Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis



Brain for Hire: The Internet Makes Academic Cheating Much Easier

Dave Tomar, who wrote essays for students for hire for a decade, then wrote a book about it, thinks 40% of students cheat at least once

For many years, Dave Tomar was that bane that universities always claim to be doing something about but can’t (or anyway never) do — an essay writer for hire. Wait. Wasn’t the internet supposed to end cheating? The search engine reveals all, right?… No. Read on. In The Complete Guide to Contract Cheating in Higher Education (Academic Influence, 2022), Tomar, long a freelance writer and now a plagiarism expert, explains: Yes, that happened when Google because the default search engine in 2000 and the usual copy-paste and essay mill methods no longer worked. But… Cheaters and their enablers would just need to get more creative. If, before, there were just online repositories of essays and the people who curated them,…

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Researchers: Learning by Inference Beats Learning by Association

They found that seeing the patterns underlying events (inference) allowed test volunteers to make predictions about future events

When we learn by association, we notice that some things occur together. For example, suppose three items are frequently seen together on a kitchen table — salt, ketchup, and vinegar. So we might learn to associate salt and vinegar with ketchup. But what, if any, is the relationship? When we infer information about the world around us, we don’t just associate items with each other. We see the pattern underlying them. By seeing the pattern in the group of condiments, we learn more: In this case, we infer that dinner will likely be fish and chips. If the group had been plum sauce, soya sauce, and Sriracha sauce, we would infer that fish and chips won’t be served this time;…

African American smiling woman math teacher stands at black board with pointer.

Reviving the Relational View of Mathematics

Unfortunately, some textbooks teach number rules rather than relationships, so students may not know why the rule matters

While helping a friend’s teenage son with math, I was perusing the textbook used. I was dismayed by the presentation of the topic of translating graphs. More than that, I believe the issue reflects some general problems with how mathematics is typically presented to high school students. Specifically, the text addressed how to do graph transformations for exponential functions. That is, if you have a function with the form y = a ⋅ bx (where a and b are constants), how would you create a new equation whose graph was moved up, down, left, or right? The method the book proposed, while technically correct, misses a huge opportunity to help students. The book presents a general form for transforming exponential…

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Young man writing college or university application form with pen and paper. Student applying or filling document. Scholarship, grant or admission. School website in laptop.

The Scandal of US News College Rankings

The rankings are very important to many students’ futures — but that makes them easy subjects of manipulation

At Academic Influence, we learn: The U.S. News rankings are flawed. But are they better than nothing? True, they’ve led to a standardization of how certain college data are presented. Moreover, they are useful to high school students whose college counselors are absent or unavailable — if only to get some broad sense of which schools are good and which are better. But on balance, the U.S. News rankings make higher education worse. Schools are motivated to “game” the U.S. News rankings, introducing superficial and even counterproductive changes that raise their ranking but do nothing to provide a better education for students or a more productive environment for faculty. Worse yet, some schools will simply lie to U.S. News to…

Girl solving mathematical addition

No, Civilization Has NOT Won the War on Math. Not Yet Anyway…

The war on math is now coming down to the race — not the ideas — of mathematicians

Legal scholar Jonathan Turley muses on the latest assault on math teaching in schools: We previously discussed the view of University of Rhode Island and Director of Graduate Studies of History Erik Loomis that “Science, statistics, and technology are all inherently racist.” Others have agreed with that view, including denouncing math as racist or a “tool of whiteness.” Now, as part of its “decolonization” efforts, Durham University is calling on professors in the math department to ask themselves if they’re citing work from “mostly white or male” mathematicians. According to the Telegraph and The College Fix a guide instructs faculty that “decolonising the mathematical curriculum means considering the cultural origins of the mathematical concepts, focusses, and notation we most commonly use.”  It adds: “[T]he question of whether we have allowed…

We studied together now were graduating together. Portrait of a group of students taking selfies on graduation day.

