News Briefs 12-08-2016

“Nirvana is a state of pure blissful knowledge.”

Quote of the Day:

“No self is of itself alone. It has a long chain of intellectual ancestors. The "I" is chained to ancestry by many factors … This is not mere allegory, but an eternal memory.”

E. Schrödinger

Fear and Loathing In Russia: Artificial Intelligences Made To Feel Emotions

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If you're afraid of artificial intelligences, like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, the tables are about to get turned. Researchers at Kazan Federal University made an artificial rat brain feel fear and disgust, and they're hoping to model more emotions soon.

An interdisciplinary team led by Maxim Talanov are modelling emotional states in a simulated rat brain using Lővheim's cube of emotion. Along the three axes of the cube of emotion are the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline with eight emotions at its corners. According to this theory emotions arise as neurotransmitters fluctuate; for example high levels of dopamine but low serotonin and noradrenaline cause fear.

In the case of Talanov's artificial rat brain, emotions are simulated by redistributing computer power between data storage processes and decision-making. So far the easiest emotions to provoke have been disgust and fear. Talanov and his team are certain other emotions, like joy and excitement, will be simulated in 2-3 years.

Which raises some ethical issues about the status of artificial intelligences. If an A.I. feels the whole spectrum of human emotions, should we consider it conscious and afford the entity the same rights as us? Would a smartcar be considered culpable for murder because it felt road rage, its lawyer arguing "It was programmed that way" or hacked with a 'rage' virus?

Talanov acknowledges there's much more to be done since there's not enough computing power available to model the human brain. "This simluation is about a thousand times smaller than the real work of the cerebral cortex, and the brain only needs 20 watts of power to do its job" he told Nikita Statsenko of Rusbase.ru.

Maybe next time you hear someone peddling the horrors of A.I., take heart that they're probably just as afraid of you as you are of them.

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News Briefs 11-08-2016

Hang on tight fellow Grailers, as we explore today's news briefs together...

Quote of the Day:

The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology

E.O. Wilson

ESP in EEG? Study Finds That People's Brains Show a Neural Spike When a Friend's Brain is Stimulated

Telepathy

Find more fascinating articles like this one by liking The Daily Grail on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter.

Recent research into the neuroscience of social interactions between humans has revealed fascinating details of how the brains of friends and family (in scientific terms, brains that "operate at least in part on shared information content”) can synchronise and 'align' with each other. So, given the (controversial) results from parapsychology that suggest telepathy and other 'psi' talents might be real, is it possible that this 'neuro-resonance' can be detected even when two people attempt to mentally interact despite being blocked from doing so via normal sensory means?

That is the question asked in a recent paper titled "EEG correlates of social interaction at a distance". Subject pairs were included based on criteria of (a) mutual friendship of more than a decade, and (b) experience in meditation, in order to maintain prolonged, focused concentration.

The members of each pair were placed in two separate rooms approximately five meters from each other - with appropriate measures taken to block any sharing of sensory information - and their brains were monitored using electroencephalograph (EEG).

The 'Sender' was told to relax, think about the 'Receiver, and simply "mentally transmit what you perceive". During a 10 minute session, the Sender was given 128 'stimulations' of 1 second duration each, separated by pauses of random length lasting 4 to 6 seconds (in order to avoid predictable rhythms). These stimulations were "from a light signal produced by an arrangement of red LEDs, and a simultaneous 500 Hz sinusoidal audio signal of the same length."

The 'Receiver', sitting in their isolated room, was told to relax and be prepared to "receive stimuli" from their partner: "Your task is to mentally connect with him/her and try to perceive the stimulus he/she is receiving".

Over three days, data from 25 pairs of subjects was collected. The result: "a weak but robust response" was detected in the EEG activity of the 'passive' Receiver, "particularly within 9 – 10 Hz in the Alpha range...this signal was found to be statistically significant".

EEG evidence for ESP?

The researchers concluded that, while the study was clearly explorative...

...it is in agreement with the results observed in three different experiments by Hinterberger (2008) who observed an increase in the ERPs in the Alpha (8–12 Hz) band only in the related pairs of participants. If further confirmed, these findings would be of huge scientific importance because they provide neurophysiological evidence of a connection – or social interaction – at distance.

I have to say I get a little concerned when I see papers on these sorts of controversial topics say the positive results showed up only "when a new algorithm was applied to the EEG activity". But certainly an interesting study all the same, worth more detailed and careful investigation.

Link: "EEG correlates of social interaction at a distance"

(via Dr Carlos Alvarado)

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News Briefs 10-08-2016

Events and accidents?

Quote of the Day:

My life seemed to be a series of events and accidents. Yet when I look back I see a pattern.

Benoit Mandelbrot

Tabby's Star: Is It Beginning To Look A Lot Like Aliens?

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The mystery surrounding Tabby's Star just ratched up another notch. Or down, considering the data outlined in Benjamin Montet and Joshua Simon's latest submission to the arXiv, "KIC 8462852 Faded Throughout The Kepler Mission". Everyone's favorite "megastructure" star continues to confound mainstream astronomers and the taboo of last resort, aliens, is still on the table.

Montet and Simon discovered KIC 8462852, a.k.a. Tabby's Star, dimmed by 2.5% over the course of Kepler's mission to survey the heavens for alien planets. The data lends support to Bradley Schafer's conclusion [1] that Tabby's Star steadily dimmed from 1890 to 1989. What everyone and their telescope are getting excited about is the rate of dimming has been increasing according to the Kepler data.

