Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Eric Holloway

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Coins on a gray table

Why Is Randomness A Good Model, But Not A Good Explanation?

After all, random processes are used all the time to model things in science

The previous article I wrote about randomness proved quite controversial. After all, random processes are used all the time to model things in science. How can I say randomness is not a scientific explanation? Let me first make a distinction between a model and an explanation. A model shows us how some physical thing operates, but it does not explain the cause of the thing. An explanation, on the other hand, tries to explain the cause. But surely if we can effectively model something with randomness, then randomness must also be part of the causal explanation for the thing? Well, not so fast. Let’s look at how we model randomness with computers. Computers themselves are not random in the slightest.…

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a hand rolling dice

Randomness is Not a Scientific Explanation

We can never know if anything is truly random

It is common in the sciences to claim aspects of our universe are random: In evolution, mutations are random. In quantum physics, the wave collapse is random. In biology, much of the genome is random. In business theory, organizational ecologists state new ideas are random. There is a general idea that everything new has its origins in randomness. This is because within our current philosophy of science, the two fundamental causes in our universe boil down to randomness and necessity. Since necessity never creates anything new, then by process of elimination the source of newness must be randomness. Similar to how the ancient Greeks believed the universe originated from chaos. Here’s the irony of the view that whatever is unique…

Human skull and science

Our Scientific Salvation Will Be The Death Of Us

Will we trust "the science" (meaning the scientists) to the point of madness?

Originally published at Patheos “The truly insane man is the perfectly rational man.” So says G.K. Chesterton. This saying is very counter intuitive today. The perfectly rational man is the ideal scientist, the man who knows reality in precise quantitative terms, the best kind of knowledge we have. Such scientific knowledge promises the secret of immortality. If we can understand the fundamentals of our physical existence, we can shape our existence in whatever way we wish. The rational man is the messiah of our scientific age. So, why did Chesterton warn us about the rational man? The problem is that rationality only deals with the known knowns and the known unknowns. Rationality does not deal with the unknown unknowns. The…

Coronavirus 2019-nCov novel coronavirus concept resposible for asian flu outbreak and coronaviruses influenza as dangerous flu strain cases as a pandemic. Microscope virus close up. 3d rendering.

COVID-19’s Origins: Uses and Misuses of the Explanatory Filter

How a critic of intelligent design theory misunderstands the application of design inference

Last year in July a prominent critic of intelligent design theory, Dr. Adam Shapiro, took the Discovery Institute to task for not debunking the lab origin theory. He says, Behe seems to miss an opportunity to demonstrate that intelligent design theory shows how those pathways are not irreducible complex. Adam Shapiro, “Did Intelligent Design Just Miss Its Corona Moment?” at American Scientist and, How better to demonstrate its own apolitical nature than to apply its scientific process to debunk the Chinese lab myth? Adam Shapiro, “Did Intelligent Design Just Miss Its Corona Moment?” at American Scientist First of all, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of ID. ID theory is only resilient against false positives, not false negatives, as Dr. Ewert…

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retro robot orator, speaker, 3d, render

Can a New AI Debating Program Win All the Debates?

While billed as an autonomous debating system, Project Debater features very little autonomy

From ancient days, reason has been considered the hallmark of what sets humans apart from animals. Aristotle defined humans as the rational animal and this definition has stuck through the history of Western philosophy. Human reason is best demonstrated in debate. Thus, if we can create programs that argue a point effectively, then computers will have conquered an important frontier of what it means to be intelligent. Recently, we learned at Nature that one research team claims to have developed such a program: A fully autonomous computer system has been developed that can take part in live debates with people. The findings hint at a future in which artificial intelligence can help humans to formulate and make sense of complex…

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Stock market data on digital LED display. Fundamental and technical analysis with candle stick graph chart of stock market trading to represent about Bullish and Bearish point.

Can Darwinian Theory Explain the Rise and Fall of Businesses?

