New Movie Autómata Explores the Possibilities, and Risks, of Machine Consciousness


Well this looks like fun...part Bladerunner, and part I Robot, the upcoming movie Autómata (October 2014) from Gabe Ibáñez explores the emergence of consciousness in robots by (loosely*) exploring Asimov's laws of robotics:

Jacq Vaucan, an insurance agent of ROC robotics corporation, routinely investigates the case of manipulating a robot. What he discovers will have profound consequences for the future of humanity.

I like the fact that the robots aren't made to look super-futuristic...plenty of grunge tin-can about them and their voices, rather than slick, smooth CG:

Starring Antonio Banderas, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Melanie Griffith, Robert Forster and an almost unrecognisable Dylan McDermott, Automata opens on October 24.

(* One of the 'protocols' in this movie seems not to be one of Asimov's laws, but in fact address a potential problem with the laws: the ability for robots to modify themselves and their programming)

JREF Shake-Up: Headquarters Moved, James Randi Re-Installed as President

James 'The Amazing' Randi

An interesting development in the last few hours at the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF): a short statement has been posted to their website under the title "Los Angeles Office Closed", advising that the headquarters of the organisation is moving across the country to Virginia. Oh, and also as an aside (in a statement released at the end of a long weekend) that the President of the organisation, D.J. Grothe, "is no longer with the JREF"!

In order to achieve cost-savings and greater efficiency, the Los Angeles office of the JREF has closed effective September 1, 2014. All operations have been moved to Falls Church, Virginia.

DJ Grothe is no longer with the JREF. James Randi has taken over as acting President.

This restructuring is part of an enhanced educational agenda aimed at inspiring an investigative spirit in a new generation of critical thinkers by engaging children and their parents, as well as educators and the general public, in how to think about the many extraordinary claims we hear every day.

With the lack of information in the statement, it's difficult to say too much about this development. I might guess - given that the JREF is quite a professional organisation - that the abruptness of the statement, and silence from D.J. Grothe's camp since the announcement, that Grothe was dismissed from his position with little notice (interestingly, D.J.'s name has immediately disappeared from the 'Staff' listing on the JREF site, while his own social media accounts still list him as President of the JREF).

It's interesting to note as well that the shift in headquarters (which only moved from Florida to Los Angeles a few years ago) is to the administrative offices of the JREF, which is centered around JREF board member Rick Adams (the wealthy pioneering internet entrepreneur who financed the Million Dollar Challenge). Adams has previously sat in the background somewhat, but has also recently taken on the job of shifting the JREF's forum away from the official website.

Is the change-up due to a dire financial position? On Twitter, Jim Lippard has posted the JREF's recent revenues, which have almost halved in the last 3 years (2011: $1.56M, 2012: $1.29M, 2013: $887.5K). JREF backer Rick Adams isn't short of coin though...but as a successful businessman, perhaps those figures necessitated change. Or perhaps there was a personality clash? All speculation at the moment...perhaps it's all amicable and pre-planned. Certainly doesn't seem like it at this point though...the burying of the lede in that statement is truly bizarre.

News Briefs 01-09-2014

Today's trawl:

Thanks for links to Kat and Rick

Quote of the Day:

A secret of power -
I think it's another profundity.
Do you want power over something?
Be more nearly real than it.

Charles Fort

Plague Sunday at Eyam - the Black Death village

The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics to have occurred in human history, killing as much as 60% of Europe's total population. The bacterium yersinia pestis is now known to have been the cause of the pandemic. The mechanism by which Y. pestis was usually transmitted was established in 1898 by Paul-Louis Simond and was found to involve the bites of fleas whose mid-guts had become obstructed by replicating Y. pestis several days after feeding on an infected host. This blockage results in starvation and aggressive feeding behaviour by the fleas, which repeatedly attempt to clear their blockage by regurgitation, resulting in thousands of plague bacteria being flushed into the feeding site, infecting the host. [1] The initial outbreak took place 1346-53 but plague broke out again and again in smaller pockets for centuries afterwards.

In England the last widespread outbreak was the Great Plague of London of 1664-66. Although the outbreak is now thought to have been on the wane by the end of the summer of 1666 there are still many who would argue that the Great Fire of London (September 2nd to September 5th) did much to halt the spread of disease and cleanse the capital of infection.

Today, the 31st of August, a ceremony is held annually in the quiet and picturesque village of Eyam, in Derbyshire in the East Midlands of England. Eyam's Plague Sunday service has been held for more than three-hundred years now and commemorates the settlement's own devastating, heartbreaking, yet self-sacrificing brush with the Black Death.

Rector William Mompesson

In late August 1665 the tailor of Eyam, George Viccars, received an eagerly awaited package from London. Some accounts say that it contained a normal bail of cloth, others go further and claim that the fabric had been specifically ordered for a bridal gown. Within six days of laying the cloth out in his shop the tailor was dead. The fabric had brought the plague with it from London. By the end of September six others - all Viccars' neighbours - had also died. Not knowing or understanding about the outbreak in London, the villagers began to worry that some kind of curse was being visited upon them - the howling of spectral Gabriel Hounds, the appearance of white crickets, and cows straying into the church all being cited as ill omens. By the end of April 1666 seventy-three villagers had died and many were gathering their belongings in preparation for flight.

