Experimenting a proxy to Earth before life – in a toaster

From Nautilus, by Johnny Bontemps, The Dawn of Life in a $5 Toaster Oven:

“… A vintage General Electric model… for cooking up the chemical precursors of life, he thought. He bought it for $5.

At home in his basement, with the help of his college-age son, he cut a rectangular hole in the oven’s backside, through which an automated sliding table (recycled from an old document scanner) could move a tray of experiments in and out. He then attached a syringe pump to some inkjet printer parts, and rigged the system to periodically drip water onto the tray … in Hud’s laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he directs the Center for Chemical Evolution, a multi-university consortium funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation. …

It simulates the cycles of cool and hot, and wet and dry, that Hud suspects jump-started this evolutionary process, millions of years before the first cellular life forms emerged…
Evolution requires two forces: variation and selection… Polymers can form, break down, and form again with new configurations. That’s variation. … They might fold into shapes that prevent them from breaking apart too quickly, for instance. That’s selection. …

The engine for life and evolution could then be, as Hud says, as simple as “a planet spinning in front of a star…” read full story

Bias dynamics in A.I.

The more algos we live by, the more “Computer Scientists Find Bias in Algorithms” as the story by Lauren J. Young tells us.

We may, of course, think that bias is unavoidable, so the best we can do is be aware and go on.  How much aware may find some psychological or commercial barriers, as in Jerry Kaplan’s “Would You Buy a Car That’s Programmed to Kill You? You Just Might.

Maybe we can only hope that something good may come from algos interacting and trying to learn what are their new preferred actions (from their adjusted biases) as Daniel Hennes and Michael Kaisers paper on “Evolutionary Dynamics of Multi-Agent Learning” indicates its possible.


‘Stop the whining!’ – said the robot

One doesn’t have to wait long until a new story comes up showing how humans are already obsolete.  Robots are taking our jobs and there’s no scape from it.

Recent examples can be found in Will Knight’s  two recent articles at MIT Tech review “New Boss on Construction Sites Is a Drone”  and “Robots Learn to Make Pancakes from WikiHow Articles“.

Less often we find stories such as “Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data” and suddenly we feel lighter.  Technology will provide us new jobs.  Of course this is not played well for typists, lamplighter, ice cutters, etc, but at least there’s hope.

Richard Newton’s “Visions of a future beyond abundance and lolling” tries a calmer, optimistic if not skeptical approach.Continue reading

Ashley Madison hack, marriage and technology

Links via Azeem Azhar’s great Exponential View:

As people discuss Ashley Madison’s hack repercussions, this interview with the hackers is informative.

Moving to how people see traditional marriage going forward  survey of futurists overwhelmingly supported plural marriages.
And then we are back to old theme of repressing women and their insolent attempt to do what they think they want as the last two hundred years have been filled with moral panics about women using technologies for libertine ends.

Javascript, pop-ups and ad-blocking

The ethics of modern web ad-blocking” – by Marco Arment

“The ethics of modern web ad-blocking

(…) Pop-up-blocking software boomed, and within a few years, every modern web browser blocked almost all pop-ups by default.

(…) People often argue that running ad-blocking software is violating an implied contract between the reader and the publisher: the publisher offers the page content to the reader for free, in exchange for the reader seeing the publisher’s ads. And that’s a nice, simple theory, but it’s a blurry line in reality.Continue reading

Learning about our minds while teaching machines how to learn

Writing an algorithm requires a reflection of what steps, and their internal relations, are necessary to determine a desired output correctly.  Such reflection exercise involving logical and abstraction considerations not only about the operations to be performed but also, in depth, studying how our mind process that same operations.  A couple of recent articles explore that cyclical effort.

