Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

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Extremely detailed and realistic high resolution 3d illustration of a Grey Alien standing in a forest

What If Extraterrestrials Can’t Afford To Take Chances With Us?

That’s the Dark Forest Hypothesis, riffing off the title of one of famed Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin’s novels

In recent months we’ve been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s coverage of the many reasons (links below) people have advanced as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last Saturday, we considered the Aurora Hypothesis: Given the difficulties and risks of space travel, extraterrestrials with advanced technology may have visited Earth only one in a million years, researchers say. Another hypothesis that Williams has examined is the Dark Forest Hypothesis. He begins by noting that space exploration necessarily conjures up the notion of risk: “Words like Rim, Edge, Fringe, and Verge, Beyond, Perimeter, and Periphery all conjure up feelings of intrigue and anxiety – no doubt, in different measures for different people”: This particular proposed…

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Spiral Background.

Hard Math Can Be Entertaining — With the Right Musical Score!

Gregory Chaitin discusses with Robert J. Marks the fun side of solving hard math problems, some of which come with million-dollar prizes

In last week’s podcast,, “The Chaitin Interview II: Defining Randomness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician and computer scientist Gregory Chaitin on his method of describing true randomness:. If no theory is simpler than the data you are trying to explain, then the data is random. They also discussed the work of true randomness but also on how Ray Solomonoff (1926–2009), another algorithmic information theory founder, who pursued the “shortest effective string of information that describes an object.” But now, for a lighter touch, we learn that a musical comedy was made of Fermat’s Last Theorem. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-125-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 19:24 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: If you…

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Concept of internet security. Mixed media

New Sci-fi Dictionary Will Help Us Tell Our Aliens Apart

Not only are definitions of terms provided but many references to their use in sci-fi literature

Sci-fi fans will appreciate this new online resource: The Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction. The field is now very large. Even if you know what a Dyson sphere is (“an artificial structure in the form of a hollow shell surrounding a star”), you may not know where, in science fiction and commentary, the term has been used. Many such examples are right there at the link. Many other terms are defined, like “Anglic” (future English) and “Belter” (resident of an asteroid belt). We may not need the definition if we are reading the book or watching the film but we will if someone uses the term in casual conversation. The compiler is lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower who has worked at the…

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Video camera lens

Sci-fi Saturday: What If a New Start in Life Were Two Pills Away?

Would you feel the same about suicide?

“Camgirl” at DUST by Jacob Schühle Lewis (March 9, 20:21) “Dee, disillusioned with life and working as a cam girl to make ends meet, helps a strange client, starting an unlikely friendship that might save them both.” A cam girl is a girl-next-door type for hire for viewing and chat sessions (not necessarily pornography or sex) for lonely people. The filmmaker requested a warning that the film depicts self-harm and suicide attempts and it is age-restricted. Given the declining mental health occasioned by the total lockdown response to COVID-19 in many places, vulnerable teens might indeed be best encouraged to watch something else. Meanwhile… You have to watch it here at YouTube because we can’t display it, due to the…

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Robot mirando al mundo

Sci-fi Saturday: In a World Run By Robots, a Bot Becomes a Joker

The dull, dystopian atmosphere of an Australia dominated by robots is well done and worth the watch

“System Error” at DUST by Matt Vesely/ Closer Productions (March 11, 2021, 13:12): From the director’s notes: More About “System Error”: Every day, George works his job at a dingy convenience store, desperately hoping for a friend – but George is also an immobile robotic service unit, and immobile robotic service units do not have friends. When human customer Sid tries to tell George a joke, the simple robot is baffled. So, he sets about editing his code to learn how to laugh… Review: It’s 54 years after an alien invasion and the world is dominated by advanced robotic technology. Everything seems run by robots, including a local convenience store in Australia where everything is under the control of a…

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Intestinal villi, mucosa intestinal. Bacteria and microbes in intestines. Microscopic villi and capillary. Human intestine, chronic disease. Hepatitis viruses, influenza, cell infections, 3D Rendering

