Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryArts & Culture

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collection of alien planets in front of the Milky Way galaxy, nearby exoplanets

Why Search for Extraterrestrial Life? Why Not Make It Ourselves?

A NASA astrobiologist’s bold suggestion is likely to spark debate

Recently, we have been looking at the question of why we don’t see aliens, with as many as 75 hypotheses offered. But one astrobiologist has a bold suggestion: Why not just seed life on various suitable exoplanets, once we have the means to do it? We need not search for extraterrestrial life if we can learn how to create it ourselves. There are a lot of reasons to think very carefully about doing something like that, as Betül Kaçar (pictured), director of the NASA Astrobiology Consortium MUSE, acknowledges: Rather than regarding the overwhelming majority of planets and moons as failures unworthy of further study, we should instead recognise them for what they are: they’re not empty. In fact, a very…

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Alien arrival on planet Earth, full moon rises above the horizon

Particle Physicist Offers 75 Reasons We Don’t See Aliens

But Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute gives high odds that we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy

Recently, we’ve been looking at Matt Williams’s admirable collection of hypotheses as to why we do not see intelligent extraterrestrials, despite the size of our universe. But particle physicist Stephen Webb collected many more such theses, in a book published in 2002, If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens … WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life (2002). A revised edition was published by Springer, a big science publisher, in 2015, offering 75 hypotheses. Webb calls his collection of hypotheses the “Fermi solutions,” in honor of Italian physicist Enrico Fermi (1901–1954), whose famous question was “Where are They?” “Fermi realized that any civilization with a modest amount of rocket technology and an…

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Ghost of Girl in Dark Foggy Forest

Why Do People Who Believe in Extraterrestrials Dismiss Ghosts?

The talk about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence—or otherwise—misses the point. There is no evidence

A recent profile in Astronomy focused on Abraham Loeb (pictured) a Harvard astronomer who is convinced that closed minds are a key barrier to our finding extraterrestrials. Statistically, he thinks, they must be out there somewhere: About 25 billion stars, roughly one-quarter of those that reside in the Milky Way, lie in a habitable zone. He rounds that down to an even 10 billion to keep the calculations simple. “And then there are about a trillion galaxies like the Milky Way,” he says, “which means there are about 1022 [10 billion trillion] planets in the observable universe that could potentially host life as we know it.” In other words, searches for extraterrestrial life have barely scratched the surface. “As in…

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Atoms and their electron clouds , Quantum mechanics and atomic structure

The Aliens Exist—But Evolved Into Virtual Reality at a Nanoscale

That’s the Transcension Hypothesis, the latest in our series on science fiction hypotheses as to why we don’t see extraterrestrials

Readers will recall that we have been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s analysis of the various reasons that we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last week, we looked at the Firstborn Hypothesis: We don’t see aliens because they haven’t evolved yet. And, when they do, we must be careful not to harm their development through colonization. This week is a bit of a deeper dive: The extraterrestrials have evolved so far beyond us that perhaps we could not encounter them. … the Transcension Hypothesis ventures that an advanced civilization will become fundamentally altered by its technology. In short, it theorizes that any ETIs that predate humanity have long-since transformed into something that is not recognizable by…

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Blue hydraulic Clow Crane used for picking up scrap metal at recycling yard

Is It Ethical To Scrap Star Trek’s Commander Data for Research?

A philosopher offers a thoughtful review of the case

In a thought-provoking essay, San José State University philosopher Anand Vaidya asks, should it be okay to dismantle Star Trek‘s robotic crew member Data for research purposes, as proposed in the “The Measure of a Man” episode in Star Trek: The Next Generation? Some of the Trek brass seemed to think so: Vaidya disagrees: As real artificial intelligence technology advances toward Hollywood’s imagined versions, the question of moral standing grows more important. If AIs have moral standing, philosophers like me reason, it could follow that they have a right to life. That means you cannot simply dismantle them, and might also mean that people shouldn’t interfere with their pursuing their goals. Anand Vaidya, “If a robot is conscious, is it…

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Alien Planet - 3D rendered computer artwork

What If We Don’t See Aliens Because They Have Not Evolved Yet?

If so, not only did we emerge during a favorable time in the universe’s history but we could end up suppressing them

Readers will recall that we have been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s analysis of the various reasons offered as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last week, we looked at the Brief Window hypothesis (there is only a comparatively short period of time during which a civilization could make such contact). But there is another, darker possibility: We are ahead of them. And if we are not careful, we could end up suppressing them. That’s the Firstborn hypothesis: The universe has only begun to be hospitable to intelligent life and humans are among the first to benefit from that fact. The current model of the universe shows it radiating from the Big Bang over…

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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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Twin Moons over Alien Desert City with Pyramids

Is the Brief Window for Finding ET Closing?

