Artificial Stupidity?

Mark Bishop has an interesting article up called The Danger of Artificial Stupidity that looks at some interesting questions about how dangerous A.I. might be and what the real danger might be after all.

It is not often that you are obliged to proclaim a much-loved international genius wrong, but in the alarming prediction made recently regarding Artificial Intelligence and the future of humankind, I believe Professor Stephen Hawking is. Well to be precise, being a theoretical physicist — in an echo of Schrödinger’s cat, famously both dead and alive at the same time — I believe the Professor is both wrong and right at the same time.

Wrong because there are strong grounds for believing that computers will never be able to replicate all human cognitive faculties and right because even such emasculated machines may still pose a threat to humanity’s future existence; an existential threat, so to speak.

In an interview on December 2, 2014 Rory Cellan-Jones asked how far engineers had come along the path towards creating artificial intelligence, and slightly worryingly Professor Hawking, replied “Once humans develop artificial intelligence it would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Although grabbing headlines, such predictions are not new in the world of science and science fiction; indeed my old boss at the University of Reading, Professor Kevin Warwick, made a very similar prediction back in 1997 in his book “March of the Machines.” In that book Kevin observed that even in 1997 there were already robots with the “brain power of an insect”; soon, he predicted, there would be robots with the brain power of a cat, and soon after that there would be machines as intelligent as humans. When this happens, Warwick claimed, the science fiction nightmare of a “Terminator” machine could quickly become reality, because these robots will rapidly become more intelligent than and superior in their practical skills to the humans that designed and constructed them.

The notion of humankind subjugated by evil machines is based on the ideology that all aspects of human mentality will eventually be instantiated by an artificial intelligence program running on a suitable computer, a so-called “Strong AI” [1]. Of course if this is possible, accelerating progress in AI technologies — caused both by the use of AI systems to design ever more sophisticated AIs and the continued doubling of raw computational power every two years as predicted by Moore’s law — will eventually cause a runaway effect wherein the artificial intelligence will inexorably come to exceed human performance on all tasks: the so-called point of “singularity” first popularized by the American futurologist Ray Kurzweil.

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Blue is apparently a new idea!

Business Insider has a really interesting article up called No one could see the colour blue until modern times that explores the idea that the colour blue is not something people perceived long ago. Or at least not in the way we do today. It is fascinating.

This isn’t another story about that dress, or at least, not really.

It’s about the way that humans see the world, and how until we have a way to describe something, even something so fundamental as a colour, we may not even notice that it’s there.

Until relatively recently in human history, “blue” didn’t exist.

As the delightful Radiolab episode “Colours” describes, ancient languages didn’t have a word for blue — not Greek, not Chinese, not Japanese, not Hebrew. And without a word for the colour, there’s evidence that they may not have seen it at all.

How we realised blue was missing
In the Odyssey, Homer famously describes the “wine-dark sea.” But why “wine-dark” and not deep blue or green?

In 1858, a scholar named William Gladstone, who later became the Prime Minister of Great Britain, noticed that this wasn’t the only strange colour description. Though the poet spends page after page describing the intricate details of clothing, armour, weaponry, facial features, animals, and more, his references to colour are strange. Iron and sheep are violet, honey is green.

So Gladstone decided to count the colour references in the book. And while black is mentioned almost 200 times and white around 100, other colours are rare. Red is mentioned fewer than 15 times, and yellow and green fewer than 10. Gladstone started looking at other ancient Greek texts, and noticed the same thing — there was never anything described as “blue.” The word didn’t even exist.

It seemed the Greeks lived in murky and muddy world, devoid of colour, mostly black and white and metallic, with occasional flashes of red or yellow.

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Should we visit Europa?


Vox has an interesting post up that looks at why Scientists think there could be life on Jupiter’s moon Europa.. Space exploration seems like a reasonable use of state money, or at least more reasonable than so many other uses so I can get behind this sort of thing. Do you think it is worth it to visit Europa?

Our best shot at finding extraterrestrial life inside the solar system isn’t on Mars. It’s on Europa: a moon of Jupiter that likely has a vast water ocean under its ultra-cold, icy surface. And if all goes as planned, NASA will begin planning an uncrewed exploration mission to Europa next year.

“We think Europa has the ingredients for life,” says Robert Pappalardo, the mission’s project scientist. “Not just liquid water, but probably the right elements and chemical energy that might permit life too.”

After years of failed attempts, NASA appears to be on the verge of finally getting funding for a mission to learn more about Europa, with dedicated money in President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget and support from Republicans in Congress.

The mission’s probe, called the Europa Clipper, would be launched in 2025 and eventually enter orbit around Jupiter, allowing it to fly by the icy moon dozens of times and gather data on the liquid ocean believed to exist under its surface.

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Strange Light Baffles Scientists: Dwarf Planet Ceres!

My guess is that it is a reflection…but how cool if it was something else?

Strange lights on dwarf planet Ceres have scientists perplexed

Two strange reflective patches spotted on Ceres.
Image: NASA, JPL
A dwarf planet is shining two bright lights at a NASA spacecraft right now, and our smartest scientists are unsure what they are.As bizarre as that sentence sounds, that’s the situation with Ceres — the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, officially designated as a dwarf planet (the same category as Pluto).

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is approaching Ceres ahead of a March 6 rendezvous. The picture above was taken February 19, from a distance of just under 29,000 miles, and shows two very shiny areas on the same basin on Ceres’ surface.

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Carbonating alcohol … For Science!


There is an interesting post over at Supercompressor that has the author experimenting with a soda stream (I can’t believe these are back, we had one of these when I was a kid!) and his collection of alcohol. The results are interesting … For Science!

I mean, this is it, people. Forget gourmet soda and seltzer water, this is the reason why the Sodastream exists. After seeing this thunderous success (well, disaster) on YouTube, I recently dipped into my vast collection of liquor bottles from the boozy coffin encompassing my desk and used a newly-acquired Sodastream to make delicious carbonated beverages.

In the early afternoon hours—positively high on power and carbon dioxide—I tasted each and every kind of sparkly-booze I could procure. Presented to you, with unabashed honesty and tipsiness, are my findings.

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10 Impossible things before breakfast

List Verse has an interesting list up called 10 Seemingly Impossible Things Made Possible By Science.

The whole list is pretty good. Coming in at number 10 was Quantum Teleportation and getting cooler and stranger from there.

Check the whole list out

How not to science!

The TOF Spot has an interesting article up called A Startling Proposal that offers an obvious suggestion about how science can be corrupted by scientists who fail to practice their craft properly.

The suggestion has been made that predictions made by scientific studies be checked against Actual Results in what TOF joshingly refers to as “The Real World™.” A band of intrepid researchers have compared the actual rates of glioma to the rates expected by the seminal Swedish study linking them to cell phone use. The graph to the right covers non-Hispanic white males from 1992/97 to 2008. Corrections were made for the delay of onset. The results are discussed less dauntingly here.

As we can see, the rate of gliomas has remained essentially unchanged even while cell phone use was skyrocketing. The exponential curve is where we would expect to find glioma rates if we took the predictions of the Swedish study as, well, predictions.

Should this novel approach be applied to other studies, especially those based not on data (whether case control or observational) but on “data” produced by “models”? Will the idea catch on? What a notion!

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