Historically Black Colleges/Universities Crush School Rankings

According to a new metric that rewards per-dollar effectiveness as opposed to the benefits of lavish endowments, they took three spots out of the top five

While popular rankings of colleges and universities — like that of U.S. News and World Report — have always been top secret, journalist Malcolm Gladwell, working with a team of Reed College researchers, managed to “crack the code.” And, as Academic Influence tells it, an unhappy truth emerged: What troubled Gladwell is that schools like Dillard University and Reed College could never, given the way college rankings were set up, receive the recognition they deserved. The whole ranking system was rigged against them. Gladwell focused especially on Dillard University, an HBCU [historically Black college or university] in New Orleans. By making its mission to serve underserved populations, Dillard was, in effect, getting penalized by U.S. News & World Report, which puts a premium in its…

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What Do We Want With Mathematics Curriculum?

If we are going to dedicate such a large portion of our children's lives to learning mathematics, we had better know why

Modern policy discussions in America almost always leave out the biggest question – why are we doing what we are doing in the first place? Leaving out first principles always leaves people trying to find the most practical way to accomplish nothing in particular. We have become accustomed to not asking questions about first principles because they always sound too doctrinaire, but then we wind up, at best, making the misplaced assumption that everyone is reaching for the same goal, or, far worse, viewing the activities themselves as the goals. One place where this problem repeatedly rears its ugly head is education, and especially mathematics education. Why are we teaching math? What do we want people to get out of…

Texture of multi-colored sweet marshmallows. Marshmallows candy for background.

Can Waiting for a Marshmallow Predict a Child’s Future?

Believing so was all the rage in recent decades but later research didn’t back up the idea

You’ve maybe heard of Stanford University’s “marshmallow experiment,” right? A child’s future can be predicted, we were told by psychologist Walter Mischel (1930–2018), by whether the child can delay gratification: Walter Mischel’s pioneering research at Bing in the late 1960s and early 1970s famously explored what enabled preschool-aged children to forgo immediate gratification in exchange for a larger but delayed reward… This research identified some of the key cognitive skills, strategies, plans and mindsets that enable self-control. If the children focused on the “hot” qualities of the temptations (e.g., “The marshmallows are sweet, chewy, yummy”), they soon rang the bell to bring the researcher back. If they focused on their abstract “cool” features (“The marshmallows are puffy and round like…

Aerial view over Cupertino in Bay Area, California on a sunny day.

Is It Really the End for Silicon Valley or Just a Reboot?

A COSM 2021 panel looked at the effect of remote work, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, on iconic locations like the Valley

“Is It the End for Silicon Valley?” was one of the discussions at COSM 2021 (2:00 pm, Wednesday, November 11, 2021). It featured Babak Parviz, Vice President of Amazon Inc. but best known as the inventor of Google Glass, who served as moderator Lynne Robinson, mayor of the City of Bellevue Walter Myers III, Principal Engineering Manager at Microsoft, and Bob Metcalfe, Engineer, Entrepreneur, and Professor of Innovation. The conversation turned on whether, in the internet age, one needs to work in any specific locality, like Silicon Valley. Some of their comments relating to where people will live in relation to their work and the problems they will face are transcribed below: Work where you live or live where you…

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Why Influence Matters More Than People Realize

How do we go from defending ourselves to persuading others?

7 From Apologetics to Rhetoric During my years as a seminary professor, every course I taught had some connection with apologetics. One of the courses I taught that I liked best was rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Unfortunately, it is an art that Christian apologetics has failed to fully appropriate. Aristotle rightly distinguished three appeals of persuasion. These were logos, ethos, and pathos. You can try to persuade by logical argument. That’s logos, and Christian apologetics is hypertrophied in that department. But you can also try to persuade by the force of your personality, or by your reputation for moral probity, or by your demonstrated expertise and qualifications. That’s ethos, and it speaks to your standing and credibility in the act of persuasion.…

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Red arrows to go left or to go right

What If Your Schooling Meant an AI Telling You What To Do?

