What else Turing did

The movie The Imitation Game focused on how mathematician Alan Turing broke the German “Enigma” code, a major contribution to the Allied victory in World War II.   Those interested in artificial intelligence talk about the “Turing test,” the goal of making it impossible to tell whether a machine or a human being is responding to questions.  But  Turing’s most enduring contribution is not known so much.  He wrote a paper about 0′s and 1′s and computable numbers that basically invented the concept of software. [Read more...]

Why artificial intelligence won’t conquer humanity

Some smart people, from Bill Gates to Stephen Hawkings, have been raising the alarm that computers might get so intelligent that they could conquer the human race.  But artificial intelligence specialist David W. Buchanan explains why this isn’t something we need to worry about, saying the alarmists are committing the “consciousness fallacy,” confusing intelligence with consciousness. [Read more...]

The case for a North American century

Many have been saying that  America is in decline, that our political, cultural, and economic contributions are slipping. China, some say, is the up-and-coming nation.  Others say that the age of the dominant world power is over.

But an op-ed piece by former General David Petraeus and Brookings Institute researcher Michael O’Hanlon say that the United States, in partnership with Canada and Mexico, has economic and demographic advantages over all comers that may make for a “North American Century.” [Read more...]

Hear Alexander Graham Bell

In this age of smart phones, we should honor the smartness of Alexander Graham Bell, who not only invented the telephone but made many other contributions to audio technology by figuring out how to translate sound waves into electronic signals.  Now researchers have discovered and restored the first and only recording of Bell’s voice, dated 1885.  Listen to it after the jump. [Read more...]

Finding the lost texts of classical antiquity?

The writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans helped form our civilization, and their rediscovery sparked the Renaissance.  But many of the writings of the formative thinkers of the classical age have been lost.  We only have one-third of the writings of Aristotle, and they were enough to create Western thought, shaping the very way we reason.  What else did he have to say that has been lost, and what might that do?   The founders of Western drama were the brilliant playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides, both of whom wrote some 90 plays, but only 6 and 19 of their plays, respectively, have survived.  (Go here for what else is missing.)

But archaeologists have discovered a large library from the Roman city of Herculaneum, which was destroyed by the volcano that devastated Pompeii.  The hot volcanic ash both preserved the library’s scrolls but also made them impossible to read.  Attempts to unroll them to see what they contain makes them disintegrate.  But now a technology has been developed that may allow us to read them.  So far, the works that have been deciphered are ones we have already,  but who knows what else the library may contain? [Read more...]

We now have a ray gun

The U.S. military is now deploying a weaponized laser.  It isn’t a Buck Rogers-style light pistol or a Star Trek phaser that  looks like a cell phone.  It looks like a telescope.  But it can zap enemies with perfect accuracy.  Its biggest potential, though, is as a defensive weapon.  Not only can it shoot down attacking aircraft and missiles.  Because it goes at the speed of light–since it is light–it can even destroy a mortar round.

Also, whereas conventional artillery pieces can run out of expensive ammunition, the laser weapon can keep firing as long as it has electricity, and each zap costs only 59 cents. [Read more...]