Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

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Newton's Cradle with red ball

Sci-fi Saturday: A Girl With Kinetic Powers Faces a Choice

Should she help relatives with activities she knows to be wrong?

“Kinetic” at DUST by Kylie Eaton (February 4, 2021, 05:05 min) “When Aunt Drea solicits her help with criminal activities, young Jess’s emotions spin out of control, releasing powers she’d rather keep hidden.” This “short” short film is well executed. The rural ambience is quite realistic. But “Kinetic” breaks a fundamental rule of sci-fi. For sci-fi to be a classification in art or literature, the key requirement is that the powers or circumstances must have a basis in science. None is offered here except the assertion that the girl inherited the powers from her mother and grandmother. That’s a viable idea in tales of the supernatural but not in science fiction. We have not established how the kinetic powers came…

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High-Ranking Military Man holds a Briefing to a Team of Government Agents and Politicians, Shows Satellite Surveillance Footage.

Sci-fi Saturday Books: Will World War III Be the U.S. vs. China?

One thing that is certain is that it will be a cyber war

Wired Magazine devoted its entire February 2021 issue to the first four chapters of a book depicting a near-future dystopia in which the U.S. goes to war with China. You can read the first part of the book here. The authors of 2034: A Novel of the New World War have military backgrounds and were inspired by Cold War literature that speculated on the worst-case scenario if the U.S. and Russia had gone to war. The reason for the Wired editors’ interest is that 2034 is no ordinary thriller. Admiral James Stavridis comes with a wealth of experience in how such a conflict might play out. He is a retired four-star U.S. naval officer who has received numerous medals and…

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Asteroid near Earth

Sci-fi Saturday: An Asteroid Lingers Near Earth and Devours Time

Or, at any rate, it devours our perception of time, as one man discovers

“Flyby,” a short sci-fi film at DUST by Jesse Mittelstadt (January 28, 2021 13:22 min) “When a passing asteroid begins to affect how people perceive time, one man struggles to keep up with a life that is quickly disappearing into the future.” Note: Language and mature scenes warning. When watching the opening sequence of “Flyby,” it’s hard not to think of space cigarillo Oumuamua, for which Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb made the case that it was an extraterrestrial lightsail. Loeb has recently published a book on these and similar reflections, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (January 26, 2021). Back to the film, which takes quite a different tack, of course, addressing altered perceptions…

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UFO, alien spaceship in orbit of planet Earth, extraterrestrials from outer space in flying saucer

Will China Find Alien Life First? A Chinese Astronomer Says Yes

Whether either American or Chinese astronomers find anything, it will certainly be an interesting race

One Chinese astronomer, Tong-Jie Zhang, is working on it: In China, Zhang was tirelessly lobbying Chinese authorities to access FAST for his own research. Only recently was he granted the ability to use the telescope through the National Astronomical Observatories’ association. Initially, Zhang and his students had to conduct their observations at FAST while the telescope observed other targets, not allowing him to choose the areas he wanted. But after collaborating with Werthimer and students from the SETI Research Center on a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, Chinese officials eventually allowed Zhang a window of time with the telescope to shortlist specific solar systems that he and his collaborators believe can most likely harbor intelligent life. Over the next…

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Safety equipment, Life buoy or rescue buoy floating on sea to rescue people from drowning man.

Sci-fi Saturday: Rescuing Lost People

Animated, in French, with English subtitles, but don't let that deter you

Here’s a very new (January 26, 2021), very short (5:41 min) animated video from Valérie Bousquie, Joséphine Meis, Côme Roy, Antoine Vignon, and Benjamin Warnitz. In a wild an inhabited desert, a team of rangers is in charge of rescuing people who got lost there. The film is in French with English subtitles (and the promo copy could have used an English-speaking editor). It’s not clear why it is science fiction and I found the story a little hard to understand. But the professional relationships sound pretty real and make it worth the watch. Note: Someone reviewed the film at Filmnosis, commenting, “Staged in a desert, a lot of work has been dedicated to environment and character design, polished framing,…

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KI abstraktes Gesicht. Neuronales Netzwerk & maschinelles lernen. Verarbeiten von riesigen Datenmengen. IoT, DeepFake, Virtueller Assistent. 3d Illustration Hintergrund

Can Deepfakes Substitute for Actors?

Would you care if the actor is a real person or not?

When our Walter Bradley Center director, Robert J. Marks, was discussing with Eric Holloway the events that really made a difference in AI, one very interesting issue that came up was the use of deepfakes to substitute for actors in films. Robert J. Marks: Eric, how is Disney using deep fakes in entertainment? Eric Holloway: Well, Disney is using deep fakes and entertainment as a way to capitalize on not having to hire lots of really expensive actors. So you can have a few expensive actors, they do their thing, and then you copy their body movements and face. And now you can just hire a bunch of cheap actors and stick the expensive actors faces on them. Or you…

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Walking difficulties. Aged bearded man leaning on his walking stick while thinking about his helplessness

Sci-fi Saturday: A Robot Helps an Old Fellow Rediscover Life

The robot is very well done and how he gets a name is charming

The short sci-fi film, “This Time Away” (13:23) is by Magali Barbe Nigel is an elderly man living as a recluse, haunted by his past and memory of the family he once had, until an unexpected visitor arrives and disrupts his lonely routine. No spoiler, the visitor is a robot, abandoned by children in his back yard. The relationships seem a bit unrealistic. Lots of people abandon their elderly relatives, of course. But we are being asked to believe that a robot was the big solution. In this case, it feels like magic. Well, watch it and see what you think. The robot is done really nicely. Worth watching. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci-fi Saturday:…

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Grownup daughter soothe aged mother holds her hand feeling empathy

Sci-fi Saturday: What If an Old Man Could See His Mother Again?

