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Does Science Fiction Encourage Narcissism?

As a sci-fi critic, I think most fans are just looking for a genre where they can understand and be understood

It’s true that many people who are attracted to science fiction feel like outcasts or disconnected from mainstream popular culture. And many of them feel welcome, loved, accepted, and validated in the sci-fi community. Does that really make them narcissists?

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3D Illustration with exotic deep space formations

Star Trek: Picard—On Second Thought, Some Serious Quibbles

A Mind Matters review: Now that I’m four episodes in, I’ve gotta say, the “haters” might be onto something. Not everything but something

Why does Picard seem to be obsessed with Commander Data? And what happened to The Federation? Star Trek fans are quick to point out that Star Trek: Picard takes an unnecessary malevolent tone towards The Federation. Why do the Romulans look different? I’m still watching but I’d like some answers.

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The Expanse, Season 4: The Best So Far?

A Mind Matters Perspective: Unlike critic Zac Giaimo, I preferred Season 3 but it really depends on what you are looking for

Season 4 is, as critic Zac Giaimo notes, integral to character building and plot development for the overall series. I gave it 9/10 in an earlier review. However, I don’t know if I completely agree with Giaimo’s Amazonian optimism. Season 3 set up urgent questions that should be answered by the end of the show, preferably beginning in Season 5.

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Citation

Anti-Plagiarism Software Goof: Paper Rejected for Repeat Citations

The scholar was obliged by discipline rules to cite the flagged information repetitively

Not only was Jean-François Bonnefon’s paper rejected by conventional anti-plagiarism software but the rejection didn’t make any sense. Bonnefon, research director at Toulouse School of Economics, was informed of “a high level of textual overlap with previous literature” (plagiarism) when he was citing scientists’ affiliations, standard descriptions, and papers cited by other—information he was obliged to cite accurately, according to a standard format. “It would have taken two [minutes] for a human to realise the bot was acting up,” he wrote on Twitter. “But there is obviously no human in the loop here. We’re letting bots make autonomous decisions to reject scientific papers.” Reaction to the post by Dr Bonnefon, who is currently a visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute Read More ›

Planet surface

Picard (2020): Episode 1 Is an AI-Themed Mystery

The mystery is related to another familiar Star Trek character

Seeing the Star Trek universe from a different perspective—that is, not from the interior of a starship—was super refreshing and rewarding. It gives viewers a unique look at what day-to-day life is like for other people (much as The Mandalorian did for the Star Wars universe).

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Photo by Michal Mrozek

So Is an AI Winter Really Coming This Time?

AI did surge past milestones during the 2010s but fell well short of the hype

Maybe both. AI will require more from us, not less, because how we choose to use these tools will make an increasingly stark difference between benefit and ruin.

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Photo by Amanda Jones

Bridge: Why Shuffle the Deck Seven Times?

For years, competitive bridge players complained that computer shuffling of cards produced goofy results. Statisticians sided with the computers

Bridge is one of the few games where computer algorithms have not yet demolished the best human players but, despite claims to the contrary, algorithms do a much better job of random shuffling of the deck.

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Her (2013): If You Created Her, Is It Real Love?

In this retrospective Mind Matters movie review, Adam Nieri ponders the questions raised by a thoughtful AI film

Unlike Catherine, Samantha is exactly what Theodore was looking for. No surprise there; Samantha is, literally, adjusted and updated according to Theodore’s preferences from when he initially began speaking to her. She exists only to be Theodore’s soulmate. Is that enough?

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Can AI Help Hollywood Predict the Next Big Hit?

AI analysis sifts the past finely. But how well does the past predict the future?

AI does pose at least one threat to filmmaking. It could intensify the very tone-deafness that studios hope it can fix: Too much reliance on ever more finely grained analysis of the patterns in past data could blind decision makers to the real risks, volatility, and opportunities in the future. That’s a recipe for losing money and inflicting “Oh, not that again!” on audiences.