The fashionable field of organizational ecology says yes — organizations are like animals in nature

When you think of “business,” do you think of stuffy suits and boring meetings? But maybe that’s just a pose. Organizational science studies what makes businesses survive, thrive and die. The description makes businesses sound more like living, vulnerable animals, doesn’t it? There is even a widely accepted subfield called organizational ecology, founded by Michael Hannan and John Freeman (1944–2008), which applies evolution theory to businesses. In 1989, Harvard University Press published their very influential book on the topic. Organizational ecology applies a specifically Darwinian form of evolution theory to businesses. That is, the main driving force of change for businesses is seen as natural selection. The “ecology” part of organizational ecology is the idea that the ever-changing business environment…

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Futuristic heads up display blue green abstract interface

How the Explanatory Filter Can Help Quash Conspiracy Theories

I found Dembski’s explanatory filter quite helpful in investigating voter fraud claims

William Dembski’s explanatory filter is a decision strategy for identifying events that are unlikely to have happened purely by chance. The filter proceeds in three main steps, which can be illustrated via the plot device in Contact, a novel (1985) by Carl Sagan, followed by a film (1997): Eliminate events of large probability (necessity): A radio telescope receives a pattern of beeps and pauses. Perhaps the pattern seems strange to us but we could just be overinterpreting inevitable space noise. Eliminate events of medium probability (chance): The pattern turns out to be a sequence of prime numbers. However, large randomly generated numbers sometimes feature apparent patterns (five 5s in a row, for example) that don’t signify anything. Specify the event…

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Anti social man, business connection or social network concept, miniature people businessman standing on colorful pastel chalk line link and connect between multiple dot or tiers on blackboard

What Is the Essential Feature of Creative Intelligence?

Creative intelligence is easier to describe by what it is not than by what it is. But there is a clue in that very fact…

I’ve spent the past couple articles debunking artificial intelligence. It is just as artificial as its name suggests. It takes on the appearance of intelligence through speed but it lacks the fundamental ability to create a well-matched start and end. So a perceptive reader has returned with another good question: “What is creative intelligence?” The reader is right to ask. Yes, telling someone that the exquisite dessert is not celery and not cod liver oil does not help us understand what the dessert itself is. There is a mystery regarding the very nature of human intelligence. Like its antithesis, randomness, creative intelligence is easier to describe by what it is not than by what it is. But, we can try!…

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technician standing in front of giant circuitboard, slight zoom effect

For Computers, Smart Is Not the Same Thing as Fast

In response to a reader’s good question …

In a recent article, I argued that computers are not, and never can become smarter. An insightful reader wrote to ask, “What if smartness is defined by speed?” This is a good point. The debate revolves around the definition of “smart.” and if we define “smart” as “fast”, then since computers are certainly getting faster they will necessarily become smarter. Such a definition has intuitive appeal. Think of the world’s best chess player versus a beginner. One of the big distinctions is the chess expert will choose a good move more quickly than a beginner, and in general will play faster than a beginner. As such, play speed demonstrates a certain level of intelligence on the part of the player.…

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The first model of the computational mechanism is an arithmometer.

Computers Are Getting Faster But Are They Getting Smarter? No.

Computers are Turing machines, limited to operations that can be completely understood in relation to their programming

Won’t quantum computers be smarter than regular ones? No. Still No. What about optical computing, computing with DNA, or some other exotic form of computation? Always No. A skeptical reader might ask, Why such a definitive answer? How do you deal with the spectacular performance of deep learning? What about AlphaGo Zero? What about Watson? What about the infamous Deep Blue? What about quantum supremacy? Don’t these examples all disprove your point? No. All forms of computation past, present, and future will be physical. And all physical phenomena can be modeled by a Turing machine (pictured). No matter how fast the computer runs, the computer will never be more powerful than a Turing machine. A Turing machine consists of five…

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Robotic man cyborg face representing artificial intelligence 3D rendering

Are We Facing the Next, Very Rapid Stage of Evolution, via AI?

Prof. Mark Alan Walker: “Person-engineering technologies will make it possible to accomplish in a matter of years what evolution would take thousands of millennia to achieve.”

