Is Facebook geared to dullards?

... researchers looked in particular at connections between social-network use and the personality trait that psychologists refer to as "need for cognition," or NFC. NFC, as Professor Zhong explained in an email to me, "is a recognized indicator for deep or shallow thinking."

People who like to challenge their minds have high NFC, while those who avoid deep thinking have low NFC. Whereas, according to the authors, "high NFC individuals possess an intrinsic motivation to think, having a natural motivation to seek knowledge," those with low NFC don't like to grapple with complexity and tend to content themselves with superficial assessments...

The study revealed a significant negative correlation between social network site (SNS) activity and NFC scores. "The key finding," the authors write, "is that NFC played an important role in SNS use. Specifically, high NFC individuals tended to use SNS less often than low NFC people, suggesting that effortful thinking may be associated with less social networking among young people." Moreover, "high NFC participants were significantly less likely to add new friends to their SNS accounts than low or medium NFC individuals."

Don't bet on the poker machine

It’s all about speed.

You want to spend money, and you want to spend it quick (and let me tell you that is what the owners of casinos and clubs want you to do)? Then sit yourself down and start feeding in the notes – no need to worry about some human changing the money for casino chips and then dealing out cards – just press that button as fast as you can.

[As a blackjack dealer] I certainly saw people lose $1,200 in an hour – but not at the seemingly low value $10 a hand. In fact $10 black jack tables are about the cheapest you can get nowadays – the casino makes up for the lack of speed by increasing the minimum bet. To lose $1,200 in an hour on blackjack would have meant you doing some serious punting – probably $25 a hand at minimum.

[Australia's] Productivity Commission also nicely shows the adage that the House always gets you in the end is true. As you can see in the upper left graph, 30 per cent of players can win if they just play the pokies one session of one hour. That sounds about right – a group of 10 friends playing the pokies – three winning, the rest losing seems about right. Come back four times though and that winning per cent is down to 21 per cent. Sixteen times – and only 7 per cent. Sixty four times – and yes, we may well be talking problem gamblers here – and the winning percentage is 1 per cent.

Are you good at propositional calculus? How about at making Bobby eat his brussels sprouts?

In the world of propositional calculus, there's absolutely no difference between a rule about traveling to Boston by plane and a rule about eating vegetables to get dessert. But in our brains, there's an enormous difference: the first is a arbitrary rule about the world, and the second is a rule of social exchange. It's of the form "If you take Benefit B, you must first satisfy Requirement R."

Our brains are optimized to detect cheaters in a social exchange.

Is gravity not actually a force? Forcing theory to meet experiments.

With the advent of quantum theory over the past 100 years, scientists have been able to develop an elegant mathematical framework capable of uniting three of the four fundamental forces that are thought to exist in the universe. The fourth, gravity, still remains the fly in the ointment, and has resisted unification to this point. Early last year, Dutch theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde published a manuscript to the arXiv that purports to explain why science cannot reconcile all four fundamental forces. According to him, it is simple: "gravity doesn’t exist."

AI bot experiments suggest perception has a frame rate, emerges into consciousness as needed

The bot, called LIDA for Learning Intelligent Distribution Agent, is based on "global workspace theory". According to GWT, unconscious processing - the gathering and processing of sights and sounds, for example, is carried out by different, autonomous brain regions working in parallel. We only become conscious of information when it is deemed important enough to be "broadcast" to the global workspace, an assembly of connected neurons that span the brain. We experience this broadcast as consciousness, and it allows information to be shared across different brain regions and acted upon.

Recently, several experiments using electrodes have pinpointed brain activity that might correspond to the conscious broadcast, although how exactly the theory translates into cognition and conscious experience still isn't clear.


To increase her chance of success, they grounded the timings of LIDA's underlying processes on known neurological data. For example, they set LIDA's feature detectors to check sensory memory every 30 milliseconds. According to previous studies, this is the time it takes for a volunteer to recognise which category an image belongs to when it is flashed in front of them.

Next the researchers set LIDA loose on two tasks. The first was a version of a reaction-time test in which you must press a button whenever a light turns green. The researchers planted such a light in LIDA's simulated environment, and provided her with a virtual button. It took her on average 280 milliseconds to "hit" the button after the light turned green. The average reaction time in people is 200 milliseconds, which the researchers say is "comparable".

A second task involved a flashing horizontal line that appears first at the bottom of a computer screen and then moves upwards through 12 different positions. When the rate that it shifts up the screen is slow, people report the line as moving. But speed it up and people seem to see 12 flickering lines. When the researchers created a similar test for LIDA, they found that at higher speeds, she too failed to "perceive" that the line was moving. This occurred at about the same speed as in humans. Both results have been accepted for publication in PLoS One.

"You tune the parameters and lo and behold you get that data," says Franklin. "This lends support to our hypothesis that there is a single basic building block for all human cognition." Antonio Chella, a roboticist at the University of Palermo in Italy and editor of the International Journal of Machine Consciousness agrees: "This may support LIDA, and GWT as a model that captures some aspects of consciousness."

Photojournalism in the Age of New Media - The Atlantic


Social media have given photojournalists a million extra eyes in conflict zones. But if a picture can say a thousand words, the trick is finding the right one.

The real test for working photojournalists is to reconcile the technical realities of the new media landscape with the aesthetic and ethical requirements of practical journalism. "Never has there been a time when you needed a professional class of journalists more than right now," Naughton said. "There's a real resurgence in formal and aesthetic qualities in contemporary journalism, the idea of aesthetics and photographers as storytellers, not just people who are be able to break the news."