Category Archives: Science

Swarm Thickness

Most people following this blog will be familiar with the notion of ‘swarm intelligence’. So here’s a question … Could ‘swarm thickness’ be a thing? (Seriously!)

Swarm Intelligence (SI) shows itself all over the place in nature and discussion goes back at least as far as Darwin. Through SI, birds and fish maintain apparently impossibly coordinated formations, ants find the best path to food and bees and termites build complex structures to name just a few examples.

The essence of SI is a wonderfully simple one. Individuals do the most basic of operations, follow the crudest of directives or instincts but the cumulative effect for the flock, shoal, colony or hive is something magnificently clever.  They’re guided, by something they don’t understand, to play a small part in something good.

You can probably see where we’re going here … Could humans be doing this the other way around?  Could we, guided by something we don’t understand, be playing a small part in something awful?

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Can AI Get Too Clever?

No, we’re not talking technological singularity; something a bit more down to earth: just good old fashioned fake news really but with a new twist. A fairly, short, simple, not terribly deep piece this month, but combining with what’s gone before to lead to next month’s proposition broadly along the lines of “Is it possible for a race to ‘stupid’ itself into extinction?”

In an early original episode of Star Trek, Jim Kirk gets into trouble when some recorded video evidence is falsified, appearing to show negligence. As the storyline unfolds, it’s generally accepted that few people would have had the necessary expertise to do this, which eventually points the way to the falsifier. In fact, this concept continued to turn up in many Star Trek series and films as the years passed.

At the time (of the initial episode), in the real world, of course, such an idea would have been almost unimaginable. Back then, it was hard to credibly manipulate still photographs, let alone moving pictures. And it’s hard to say if many people were even speculating so far as, “I wonder how long it will be before we can do that?” Really, it was just bonkers.

But we’ve come a long way.

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“San Francisco is first US city to ban facial recognition“

Well, this is interesting: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-48276660

Something had to happen of course: we’ve been discussing this for years on this blog …

… etc. …

Obviously, we weren’t going to walk straight in to a 1984 scenario: there’s always pre-ripples to any of these social upheavals.

But whether this turns out to be a liberal victory or a camouflaged route to alternate forms of surveillance remains to be seen.  Watch this space …


Incompleteness, Inconsistency and Those Pesky Words!

With the exception of an image demonstrating an argument so utterly and awfully illogical, it deserves public shaming, this post largely works with abstract cases as examples in the hope of not upsetting quite as many people as it otherwise might.

We start with the background stuff …

Kurt Gödel, in 1931, dropped a bit of a bombshell on a mathematical and logical world (that was quietly believing the opposite) by showing that there are things that can’t be proven or disproven.  In other words, in all ‘vaguely normal’ systems, there are propositions that can be either true or false and it doesn’t really matter.  ‘Mathematics is incomplete‘.  In 1936, Alan Turing proved that there are problems that can’t be computed/solved and the rest of the computer science research community spent the next few decades realising that these were kind of the same thing.

Pretty disastrous, huh?

Well, no, not really.  The mathematical and computer logic world dusted itself off and got on with it.  And anyway, other branches of science – and beyond – had similar problems.  In physics, for example, there’s a limit to how closely you can measure something before you change what you’re trying to measure.  Turns out, in one form or another, ‘incompleteness’ is pretty normal in life.

So, no, incompleteness, isn’t that much of an issue.  (it just means we don’t know everything – in fact, can’t know everything: there’s some bits of science, philosophy, etc., we can’t do from our little three-and-a-half-dimensions backwater of the universe; or we’re not God, if you like.)

However, rather than ‘incompleteness’, something called ‘inconsistency’ would be a problem.  Why?  And what does that look like?

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