These are certainly heady times in the biotech world. With the new mRNA vaccine being created in just a few days in January 2020, someone can mass produce DNA in their garage for the price of a hamburger, and Alpha Fold 2 can predict proteins from DNA with accuracy, rivalling wet lab results, it seems we are on the cusp of something extraordinary. Most viral infections will cease if all we need to do to roll out a new vaccine is sequence the virus genome and mass produce the portion that binds to human cells. On the darker side, it will also likely mean a greater threat of biowarfare. Creating a new virus may just be a matter of downloading…

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Programming language and development of applications concept on yellow blue background. Training courses of php, sql, html, css and other disciplines.

Human Ingenuity vs. the Computer’s Halting Problem

In a dialogue with a friendly skeptic, I suggested an explanation he found astounding but it’s the only possible one

When studying computer science a student invariably learns about the infamous halting problem. The problem states there is no general algorithm that can determine for every deterministic computer program whether that program will halt or not. This struck me as absurd when I first learned of the problem. Surely a whizkid like myself could design a simple algorithm to track the program’s memory and catch when it started repeating itself and determined it would not halt. Once convinced the problem was indeed provably unsolvable, I then thought the problem must show that humans are not computers. This is because it seems intuitive that for every program, if I watch it enough and think about it carefully enough, I should be…

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GMO Farming

Is GMO Detection an Application of Dembski’s Explanatory Filter?

If so, it would be an instance of the use of the filter in biology

Have you ever heard people say that intelligent design (ID) theory has never been applied to biology? They are wrong! In fact, it is applied frequently in the very important field of detecting genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “A genetically modified organism contains DNA that has been altered using genetic engineering.” (National Geographic) Detection can trace the use of GMOs, now frequent in our food supply, so that products can be recalled if there is a problem or if people just don’t want to use GMO products. GMOs are intelligently designed biological organisms, and scientists use design theorist William Dembski’s explanatory filter to detect GMOs. My claim is a bit daring, perhaps alarming for some people. Maybe I’m stretching the definition…

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Brain made of oil

Will Ordinary Human Intelligence Become the New “Oil”?

At one time, the tech craze was for outsourcing jobs. Maybe it’s time to look at “insourcing” instead

Outsourcing is the silver bullet of the IT age. Everything can be made more cheaply and more profitably by sourcing the work from places with a lower cost of living. But do those places always have to be overseas? Not necessarily. The perils of overseas outsourcing are well known, ranging from communication through cultural or time zone incompatibilities. What if there were a way to eliminate those incompatibilities while still retaining the benefits of workers who live in an area with a lower cost of living? This is possible through “insourcing.” There are regions of the United States where the cost of living is quite low, allowing companies to have their cake and eat it too. Work can be done…

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What We Can Do To Prevent More Online Censorship

Encrypted email can be an end-around social media companies' monopoly of free speech

With all the concern about major social media companies deplatforming those they disagree with, there is a concern that these companies’ monopoly on social media will eliminate free speech. New social media platforms such as Gab, Parler and MeWe have popped up to offer freer alternatives. Yet even that is not without peril, as deplatforming can happen lower down the technology stack. Parler was recently kicked off AWS (Amazon Web Services). However, in the midst of all the hubbub we’ve forgotten the original social network: email. Email is still here. The distance between email and modern social media may be smaller than it first appears. Lets make a short list of the perceived differences between social media and email, and…

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Spiral Profile

Toward a Serious Scientific Theory of Consciousness

Quantum physics arises from the fact that when we do not observe a particle, it can be in two different places at once, such that it interacts with itself

Consciousness is the ultimate hard problem of philosophy of science. As of today, there is absolutely no scientific solution to the problem. The nature of consciousness seems ineffable: first person experience appears to be a completely different category of existence than objective externaldescription. This dilemma has led philosophers such as Daniel Dennett to use the ultimate solution: deny the problem exists. Unfortunately, that solution never worked for me at school. The objective reality of bad grades is quite hard to deny. Yet, we need not resort to Daniel Dennett’s ultimate solution. There are concrete things we can say about consciousness if we use the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum physics and the computer science concept of Kolmogorov complexity. Quantum physics…

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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…

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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.…

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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…