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Zombies Must Be Dualists - Issue 53: Monsters

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David Chalmers, who coined the phrase "Hard Problem of consciousness," is arguably the leading modern advocate for the possibility that physical reality needs to be augmented by some kind of additional ingredient in order to explain consciousness--in particular, to account for the kinds of inner mental experience pinpointed by the Hard Problem. One of his favorite tools has been yet another thought experiment: the philosophical zombie. Unlike undead zombies, which seek out brains and generate movie franchises, philosophical zombies look and behave exactly like ordinary human beings. Indeed, they are perfectly physically identical to non‐zombie people. The difference is that they are lacking in any inner mental experience.


Is Talking About De-Extinction a Moral Hazard? - Facts So Romantic

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In case an extinction event ever wipes us out we could theoretically (at some future point) program an artificial intelligence to survive the fallout and bring us back in a genetically similar form. Some even say that bringing back a woolly mammoth, Tasmanian tiger, or passenger pigeon could help us atone for our ecological sins since we (though it is still debated for the mammoth) made those animals disappear. In July, for example, University of California, Santa Cruz conservation biologist Claudio Campagna and colleagues wrote an article arguing that the "promise of de-extinction may hasten continuing extinction." Bringing back a woolly mammoth, Tasmanian tiger, or passenger pigeon could help us atone for our ecological sins.


How Video Games Satisfy Basic Human Needs - Facts So Romantic

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For these researchers, incredibly, enjoyment is not the primary reason why we play video games. In a 2012 study, titled "The Ideal Self at Play: The Appeal of Video Games That Let You Be All You Can Be," a team of five psychologists more closely examined the way in which players experiment with "type" in video games. The authors of a 2014 paper examining the role of self-determination in virtual worlds concluded that video games offer us a trio of motivational draws: the chance to "self-organize experiences and behavior and act in accordance with one's own sense of self"; the ability to "challenge and to experience one's own effectiveness"; and the opportunity to "experience community and be connected to other individuals and collectives." For these researchers, incredibly, enjoyment is not the primary reason why we play video games.


The Science Behind "Blade Runner"'s Voight-Kampff Test - Facts So Romantic

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At the center of the question is a fictional test designed to distinguish between replicants and humans, called the Voight-Kampff test. He's spent his career studying the neuroscience of consciousness and emotion, specifically its conscious and unconscious processes, and says he's been influenced by Philip K. Dick's stories, particularly Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which Blade Runner is based on. There's a database of pictures, the International Affective Picture System, that includes emotionally disturbing pictures of people in road accidents, things like that, and an equivalent set of neutral pictures. Even patients who have some sort of brain damage will still show an emotional response to pictures of people that they are unable to remember, like their spouses.


The Last Invention of Man - Issue 53: Monsters

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When they launched, Prometheus was slightly worse than them at programming AI systems, but made up for this by being vastly faster, spending the equivalent of thousands of person-years chugging away at the problem while they chugged a Red Bull. For each such task category, the Omegas had Prometheus design a lean custom-built narrow AI software module that could do precisely such tasks and nothing else. It simply boiled down to maximizing their rate of return on investment, but normal investment strategies were a slow-motion parody of what they could do: Whereas a normal investor might be pleased with a 9 percent return per year, their MTurk investments had yielded 9 percent per hour, generating eight times more money each day. If this brought in $250 million in a week, they would have doubled their investment eight times in eight days, giving a return of 3 percent per hour--slightly worse than their MTurk start, but much more sustainable.


Why Facebook Is the Junk Food of Socializing - Facts So Romantic

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In the 1990s, human-computer-interaction researchers Reeves and Nass replicated social psychology experiments, but rather than interacting with other people, participants interacted with computers. Experiments show that, at some level, people tend to think of the characters on their favorite TV shows as personal friends--even if those characters are wizards or vampires. The errors we make when we view non-human things as human satisfies our desire to interact with other people without giving us many of the benefits. In the moment, watching TV feels good; it satisfies your desire to be with other people.


How Science Makes "Rick and Morty" Great - Facts So Romantic

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Every hard sci-fi book that's good is something that draws you in, has characters that are experiencing things, that are telling it in a human way that makes scientific concepts feel interesting. We did something with Rick's car having a great AI in an episode, second season, where Summer gets trapped in the car, but I would really love to go to a planet ... "Futurama" did it, though. When we're talking about the sci-fi elements and the scientific elements of "Rick and Morty," we try to get them as plausible as we can, so that after the show's over you might turn to your buddy and go, "Man, that was a really funny episode," and then they're going to say to you, "Well, actually, it was a really good sciencey, scientific episode," and you'd both be right. He's the one from the "Get Schwifty" episode, played by Keith David, who's amazing.


The Woman Who Got Lost at Home - Issue 52: The Hive

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He had spent years studying human navigation and its underlying brain systems, and knew of many subjects who had problems navigating. But the brain structure most frequently implicated in people suffering from damage-induced topographic disorientation is the retrosplenial cortex. Two years ago Iaria and several colleagues found reduced interactions between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in nine women suffering from DTD, compared to control subjects. That's interesting, but there are reasons to suspect it might be a consequence of DTD rather than a cause: To put it crudely, the hippocampus makes maps and the prefrontal cortex makes plans--reduced interactions suggest that the plans people make are less influenced by their maps.


The Perils of Letting Machines into the Hive Mind - Issue 52: The Hive

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In the preface to Saint Joan, his play about Joan of Arc, the teenager whose visions of saints and archangels stirred soldiers into battle early in the 15th century, George Bernard Shaw makes a surprisingly compelling argument that following Joan of Arc's mystical visions was at least as rational as following a modern-day general into today's battlefield full of highly technological and incomprehensible weapons of war. If we don't know calculus, we can't understand the beauty of imagining time disappearing by letting it shrink into a moment and how that relates to the tangent of a curve. If you have used the Internet recently to work on a task, you'd find it hard to assess your ability as an individual to perform the task since it is so intertwined with the contribution of the Internet. In another study we asked people to search the Internet for the answers to simple questions about finance, like "What is a stock share?"


This Crystal Mimics Learning and Forgetting - Facts So Romantic

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There's also forgetting--when you have limited space for memory, it's vital to be able to make room for new memories, and SNO can do that, too: After a period of time without exposure to hydrogen, SNO's electric resistance decreases. SNO may be the first synthetic material to both habituate and gradually forget--organism-like properties strange to witness in a lifeless, synthetic crystal. Unable to forget 0 when shown another digit, the STDP algorithm muddled 0 and 1, and then, shown the next digit, muddled all three. But the second algorithm, called adaptive synaptic plasticity (ASP), used SNO's ability to remember and gradually forget information and was able to represent each successive digit with little trouble.