News Briefs 09-06-2016

Change I could believe in...

Thanks @anomalistnews.

Quote of the Day:

You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?

Rumi

News Briefs 08-06-2016

What’s happening:

Quote of the Day:

All science is a function of the soul… in which all knowledge is rooted.

Erwin Schrödinger

Fish Takes A Jellyfish For A Ride

Fish jellyfish tim samuel byron bay

Yes, it's a fish. Driving a jellyfish.

When photographer Tim Samuel went for a dive in Byron Bay, he couldn't believe his eyes. "He was trapped in there, but controlled where the jellyfish was moving. The jellyfish would knock him off course though, and every now and then it would get stuck swimming in circles."

According to experts, juvenile trevally (which are delicious!) are known to seek protection in the wobbly embrace of jellyfish, their stingers keeping predators at bay. Whether the fish was stuck is another question. It's probably still out there, racing other juvenile fish in their jellyfish.

It's just one more freaky example of animals around the world riding each other!

Photos: Tim Samuel.

fish jellyfish tim samuel byron bay

News Briefs 07-06-2016

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Quote of the Day:

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

G.K. Chesterton

Was Prince an 'Acquired Musical Savant'?

Prince on piano

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In April 2016, the world was rocked by news of the death of Prince Rogers Nelson. One of music’s - or more correctly, modern culture’s - biggest ever stars, Prince was a man of small stature whose shadow of influence was mind-boggling large. Immediate musical tributes from fellow 80s icon Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, country star Chris Stapleton, the cast of the hit musical Hamilton, and many others were testament to the respect the man and his music were held in.

For much of the public, Prince was a ‘star’; a hell of a performer who they might have seen playing guitar and piano in different music videos. What most musicians knew, however, was that Prince was - beyond his singing, his dancing, his band-leading skills, and his audio production talents - a skilled instrumentalist of the highest order, on not only the guitar and piano, but drums, bass guitar and more. Indeed, it is difficult for anybody who hasn’t played each particular instrument to truly appreciate how good he actually was.

It is silly to have debates about “was Prince a better guitarist than Clapton” or whoever - there are many ways to value a musician’s skill, whether it’s technical, historical knowledge, talent at improvising, or ability to play ‘for the song’ (among others). Let’s just say that Prince’s live band (on record, he often played all the instruments himself) was filled with musicians of the highest calibre - and if Prince ‘blind’-auditioned for each of the parts of his own band, he would probably have got all of the gigs based purely on his skill on guitar, bass, keyboard and drums.

The almost supernatural array of talents that Prince possessed are enough to have made many wonder as to how anyone could have assembled such a formidable skill-set - remembering that much of it was already fully formed at the time of his debut album, in his teens (go back and listen to his debut album For You, with tracks such as “Just as Long as We’re Together” sounding like an extremely tight band of talented musicians - but it’s all him).

Most accounts of Prince’s life put his skill set down to the twin factors of being a ‘functional orphan’ - he was largely abandoned by each of his parents in turn, and so is said to have spent much of his time playing music - who nevertheless inherited from those parents some serious musical acumen (his father was a jazz pianist, and his mother a singer). His unfortunate family situation - along with his extremely short stature (Prince only stood 5’2”) - are also claimed to have made him absolutely driven to prove himself to the world.

But could there have been an additional factor at work?

A Prodigious Musical Talent

Many people are musically talented. Many also become extremely proficient at their chosen instrument at a young age. However, Prince’s abilities, excelling on multiple instruments, verge on the spooky - the type of talent that gives rise to ‘down at the crossroads’ mythologies. He mastered a variety of instruments rapidly in his youth, to the point of being able to play all of the instruments on his debut album while still in his teens.

With his estate in confusion following his tragic passing, and his legendary control of material being posted online at least temporarily on hold, YouTube has been flooded with video examples of his wonderful talent (though how long they will remain is another question). Here are just a few isolated examples, among many: ... Read More »

News Briefs 06-06-2016

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Quote of the Day:

Don’t count the days; make the days count.

Muhammad Ali

Philosopher Says We Should Begin Planning Now, So That a Super-Intelligent A.I. Doesn't Kill Us All Off

AI Death Flowchart

Could the creation of an artificial intelligence (AI) more powerful than our own be a dangerous moment in the history of humanity? Philosopher Nick Bostrom, in the TED talk below, says yes indeed. Intelligence is what has lifted humans to their current dominion over many aspects of nature, Bostrom notes, so the creation of an intelligence beyond ours would have "profound implications":

Chimpanzees are strong...pound for pound, a chimpanzee is about twice as strong as a fit human male. And yet, the fate of [chimpanzees] depends a lot more on what we humans do, than on what the chimpanzees do themselves.

Once there is super-intelligence, the fate of humanity may depend on what that super-intelligence does.

Bostrom points out that problems may not even necessarily be due to malevolence on the part of the AI. He points out the story of King Midas, who wished for his touch to turn everything into gold, as an allegory for what might happen to us if we give a super-intelligent AI a poorly thought-out 'wish' to complete.

As such, Bostrom urges those involved in the creation of artificial intelligence to consider the safety measures needed now. so that we can plan for the eventuality of an intelligence superior to our own:

I believe that the answer here is to figure out how to create superintelligent A.I. such that even if -- when -- it escapes, it is still safe because it is fundamentally on our side because it shares our values. I see no way around this difficult problem.

...The technical problems that need to be solved to make this work look quite difficult -- not as difficult as making a superintelligent A.I., but fairly difficult. Here is the worry: Making superintelligent A.I. is a really hard challenge. Making superintelligent A.I. that is safe involves some additional challenge on top of that. The risk is that if somebody figures out how to crack the first challenge without also having cracked the additional challenge of ensuring perfect safety.

So I think that we should work out a solution to the control problem in advance, so that we have it available by the time it is needed. Now it might be that we cannot solve the entire control problem in advance because maybe some elements can only be put in place once you know the details of the architecture where it will be implemented. But the more of the control problem that we solve in advance, the better the odds that the transition to the machine intelligence era will go well.

This to me looks like a thing that is well worth doing and I can imagine that if things turn out okay, that people a million years from now look back at this century and it might well be that they say that the one thing we did that really mattered was to get this thing right.

News Briefs 03-06-2016

“…What is the aim of a physical theory?”

Quote of the Day:

“If the aim of physical theories is to explain experimental laws, theoretical physics is not an autonomous science; it is subordinate to metaphysics.”

Pierre Duhem

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