M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Chatbots — Still not AI but still dangerous

December 13, 2022
MThomas

[ChatGPT] could teach his daughter math, science and English, not to mention a few other important lessons. Chief among them: Do not believe everything you are told.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/10/technology/ai-chat-bot-chatgpt.html

They’re all the rage online. Type in a request for a description how two historical people who never actually met would respond to each other had they actually met, and the program will oblige.

They’ll cause all sorts of rage online, too, once the peddlers of incessant false news and innuendo realize what a bonanza they’ve stumbled upon.

You want an image of an event that never really happened?

No problem. A program can generate one for you. We can even call it “art,” for what that’s worth.

No, BIG problem, especially when it convinces the gullible that it DID happen.

2023 will tell 2020 and 2022 to hold its coffee.

Just what we all wanted, right?

Still, chatbots are not (repeat, NOT) true AI. Sorry, Google engineer who watched too much Ghost in the Shell. Chatbots repeat our very human bias. Repeatedly.

As in, there are way too many racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, and transphobic comments online. Full stop.

At a minor level, as a writing instructor, a student telling a chatbot to write a 600-word comparison-contrast essay is the least of my worries.

For starters, the damn things are probably scouring the Internet right now and “learning” from text on web pages like…uh…this one…

😱

Upcoming future events (according to a time traveler)

October 10, 2022
MThomas

Remember, it’s a video on TikTok, so it must be real. (link below to The Independent, a completely trustworthy sources of snarkiness).

https://www.indy100.com/viral/time-traveller-meteor-earth-tiktok-2658417934

FB censorship, here we go again…

May 8, 2022
MThomas

Right. So I quit Facebrat a couple years ago after I got fed up with the self-righteous, arrogant attitude of its founder Mark Zuckerberg and its blatant stealing and selling of personal information of its users.

And also because I was wasting hours and hours each week reading meaningless Facebark posts on my smartphone (so I deleted the app, which I strongly recommend you all do to prevent the company from tracking your location, then selling that info to the spam industry…although you’re probably going to be tracked via BlueTooth anyway if you keep it on).

But after my mother passed away, and while I was still away from family, friends, and colleagues and living in Montréal, I couldn’t take the isolation.

And also a teacher’s group based at the McGill University (William Shatner’s alma mater!) named BILD asked me to join a FB Group.

So I rejoined and vowed to avoid posting anything about religion and politics, and to focus on the things that matter – food, family, and occasional humorous events.

Until I foolishly wrote a casual comment on my brother’s post:

Continue Reading

No, Leonardo has no “descendants”

July 18, 2021
MThomas

The news spread quickly last week.

Fourteen people alive today in Italy can claim that they are descendants of Leonardo da Vinci, according to a study of the Renaissance genius’ family tree.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/fourteen-living-descendants-leonardo-da-vinci-are-identified-rcna1402

I won’t bother posting the other two to three dozen “news” about it, since they all pretty much copy each other without doing much (or any) actual journalistic research.

Nor do they use common sense.

In the paragraph following the one quoted above, this sentence appears:

Researchers traced da Vinci’s genealogy over nearly 700 years and 21 generations, from 1331 to the present day, beginning with da Vinci’s great-great-great grandfather Michele.

OK. So this is family genealogy, not just Leonardo, right?

That would explain why so many people were found. But they’re his relatives, not descendants.

Da Vinci, best known for painting “The Last Supper” and “The Mona Lisa,” had no children, but his blood relatives include 22 half siblings.

If he had no children (which is true), then he has no descendants.

Simple.

Yet another case of media happily exaggerating studies they don’t understand but are eager to exploit.

Also, Leonardo always signed his name “Leonardo di Ser Piero” or “di Piero.” Vinci is a small town near where he was born. (People at that time period in Europe didn’t have surnames in the modern sense.) So saying the research is about the “da Vinci family” makes little sense. Nor does the idea that “genius” runs in families. The famous Edison dictum applies here.

I’m also fairly certain Leonardo had 12, and not “22,” half-siblings. Ser Piero was a bit indiscrete but not that indiscrete. He was a notary, not a king.

mRNA and nanotech? Stay skeptical and use the Baloney Detection Kit!

June 25, 2021
MThomas

It’s becoming increasingly common to see social media posts claiming that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, which include those made by Pfizer and Moderna, could alter a person’s DNA. Some posts even suggest that nano-machines are being injected into the body.

https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/covid/technically-no-longer-human-can-mrna-covid-19-vaccines-meld-with-your-dna/

Yeah, I’ve seen some of these posts. Talked to a neighbor who was convinced Bill Gates was trying to inject us all with a chip to control our minds.

Is there any truth to these rumours? Could an mRNA vaccine be modifying your DNA?

No.

(Read the linked Cosmos article for more details!)

Actually, all you need to do is use logic and reasoning, apply some critical thinking, and demand lots of science-based evidence.

It’s called the Baloney Detection Kit and was introduced in a Cornell University undergraduate course about critical thinking and the scientific method by astrophysicist Carl Sagan.

In his book The Demon-haunted World, he lays out nine steps to bust BS and call out unscientific baloney. I use it with my second year undergrad students in a current news and global issues course.

The link above to the kit also outlines some of the most important logical fallacies to avoid, with number 8 and 9 being the most difficult to explain and convince people about (because they involve education about basic statistics).

So will this convince anti-vaxxers who make outlandish claims online?

Probably not. Unless it goes viral 😉.

Sorry, Venus is just a lot of gas

February 4, 2021
MThomas

There’s a reason I didn’t post a while ago about the supposed “there’s life in the clouds of Venus” finding.

It was just a big load of gas.

Sorry, folks. Venus is a big rotten egg. 🥚

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/signs-life-venus-might-just-be-ordinary-sulfur-gas-n1256739

One pill to block the emotions from bad memories…and another to…?

February 12, 2020
MThomas

We’ve seen this before. Tragic romance framed by sci-fi fantasies. But now it may be possible to block the emotions the amydala associated with painful memories. Continue Reading

No, it’s not actually an iPhone. Yes, please stop the sloppy reporting, thanks

January 9, 2020
MThomas

AncientIPhone

This is already a few months old, but I thought I’d finally get around to blogging about it: The “ancient iPhone” of “Russia’s Atlantis.”

Spoiler alert: it’s not one, and there was no such place. But that didn’t stop the “news” from spreading. Continue Reading

“We already found life on Mars!” Um. Sorry, no, you didn’t.

October 15, 2019
MThomas

“What is the evidence against the possibility of life on Mars?” Levin wrote. “The astonishing fact is that there is none.”

Uh, no, sorry. That’s an illogical fallacy called “begging the question.”

Often phrased like this: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Or, as a friend once joked, “Just because you haven’t found any aliens doesn’t mean there aren’t any!”

Well, yeah, but that doesn’t prove anything except that we just don’t know.

See, science doesn’t work like that. It demands skepticism, careful theorizing based on positive evidence.

And replication.

If findings can’t be independently confirmed and reproduced by an outside observer, then the evidence isn’t strong enough.

Sorry. No smoking gun. Yet.

(Believe me, if scientists knew that Mars had life, we’d hear about it ad infinitum. Carl Sagan put it best: Scientists are terrible at keeping secrets.)

https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2019/10/15/us/nasa-life-on-mars-intl-hnk-scli/index.html?__twitter_impression=true

A brief rant about Netflix: No, that’s NOT what “original” means

August 6, 2019
MThomas

IMG_7075

This is not a complaint about Netflix in general (well, not necessarily, but anyway). Without Netflix, I might have gone, shall we say, a little…

img_2250

…this past winter. I’ve been working temporarily in Montréal, several thousands miles of miles apart from my family, and being able to watch movies and older TV shows has been a great escape from the depressing monotony of single life.

But I feel the need to tell Netflix that I do not appreciate their use of the word “original.” Continue Reading

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