Berfrois

Should We Fear AI?

Should We Fear AI?

It is wise to think through the implications of new technology. I understand the good intentions of Jaron Lanier and others who have raised an alarm about AI.

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Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima. Each unique, and each was supposed to be impossible…

Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima. Each unique, and each was supposed to be impossible…

Clockwise from top left: Nuclear power plants at Windscale, Three Mile Island, Fukushima and Chernobyl From Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: As an anthropologist, I am always interested in what humans learn from their mistakes. Can humans change their behavior, thereby improving their chances of survival, not just through...

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Tuning in to Cricket Radio

Tuning in to Cricket Radio

Corps of Discovery member Andy Brand pushing for crickets by John Himmelman A few years ago I gathered some friends to hunt for the smallest cricket in North America, the Sphagnum Ground Cricket (Allonemobius palustris).   The friends are part of a group we call “Corps of Discovery”, after the...

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No Archaic/Modern Divide; or, Behavioural Variability in Premodern Humans

No Archaic/Modern Divide; or, Behavioural Variability in Premodern Humans

Refuting a Myth About Human Origins | by John J. Shea

American Scientist

For decades, archeologists have believed that modern behaviors emerged among Homo sapiens tens of thousands of years after our species first evolved. Archaeologists disagreed over whether this process was...

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Good-bye to the straw feminist

Good-bye to the straw feminist

Eflon  by Cordelia Fine “This was not a permissible hypothesis”. That was social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s recent explanation of the outrage that followed Lawrence Summers’ speech at a conference on the under-representation of women in science and engineering, in which he suggested that women are on average intrinsically less...

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Is the Keplar mission closing in on another Earth?

Is the Keplar mission closing in on another Earth?

HD 209458b From Nature: Until Kepler, the leading detection method used to discover exoplanets — planets outside the Solar System — was much more likely to find giant planets, resulting in a sampling bias. Known as radial velocity or Doppler spectroscopy, the method depends on identifying the shift in...

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Changing Our Minds

Changing Our Minds

From Wired: Every so often Al Frances says something that seems to surprise even him. Just now, for instance, in the predawn darkness of his comfortable, rambling home in Carmel, California, he has broken off his exercise routine to declare that “there is no definition of a mental disorder....

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Vectors, Viruses and Victims

Vectors, Viruses and Victims

From American Scientist: Mosquitoes live brief but busy lives feeding on nectar and plant sugars. The females must also find human or animal blood to feast on in order to produce eggs and continue the life cycle, so they live rather longer than the males—several weeks rather than several...

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‘The worst case scenario is not that humans will become extinct…’

‘The worst case scenario is not that humans will become extinct…’

Life After People, History From 3 Quarks Daily: The year is 3010 and an interesting new species has evolved: a muscular, knuckle-walking primate with sparse body hair and a strikingly human face. It appears to be deformed, with extra non-functional limbs in various anatomical positions–like something out of a...

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The Cosmos: Capitalism’s New “Outside”

The Cosmos: Capitalism’s New “Outside”

Total Recall, 1990 From Monthly Review: In the early twentieth century, Rosa Luxemburg argued that an “outside” to capitalism is important for two main reasons. First, it is needed as a means of creating massive numbers of new customers who would buy the goods made in the capitalist countries....

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Nature’s Zombie-Masters

Nature’s Zombie-Masters

From The Smithsonian: Some of the most successful zombie-masters are fungi from the genus Ophiocordyceps. The parasites infest many kinds of arthropods—from butterflies to cockroaches—but it is among ants that the fungi’s ability to control other beings’ behavior is most apparent. One prototypical scenario is found in Costa Rica,...

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We must learn to “fly” biology…

We must learn to “fly” biology…

Learning to “Fly” Biology | by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

American Scientist

Biological engineering is nothing new. “Biology is technology,” Carlson declares on the opening page; indeed, he says, “Biology is the oldest technology.”

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An Empire Lacking Food

An Empire Lacking Food

  From American Scientist: Let me reintroduce you to planet Earth. Nearly 64 percent of its surface, close to 208,640,000 square kilometers, sits below 200 meters of water. The lack of light at those depths prohibits photosynthesis, the biological energy conversion system that is the foundation of most food...

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