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Miguel Nicolelis Says the Brain is Not Computable, Bashes Kurzweil’s Singularity | MIT Technology Review

Miguel Nicolelis Says the Brain is Not Computable, Bashes Kurzweil’s Singularity | MIT Technology Review | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
A leading neuroscientist says Kurzweil’s Singularity isn’t going to happen. Instead, humans will assimilate machines.


Miguel Nicolelis, a top neuroscientist at Duke University, says computers will never replicate the human brain and that the technological Singularity is “a bunch of hot air.”

“The brain is not computable and no engineering can reproduce it,” says Nicolelis, author of several pioneering papers on brain-machine interfaces.

The Singularity, of course, is that moment when a computer super-intelligence emerges and changes the world in ways beyond our comprehension.

Among the idea’s promoters are futurist Ray Kurzweil, recently hired on at Google as a director of engineering and who has been predicting that not only will machine intelligence exceed our own but that people will be able to download their thoughts and memories into computers (see “Ray Kurzweil Plans to Create a Mind at Google—and Have It Serve You”). 

Nicolelis calls that idea sheer bunk. “Downloads will never happen,” Nicolelis said during remarks made at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Sunday. “There are a lot of people selling the idea that you can mimic the brain with a computer.”

The debate over whether the brain is a kind of computer has been running for decades. Many scientists think it’s possible, in theory, for a computer to equal the brain given sufficient computer power and an understanding of how the brain works.

Kurzweil delves into the idea of “reverse-engineering” the brain in his latest book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, in which he says even though the brain may be immensely complex, “the fact that it contains many billions of cells and trillions of connections does not necessarily make its primary method complex.”

But Nicolelis is in a camp that thinks that human consciousness (and if you believe in it, the soul) simply can’t be replicated in silicon. That’s because its most important features are the result of unpredictable, non-linear interactions amongst billions of cells, Nicolelis says.

“You can’t predict whether the stock market will go up or down because you can’t compute it,” he says. “You could have all the computer chips ever in the world and you won’t create a consciousness.”

Gustavo Pons's curator insight, November 18, 2013 3:24 PM

Interesante nota. Concuerdo con el autor que el cerebro humano es imposible duplicarlo. Hoy en día existen "sistemas inteligentes" o I.A. pero como me dijo hace no mucho tiempo un TOP TEN mundial de la ingenieria del software con el cual tengo la oportinidad de hablar con cierta regularidad me confirmo mi idea, "a las computadoras no se les cae una idea" para resumirlo podemos decir que la "inteligencia artificial" es procesamiento por fuerza bruta. Las computadoras son tán rapidas y manejan increibles volumenes de información que parecen inteligentes, pero al final de todo no hubo otra cosa que procesamiento, jamas un razonamiento, idea o creación.

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Playing 20 Questions by 'Telepathy'? Big Score for Brain-to-Brain Communication - Singularity HUB

Playing 20 Questions by 'Telepathy'? Big Score for Brain-to-Brain Communication - Singularity HUB | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Interpersonal communication just got a lot more intimate.

So intimate, in fact, that two strangers — physically separated by a mile — can literally get into each other’s heads to solve problems together, using only their brain waves, a special computer interface and the internet.

The results, published last week in PLOS One, is the latest push towards engineering highly sophisticated human brain-to-brain interfaces (BBIs) that directly link up the consciousness of human beings, thus eschewing the need for language or non-verbal signs to get our messages across vast distances of space.

Sounds fantastical? You decide — here’s how the setup worked.

Five pairs of participants, aged between 19 and 39, were randomly paired to play a game similar to 20 questions. In each pair, one participant picked out an object from a list of eight choices, and the other tried to guess the object using a series of yes-or-no questions.

Scientists hooked up the first group of participants, dubbed the “respondents,” with an electroencephalography (EEG) cap that captures and records their brain waves.

The second group, or the “inquirers,” sat in a dark room on campus roughly a mile away, wearing heavy-duty earplugs to reduce any stimulation from their environment.

Their heads were locked in place by a two-pronged headset, with a magnetic coil placed over the visual cortex. The coil, shaped like a figure eight on top of a short handle, generates magnetic fields of various intensities, which in turn stimulate the brain. When the intensity reached a certain threshold, the inquirers saw a bright flash of light in the corner of their eye called a phosphene.
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Fusion reactors ‘economically viable’ in a few decades, say experts | KurzweilAI

Fusion reactors ‘economically viable’ in a few decades, say experts | KurzweilAI | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Fusion reactors could become an economically viable means of generating electricity within a few decades, replacing conventional nuclear power stations, according to new research at Durham University and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, U.K.

