Category : Science & Technology

([London] Times) Google’s DeepMind robot becomes world-beating chess grandmaster in four hours

“Many have become chess masters; no one has become the master of chess.” So said Siegbert Tarrasch, one of the most eminent players of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 21st century, however, the foe appears at last to have been overcome, and what’s more it was managed in little more than the time between breakfast and lunch.

Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence algorithm taught itself hundreds of years of chess knowledge and tactics and then surpassed all previous human invention in the game — all in four hours. Its AlphaZero program was given the basic rules and worked out unique winning strategies by playing games against itself numerous times, according to details published by New York’s Cornell University. The research has yet to be peer reviewed.

Google’s DeepMind division said that it played 100 games against Stockfish 8, the world-leading specialist software, and won or drew them all, with each program given one minute to ponder each move.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Science & Technology

(SN) Will Parents may one day be morally obligated to edit their baby’s genes?

Soon, designer babies like those described in the film may even become morally mandatory, some ethicists say.

Gattaca’s narrator tells us that such genetic manipulation of in vitro fertilized embryos has become “the natural way of giving birth” in the near future portrayed in the film. It has also created an underclass of people whose parents didn’t buy those genetic advantages for their children.

Until recently, that sort of fiddling with human DNA was only science fiction and allegory, a warning against a new kind of eugenics that could pit the genetic haves and have-nots against each other. At a symposium sponsored by the Hastings Center on October 26 before the World Conference of Science Journalists in San Francisco, ethicists and journalists explored the flip side of that discussion: whether parents have a moral obligation to make “better” babies through genetic engineering. Technology that can precisely change a baby’s genes is quickly becoming reality. This year, scientists reported using CRISPR/Cas9 in viable human embryos to fix mutations that cause heart and blood disorders. CRISPR/Cas9 acts as a molecular scissors that relatively easily and precisely manipulates DNA. Scientists have honed and developed the tool in the roughly five years it has been around, creating myriad “CRISPR” mice, fish, pigs, cows, plants and other creatures. Its use in human embryos has been hotly debated. Should we or shouldn’t we?

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Posted in Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Science & Technology, Theology

(Wa Po) Jean Twenge–Teenage depression and suicide are way up — and so is smartphone use

Around 2012, something started going wrong in the lives of teens.

In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless — classic symptoms of depression — surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13-to-18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.

In a new paper published in Clinical Psychological Science, my colleagues and I found that the increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background: more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities, and in every region of the country. All told, our analysis found that the generation of teens I call “iGen” — those born after 1995 — is much more likely to experience mental-health issues than their millennial predecessors.

What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.

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Posted in Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Science & Technology, Suicide, Teens / Youth, Theology

(1st Things) Wesley Smith–An AI Thanksgiving Proclamation

We live in metaphysically desolate times. An increasing number of us—particularly among the millennial generation—now reject Christianity and other non-materialistic faiths as superstitious relics, vestiges of a time before science uncovered the truth about existence. The less polite even mock traditional religious believers by pretending to worship a faux-god, the great flying spaghetti monster.

Scorn faith as they will, moderns can’t escape the yearning of their own hearts for something more profound than news, weather, sports, and carbon molecules—demonstrating that human beings are congenitally incapable of believing in nothing. We crave meaning. We yearn for purpose. As Dylan put it, “Ya gotta serve somebody.” It is hardly surprising that, having rejected God and believing that the only reality is that which can be scientifically demonstrated, some “non-believers” are turning to technology as their focus of worship.

Take the “Way of the Future,” a registered non-profit religious organization founded by Silicon Valley mega-millionaire Anthony Levandowski. The Way of the Future—perhaps borrowing from Christianity’s early identification as “The Way”—describes its purposeas proselytizing “the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.” In other words, Levandowski intends that we view artificial intelligence—very sophisticated computers capable of self-programming—as a materialist god. Rather than worshipping their Creator, creators would worship their creations.

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Posted in Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(WSJ) Lewis Andrews–Finding God on a Mars Colony–Could Renewed space exploration could spark humanity’s spiritual reawakening?

The prospect of colonizing Mars used to be no more than a distant fantasy, but today it seems tantalizingly real. NASA remains committed to building a deep-space passenger capsule called the Orion. Meantime, private companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX are bringing excitement to the field. Elon Musk hopes to put 200 colonists on the red planet by 2024.

Much of the discussion about space exploration focuses on its economic benefits. Someday there could be money made from mining precious metals in the asteroid belt or shuttling tourists to off-world vacations. Space colonization eventually could create a multiplanetary economy. But what may be even more profound is space travel’s spiritual effects.

Many astronauts have had religious experiences in space. Charlie Duke, who went to the moon with Apollo 16, was inspired to become a lay witness for Christ. Jim Irwin, a moon walker with Apollo 15, searched for Noah’s Ark after returning home. Gene Cernan, Edgar Mitchell and Rusty Schweickart have also been very public about the metaphysical effects of leaving the Earth. No doubt future astronauts will report similar awakenings.

