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Comment: Re:It'll never happen (Score 1) 221

by sbaker (#48928371) Attached to: The discovery of intelligent alien life would be met predominantly with...

Negative energy isn't antimatter. If it was, then colliding anti-matter with regular matter would produce a soft 'poof' sound rather than a gigantic explosion. E=mc^2 applies to antimatter...it doesn't have negative mass - so it doesn't have negative energy either.

Negative energy means your idea doesn't work.

Comment: How are these things "bots"? (Score 3, Informative) 41

by sbaker (#48868065) Attached to: Microbots Deliver Medical Payload In Living Creature For the First Time

So it looks like these things are basically zinc-lined tubes...no sensors, no guidance, no controls, no electronics, no communications or intelligence of any kind.

How is that a "bot"?

The gizmag report (second link in the story here) has a very beautiful picture of something which looks like a proper robot...but the other two links show simple cylinders.

I could imagine it being a motor for a bot...but it's nowhere *REMOTELY* near being an actual robot, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Look...this is an impressive achievement, it's very clever and I'm sure it has some very neat applications - but let's not over-sell it?

Argh!

Comment: It's not about the presenter. (Score 4, Insightful) 227

by sbaker (#48806363) Attached to: Lawrence Krauss On Scientists As Celebrities: Good For Science?

Einstein and Feynman were both nobel prize winners and Hawkins has Sir Isaac Newton's mathematics chair - we probably shouldn't downplay their achievements!

Carl Sagan was on the slippery slope. He certainly did some good science - but he's hardly up there with the previous three. Tyson has a few decent papers to his name, and his career isn't over yet - but I don't think he's coming close to the others in terms of science achievements.

Einstein was the world's worst communicator. Feynman and Hawkins are better - Sagan was astounding and Tyson may be yet better.

I suppose we might be concerned that there is a pattern here. We're taking people who are better communicators in preference to those who really know their stuff.

But honestly, does it matter? The presenter of a show reads from a script - (s)he is basically an actor. If the author of the script sticks to an accurate portrayal of what's written by the hard-core scientists - then why not pick an engaging personality to present it to us?

The critical part of the cycle is the person who decides WHICH science gets discussed. De Grasse Tyson is often talking about tacheons, wormholes and white holes and other claptrap that's horribly speculative, wildly unusupported, and very probably untrue. As an astrophysicist, he should know better - but as a TV presenter, he does a reasonable job of reading the script.

I'd prefer to have a complete non-scientist who is a supreme communicator be given a script written by good script writers from material handed to them by the hard core scientists behind the scenes - than to rely on a lower-tier scientist (or a high-tier scientist with poor communications skills) to do the entire job.

    -- Steve

+ - Ancient Viruses Hacked Human Brains-> 1

Submitted by giulioprisco
giulioprisco (2448064) writes "A new study from Lund University in Sweden indicates that inherited viruses that are millions of years old play an important role in building up the complex networks that characterize the human brain. The Lund study shows that retroviruses seem to play a central role in the basic functions of the brain — over the course of evolution, the viruses took an increasingly firm hold on the steering wheel in our cellular machinery. In particular, the retroviruses seem to play an important role in the regulation of which genes are to be expressed, and when."
Link to Original Source

+ - 300 Stanford professors call for full fossil fuel divestment->

Submitted by mdsolar
mdsolar (1045926) writes "Some 300 professors from Stanford University, California, have called for the school to fully divest from the fossil fuels industry, arguing that the magnitude of climate change calls for a thorough commitment, not a partial solution.

In May last year, the board of trustees at the prestigious university decided not to make any more direct investments in coal mining companies, stating that the energy source is polluting and no longer necessary given the clean alternatives now available. The school also said it would divest from the holdings it currently owns in such firms.

However, professors at the university are now calling for the school to get rid of all fossil fuel investments.

A letter from the professors, which has been published in the Guardian, notes that companies currently own fossil fuel holdings sufficient to produce 2,795 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide – five times the amount recommended if global warming is to remain with the 2C limit, past which scientists have warned that the effects of climate change will become more extreme and unpredictable."