The research, published in the journal Fusion Engineering and Design, builds on earlier findings that a fusion power plant could generate electricity at a price similar to that of a fission plant and identifies new advantages in using new superconductor technology.

Such findings support the possibility that, within a generation or two, fusion reactors could offer an almost unlimited supply of energy without contributing to global warming or producing hazardous products on a significant scale.

No radioactive waste or leaks

Fusion reactors generate electricity by heating plasma to around 100 million degrees centigrade so that hydrogen atoms fuse together, releasing energy. Fission reactors work by splitting atoms at much lower temperatures.

The advantage of fusion reactors is that they create almost no radioactive waste and high-level radioactive material to potentially leak into the environment. That means disasters like Chernobyl or Fukushima are impossible because plasma simply fizzles out if it escapes.

Fusion energy would also not produce weapons-grade products that proliferate nuclear arms. It is fueled by deuterium (“heavy water”), which is extracted from seawater, and tritium, which is created within the reactor, so there is no problem with security of supply either.

A test fusion reactor based a tokamak design, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), is about 10 years away from operation in the South of France. Its aim is to prove the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy. MIT also plans to create new lower-cost, compact version of a tokamak fusion reactor, also based on improved superconductors, which are required to produce the high current needed to produce magnetic fields.

“Fission, fusion, or fossil fuels are the only practical options for reliable large-scale base-load energy sources,” said Professor Damian Hampshire, of the Centre for Material Physics at Durham University, who led the study. “Calculating the cost of a fusion reactor is complex, given the variations in the cost of raw materials and exchange rates. However, this work is a big step in the right direction” he said.
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Neutrino 'flavours' win physics Nobel Prize - BBC News

Neutrino 'flavours' win physics Nobel Prize - BBC News | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics has been won by Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald, for discovering how neutrinos switch between different "flavours".

Neutrinos are ubiquitous subatomic particles which rarely interact with matter and are very difficult to study.

The winners, who were named at a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, join a prestigious list of 199 other Physics laureates recognised since 1901.

They will share prize money of eight million kronor (£0.6m).

The physics Nobel is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which also decides on the chemistry prize - announced tomorrow.

The first of the 2015 Nobel Prizes, for physiology or medicine, was awarded on Monday by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet. It was shared by researchers who developed pioneering drugs against parasitic diseases.
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If the face fits: science of attraction is based on personal experience – study

If the face fits: science of attraction is based on personal experience – study | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
If your partner has a face that could curdle milk, you only have yourself to blame. Scientists have found that the faces we fancy are shaped more by our personal experiences than genetics or other influences.

Their study into facial attraction showed that when it came to rating people as hot or not, even identical twins who grew up together disagreed. In fact, genetics turned out to explain only a fifth of the variation in people’s tastes, meaning very little was inherited.

The greatest influence on people’s preferences was their own life experiences - a mass of factors that could include the friends they make, the odd chance encounter, and even the face of their first love.

“If you think about your first romantic relationship, that person’s face, or someone who looks like them, might be attractive to you for years to come,” said Laura Germine, a psychologist who co-led the study at Massachusetts general hospital in Boston.

“On the one hand, it’s common sense that our individual experiences will be important for who we find attractive, but on the other hand, we know that people’s ability to recognise faces is almost entirely down to differences in genes,” she said.

Some aspects of beauty are widely agreed on. For example, most people find symmetrical faces more attractive than wonkier ones. Facial symmetry is thought to reflect good development and to find it attractive might be written in our genes.
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Humanity+ » THE END OF THE BEGINNING | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The process of creating this book began by collecting formal essays, some of which are quite general and abstract, others of which focus on particular technological innovations. As we read the essays, we found that we had questions for the authors, some of which led to very interesting email exchanges. We decided to edit some of these email discussions into Question and Answer Dialogues. These dialogues follow the chapters, which are organized into the following sections.

Part One: Where are we going? When will we get there?

Following the introduction you are now reading, the first section of the book presents three chapters giving broad (speculative, yet rationally considered) overviews of the potential developments during the next century.

Chapter One: Predicting the Age of Post-Human Intelligences by Ted Goertzel and Ben Goertzel.

Scientific futurism has had some significant successes as well as some well-known bloopers. In this chapter, five traditions are examined for insight into the coming of the age of post-human intelligence: (1) environmental futurism, (2) Kondratiev long-wave analysis, (3) generational cycle analysis, (4) geopolitical futurism and (5) the study of technological revolutions. Three of these traditions offer similar predictions leading us to predict a period of intense technological innovation in the 2040’s and another in the 2100’s. If these theories are correct, Artificial General Intelligence and The Singularity are likely to come in one of these periods, depending on the success of engineering models currently being completed and on the availability of funding to implement them.

