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Comment: Re:AI researcher here (Score 1) 318

by jc42 (#48446893) Attached to: Alva Noe: Don't Worry About the Singularity, We Can't Even Copy an Amoeba

Agree, way too many people who should know better still conflate consciousness with intelligence. An ant's nest exhibits intelligent behaviour but it can't contemplate it's own existence, ...

So how exactly do we know this? I haven't read of any studies on the topic. Could you give us a link to a study showing what ant nests actually contemplate?

Comment: Re:that's because (Score 2) 322

by jc42 (#48445773) Attached to: Blame America For Everything You Hate About "Internet Culture"

The portion of the American population that actually does useful stuff like network computers is a tiny, tiny fraction that is pretty much considered a bunch of "weirdos" by the rest of society (and you know it). New technologies are almost all developed in universities which are mostly made up of immigrants. America is being propped up by immigrants and geeks, the very people everyone else hates. Wake up and realize that the country you're living in hates you and does not deserve your presence.

Yeah, as an American teenager who was repeatedly voted "smartest" in his class, I realized all that decades ago. That's why I've mostly lived in close proximity to academia for most of my life since then, and have associated mostly with a crowd that has a high proportion of "furriners". It also has a lot to do with my migration into the Internet-development field, where my professional connections tend to be the same sort of furriners.

Generalizations about the citizens of a country are generally nonsense. I have lots of friends in other countries that I've never met, and I personally don't consider that at all odd. It's one of the things that this Internet thing was more-or-less designed to encourage. The practice of categorizing people by the accident of where they were born is ultimately doomed, though I expect it to live on long after it has become nonsense. Sorta like categorizing people by their sex or age or race or religion or ... ;-)

Comment: Re:Global warming is bunk anyway. (Score 2) 331

Its ironic that one of the potential benefits of geoengineering research is that it will force many climate change deniers to admit that its possible for human activity to have major deleterious effects on Earth's climate.

Probably not. Consider the thoroughly-documented example of the evolutionary process at work in the modern world. This doesn't affect the belief systems of the religious folks, who still insist that evolution is bogus, and has nothing to do with our modern world. One of the major cases is with the over-use of antibiotics, especially in agriculture. This is forcing the evolution of resistance in most of our disease organisms, destroying the value of many of our medicines. The evidence of all this has no effect at all on the religious believers. They also put pressure on the school systems (especially here in the US) to eliminate evolution from the textbooks, so the people responsible for this evolutionary pressure (mostly in agriculture, but also in medicine) don't understand the issues, and continue to make frivolous or incorrect use of the antibiotics.

Historians have documented many such cases in which our ancestors had knowledge that their actions were leading to disasters, but they continued anyway. These are typically cases where short-term actions were profitable to the people doing them, but bad for society in the long run. History says that we humans don't respond logically to such situations. We continue to act for short-term profit, and ignore the long-term results. Our "leaders" also tend to take actions that encourage this, by hiding the information or denying the validity of knowledge that can't be hidden.

There's no reason to expect that we can organize on a global scale to fix such problems. Our political systems tend to be controlled by the wealthier people, who are the ones ultimately profiting from the short-term results of the problems. About all we can do is prepare for the predictable long-term results, when possible.

Comment: Re:But but but th-the Chinese! (Score 1) 61

And the Russians! Aren't they the chief troublemakers? How can we push our pre-emptive cyberwarfare withouth a boogeyman foreigner?

Nah; today the term is "terrist". ;-) And them terrists can live nearly anywhere. There are lots of them in China, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Brazil, and all those Muslim countries that are our current Enemies of Choice. And you can even find them in Canada.

In Russia, "cyberwarfare" (aka "hacking" to the MSM) is becoming a public, respectable industry. They're into it as a way to systematically make a lot of money, putting them in essentially the same class as most of management in the corporate world. But in other parts of the world, it's more often a case of causing trouble for your victim, rather than just making money off them.

Comment: Re:Have we discovered all there is to discover? (Score 3, Informative) 221

Not quite. They're suggesting that there's a good chance that there's an entirely different domain (or more) of life other than eukaryotes, bacteria, and archaea. That's a pretty radical proposition, ...