Link to Original Source

+ - AI experts sign open letter pledging to protect mankind from machines->

Submitted by hypnosec
hypnosec (2231454) writes "Artificial intelligence (AI) experts from all across the globe are signing an open letter urging that AI research should not only be done to make it more capable, but should also proceed in a direction that makes it more robust and beneficial all the while protecting mankind from machines. Future of Life Institute, a volunteer-only research organization, has put out an open letter to ensure that the progress in the field of AI does not grow out of control – an early attempt to draw everyone’s mind towards the probable dangers of a machine that could enslave humankind. The letter’s concluding remarks read: “Success in the quest for artificial intelligence has the potential to bring unprecedented benefits to humanity, and it is therefore worthwhile to research how to maximize these benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.”"
Link to Original Source

Comment: Re:A Simple Retort (Score 5, Interesting) 556

You have that a little wrong. God *can* (in principle) be proven. If the sky breaks open, choirs of angels break forth, a 10km-long arm reaches down from the skies and an 8km golden-haired, bearded face looks down upon humanity and utters words of unshakable truth...then God is proven.

God cannot, however, be DISproven. It's an unfalsifiable hypothesis. So, you're right, science cannot ever say, definitively, that god doesn't exist. It also can't disprove the hypothesis that the universe was created by an invisible pink unicorn...or any other random idea that humans might come up with that entails a literally omnipotent/omniscient being.

But that COMPLETELY misses what this is all about. The original WSJ article is a non-scientist claiming that science has indeed proven the existence of god. That's quite clearly incorrect...and I think you'd have to look very hard to find a competent scientist in the fields involved who'd agree with that claim. So WSJ (essentially) published something that's completely untrue, incorrect, misleading - just plain *WRONG*...and journalistic integrity says that they should now be working very hard to fix that...not rejecting a perfectly sensible response from someone who knows exactly what he's talking about.

So bad on WSJ...and at least we can make that badness clear by discussing it here.

Comment: Re:Yawn (Score 4, Insightful) 556

When you publish something controversial (which the original article most certainly was) and take the word of someone who is self-evidently not an expert in the field about which he's writing - you really have to do one of two things:

a) Do careful fact-checking on the article and publish it as 'The Truth'...or...
b) Publish it as an op-ed piece - essentially saying "This is just the opinion of this guy".

This clearly wasn't (a) - so WSJ doesn't have to admit error or look bad in the eyes of the public. However, when accepting op-ed pieces, they need to be acutely aware of bias - and when a well-written response is provided - especially by an expert in the field - it deserves equal coverage...and that's where they failed.

I can actually understand them not wanting to publish this response as a "letter to the editor" kind of thing - but they really *should* commission an author with scientific credentials to write an opposing-view op-ed piece of more substantial weight.

Comment: Re:Hot Glue Guns (Score 1) 175

by sbaker (#48608953) Attached to: 3D Printer?

I have a couple of 100 watt laser cutters. They cut 3/16" plywood really nicely - and 1/2" plywood with difficulty...providing they are properly cleaned and focussed and cutting at around 2000mm/minute. A 2 watt laser...well, draw your own conclusions. There is no magic going on. To cut wood that thick, it has to move VERY slowly and probably make multiple cut passes.

The Blu-ray laser approach *IS* great for thin materials though. 1/16" balsa, paper, cloth, that kind of thing. So this is a useful contraption - I just wish they wouldn't over-sell it...it's just not that good.

Comment: That's not the reason you're being ignored. (Score 5, Insightful) 406

by sbaker (#48140939) Attached to: Flight Attendants Want Stricter Gadget Rules Reinstated

People don't listen to that preflight announcement stuff because they've heard it a hundred times before. People who've flown even a couple of times before don't need to listen. People who are on their first flight, where it's all new and exciting are paying attention.