The Chapter is followed by a Dialogue between Weaver (David Weinbaum), Ted Goertzel, Ben Goertzel and Viktoras Veitas follows the chapter.

Chapter Two: A Tale of Two Transitions by Robin Hanson

This chapter compares and contrasts two quite different scenarios for a future transition to a world dominated by machine intelligence. One scenario is based on continuing on our current path of accumulating better software, while the other scenario is based on the future arrival of an ability to fully emulate human brains. The first scenario is gradual and anticipated. In it, society has plenty of warnings about forthcoming changes, and time to adapt to those changes. The second scenario, in contrast, is more sudden, and potentially disruptive.

Chapter Three: Longer Lives on the Brink of Global Population Contraction: A Report from 2040 by Max More.

Written from the perspective of an analyst in 2040, this essay explains why the world’s population is shrinking due to birth rates declining more than many experts had predicted. The population would have shrunk even more if the average life span had not increased. Lower birth rates have meant that less expenditure is needed for education, and a declining population places less stress on the environment. But economic growth is slower with a declining population, especially if the proportion of retired people increases. Fortunately, the health of elderly people has improved, and older people continue to be economically active later in life. Life extension research is now valued as one means of slowing the rate of population decline.
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The Martian got me cheering, but why go to Mars?

The Martian got me cheering, but why go to Mars? | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The penultimate object in the spectacular Cosmonauts exhibition, just opened at the Science Museum in London, is a spacesuit for a mission to Mars. It is lightweight, almost fragile and the pink-brown colour of the Martian sky. It suggests that after the fraught Cold War dynamics of the old space race, the inevitable next destination is the red planet.

Folks at NASA will be cheering Ridley Scott’s new film, The Martian, because its central message is that humanity will take this second giant leap, and, individually and collectively, we have the ingenuity to overcome the immense risks entailed. Inspirationally, it answers the question of how the voyage will be made, but it also begs the deeper question of why.

The story (trying to avoid major spoilers) is simple: astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind when a sudden storm forces the abandonment of a scientific expedition to Mars. Unexpectedly alive, Watney has to improvise the means of survival until a rescue mission arrives.

The Martian is the latest, and I think brightest, of a meteor shower of recent space films, including the Oscar-winning Gravity, the black hole time travel yarn, Interstellar, the fun Guardians of the Galaxy and lesser blockbusters, such as Oblivion (with Tom Cruise) and Scott’s own Prometheus. We are in the midst of another wave of sci-fi movie enthusiasm, comparable to the cycle from 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968) to Star Wars (1977).

But, especially in terms of science and technology, the films are very different. The Martian is no fantasy monster flick or comedy caper. It takes the technological near future, and science’s contribution to it, to its heart. The science in its closest sibling, Gravity, was in fact positively Aristotelian: Sandra Bullock’s stranded astronaut is in peril because of the alien, dangerous, circular motion of space debris. She is then challenged by each of the Aristotelian elements – water (ice), fire, air (lack of) – before falling to earth. In contrast, the science in The Martian is modern: problem-solving, interdisciplinary creativity, a blend of individual insight and teamwork.
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A 21st-century higher education: training for jobs of the future

A 21st-century higher education: training for jobs of the future | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Only the brave or foolhardy would claim knowledge about the shape of jobs for the next decade, let alone the rest of the 21st century. We know that the end of local car manufacturing alone will involve the loss of up to 200,000 jobs directly or indirectly, and there will be no large-scale manufacturing to replace them.

We also cannot assume that employment in health and human services will continue to expand in their place. Globally, millions of dollars are being invested in robotic monitors, nurses and companions for the elderly. The driverless car is almost with us, meaning that even Uber’s moment in the sun may be brief.

So if we’re not sure what the jobs of the future will look like, what kind of tertiary education can prepare students for the world of work? Various forces will be at play including economic (such as continued globalisation and intensification of competition), social (such as the ageing of Australia’s population), and technological (automation, digitalisation). There are also powerful environmental constraints.
What kind of education can prepare us for the future?
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Hygge: A heart-warming lesson from Denmark - BBC News

Hygge: A heart-warming lesson from Denmark - BBC News | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
A UK college has started teaching students the Danish concept of hygge - said to make homes nicer and people happier. But what exactly is it and is it exportable?

Sitting by the fire on a cold night, wearing a woolly jumper, while drinking mulled wine and stroking a dog - probably surrounded by candles. That's definitely "hygge".

Eating home-made cinnamon pastries. Watching TV under a duvet. Tea served in a china set. Family get-togethers at Christmas. They're all hygge too.