Um, not really. A bit of quick googling verified within a minute my memory that the "discovery" of the archaea only dates back to the 1970s. Before that, the few that were known were (mis)classified as bacteria. Then a few researchers looked into their details, and showed that they weren't bacteria at all. Biologists basically watched the discussions, and eventually recognized that those researchers were right, and since then we've had 3 "kingdoms" of Earthly life forms.

It's the idea that those 3 root classifications are all there is that's really radical. The default conjecture should really be that, if we discovered such a major root clade so recently, there are probably more waiting to be discovered. Assuming otherwise mostly just shows a lack of knowledge of the recent history of biological discovery.

In particular, someone else has already mentioned the fact that the various deep-drilling projects have found living things kilometers deep in the rocks, no matter where they've drilled. The folks working with this data have estimated that there's more biomass below the surface water+soil layer than there is above it. It's likely that the critters living their slow, warm lives down there are radically different from anything up here on the planet's thin skin. Learning about them is going to take time. (And we can hope that the rapid expansion of "fracking" won't cause a mass extinction due to the massive habitat destruction down there before we have a chance to study them. ;-)

Comment: Re:Not Planets (Score 1) 219

by jc42 (#48280401) Attached to: Most Planets In the Universe Are Homeless

Perhaps that discover will put a stake in that silly redefinition of the word.

And, anyway, this always seemed like the obvious truth. I'd have been shocked if there weren't massive numbers of primary-less planets out there. If you plot star masses versus size, the quantity goes up and up as the mass goes down, to the point they stop radiating. At that point we can't really see them anymore, but there's no reason to doubt that the curve keeps extending.

Some years back (probably in the 1980s), I read an article by an astronomer who had collected lots of info on what was known of the distribution of mass of various sizes. It included a graph of mean size-vs-density, from monatomic H through various common small molecules, on to dust clouds, planets, and stars of various sizes, for our galaxy and a few others that had enough data to be useful. The graph had a long gap between planets (then known only for our solar system) and stars. The writer commented that there was no data at all in this gap, but the two ends did appear to extend to meet each other. So the obvious conjecture was that the distribution continued through the gap, and if so, it would come close to accounting for the "missing mass" needed to explain galaxy rotation.

This was pure conjecture, of course, and since little is actually known about planet formation outside our solar system, it wouldn't be surprising if the actual distribution has dips at various size ranges. But assuming that the gap has the value zero is not very sensible. The obvious approach would be to say that we don't actually know, and Further Research Is Needed.

I wonder if I could find that article again ...

Comment: Re:Not Planets (Score 1) 219

by jc42 (#48280273) Attached to: Most Planets In the Universe Are Homeless

The IAU definition only applies to objects in this solar system. It says nothing about objects outside this solar system. It is very clear about that.

So obviously there are no "planets" at all outside our solar system. ;-)

Maybe astronomers should just make up a new term for the concept. Or maybe several terms. After all, how useful is a term that includes both Mercury and Jupiter? Especially if it excludes Pluto, Titan and Sedna.

Comment: Re: Exinction (Score 5, Insightful) 128

by jc42 (#48209851) Attached to: Oldest Human Genome Reveals When Our Ancestors Mixed With Neanderthals

My guess is that the fact that no organisms exist with a Neanderthal genome defines them as extinct. Where one draws the line is more art than science I guess ... I know that there are some genetics in us (like the HMG group of proteins) that are ancient, but work so well that we still retain them. That doesn't mean the first species to have evolved them isn't extinct, it just means we evolved from them.

Well, I don't think that quite matches the scientific concept of "species". By your definition, almost all species who were alive 50,000 years ago would be considered extinct, but hardly any biologists would agree with that. It's true that no humans alive today have 100% Neanderthal genes, but it's also nearly certain that there are no living humans with 100% Cro-Magnon genes, either. What happened would be considered a mixing of several human sub-species after migrations of one or more African groups into Eurasia. The Cro-Magnon sub-species disappeared, too, and modern human Caucasian and Asian sub-species are the results of that mixing. This sort of thing happens in species all the time, when conditions allow such genetic mixing, and the result is rarely considered a new species.

The fact is that modern humans are all one species. We can and do interbreed when groups mingle, and there are no groups of modern humans that are genetically incompatible. If sub-species "disappear" by genetic mixing, that is usually not called an extinction event. It's just the routine and normal mingling of subspecies.

