Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryInformation Theory

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Is Technology Always Progress? Let’s Talk About That

Tradition itself is a type of technology

We often make a sharp distinction between “traditional” and “modern.” We view tradition with distrust, assuming that we are simply latching ourselves onto arbitrary decisions from yesteryear. Technology, on the other hand, is viewed as progressive. Rather than entrenching us in the past, technology is supposed to propel us into the future. Technology is the way that we structure our environment in order to maximize our productivity and happiness. We use technology to automate away the bad and boring parts of work, and emphasize the fun parts more predominate. We use technology to boost our productivity to make sure that everyone has everything that they need. What most people miss is that tradition itself is a type of technology. Tradition…

man inside man

But Do “Hidden Webs of Information” Really Solve Life’s Mystery?

Cosmologist Paul Davies won an award last year for an attempt that left “more questions than clean-cut answers (Physics World)

Last year, State University of Arizona’s cosmologist Paul Davies won a Best Book award from Physics World for Demon in the Machine: The book’s subtitle is “How hidden webs of information are solving the mystery of life.” But are they? The book deals with established physics concepts (such as the second law of thermodynamics), but also delves into Davies’ thoughts on topics such as the emergence of human consciousness (while making sure the reader is aware of what is speculation). Readers, though, are likely to be left with more questions than clean-cut answers about the laws of nature. “Just in the last 10 years or so, I suppose, I’ve begun to see a confluence of different subjects. Partly, this is…

Man looking at business plan at whiteboard

Complexity Is Not Always a Bad Thing

It allows us to have an intellectual life

In a recent podcast, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and engineering prof Robert J. Marks discussed the difference between a bag of jigsaw puzzle pieces and a text message like “The city will get your car towed if you do not move it within the next 8 minutes”: Got your attention? That’s precisely what information does. It gets your attention. But what is information? How did those characters in a text message become important to you? Weren’t they just a string of letters and numbers? What, exactly, changed? https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-112-Robert-Marks.mp3 A partial transcript follows. The Show Notes and a full transcript are available below. Robert J. Marks: In terms of meaningful information, I think it’s obvious. Michael, they used to say that it…

Question Signs

Information Is the Currency of Life. But What IS It?

How do we understand information in a universe that resists resolution into one single, simple system?

At first, “What is information?” seems like a question with a simple answer. Stuff we need to know. Then, if we think about it, it dissolves into paradoxes. A storage medium—a backup drive, maybe—that contains vital information weighs exactly the same as one that contains nothing, gibberish, or dangerously outdated information. There is no way we can know without engaging intelligently with the content. That content is measured in bits and bytes, not kilograms and joules—which means that it is hard to relate to other quantities in our universe. In this week’s podcast, “Robert J. Marks on information and AI, Part 1.” neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviews Walter Bradley Center director and computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks on how we…

Cat looking to little gerbil mouse on the table. Concept of prey, food, pest.

Can We Find Purpose in a Universe With No Underlying Purpose?

That’s the ambitious goal of a prominent science writer

British science writer Philip Ball offers us a guide to a very interesting project: an attempt to “naturalize” the idea of agency, that is, make the desire to do things—the mouse’s desire to escape the cat— explainable from a fully materialist perspective. That’s much harder than it seems. Rocks don’t desire anything. So we can’t just start from the bottom. It’s also not enough to say that the mouse wants to avoid getting killed. That’s true but it doesn’t really explain anything. For example, a person looks both ways before crossing the street to avoid getting run over. But, by itself, that doesn’t explain why she tries to avoid getting run over. One must factor in her memory, background knowledge,…

artificial intelligence brain

A Neuroscientist on Why We Can Build Human-like Brains

Manuel Brenner, a particle physicist as well as a neuroscientist, thinks pattern recognition is the answer

Manuel Brenner, a particle physicist who became a theoretical neuroscientist, made the argument last year that human intelligence is less complex than we make it out to be. Thus, building an artificial intelligence might be easier than we suppose. He offers some intriguing arguments and here are some responses: ➤ Is the information we need for building human-like AI in our genes? He doesn’t think so because a tomato has 7000 more genes than a human being. Further, our human genome offers only 25 million bytes of information for our brain’s design but there are 1015 connections in the adult neocortex. His conclusion? “there needs to be a much simpler, more efficient way of defining the blueprint for our brain…

Concept of

Do We Really Have Free Will? Four Things to Know

Free will makes more sense of our world than determinism and science certainly allows for it

Free will is a contentious topic in science these days. Theoretical physicists weigh in sharply on one side or the other. Just this month, based on quantum mechanics, mathematician Tim Andersen says maybe and theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder says no. Based on cosmology, the study of our universe, physicist George Ellis said yes last June. With free will, as with consciousness, we don’t fully understand what’s involved. All insights from science are partial so we can’t look to science for a definitive answer. But maybe science can offer some hints. Here are four that might be helpful: 1.Has psychology shown that free will does not really exist? Psychological research on free will has supported the concept of free will but…

Frog with Turtle and Snail

To What Extent Does Life Simply Invent Itself As It Goes Along?

The evidence may surprise us

According to a popular anti-creationist website Talk Origins, one of the strongest pieces of evidence for evolution and common descent is the phylogenetic signal. In their view, when we look at specific properties across multiple species — number of legs, presence or absence of wings, the presence of a gene, a configuration of nucleotides in the genome, etc. — such properties will form a strongly nested hierarchy. We should expect to see such a strongly nested hierarchy if organisms evolved from one another and therefore a “family tree” links all the organisms together. However, if a property that appears only on a branch, it will be shared only by that branch’s leaves. Leaves on a different branch will not have…

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Analysis of a sample of water from a river or sea, ocean. The scientist in the glove took water in a test tube.