Lee and Chen are techno-optimists. They recognize the benefits of innovative technologies while acknowledging its inherent limitations and societal costs

Author, CEO of Sinovation Ventures, and former head of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, shared with COSM 2021 his predictions for the future of AI. His presentation drew from his book AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future, co-authored with prominent science fiction writer Chen Quifan. AI 2041 offers seven short stories that explore the ethical and societal implications of machine-learning technologies on various industries, such as manufacturing, art, and education. The last three chapters address potential societal and geopolitical issues raised by artificial intelligence. Each short story includes an “analysis” section, authored by Lee, which delves into the issues raised by the story and its characters. Lee and Chen are techno-optimists. They recognize the benefits of innovative technologies while acknowledging…

Alma Mater statue near the Columbia University library.

Should You Choose a College Based on Well-Known Rankings?

What goes into those rankings? Big Data has enabled newer ranking systems that may tell you more of what you need to know

Yesterday, philosopher of science Bruce Gordon interviewed physicist Jed Macosko and law professor Jeff Stake about how to read college rankings. What, exactly, lies behind those numbers, especially the ones from the iconic U.S. News & World Report? Are they something you can bank on or something you should know more about first? Macosko and Stake think you should know more. As Gordon’s introduction puts it, rankings are big business and can lead to outright fraud: A recent stark example of the financial implications of college and university rankings is the case of Moshe Porat, former dean of Temple University’s Fox Business School. Porat was convicted on November 29, 2021 of engaging in a fraudulent scheme to move the business…


Is Truth Just What Your Peers Will Let You Get Away With Saying?

Sound, logical thinking is NOT the norm. Many people, anxious to remain in good standing with leaders and influencers, live quite happily with incoherence and inconsistencies

Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski offered an analysis of Christian apologetics (defense of Christian beliefs), “Making Apologetics an Effective Instrument for Cultural Engagement” at the Evangelical Philosophical Society meeting “Reasonable Faith in an Uncertain World” (November 19, 2021). His discussion raises broad issues around how a culture assesses and understands truth. Republished with permission here in four parts. Below is the second portion, “3 Giving Culture Its Due” and “4 The Worldview Audit and Its Limitations” (The first portion is “1 The Unfulfilled Promise of Christian Apologetics” and “2 Truth Is Never Enough”) 3 Giving Culture Its Due We inhabit not merely a physical environment but also a cultural environment. Our cultural environment sets boundaries for what we may think,…

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What Makes Arguments for God Convincing — or Not

Is truth enough? A look at the unfulfilled promise of Christian apologetics

Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski offered an analysis of Christian apologetics (defense of Christian beliefs), “Making Apologetics an Effective Instrument for Cultural Engagement” at the Evangelical Philosophical Society meeting “Reasonable Faith in an Uncertain World” (November 19, 2021). His discussion raises broad issues around how a culture assesses and understands truth. Republished with permission in four parts. The first part is “1 The Unfulfilled Promise of Christian Apologetics” and “2 Truth Is Never Enough.” 1 The Unfulfilled Promise of Christian Apologetics I’ve been writing professionally in the field of Christian apologetics now for over 30 years. In fact, looking at my CV, I see that one of my very first publications in apologetics (an article titled “Inconvenient Facts: Miracles and…

Black female student in front of chalkboard

If Reality Is Fundamentally Mathematical, Why the War on Math?

