Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


Alien Planet with Moons

Could Real Planets Be Like the Sci-Fi Ones?

The hive mind works well on Earth. Could global consciousness work on Pandora in Avatar (2009)?

Last month we looked at some really strange planets astronomers have discovered outside our solar system. Which prompts a question: Could some of the odd planets known to science fiction exist in the actual universe, given its laws? How about Tatooine from Star Wars which orbits “two scorching suns”? Part of a binary star system, the planet orbited two scorching suns, resulting in the world lacking the necessary surface water to sustain large populations. As a result, many residents of the planet instead drew water from the atmosphere via moisture farms. The planet also had little surface vegetation. It was the homeworld to the native Jawa and Tusken Raider species and of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, who would go on…

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Transcendence Review, Part 2: Spoonful of Water with the Nanotech

When Will — now an AI — “possesses” a tradesman so that he can touch his wife Evelyn again, Evelyn begins to have second thoughts…

Last Saturday, we reviewed the first half of Transcendence (2014); now, wrapping up, here are some final thoughts. Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) builds her now-AI husband Will (Johnny Depp) his facility, and he begins a variety of experiments using nanotech for rejuvenation. Things seem to be going well enough until a construction worker is mugged outside the facility. Will witnesses the mugging through the cameras and Evelyn has the man brought inside where Will heals his wounds using the tech developed on site. Things seem to be going well… at first. But two problems arise. First, Will allows a video of him healing the man to circulate so that he can attract others to the facility. Second, he puts a transponder…


World’s Fastest Computer Breaks Into the Exascale

How fast? “If each person on Earth completed one calculation per second, it would take more than 4 years to do what an exascale computer can do in 1 second.”

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee announced earlier this week that its Frontier Supercomputer, having broken the exascale barrier, is the world’s fastest. It can do more than a quintillion calculations per second: The Frontier supercomputer at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory earned the top ranking today as the world’s fastest on the 59th TOP500 list, with 1.1 exaflops of performance. The system is the first to achieve an unprecedented level of computing performance known as exascale, a threshold of a quintillion calculations per second. Frontier features a theoretical peak performance of 2 exaflops, or two quintillion calculations per second, making it ten times more powerful than ORNL’s Summit system. News, “Frontier supercomputer…

multiracial group with black african American Caucasian and Asian hands holding each other wrist in tolerance unity love and anti racism concept

Prof: We Shouldn’t Necessarily Value Humans Over Other Animals

New York University environmentalism prof Jeff Sebo argues that humans are not always rational and that some animals display mental qualities so we aren’t exceptional

New York University environmentalism prof Jeff Sebo, co-author of Chimpanzee Rights (2018), sees human exceptionalism (the idea that there is something unique about human beings) as a danger to humans and other life forms. He does not think that we should necessarily prioritize humans over animals: Most humans take this idea of human exceptionalism for granted. And it makes sense that we do, since we benefit from the notion that we matter more than other animals. But this statement is still worth critically assessing. Can we really justify the idea that some lives carry more ethical weight than others in general, and that human lives carry more ethical weight than nonhuman lives in particular? And even if so, does it…

algae biofuel tube in biotech laboratory, Photobioreactor in lab algae fuel biofuel industry

Researchers Fuel a Microprocessor Using Power From Seaweed

When they photosynthesize, algae produce a current that can be captured and used to power a small device

It may seem odd that algae (seaweed) can power an electronic device. Cambridge researchers recently powered a microprocessor continuously for over a year using a common type of blue-green algae (Synechocystis), providing them with light and water. They suggest that algae might be able to provide power to small devices. Here’s how it works: Some advantages of algae, according to the researchers: ● Because algae use light as their energy source to produce a tiny electrical current, they don’t “run down,” like batteries. ● Systems for using algae to produce current can be made from “common, inexpensive and largely recyclable materials” according to the researchers, Paulo Bombelli et al., who developed the test device. Its main use is seen to…

Pinterest Logo Icon Around Earth. Popular App Concept.