The Danish word, pronounced "hoo-ga", is usually translated into English as "cosiness". But it's much more than that, say its aficionados - an entire attitude to life that helps Denmark to vie with Switzerland and Iceland to be the world's happiest country.

Morley College, in central London, is teaching students how to achieve hygge as part of its Danish language course. "We have long, cold winters in Denmark," says lecturer Susanne Nilsson. "That influences things. Hygge doesn't have to be a winter-only thing, but the weather isn't that good for much of the year."

With as little as four sunshine hours a day in the depths of winter, and average temperatures hovering around 0C, people spend more time indoors as a result, says Nilsson, meaning there's greater focus on home entertaining.

"Hygge could be families and friends getting together for a meal, with the lighting dimmed, or it could be time spent on your own reading a good book," she says. "It works best when there's not too large an empty space around the person or people." The idea is to relax and feel as at-home as possible, forgetting life's worries.

The recent growth in Scandinavian-themed restaurants, cafes and bars in the UK is helping to export hygge, she adds, with their intimate settings, lack of uniformity in decor and concentration on comforting food. Most customers won't have heard of the term, but they might get a sense of it.

In the US, the wallpaper and fabric firm Hygge West explicitly aims to channel the concept through its cheery designs, as does a Los Angeles bakery, called Hygge, which sells traditional Danish pastries and treats.
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"Designless" brain-like chips created through artificial evolution

"Designless" brain-like chips created through artificial evolution | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Scientists at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have devised a new type of electronic chip that takes after the human brain. Their device is highly power-conscious, massively parallel, and can manipulate data in arbitrary ways – even though it doesn't need to be explicitely designed to perform any task. The advance could pave the way for computers that think more like we do.
(When the) chips are down

Electronic chips as they are currently designed come with plenty of drawbacks. Even the simplest operations, like adding or subtracting, need large numbers of transistors arranged in a very specific, well thought-out pattern. These transistors quickly add up and drain power even when idle (unless specific measures are taken). Moreover, most circuits can't effectively process information in parallel, leading to a further waste of time and energy.

All of these factors make it especially hard for today's computers to perform many crucial tasks quickly and on little power – particularly the kinds of tasks that the human brain can tackle with ease, like recognizing a visual pattern or understanding human language. In fact, when it comes to simulating brain-like functionality, many researchers have opted to abandon traditional computer architectures altogether.

Alternative chip designs that try to mimic the prowess and efficiency of the brain usually do so by either resorting to massive parallelism or by using neuron-like structures as their basic building blocks. But these approaches retain one big drawback: they still rely on fallible human minds to design their hardware and software.
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Zuckerberg to the UN: The Internet Belongs to Everyone

Zuckerberg to the UN: The Internet Belongs to Everyone | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
A reputation is a hard thing to shake. Like when a UN moderator introduces Mark Zuckerberg by commenting that he is almost unrecognizable without his hoodie. Zuckerberg hasn’t worn a hoodie in nearly three years. In fact, he was looking remarkably comfortable in his suit at the UN last weekend as he joined a group of speakers from global NGOs.

Zuckerberg had come to the United Nations to advocate for universal Internet access. Speaking to a body of heads of state and UN delegates, he made an impassioned plea that the Internet is a key enabler of human rights. “Insuring access is essential to achieving global justice and opportunity,” he said.

He made the speech on the day he partnered with Bono, the rockstar founder of the advocacy group ONE, to publish a connectivity declaration, which calls on global leaders to prioritize Internet access. The pair penned an op-ed for the New York Times in which they announced their intentions to start a global movement. Dozens of people have signed it already, including Richard Branson and Bill and Melinda Gates.

Zuckerberg wants the world to understand that Internet access should be a basic human right, like access to healthcare or water. Secondarily, he wants people to understand that Facebook’s role in this effort is driven primarily by his deep social conviction that such connectivity is the best way to alleviate poverty. “Research shows that when you give people access to the Internet, one in ten people is lifted from poverty,” he said.
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Google search chief Amit Singhal looks to the future - BBC News

Google search chief Amit Singhal looks to the future - BBC News | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
For more than a decade, boxes have helped Google dominate search - both the rectangle on its home page and the web browser address bars that send users to its results.

But smartphones now account for more internet use than PCs, and that changes things.

"When you have a 5in-diagonally-across screen - it's not designed to type," acknowledges Google's search chief Amit Singhal.

"So, on mobile you have to fundamentally give users new ways to interact."

To address the problem, Mr Singhal's team has developed Now on Tap.