Surprisingly, Many “Alien” Cells Live Inside Us

One zoologist thinks that they create our sense of self

At New Scientist, Graham Lawton asks us to think about them: For starters, we are chimeras: some parts of us are human, but genetically not “us”. Most, if not all, of us contain a few cells from our mother, our grandmothers and even elder siblings that infiltrated our bodies in the uterus. Women who have carried children host such cells too. “Something like 65 per cent of women, even in their 70s, when autopsies were performed, had cells in their brains that were not theirs,” says David Linden at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. Chimeric cells have been found to contribute to both good and bad health, for example promoting wound healing but also triggering autoimmune disease. Graham Lawton, “Why…

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Illustration: The Terrible Alien UFO Destroyer comes. The Combat Begins. Realistic Style. Scene / Wallpaper Design.

Sci-fi Saturday: Can an Alternative Universe Save a Lonely Girl?

A girl finds fighting space aliens easier than fighting a brain haemorrhage and a sense of guilt

“CARONTE” at DUST by Luis Tinoco (March 2, 2021, 14:04 min): “A self-absorbed teenager somehow contacts another universe after she’s injured in a car accident.” Language warning. The initial plot development is laudably clearer than that of many short DUST entries. Minimizing spoilers, it’s apparent early on that the heroine is not really a lieutenant in a space force. So what is happening in those scenes is happening either an alternative universe or all in her head. The characters are well imagined and portrayed and the real life scenes are deftly executed. The film ends as it must — not happily but inevitably, and with at least some sense of redemption. Quibble: There is way too much profanity. It gets…

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Nebula and stars in deep space, glowing mysterious universe. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Is Real-World Space Travel Just Too Daunting for ET?

That’s the Percolation Hypothesis as to why we don’t make contact with aliens. They can’t overcome the laws of physics, any more than we can

Last week we looked at another reason that has been advanced, as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Science writer Matt Williams has been looking at the reasons (see the links below.) Last Saturday, we looked at the possibility that Earth is unusual in that it is a rocky planet whose intelligent inhabitants live on the surface. Many rocky planets and moons with icy surfaces may have interior oceans that harbor life.: In that case, intelligent life may not think of space exploration. Another hypothesis that Williams has examined is the Percolation Theory Hypothesis, that there are limits imposed by the laws of physics as to what intelligent life forms can do by way of…

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mysterious exotic exoplanet lit by a bright red star

Sci-fi Saturday: “This Planet Is Not in Our Co-ordinates”

A space courier crew gets a surprise when delivering a mysterious machine to a strange planet

“McPherson’s Toys” at DUST by Austin Charlesworth (Jan 23, 2021, 2:59 min): “Two anxious space couriers have to deliver an ominous package to an unfamiliar planet with unexpected results.” Animated. At only 3 min, this one is very short. It will give fast food staff time to prepare your burger. The space couriers find themselves on a planet not expected to be in their co-ordinates. The rest would make a great greeting card. Depending on how you react (the audience is mixed), that may be fun. The animation feels a bit old-fashioned but many viewers will like that. Perfect for nostalgia. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci-fi Saturday: A future where dreams have been privatized Unfortunately,…

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Does Amazon’s Near-Monopoly Justify Its Use of Censorship?

Caitlin Basset looks at the little-known Seattle law that might make Amazon’s censorship much more costly

Recently, Caitlin Basset told Stream readers about the Seattle law that could give Amazon — currently big on censorship — pause for thought: Last week Amazon spiked a [2018] book critical of transgender policy. The book — When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement, by Ryan T. Anderson. Amazon removed it without warning or explanation. “I hope you’ve already bought your copy,” Anderson wrote on Twitter, “cause Amazon just removed my book.” Amazon has breached free speech principles before. In the past two years, they banned products, films and ad campaigns for ideas it deems “objectionable.” Caitlin Bassett, “Could an Obscure Seattle Law Be Big Tech’s Undoing?” at Stream (February 28, 2021) Under an apparent new rule, Amazon…

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Road in dark forest

Sci-fi Saturday: A Future Where Dreams Have Been Privatized

Unfortunately, the dream Carlos wants is to see his missing family again and that's illegal …

