Mind Matters News and Analysis on Natural and Artificial Intelligence

CategorySocial Factors

Car windshield view of Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California, USA

Who assumes moral responsibility for self-driving cars?

Can we discuss this before something happens and everyone is outsourcing the blame?
Level 4 self-driving vehicles will bring with them a giant shift in the moral equation of driving. Unfortunately, in a culture that seems to think that the future will take care of itself, little thoughtful public discussion is taking place. My hope is to start a discussion of how coming technological changes will affect the future moral landscape. Read More ›
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How AI could run the world

Its killer apps, in physicist Max Tegmark's tale, include a tsunami of "message" films
In traditional fairy tales, an explanatory gap can be addressed by magic. After all, most readers will grant a writer one impossibility (for example, that a boy’s horse has human intelligence) just to get the story moving. Unfortunately, science fiction is one genre that doesn’t work that way. The author must make the claim sound like science, a problem Tegmark vaults right over. Read More ›
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How a Computer Programmer looks at DNA

And finds it to be "amazing" code
From 2006 through 2017, Dutch entrepreneur and software developer Bert Hubert contributed from time to time to a web page where he listed many of the ways the workings of DNA can be likened to coding decisions by programmers. Read More ›
Am Abgrund

Self-driving vehicles are just around the corner

On the other side of a vast chasm…
Many cheerleaders have wrongly assumed that the progress from one level of automation to another should be a direct, linear process but it clearly isn’t. Rather, the transition from Level 4 to Level 5 automation is multiple orders of magnitude more difficult than all the other levels combined. Its completion should not be taken as a foregone conclusion. Read More ›
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Could AI write novels?

George Orwell thought so, as long as no thinking was involved
Serious literature will always be written, to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, in “blood, toil, tears and sweat” because imaging the human condition accurately is part of its nature. And if the writer lives in an unfree society, serious literature will also be written in fear. Read More ›
Personal communication

Brain hacks

Do we understand the brain better if we see it as a computer?
Seeing the brain as a computer doesn’t tell us as much as we might think. When human beings build computers, we design them in a way that we can understand and use. So we think our brains must be like that too. Sure enough, in the vast complexity of our brains, we can surely find some elements that remind us of a computer. Others won’t.   Read More ›
Personal Bitcoin Wallet with euro coins

How do bitcoins work anyway?

And what's their future? A roundup for non-geeks

Everywhere these days one hears people foretelling the fortunes of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin—like so many fairies, good and bad, wishing around a cradle. Most people, including New Yorker staff writer Nick Paumgarten, have hoped to just avoid the scene, partly because few enthusiasts can even explain what the cryptocurrencies are or why they exist. But Paumgarten dove in and his recent long form article offers helpful explanations along with illuminating profiles of digital currency pioneers. First, why? Bitcoin and Ethereum enthusiasts want, in Paumgarten’s words, “a better, decentralized version of the World Wide Web—a Web 3.0—more in keeping with the Internet’s early utopian promise than with the invidious, monopolistic hellscape it has become. They want to seize back the tubes, and Read More ›

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Would Google be happier if America were run more like China?

This might be a good time to ask
A leaked internal discussion document, the “Cultural Context Report” (March 2018), admits a “shift toward censorship.” It characterizes free speech as a “utopian narrative,” pointing out that “As the tech companies have grown more dominant on the global stage, their intrinsically American values have come into conflict with some of the values and norms of other countries.” Read More ›
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The $60 Billion-Dollar Medical Data Market is Coming Under Scrutiny

As a patient, you do not own the data and are not as anonymous as you think
Data management companies can come to know a great deal about you; they just don’t know your name—unless, of course, there is a breach of some kind. Time Magazine reported in 2017 that “Researchers have already re-identified people from anonymized profiles from hospital exit records, lists of Netflix customers, AOL online searchers, even GPS data of New York City taxi rides.” One would expect detailed medical data to be even more revelatory. Read More ›
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Hacks damage Facebook, kill Google+

The internet changes everything. For example, it makes the Big Guys more vulnerable, not less vulnerable, than bit players
Facebook gets blamed for everything from what Russia does to what American voters do. But the people who seem to think Mark Zuckerberg and company have superpowers for changing the world are mistaken. Facebook was not able to fend off a damaging hack. Read More ›
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Did AI teach itself to “not like” women?

No, the program did not teach itself anything. But the situation taught the company something important about what we can safely automate.
Back in 2014, it was a “holy grail” machine learning program, developed in Scotland, that would sift through online resumes, using a one-to-five star rating system and cull the top five of 100, saving time and money. Within a year, a problem surfaced: It was “not rating candidates for software developer jobs and other technical posts in a gender-neutral way.” Read More ›
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I, Robot, am gathering dust in the sales room …

Why do robotics experts think that customers will warm to robots because they look like people?
The underlying assumption is surely incorrect. Robots like the Roomba succeed in part because they don’t look or act like people, let alone threaten people. They just do jobs people would prefer not to do or maybe can’t. Read More ›
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Google boss quits, writes satirical novel

The novel is said to be so far-fetched that it captures the environment
Recently, we’ve looked at a number of complaints about the way Silicon Valley is acquiring too much power over people’s lives, at home and abroad, and reaching deep into the compulsory school system as well. A former employee decided to respond creatively. Read More ›
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Remember those awful Seventies TV ads?

The new “attention economy” killed that kind of advertising. But what now?
One way of describing the change is that we now live in an attention economy rather than a captive time economy, so far as advertising is concerned. Read More ›
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People-friendly robots company shuts down

The “cobots,” robots that can work with people, got the pink slip—for now
Robotics is a business like any other. The individual good idea requires a business plan that can survive savage years in the wilderness before the buyout. That said, we certainly haven’t heard the last of the cobot, which may be one of the ideas that make robotics practical for everyday business. Read More ›
Portraits of people thinking

Who built AI? You did, mostly

Along with millions of others, you are providing free training data
For AI to work you need data. The most innovative players in the AI space have learned how to get users to willingly and gladly provide them with data for free. Read More ›
Brain activity

Knowledge is power, sort of…

If that’s ALL knowledge is, the resulting science is bound to be limited, says Michael Egnor
If you are trying to predict the course of a cannonball, Newtonian mechanics are adequate. If you are trying to understand the mind of the guy who fired the cannon, you need to look much deeper. Read More ›
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Are sex robots a cure for loneliness?

Maybe, in a culture where people see themselves as machines
Nancy Pearcey, who is the author of Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, reminds us that the most popular metaphor for the universe today is a vast machine. Read More ›