Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryArts & Culture

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cute model of the Earth, Sun and Moon with googly eyes on the chalkboard, a donut, a globe and a cookie on the chalkboard

When God Gets Distracted — Sci-fi Saturday

A clever animated short offers a take on why there is so much violence and chaos in the world

“Tales from the Multiverse” uploaded at DUST by director Magnus Igland Møller (August 6, 2021, 6:36 min, animated) “God is a single parent and amateur programmer. He’s working on project ‘Earth’ but never seems to get a break from the kids. One day though, he finally gets a breakthrough.” Review: This film debuted in 2020 (IMDB). It’s a clever riff on why we live in a crazy world. God can’t really concentrate on the computer program he is using to simulate (create Earth) because he is breaking up fights between his kids. He tries out Adam and Eve, a round Earth and a flat Earth, and dinosaurs living alongside Stone Age people. But his absence, even when he seems to…

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Crab close up, Cuba

If We Find Life on Exoplanets, Some of It Might Be “Crabs”

Over millions of years, many crustaceans gradually grew to look more and more like crabs, a process called convergent evolution

The earliest crablike creatures are thought to date from about 365 million years ago (the Late Devonian period). But the odd thing is that many creatures that did not start out looking like crabs have, over tens of millions of years, grown to look like them. A good many lobster-like decapods (= they have ten feet) began to look like crabs (carcinization). Possible causes include greater mobility (some crabs can climb trees), easier hiding in narrow spaces, and less temptation for predators (no juicy tail). Biologists call this process convergent evolution — life forms converge on the same solutions to their problems even if they are not closely related. So we might ask, if we find life on other planets,…

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the giant robot launching rocket punch destroy the city,illustration painting

Real vs. Digital Humans Locked in All-Out War — Sci-fi Saturday

The reals are attacking the digitals and the digitals invade Toronto in the 24th century in an attempt to power them down

“E-X-T” by director Adrian Bobb (Uploaded at DUST August 2, 2021, 7:38 min) “200 years after humanity has abandoned the real world for a digital one, the system’s most talented security agent is forced out of retirement to recruit and lead a team of talented warriors to eliminate a threat from a world no one has seen for centuries. The real world.” Further: “In the snow-covered ruins of 24th century Toronto, AEGIS, a humanoid war machine, leads a team of five similar yet unique machines into the EXT, the new real-world to retake an enemy-occupied server installation vital to the survival of their digital homeland. During an attempt to ambush a large pack of enemy-controlled war-drones, AEGIS recalls an interrogation…

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Starlight night

Quantum Physicist: Aliens May Communicate by Starlight

Terry Rudolph of Imperial College, London, argues that they may have evolved so as to take advantage of quantum mechanics via photonics more easily than we can

Terry Rudolph of Imperial College in London argues in a recent preprint paper that technologically advanced extraterrestrials might manipulate the light from stars to send messages over great distances“ — almost like a series of interstellar smoke signals,” as science writer Dan Robitzski puts it: The physics of the ordeal get a bit dense — which is probably reasonable if aliens are rapidly communicating across star systems — but the basic idea is to use entangled photons from different stars to transmit messages that appear to be random twinkling to any nosy onlookers. Dan Robitzski, “Scientist claims that aliens may be communicating via starlight” at Futurism That’s a reason, it is suggested, why we might not “see” extraterrestrials. Rudolph’s open-access…

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Close up of vinyl record on stack of records collection

Strong Vinyl Record Sales Show Why Going Retro Helps You Stay Rooted

In a digital age, why bother buying vinyl records, print newspapers, or a spinning top?

Originally published at Newsmax. Vinyl is very much back in vogue these days. At the height of COVID-19 last year, vinyl sales exceeded CD sales for the first time since the 1980s. And this year, the first Record Store Day of 2021 saw over 1.5 million vinyl albums sold in a week, with more sales being tallied up after the second Record Store Day drop on July 17th. While around 85% of music industry revenues now come from streaming sources, this slow and steady increased interest in vinyl is notable. While several factors affect music consumption trends, vinyl endures for two main reasons. First, the music sounds better on vinyl, and second, it’s a physical product that can be handled. The reward…

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shamanic girl with frame drum on abstract structured space background.