Pinterest Bans Climate Change “Misinformation”

Pinterest might be the first company to implement such a strict ban, but what if it's not the last?

Last week, Pinterest banned climate change misinformation from its platform, becoming the first major social media company to do so outright. The policy raises free speech concerns. Since not all scientists agree on the nature of climate change, what causes it, and what the solutions are, how is the issue to be discussed if alternate points of view are banned from public platforms? Pinterest is an image-sharing social media site, where users share ideas that they can “pin” to their own boards on everything from recipes to interior design to fashion. On April 6, Pinterest announced their new climate misinformation policy, aimed at “remov[ing] content that may harm the public’s well-being, safety or trust.” As of the policy announcement, any…

Empty colored carbonated drink bottles. Plastic waste

Urban Mining: Turning Urban Waste Into Valuable Products

Renowned synthetic chemist Jim Tour shows how we can turn discarded plastics into graphene, a product useful in industry

There’s a gold mine, so to speak, in the garbage but it takes a gifted chemist to develop processes that turn the trash to valuable industrial materials. At COSM 2021, James Tour talked about his team’s work in developing such processes: The Nanotech Revolution: Our Zero-Waste Energy Future (November 11, 2021) Dr. Jim Tour, Professor of Chemistry at Rice University, gives a riveting tour of how waste products can be converted to graphene, an extremely valuable material with a host of useful applications—from medical applications to new strong and lightweight materials to an energy source for zero CO2 emissions. Tour and his team have developed methods for turning carbon waste into graphene, an allotrope of carbon that can be stacked…

Abstract planets and space background

Future Technologies — Zoom! … or Doom?

Astrophysicist Adam Frank sees a new role for us as galaxy gods as exhilarating but others aren’t so sure

Astrophysicist Adam Frank asks us to consider where we are on the Kardashev Scale for evaluating civilizations in the galaxy — or, at least, evaluating our own progress: Originally proposed in 1964 by Nikolai Kardashev (1932–2019) and later modified in 1973 by Carl Sagan (1934–1996), the scale measures a civilization’s technological advances from 1 to 3 (or maybe 5) by how much energy it can call upon to do things. Currently, we are not even a Type 1 on that scale and Frank offers some thoughts on that, asking, in particular, whether such advances are universal in the galaxy anyway: The classification scheme Kardashev used was not based on social systems of ethics because these are things that we can…


Firefly: Can Science Fiction Reimagined As The Wild West Work?

I strongly recommend the original 2002–2003 series for its careful development of the culture that grows up around world-building (terraforming)

I recently read an article in Screen Rant which claimed that Disney+ was planning a Firefly series remake. A trailer for the original: Five hundred years in the future, a renegade crew aboard a small spacecraft tries to survive as they travel the unknown parts of the galaxy and evade warring factions as well as authority agents out to get them. (2002-2003) When I heard this rumor, I felt like Darth Vader screaming No! into the void and wanting to choke something. Since Disney+ has a reputation for producing films which are nothing short of family-friendly abominations, it isn’t surprising that the fandom mobbed Twitter, demanding that the Mouse stay away from their beloved sci-fi franchise. So far, there has…

Logging. Aerial drone view of deforestation environmental problem.

Aliens as Both Angels — and Bugs? Superior But Sociopathic?

A look at the puzzling 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) - environment doom replaces the Cold War

Last week I reviewed the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. Before watching the original, I had decided to watch the 2008 remake. I now regret my decision. Let’s talk about the 2008 movie featuring Keanu Reeves. The 2008 movie opens with essentially the same beats as the original. The spaceship lands, but it is not metal; it’s a bizarre space orb, made of different kinds of luminescent biological material. This change gives the aliens an ethereal quality. They are entities that have reached demi-god status. The writers even go to the trouble of showing the ship hovering over a cathedral, illuminating the building. The movie is practically screaming, “They’re Angels! Get it!” The alien, Klaatu, steps out…

The Earth from space. This image elements furnished by NASA.