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Posted in Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(BBC) California Doctors attempt first treatment involving gene-editing in the human body

Gene-editing has been attempted on cells inside a patient, in a world first by doctors in California.
Brian Madeux, 44 from Arizona, was given the experimental treatment to try to correct a defect in his DNA that causes Hunter’s syndrome.
Mr Madeux says he was prepared to take part in the trial as he is “in pain every second of the day”.
It is too soon to know whether or not the gene-editing has worked in Mr Madeux’s case.
Hunter’s syndrome is rare. Patients are born without the genetic instructions for an enzyme that breaks down long sugary molecules called mucopolysaccharides.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Scientific American) Dissolve the Dead? Controversy Swirls around Liquid Cremation

Proponents note that traditional cremation is trending upward in the U.S. In 2015 more people in this country were burned than put in the ground for the first time, according to a report by the National Funeral Directors Association. This fad is driven in part by price: A fire cremation usually costs less than a third of a burial, according to an industry report by market research firm IBISWorld. It also saves on some natural resources; a burial requires land as well as the stone, steel, cloth and wood used to make the casket and gravestone.

Some see alkaline hydrolysis—versions of which go by the names biocremation, aquamation and resomation—as the next big thing for those who want to make an environmentally friendly exit.

The technique has its origins in an 1888 patent for making fertilizer and gelatin, which describes dissolving animal parts in an alkaline solution such as potassium hydroxide. In the 1990s two researchers began disposing of lab animals this way at Albany Medical College in New York State. Their work informed the construction of the first machine that could handle a single human body, built by a company called WR2 and first used in the Mayo Clinic’s anatomical bequest program in Rochester, Minn., in 2006.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Energy, Natural Resources, Eschatology, History, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Secularism

(WSJ) Three Cheers for Xi Jinping! Wait, Make That a Billion

Give it up for President Xi Jinping !

It’s so easy to do. Just vigorously tap on your smartphone screen to “clap” for him.

That’s the latest way Chinese are showing support for their leader, affectionately nicknamed “Xi Dada,” and at the same time participating in the emergence of Mr. Xi as the kind of preeminent leader China hasn’t seen in more than a generation. The Chinese state under Mr. Xi is exerting ever greater control over the economy and the country’s populace, and its leading technology companies appear willing to go along, if only as a cost of doing business.

As the Communist Party’s congress opened Wednesday, videogame company Tencent Holdings Ltd. released a free game in which users try to outdo one another with hearty virtual applause for Mr. Xi.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, China, Corporations/Corporate Life, Science & Technology

(NYT) Liquefaction, An Alternative to Burial and Cremation, Gains in popularity

What do you want done with your body after you die?

It is an unnerving but important question, and for most Americans there have long been only two obvious choices: burial or cremation.

But a third option, a liquefaction process called by a variety of names —flameless cremation, green cremation or the “Fire to Water” method — is starting togain popularity throughout the United States.

This week, California became the 15th state to outline commercial regulations for the disposal of human remains through the method, chemically known asalkaline hydrolysis.

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Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Eschatology, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Secularism

(WSJ) Stephen Ilardi–Why Personal Technology Is Depressing

Labor-saving inventions, from the Roomba to Netflix, spare us the arduous tasks of our grandparents’ generation. But small actions like vacuuming and returning videotapes can have a positive impact on our well-being. Even modest physical activity can mitigate stress and stimulate the brain’s release of dopamine and serotonin—powerful neurotransmitters that help spark motivation and regulate emotions. Remove physical exertion, and our brain’s pleasure centers can go dormant. As AI renders the need for human activity increasingly superfluous, rates of depressive illness will likely get worse.

In theory, labor-saving apps and automation create free time that we could use to hit the beach or join a kickball league. But that isn’t what tends to happen. We’re wired, like our ancestors to conserve energy whenever possible—to be lazy when no exertion is required—an evolutionary explanation for your tendency to sit around after work. Excessive screen time lulls us ever deeper into habitual inactivity, overstimulates the nervous system and increases production of the stress hormone cortisol. In the short term, cortisol helps us react to high-pressure situations, but when chronically activated, it triggers the brain’s toxic runaway stress response, which researchers have identified as an ultimate driver of depressive illness.

