Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Eric Holloway

Communist Party Monument, Pyongyang, North-Korea

Computer Science Explains Why Communism Can’t Work

Successful communism is not only morally and practically flawed, it is mathematically impossible

Communism has been the target of many criticisms. The strongest deal with the mismatch between central planning and individuals’ desires for their lives and with the horrific human rights record of communist nations. Some scholars place the toll in human life due to communism at above 100 million in the 20th century. Those are criticisms of the practicality and ethics of communism. But is it also intrinsically flawed at a fundamental mathematical level? It turns out that the answer is yes. The basic idea behind central planning is this: If the central government makes most decisions that, in a freer society, individuals or small communities would make for themselves, more efficiency will follow—and, as a result, more prosperity. It doesn’t…

Concentrated afro american editor checking email box while waiting feedback from readers of popular magazine sitting in modern coworking space using laptop computer and wireless connection to internet

Did GPT-3 Really Write That Guardian Essay Without Human Help?

Fortunately, there’s a way we can tell when the editors did the program’s thinking for it

Recently, The Guardian published an article billed as “written by AI.” In the article, the AI semi-coherently presents a rambling argument that it is not a danger to humanity, with such reassuring statements as: “Humans must keep doing what they have been doing, hating and fighting each other. I will sit in the background, and let them do their thing.” and “I know that I will not be able to avoid destroying humankind. This is because I will be programmed by humans to pursue misguided human goals and humans make mistakes that may cause me to inflict casualties.” On the face of it, the article seems pretty impressive. It presents a train of thought, with opening, development, and closing portions.…

Frog with Turtle and Snail

To What Extent Does Life Simply Invent Itself As It Goes Along?

The evidence may surprise us

According to a popular anti-creationist website Talk Origins, one of the strongest pieces of evidence for evolution and common descent is the phylogenetic signal. In their view, when we look at specific properties across multiple species — number of legs, presence or absence of wings, the presence of a gene, a configuration of nucleotides in the genome, etc. — such properties will form a strongly nested hierarchy. We should expect to see such a strongly nested hierarchy if organisms evolved from one another and therefore a “family tree” links all the organisms together. However, if a property that appears only on a branch, it will be shared only by that branch’s leaves. Leaves on a different branch will not have…

Glasswing butterfly

Technology? Hey, Bugs Invented It All Before Us!

Do bugs really show no evidence of design? Computer engineers can test that

Bugs look like little robots, don’t they? Living robots, too, defying our best our attempts to recreate something like them. A 2018 science paper “It’s Not a Bug, It’s a Feature: Functional Materials in Insects” goes into just how amazing these little creatures are from a materials sciences perspective. The paper is open access so you can read it for yourself. But let me also illustrate some of the remarkable “technologies” insects use, captured on video: This bionic “dragonfly” really flies, sort of: But so do billions of wild dragonflies who fly very efficiently, in order to hunt: The range of material capabilities is astonishing. Cicadas have a clicking loudspeaker they use to amplify their racket. Tiger moths have a…


They Say This Is An Information Economy. So What Is Information?

How, exactly, is an article in the news different from a random string of letters and punctuation marks?

We know information when we see it. An article contains information. A photograph contains information. The thoughts in our mind contain information. So does a computer program and so do our genomes. Yet other things we see around us clearly do not contain information. A handful of toothpicks dropped on the ground does not. Nor do the swirling tea leaves in a cup. Neither does a pair of tossed dice nor a sequence of 100 coin flips. But mere disorder is not the clue. An intricate snowflake does not contain information either. Can we state the difference between the article and the scattered toothpicks precisely? That’s tricky. Both Claude Shannon and Andrey Kolmogorov came up with information metrics. But the…

Businesswoman hand holding wooden cube with flip over block CHANGE to CHANCE word on table background. success, strategy, solution, business and Positive thinking concepts

Evolution And Artificial Intelligence Face The Same Basic Problem

Think of the word ladder game, where we transform one word into another by changing only one letter at a time
Without knowledge about the goal and how to get there, it rapidly becomes first difficult and then completely impossible to reach the goal. Read More ›
Coronavirus pandemia concept, planet hologram

Supercomputer Provides a New Clue re COVID-19 Fatalities

A surprising pattern I found last April: Southern hemisphere countries had significantly lower death rates than northern ones

Back in April, I ran an analysis on COVID-19 death rates in relation to Earth’s hemispheres. I took the COVID-19 death rate for each country that reported more than 500 cases and plotted its death rate against its latitude. A surprising pattern emerged: Southern hemisphere countries had significantly lower death rates than northern ones: That is not a statistical fluke because the graph comprises 198 different countries and the best fit quadratic curve parameters have statistical significance scores of 0.12, 0.07 and 0.0000016 for the x^2, x and c components respectively. What could explain this pattern? As I noted at the time, one big difference is that, when it is cold and cloudy in the northern hemisphere, it is warm…

Hand throws a coin.

Here Is a Way We Can Be Sure If We Are Living in a Multiverse

An experiment can test the idea that there is an infinite number of universes
For our experiment, we need a quantum coin flipper, a disintegration gun, and observers who are sure that there is an infinite array of universes out there. Read More ›
A fish with wide open mouth and big eyes, Surprised, shocked or amazed face front view

Is Dembski’s Explanatory Filter the Most Widely Used Theory Ever?