A Glimpse of Sci-Fi in a World of Panpsychism — Sci-fi Saturday

Shamanism isn’t science, of course, but it makes more fictional sense in a sci-fi world where everything has a soul than one where nothing does

“The Shaman” at DUST (July 30, 2021) by Marco Kalantari (2015 at IMDB, 16:16) The dark year 2204, in a world that has seen 73 years of continuous war. Recently mankind re-discovered the arts of Shamanism. The Shaman’s school of thought believes that every person or object has a soul. During battle Shamans step over into the Netherworld to find and convert the souls of their enemies’ giant battle machines. This tactic enables a single man to overcome an invincibly seeming steel monster. This is the story of Joshua, a Shaman, who is sent on a mission to convert the soul of a giant battle colossus. He does not yet know that the soul is prepared for his coming and…

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Working helmet on a pile of stones

When Emergency Services Are Run by AI … — Sci-fi Saturday

It’s not just that AI doesn’t care; it can’t. And that shows

“Stuck” (2020) by Pablo Andrés Tobón Gallo (at Dust July 28, 2021,14:38 min) Many light-years away from Earth, Eve, a mine colony operator, awakes to find herself trapped underground after an explosion went off at the surface. Fear increasing as she feels the walls closing around her, one of her hands trapped, an oxygen leak in her suit and unable to use her thrusters, Eve has to find a way out. Fast. Review: Harrowing. The horrifying thing about the story is that these kinds of accidents happen in Earth’s mines and similar high-risk situations in real life. Ana Isabel Castillo Betancur turns in a good performance as Eve, who has no idea how incompetent management response can be, especially when…

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Time and space travel concept abstract background

What If Only Part of You Could Be Teleported? — Sci-Fi Saturday

A rooftop smoke break reveals a dreadful secret

“Liminal” at DUST by Collin Davis and Matt Litwiller (July 19, 2021, 6:47 min) From the producers: “Liminal explores big ideas in contained spaces: a character piece with a sci-fi backdrop. Gwen, the lead scientist on a secret experiment to teleport humans, encounters a co-worker on a smoke break. As she grapples with the implications of recent discoveries it’s clear that a dire mistake has been made. Her test subject has lost something along the way. ” Review: “We sent a man to Europa and brought him back in two-thirds of a second … the solar system just got smaller.” This short film benefits from good performances by Anna Campbell (Gwen) and Max Lesser ( Tim), lending authenticity to a…

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Wild Zoo Animal Squares

Would You Become an Animal to Save a Species? — Sci-fi Saturday

The animation is good and the question raised is interesting

“Floreana” at DUST by Louis Morton (Jul 23, 2021), 4:13 min, originally at IMDB 2019 “On a remote island in the future, people are training for an important mission. Take a look at the mechanics of this training facility and the creatures within.” Review: Floreana is an animated film which offers a genuine surprise in terms of how humans in the future might propose to deal with the issue of endangered wildlife. It’s a bit unrealistic (how many people would really go along with living inside animals?) but worth thinking about. Just the right length to get across the basic idea. Films reviewed are sorted roughly by length so you can choose films based on how much time you have.…

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Large format digital printing machine and moving print head

But Why Is “Depublishing” Cool Among Publishers Now?

Publishers now Cancel their own books in a righteous fury!

