Petit Prince

Free will is an illusion, biologist says

University of Pennsylvania biologist Anthony Cashmore argues that belief in free will is akin to religious beliefs, since neither complies with the laws of the physical world, representing a continuing belief in vitalism or magic. He says free will is an illusion derived from consciousness, but consciousness has an evolutionary advantage of conferring the illusion of responsibility. As Cashmore explains, the human brain acts at both the conscious level as well as the unconscious. It's our consciousness that makes us aware of our actions, giving us the sense that we control them.
Petit Prince

Triumph of the Cyborg Composer

David Cope's algorithmic compositions rival the beauty of music by human composers and have passed the musical equivalent of the Turing Test (listeners cannot determine which music is human-composed). They herald the future of a new kind of musical creation: armies of computers composing (or helping people compose) original scores, he believes. But some -- especially composers -- are threatened by the ability of artificial creativity programs to compose works fast that are good and that the audience likes. Undeterred, Cope thinks humans are actually more robotic than machines. "The question," Cope says, "isn't whether computers have a soul, but whether humans have a soul."
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Digital doomsday: the end of knowledge

Even as we are acquiring ever more extraordinary knowledge, we are storing it in ever more fragile and ephemeral forms. If our civilization runs into trouble, like all others before it, how much would survive? Post-catastrophe, the lack of resources -- of people, expertise, equipment -- might be a far bigger obstacle than the physical loss of data. And resources are likely to be scarce. Restarting an industrial civilization might be a lot harder the second time around, because we have used up most of the easily available resources, from oil to high-grade ores.
Petit Prince

Innovation: The sinister powers of crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing's power to compartmentalize and abstract away the true meaning of tasks could potentially entice people into participating in a covert project that they otherwise wouldn't support, using a tool such as Amazon's Mechanical Turk, says Harvard University law professor Jonathan Zittrain. (Source:

The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate

The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate

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The hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the Large Hadron Collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, suggest Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics.

“For those of us who believe in physics,” Einstein once wrote to a friend, “this separation between past, present and future is only an illusion.”