Algorithms of the Mind – What Machine Learning Teaches Us About Ourselves” by Christopher Nguyen and “Are You a Thinking Thing? Why Debating Machine Consciousness Matters” by Alison E. Berman aproach interesting points of this case.Continue reading

“Why Email Is Broken—and What Will Replace It” by PETER DIAMANDIS

featured at Singularity Hub:

“If you need to communicate something important to a friend, do you call? Visit? Email? Text? Skype? WhatsApp? Snap? Tweet? Message on Facebook or LinkedIn? (…)

As more and more tools become available, we seem to have accepted the notion that communication is “contextual”: LinkedIn is for work. Facebook is for friends. Snapchat is for close friends. Texting is for something immediate, if not urgent. Slack is for your team.Twitter is for public broadcast. Skype is for long distance. Phone calls are for intimacy or something really important.

And a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that email is, well, good enough.(…)

If the email is more than a few lines long, I don’t read it.
If I don’t get the point in the first couple of lines, I stop reading.Continue reading

“Artificial Intelligence Is Already Weirdly Inhuman” by DAVID BERREBY

From Nautilus, Dark Matter issue via Azeem Azhar:

“…Artificial intelligence has been conquering hard problems at a relentless pace lately (…) neural network has equaled or even surpassed human beings at tasks like discovering new drugs, finding the best candidates for a job, and even driving a car.

(…) some hard problems make neural nets respond in ways that aren’t understandable.

 (…) Not knowing how or why a machine did something strange leaves us unable to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

But the occasional unexpected weirdness of machine “thought” might also be a teaching moment for humanity. (…)  they might show us how intelligence works outside the constraints of our species’ limitations. (…)” read full article

“The Neuron’s Secret Partner: Glial cells…” by FERRIS JABR

Article by Ferris Jabr, illustrated by Jackie Ferrentino, featured  in Nautilus

“When we speak of brain cells we usually mean neurons: (…)  The rest, known as neuroglia or simply glia, have long lived in the neuron’s shadow.

(…) By the early 1900s, that notion had begun to erode. (…) From the 1960s onward (…) neuroscientists confirmed that glia are the brain’s architects, doctors, police, janitors, and gardeners. In the last five years, researchers have finally brought glia into the limelight as the highly dynamic, incomparably versatile, and indispensable partners of the neuron. Here are five recently discovered roles glia play in the brain:

Wiring – (…)  radial glial cells form a widespread lattice of cables along which neurons crawl like inchworms (…)  A series of studies in the last three years have also confirmed that some glial cells excrete molecules that promote the formation of new connections between neurons, while others engulf and digest weak and underused synapses, changing the brain’s micro-circuitry throughout life.
Clearing Clutter – (…) Microglia roam about scavenging harmful tangles of proteins, the remains of dead cells, and bits of unneeded DNA. But a study published just last year indicated that microglia are essential for eliminating clumps of amyloid beta and other protein clusters associated with Alzheimer’s and related neurodegenerative disorders. (…)

Helping Neurons Talk – (…)  oligodendrocyte precursor cell (OPC) is one of the most unique and active types of glia. (…) OPCs form synapses with neurons and change their own behavior (…)

Helping You Breathe – (…) When glia known as astrocytes detected a drop in blood pH, which would correspond to elevated levels of carbon dioxide, they increased (…) the breathing rate in live rats, eventually bringing more oxygen to the brain. Raising the pH, which would correlate with oxygenated blood, had the opposite effect. (…)

Making You Smart – By absorbing and releasing neurotransmitters, and thereby modifying the availability of these molecules, astrocytes change how frequently and forcefully neurons fire” read full story

New economy – old problems

NY Times article By Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld exposed workplace issues Inside Amazon, and many great pieces written on the aftermath – among them one particularly good was by John Cassidy at The New Yorker.

Published right before NY Times’, one can only wonder what a great input would have been if Inside Amazon debate was to be taken into directly into consideration at “Networks and the Nature of the Firm” by Tim O’Reilly.  This takes on a broader view on the new economy.

From Tim O’Reilly’s bigger picture to a inside dive into amazon jungle these articles compose an interesting triptych.

Empathy, Authority, and Virtual Reality

Suggestion has been used for a long time by pseudo-psychics, hypnotism, and other form of magicians.  Regardless of some straight-out frauds, this is telling of the way our mind interprets perceptions does not conform to a deterministic way people sometimes try to see their ‘reasoning’.