According to some scenarios, we could be past our best-before date for contacting aliens

Readers will recall that we have been looking at science writer Matt Williams‘ analysis of the various reasons that we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. We’ve listed (below) the many interesting ideas he has covered but now here’s a new one!: What if there is only a brief window during which a space-faring civilization can even develop? For the sake of the Brief Window Hypothesis, the key parameter is L. In this case, it can be defined as the amount of time a civilization can be expected to exist before succumbing to an extinction-level event. This could take the form of a natural disaster (an asteroid impact) or come in the form of self-destruction (nuclear or biological…

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Distant planet system in space with exoplanets 3D rendering elements of this image furnished by NASA

Space Aliens Could in Fact Be Watching Us

Using the methods we use to spot exoplanets. But if they are technologically advanced, wouldn’t they be here by now?
Last week, we looked at the ominous “Great Filter” hypothesis about why the space aliens never show up: Something dreadful almost always happens to prevent a civilization from reaching the point of easy space-faring. Probably something to do with mutually self-destructive warfare. But this week, let’s start with something different first. Let’s look at the possibility that the extraterrestrial intelligences could be alive and watching us right now, using the very same methods we use to spot exoplanets. A recent open-access astronomy paper tried to calculate which aliens could actually spot us by whether Earth dims the Sun when passing it: These sudden drops in luminosity are very slight, but detectable nonetheless. These dimming events can yield other important data as well, allowing astronomers to determine the length of an exoplanet’s year, its temperature, and its chemical properties, the latter of which can be used to discern rocky planets from gas giants. Other detection techniques exist, such as the Doppler method, but the transit method continues to be the most reliable and straightforward. The number of stars that we can observe through our telescopes seems almost endless, but the transit method means we’re caught in a rather glaring observational selection effect. With the transit technique, we can only spot exoplanets that pass in front of their host stars from our line of sight. George Dvorsky, “Aliens From These Worlds Could Be Watching Us Right Now” at Gizmodo Of course, a life-bearing planet might be out of our line of sight but, as Dvorsky points out, astronomers have already spotted thousands of exoplanets, which enables some sort of analysis. And, he says, observers there might be able to detect whether an industrial civilization exists on Earth (composition of gases, for example). The projected James Webb telescope could do that for their planets too. But now, on the other side, let’s look at the Hart-Tipler Conjecture: “Extraterrestrial intelligent beings do not exist” (1980). If they did, within 300 million years, they would have developed advanced technology and be here by now.” Or maybe by 650,000 years. Either way, they have had enough time. Here are some of the actual constraints of space exploration: As we may guess, a conjecture that the aliens must have reached or contacted us if they really existed is not popular among searchers of the skies. Consider a 2015 discussion at Universe Today by Toronto researcher and science writer Paul Patton of the Hart-Tipler conjecture. As Patton notes, that hypothesis originated nearly a half century ago in a paper by astronomer Michael H. Hart. The paper doesn’t seem to be open access but an astronomy letter responding to it may be found here. And how did eclectic Tulane physicist Frank Tipler become involved? Patton tells us that Tipler extended the argument in 1980, pointing out that even if they couldn’t visit Earth themselves, intelligent aliens could certainly have developed intelligent robots that could. Curiously, Tipler made that point long before artificial intelligence (AI) triumphed in many strategic games like Go, chess, and StarCraft II. So if we want to say that Tipler is wrong, we need something more compelling than “We don’t like his idea.” As it happens, those who persist in the search for extraterrestrial intelligences often become impatient with such skeptics. Patton, for example, cites alternative authorities like Carl Sagan (1934–1996): Besides assuming that interstellar travel is feasible, Hart’s argument is based on very specific and highly speculative ideas about how extraterrestrials must behave. He assumed that they would pursue a policy of unlimited expansion, that they would expand quickly, and that once their colonies were established, they would last for millions or even billions of years. If any of his speculations about how extraterrestrials will act aren’t right, then his argument that they don’t exist fails… Paul Patton, “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” II: Questioning the Hart-Tipler Conjecture” at Universe Today As might be expected, Carl Sagan and William Newman responded in 1981, offering a more hopeful analysis, based on the spread of animal populations: For Newman and Sagan, the absence of extraterrestrials on Earth doesn’t mean that they don’t exist elsewhere in the galaxy, or that they never launch starships. It just means that they don’t behave in the way Hart expected. They conclude that “except possibly in the very early history of the Galaxy, there are no very old galactic civilizations with a consistent policy of conquest of inhabited worlds; there is no Galactic Empire”. Paul Patton, “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” II: Questioning the Hart-Tipler Conjecture” at Universe Today Well, we don’t really have a good reason for being sorry about the absence of a Galactic Empire, do we? Maybe the aliens view the current turmoil here on Earth as a kind of distant soap opera. Maybe they’re just a studio audience and the show sells advertising in a distant galaxy. The audience can never get here, in the same way that we can’t intervene in a historical drama to save the heroine from the stake. Can we prove that’s not true? Anyway, next Sci-Fi Saturday, we will look at another account of why we don’t see the aliens! You may also enjoy these accounts of why we do not see the aliens: 1.Are the Aliens We Never Find Obeying Star Trek’s Prime Directive? The Directive is, don’t interfere in the evolution of alien societies, even if you have good intentions. Assuming the aliens exist, perhaps it’s just as well, on the whole, if they do want to leave us alone. They could want to “fix” us instead… 2.How can we be sure we are not just an ET’s simulation? A number of books and films are based on the idea. Should we believe it? We make a faith-based decision that logic and evidence together are reasonable guides to what is true. Logical possibility alone does not make an idea true. 3.Did the smart machines destroy the aliens who invented them? That’s the Berserker hypothesis. A smart deadly weapon could well decide to do without its… Read More ›
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Robot concept or robot hand chatbot pressing computer keyboard enter

Can a Machine Really Write for the New Yorker?

If AI wins at chess and Go, why not? Then someone decided to test that…

Tech philosopher and futurist George Gilder (pictured) has a new book out, Gaming AI. Short and sweet, it explains how artificial intelligence (AI) will—and won’t—revolutionize the economy and human life. Get your free digital copy here. And now, below is a short piece he wrote, unpacking one of the book’s themes—the claim that AI can do anything that humans can do. Find out why he says no: Ilya Sutskever (pictured) may be the smartest man in the world you have never heard of. No sweat, I hadn’t heard of him either. Still under 40, he’s part of the all-male Google mindfest around “Google Brain.” His IQ honed at Open University of Israel and mentored by Artificial Intelligence (AI) pioneer Geoffrey…

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the ultimate destruction of the planet in a great cosmic catastrophe 3d illustration

Does Science Fiction Hint That We Are Actually Doomed?

That’s the implication of an influential theory as to why we never see extraterrestrials

Recently science and science fiction writer Matt Williams has been writing a series at Universe Today on why the extraterrestrial intelligences that many believe must exist in our universe never show up. Last week, we looked at the hypothesis that planets that can host life are rare so there are not many aliens out there to find. This week we look at a more ominous hypothesis. In “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” III: What is the Great Filter?” (July 23, 2020), Williams asks us to consider: “there is something in the Universe that prevents life from reaching the point where we would be able to hear from it.” What could that “something” be? The term “the Great Filter” was coined to describe…

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The region 30 Doradus lies in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy.

Maybe There Are Just Very Few Aliens Out There…

The Rare Earth hypothesis offers science-based reasons that life in the universe is rare

Recently, science and science fiction writer Matt Williams has been writing a series at Universe Today on why extraterrestrial intelligences never make contact with us. Last week, we looked at the hypothesis that, to avoid the heat destruction of their advanced technology, the aliens have put themselves into a digital slumber until the universe cools down. This week, let’s look at a quite different approach, which Williams outlines in “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” IV: What is the Rare Earth Hypothesis?” (July 29, 2020): That is “the possibility that life-bearing planets like Earth are just very rare.” We don’t see aliens because they are very uncommon: This is what is popularly known as the “Rare Earth Hypothesis,” which argues that the emergence…

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Dragon sleeps in a cave

Researchers: The aliens exist but they are sleeping…

And we wake them at our peril

Recently, science (and science fiction) writer Matt Williams has been writing a series at Universe Today on why the extraterrestrial intelligences that many believe must exist in our universe never show up. Last week, we looked at the hypothesis that the aliens’ advanced technology ended up destroying them all and… the machines may be coming for us because destroying is all they know how to do. This week, let’s look at a quite different idea that Williams outlines in “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” V: What is the Aestivation Hypothesis?” (August 7, 2020). Aestivation is the summer version of hibernation in winter. The aliens, in this scenario are not dead; they are merely sleeping. Just as many life forms on Earth go…

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World Alzheimer’s day concept. Human hands holding brain of earth over blurred blue nature background. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Why a Science Fiction Writer Thinks Life Is More Than Just Matter

Many animals and even bacteria show behavior that smacks of thinking, he says
Science fiction author and retired internist Geoffrey Simmons talks about the amazing intelligence that life forms, even cells, show. Read More ›
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Robot standing holding a pencil on notebook,retro vintage style

Can AI Write the Great American Novel? Or Compose Sports News?

