Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagScience fiction

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Artificial intelligence and future technologies. Mixed media

Researchers: It Would Be Impossible To Control Super AI

But is superintelligent AI really possible? Some experts are skeptical

From the media release for a recent paper: The idea of artificial intelligence overthrowing humankind has been talked about for many decades, and scientists have just delivered their verdict on whether we’d be able to control a high-level computer super-intelligence. The answer? Almost definitely not. The catch is that controlling a super-intelligence far beyond human comprehension would require a simulation of that super-intelligence which we can analyse. But if we’re unable to comprehend it, it’s impossible to create such a simulation. David Nield, “Calculations Show It’ll Be Impossible to Control a Super-Intelligent AI” at Science Alert The open access research study is here. First, the idea that machines can design smarter machines should be treated with skepticism: maybe we are…

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Lucky Numbers

Sci Fi Saturday: A fight for the winning ticket

In a 2040 superstorm, engulfing the planet, a young woman gets hold of a ticket out

Our next sci fi short is “Here comes Frieda”: (Ripple Effect, 7:34 min) As yet another superstorm bears down on a desperate, weary city in the year 2040, a young woman seeks to redeem her winning sweepstakes ticket for a better life in a low Earth orbit paradise. This film is the ultimate environmental dystopia (no spoilers). It works to the extent that it portrays real characters. The building maintenance man is especially good. Because it is a very short film the filmmakers need not address the question of just why the environment apocalypse is so dire. Nature has a way of rebalancing itself; this has been true since the beginning of life on Earth. The problem with environment damage…

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life on planet Mars, astronaut discovers bacterial life on the surface of a rock

At Scientific American: The Aliens Could Be Extremely Boring

Well, we can’t be sure, can we? It’s literally a whole other world

Okay, it’s just a thought. But what if all the interesting stuff is happening in our own imaginations? Caleb Scharf is a University of Columbia astrobiologist and here is his view: There’ll be some initial oddities, some curiosities that aren’t quite the things we planned for. A dull carrier wave signal for instance. Over time more evidence will show up, until eventually it’s clear that there are lots of species out there, puttering around in their own little neighborhoods and doing nothing truly extraordinary, because those possibilities were, in the end, more the product of our lively imaginations than anything that the universe compels life towards. Of course, I’m being a little facetious, the first discovery of life of any…

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Scrap recycling plant, Crane grabber, pile metal to recycle

Sci Fi Saturday: Terrified by a Scrap Monster

Well, if you have never been terrified by a Scrap Monster, you are clearly missing out

Here’s “Pinki” by Spike Hyunsuk Kim (11:08 min) On a back street, a scrap monster makes a sudden lunge at a man. A pink-haired girl helps him, and their future is down to whether he remembers her. No surprise, she is a girl from his high school past. The production values are well done but it’s not clear if this is strictly sci-fi. The scrap monster tormenting the fellow seems right out of folklore rather than sci-fi. That said, it’s fun watching a middle class South Korean business executive try to cope with the Scrap Monster. An agreeable short. Other reviews from the “We are but DUST” files: Sci Fi Saturday: What if there were serious wars over clouds? In…

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dramatic sunset over cracked earth. Desert landscape background.

Sci Fi Saturday: What If There Were Serious Wars Over Clouds?

In a world that still has technology but is desperately short of water, that could happen

In “The Oceanmaker” (9:40 min, January 20, 2018) by Martell Animation, “After the seas have disappeared, a courageous pilot fights against vicious sky pirates for control of the last remaining source of water: the clouds.” The animation is well done. But character questions arise. The unnamed pilot seems very nervous. She succeeds in fighting off the water pirates who have clever methods for capturing the world’s remaining water from a remaining cloud. But it’s not clear why she is cast in the role. There are people out there who are much more comfortable with conflict. It’s also unclear why, in a devastated, waterless world, all that technology is still available (what about food, fuel, etc.?) However, the nice thing about…

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Old Vintage Arcade Video Games in an empty dark gaming room with blue light with glowing displays and beautiful retro design

Sci Fi Saturday: Can Video Games Save a Lone Survivor?