“I Dream” at DUST by Juan Pablo Arriagada (February 20, 2021, 14.25 min, Spanish with English subtitles) “In the future, dreams have been privatized. Carlos will risk anything to have one last dream to see his missing family.” Severe language and violence warning. It’s an interesting concept: “It was just a matter of time before dreams became privatized and became a basic service. Only rich people can afford to dream. The people who can’t pay for it must work double shifts. Or buy this drug that makes them stay awake. And, by the way, it’s made by the same people that privatized sleep.” Carlos, an ex-cop whose family went missing, can afford one last dream in which he wants to…

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Jupiter's moon Europa in front of the planet Jupiter

Is Intelligent Life Found in Oceans Inside Planets and Moons?

The Ocean Planets Hypothesis is that intelligent beings may flourish in the interior oceans of the moons of gas giant planets — or within exoplanets — but they are trapped there

Readers will recall that last year, we were looking at science writer Matt Williams’s analysis of the various reasons that we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. (See the links below.) Last time out in November, we looked at the Transcension Hypothesis: The extraterrestrial intelligences exist—but after a Singularity, they became virtual intelligences, exploring inner space at an undetectably small scale. Williams has reported since then on some additional hypotheses so this week we look at a more conventional approach — the “Ocean Worlds” Hypothesis, that icy planets may have interior oceans that harbor life: To illustrate, there’s the search for life that is going on right now in the Solar System, which is almost entirely focused on…

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Black man in bed suffering from insomnia and sleep disorder

Sci-fi Saturday: What If Sleep Were a Distant Memory?

In a world going mad and dying from insomnia, a young woman may have a cure

“Don’t Forget to Remember” at DUST by Tom Rotenberg (February 23, 2021, 14:50 min) “A young woman must traverse an alternate dimension in order to save the world from a fatal form of insomnia.” (A flashing lights warning is posted. One might add a language warning.) The big challenge in writing about insomnia is not to contribute to it. The harrowing opening scene of this film clears that bar. We are asked to picture a world in which all humans have gone eight months without sleep and will eventually die in consequence. The government rations sleeping pills but that can’t go on indefinitely. The woman who is chosen to save humanity is guided by the outwardly inaudible voices of those…

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Oumuamua is a mildly active comet, and the first interstellar object detected passing through the Solar System.

Astrobiologist Cautions Against Jumping the Gun in Spotting ET

Scientists he says, are cautious with good reason. There are many weird natural phenomena like Oumuamua out there.

At Nautilus, astrophysicist (and astrobiologist) Caleb A. Scharf offers some sobering reflections on the diligent search for extraterrestrial intelligences (ET) in recent decades: Despite this effort, there has been no evidence to date of extraterrestrial life. But that lack of evidence is not because the scientific enterprise is uniformly conservative, rigid, and close-minded, as implied by [astronomer Avi] Loeb and uncritically echoed by some columnists. It’s because no discovery or event has risen to the level where it is inexplicable in any other way. Could greater funding and support change that story? Perhaps, but the same could be said for almost any other ambitious scientific enterprise, and the answer cannot be known beforehand. Caleb Scharf, “The Alien-Haunted World” at Nautilus…

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A Group Of Large Radio Telescopes

Astrophysicist Warns: Aliens May Be Boring or Unreachable

Researchers are taking the emissions from the vicinity of exoplanet Proxima B seriously. But if it is truly a technological signal, what would follow?

Boring? How very un-Star Trek of them! But it’s possible, says Caleb A. Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University (pictured). He worries that, “Perhaps other life in the universe is, in the end, utterly dull.” Why might he think so? He is reflecting on the recent report of what may be a technological signal at roughly 982.002 MHz, coinciding with the direction of Proxima Centauri. If it is, what might the aliens turn out to be like? There’ll be some initial oddities, some curiosities that aren’t quite the things we planned for. A dull carrier wave signal for instance. Over time more evidence will show up, until eventually it’s clear that there are lots of species out there, puttering…

new technologies, a child uses a futuristic processor for augmented reality. high technology and communication concept. TV

Theoretical Physicist Argues, the Sim Universe Is Pseudoscience

It’s a lot of fun in science fiction and some scitech celebs buy in. But Sabine Hossenfelder and others explain why it’s fiction

