Mind Expanding 21 April 2023: modern Dolittle🐘philosophy of AI🤔quantum "magic"🪄 stem cell junk yards🧬liminal web update🕸️rebel economist playbook💰why democracy?🏛️
Foom is my new favourite word
Mind Expanding is my ~fortnightly curation for Memia subscribers of links to deeper dives and bigger thinks that I’ve come across while compiling the weekly newsletter.
Links in today’s post:
🐘Modern Dolittle how scientists aim to use AI to talk to animals and some stunning AI-imagined communication technology creatures
🤔Philosophy of AI some recent thinking about AI foom from legal, literary, engineering and physics viewpoints
🪄Quantum "magic" may be key to explaining the origin of spacetime
🧬Stem Cell Junk Yards deterioration of garbage-clearing function with age may point to anti-aging breakthroughs
🕸️Liminal Web Update Joe Lightfoot revisits his seminal post from 18 months ago
📚Reading and Listening
💰 Rebel Economist Playbook Funny Money by Steve Keen
🌊 Rivers of London Audiobook series by Ben Aaronovitch
🏛️ Why Democracy? BBC Radio 4 special episode with Michael Sandel
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The classic 1920s Doctor Dolittle series of children’s books by Hugh Lofting featured its eponymous physician who is able to speak to animals in their own languages. Soon this fictional skill may be reality thanks to advances in AI…
How Scientists Are Using AI to Talk to Animals: An interview with University of Colombia professor Karen Bakker in Scientific American about how new sensor technology and AI are helping researchers decode animal communication — and starting to enable them to talk back to nonhumans:
“Yossi Yovel of Tel Aviv University [and] his team monitored [nearly two] dozen Egyptian fruit bats for two and a half months and recorded their vocalizations. They then adapted a voice-recognition program to analyze [15,000 of] the sounds, and the algorithm correlated specific sounds with specific social interactions captured via videos—such as when two bats fought over food. Using this, the researchers were able to classify the majority of bats' sounds. That is how [researchers] have been able to determine that bats have much more complex language than we previously understood. Bats argue over food; they distinguish between genders when they communicate with one another; they have individual names, or “signature calls.” Mother bats speak to their babies in an equivalent of “motherese.” But whereas human mothers raise the pitch of their voices when talking to babies, mother bats lower the pitch—which elicits a babble response in the babies that learn to “speak” specific words or referential signals as they grow up. So bats engage in vocal learning.
That's a great example of how deep learning is able to derive these patterns from this instrumentation, all of these sensors and microphones, and reveal to us something that we could not access with the naked human ear.”
“More than 8 million species share our planet. We only understand the language of one.
We are motivated by the exponential progress we are experiencing in machine learning and human language: starting with the invention of techniques that can translate human languages without dictionaries. These new techniques can now be extended to the non-human domain. Like the telescope, these new tools will forever change our perspective.“
But what if they don’t want to talk to us? In a WEF article, Bakker makes the very valid point:
““We're not quite sure what the effect will be on the animals and whether they even want to engage in some conversations,” Bakker stated. “Maybe if they could talk to us, they would tell us to go away.”
(The question has amazing parallels with our forthcoming relationship with superhuman AIs….!)
“AI technology is enabling us to move away from anthropocentric approaches, allowing for understanding that goes beyond human limitations.
The biggest impact this AI animal communication technology will have in the future will be in animal protection and preservation, and that fills me with hope.
Below is an animation I’ve recently made about biosemiotics and the strangeness and multitudes of communication found in nature.“
Here’s some more of his recent work, truly hypnotic:
🤔Philosophy of AI
In amongst the incredible accelerating pace of advancing AI that we’ve all been sucked into in the last few months, a few thinkers have managed to pop their periscopes up and peer thoughtfully at the philosophical implications of it all. (I would SO like to explore a course in “Philosophy of AI”… recommendations?)
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