Astronomer: We Can’t Just Assume Countless Earths Out There

He points out that the Principle of Mediocrity is based on faulty logical reasoning

Dartmouth physicist and astronomer Marcelo Gleiser wrote recently that the Copernican Principle has been misused to imply that Earth is somehow insignificant. That, he says, is a philosophical attitude, unrelated to the science. We don’t know where Earth stands in relation to other planets because we do not yet have telescopes capable of getting much detail about planets outside our solar system. Gleiser, author of The Island of Knowledge (2014), has also tackled the Mediocrity Principle (because Earth is nothing special, there must be countless intelligent civilizations out there). According to Britannica, “Widely believed by astronomers since the work of Nicolaus Copernicus, this principle states that the properties and evolution of the solar system are not unusual in any important…


When Oxygen Becomes the Most Precious Commodity — Sci-fi Saturday

This sci-fi riff on what where atmospheric pollution could lead us offers beautiful renderings of abandoned advanced civilizations, housed in caves

“Life support” at DUST by Saleh Jamsheer (at DUST November 12, 2021, 6:02 min, animated) A seeker finds himself distressed by his dependencies and is constantly searching for a way to survive without his life support. Review: The story is set in an age of atmosphere meltdown. Space-suited humans live in caves and, when things go wrong with their air supply, they are rescued by aerial drones. Favorite line from rescue drone: “Would it be a bad time to say I told you so?” (Shaykha Sayyar as N.O.V.A. and Voice of Authority) Um, yes, N.O.V.A. Now please ask us a challenging question. The central character, 178 (Saleh Jamsheer), finds himself in the ruins of a civilization started by drone hybrids…

Jim Tour at COSM 2021 on our zero carbon future

Flash Graphene: Born Again Plastic Is Planet-Friendly

Chemist James Tour outlined a new approach to carbon waste at COSM 2021: Use electricity to turn it into graphene, to be recycled as new materials

Remember that mindblowing scene in Back to the Future II where Doc Brown shows up in his flying Delorean and throws trash into the “Mr. Fusion” unit in the back — and it’s instantly converted into fuel? We aren’t quite there yet. But if what Rice University synthetic chemist James Tour told COSM 2021 proves right, then we can take current trash — e-waste, food waste, useless wood, discarded plastic, old tires, etc. — and reclaim it at low cost to make materials that we can incorporate into many technologies. Tour and his team have developed methods for turning carbon waste into graphene, an allotrope of carbon that can be stacked to form graphite (best known as the “lead” in…

Man in front of the universe with his arms raised

Physicist: If Humans Died Out, the Galaxy Might Lose All Meaning

Ahead of a big climate change conference, Brian Cox assesses the prospect of other habitable planets or their civilizations much more soberly than we often hear

Ahead of the big climate change conference COP 26 (31 Oct – 12 Nov 2021), physicist and broadcaster Brian Cox offers an ominous warning which also raises some questions. Speaking in connection with his new series, Universe, he presents a starkly different picture from much that we hear: Humans might be the only intelligent beings in our galaxy, so destroying our civilisation could be a galactic disaster, Prof Brian Cox has warned leaders in the run-up to Cop26. Speaking at the launch of his new BBC Two series Universe, the physicist and presenter said that having spoken to the scientists around the world advising the show, he thought that humans and sentient life on Earth “might be a remarkable, naturally…

Japanese red maple keys in our own backyard. These are beautiful signs of spring.

Could Tiny Flying Computer Chips Monitor the World? They’re here!

A team at Northwestern University has developed a model based on the design of seed dispersal in nature

A Northwestern University team is developing electronic chips as small as a grain of sand, equipped with wings like those of wind-dispersed seeds. The hope is that these microfliers will monitor pollution and contamination — and surveil crowds via ultra-miniaturized equipment: About the size of a grain of sand, the new flying microchip (or “microflier”) does not have a motor or engine. Instead, it catches flight on the wind — much like a maple tree’s propeller seed — and spins like a helicopter through the air toward the ground. By studying maple trees and other types of wind-dispersed seeds, the engineers optimized the microflier’s aerodynamics to ensure that it — when dropped at a high elevation — falls at a…

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Researchers: Is the Cost of Improving Deep Learning Sustainable?

