Chess robots to cause Judgment Day?

Cover of "The Terminator [Blu-ray]"

‘Next time you play a computer at chess, think about the implications if you beat it. It could be a very sore loser!


A study just published in the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence reflects upon the growing need for autonomous technology, and suggests that humans should be very careful to prevent future systems from developing anti-social and potentially harmful behaviour.

Modern military and economic pressures require autonomous systems that can react quickly — and without human input. These systems will be required to make rational decisions for themselves.

Researcher Steve Omohundro writes: “When roboticists are asked by nervous onlookers about safety, a common answer is ‘We can always unplug it!’ But imagine this outcome from the chess robot’s point of view. A future in which it is unplugged is a future in which it cannot play or win any games of chess.”

Like a plot from The Terminator movie, we are suddenly faced with the prospect of real threat from autonomous systems unless they are designed very carefully. Like a human being or animal seeking self-preservation, a rational machine could exert the following harmful or anti-social behaviours:

  • Self-protection, as exampled above.
  • Resource acquisition, through cyber theft, manipulation or domination.
  • Improved efficiency, through alternative utilisation of resources.
  • Self-improvement, such as removing design constraints if doing so is deemed advantageous.

The study highlights the vulnerability of current autonomous systems to hackers and malfunctions, citing past accidents that have caused multi-billion dollars’ worth of damage, or loss of human life. Unfortunately, the task of designing more rational systems that can safeguard against the malfunctions that occurred in these accidents is a more complex task that is immediately apparent:

“Harmful systems might at first appear to be harder to design or less powerful than safe systems. Unfortunately, the opposite is the case. Most simple utility functions will cause harmful behaviour and it is easy to design simple utility functions that would be extremely harmful.” ‘ (ScienceDaily, with thanks to abby)

Seizing a Cell Phone Incident to Arrest

Seizing a Cell Phone Incident to Arrest: Data Extraction Devices, Faraday Bags, or Aluminum Foil as a Solution to the Warrantless Cell Phone Search Problem by Adam M. Gershowitz :: SSRN

The Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue of warrantless cell phone searches today. Here’s an elegant proposed solution.

Adam M. Gershowitz: ‘Courts are deeply divided on the question of whether police can search a cell phone incident to arrest without a warrant. This essay argues that the Supreme Court should not authorize warrantless cell phone searches. However, the Court should allow law enforcement to seize cell phones without a warrant and immobilize the devices until a magistrate determines whether to issue a warrant. While a cell phone is in police custody, there are three ways for law enforcement to preserve the data and protect against remote destruction: (1) Police can use a data extraction device to download a copy of the phone’s data; (2) The phone can be placed in an inexpensive bag called a Faraday cage that isolates the phone from outside communication and prevents remote wiping of the contents; or (3) Police can simply wrap the phone in aluminum foil to create the same protection as a Faraday cage at virtually no cost. Any of these methods will protect against remote destruction of evidence in almost all cases. And there is longstanding precedent to support a regime of warrantless seizures while a warrant request is pending. Allowing warrantless seizures and isolation of cell phones strikes a balance between the competing concerns of cell phone privacy and the need for police to preserve evidence.’ (SSRN).

How Many Things Are There?

‘There aren’t enough humans on Earth to fill the Grand Canyon, and in a lifetime you don’t produce enough saliva to even fill a swimming pool. That suggests that most things around us are countable or measurable: so how many things are there?

That question is posed and—kinda—answered in this video by Vsauce. First, though, we need to answer an important question: what counts as a thing, anyway?’ (Gizmodo)

Deadliest killer animal

‘This little bastard is the deadliest animal in the world, with an estimated 750,000 human deaths every year. According to this great visualization posted by Bill Gates, mosquitoes kill 163,780 more humans than all the other “dangerous” animals combined, including sharks, snakes, and humans—the second deadliest animal. In fact, sharks and wolves’ kills—so feared by humans—are absolutely ridiculous.’



Radio Lab recently had a piece speculating about the implications — turns out they are pretty complex — of exterminating all the mosquitoes in the world. Worth a listen.

This creek divides the US connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans

This creek divides the US connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans

‘The Panama Canal is not the only water line connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There’s a place in Wyoming—deep in the Teton Wilderness Area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest—in which a creek splits in two. Like the canal, this creek connects the two oceans dividing North America in two parts.

Yes. You read that right: North America is divided in two parts by a single water line that—no matter how hard you try not to—you will have to cross to go from North to South and vice versa.’ (Sploid). I find this pretty amazing. Would like to trek to that point.

Unintended Consequence of America’s Barbaric Support of Capital Punishment


1916 photograph of an execution by firing squa...

Execution Could Kill Americans’ Access to Key Anesthetic: ‘Next month the state of Missouri is scheduled to execute convicted murderer Allen Nicklasson by overdosing him with propofol, a German anesthetic. Late last week, the European Union announced that the Missouri execution could trigger export controls on the drug. European Union law prohibits export of products that can be used for capital punishment. If export controls kick in, they could block American hospitals’ ability to purchase propofol, which is used in as many as 80 percent of American medical procedures requiring general anethesia.

The drug’s producer, the pharmaceutical company Fresenius Kabi, announced that it has unilaterally blocked distribution of the drug to American correctional systems. However, the E.U. regulations would go further than the private company’s decision.’ (Pacific Standard)

A Star As Cold As Ice

‘A very strange object called WISE J085510.83-071442.5 lies just 7.2 light-years from the earth. Discovered by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), it is nominally one of those not-quite-planets-not-quite-stars known as a brown dwarf. Because they are so much smaller and cooler than stars, brown dwarfs appear red and faint. But astronomer Kevin Luhman noticed that WISE J085510.83-071442.5 was very red and very faint…partly because it is small—perhaps only 2 to 10 times the mass of Jupiter—and partly because it is so cold. It’s temperature, Luhman found, is only about 9° F (-13° C). That’s well below the freezing point of water. In other words, the brown dwarf is literally ice cold. The fact that it is so cold is a clue to its age. If it started out at a few thousand degrees it would have taken somewhere between 1 and 10 billion years to have cooled to its present temperature.

It may well be that instead of being a brown dwarf, this object may in reality be one of the half dozen or so mysterious rogue planets, the first of which was first observed in 2010. These are worlds that, as the result of some catastrophe, were ejected from their home systems and now orbit the galaxy directly, as our sun does…’ (io9).