So, no - I know how to wear a seatbelt and that my seat cushion can be used as a floatation device and to check where the nearest exit row is...yadda yadda yadda. I can stick my nose into my phone and I won't miss anything important.

What's needed is either to make those instructions INTERESTING (like the Southwest Airlines people often do) - or to only give the routine instructions to people who need it. That way, when something truly important comes up, people will pay attention.

Comment: Minix on Atari ST (Score 3, Interesting) 136

by sbaker (#47424723) Attached to: Prof. Andy Tanenbaum Retires From Vrije University

I ran Minix for a year or more on my Atari ST - having a UNIX-like operating system on a machine I could have at home was a truly awesome thing. Tanenbaum's work is fascinating, useful and will be around for a good while...which is more or less the definition of "successful" in academic circles.

The debates with Linus were interesting - but I always felt that they were arguing at cross-purposes. Linus wanted a quick implementation of something indistinguishable from "real UNIX" - Tanenbaum wanted something beautiful and elegant. Both got what they wanted - there was (and continues to be) no reason why they can't both continue to exist and be useful.

Tanenbaum's statement that the computer would mostly be running one program at a time was clearly unreasonable for a PC - but think about phones or embedded controllers like BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi? Perhaps Minix is a better solution in those kinds of applications?

Comment: Re:Turing Test Failed (Score 1) 432

by sbaker (#47204313) Attached to: Turing Test Passed

I think that to pass the Turing test, you have to tell the judges that the entity they are about to talk to *might* be a computer program. Eliza worked because people had never encountered a computer that even tried to be remotely human - so the assumption was that this was a real person from the outset. Also Eliza is a psychologist - so she gets to ask all the questions and steer the conversation into territory she can actually handle. Responses to things she can't parse are things like "So how does that make YOU feel?" - which work in that situation.

In a real turing test, the questions are completely open and the judge is initially highly sceptical that this is a real human.

Judges in these contests always seem to low-ball the questions. Ask "How would Santa Claus fend off a horde of attacking Ninjas?"

Those are insanely difficult questions for an AI to get right without some neutral "I don't feel like answering that right now" kind of response. A 13 year old kid would leap in and start wondering whether Santa could fly away in his sleigh and drop presents on them...or set the elves loose on them...or ask another question in return, like "Can the reindeer help out?"

Something that requires creativity - not just knowledge (which Watson could pull off) or a decent use of the English language (which Eliza could manage to some degree).

Comment: Re:Energy itself as currency. (Score 3, Interesting) 532

by sbaker (#44974389) Attached to: I'd prefer my money be made of ...

Of course people soon became tired of lugging tons of batteries around with them - and having to stand in line to get them charged up at the end of every work-day. Also, measuring the amount of charge transferred between your battery and that of the supermarket when buying a pound of carrots was always a matter of some dispute. Hence there came to be standard batteries with numerical displays on them to show how much charge remained. Places called banques sprang up where you could leave your batteries and read out their charge remotely. Exchanges allowed you to discharge your batteries *here* and to use an exactly equal amount of energy to charge up those of someone on the other side of the planet who wished to provide you with some physical goods. The inconvenience of physically storing all of that electricity made it more efficient for the banques to supply it to people who needed it, in exchange for electricity in return in the future. Over time, nobody was ever sure that the amount of electricity held in the banque was as much as the banque claimed to have stored - or owed to it.

Pretty soon, a shorthand word for "total amount of electricity" was needed - and that quirky unused '$' symbol on everyone's keyboard came to stand for some arbitrary amount of the stuff.

Comment: Been all-electronic for a while now. (Score 1) 532

by sbaker (#44974173) Attached to: I'd prefer my money be made of ...

I realize a while ago that it had been a very long time since I last used a dollar bill or a coin - so I looked back through my banking records to see when I last used an ATM (which is a reasonable approximation for the date when I last needed cash for anything). I was surprised to see that it was almost two years ago. I also looked back at my checkbook...same deal. Haven't used that in two years either.

For me at least - electronic money is already here.

    -- Steve

A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems. -- P. Erdos

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