It is a hard film to watch if you lost a loved one, but worthwhile

A bit sad but worth seeing. (4:01 min from Nick Naum & Csaba Nagy) An old man, with a receding memory, pays to view synthetic recreations of his mother and childhood. I had a hard time watching this film because I would so like to see my parents (who died in their nineties) again, especially when they were young. But I can tell you this: My father once got a call from the country for old men. In case you ever wondered, yes, it’s real. It’s too bad if some people are scamming about it. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci Fi Saturday: A fight for the winning ticket In a 2040 superstorm, engulfing the planet,…

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Flush royal in poker player hand. Lucky winner.

AI Smash Hits #2 To Win AI-Run Poker Humans Must Find Blind Spots

Each pro separately played 5,000 hands of poker against five copies of Pluribus and Pluribus won. Now this, in itself, was an astonishing result.

Our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks is back with the second instalment of 2020 smash hits in AI. Readers may recall that we offered a fun series during the holidays about the oopses and ums and ers in the discipline (typically hyped by uncritical sources). This time, Dr. Marks talks with Eric Holloway about AI programs that can beat humans at poker. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-117-Eric-Holloway-Jonathan-Bartlett.mp3 Our story begins at 16:36. Here’s a partial transcript. (Show Notes and Additional Resources follow, along with a link to the complete transcript.) Robert J. Marks: Carnegie Mellon and Facebook AI beats professionals in six player poker. This result astonished me. I have always heard poker players say that poker is not a game of…

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Artificial intelligence and future technologies. Mixed media

Researchers: It Would Be Impossible To Control Super AI

But is superintelligent AI really possible? Some experts are skeptical

From the media release for a recent paper: The idea of artificial intelligence overthrowing humankind has been talked about for many decades, and scientists have just delivered their verdict on whether we’d be able to control a high-level computer super-intelligence. The answer? Almost definitely not. The catch is that controlling a super-intelligence far beyond human comprehension would require a simulation of that super-intelligence which we can analyse. But if we’re unable to comprehend it, it’s impossible to create such a simulation. David Nield, “Calculations Show It’ll Be Impossible to Control a Super-Intelligent AI” at Science Alert The open access research study is here. First, the idea that machines can design smarter machines should be treated with skepticism: maybe we are…

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Lucky Numbers

Sci Fi Saturday: A fight for the winning ticket

In a 2040 superstorm, engulfing the planet, a young woman gets hold of a ticket out

Our next sci fi short is “Here comes Frieda”: (Ripple Effect, 7:34 min) As yet another superstorm bears down on a desperate, weary city in the year 2040, a young woman seeks to redeem her winning sweepstakes ticket for a better life in a low Earth orbit paradise. This film is the ultimate environmental dystopia (no spoilers). It works to the extent that it portrays real characters. The building maintenance man is especially good. Because it is a very short film the filmmakers need not address the question of just why the environment apocalypse is so dire. Nature has a way of rebalancing itself; this has been true since the beginning of life on Earth. The problem with environment damage…

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life on planet Mars, astronaut discovers bacterial life on the surface of a rock

At Scientific American: The Aliens Could Be Extremely Boring

Well, we can’t be sure, can we? It’s literally a whole other world

Okay, it’s just a thought. But what if all the interesting stuff is happening in our own imaginations? Caleb Scharf is a University of Columbia astrobiologist and here is his view: 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 around in their own little neighborhoods and doing nothing truly extraordinary, because those possibilities were, in the end, more the product of our lively imaginations than anything that the universe compels life towards. Of course, I’m being a little facetious, the first discovery of life of any…

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Scrap recycling plant, Crane grabber, pile metal to recycle

Sci Fi Saturday: Terrified by a Scrap Monster

Well, if you have never been terrified by a Scrap Monster, you are clearly missing out

Here’s “Pinki” by Spike Hyunsuk Kim (11:08 min) On a back street, a scrap monster makes a sudden lunge at a man. A pink-haired girl helps him, and their future is down to whether he remembers her. No surprise, she is a girl from his high school past. The production values are well done but it’s not clear if this is strictly sci-fi. The scrap monster tormenting the fellow seems right out of folklore rather than sci-fi. That said, it’s fun watching a middle class South Korean business executive try to cope with the Scrap Monster. An agreeable short. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci Fi Saturday: What if there were serious wars over clouds? In…

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Picture of puckered lips

AI 2020 Smash hits #5: Deepfakes — What They Can and Can’t Do

Deepfakes? Our minds often actually fill in a lot of our background for us when we are not even aware of it

Our Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks is back with Jonathan Bartlett and Eric Holloway, are back, with the second instalment of 2020 smash hits in AI. Readers may recall that we offered a fun series during the holidays about the oopses and ums and ers in the discipline (typically hyped by uncritical sources). Time to celebrate the real achievements! Well, our nerds think that #5 is believable deep fakes in entertainment, for better or worse Here’s a partial transcript. (Show Notes and Additional Resources follow, along with a link to the complete transcript.) Robert J. Marks: Jon, what are deep fakes and what is Disney doing that’s going to wow us? Jonathan Bartlett: People are worried about the…

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dramatic sunset over cracked earth. Desert landscape background.