An important factor on most of the explored means of tapping into suggestion was interaction with other person (the hypnotist).  Authority plays a major role in this.  As human communication is more and more mediated by technology, would our perception of authority be migrating as well?  One may see a big data miracle if amazon guess someone is pregnant by her shopping history, but take for granted if a local pharmacist do so?

Would empathy, hand-in-hand with suggestion and authority, be migrating to be mediated by virtual reality?

Not surprisingly, as businesses get the taste of the market potential of this shift, here is a new batch of articles on the matter.  Too many in this trendy topic to pick one, sorry.

Inside the Empathy Machine: VR, Neuroscience, Race and Journalism” by Joel Beeson at Media Shift.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell steps into virtual reality at Stanford lab” by Bjorn Carey

The Limits of Virtual Reality: Debugging the Empathy Machine” by Ainsley Sutherland from MIT

The Future of Empathy-Generating Virtual Reality Is Here” by Bill Desowitz

How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine” – TED Talk with Chris Milk


Is It Really So Bad If We Prefer Virtual Reality to Reality?” by Sveta McShane


“Science Isn’t Broken” by CHRISTIE ASCHWANDEN

Article from

“If you follow the headlines, your confidence in science may have taken a hit lately.

(..) International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology recently accepted for publication a paper titled “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List,” whose text was nothing more than those seven words, repeated over and over for 10 pages. Two other journals allowed an engineer posing as Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel to publish a paper, “Fuzzy, Homogeneous Configurations.”

Revolutionary findings? Possibly fabricated. In May, a couple of University of California, Berkeley, grad students discovered irregularities in Michael LaCour’s influential paper suggesting that an in-person conversation with a gay person could change how people felt about same-sex marriage. The journal Science retracted the paper shortly after, when LaCour’s co-author could find no record of the data.

Taken together, headlines like these might suggest that science is a shady enterprise that spits out a bunch of dressed-up nonsense. But I’ve spent months investigating the problems hounding science, and I’ve learned that the headline-grabbing cases of misconduct and fraud are mere distractions. The state of our science is strong, but it’s plagued by a universal problem: Science is hard — really fucking hard.Continue reading

“You Have a Notification: Welcome to the 24/7 Work Culture” by VIVEK WADHWA

Article featured in Singularity Hub‘s series ‘Future of Work’

“Netflix recently announced an unlimited paid-leave policy that allows employees to take off as much time as they want during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption. It is trying to one-up tech companies that offer unlimited vacation as a benefit. These are all public-relations ploys and recruiting gimmicks. (…)

Urgent or not, the emails continue for 24 hours a day—even on weekends. (…)

The reality is that there is no 9 to 5 any more. We are always connected, always on, always working— (…) as we became chained to the Internet. (…) There is no longer an excuse for not working.” read full article

Interspecies organ transplant

It is now long awaited that some day humans will be able to raise human spare parts in other species.  Pigs are among the favored donors – perhaps due to the similar diet habits.

As this story by Antonio Regalado reports, researchers are presenting impressive progress in swapping hearts and kidneys among pigs and baboons (that would be us).  Get me a new liver and a double dry martini to celebrate, please.

And then we know as well that (other) scientific experiments made mice smarter by inserting human brain cells in them.

Now we just have to be careful how to mix (shake, don’t stir) these practices.  Make the pig too smart and I bet it won’t give away a heart so easily.

“When Machines Can Do Most Jobs—Passion, Creativity, and Reinvention Rule” by VIVEK WADHWA

story from Singularity Hub:

“(…) Now, by my estimates, the half-life of a career is about 10 years(…)  within a decade (…)  five years. Advancing technologies will cause so much disruption to almost every industry that entire professions will disappear. (…)

 Change is happening so fast that our children may not even need to learn how to drive. (…) 

 English, psychology, history, and arts majors have been at a financial disadvantage over the past few decades. Parents have encouraged their children to go into fields such as finance, engineering, law and medicine, because they’re where the big money has been. But that is changing.(…) . It doesn’t matter whether they want to be artists, musicians, or plumbers; the key is for children to understand that education is a lifelong endeavor and to be ready to constantly reinvent themselves.