At IEEE: System designers may have to go back to relying on experts again to tell them what matters, rather than on massive databases

Deep Learning is an approach to computer programming that attempts to mimic the human brain (artificial neural networks) so as to enable systems to cluster data and make accurate predictions (IBM). It’s the dominant AI system today, used to predict how proteins fold and analyse medical scans as well as to beat humans at Go. And yet, four Deep Learning researchers recently wrote in IEEE Spectrum that “The cost of improvement is becoming unsustainable.” As part of their special report, “The Great AI Reckoning,”they explain: While deep learning’s rise may have been meteoric, its future may be bumpy. Like Rosenblatt before them, today’s deep-learning researchers are nearing the frontier of what their tools can achieve. To understand why this will…

Group of demonstrators on road, young people from different culture and race fight for climate change - Global warming and enviroment concept - Focus on banners

Google and YouTube Demonetize Climate Change Skeptics

But how did Google acquire the authority to declare what is "misinformation" or "scientific consensus"?

The Google Ads team announced a new policy last week banning the monetization of content critical of a current consensus around climate change. Beginning in November, both Google and YouTube will: …prohibit ads for, and monetization of, content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change. This includes content referring to climate change as a hoax or a scam, claims denying that long-term trends show the global climate is warming, and claims denying that greenhouse gas emissions or human activity contribute to climate change. Google Ads team, “Updating our ads and monetization policies on climate change,” posted October 7, 2021 This does not mean that Google and YouTube will block any and all content that denies…

Full moon on desert mountain peaks at sand storm

When the Robot Discovers Nature — Sci-Fi Saturday

On a ruined planet, a dog robot get caught in a time warp

“Genesis” (2020) at DUST May 2, 2021 Constantin Kormann(4:00 min, animated) Our protagonist lands on a foreign planet, finds an alien artifact and travels back into a time, where the planet was covered by a lush forest. Review: The “protagonist” is actually a dog robot who finds itself trapped in a time warp. The big question would, of course, be — why go back to techno-civilization, especially if you are just a dog anyway? Cute. But what happens when the battery runs out? Curiously, we think we should make robots like the animals we know. Think of Boston Dynamics’s controversial police “dogs.” Nature seems to have thought of everything first — an argument, if you like, for intelligent design. Anyway,…

small mushrooms toadstools

Mushrooms Have Minds? Well, If You Doubt Humans Are Exceptional…

… it is a short step to thinking that mushrooms have minds. A Miami University biologist has taken that step

It’s pretty daring to claim that mushrooms have minds. But, in the light of what we have learned about plant communications, we should perhaps pause a moment to at least listen. Miami University biologist Nicholas P. Money, argues: Given the magical reputation of the fungi, claiming that they might be conscious is dangerous territory for a credentialled scientist. But in recent years, a body of remarkable experiments have shown that fungi operate as individuals, engage in decision-making, are capable of learning, and possess short-term memory. These findings highlight the spectacular sensitivity of such ‘simple’ organisms, and situate the human version of the mind within a spectrum of consciousness that might well span the entire natural world. Nicholas P. Money, “The…

Green sprouts on blurred city background, environmental concept

It’s 2075! Our Motto: “Ignorance is Bliss” — Sci-fi Saturday

This animated short asks us to consider a future world in which information is reduced to a sort of haze

“Kernel” at DUST by Olly Skillman-Wilson (August 25, 2021, 5:12 min, animated) The world has become a place where information is tightly filtered and controlled, expelled into the air like a thick smog. Leonard Paisley is an ageing neurobotanist, his life work to preserve the knowledge of the past in his biome. When some equipment malfunctions his commitment is tested. Review: It’s 2075 AD and freedom of the press is not even remembered. Against a background of futuristic skyscrapers, a billboard advises us, “Not Knowing Is a Virtue.” Another that “Ignorance Is Bliss.” And “‘Tis Folly To Be Wise” Well, at least they are not telling us to Love Big Brother Or Else. Except for the fact that the landscape…