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The Future is Here Part 3 of 3: Artificial Intelligence – When Will Siri Rise Up Against Us?

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In 1950, Alan Turing, came up with a theory about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). He was one of the most important early computer scientists and a legendary codebreaker during World War II (as shown in the film The Imitation Game). The Turing Test essentially states that if a person has two conversations, one with a computer and one with a human and can not distinguish which conversation is with the computer, then it qualifies as Artificial Intelligence.

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Since the release of Turing’s paper introducing the Turing Test, philosophers have been debating if imitating human behavior counts as “intelligence,” or if it is possible to create a computer that can “think” on its own. It’s a simple topic that has raised moral issues, questions about the “human soul” and the dangers of the digital age since Turing’s paper was published in 1950.

Stephen Hawking has stated, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk, the developer of Space X, has stated that A.I. is “our biggest existential threat,” and in January of 2015 he donated $10 million to DeepMind, an Artificial Intelligence developing agency “to keep an eye on what’s going on.” Bill Gates the co-founder of Microsoft has also stated he is “in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence.”

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With all of these fears about Artificial Intelligence from leading scientists, technologists, and philosophers, should there be a larger concern for the rapid development of computer intelligence? How much can you really trust the latest version of Siri or Google Now? Find out more about Artificial Intelligence in this lesson and reevaluate where you stand on this issue.

ai4 thumbnail

The Future is Here Part 3 of 3: Artificial Intelligence – When Will Siri Rise Up Against Us?

In 1950, Alan Turing, came up with a theory about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). He was one of the most important early computer scientists and a legendary codebreaker during World War II (as shown in the film The Imitation Game). The Turing Test essentially states that if a person has two conversations, one with a computer and one with a human and can not distinguish which conversation is with the computer, then it qualifies as Artificial Intelligence.

Since the release of Turing’s paper introducing the Turing Test, philosophers have been debating if imitating human behavior counts as “intelligence,” or if it is possible to create a computer that can “think” on its own. It’s a simple topic that has raised moral issues, questions about the “human soul” and the dangers of the digital age since Turing’s paper was published in 1950.

Stephen Hawking has stated, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk, the developer of Space X, has stated that A.I. is “our biggest existential threat,” and in January of 2015 he donated $10 million to DeepMind, an Artificial Intelligence developing agency “to keep an eye on what’s going on.” Bill Gates the co-founder of Microsoft has also stated he is “in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence.”

With all of these fears about Artificial Intelligence from leading scientists, technologists, and philosophers, should there be a larger concern for the rapid development of computer intelligence? How much can you really trust the latest version of Siri or Google Now? Find out more about Artificial Intelligence in this lesson and reevaluate where you stand on this issue.

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The Theories Behind Time Travel

Great Scott! How many gigawatts does it take to write a story with time travel and parallel universes? It doesn’t take that much electricity, but it does take a lot of planning, researching and creativity.

H.G. Wells, Isaac Asminov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut — they’ve all written famous science fiction books that focus on time travel. Wells’ Time Machine dates back to 1895, before Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and before the ideas behind black holes and wormholes existed.

Traveling in time to alter our destinies has been a pop culture fascination for a long time. Many superheroes have experienced time travel in different ways. Superman could go back in time by flying around the world quickly enough to reverse Earth’s rotation. Similarly, The Flash could travel fast enough to go back in time. Even the mutant, Wolverine, traveled back in time in X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the fate the world.

The plot lines involved in time travel and jumping through alternate realities are not easy to follow and are even more difficult to write. This lesson takes a look back in time at how some science-fiction stories have rules and a structure to the way time and alternate universes function within their fictional world and how you can create your own narrative structure to write your own tight story involving parallel universes and time travel.

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The Science of The Force

The Force
What is The Force in the Star Wars universe? Could we as humans, here on planet earth, ever dream of having such power at our fingertips? To answer that we need to look at what The Force is, and how the rules that define it compare to what is known about the world we live in.

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

In Star Wars, The Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. The power of The Force can be used by individuals who are sensitive to it, a power that is tapped through the midi-chlorians.

Midi-chlorians are microscopic, intelligent lifeforms that live within the cells of all living beings in the Star Wars Universe. The Force spoke through the midi-chlorians, allowing certain beings to use the Force if they were sensitive enough to its powers.