Sci Fi Saturday: What If There Were Serious Wars Over Clouds?

In a world that still has technology but is desperately short of water, that could happen

In “The Oceanmaker” (9:40 min, January 20, 2018) by Martell Animation, “After the seas have disappeared, a courageous pilot fights against vicious sky pirates for control of the last remaining source of water: the clouds.” The animation is well done. But character questions arise. The unnamed pilot seems very nervous. She succeeds in fighting off the water pirates who have clever methods for capturing the world’s remaining water from a remaining cloud. But it’s not clear why she is cast in the role. There are people out there who are much more comfortable with conflict. It’s also unclear why, in a devastated, waterless world, all that technology is still available (what about food, fuel, etc.?) However, the nice thing about…

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Old Vintage Arcade Video Games in an empty dark gaming room with blue light with glowing displays and beautiful retro design

Sci Fi Saturday: Can Video Games Save a Lone Survivor?

The film features fine animations of apocalyptic scenes of post-civilization

In “High Score” (3:50 min) by Adrien Vallade, Lou Maurice De Reparaz, Brian Lim, Elodie Ferrer, Pablo Cortes, “In a post-apocalyptic world, a man takes refuge in an arcade.” This is a very short “short” from a French company. The animation scenes of ruin are very well done. Not wholly clear why the video arcade manages to work without a reliable power system but every film is allowed one improbable incident (only one). At any rate (no spoilers), the wholly lone guy actually finds an opponent to play the game with. Some of us would have liked the film to be longer and more complex. What if the opposing player were an intelligent alien or an elemental force? The film…

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translation, business, and technology concept - male translator or businessman with laptop computer thinking at office over greeting words in different foreign languages

#10 AI Success!: Translation Gets Faster and Better

Machine translation, properly used, can help us communicate better

Once again, our Walter Bradley Center director, Robert J. Marks, is back with Jonathan Bartlett and Eric Holloway —this time to to discuss real advances in AI in 2020. Readers may recall that we offered a fun series during the holidays about some of the oopses and ums and ers in the discipline (typically hyped by uncritical sources). Now it’s time to celebrate the real achievements! Let’s start with how machine translation, properly used, can help us communicate better. https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-116-Jonathan-Bartlett-Eric-Holloway.mp3 Our story begins at 03:11. Here’s a partial transcript. (Show Notes and Additional Resources follow, along with a link to the complete transcript.) Robert J. Marks: Okay, let’s get started with the countdown of AI smash hits of the last…

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astronaut looking at the alien tentacles coming out of the portal, digital art style, illustration painting

Researchers: We Don’t See ETs Because They Are All Dead

According to some NASA researchers, they may have destroyed themselves

A recent NASA study suggests that most extraterrestrial civilizations have died out. : The statement comes from researchers with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the California Institute of Technology and Santiago High School who used an updated version of an equation to calculate the likely existence of intelligent life and determined aliens may have emerged some eight billion years after our galaxy formed. With these results, the team included the idea that progress of science and technology inevitably leads to the destruction of civilizations and because humans have yet to make contact outside our planet, scientists now think they know why… ‘If intelligent life is likely to destroy themselves, it is not surprising that there is little or no intelligent life…

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Sci Fi Saturday: Can a Robot Find a Better Planet Than Earth

The trouble is, the robot is governed by Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics

In “Avarya” (19:30 min) by Gökalp Gönen (English subtitles) an elderly human fleeing Earth seeking a new habitable planet is trapped in his own ship after the robot overseer finds every single candidate planet unsuitable. The robot’s behavior is based strictly on Isaac Asimov’s’s Laws of Robotics: First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. And it’s a dark and witty…

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Close encounters of the third kind. Unidentified objects coming from space. Contact with extraterrestrials UFO.

Science Writer Warns: Contact With Aliens Might Not Turn Out Well

Lockett doesn’t say we shouldn’t explore; it’s more of a warning

Will Lockett offers some pessimistic thoughts: It is 100% possible that our cosmic neighbours might have no empathy at all, hunt us for sport, have tribal wars, regular duals to the death or ritualistically kill foreign organisms for religious reasons. So rather than being overrun by the galactic version of the British, it might be more like the Klingons or Predator (Ridley Scott). They may even be like the Vogons from Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy and see Earth as something in the way that needs to be demolished. Will Lockett, “Should We Meet Aliens?” at Medium Lockett doesn’t say we shouldn’t explore; it’s more of a warning: If by some miracle there is a civilisation a few lightyears…