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Photo by Jeremy Bishop

AI Goes to Hollywood

Warner Bros. hopes Cinelytic's AI will save time while making more reasonable financial estimates, thus forestalling expensive box office blunders

Cinelytic’s AI does is what every AI does at its most basic level. It collects and sifts large amounts of data to find patterns that can be used to make predictions. AI excels at pattern recognition because that is its only purpose. Humans aren’t so linear or predictable.

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Lost in Space, A Mind Matters TV Series Review

I was skeptical at first, based on Netflix's track record, but was pleasantly surprised

If I could rewind time a week and add a piece of 2019 sci-fi to my list of the year’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV, I would add Netflix’s Lost in Space, Season 2—which came out just after I had published. Let's fix that now.

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The Expanse Still Image

Sci-Fi TV: 2019’s Best and Worst

2019 featured many sci-fi television and movies that were less sci-fi than political narrative

In 2019, I fell out with Netflix. I felt bombarded by more and more edgy content, as though Netflix wanted me to know how “adult” it is. Rather than producing a few amazing originals, Netflix started vomiting up a ton of terrible originals.

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2019 AI Hype Countdown #6: AI Will Replace Scientists!

In May of this year, The Scientist ran a series of pieces suggesting that we could automate the process of acquiring scientific knowledge

In reality, without appropriate human supervision, AI is just as likely to find false or unimportant patterns as real ones. Additionally, the overuse of AI in science is actually leading to a reproducibility crisis.

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Businessman Robot Hands Law Connection HUD Network

2019 AI Hype Countdown #7: “Robot rights” grabs the mike

If we could make intelligent and sentient AIs, wouldn’t that mean we would have to stop programming them?

AI programs are just that—programs. Nothing in such a program could make it conscious. We may as well think that if we make sci-fi life-like enough, we should start worrying about Darth Vader really taking over the galaxy.

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2019 AI Hype Countdown #8: Media Started Doing Their Job!

Yes, this year, there has been a reassuring trend: Media are offering more critical assessment of off-the-wall AI hype

One factor in the growing sobriety may be that, as AI technology transitions from dreams to reality, the future belongs to leaders who are pragmatic about its abilities and limitations.

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2019 AI Hype Countdown #10: Sophia the Robot Still Gives “Interviews”

In other news, few popular media ask critical questions

As a humanoid robot, Sophia certainly represents some impressive engineering. It is sad that the engineering fronts ridiculous claims about the state of AI, using partially scripted interactions as if they were real communication.

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Near Space photography - 20km above ground / real photo

The Expanse: A Mind Matters TV Series Review

The attention to detail and the realistic portrayal of space set it apart from run-of-the-mill sci-fi

I love the deep mystery surrounding the show’s central narrative device, the proto-molecule. It is somewhat sentient and is desperately trying to figure out what happened to the civilization that created it and was then wiped out while it lay dormant in our solar system for millions of years.

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the hypothetical planet nine in front of stars lit by the far away Sun

Nightflyers: A Mind Matters TV Series Review

Despite its flaws, Nightflyers does not deserve all the criticism it received.

It’s the saga of a ship of scientists making their way through the cosmos to unlock the secrets of a mysterious entity known as Volcryn. It turns out that Volcryn is not the only mystery; the Nightflyer holds many of its own secrets.

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Archeological site of Phaistos in Crete

Can AI Help Us Decipher Lost Languages?

That depends mainly on the reasons we haven’t yet deciphered ancient texts

AI can speed up translation of ancient documents where only a few scholars know the language. Whether it can help with mysterious unknown languages like Minoan A is another question.

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I Am Giving Up Cycling

It’s just not worth it if a machine can beat me

It’s not that I cannot cycle or that I don’t like to or that I’m not good at it (for a human). But just the other day, as I pedaled along, I was passed by a motorcycle. Its speed was incredible! I appeared to be pedaling in place as the machine zoomed into the distance. In that moment, it became all too clear that my days as a meaningful human were ending. The machine was my better. Okay. That is not true. I am not going to quit cycling. And, being passed by a motorcycle—a machine we built purposely to go faster than anything our two legs can achieve—is not a meaningful measure of my prowess as a cyclist. Many Read More ›