At first blush, it seems as if our smartphones should keep us better connected than ever through an endless stream of texts, instant messages, voice calls and social-media interactions. But as smartphones have become ubiquitous over the past decade, the proportion of Americans who report feelings of chronic loneliness has surged to 40%, from 15% 30 years ago. The psychological burden is particularly pronounced for those who don’t balance screen time with in-person interactions. Face-to-face conversations immerse us in a continuous multichannel sensory experience—only a fraction of which can be transferred via text or video message. Communicating solely through technology robs us of the richer neurological effects of in-person interactions and their potential to alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Health & Medicine, Psychology, Science & Technology

A Must Not Miss Science Times Article–To Mend a Birth Defect, Surgeons Operate on the Patient Within the Patient

The patient, still inside his mother’s womb, came into focus on flat screens in a darkened operating room. Fingers, toes, the soles of his feet — all exquisite, all perfectly formed.

But not so his lower back. Smooth skin gave way to an opening that should not have been there, a bare oval exposing a white rim of bone and the nerves of the spinal cord.

“All right, it’s the real deal,” said Dr. Michael A. Belfort, the chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine and obstetrician and gynecologist-in-chief of Texas Children’s Hospital.

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Posted in Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Science & Technology, Theology

(NYT) Technology companies are doling out eye-popping salaries in a race to scoop up experts in artificial intelligence

Silicon Valley’s start-ups have always had a recruiting advantage over the industry’s giants: Take a chance on us and we’ll give you an ownership stake that could make you rich if the company is successful.

Now the tech industry’s race to embrace artificial intelligence may render that advantage moot — at least for the few prospective employees who know a lot about A.I.

Tech’s biggest companies are placing huge bets on artificial intelligence, banking on things ranging from face-scanning smartphones and conversational coffee-table gadgets to computerized health care and autonomous vehicles. As they chase this future, they are doling out salaries that are startling even in an industry that has never been shy about lavishing a fortune on its top talent.

Typical A.I. specialists, including both Ph.D.s fresh out of school and people with less education and just a few years of experience, can be paid from $300,000 to $500,000 a year or more in salary and company stock, according to nine people who work for major tech companies or have entertained job offers from them. All of them requested anonymity because they did not want to damage their professional prospects.

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Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Science & Technology

(BNN) Jon Erlichman–‘Better than humans’: Vanguards of the AI arms race

The artificial intelligence revolution has arrived, setting in motion the most powerful technological transformation of our lifetime.
“AI is going to be more impactful than the invention of the personal computer and the spread of mobile phones into your pocket,” AI expert and Google Senior Fellow Jeff Dean told a TEDx Los Angeles crowd last December.
So-called machine learning – where computers find their own insights without being directly programmed to do so – is set to fundamentally change the relationship between humans and robots. A reality that is both exhilarating and terrifying.
As millions ponder whether AI will replace their jobs, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is warning AI could cause World War III, responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comment that AI’s eventual leader “will become the ruler of the world.”
Against that backdrop, an AI arms race has been triggered between tech Goliaths such as Apple, Amazon and Google.
McKinsey Global Institute, a leading think tank, estimates the tech giants invested as much as US$30 billion in artificial intelligence last year in a combination of R&D spending and startup acquisitions. McKinsey estimates venture capitalists and private equity investors plowed another US$9 billion into AI startups, particularly those focused on machine learning.

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Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Science & Technology, Theology

(PA) Growing social media backlash among young people, survey shows

Almost two-thirds of schoolchildren would not mind if social media had never been invented, a survey has indicated.

The study provides evidence of a growing backlash among young people disillusioned with the negative aspects of the technology, such as online abuse and fake news.

As well as the 63% who would not care if it did not exist, even more pupils (71%) said they had taken temporary digital detoxes to escape social media.

The survey of about 5,000 students at independent and state schools in England was commissioned by Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents the headteachers of independent schools around the world.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Children, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Science & Technology

(Guardian) Franklin Foer–Facebook’s war on free will: is technology is making our minds redundant?

All the values that Silicon Valley professes are the values of the 60s. The big tech companies present themselves as platforms for personal liberation. Everyone has the right to speak their mind on social media, to fulfil their intellectual and democratic potential, to express their individuality. Where television had been a passive medium that rendered citizens inert, Facebook is participatory and empowering. It allows users to read widely, think for themselves and form their own opinions.

We can’t entirely dismiss this rhetoric. There are parts of the world, even in the US, where Facebook emboldens citizens and enables them to organise themselves in opposition to power. But we shouldn’t accept Facebook’s self-conception as sincere, either. Facebook is a carefully managed top-down system, not a robust public square. It mimics some of the patterns of conversation, but that’s a surface trait.

In reality, Facebook is a tangle of rules and procedures for sorting information, rules devised by the corporation for the ultimate benefit of the corporation. Facebook is always surveilling users, always auditing them, using them as lab rats in its behavioural experiments. While it creates the impression that it offers choice, in truth Facebook paternalistically nudges users in the direction it deems best for them, which also happens to be the direction that gets them thoroughly addicted. It’s a phoniness that is most obvious in the compressed, historic career of Facebook’s mastermind.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Media, Philosophy, Psychology, Science & Technology