The facility - which is being released as part of the latest Android mobile operating system - lets users get related information about whatever is on their handset's screen with a single button press.

As an example, Mr Singhal describes a text chat with his wife, in which he suggests a restaurant.

He explains his spouse could bring up driving directions and the place's opening hours simply by holding down the home button when the restaurant's name was displayed.
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The Call for a Storytelling Computer

The Call for a Storytelling Computer | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
If you were to stand on a street corner and ask 100 people to define Artificial Intelligence, odds are, you’d get 100 different answers. And, according to AI visionary and educational innovator Dr. Roger Schank, it’s likely every one of those answers would be wrong.

“Early attempts at AI were a lot about making computers smart by teaching them to play chess. It was a horrific mistake to define it that way,” he said. “What we got was artificial intelligence which is so confusing, people in the field are still confused as to what it might be about.”

Instead of making a computer look intelligent by teaching it to play chess, think 10,000 moves ahead and do things people could never do, Schank believes those computers should have been taught to play chess like a Grand Master chess player would play.

“I always saw AI as a field that could tell us more about people by getting us to figure out how to imitate people by doing the kinds of things people do,” Schank said. “Why does that matter? It matters because people talk to each other. That’s a sub-section of AI called ‘Natural Language Processing’ and it’s phenomenally hard.”

To illustrate his point, Schank cited the example of the typical intelligent, talking robot in the movies and pointed out that, while that robot may talk, it rarely asks questions.

“Does it have a point of view that’s new? Can it make an interesting argument with you? Does it have something it can teach you or you can teach it? These are the right questions for AI,” he explained. When a computer can stop and think, I’ll be very impressed and say, ‘Wow! We have AI!’”

For Schank, another concern is that many people see big data as representative of the growth of artificial intelligence. While he certainly appreciates the utility of big data, it’s not truly AI in his opinion.
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Study adds to evidence that viruses are alive

Study adds to evidence that viruses are alive | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
A new analysis supports the hypothesis that viruses are living entities that share a long evolutionary history with cells, researchers report. The study offers the first reliable method for tracing viral evolution back to a time when neither viruses nor cells existed in the forms recognized today, the researchers say.

The new findings appear in the journal Science Advances.

Until now, viruses have been difficult to classify, said University of Illinois crop sciences and Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology professor Gustavo Caetano-Anollés, who led the new analysis with graduate student Arshan Nasir. In its latest report, the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses recognized seven orders of viruses, based on their shapes and sizes, genetic structure and means of reproducing.

"Under this classification, viral families belonging to the same order have likely diverged from a common ancestral virus," the authors wrote. "However, only 26 (of 104) viral families have been assigned to an order, and the evolutionary relationships of most of them remain unclear."

Part of the confusion stems from the abundance and diversity of viruses. Less than 4,900 viruses have been identified and sequenced so far, even though scientists estimate there are more than a million viral species. Many viruses are tiny - significantly smaller than bacteria or other microbes - and contain only a handful of genes. Others, like the recently discovered mimiviruses, are huge, with genomes bigger than those of some bacteria.

The new study focused on the vast repertoire of protein structures, called "folds," that are encoded in the genomes of all cells and viruses. Folds are the structural building blocks of proteins, giving them their complex, three-dimensional shapes. By comparing fold structures across different branches of the tree of life, researchers can reconstruct the evolutionary histories of the folds and of the organisms whose genomes code for them.
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The Pentagon is figuring out how to make bodies heal themselves

Humans are quite feeble. We break easily, and just about every part of us deteriorates as we age. But the Pentagon’s research division, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), hopes to fix that. Today (Oct. 5), the agency said it had selected seven research facilities—including MIT, Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University—to study how to make the human body heal itself using nerve stimulation.

The $80 million research project, called ElectRx, was first announced by President Obama in 2014, and aims to figure out how to monitor and treat the human body with its own nervous system. “The peripheral nervous system is the body’s information superhighway, communicating a vast array of sensory and motor signals that monitor our health status and effect changes in brain and organ functions to keep us healthy,” Doug Weber, the project’s program manager said in a release. “We envision technology that can detect the onset of disease and react automatically to restore health by stimulating peripheral nerves to modulate functions in the brain, spinal cord and internal organs.”

(It’s a a bit like a certain mutton-chopped Canadian mutant.)
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With Winklevoss Bitcoin Exchange, Digital Currency Grows Up

With Winklevoss Bitcoin Exchange, Digital Currency Grows Up | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss were among a group of investors who put $1.5 million into BitInstant, a bitcoin exchange founded by a guy named Charlie Shrem. Shrem was also a founding member of The Bitcoin Foundation, the not-for-profit created to oversee the bitcoin digital currency. He’s now in federal prison.