The film features fine animations of apocalyptic scenes of post-civilization

In “High Score” (3:50 min) by Adrien Vallade, Lou Maurice De Reparaz, Brian Lim, Elodie Ferrer, Pablo Cortes, “In a post-apocalyptic world, a man takes refuge in an arcade.” This is a very short “short” from a French company. The animation scenes of ruin are very well done. Not wholly clear why the video arcade manages to work without a reliable power system but every film is allowed one improbable incident (only one). At any rate (no spoilers), the wholly lone guy actually finds an opponent to play the game with. Some of us would have liked the film to be longer and more complex. What if the opposing player were an intelligent alien or an elemental force? The film…

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The head of a cyborg with wires on a gray background.

Sci Fi Saturday: Kiko: A Great Short But Key Questions Unanswered

A lonely retail service robot longs for a world beyond her store

“Kiko,” (9:20 min) by Jamil Munoz, tells the tale of a lonely retail service android who longs for a world beyond her store. Her signature line, “Goodnight, Charlie,” is priceless, as she is then all alone again, a mere as part of the business equipment. It’s an agreeable short (no spoilers, except that the kid who comes to her rescue is great). The android is wholly believable but the film never addresses the question of how the proprietor of “Charlie’s” computer retail store could have created or acquired a robot that had attributes like wanting a different type of life. A farmer can’t “create” a horse who wants to go to university. Even if the farmer could create a horse,…

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sri lanka elephant

Sci-fi Saturday: What If Next-Stage Evolution Children Appear?

A sci-fi short from Sri Lanka looks at the possibilities

Here’s the last item in our Saturday reviews of free, relevant sci-fi fun from DUST, the sci-fi channel at YouTube. This one is “Vikaari”from Synhedrion Studios (Sri Lanka, 13:54): Due to some possible “evolutionary transformation,” children in Sri Lanka are born with no emotional reaction to anything but with the ability for telekinesis and a hive mind. It’s suggested that that is an adaptive response to continuous warfare. Many want to kill them, saying “They look like kids, but they’re not.” Eerily reminiscent of the persecution of people with Down Syndrome. Evolution theories are evoked in glowing color to explain the situation though many such theories are contested today. The story is very well done as a parable of the…

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The face of a child robot.

Sci-Fi Saturday: Can Parents Get Back a Dead Child as an Android?

They aren’t even united in their grief; they just think they must “do something” to get back a facsimile of what they remember.

Are you in lockdown at home? Hey, here’s another one we found, in our weekly foray into free short sci-fi. This is from SkillLab Creative Studio: “Article 19-42” (14:29 min) A French couple (subtitles in English) drive to an old barn in northern woods, on a seemingly curious mission—to resurrect a dead child as an android: One wouldn’t offer a spoiler, such as above, except that the film goes on way too long without making that part clear. The ambience—one suspects that the lab is illegal—is wonderful. The central characters are pitch perfect: parents of an only child, united by and obsessed with her death. They aren’t even entirely united in their grief; they both want to get back at…

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smart hotel in hospitality industry 4.0 technology concept, robot butler (robot assistant) use for greet arriving guests, deliver customer, items to rooms, give information, support  variety languages

Sci-Fi Saturday Film: The Robot Tries To Learn About Grief

An elderly woman buys a robot to help her when she finds herself all alone, due to tragedy

In our weekly foray into free sci-fi at DUST, we found “Rewind” (13:36 min, set in December 2043) An elderly woman, Sheila, whose daughter has been in a high-conflict zone in a military environment, learns to manage with a robot—ordered apparently off the internet, with a manual—that can learn to do housework and hang Christmas decorations. It’s an agreeable story and good Christmas fare! That said, the robot is obviously a guy in a “robot” suit. He learns to do housework, appreciate snow—and to deal with tragedy a robot could never really understand. A robot can’t deal with things that are non-computable because non-computables cannot be programmed. This is a fact often overlooked by heady futurists. But don’t let that…

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Extraterrestrial aliens spaceship fly above sunset sea

Could Aliens Be Hiding From Us Until We Are Ready?

