Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryArts & Culture

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Padlock, China flag on a smartphone and China map, symbolizing the Great Firewall of China concept or GFW and all extreme Internet censorship in China

The Academy Award Goes to… 404

Chinese citizens were suddenly no longer allowed to know of an Oscar for Best Director won by a Beijing-born woman, let alone see the film

As the hoopla from the 92nd Academy Awards last weekend fades, if you search for “Chloe Zhao” on Google, you’ll discover a curious thing: She is the first Asian director and second female director to win an Academy Award for best director, for her film Nomadland. Search for “Chloe Zhao” or her Chinese name, “Zhao Ting,” on Baidu in China and you’ll find “only scattered links to deleted articles about the Academy Award honor” (Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2021). Posts on Weibo and WeChat congratulating her were removed within minutes of the announcement of her win for best director. Rewriting the story in the U.S. Zhao (pictured) was born in Beijing, went to a boarding school in the U.K.,…

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Big brother

How Orwell’s 1984 Can Be Seen As an Argument for God’s Existence

Atheism is not only fundamental to the power of the Party in 1984 but is also its central weakness

University of Nebraska political science prof Carson Holloway (pictured) asks, “Does discrediting the existence of God promote enlightened thinking or a lack of objective reality?” Unpacking the social structure in George Orwell’s classic totalitarian dystopia, 1984 (1949), he observes that not only does the Party have the power of life and death but the atheistic Party faithful fear death as utter annihilation: Atheism is the moral basis of the Party’s unlimited hold on its own members because it makes them terrified of death as absolute nonexistence. Like any government, the Party in 1984 has the power to kill disobedient subjects. Party members, however, view death not just as the end of bodily life, but as a complete erasure of their…

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Visualization of Painted Dream

Sci-fi Saturday: “Limbo” Profiles a Future Approach to Punishment

The convict must live in a vision, induced during a coma, as the victim (or bereft loved one), in an attempt to rehabilitate him by teaching empathy

“Limbo” (2020) at DUST by Andrew Morris and Rob Silva (April 8, 2021 at DUST, 24:21) “One man’s search for his kidnapped daughter causes his reality to unravel.” A most interesting premise: In the future, there are no prisons. There are no institutions with high walls and barred cells. Instead, the convicted are placed into a coma and forced to live out their sentence within a dream, with reality inverted, as the victim of their own crime. You killed someone’s wife? Your sentence is a life where your spouse has been taken from you, leaving you to toil in grief and mental anguish. But for ‘inmates’ who are wrongfully convicted, and are forced to live in their punishing alternate reality…

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alien portrait with stars

SETI Director Warns: Those Aliens Could Be Malevolent

Harvard astronomer agrees: We’ve sent a lot of signals in recent years; they may have got them. But now what?

As the Mars Rover Perseverance bumps around looking for fossil bacteria and such, many students of possible ET life are becoming surprisingly cautious about what it might mean: “We have no reason to believe that technological advancement and altruism or morality are somehow linked,” SETI researcher Andrew Siemion told Inverse. “There probably are malevolent civilizations elsewhere in the universe so that’s certainly something that we should consider as we continue to explore the universe.” Siemion, who’s the director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and principal of the alien-hunting Breakthrough Listen project, is invoking a tension at the heart of any project searching for alien life. Successfully finding it would change the world — but there’s also no guarantee humanity…

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Sci-fi Saturday: New NBC X-files Clone “Debris” Feels Disjointed

Perhaps that’s intentional, though many critics aren’t getting it yet

Debris by J. H. Wyman (TV series, 2021, 13 episodes): “Two agents from two different continents, and two different mindsets, must work together to investigate why.” Debris, J. H. Wyman’s third major foray into science fiction (Fringe, and Almost Human being the others), seems to be getting a cool reception from critics and viewers alike. But maybe it needs time to coalesce. However, time and a forgiving audience are in short supply these days in the crowded entertainment landscape. The show’s premise is that an alien spacecraft has broken up in our solar system and crashed to earth, creating the “Debris” of the title. Of course, these artifacts cause strange “advanced technology” effects (not magic) and our government agents must…

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Flying Car, Future Air Car 3d Concept, Futuristic Vehicle In The City,  Car Concept - 3D Rendering

Sci-fi Saturday: What If Futurism Doesn’t Mean Smarter People?

Comic scenes would dot the aerial landscape, dispelling the usual earnestness of sci-fi films

“Floaters” at DUST by Karl Poyzer and Joseph Roberts (March 25, 2021, 4:03 min) “High in the sky of a sci-fi metropolis a lone spaceship is confronted by a much larger and more intimidating vessel. When the bigger ship asks the small one why they share the same identification number a strange quandary forms and a mile-high debate ensues.” This comic short (4 min) makes clear that a futurist landscape need not be inhabited by evolved superheroes or philosophical aliens. It could be inhabited by the same sort of people the traffic cop stops every day. Or denser. This animated film uses architectural rather than cartoon style. It also uses a technique too often neglected these days*: We hear the…

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3d render dinosaur.

Neuralink Cofounder: We Can Bring “Exotic” Dinosaurs To Life Now

Whether Max Hodak can do that or not, many scientists ponder, when SHOULD we try to bring back extinct species?