Just as physicists are recognizing the mathematical nature of reality more clearly, the basic idea of getting math right is under fire in our schools

Sam Baron, a philosophy prof at Australian Catholic University, whose specialty is the philosophy of mathematics, argues in a new paper that mathematics is not a human invention. It gives structure to the world we live in. We simply observe it. So do many life forms, it seems. He offers an example: There are two subspecies of North American periodical cicadas that live most of their lives in the ground. Then, every 13 or 17 years (depending on the subspecies), the cicadas emerge in great swarms for a period of around two weeks. Why is it 13 and 17 years? Why not 12 and 14? Or 16 and 18? One explanation appeals to the fact that 13 and 17 are…

Thank You

Search Engines: Closing the Gap for Minority Languages

Thousands of the world’s languages are spoken by fewer than 100,000 people. At COSM 2021, Phil Parker outlined a plan for giving them access to information

We’ve all consulted “Dr. Google” for a health ailment or to find a recipe or learn how to fix something perhaps. Sometimes helpful, sometimes not. But what if you asked Google something — and it didn’t even recognize your language? Phil Parker, speaking at COSM 2021, told the story of a woman in Ethiopia searching for “lump in breast,” using one of the over 80 languages or dialects spoken in the region. Her language was one of thousands spoken by only a comparatively small population. The search engine did not recognize her input and returned no hits. She tried her query in Swahili, but there was nothing she found informative about “breast lumps” in Swahili. She finally tried her search…

George Gilder and Niall Ferguson at COSM 2021 on Doom

Historian Supports New Anti-Cancel Culture University

Niall Ferguson hopes that the new University of Austin will unite traditional wisdom with new technology in a spirit of free enquiry

At COSM 2021 yesterday, prominent historian Niall Ferguson talked about his decision to sign up with the new University of Austin, founded in explicit opposition to rampant political correctness and censorship on university campuses, which is beginning to affect quality scholarship. In response to a question from the floor, Ferguson, author of Doom: The politics of catastrophe (2021), outlined the seriousness of the problem: Well, it’s just been announced this week that we’re trying to create a new university, University of Austin, committed to the fundamental principles of, of academic freedom of free inquiry. And the reason we have to do this is that we see so many limitations on free inquiry and academic freedom at the established universities. The…

law book library
Law book library

US News’ Law School Rankings Are Losing Ground, Analyst Says

Big Data has enabled a number of competitive new ranking systems, says Wake Forest University prof

Recently, physics professor Jed Macosko of Wake Forest University spoke to Mind Matters News about the way access to huge troves of data (Big Data) enables a variety of university ranking systems, depending on what matters to the prospective student. This is a far cry from traditional ranking systems like US News, which assume that all agree on the ranking criteria. You’re a physics professor who co-founded a new college ranking system. How did you end up here? I was born in 1972, in Minneapolis. My dad, Chris Macosko, who had a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University, worked in Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota. There were four of us kids and we grew…

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Is Online Learning Poised To Replace Universities?

Perhaps sooner than we think, if present trends continue. A degree may confer only social status — which depends on others’ acceptance

In 2019, freelance writer Allen Farrington wrote an insightful piece, asking a question many have avoided. Does the acceptance of Cancel Culture signal the irretrievable decline of universities? He begins by discussing a short documentary on the Bret Weinstein affair at Evergreen State College in Washington State in 2017. Weinstein, along with his wife Heather Heying, was driven from the campus by angry students because he spoke out against racial exclusion policies. Both were biology teachers with fairly liberal views: No matter how closely you followed the debacle at the time, there is really no substitute for this fascinating glimpse behind the scenes. Evergreen academics can be seen meekly and repeatedly submitting to ideological manipulation, and on a number of…

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Top Venture Capitalist on Tackling the Big, Corrupt Universities

Peter Thiel: Online education is great for learning, but unfortunately, learning has almost nothing to do with the so-called educational system

In this third episode — on Peter Thiel’s Third Contrarian Idea — philosopher of technology George Gilder revisits world class tech venture capitalist Peter Thiel’s live streamed talk at COSM 2019 in “ The failures and self-hatred of Big Tech.” In the first episode, Thiel noted that the way Big Tech operates today has more in common with a communist state than with a democracy. So his First Contrarian Idea, set out there, is that decentralization is coming. In the second episode, he talked about his Second Contrarian Idea: If you look at the big picture over the past few years, Big Tech’s progress is slowing. That’s not the hype we hear but then Thiel didn’t make nearly $4 billion…