An Israeli space expert says they are waiting for us to catch up

Okay, it seems kind of crazy but here on sci-fi Saturday, we have spent a lot of time wondering why we don’t see intelligent aliens even though the universe is big enough and fine-tuned for life. But the “We’re not ready” theory at least gives them some credit for having intelligence. Anyway, for what it is worth, one ex-space boffin says, “Trump was on the verge of revealing [aliens existence], but the aliens in the Galactic Federation are saying, ‘Wait, let people calm down first,’” Eshed, who helmed Israel’s space security program from 1981 to 2010, reportedly said. “They don’t want to start mass hysteria. They want to first make us sane and understanding.” Until that day, aliens have secured…

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Futuristic high speed travel through tube. could illustrate data travel

Faster Than Light? How About Faster Than Thought?—a Film Review

A free sort DUST sci-fi film looks at the plight of an astronaut testing the concept

Science fiction can teach us useful science concepts so it is hardly a waste of time. For example, what about “faster than light”? Albert Einstein thought nothing in this universe would travel faster than light (FTL). He might be right or wrong but if we can’t beat the speed of light light, we won’t ever see a lot of possibly interesting things in the universe. It’s just too vast. So science fiction has been trying to beat the speed of light since forever. Anyhow, here’s a short film about it, “Hyperlight” by Adam Stern: “FTL”: “A lone astronaut testing the first faster-than-light spacecraft travels farther than he imagined possible,” attempting to establish communications with a colony on Mars: My favorite…

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Green Iguana

Sci Fi: An Offer You Better Think About Carefully…

But the civil alien leaves a very nice business card. Do see that.

From DUST at YouTube: Henry, an apparently conventional exec somewhere has been selected to represent his species in what is supposed to be the “biggest trade agreement in the history of the planet.” Hint that we hope isn’t a spoiler: The aliens want our oceans. But the civil alien leaves a very nice business card. Do see that. Yer News editor gives this one 4 out of 5. Mainly because the sound was bad. The studio needs to fix that. Otherwise, it is an excellent look at corporate negotiation in Lizard Land.

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Atoms and their electron clouds , Quantum mechanics and atomic structure

The Aliens Exist—But Evolved Into Virtual Reality at a Nanoscale

That’s the Transcension Hypothesis, the latest in our series on science fiction hypotheses as to why we don’t see extraterrestrials

Readers will recall that we have been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s analysis of the various reasons that we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last week, we looked at the Firstborn Hypothesis: We don’t see aliens because they haven’t evolved yet. And, when they do, we must be careful not to harm their development through colonization. This week is a bit of a deeper dive: The extraterrestrials have evolved so far beyond us that perhaps we could not encounter them. … the Transcension Hypothesis ventures that an advanced civilization will become fundamentally altered by its technology. In short, it theorizes that any ETIs that predate humanity have long-since transformed into something that is not recognizable by…

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Blue hydraulic Clow Crane used for picking up scrap metal at recycling yard

Is It Ethical To Scrap Star Trek’s Commander Data for Research?

A philosopher offers a thoughtful review of the case

In a thought-provoking essay, San José State University philosopher Anand Vaidya asks, should it be okay to dismantle Star Trek‘s robotic crew member Data for research purposes, as proposed in the “The Measure of a Man” episode in Star Trek: The Next Generation? Some of the Trek brass seemed to think so: Vaidya disagrees: As real artificial intelligence technology advances toward Hollywood’s imagined versions, the question of moral standing grows more important. If AIs have moral standing, philosophers like me reason, it could follow that they have a right to life. That means you cannot simply dismantle them, and might also mean that people shouldn’t interfere with their pursuing their goals. Anand Vaidya, “If a robot is conscious, is it…

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Alien Planet - 3D rendered computer artwork

What If We Don’t See Aliens Because They Have Not Evolved Yet?