Withdrawing books instead of defending them is now “cool” because the industry has changed. Now, often, it’s about currying favor with government and powerful people, not with helping readers understand the world around us. To consider what’s changed, take one uproar around a biography of novelist Philip Roth (1933–2018) by a U.S. author Bill Bailey: Several women accused Bailey of predatory behavior. At a Louisiana private school where he had once taught English, he was said to have “groomed” eighth-graders for later of-age seductions to rape. And a woman said that Bailey had raped her at the home of a mutual friend who—in one of the scandal’s myriad ironies—was a book reviewer for the New York Times. In no time,…

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Exoplanet

When Sci-Fi Gets Earnest About Colonization — Sci-fi Saturday

Worth seeing but we never get to find out who the characters are fighting or why some treaty could not be arranged

“Ripple Effect” at DUST by [ Hannah Bang at Dust, July 12, 2021, 7:12 min: “In a not so distant future- a coalition of the old earth’s nations have sought and claimed the discovery of a new planet “Gaia” as the human race’s last hope for survival. However, when the human settlements rolled in, what awaited them was neither discovery nor pioneering but colonization and war against the planet’s original inhabitants. With an increasingly militaristic government that demands the settlers’ sacrifice for the good of all, one family is torn apart when the eldest daughter, Ara, questions who the real bad guys are. At a time where mass think seems to be the safest option, Ripple Effect asks us if…

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Create yourself concept. Good looking young man drawing a picture, sketch of himself

If You Could Change by “Inserting” Knowledge… Should You?

An education professor is surprisingly sympathetic to just “inserting” Correct knowledge to produce desirable changes

John Tillson, philosopher of education and author of Children, Religion, and the Ethics of Influence, asks if, instead of drills and homework, what about just “learning” a skill via a computer cable plugged into the back of your head, the way Neo learned karate in The Matrix?: Discussing the pros and cons of just acquiring knowledge by mere insertion, Tillson is surprisingly friendly to the idea, especially in terms of reprogramming bad ideas: Even if we dodge the threat of replacement by downloading a modest suite of knowledge at a suitably gentle pace, we might still worry that knowledge insertion would make us become someone we wouldn’t want to be. This isn’t always a problem. Suppose Neo was racist and…

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water pouring into glass

Human Psychology in a World Without Water — Sci-fi Saturday

“Oasis” was filmed as a response to the Capetown Water Crisis of 2018

“Oasis” (2020) at DUST by David Wayne Smith (May 12, 2021 at DUST). 8:05 min “In the wake of the 2018 Cape Town water crisis, a handful of filmmakers and I put together a project that tackled environmental issues. In developing a film that focused on the needs of Cape Town, we discovered a global story. OASIS is a Science-Fiction short film that comments on our responsibility in a world that is vulnerable.” Review: The almost entirely wordless film does a good job of portraying a world dying for lack of water. But honestly, the psychological dynamics — and particularly, the fight scene — did not make sense. There is such a thing as taking the “empowered woman” thing too…

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Artificial intelligence

What If Your AI Started To Talk Like a Human? — Sci-fi Saturday

Should you just shut it down and leave the building?

“Intelligentia” (2020) by Ken Shinozaki (at DUST July 7, 2021, 11:12 min) “Lisa receives a butler A.I. to Turing test, and over the course of the procedure, she discovers the A.I. is not what it seems and her entire world disrupted.” Review: It’s a harrowing tale with a strong performance by Rain Fuller as Lisa and C. J. Baker as her boss. Lisa seems to be on the brink of a breakdown. Which the AI, “Eugene,” seems to have spotted… “Eugene” soon takes charge of the interview. And it becomes clear that “Eugene” is a conscious being. It’s fun sci-fi and well worth the watch. But a bit implausible toward the end. We are told that “Eugene” — essentially just…

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Virus bacteria cells background

What If the UAP (UFOs) Are Much Simpler Life Forms Than We Think?

Why assume, if the unexplained phenomena are ET, that they are more advanced than we are? What if the opposite is true?