An interesting contrast is that most North American duck species are known to hybridize occasionally, and the offspring are usually fertile. Does this mean they're really all one species? No, because they all mingle a lot, but interbreeding is rare. They have "behavioral" species-separation features, mostly based on female mate choice. The females are mostly all mottled brown (protective coloring), and the males often approach females of other species (because they can't tell them apart either ;-). But the females usually only accept males that have the "right" color markings; the others are ugly to them. This suffices to keep the species separate, though there is probably a very low level of genetic interchange between many of the species.

But humans aren't like this. Even if we do generally prefer mates in our own subspecies, most of us do find many members of other subspecies physically attractive, and we'll mate with them given the opportunity. This means that we really are all the same species. We now have good evidence that the Neandertals were merely another subspecies, because when they had the opportunity, they did interbreed with those slender, dark-skinned folks who migrated into their territory. They did so often enough to produce a new subspecies that's physically distinct from either of the earlier two (or three or more).

Comment: Re:ancient news (Score 1) 87

by jc42 (#48161417) Attached to: Early Childhood Neglect Associated With Altered Brain Structure, ADHD

Decades ago there was an experiment with monkeys deprived of maternal support to varying degrees. Some not allowed to touch or see the mother. Autopsies showed that the deprived monkeys had massive (and obvious to any observer) brain deficiencies. These monkeys were never able to adjust to social settings with others of their kind. Their behavior was obviously abnormal. My impression was that every moment of their life was stressful for them. Sorry I can't recall the source of the video I saw.

This result would be the same for dogs, cats and humans. I can't comprehend why it would be news in the year 2014.

Hmmm ... You seem to have missed the even more "interesting" followup studies. I was a grad student working with some of those reasearchers, so I heard a bit about it. They took their adult solo-raised monkeys, who were highly asocial, and caged them for a while with infant monkeys. After a few months, they took those individuals and put them in the "social" cages with established groups of their own species -- and they behaved like normal, socialized monkeys.

So maybe we could try this with our "deprived" human children. Put them into a social setting (perhaps schools) with younger children, and watch their interactions. They aren't monkeys, of course, but we are all close relatives, so maybe it would work with them, and they'd become at least somewhat better-socialized humans after a while.

Or maybe humans are hopeless. We don't really know until we do such experiments on ourselves. But we do seem to have a population of good test subjects, and the results couldn't be much worse than what we've been doing. Imprisoning such young adults in response to minor mischief would seem to be exactly the wrong thing to do, if those monkey experiments apply to our species, too.

Comment: Re:No Carriers (Score 4, Insightful) 149

by jc42 (#48143443) Attached to: ISPs Violating Net Neutrality To Block Encryption

They block encryption they are violating the telecommunication laws. And so they are not a carrier anymore.

If you mean "common carrier" then the truth is that they never where one.

Maybe we should be looking at the origins of the "common carrier" concept, and learn how they apply to the current situation. A number of historians have written on this topic, and the history definitely applies to our modern network.

Part of the explanation of how "common carrier" arose is in the well-known phrase "kill the messenger". Centuries ago, this was a very real problem. It wasn't unusual for a prince (or other powerful personage) to respond to the receipt of a message he didn't like by punishing the poor fellow who delivered it. The carrier services replied to this in about the only way they could: They opened and read the messages, and if they thought the recipient would react by harming their carrier, they would "edit" the message. And when dealing with a recipient who had a bad history, they'd often sell the message's content to the enemies of the sender or receiver.

Eventually the smarter princes figured out that a reliable message service was worth more than the temporary enjoyment they got from torturing or killing the messenger. So some of them got together with the message services, and worked out an agreement: If a sender and receiver had both signed on with a message company, they could send "sealed" messages, which the message carriers would promise to deliver unopened. But this would only apply if the sender and receiver had both promised not to damage the carriers employees or equipment, etc., etc.

This worked out to the advantage of the princes who joined in such agreements, so the practice spread, and became known (in English) by the phrase "common carrier".

It's easy to see how this all might apply to our current topic. The ISPs are "carriers", but not "common carriers". They have a record of opening and reading our communications, and selling the contents to "enemies" like marketers and government agencies. We're now engaged in collecting evidence about this behavior, and publishing it openly. We should make it clear that, as long as the ISPs continue acting in such perfidious ways, we will continue to work to expose their behavior to the general public, including people they views as their enemies (or "competitors";-).