If so, not only did we emerge during a favorable time in the universe’s history but we could end up suppressing them

Readers will recall that we have been looking at science writer Matt Williams’s analysis of the various reasons offered as to why we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. Last week, we looked at the Brief Window hypothesis (there is only a comparatively short period of time during which a civilization could make such contact). But there is another, darker possibility: We are ahead of them. And if we are not careful, we could end up suppressing them. That’s the Firstborn hypothesis: The universe has only begun to be hospitable to intelligent life and humans are among the first to benefit from that fact. The current model of the universe shows it radiating from the Big Bang over…

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Twin Moons over Alien Desert City with Pyramids

Is the Brief Window for Finding ET Closing?

According to some scenarios, we could be past our best-before date for contacting aliens

Readers will recall that we have been looking at science writer Matt Williams‘ analysis of the various reasons that we do not see extraterrestrials except at the movies. We’ve listed (below) the many interesting ideas he has covered but now here’s a new one!: What if there is only a brief window during which a space-faring civilization can even develop? For the sake of the Brief Window Hypothesis, the key parameter is L. In this case, it can be defined as the amount of time a civilization can be expected to exist before succumbing to an extinction-level event. This could take the form of a natural disaster (an asteroid impact) or come in the form of self-destruction (nuclear or biological…

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Distant planet system in space with exoplanets 3D rendering elements of this image furnished by NASA

Space Aliens Could in Fact Be Watching Us

Using the methods we use to spot exoplanets. But if they are technologically advanced, wouldn’t they be here by now?
Last week, we looked at the ominous “Great Filter” hypothesis about why the space aliens never show up: Something dreadful almost always happens to prevent a civilization from reaching the point of easy space-faring. Probably something to do with mutually self-destructive warfare. But this week, let’s start with something different first. Let’s look at the possibility that the extraterrestrial intelligences could be alive and watching us right now, using the very same methods we use to spot exoplanets. A recent open-access astronomy paper tried to calculate which aliens could actually spot us by whether Earth dims the Sun when passing it: These sudden drops in luminosity are very slight, but detectable nonetheless. These dimming events can yield other important data as well, allowing astronomers to determine the length of an exoplanet’s year, its temperature, and its chemical properties, the latter of which can be used to discern rocky planets from gas giants. Other detection techniques exist, such as the Doppler method, but the transit method continues to be the most reliable and straightforward. The number of stars that we can observe through our telescopes seems almost endless, but the transit method means we’re caught in a rather glaring observational selection effect. With the transit technique, we can only spot exoplanets that pass in front of their host stars from our line of sight. George Dvorsky, “Aliens From These Worlds Could Be Watching Us Right Now” at Gizmodo Of course, a life-bearing planet might be out of our line of sight but, as Dvorsky points out, astronomers have already spotted thousands of exoplanets, which enables some sort of analysis. And, he says, observers there might be able to detect whether an industrial civilization exists on Earth (composition of gases, for example). The projected James Webb telescope could do that for their planets too. But now, on the other side, let’s look at the Hart-Tipler Conjecture: “Extraterrestrial intelligent beings do not exist” (1980). If they did, within 300 million years, they would have developed advanced technology and be here by now.” Or maybe by 650,000 years. Either way, they have had enough time. Here are some of the actual constraints of space exploration: As we may guess, a conjecture that the aliens must have reached or contacted us if they really existed is not popular among searchers of the skies. Consider a 2015 discussion at Universe Today by Toronto researcher and science writer Paul Patton of the Hart-Tipler conjecture. As Patton notes, that hypothesis originated nearly a half century ago in a paper by astronomer Michael H. Hart. The paper doesn’t seem to be open access but an astronomy letter responding to it may be found here. And how did eclectic Tulane physicist Frank Tipler become involved? Patton tells us that Tipler extended the argument in 1980, pointing out that even if they couldn’t visit Earth themselves, intelligent aliens could certainly have developed intelligent robots that could. Curiously, Tipler made that point long before artificial intelligence (AI) triumphed in many strategic games like Go, chess, and StarCraft II. So if we want to say that Tipler is wrong, we need something more compelling than “We don’t like his idea.” As it happens, those who persist in the search for extraterrestrial intelligences often become impatient with such skeptics. Patton, for example, cites alternative authorities like Carl Sagan (1934–1996): Besides assuming that interstellar travel is feasible, Hart’s argument is based on very specific and highly speculative ideas about how extraterrestrials must behave. He assumed that they would pursue a policy of unlimited expansion, that they would expand quickly, and that once their colonies were established, they would last for millions or even billions of years. If any of his speculations about how extraterrestrials will act aren’t right, then his argument that they don’t exist fails… Paul Patton, “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” II: Questioning the Hart-Tipler Conjecture” at Universe Today As might be expected, Carl Sagan and William Newman responded in 1981, offering a more hopeful analysis, based on the spread of animal populations: For Newman and Sagan, the absence of extraterrestrials on Earth doesn’t mean that they don’t exist elsewhere in the galaxy, or that they never launch starships. It just means that they don’t behave in the way Hart expected. They conclude that “except possibly in the very early history of the Galaxy, there are no very old galactic civilizations with a consistent policy of conquest of inhabited worlds; there is no Galactic Empire”. Paul Patton, “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” II: Questioning the Hart-Tipler Conjecture” at Universe Today Well, we don’t really have a good reason for being sorry about the absence of a Galactic Empire, do we? Maybe the aliens view the current turmoil here on Earth as a kind of distant soap opera. Maybe they’re just a studio audience and the show sells advertising in a distant galaxy. The audience can never get here, in the same way that we can’t intervene in a historical drama to save the heroine from the stake. Can we prove that’s not true? Anyway, next Sci-Fi Saturday, we will look at another account of why we don’t see the aliens! You may also enjoy these accounts of why we do not see the aliens: 1.Are the Aliens We Never Find Obeying Star Trek’s Prime Directive? The Directive is, don’t interfere in the evolution of alien societies, even if you have good intentions. Assuming the aliens exist, perhaps it’s just as well, on the whole, if they do want to leave us alone. They could want to “fix” us instead… 2.How can we be sure we are not just an ET’s simulation? A number of books and films are based on the idea. Should we believe it? We make a faith-based decision that logic and evidence together are reasonable guides to what is true. Logical possibility alone does not make an idea true. 3.Did the smart machines destroy the aliens who invented them? That’s the Berserker hypothesis. A smart deadly weapon could well decide to do without its… Read More ›
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the ultimate destruction of the planet in a great cosmic catastrophe 3d illustration