Neuralink is currently best known for brain-computer interfaces, including a test monkey playing pong ball with his mind. But Elon Musk’s co-founder Max Hodak has a bigger idea: Breed and engineer “super exotic novel species”of dinosaurs: “We could probably build Jurassic Park if we wanted to,” Hodak tweeted on Saturday. “Wouldn’t be genetically authentic dinosaurs but [shrugging emoji]. Maybe 15 years of breeding + engineering to get super exotic novel species.” Dan Robitzski, “Neuralink Co-founder Says We Have the Tech to Build An Actual Jurassic Park” at Futurism Any life forms that resulted from dino DNA studies would not be “genetically authentic” dinosaurs because we don’t have living dinosaur sexual cells to work with. They might, however, be more or…

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Businessman working with skeleton in office

Sci-fi Saturday: When “The Workplace” Is Anything But

The short film (less than 10 min) starts with a woman reassuring herself, unsettlingly, “I AM the boss”

“The Workplace” at DUST by Carlyn Hudson (April 1, 2021, 9:32 min) We’ve been warned: “You are very qualified.” For what though? “In a future economy subsumed by technological employment, humans continue to find meaning through their ‘work’ — where the lucky ones get to show up to an “office” from 9-5 and live out their mundane workplace fantasies.” This sci-fi short will appeal to many who have had a job at the corner of Rat and Race and sense that’s a blessing compared to the alternative. It starts with a woman reassuring herself, “I AM the boss,” and cuts to her interviewing a job candidate who seems off-putting at first but appears qualified — and then things get weird.…

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Surprised nerd student

Fermat’s Last Tango: Lively Musical For Nerds

The ghost of Fermat and other giants from the Aftermath Club help (frustrate?) a mathematician’s effort to prove Fermat’s famous Last Theorem

If you are a nerd, the musical Fermat’s Last Tango (2001) is hilarious. Mathematician Pierre de Fermat proposed his last theorem around 1637. He wrote a note in the margin of a copy of Arithmetica, a book written by a 3rd-century Alexandrian mathematician, Diophantus. Fermat’s short scribble claimed that he could prove that a specific Diophantine equation had no solution. But whatever Fermat was thinking died with him in 1665. A proof of Fermat’s last theorem eluded mathematicians over 300 years until Princeton’s Andrew Wiles proved it in 1995. Fermat’s Last Tango is a fantasy account of Wiles’s life while he was working on the proof. The play is a musical sprinkled with nerdy inside jokes. For example, part of…

Mars terraforming step (Elements of this image furnished by NASA). 3D rendering
Mars terraforming step (Elements of this image furnished by NASA). 3D rendering

Sci-fi Saturday: When Terraforming Mars Means Mars-forming People

In this award-winner, the underground humans must, according to the terraforming colony's rules, deny emotion, which pretty much guarantees a story

“New Mars” at DUST by Susie Jones (March 30, 2021, 19:14 min) Earth is no more. A new generation lives underground on Mars preparing to begin a new life as the colonists of a planet which is being terraformed into a new habitable world. ‘New Mars’ is a society driven by science and logic to ensure humans will not make the same destructive decisions this time round. But two young hopefuls struggle with the intensity of their feelings – which inadvertently propels them towards an unexpected truth about their existence. (IMDB) “New Mars” premiered in 2019 and has won a number of awards. It conveys the claustrophobia of an underground world where death rules the planet’s surface. Life on a…

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Closeup of woman's hands holding windup toy, selective focus

Before Digital: The World’s Most Amazing Windup Toys

Before electronics, there was mechanics — and it’s amazing what human ingenuity can do with a simple windup mechanism

Windup toys were what we had before we had electricity and robotics. Some very elaborate ones were designed by clockmakers, starting in the late sixteenth century. Most of these clever clockworks, if they survived at all, survive only as faithful replicas. In order of approximate dates, here are some that did — remarkable testimonies to human skill, artistry, and cleverness: 1560s: One of the earliest is a mechanical monk: “The lore surrounding the monk is that King Philip II, son of Charles V, commissioned [clockmaker Juanelo] Turriano to create the penitent automaton after Philip’s son had recovered from a deathly illness. The king of Spain had prayed for his son’s recovery, promising a miracle for a miracle, and this machine…

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saturn and moon in the sky of a barren landscape

Sci-fi Saturday: “The Big Nothing” melds sci-fi and whodunit

The combination of the sci-fi and detective genres takes some skill to pull off but this Australian crew succeeds

“The Big Nothing” at DUST by Sharptooth Pictures (March 4, 2021, 37.54) “When the captain of an isolated mining station near Saturn is murdered, Detective Lennox is sent to investigate the three remaining crew members. Centered around a series of interrogations and flashback, Lennox discovers that everyone has a motive to kill. With otherworldly threats approaching and the killer amongst them, will everybody make it off the station?” “The Big Nothing,” a sci-fi detective drama, actually premiered in 2018 as a TV miniseries. The combination of the sci-fi and detective genres takes some skill to pull off. Both genres feature conventions that producers ignore at the story’s peril. For example, sci-fi should feature science. Of course the story can be…

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Surrealistic image with a man lost in time, standing in a foggy street in front of huge clocks set to different times. Hour perception and time travel concept.

Sci-fi Saturday: Can We Live In More Than the Present Moment?

When a tech entrepreneur succeeds with time travel, he gets trapped in his own past errors

“Container” at DUST by Film Platter (February 23, 2021, 24:42) “The creator of a time machine becomes trapped inside his own creation where he must figure out the timing of his mistakes.” (Scenes of gruesome suffering so caution re kids.) In this Australian entry, time travelers need a container to isolate the effects of themselves and of time travel on the outside world. On this principle, an inventor finds a way to make time travel work — sort of. Or so he thinks. He achieves six minutes backward. But then he notices two things: The machine is continuing to count backward and there are drops of blood on the floor. He understates, “I’ve missed something here.” Then he notices he…

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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…