It’s a split decision, say Rensselaer prof Selmer Bringsjord and Baylor computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks

In a recent podcast, Rensselaer professor Selmer Bringsjord discusses AI and creativity with computer engineering professor and Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks. The difference between writing novels and playing games like Go and chess is that writing novels does not mean winning according to a set of rules. A machine can be programmed with rules and do the calculations faster—much, much faster—than a human. A good novel requires creativity in the face of situations that are only partly definable. If a novel succeeds, many people agree that the writer has captured essential elements of human nature and life circumstances. That’s what makes the great novels so memorable. Sports reporting is somewhere in the middle in that a great…

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Artificial Intelligence self aware android robots patrolling a destroyed city. 3d rendering

Did the Smart Machines Destroy the Aliens Who Invented Them?

A smart deadly weapon could well decide to do without its inventor and, lacking moral guidance, destroy everything in sight
The Beserker hypothesis suggests that we haven’t heard from alien civilizations because they’ve been wiped out by their own killer robots. Well, if robotics ran amok… Read More ›
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Entrance gate to Persepolis Persia Iran Gate of All Nations

How Much Can New AI Tell Us About Ancient Times?

An ambitious new project hopes to use the predictive text that cell phones use to unlock their stories

Many researchers hope that AI will leading to a“golden age” of discovery for lost languages, hard to decipher writings, and badly damaged Biblical scrolls. Algorithms can chug through vast numbers of possibilities of interpretation, presenting the scholar with probabilities to choose from. But even powerful algorithms have their work cut out for them. For example, of the hundreds of thousands of clay (cuneiform) tablets that survive from an ancient part of the Near East called Mesopotamia, many are damaged. We may know the language but we don’t know what’s missing from the text and what difference the missing part makes to what is being said. Experts try to fill in the missing parts but guessing at all the possibilities is…

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Stunning jar with piece of forest, save the earth concept

How Can We Be Sure We Are Not Just An ET’s Simulation?

A number of books and films are based on the Planetarium Hypothesis. Should we believe it?

Science and science fiction writer Matt Williams has been writing a series at Universe Today on why the extraterrestrial intelligences that many believe must exist in our universe never show up. Last week, we looked at the Prime Directive hypothesis (The Directive is, don’t interfere in the evolution of alien societies, even if you have good intentions.”) This week, let’s look at the Planetarium hypothesis, the sixth in his series: “humanity is in a simulation, and the aliens are the ones running it! In order to ensure that human beings do not become aware of this fact, they ensure that the simulation presents us with a “Great Silence” whenever we look out and listen to the depths of space.” (August…

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Unique scribe library full of old and valuable manuscripts

Surprising Ways AI Can Help Recover Lost Languages

Researchers into lost languages hail the new technologies as a golden age for discovery

When an apparently indecipherable manuscript from a lost language turns up, AI can help. But first, how is a language born and how does it die (or get lost)? We really don’t know how human language was born. Theories abound but all we know for sure is that it is unique. In a 2017 paper at BMC Biology, evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel states flatly, “Human language is unique among all forms of animal communication.” In his open-access paper, he cuts short the widely popularized claims for chimpanzee language: Most ape sign language, for example, is concerned with requests for food. The trained chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky’s longest recorded ‘utterance’, when translated from sign language, was ‘give orange me give eat orange…

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nave espacial

Are the Aliens We Never See Obeying Star Trek’s Prime Directive?

The Directive is, don’t interfere in the evolution of alien societies, even if you have good intentions

Using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) telescope, astronomers recently scoured a part of the sky known to contain at least 10 million star systems for evidence of alien technology (“techno signatures”). And the result? “With this dataset, we found no technosignatures — no sign of intelligent life.” Professor Tingay said even though this was the broadest search yet, he was not shocked by the result. “As Douglas Adams noted in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, ‘space is big, really big’.” International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, “Australian telescope finds no signs of alien technology in 10 million star systems” at ScienceDaily The paper is open access. Various sources offer explanations for the absent aliens; the most popular is that…