Does Science Fiction Hint That We Are Actually Doomed?

That’s the implication of an influential theory as to why we never see extraterrestrials

Recently science and science fiction writer Matt Williams has been writing a series at Universe Today on why the extraterrestrial intelligences that many believe must exist in our universe never show up. Last week, we looked at the hypothesis that planets that can host life are rare so there are not many aliens out there to find. This week we look at a more ominous hypothesis. In “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” III: What is the Great Filter?” (July 23, 2020), Williams asks us to consider: “there is something in the Universe that prevents life from reaching the point where we would be able to hear from it.” What could that “something” be? The term “the Great Filter” was coined to describe…

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The region 30 Doradus lies in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy.

Maybe There Are Just Very Few Aliens Out There…

The Rare Earth hypothesis offers science-based reasons that life in the universe is rare

Recently, science and science fiction writer Matt Williams has been writing a series at Universe Today on why extraterrestrial intelligences never make contact with us. Last week, we looked at the hypothesis that, to avoid the heat destruction of their advanced technology, the aliens have put themselves into a digital slumber until the universe cools down. This week, let’s look at a quite different approach, which Williams outlines in “Beyond “Fermi’s Paradox” IV: What is the Rare Earth Hypothesis?” (July 29, 2020): That is “the possibility that life-bearing planets like Earth are just very rare.” We don’t see aliens because they are very uncommon: This is what is popularly known as the “Rare Earth Hypothesis,” which argues that the emergence…