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder does not like the notion that we are living in a giant computer sim. Elon Musk likes it (“Elon Musk says there’s a ‘one in billions’ chance reality is not a simulation”) and so does Neil deGrasse Tyson (“Neil deGrasse Tyson says it’s ‘very likely’ the universe is a simulation”). Philosopher of science Nick Bostrom advanced that view in a seminal 2003 paper in Philosophical Quarterly. Former Astronomer Royal Martin Rees is sympathetic to it. Some call it the Planetarium hypothesis, when it is cited as a reason we do not see intelligent extraterrestrials. One source offers “15 irrefutable reasons” why, like Neo in The Matrix (1999), we might be living in a universe that is…

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wooden toy model sitting on a bench

Sci-Fi Saturday: When Virtual Friends Are a Real Addiction

This animated short begins with the thirtieth birthday party of a rather glum young man

“Best Friend” at DUST by Nicholas Olivieri, Shen Yi, Juliana De Lucca, Varun Nair, David Feliu (Feb 16, 2021, 5:31) “In a near future, a lonely man is addicted to a product called Best Friend which offers him perfect virtual friends.” As is hinted in the title (so this is not a spoiler), we suddenly learn — via an effective plot maneuver — that all of the partying friends are virtual realities. I had already begun to wonder about the animated objects cheering along with the crowd but then maybe in the future our kitchenware will have enthusiasms … But no. It’s all in his head, as long as he keeps replenishing the supply of a chemical cocktail to a…

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Glowing yellow implant inside human head. Uses: medical, alien, future tech where monitoring and transmission of  biotelemetry is involved.

Sci-Fi Saturday: Watch What You Wish For. There IS a Tomorrow!

Carl, a lonely guy, is determined to proceed through the warning and try the Luvsik procedure, to make him fall in love at first sight

“Luvsik” at DUST by Norman Bertolino (February 29, 2021,5:00) “A man has a medical procedure done to experience love for the first time.” This short short starts out with a parody promo video for an off-standard medical treatment. It’s just the sort of promo that should — but alas, often doesn’t — send prospective patients fleeing back to their cars, then the freeway. So we know that, if Carl is unfazed, he is pretty serious about finding love. It’s also a clever way of providing the science basis for the story. No spoilers but Carl, the guy who wants the brain implant to cause him to fall in love at first sight, is told that in every case where the…

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Comb Jellyfish in the dark

Sci-Fi Saturday: We Have Met the Aliens and They Are Comb Jellies

The alien life form, when it appears, is very well imagined

Or something. Here’s “Seedling” at DUST, an Irish entry by Michael Donnelly V and Stevie Russell (October 22, 2020, 08:14 min) “Amidst a huge storm, a couple experience an encounter with an alien species.” The opening scene, showing a complete failure of technology (electricity, radio, telephone, car) and the resulting emotional collapse of the female lead, is a stark reminder of how dependent we are on technology today. A thousand years ago, no one would have noticed that anything was wrong, apart from a rather violent storm (which some might attribute to witchcraft, others to sin). The alien life form, when it appears, is very well imagined. It is not remotely what we might have expected (although there are life…

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A black cat plays with a robotic vacuum cleaner that cleans the floor.pet playing with robot vacuum cleaner

Sci-fi Saturday: The Disabled Robot Vet Gets a Job Grooming Cats

Definitely worth your five minutes, in part in order to see what cartoonists can do in sci-fi with animated stills.

“A Robot is a Robot” at DUST by Danish cartoonists Emil Friis Ernst and Nilas Røpke Driessen (February 2, 2021, 05:49 min) tells a tale: “A disabled robot war veteran finds its home among humans in the tender care of an old lady, and her hair salon for cats.” The story is told, intriguingly, as a series of cartoon stills and animated stills, beginning with the robot veteran begging on the sidewalk, whereupon the old lady takes him in. The robot floats on a single wheel and has a body like a metal tea cozy — a nice change from the more “android” type. She employs the robot to groom cats, who seem to appreciate his work, until he encounters…