We will all need to be able to learn new skills, think critically, master new careers, and take advantage of the best opportunities that come our way.

Technology is now as important a skill as are reading, writing, and mathematics. (…)

But this too is changing (…)  design and the soft sciences will gain increasing importance.

(…) Education will always be a platform on which to build success, but it really doesn’t matter what you study. (…) ”  Read full story

Artificial Intelligence tackles the Internet of Things

In “Connecting artificial intelligence with the internet of things” Andy Meek discusses some pros and cons in the future of merging Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things.  Reasons to be optimist, pitfalls and debate on its fears.

And Stephen Brennan’s “The Next Big Thing Is The Continuum” story is on how tech is the trends and challenges tech industry faces in trying to merge A.i. and I.O.T. in one new environment.

Suspicion smells

Reading newspaper used to wrap fish may be useful to read news with less bias.  Your own bias.

Something smells fishy: Olfactory suspicion cues improve performance on the Moses illusion and Wason rule discovery task” indicates that exposure to fish smells may bring people to have less memory illusion and reduced confirmation bias.

One of the researchers, Eunjung Kim, of above paper has also studied this topic in his previous “Fishy Smells Improve Critical Thinking: Explorations of the Embodiment of Suspicion” work.


“Leisure, the Basis of Culture” review by Maria Popova

Posted on Brain Pickings “Leisure, the Basis of Culture: An Obscure German Philosopher’s Timely 1948 Manifesto for Reclaiming Our Human Dignity in a Culture of Workaholism“:

” …In 1948 (…) German philosopher Josef Pieper (May 4, 1904–November 6, 1997) penned Leisure, the Basis of Culture(public library) — (…) triply timely today, in an age when we have commodified our aliveness so much as to mistake making a living for having a life.(…)

The Greek word for “leisure,” σχoλη, produced the Latin scola, which in turn gave us the English school (…)Pieper writes:

The original meaning of the concept of “leisure” has practically been forgotten in today’s leisure-less culture of “total work”: in order to win our way to a real understanding of leisure, we must confront the contradiction that rises from our overemphasis on that world of work.


(..) But the question is this: can the world of man be exhausted in being “the working world”? (…)

Echoing Kierkegaard’s terrific defense of idleness as spiritual nourishment, Pieper writes:

The code of life in the High Middle Ages [held] that it was precisely lack of leisure, an inability to be at leisure, that went together with idleness; that the restlessness of work-for-work’s-sake arose from nothing other than idleness. There is a curious connection in the fact that the restlessness of a self-destructive work-fanaticism should take its rise form the absence of a will to accomplish something.”  go to original post



“How to Help Self-Driving Cars Make Ethical Decisions” by Will Knight

From MIT Tech Review:

“Fully self-driving vehicles are still at the research stage, but automated driving technology is rapidly creeping into vehicles. (…)

As the technology advances, however, and cars become capable of interpreting more complex scenes, automated driving systems may need to make split-second decisions that raise real ethical questions.

(…) a child suddenly dashing into the road, forcing the self-driving car to choose between hitting the child or swerving into an oncoming van.

(…) “If that would avoid the child, if it would save the child’s life, could we injure the occupant of the vehicle? (…)

Others believe the situation is a little more complicated. For example, Bryant Walker-Smith (…) says plenty of ethical decisions are already made in automotive engineering. “Ethics, philosophy, law: all of these assumptions underpin so many decisions,” he says. “If you look at airbags, for example, inherent in that technology is the assumption that you’re going to save a lot of lives, and only kill a few.”

(…) “The biggest ethical question is how quickly we move. We have a technology that potentially could save a lot of people, but is going to be imperfect and is going to kill.”  read full article


Anthropocentrisms, anthropomorphisms, and compassion cases

From time to time people say We all need to stop eating meat now, and this is why

Won’t such considerations also be made in defense of plants as well? New Yorker’s “The Intelligent Plant” and see if you agree.  Not exactly freshest news in the tray, but an interesting piece.  (Recommended by my father – can’t beat that)

And a similar line of thought could build a case for Robot Rights