Shrem was sentenced to two years for aiding and abetting the operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business used to launder Silk Road drug money. BitInstant is no more.

But like many people, the Winklevoss twins still believe in bitcoin—strongly. This morning, they unveiled their own bitcoin exchange, dubbed Gemini, after New York’s financial regulator approved the service for use in the state. The exchange will officially open its doors on Thursday morning.
The New York State Department of Financial Services granted Gemini what’s called a limited liability trust charter under New York banking law. In the past, this kind of charter was used to regulate “trust banks” such as State Street and Rockefeller Trust. But the state says it also allows for the operation of a virtual currency exchange, where people can swap dollars and other fiat currencies for bitcoin and vice versa. The state granted a similar charter to another bitcoin exchange, ItBit, this past May.
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Visions of Future Physics

Visions of Future Physics | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Get Nima Arkani-Hamed going on the subject of the universe—not difficult—and he’ll talk for as many minutes or hours as it takes to transport you to the edge of human understanding, and then he’ll talk you past the edge, beyond Einstein, beyond space-time and quantum mechanics and all those tired tropes of 20th-century physics, to a spectacular new vision of how everything works. It will seem so simple, so lucid. He’ll remind you that, in 2015, it’s still speculative. But he’s convinced that, someday, the vision will come true.On the strength of the torrent of ideas he has produced over the past 20 years—he won the inaugural $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012 “for original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics, including the proposal of large extra dimensions, new theories for the Higgs boson, novel realizations of supersymmetry, theories for dark matter, and the exploration of new mathematical structures in gauge theory scattering amplitudes”—Arkani-Hamed, 43, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, N.J., is widely considered one of the best theoretical physicists working today. Colleagues point to his knack for simplifying impossibly complex problems, as well as his exceptional mathematical ability, creativity, instincts and vast knowledge of physics. “Nima is amazing in every component of talent space,” said Savas Dimopoulos, a theoretical particle physicist at Stanford University.
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A New Map Traces the Limits of Computation | Quanta Magazine

A New Map Traces the Limits of Computation |  Quanta Magazine | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
At first glance, the big news coming out of this summer’s conference on the theory of computing appeared to be something of a letdown. For more than 40 years, researchers had been trying to find a better way to compare two arbitrary strings of characters, such as the long strings of chemical letters within DNA molecules. The most widely used algorithm is slow and not all that clever: It proceeds step-by-step down the two lists, comparing values at each step. If a better method to calculate this “edit distance” could be found, researchers would be able to quickly compare full genomes or large data sets, and computer scientists would have a powerful new tool with which they could attempt to solve additional problems in the field.

Yet in a paper presented at the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing, two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put forth a mathematical proof that the current best algorithm was “optimal” — in other words, that finding a more efficient way to compute edit distance was mathematically impossible. The Boston Globe celebrated the hometown researchers’ achievement with a headline that read “For 40 Years, Computer Scientists Looked for a Solution That Doesn’t Exist.”

But researchers aren’t quite ready to record the time of death. One significant loophole remains. The impossibility result is only true if another, famously unproven statement called the strong exponential time hypothesis (SETH) is also true. Most computational complexity researchers assume that this is the case — including Piotr Indyk and Artūrs Bačkurs of MIT, who published the edit-distance finding — but SETH’s validity is still an open question. This makes the article about the edit-distance problem seem like a mathematical version of the legendary report of Mark Twain’s death: greatly exaggerated.
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Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history

Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals. Even tens of thousands of years ago, our stone age ancestors were already responsible for a series of ecological disasters. When the first humans reached Australia about 45,000 years ago, they quickly drove to extinction 90% of its large animals. This was the first significant impact that Homo sapiens had on the planet’s ecosystem. It was not the last.

About 15,000 years ago, humans colonised America, wiping out in the process about 75% of its large mammals. Numerous other species disappeared from Africa, from Eurasia and from the myriad islands around their coasts. The archaeological record of country after country tells the same sad story. The tragedy opens with a scene showing a rich and varied population of large animals, without any trace of Homo sapiens. In scene two, humans appear, evidenced by a fossilised bone, a spear point, or perhaps a campfire. Scene three quickly follows, in which men and women occupy centre-stage and most large animals, along with many smaller ones, have gone. Altogether, sapiens drove to extinction about 50% of all the large terrestrial mammals of the planet before they planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, wrote the first text or struck the first coin.
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UN battle looms over finance as nations submit climate plans - BBC News

UN battle looms over finance as nations submit climate plans - BBC News | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Divisions over money between rich and poor countries re-emerged as nations submitted their plans for tackling climate change to the UN.