The two main practitioners of The Force are the Jedi and the Sith. Usage of the Force grants a number of useful powers, such as the ability to sense impending attacks; to push and lift physical objects; influence the thoughts of others, known as the “Jedi mind trick”; and even see the future or maintain one’s consciousness after death. Dark side users strong with the Force could summon lightning from their fingertips. Jedi taught younglings that the Force could be used for many purposes, including protection, persuasion, wisdom, the manipulation of matter and the performance of great physical feats.
Earth Forces
So, that being said, how does this compare with the laws of physics in our world? The closest thing we have to an energy field that is all around us, is the electromagnetic force.  It is one of the four known fundamental forces and is a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles.

The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be explained by the electromagnetic force acting on the electrically charged atomic nuclei and electrons inside and around the atoms, together with how these particles carry momentum by their movement.

If elevated levels of electromagnetism were directed at certain areas of the brain, this can affect people mentally.  If you direct magnetic fields at different parts of the brain you get all sorts of responses.  They can be used to pacify a subject, make someone hallucinate, can even be used to alter someone’s sense of morality.

Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream…it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

Science Fiction? Or just Science?
According to physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, aspects of the force are being developed today.  We can now begin to decipher the outlines of thinking via the electroencephalogram (EEG) and the MRI, which gives us living pictures of thoughts ricocheting like a ping pong ball inside the brain.  We now have computers that can read these thoughts.  In Japan, we even have a device that allows you to see what you are seeing on a small scale – like seeing a memory on a computer screen.  Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream, for example.  According to Dr Kaku, it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

We can’t exactly use electromagnetism to move people’s bodies at our will, but we know certain parts of the brain are connected to certain parts of the body, and we’ll be able to energize them, perhaps, with electromagnetic radiation.  So we’ll be able to actually manipulate arms and legs of a person, simply by using electromagnetic radiation beamed into the brain.  This technology is very primitive at the present time, but we’re getting there very fast.

If electromagnetic forces are the key to unlocking our own Force like abilities within the rules of physics on earth, then we need something to be able to direct or utilize that force whenever we desire.  There is already an example in nature of a creature that is able to process or read electromagnetism all around it – sharks and other cartilaginous fish.

Sharks have the Ampullae of Lorenzini, electroreceptors that form a network of jelly-filled pores in their nose. This organ allows them to detect the electromagnetic fields of the objects around them.  They can sense great disturbances, like a ship with a large magnetic field, or small ones like a fish they’d like to eat that’s nearby.  Perhaps if we had some biological enhancement, like the Ampullae of Lorenizini, or if midi-chlorians somehow became a real thing, we’d be able to read and understand, maybe even use the electromagnetic forces around us.

What is known about our physical world is fascinating, and the forces that are all around are fantastical in their own right. With understanding, and when taken to the next level through technology and research, our world could be closer to the science fictional world of Star Wars.

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Brain Science of The Paranormal: We Attempt to Explain the Unexplained

 

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever experienced anything you would call supernatural? Many factors come into play to create the conditions for ghostly experiences, and some of it can be explained by science and how our brain reacts to our environment.  We’ll let you be the judge when you experience anything strange yourself. Was it real? Was it because you had just watched a scary movie? Or is it your brain playing tricks on you?

 

Magnetic fields

In some haunted locations, researchers have measured magnetic fields that are stronger than normal or which exhibit unusual fluctuations. These may be localized phenomena that stem from electronic equipment or geological formations, or they may be part of the Earth’s magnetic field. Some paranormal investigators think the presence of strange magnetic fields as proof of a supernatural presence — the ghosts create the field. Others suggest that these fields can interact with the human brain, causing hallucinations, dizziness or other neurological symptoms.

Studies have shown that when scientists direct non-invasive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) at the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), our ability to evaluate the intentions of others, including moral judgements, is impaired. Other experiments have shown speech can be impaired by directed magnetism on the brain. This illustrates that with enough magnetic stimulation, changes in the brain’s functions do occur.

 

Infrasound

Several experiments have demonstrated that low-frequency sound waves, known as infrasound, can cause phenomena that people typically associate with ghosts. This includes feelings of nervousness and discomfort as well as a sense of a presence in the room. The sound waves may also vibrate the human eye, causing people to see things that are not there. How many times have you been scared by the flickering scenes in the Paranormal Activity series? Imagine if that happened to you in real life?