If the rate of dimming increases, this could be the product of self-replicating machines or von Neumann devices tasked to build this putative alien megastructure. When I looked at Montet and Simon's graphs, I had an insight on how they could suggest the possibility of self-replicating machines or aliens. Rather than charting the curve of the dimming light, but the 'growth' of material or machines causing the dimming, the a graph would show a sigmoid curve. In biology, sigmoid curves illustrate population growth [2, 3] through three phases of transitional and exponential growth before reaching a plateau. In this context transitional growth may be the dust of "construction crews" tearing apart an object for raw materials, followed by exponential growth as another segment of the megastructure is created, before plateauing as the 'bots travel to the next planetary or cometary resource a mere handful of astronomical units away.

The prospect of aliens, despite my speculation, remains unfalsifiable for now. But Montet and Simon do a handy job outlining the unlikely natural explanations most sane scientists would embrace. Astronomers have observed polar star spots on F-type stars like KIC 8462852, but those F-type stars are cooler and smaller in contrast. Also polar spots can't explain the short-term dips previously observed by Tabetha Boyajian, et al.. Some of the proposed transit events under suspicion for the star's dimming are even less likely.

For an optically thick transiting object, the 2.5% transit depth indicates a minimum radius of 0.15R* (Boyajian et al. 2016 estimate a radius of 1.58 R☉ for KIC 8462852). If the transiting body is in a Keplerian orbit, the extremely slow ingress time and long transit duration place it at the implausibly large distance of ~10 PC, with a transit possibility of ~10-9.

Fingers are crossed that the Tabby's Star observing campaign with the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, currently underway after the successful Kickstarter, will capture one of the mysterious long transits. Should the cause is a solid object, like a megastructure, then the dimming of KIC 8462852's light would be achromatic. On the other hand if the culprit is dust and/or gas, then the starlight would redden.

Maybe in a year we'll know for certain if the alien hypothesis is still worth consideration. Perhaps some science fiction-types will find inspiration around Tabby's Star for another big dumb object to fit the mystery. In either case, our interesting times are becoming more interesting by the moment.

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  1. KIC 8462852 Faded at an Average Rate of 0.165+-0.013 Magnitudes Per Century From 1890 To 1989 - https://arxiv.org/abs/1601.03256
  2. Populations - http://ibguides.com/biology/notes/popula...
  3. Explain the sigmoid population growth curve - http://ibbiology.wikifoundry.com/page/Ex...

News Briefs 09-08-2016

Comet-eater...

Quote of the Day:

It seems that every time someone looks at the star, it gets weirder and weirder

Benjamin Montet, on KIC 8462852.

Special Effects Legend Douglas Trumbull Talks About How He Has Created a System for Capturing UFOs

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

If you were to survey sci-fi geeks for a list of their favourite movies, there's a fairly good chance that somewhere near the top of that list you'd find Bladerunner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. So it's easy to understand the legendary status of Douglas Trumbull within sci-fi geekdom, given he helped design the visual effects on all three of those seminal films.

When Jacques Vallee ran a crowd-funding campaign last year to create a collector's edition of Wonders in the Sky, his book with Chris Aubeck about historical sightings of UFOs, I was surprised to learn that Trumbull was one of the backers of the project. As it turns out though, Trumbull has been interested in the UFO phenomenon for some time now (in retrospect, it's probably not that surprising, given two of the three films above are specifically about humans making contact with an alien intelligence).

In a video interview posted by Open Minds (embedded below), Trumbull describes his interest in 'scientific ufology', and how he thinks he could help the effort with his own skills and network, by designing a 'UFO capture' system he calls UFOTOG:

When I started making inroads into MUFON and the UFO community, I found that there were a number of very highly-placed and credible people, like Jacques Vallee, like air-traffic controllers, like doctors, like scientists, who took the whole thing very seriously - mixed in with a lot of people who were into auras, and spirituality, and other kinds of things that were more hearsay than science. And I didn't like that part of it, I've never liked the hearsay part of it, I didn't like people telling their stories, even though many of them are tremendously compelling and heartbreaking - abduction stories in particular. I said well, you can't prove any of that, there's no evidence, there's nothing to do.

I started asking those people, has anybody ever mounted a scientific endeavour, a privately funded scientific endeavour, to quantify what a UFO is made up of, and how fast does it go, and how high does it fly, and where does it come from, and is it changing state from plasma energy to aluminum or whatever? And the answer was no, no-one had ever done that. And I said, well, I'm going to make that my mission, because that sounds like fun to me, 'cause I'm a geek.

So that was the beginning of UFOTOG, to try and spend at least some part of my hobby time going down that path, like an amateur astronomer.

UFOTOG - the name is a contraction of 'UFO photography' - is a UFO video tracking and capture system that came about when Trumbull considered how his own skill-set could best be put to use in seeking answers to the UFO mystery: "I had access to these high-end cameras, access to engineers who build motion-control systems that we use for movies that could be adapted to tracking systems and things like that."

Interestingly, even with his legendary status, Trumbull soon discovered how heretical the idea of scientifically researching the UFO phenomenon can be. "That's when I started finding out that talking about science fiction is fine," he notes, while "talking about actually capturing UFOs is not fine...it's actually antagonistically greeted." Trumbull even tried pitching the idea to 'reality TV' producers, but "couldn't get any traction at all...and I've got a really good resume."

In the video, Trumbull also discusses his work on 2001, why he turned down Star Wars but worked on Close Encounters, and how he created a science fiction movie about UFOs as a cover for his effort to photograph UFOs - even designing the story "so that if we actually got real photography, we could put that into the movie and suddenly the movie would become non-fiction".

News Briefs 08-08-2016

All out of bubblegum...

Thanks Blair.

Quote of the Day:

Outside the limit of our sight, feeding off us, perched on top of us, from birth to death, are our owners! Our owners! They have us. They control us! They are our masters! Wake up! They're all about you! All around you!

They Live