India, the last big emitter to publish its contribution, said it would need $2.5 trillion to meet its targets.

The Philippines said that without adequate climate compensation, their cuts in emissions wouldn't happen.

The UN says the plans increase the likelihood of a strong global treaty.

148 countries, out of a total of 196, have met a UN deadline for submitting a plan, termed an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC).

These INDCs cover close to 90% of global emissions of carbon dioxide. The commitments will form the centrepiece of a new global agreement on climate change that nations hope to agree in Paris in December.

Independent analysts at the Climate Action Tracker said that the plans, when added up, meant the world was on track for temperature rises of 2.7 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

This is above the 2 degree target generally accepted as the threshold for dangerous climate change. But it is a significant improvement on a previous assessment of 3.1 degrees, made when fewer plans had been submitted.

India's contribution, which promised to reduce the carbon intensity of their emissions but didn't commit to peaking their CO2, drew praise from around the world.

"It's highly significant that India is joining the ranks of so many other developed and developing countries in putting serious commitments on the table ahead of the Paris climate talks," said former UK environment minister Richard Benyon MP.
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Peeple app for rating human beings causes uproar - BBC News

Peeple app for rating human beings causes uproar - BBC News | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
A new app that promises to let users review individuals has caused controversy before it has even launched.

Peeple will allow members to give star ratings to people they know via the app, much as restaurants and hotels are rated on sites such as Yelp.

The app has caused uproar online, with web users describing it as "creepy" and "terrifying".

Peeple's founders say they will pre-screen for negative abuse.

However, users will not be able to delete comments made about them. Nor will they be able to remove themselves from the site once on it.

Among those raising concern was University of East Anglia law lecturer and privacy advocate Paul Bernal.

"The bottom line is this is extremely creepy," he told the BBC. "It is an ideal trolling tool."

Mr Bernal added that he was sceptical that the app could ensure users knew the person they were rating.

"How are you determining whether somebody knows somebody?" he asked.

"If you're using Facebook friends, do people really know all their Facebook friends? Absolutely not."
Legal 'headaches'

There may be legal difficulties too, according to Steven Heffer, a partner at the law firm Collyer-Bristow.

"I can only see a lot of headaches," he told the BBC. "It looks to me like potentially a recipe for a legal disaster."

Mr Heffer said the app was different from existing social media in that it specifically encouraged users to assess others and that negative comments on individuals would be difficult to police.

"They can't be judge and jury, can they?" he said.

"They might have some kind of safety net, but it's not going to stop people being defamed and suffering damage as well."

The website for Peeple says that negative reviews will be stalled for 48 hours before being published, so that they can be checked by the person being rated.

However, if they are not able to resolve the comment with the person making it within that time, it will go live anyway.
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Yes, You’re Irrational, and Yes, That’s OK - Issue 21: Information - Nautilus

Yes, You’re Irrational, and Yes, That’s OK - Issue 21: Information - Nautilus | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
magine that (for some reason involving cultural tradition, family pressure, or a shotgun) you suddenly have to get married. Fortunately, there are two candidates. One is charming and a lion in bed but an idiot about money. The other has a reliable income and fantastic financial sense but is, on the other fronts, kind of meh. Which would you choose?

Sound like six of one, half-dozen of the other? Many would say so. But that can change when a third person is added to the mix. Suppose candidate number three has a meager income and isn’t as financially astute as choice number two. For many people, what was once a hard choice becomes easy: They’ll pick the better moneybags, forgetting about the candidate with sex appeal. On the other hand, if the third wheel is a schlumpier version of attractive number one, then it’s the sexier choice that wins in a landslide. This is known as the “decoy effect”—whoever gets an inferior competitor becomes more highly valued.

The decoy effect is just one example of people being swayed by what mainstream economists have traditionally considered irrelevant noise. After all, their community has, for a century or so, taught that the value you place on a thing arises from its intrinsic properties combined with your needs and desires. It is only recently that economics has reconciled with human psychology. The result is the booming field of behavioral economics, pioneered by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist at Princeton University, and his longtime research partner, the late Amos Tversky, who was at Stanford University.
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The Technological Singularity | KurzweilAI

The Technological Singularity | KurzweilAI | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The idea that human history is approaching a “singularity” — that ordinary humans will someday be overtaken by artificially intelligent machines or cognitively enhanced biological intelligence, or both — has moved from the realm of science fiction to serious debate. Some singularity theorists predict that if the field of artificial intelligence (AI) continues to develop at its current dizzying rate, the singularity could come about in the middle of the present century. Murray Shanahan offers an introduction to the idea of the singularity and considers the ramifications of such a potentially seismic event.

