Monday, 28 September 2015

Destroy all Computers and save Humanity

I recently decided to try a FutureLearn course "Introduction to Journalism." This includes a developing story which clearly involves some kind of evil disruption of the worlds computers. One of the exercises was to write a letter to a newspaper and I decided to write a letter as if from a conspiracy theorist who was a Luddite with strong communist leanings. I feel the result may cause some amusement to readers of this blog.

To the Editor, Conspiracy Theory News
Dr Jones fails to understand the real cause of the recent disruption – but because he works in a Department of Cybercrime I assume he must be a criminal.
As the president of the Modern Luddite Society I can confidently tell you that all computers are inherently evil. They are built by capitalists to exploit the Common Man.
For instance when the current crisis started the power went off and I lost everything in my deep freezer and had to go to Mr Tesco’s shop to get more. This has now happened four times and money-grabbing Mr. Tesco is clearly using his computers to boost sales at my expense.
However the person we should blame for all these problems is Mr Turing. He invented the first computer to spy on Germans during the 2nd World War – his work at Bletchley Park even involved using a “Bombe.”
He then invented the “Turing Test” to be able to measure how good his computer was at fooling people. Then, with the help of Von Neumann, he put his invention in a black box so complex that no-one can understand how it works. This makes deceiving ordinary people much easier to do.
Then that spider-like Tim Berners-Lea got us all tangled in the world-wide web, which gathers information about every one of us. This means that, for instance, that profiteers can bombard me with messages to buy more tins of spam.
At the same time people who clearly hate humanity use computers to spread lethal viruses. I know this for a fact as my Aunt Mary died when she caught one.
Even the Bank of England has exploited their evil computer by getting it to add zeros to the number at the end of their own bank statement. They call it “financial easing” but really it is like printing forged bank notes as it reduces the value of the meagre amount of money the poor have earned by genuine hard work.
Surely the answer to the current crisis is obvious. Join me at Parliament Square on Sunday for a Grand Computer Burning Fiesta and see the devilish machines go up in flames. Perhaps Dr Jones would like to join me. This will be a sure way to persuade our Government to pass a bill banning all computers.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Watching Chimpanzees watching a film

The Guardian report on some interesting researchwhich suggests a way of better understanding the minds of the great apes. (Gorilla thriller: scientists direct short movies for apes)

Researchers made a couple of short films involving humans and a human dressed as a gorilla. Thy showed the films to bonobos and chimpanzees and traced their eye movements,, when they first saw the film and when they were shown a very similar film 24 hours later.

The above picture is in the second showing of the film where the human attacks the gorilla with an axe. The man is about to reach for the axe and the red dot on the axe shows where the ape's eyes were looking, in anticipation  of the axe being picked up showing that they anticipated what was about to happen. However in the first film the position of the sword and axe were reversed so they must have been able to form a mental image which was not dependant on where thing were in the first film.

This research suggests ways of exploring something about how our ape cousins se and understand the world around them.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Observations on the cave where Homo neladi remains have ben found

The web has been buzzing with the reports of a major new discovery in South Africa and I was delighted to find that the supporting papers are available:

Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

When I was studying for a Ph.D. at Exeter University (in Chemistry) I also did a lot of work on the cave deposits in the Devon caves (still not published) and as a result I was very interested to find out details of the Dinaledi Chamber where the human bones were found. In geological terms the general form of the chamber, and the nature of the mineral deposits in make perfect sense, and it is clear that there have been changes in the water table which have left the chamber flooded at some times, and the mechanism for the bones being rearranged by mud slumping is one I am familiar with. The theory that the bodies were intact and entered the chamber by falling down the entrance shaft seems reasonable.  I find it harder to understand how early man could have found the hole in its position in the dark zone of the cave but the Dragon's Back Chamber seems to have passages going straight back towards the entrance, and as the cave contains blocks fallen from the roof, and calcite flowstone, whether a little light might have entered the Dragon's Back Chamber.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Daughters of Eliza fool millions ...

Eliza was an early artificial package which tried to carry on a conversation via a teletype terminal. Earlier this year I posted a blog "I think I got Eliza to admit that she hasn't got a mind" having had  a conversation with "her" as part of an online course. It seems that she spawned a vast family of daughters which, like sirens, lured men to make fools of themselves.

We have probably all heard about the theft of the names, emails addresses, and sexual perversions of millions of men who wanted to double time on their wives. Now the truth behind the web site is beginning to emerge. The vast majority of the women on the Ashley Madison web site were Eliza's sexbot daughters, working automatically to persuade men to pay good money for conversations with non-existent females. For the full story to date see "How Ashley Madison Hid Its Fembot Con From Users and Investigators"

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Should we do something about the "happiness problem"?

I always like things which encourage people, including myself, to think outside the establishment box, especially when they relate to how our brains work. In reading recent student posts on the futurelearn course "What is a Mind" I discovered a link to the paper "A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder." I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Why did the human brain stop growing when we started being creative?

 Recently Adam Benton posted an article " Fear drives technological evolution" on the Evoanth blog which started with the above picture. It shows some of the fanciest stone age tools our ancestors made; all of which were invented after our brain growing. He then asked: "What caused their development?"

  A very good question. Over a period of perhaps 4-5 million years the brains of our ancestors grew steadily from species to species and yet the advances in technology, as judged by stone tools, advanced very slowly, with periods of up to a million years where similar tools were being made with no sign of advancement. Then Homo sapiens appeared on the scene, with a brain no bigger that the earlier Neanderthals, and starting perhaps 150,000 years ago the surviving archaeological remains show changes at an increasing speed, especially after about 50 thousand years ago, with no apparent increase in brains size. When we started living in towns and then cities the rate of innovation rocketed to a point where we can pretty accurately date archaeological finds by the technology being demonstrated. However some recent research actually suggests that since civilization started our brains may have been getting smaller.  If you simply equate big brain with better technology this does not make sense.

Adam Benton, of Evoanth, tries to link advancing technology with fear - but I feel his arguments miss the point and I would suggest that the change was due to the advent of language, which enable us to develop far better ways of learning. I posted the following reply on Evoanth: