Triple-Decker Weekly, 35

The three most disruptive transitions in history were the introduction of humans, farming, and industry. If another transition lies ahead, a good guess for its source is artificial intelligence in the form of whole brain emulations, or “ems,” sometime in roughly a century. [Overcoming Bias]

A case can be made that the hypothesis that we are living in a computer simulation should be given a significant probability. The basic idea behind this so-called “Simulation argument” is that vast amounts of computing power may become available in the future, and that it could be used, among other things, to run large numbers of fine-grained simulations of past human civilizations. Under some not-too-implausible assumptions, the result can be that almost all minds like ours are simulated minds, and that we should therefore assign a significant probability to being such computer-emulated minds rather than the (subjectively indistinguishable) minds of originally evolved creatures. And if we are, we suffer the risk that the simulation may be shut down at any time. [Nick Bostrom]

More from Nick Bostrom: Are you living in a computer simulation?

Rousseau at fifty-three — afflicted by illness, temperamental and alone, an anguished, paranoiac conscience — sitting up at his desk in Wootton, in the 1760s: “Nothing about me must remain hidden or obscure. I must remain incessantly beneath the reader’s gaze, so that he may follow me in all the extravagances of my heart and into every last corner of my life.” The Confessions are Rousseau’s response, in the form of a remedy, to the pain and contradictions of a human heart filled with content that can no longer be transmitted vertically, toward the heavens. The task of the accused to supply proof of innocence, to authenticate the rightness of his conduct, requires a new, lateral kind of divination. A community of readers, not saints, is what counts. [Ricky D'Ambrose/TNI | Continue reading]

Inattentional blindness-the failure to see visible and otherwise salient events when one is paying attention to something else-has been proposed as an explanation for various real-world events. In one such event, a Boston police officer chasing a suspect ran past a brutal assault and was prosecuted for perjury when he claimed not to have seen it. However, there have been no experimental studies of inattentional blindness in real-world conditions. We simulated the Boston incident by having subjects run after a confederate along a route near which three other confederates staged a fight. At night only 35% of subjects noticed the fight; during the day 56% noticed. We manipulated the attentional load on the subjects and found that increasing the load significantly decreased noticing. These results provide evidence that inattentional blindness can occur during real-world situations, including the Boston case. [i-Perception | PDF]

In July, Wells Fargo paid a $175 million settlement after the feds caught its brokers systematically pushing minority customers into mortgages with higher rates and fees, even though they posed the same credit risks as whites. One study found that Wells Fargo charged Hispanics $2,000 more in what the Justice Department called a “racial surtax.” The bank docked blacks nearly $3,000 extra for their own improper pigmentation. Across the country, in Minneapolis, U.S. Bank also swindled its customers, though at least it let whites in on the action. Instead of logging debit card purchases in the order they were made, the bank rearranged them from highest amount to lowest, the better to artificially stick customers with overdraft fees. U.S. Bank paid $55 million to settle a class action suit in July. It was the 13th major bank caught running this scam. [Village Voice]

This article looks in more depth at the different ways in which ideas about cashless societies were articulated and explored in pre-1900 utopian literature. […] Although the desire to dispense with cash and find a more efficient and less-exploitable payment system is certainly nothing new, the practical problems associated with actually implementing such a system remain hugely challenging. [MPRA/Academia]

Electricity and then electronics brought with them an endless stream of new gadgets for the home, each promising to make life easier in some way. Many of these time- and labor-saving devices were destined for the kitchen. Factories, too, were retooled to streamline the manufacture of everything, including food. […] There’s no denying that flavor, texture and nutrients suffered, but people began to rely on these conveniences, and their tastes simply changed to accommodate. […] Throughout the 20th century, the food industry worked to provide not only convenience but also ostensibly wholesome substitutes for natural foods, including butter. In fact, margarine has been around since the late 19th century, but for many years it was white by law. Eventually, however, it came with added artificial flavor and a capsule of yellow artificial food coloring (to be kneaded in after purchase) so it would taste and look more like the real thing. […] After several generations of variations on this theme, however, we are seeing the effects of eating foods that are so far removed from their original state. Not only are many diseases linked to poor diet—from certain cancers to diabetes to heart disease—but obesity affects an unprecedented segment of the Western population. [Vision]

“Do you think that humans are still evolving?” Approximately 80% of the audience answered “no.” Recent findings, however, show otherwise.

Foxconn, the maker of Apple's iPhone and iPad, plans to rely more on robots for manufacturing over the coming years, allowing the company to invest more in research and development and save on labor costs. […] Local Chinese media reported that Foxconn CEO Terry Gou had said the company plans on deploying 1 million robots over the next three years to complete routine assembly tasks. Foxconn currently uses 10,000 robots. […] The Taiwan-based company has more than 1 million employees, the majority of which are located at facilities in mainland China. Foxconn is one of the world's largest producers of electronics. Aside from Apple, the company also manufactures products for companies like HP, Sony and Nintendo. [IT World]

Ever wanted a life-like miniature of yourself or loved ones? Now's your chance, thanks to Omote 3D, which will soon be opening a 3D printing photo booth in Harajuku, Japan.

What are the best new products that people don't know about?

The body type that a man finds attractive can change depending on his environment and circumstances, a new study finds: when under stress, for instance, men prefer heavier women. The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, reports that when men were placed in stressful situations, then asked to rate the attractiveness of women of varying body sizes, they tended to prefer beefier frames, compared with unstressed men whose tastes skewed thinner. […] The findings fall in line with evolutionary theories that suggest when resources are scarce or unpredictable, a woman’s thin physique may signal illness, frailty and the inability to reproduce. [Time]

Most people can fake a genuine "Duchenne" smile.

Research into group decision-making in social animals has shown that ants, fish, birds, and bees have all discovered strategies to make intelligent group decisions. If they can do it, we can do it, right? What can we learn from these critters about harnessing the knowledge in all of us to move our whole group in the best possible direction? We will explore these insights in this post.

The simplicity of modern life is making us more stupid, according to a scientific theory which claims humanity may have reached its intellectual and emotional peak as early as 4,000 BC. [Guardian]

Even if we do grant that cognitive evolutionary pressures have eased since 1000 BC, it's not clear that this would make us 'less intelligent.' [Neuroskeptic]

I think we felt that happiness, the ideal of happiness, making happiness the goal of life is very vacuous. We thought rather that happiness is a subjective state of feeling. And if what you want to do is maximize this subjective state of feeling–being happy–then I think all you have to do is invent a psychic aspirin that makes you happy the whole time. I think drug dealers sort of promise something like that as well. But you wouldn’t want to say about someone made perpetually happy by being drugged or taking pills that that person is leading a good life. I think there’s a moral objection to that immediately comes. People will say: We were built for something else. We were made for something else; not to be idiotically happy the whole time. So, it’s the subjective element there that if you want to maximize happiness, you are really wanting to maximize just a state of feeling, divorced entirely from the pursuit of those things that would justifiably make you happy. I think that’s our main critique of happiness. Happiness is a byproduct of an achievement of doing something well, of realizing your potential, flourishing, and things of that kind. [Robert Skidelsky/EconTalk]

New study examines how health affects happiness.

Study 1 suggests that the more people value happiness, the lonelier they feel on a daily basis.

Meanings of words can be hard to locate when they are on the tip of your tongue, let alone in the brain. Now, for the first time, patterns of brain activity have been matched with the meanings of specific words. [NewScientist]

The near 10-year-old Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture believes that neuroscience could make science’s greatest contribution to the field of architecture since physics informed fundamental structural methods, acoustic designs, and lighting calculations in the late 19th century. […] With today’s sophisticated brain-imaging techniques, neuroscientists can examine how the brain processes environments, even with the complex limitations of, say, someone who’s blind, or autistic, or has dementia. […] Macagno has been testing hospital design in a virtual-reality lab, and this work could bring us closer to that elusive hospital where, for example, no one gets lost. Other findings from the kind of research he is talking about may challenge what architects have practiced for years. For instance, hospital rooms for premature babies were long built to accommodate their medical equipment and caregivers, not to promote the development of the newborns’ brains. Neuroscience research tells us that the constant noise and harsh lighting of such environments can interfere with the early development of a baby’s visual and auditory systems. [Pacific Standard]

Why is it so hard to give good directions?

How online video stream quality affects viewer behavior.

In this study, a mail survey was conducted in order to examine the effects of transparent envelopes (those allowing visualization of contents) on response rate and speed.

What exactly about a small salad with four or five miniature croutons makes Guy’s Famous Big Bite Caesar (a) big (b) famous or (c) Guy’s, in any meaningful sense? […] SERVICE The well-meaning staff seems to realize that this is not a real restaurant. [NY Times]

How does striped toothpaste retain its stripes after being bottled and squeezed?

Two pelicans blown to Rhode Island by the winds of Hurricane Sandy will be flown in a private plane back to their natural habitat in Florida.