Readers will recall that on June 25, the Pentagon released a nine-page report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UFOs) which signaled a significant change in attitude from debunking to carefully assessing. That is, we don’t know what’s out there but it’s something and we had better find out. The report references 144 incidents, of which investigators “could not explain”143. First, some reactions from science writers at Futurism: They were generally “disappointed” by the report’s uncertainty, accompanied by tantalizing hints: Reports of strange sightings made by US military pilots emerged after The New York Times published a series of mysterious videos in 2017, captured by military personnel and showing unidentified objects that seemed to defy the laws of physics. The June report,…

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Group of neanderthal hunting a bison

New Find Pushes Symbolic Thinking Further Back in Human History

A Neanderthal find from 51,000 years ago is another piece in the puzzle of the origin of abstract human thinking

At one time, scientists believed that only some groups of humans possessed the ability to think symbolically. Neanderthals were held to be an example of humans who could not do so. But more recently, as George Dvorsky tells us at Gizmodo, a 2019 finding at the Unicorn Cave in the Harz Mountains in central Germany challenges that belief: Patterns deliberately etched onto a bone belonging to a giant deer are signs that Neanderthals possessed the capacity for symbolic thought. Neanderthals decorated themselves with feathers, drew cave paintings, and created jewelry from eagle talons, so it comes as little surprise to learn that Neanderthals also engraved patterns onto bone. The discovery of this 51,000-year-old bone carving, as described in Nature Ecology…

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Black Hole in space

What Happens If Earth Passes Through a Black Hole—Sci-fi Saturday

This story isn’t exactly about passage through a black hole: It is a meditation on nothingness that crashes headfirst into nihilism

“Until There Was Nothing” at DUST by Paul Trillo (August 25, 2020, 5:36 min) “A philosophical video and art exploration of the Earth’s passage through a black hole.” Review: This film is actually a philosophical meditation on nothingness — the concept of non-entity, as every concept of mathematics, physics, natural law, and order vanishes. Gravity reverses itself at odd moments for no particular reason. Terrifying. Whether the filmmakers intended this or not, it is really a meditation on the way the fundamental constants of the universe work. And what would happen if they didn’t. For more, see the Kalam Constant, a philosophical proof of the existence of God. — A note re our new feature below: We sort reviewed films…

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Black hole somewere in space. Science fiction. Dramatic space background. Elements of this image were furnished by NASA

A Choice Between Saving One’s Child and Oneself — Sci-fi Saturday

Is life always so simple? Well, we shall see

“Zoe” at DUST by Derek Abel, 2019 and uploaded to DUST, June 21, 2021, 4:58 min) ZOE and her FATHER have lived in space all their lives. The space station they call home is about to explode. Their only chance of survival is an old escape pod but there’s only room for one. Review: The film is very well done technically and the actors are veterans. Zoe is played by Zahlee Moore and her dad by Luke Reeves. That said, the ending seemed too saccharine, too soft. No real sacrifice was required. Not like “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) which gives a much better sense of what would probably really happen. In “The Wreck… “:…

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Left-handed woman writing in notebook at wooden table, closeup

Aliens Who Landed Here Would Just Starve, Science Writer Predicts

We tend to assume that any life form could live with our complicated chemistry but what if — fundamentally — not?

NASA has — quite recently — stopped being snarky about aliens. That does not make them true. It just means we don’t have to live with the snark now. Which makes it easier to think. Will Lockett makes the point at Medium that if extraterrestrials did land on Earth, they would probablystarve to death: The way life forms work (at least, the only ones we know) involves chirality: All living organisms are based upon certain ‘mirror’ isomers of amino acids. Although normal chemical reactions produce right and left mirrors in equal amounts, often called a ‘racemic mixture’, the proteins which constitute the organelles in living cells are composed entirely of right handed forms of sugars and left handed forms of…

Robot prints on a typewriter

The Great American Novel Will Not be Written by a Computer

It takes more than statistical genius to understand words and create works of art

I’ve written before about how computer algorithms are like Nigel Richards, the New Zealander who has won multiple French-language Scrabble tournaments even though he does not understand the words he is spelling. Computers can similarly manipulate words in many useful ways — e.g., spellchecking, searching, alphabetizing — without any understanding of the words they are manipulating. To know what words mean, they would have to understand the world we live in. They don’t. One example is their struggles with the Winograd schema challenge — recognizing what it refers to in a sentence. Another example is the inability to answer simple questions like, “Is it safe to walk downstairs backwards if I close my eyes?” A third type of example is the brittleness of language translation programs. Yet another…