to escape the cat— explainable from a fully materialist perspective. That’s much harder than it seems. Rocks don’t desire anything. So we can’t just start from the bottom. It’s also not enough to say that the mouse wants to avoid getting killed. That’s true but it doesn’t really explain anything. For example, a person looks both ways before crossing the street to avoid getting run over. But, by itself, that doesn’t explain why she tries to avoid getting run over. One must factor in her memory, background knowledge,…

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mindful nature

Is Mindfulness Losing Its “Shine” These Days?

Maybe, but that’s because it has often been misused. Rightly understood, it’s a blessing

In a recent news release from the University of Buffalo, we learn that mindfulness (meditation and similar practices) were not found to be helpful in managing stress at the time it is happening: Where earlier work in this area suggests how mindfulness may help people manage active stressors, the current paper finds evidence for an opposite response. In the midst of stress, mindful participants demonstrated cardiovascular responses consistent with greater care and engagement. Put another way, they actually were “sweating the small stuff.” Bert Gambini, “Be mindful: Study shows mindfulness might not work as you expect” at University of Buffalo However, the study, which measured the cardiovascular stress response of 1001 volunteers also found, Even more curiously, although the study’s…

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Dog with ball in mouth runs from kid playing chase game at summer lawn

Is It Empathy, Not Intellect, That Makes Humans Unique?

Could empathy create intellect, and not the other way around?

A Canadian philosopher of mind and language offers a refreshingly thoughtful approach to the uniqueness of human ways of thinking: He reflects on the difference between what is happening when his dog Mackenzie and his eighteen-month-old nephew William bring him an object to play with: For Mackenzie, there is only one game in town. We have been playing it for years, and it never gets old. Sure, I mix things up a bit from time to time. A little sleight of hand can send Mackenzie left while I toss right. Or I fake a throw then hide the ball behind my back, after which I mirror Mackenzie’s stupefied, slightly annoyed look with my own incredulous one. (‘Where did it go?’)…