Shanahan’s aim is not to make predictions but rather to investigate a range of scenarios. Whether we believe that singularity is near or far, likely or impossible, apocalypse or utopia, the very idea raises crucial philosophical and pragmatic questions, forcing us to think seriously about what we want as a species.

Shanahan describes technological advances in AI, both biologically inspired and engineered from scratch. Once human-level AI — theoretically possible, but difficult to accomplish — has been achieved, he explains, the transition to superintelligent AI could be very rapid. Shanahan considers what the existence of superintelligent machines could mean for such matters as personhood, responsibility, rights, and identity. Some superhuman AI agents might be created to benefit humankind; some might go rogue. (Is Siri the template, or HAL?) The singularity presents both an existential threat to humanity and an existential opportunity for humanity to transcend its limitations. Shanahan makes it clear that we need to imagine both possibilities if we want to bring about the better outcome.
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Google’s Quantum Computer Just Got a Big Upgrade

Google’s Quantum Computer Just Got a Big Upgrade | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
Google is upgrading its quantum computer. Known as the D-Wave, Google’s machine is making the leap from 512 qubits—the fundamental building block of a quantum computer—to more than a 1000 qubits. And according to the company that built the system, this leap doesn’t require a significant increase in power, something that could augur well for the progress of quantum machines.

Together with NASA and the Universities Space Research Association, or USRA, Google operates its quantum machine at the NASA Ames Research center not far from its Mountain View, California headquarters. Today, D-Wave Systems, the Canadian company that built the machine, said it has agreed to provide regular upgrades to the system—keeping it “state-of-the-art”—for the next seven years. Colin Williams, director of business development and strategic partnerships for D-Wave, calls this “the biggest deal in the company’s history.” The system is also used by defense giant Lockheed Martin, among others.

Though the D-Wave machine is less powerful than many scientists hope quantum computers will one day be, the leap to 1000 qubits represents an exponential improvement in what the machine is capable of. What is it capable of? Google and its partners are still trying to figure that out. But Google has said it’s confident there are situations where the D-Wave can outperform today’s non-quantum machines, and scientists at the University of Southern California have published research suggesting that the D-Wave exhibits behavior beyond classical physics.
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In future, the internet could come through your lightbulb

In future, the internet could come through your lightbulb | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
The tungsten lightbulb has served well over the century or so since it was introduced, but its days are numbered now with the arrival of LED lighting, which consume a tenth of the power of incandescent bulbs and have a lifespan 30 times longer. Potential uses of LEDs are not limited to illumination: smart lighting products are emerging that can offer various additional features, including linking your laptop or smartphone to the internet. Move over Wi-Fi, Li-Fi is here.

Wireless communication with visible light is, in fact, not a new idea. Everyone knows about using smoke signals on a desert island to try to capture attention. Perhaps less well known is that in the time of Napoleon much of Europe was covered with optical telegraphs, otherwise known as the semaphore.

The photophone, with speech carried over reflected light. Amédée Guillemin

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, actually regarded the photophone as his most important invention, a device that used a mirror to relay the vibrations caused by speech over a beam of light.

In the same way that interrupting (modulating) a plume of smoke can break it into parts that form an SOS message in Morse code, so visible light communications – Li-Fi – rapidly modulates the intensity of a light to encode data as binary zeros and ones. But this doesn’t mean that Li-Fi transceivers will flicker; the modulation will be too fast for the eye to see.
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As Privacy Fades, Your Identity Is the New Money (Op-Ed)

As Privacy Fades, Your Identity Is the New Money (Op-Ed) | Knowmads, Infocology of the future |
ob Leslie is chief executive officer of Sedicii, which provides technology for eliminating transmission and storage of private identity data during authentication or identity verification, and reducing identity theft, impersonation and fraud. Leslie is an electronics engineer with more 25 years of experience in information technology and business. This Op-Ed is part of a series provided by the World Economic Forum Technology Pioneers, class of 2015. Leslie contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

You may have heard the phrase, "If the product is free, then you are the product." It was coined at a time in the not-too-distant past when social networks were in their infancy and we were all mesmerized by the fantastic services we could consume to keep in touch and interact with each other — all for free!

Little did we realize at the time what that bargain actually meant. The vast majority of us had no idea social networks would be monitoring and recording all our interactions as they learn everything possible about us as people, our habits, our likes and dislikes, and in some cases, our innermost, private secrets. This information, containing the essence of who each of us is, has been used to target us with advertising and other services, making the companies collecting this information global giants that earn billions of dollars in revenue every year. Personal information is extremely valuable.

So how much are you really worth?
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