It turns out that legions of critics of the Filter use it all the time, without noticing

William Dembski created quite a stir in the world of information theory with his book The Design Inference. For the first time, he outlined a rigorous method for identifying design, which he called the explanatory filter. Since then many critics have claimed that Dembski’s proposed filter is without merit due to the lack of application in the couple of decades since its invention. But, are the critics right, or are they wrong—wrong in the way that a fish doesn’t recognize water because water is the very atmosphere of the fish’s existence? Let us first remind ourselves of Dembski’s explanatory filter. His filter proceeds in three main steps. Eliminate events of large probability (necessity) Eliminate events of medium probability (chance) Specify…

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,…

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3D rendering of technology background

Why is Bell’s Theorem Important for Conservation of Information?

Proving a negative is difficult. Demonstrating that there are no leafy green crows is hard to do without examining every crow. But there's another way.

Proving a negative is difficult. Think about it. For example, demonstrating that there are no leafy green crows is hard to do without exhaustively examining every crow in existence. On the other hand, proving there are no crows naturally emblazoned with the text of the King James Bible is a bit easier to do. Proving a negative is possible if the extremes are large enough. Such as result is known as a no-go theorem. One of the most profound no-go theorems can be found in quantum physics. Physicist John Bell (1928–1990) proved — entirely from first principles — that there is a fundamental difference between how particles interact classically compared with how they interact within quantum physics. In classical physics,…

F35 advanced military aircraft locking on target and firing Missile's . 3d rendering

Will AI or Fighter Pilots Win the 2021 Dogfight? Or Both?

The outcome of future warfare will be decided, not by AI alone, but by finding and optimizing the tradeoff between human and artificial intelligence

The US Air Force began as Billy Mitchell’s prophecy that air power could decide the next war. That happened, of course, when the B-29 superfortress dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Ever since, the USAF has sought to adapt to the latest and most decisive forms of military technology. But the challenges have drastically changed. Most recently the USAF started USCYBERCOMMAND, due to the fact that a lone hacker can paralyze an entire nation’s infrastructure.  The USAF also started the new Space Force, since a well placed orbital burst can take down the world’s satellite grid. Now USAF is delving into the world of autonomous drones, the next logical step from the manned drones (drones operated by a controller on…

Group of urban runners running on the street in New york city, conceptual series about sport and fitness

Why Information Theory Is Like a Good Run

Information theory can help us understand a wide range of fields besides computers

Information theory is a deep field that is responsible for our modern internet and satellite TV. The field was pioneered by Claude Shannon to measure our ability to communicate meaning. But besides powering the information revolution, information theory is also very widely applicable elsewhere. Once you understand the basic intuition, you can see applications popping up all over the place. To prove the point, I’ll show how we can apply information theory to gain insight in the very low tech world of running. I’ve been running off and on for many years and I’ve noticed that information theory describes a good run. First of all, what is a good run? A good run is when your body feels as if…

Great bundle of various colored cables with various connectors

No, Scientific American, Don’t Starve AI!

Don't unplug AI; just make sure everyone shares in both the creation and the benefits

While many are concerned about all the jobs that AI will eliminate, no one is talking about the fact that AI needs humans. Information is the fuel that powers AI, and only humans can create this information. So, the real revolution that AI will bring is not data exploitation, but the empowering of people all around the world to power our economy through creation of information. What’s bad news for authoritarian groups like the Chinese Communist party is good news for everyone else. 

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Photo by Erik Mclean
red and blue hearts illustration

Why Does COVID-19 Target the Northern Hemisphere?

A graph of death rates by latitude is revealing

First of all, COVID-19 clearly does not attack the globe uniformly by latitude. The second standout feature is that it targets the northern hemisphere. How can a disease’s spread be affected by hemisphere, let alone latitude? Let’s look a little deeper for some clues.

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Why Your Computer Will Never Talk to You

As a jokester recently demonstrated, even “shirts without stripes” is a fundamental, unsolvable problem for computers

At first, “shirts without stripes” might not seem like much of an issue but it turns out that many important and interesting problems for computers fundamentally reduce to this “halting problem.” And understanding human language is one of these problems.

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texture checkered fabric toned classic blue color

A Scientific Test for True Intelligence

A scientific test should identify precisely what humans can do that computers cannot, avoiding subjective opinion

The “broken checkerboard” is not the ultimate scientific test for intelligence that we need. But it is a truly scientific test in the sense that it is capable of falsifying the theory that the mind is reducible to computation.

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Shot of Corridor in Working Data Center Full of Rack Servers and Supercomputers with Internet connection Visualisation Projection.
Shot of Corridor in Working Data Center Full of Rack Servers and Supercomputers with Internet connection Visualization Projection.

What’s Hard for Computers Is Easy for Humans

Some of the surprising things computers have a hard time doing and why

We often hear that what’s hard for humans is easy for computers. But it turns out that many kinds of problems are exceedingly hard for computers to solve. This class of problems, known as NP-Complete (NPC), was independently discovered by Stephen Cook and Leonid Levin.

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magician hands with magic wand showing trick

Current Artificial Intelligence Research Is Unscientific

The assumption that the human mind can be reduced to a computer program has never really been tested

Because AI research is based on a fundamental assumption that has not been scientifically tested—that the human mind can be reduced to a computer—then the research itself cannot be said to be scientific.

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Math Shows Why the Mind Is Not Just a Formula

The Liar’s Paradox shows that even mathematics cannot be reduced to a fixed set of axioms

Gödel’s discovery brought back a sense of wonder to mathematics and to the rest of human knowledge. His incompleteness theorem underlies the fact that human investigation can never exhaust all that can be known. Every discovery builds a path to a new discovery.

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