There is no magic — deconstructing "genius"

“Genius” was an idea that the layman would marvel at, an incomprehensible leap in human mind that seemed more surreal than relatable. Like much of science, this too has now been daintily plucked from the “magical mystery” basket and gently placed in the “oh that makes sense” zone. We now understand that the third ingredient, raw analytic intelligence, is necessary only as a dough, but it is relentless curiosity and a surplus of mentors and encouraging peers which decides how many theorems the recipe makes, and how delicious they taste.

The first two things can be selected for when building a team environment, with the environment itself set up to provide the third.

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."

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."

How to fight aging with time travel

Our experiment had similar ambitions; to take a group of seniors in their 70s and 80s and make them feel younger by recreating the world they had left behind 35 years ago.

They agreed to live in our time capsule house for a week, during which they dressed in 1970s clothes, slept in replicas of their very own 70s bedrooms, watched television from that era, and talked about 1975 in the present tense.

It proved to be a fascinating but draining experience - for both experimenters and experimentees.


Research challenges traditional thinking on study habits

Psychologists have discovered that some of the most hallowed advice on study habits is flat wrong. For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.

The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.

“What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” said Dr. Bjork, the senior author of the two-room experiment.

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time.

Is the Internet making you stupid?

On Saturday I made a horrible mistake and bought a copy of The Times. In it was one of the stupidest articles I have ever read in a major newspaper. Its title? Is the internet making us stupid?. It's thousands of words of utter drivel claiming that:

For the past five centuries, ever since Gutenberg’s printing press made book reading a popular pursuit, the linear, literary mind has been at the centre of art, science and society. As supple as it is subtle, it’s been the imaginative mind of the Renaissance, the rational mind of the Enlightenment, the inventive mind of the Industrial Revolution, even the subversive mind of Modernism. It may soon be yesterday’s mind.

Let me begin with a detailed, thoughtful critique: bollocks. Seriously though, this 'linear mind' (which we apparently got from books) is the source of the Renaissance, Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution? Surely, it's a complete lack of linearity, as in lateral thinking, that's given us the world we live in.

But the article is far worse than that simple paragraph. Let's start at the beginning...

read the rest at

Pro Tip: When a headline ends with a question mark, the answer is generally "No."

The web shatters focus, rewires brains

Dazzled by the Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture.

What we’re experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest. In the process, we seem fated to sacrifice much of what makes our minds so interesting.

Kurzweil’s next book: creating an artificial mind

Ray Kurzweil is working on another book, this one to explore the principles of human level intelligence in machines. Titled How the Mind Works and How to Build One, the new book will explore all the amazing developments in reverse engineering the brain that have come along since his last book, the Singularity is Near was released in 2005. Whether or not you agree with Ray Kurzweil’s predictions, the inventor and author stands out as one of the foremost futurists of our time.

Just a note to remind myself...

Why Americans don’t like jazz

American ears are getting lazier and lazier. It wasn’t so long ago that most people knew how to play a musical instrument or two. Now the vast majority of Americans couldn’t tell the difference between a saxophone and a trumpet. Thanks partially to music videos, music is now a form of visual art. The American culture is so visually dominant that a piece of music without visuals cannot command full attention of the audience. For Americans, music is a background element, a mere side dish to be served with the main course. If they are forced to listen to a piece of instrumental music without any visuals, they don’t know what to do with their eyes, much like the way a nervous speaker standing in front of a large audience struggles to figure out what to do with his hands.