The parallels to the original situation aren't exact, but we might benefit by knowing the history and trying to find a similar solution that can work today.

Comment: Re:What about the environment? (Score 1) 367

by jc42 (#48132717) Attached to: PETA Is Not Happy That Google Used a Camel To Get a Desert "StreetView"

Yeah exactly! I feel PETA is saying, blah blah blah - use petrol and kill off the animals.

Wait - the "slow food" movement would say "go local."

I'm so confused. Is global warming coming or not?!

Nah; it's not coming at all. It's here. And we're not gonna do a thing about it, so we'll just have to adapt. And migrate inland as our coastal areas slowly flood out.

Here in New England, one of the running jokes for the past decade or so has been for one person to ask what time the robins arrived this year, and another person says "They didn't return; they never left."

Actually, it is a bit more complicated than that. They're one of the many semi-migratory birds now. Part of the population heads south when it gets too cold. But we've seen robins in our yard (in a western suburb of Boston) every month of the year for about 10 years now, while before that, they were almost never seen in December, January or February. This was never exact, though, since their normal winter range did extend to around New York (and southern Nova Scotia ;-), and they were reported around Boston occasionally during warm winters. If you look in older bird books, you can see the robins' winter range ending somewhere south of us, depending on the book, while the current books show it extending to around the New Hampshire border.

But still, they're a locally obvious sign that the climate has shifted north by a hundred miles or so. And a casual search of the topic will make it clear that the US government and most of the population have no intention of doing anything serious to change the trend. The scientists have clearly pinned the blame on human activity, and the engineers point out that this means we now know how to control the climate if we want to. But we (collectively) don't want to.

(Then there's the local joke about all the folks in New Hampshire and Maine who think global warming sounds like a fine idea. Myself, I intend to plant a palm tree in our yard as soon as they become available in the nurseries, which may happen soon. ;-)

Comment: Re:Let's get our priorities straight here! (Score 1) 367

by jc42 (#48132409) Attached to: PETA Is Not Happy That Google Used a Camel To Get a Desert "StreetView"

Heh. The example I like to use is to point out that killing one cow (or steer) means around 100 meals for a human, while eating a single slice of bread means you're responsible for the death of around 100 baby wheat plants (and probably a thousand living, breathing yeasts). Or: When you eat a hamburger, the meat part is entails less than .01 deaths, while the bread part caused the death of 100 to 1000 living creatures. So it's the vegetarians that are doing the real mass killing of prey.

Of course, this is a bit disingenuous, since the animal was probably fed on grains. But you can confuse this issue a bit by pointing out that cattle actually evolved as grazers mostly on the vegetative parts of their grassy "prey", not the seeds, and the plants can quickly regrow their leaves. Our feedlots are responsible for lots of deaths of little baby grains, true, but naturally-raised beef wouldn't do this. They do ingest at least a few of the seeds, so the issue isn't quite so clear, but it's basically accurate.

For some reason, people with ethical concerns about eating animals never seem to consider that plants are also living creatures. They seem to think that killing a single animal is something horrible, while there's nothing wrong with mass murder of baby grain plants. But you can confuse them a bit by talking about the plants as living creatures. Produce the image of an animal thousands of times our size, collecting our babies and tossing them alive into large hoppers, to be ground to a paste for the next meal. That's what we do to wheat plants. Hiding it in a grain mill doesn't change the fact.

Unfortunately, we're animals, and we can't get our food from the sun, air and dirt. To live, we must kill other living things and eat them. There are marginal cases, such as fruits that were evolved as animal food (to trick animals into transporting the seeds). But we humans can't live on fruit alone; we do have to kill other species for most of our food. This slightly complicates the moral and ethical issues.

Comment: Re:Hoax (Score 1) 986

Yeah, and they both stole geometry from Euclides, and numbers from India. Also, General Relativity, thousands of times more important (and difficult) that E=mc2, didn't happen. It was all a dream.

And they all stood on Newton's shoulders.

No, wait; Newton came after Euclides. So Newton must have stood on his shoulders.

The human pyramid is getting rather tall, and a bit top-heavy.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.