Usually, these waves have frequencies of less than 20 Hz, so they are too low-pitched for people to actually perceive. Rather than noticing the sound itself, people notice its effects. Our senses are affected by these low frequency waves, and our brain receives the signal to react. Sensory information may engage wide and diverse areas of the brain: via direct connections with the limbic system, for example, an odor can trigger intense emotions and then circuits that store memories give meaning to what we see and hear.

 

Ghost Stories

A large portion of hauntings are explained as demons inhabiting a home or a person. Such is the case in the Paranormal Activity films. Demonic possession is hypothesized as when your entire being is overtaken by an evil spirit.  Not all spirits are evil, though, as is the case with many of the spirits inhabiting the halls of Hogwarts.

In the Ghostbusters films, the team uses scientific tools to identify, attack, and contain spiritual entities including poltergeist activities, flying spirits and orbs.  Ancient gods who have descended upon New York City are usually the cause of these paranormal activities in these films.  Here’s hoping the ladies of the new Ghostbusters reboot will have more advanced Ghost zapping technology to wield.

In The Shining, the main character Jack Torrance is influenced by supernatural forces in the Overlook Hotel, asking him to commit violent crimes.  This story is perhaps the most haunting, because there are no hints of demonic possession, or of gods or demigods being present as a cause for Jack’s descent into madness. This movie has been ranked as one of the scariest of all time, increasing the audience’s pulse rate by a whopping 28.21%. In the story, he is a recovering alcoholic who encounters spirits of people who met very unfortunate ends in the Overlook Hotel. Is it Jack’s mental state creating this inner turmoil, or the suggestion of ghosts? His son Jack actually has a fictional psychic ability to detect ghosts, so this latent ability may come from Jack’s genetics.

 

Demonic Possession or Schizophrenia?

While demonic possession is a fictional condition, it was considered a real threat before modern medicine. Now, we see that the symptoms of schizophrenia largely resemble those described as being “possessed” – hallucinations, hearing voices, disorganized or catatonic behavior, odd emotional responsis.  We have seen the way the brain behaves in schizophrenic patients, and it is largely the fault of poor signaling of an important neurotransmitter called glutamate. The entire brain is affected.

Some people feel a presence around them often enough that it is something they must learn to live with. The feeling is particularly common in patients suffering from neurological or psychiatric disorders, who report a presence they can feel but can’t see, just like a ghost or a guardian angel.

 

Robot Phantom Hand is Coming for You

In an attempt to understand why some people have ongoing paranormal experiences, scientists in Switzerland developed an illusion to make healthy people feel a ghostly presence. The results of the simulation were astonishing, revealing that the experience is due to mismatched sensory and motor information that confuses the brain. (Science Alert)

The team from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne designed a set-up involving two robots – one that sits in front of the participant, and one that sits behind them. Each participant was asked to place their hand inside a device and then move their hand around.

Their hand movements were transmitted to the robot sitting behind them, which prompted it to put its hand on the participant’s back, mimicking their movements in real-time. This made the participant feel like they were touching their own back, but because the robot was so in-sync with their movements, their brain was able to adapt to the feeling.

Next, the team added a short delay between the participant’s hand movements and the robot’s touch – and this is where things got interesting. After three minutes of delayed touching, several participants felt that there was someone behind them, and others counted up to four ‘ghosts’ in the room. Even though the robot was standing behind them, the volunteers were aware of its presence, and still reported the distinct feeling.

“For some, the feeling was even so strong that they asked to stop the experiment,” said Giulio Rognini, robotic scientist and one of the team, in a press release.  The results suggest that when the robot’s touch was out-of-sync with the participant’s hands movements, the brain couldn’t identify the signals as belonging to the participant’s body, but rather as someone else.

The signals of the sensations of touch are a part of the somatosensory system. Processing primarily occurs in the primary somatosensory area in the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex: information is sent from the receptors via sensory nerves, through tracts in the spinal cord and finally into the brain.

Scientists are taking these findings to help those who experience hallucinations and schizophrenia, but it doesn’t exactly explain people’s experiences when they have a brain without any disorders. Where does that leave people who have a paranormal experience, but yet can’t explain it with science? I guess we’re on our own with that one.  Alone, all by ourselves, perhaps in an old abandoned house, perhaps around 3:00 AM, wrestling with our own fears of the unknown.