In May the young rector of Eyam, William Mompesson, called a village meeting. Although the exact nature of the disease was not known, Mompesson and others understood enough to recognise that it was passed from person to person. He told his parishioners that theirs was the only village in the whole of the county in the grip of the Black Death and that if they were to flee they would only spread the disease and cause others to die. That day the people of Eyam agreed to enter into what we would now call quarantine - a voluntary isolation from all others - until all sign of the plague was gone from the village.

Arrangements were made for supplies to be delivered. The Earl of Devonshire's men would take food to the village's southern boundary stone, to be collected as soon as they were at a safe distance. Other provisions were left at Wet Withens stone circle on Eyam Moor, and at a Holy Well - now known as Mompession's Well - at which coins were left in payment in the belief that the water would cleanse them of contamination. Holes were drilled in a stone, named the Coolstone - still extant - into which vinegar was poured and other coins were left in the belief that the vinegar would sterilise them. In order that Sunday service continue without the parishioners getting too close to each other, Mompesson chose the grassy slopes of a natural amphitheatre - nearby Cucklett Delph - or an outdoor venue for his sermons.

The Eyam Plague lasted fourteen months and claimed two-hundred and sixty lives - the rector's wife Catherine Mompesson among them - but not one person outside of the village contracted the disease. [2]

Today in Eyam a procession will troop through the village - many dressed in 17th century costume - singing Onward Christian Soldiers. They will make their way along an ancient track to Cucklett Heath and seat themselves there upon the grass where hymns will be sung and a sermon given, just as it was in the plague years. [3] [4] Mompesson's Well will be dressed, and flowers left on the grave of Catherine.

[1] G. Christakos, Interdisciplinary Public Health Reasoning and Epidemic Modelling: the Case of Black Death (シュプリンガー・ジャパン株式会社, 2005), pp. 110–14.

[2] Marc Alexander, The Companion to Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain (Sutton Publishing, 2002) pp. 87-89



News Briefs 29-08-2014

Make sure you like The Daily Grail on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and/or put us in your Google+ circles...

Thanks Kat.

Quote of the Day:

All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value.

Carl Sagan

The Mystery of Death Valley's "Wandering Stones" Has Finally Been Solved

Wandering Stone of Death Valley, by Arno Goudol (Creative Comomons Licence)

A long-standing Fortean mystery has been the 'wandering stones' of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, California. It might be time to cross this one off the list though:

Ending a half-century of geological speculation, scientists have finally seen the process that causes rocks to move atop Racetrack Playa, a desert lake bed in the mountains above Death Valley, California. Researchers watched a pond freeze atop the playa, then break apart into sheets of ice that — blown by wind — shoved rocks across the lake bed.

...The researchers began studying the region in 2011, setting up a weather station and time-lapse cameras and dropping off rocks loaded with Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers. The rocks were designed to start recording their position and speed as soon as something made them move.

...When the researchers travelled to the playa in December 2013 to check instruments and change batteries, they found a huge ice-encrusted pond covering about one-third of the 4.5-kilometre-long playa. After several days of camping, they decided to sit above the southern end of the playa on the morning of 20 December. “It was a beautiful sunny day, and there began to be rippled melt pools in front of us,” Richard Norris says. “At 11:37 a.m., very abruptly, there was a pop-pop-crackle all over the place in front of us — and I said to my cousin, ‘This is it.’ ”

They watched as the ice began moving past the rocks, mostly breaking apart but also shoving them gently...when the ice melted away that afternoon, they saw freshly formed trails left behind by more than 60 moving rocks.

The following month, the research team even managed to capture video of the phenomenon occurring:

Whether this is the complete explanation of the wandering stones phenomenon is still unknown - there have been reports of the stones moving during summer months as well, when it's unlikely that ice could form on the playa, leading previous researchers to note that ice "is not a required component or precondition for sliding rock activity".

So while the mystery seems to have largely been solved, there's still a few loose ends that might need cleaning up.

Link: 'Wandering stones' of Death Valley explained

News Briefs 28-08-2014

Keep Calm & Shift your Paradigm.

Quote of the Day:

“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.”

~Alan Watts

Freeze Me Until I Can Live Again - A Short Documentary on Cryonics

In the 1960s a ground-breaking idea emerged: that freezing people soon after their death might preserve brain structures, and that in the future advanced technology and know-how might allow these frozen cadavers to be resuscitated and given extended life. Fifty years later, more than 250 people have undergone cryopreservation procedures following their passing (though contrary to what you may have heard, Walt Disney is not one of them), with a small 'cryonics' industry storing their bodies (or in some cases, just their heads) awaiting future salvation.

The above documentary, We Will Live Again, takes a look inside "the unusual and extraordinary operations of the Cryonics Institute", following Ben Best and Andy Zawacki, the caretakers of 99 deceased human bodies stored at below freezing temperatures in cryopreservation. It's a strange and thought-provoking exploration of mortality, and our attempts to avoid it, well worth a watch.

News Briefs 27-08-2014

I'd like to be straightly looked after.

Quote of the Day:

We men of study, whose heads are in our books, have need to be straightly looked after! We dream in our waking moments, and walk in our sleep.

~ Nathaniel Hawthorne