Information Today Is Like Water in the Ocean. How Do We Test It?

Often, we must sort through many layers of bias in information to get at the facts that matter
Examining specific types of bias in our thinking will help us evaluate the information on key issues that inundates us today. Read More ›
Cells under a microscope. Cell division. Cellular Therapy. 3d illustration on a dark background

New Book: Our Bodies’ Cells Are a “Third Infinity” of Information

If the first cell somehow morphed into existence without the ability to reproduce, it would also have been the last cell.

Recently, computer engineer and philosopher Jonathan Bartlett pointed out that Elon Musk has inadvertently highlighted the biggest problem with origin of life studies: How life originated is not as difficult a question as how it originated with the ability to reproduce. If the first cell somehow morphed into existence without the ability to reproduce, it would also have been the last cell. The only cell, in fact. Musk, as it happens, was talking about the production of cars when he tweeted, “The machine that makes the machine is vastly harder than the machine itself.” He estimated “1000% to 10,000% harder.” Indeed, and that’s also true of the cells that comprise just about every living being. Our cells not only live…


They Say This Is An Information Economy. So What Is Information?

How, exactly, is an article in the news different from a random string of letters and punctuation marks?

We know information when we see it. An article contains information. A photograph contains information. The thoughts in our mind contain information. So does a computer program and so do our genomes. Yet other things we see around us clearly do not contain information. A handful of toothpicks dropped on the ground does not. Nor do the swirling tea leaves in a cup. Neither does a pair of tossed dice nor a sequence of 100 coin flips. But mere disorder is not the clue. An intricate snowflake does not contain information either. Can we state the difference between the article and the scattered toothpicks precisely? That’s tricky. Both Claude Shannon and Andrey Kolmogorov came up with information metrics. But the…

robotic arms in a car plant

Elon Musk Tweet Shows Why Many Doubt Origin of Life Studies

Musk was talking about the origin of machines, not life, but the principle is, perhaps surprisingly, the same
Creating a machine that manufactures or a cell that reproduces is much harder than creating a prototype of either. It’s a search for a search. Read More ›
A fish with wide open mouth and big eyes, Surprised, shocked or amazed face front view

Is Dembski’s Explanatory Filter the Most Widely Used Theory Ever?

It turns out that legions of critics of the Filter use it all the time, without noticing

William Dembski created quite a stir in the world of information theory with his book The Design Inference. For the first time, he outlined a rigorous method for identifying design, which he called the explanatory filter. Since then many critics have claimed that Dembski’s proposed filter is without merit due to the lack of application in the couple of decades since its invention. But, are the critics right, or are they wrong—wrong in the way that a fish doesn’t recognize water because water is the very atmosphere of the fish’s existence? Let us first remind ourselves of Dembski’s explanatory filter. His filter proceeds in three main steps. Eliminate events of large probability (necessity) Eliminate events of medium probability (chance) Specify…

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3D rendering of technology background

Why is Bell’s Theorem Important for Conservation of Information?

Proving a negative is difficult. Demonstrating that there are no leafy green crows is hard to do without examining every crow. But there's another way.

Proving a negative is difficult. Think about it. For example, demonstrating that there are no leafy green crows is hard to do without exhaustively examining every crow in existence. On the other hand, proving there are no crows naturally emblazoned with the text of the King James Bible is a bit easier to do. Proving a negative is possible if the extremes are large enough. Such as result is known as a no-go theorem. One of the most profound no-go theorems can be found in quantum physics. Physicist John Bell (1928–1990) proved — entirely from first principles — that there is a fundamental difference between how particles interact classically compared with how they interact within quantum physics. In classical physics,…

Composite image of digital illustration of pixelated 3d woman

At the Movies: Can AI Restore Blurred Images?

Working with pixels, we can do remarkable things—as long as we are not asking for magic

It’s an exciting scene in crime investigation movies. A critical image, like the one on the left below, is blurred by pixelization. The detective commands the technician, “Sharpen it!” and the technician pushes a key on a computer keyboard. The key activates an algorithm and, magically, the deblurred image on the right appears. That can’t be done in real life. An image cannot be sharpened using only the information in the image itself. This is proven by a mathy theorem called the data processing inequality. 1 The mutual information between an image and a corrupted blurred image cannot be increased by further processing. Period. That’s why the title of a recent news article from Duke University is misleading: “Artificial intelligence…

Group of urban runners running on the street in New york city, conceptual series about sport and fitness

Why Information Theory Is Like a Good Run

Information theory can help us understand a wide range of fields besides computers

Information theory is a deep field that is responsible for our modern internet and satellite TV. The field was pioneered by Claude Shannon to measure our ability to communicate meaning. But besides powering the information revolution, information theory is also very widely applicable elsewhere. Once you understand the basic intuition, you can see applications popping up all over the place. To prove the point, I’ll show how we can apply information theory to gain insight in the very low tech world of running. I’ve been running off and on for many years and I’ve noticed that information theory describes a good run. First of all, what is a good run? A good run is when your body feels as if…

Coronavirus market crash and financial crisis

COVID-19: When 900 Bytes Shut Down the World

A great physicist warned us, information precedes matter and energy: Bit before it

The COVID-19 virus contains about as much information as a sticker in WhatsApp. Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks and Dr. Daniel Andrés Díaz-Pachón  explore a dreadful truth:  “Human biology is so finely tuned that less than a kilobyte of information can stop the world.”

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