Capping off Donald J. Trump's No Good Very Bad Horrible Day today, the Wall Street Journal reports that senior U.S. intelligence officials are deliberately withholding sensitive information from the President because they don't trust him. Today's report cites sources inside the White House, and underscores the deep mistrust between career spies and the imploding kakistocracy.
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Do Crows hold funerals? Nah, not really, but they're up to something when one among the murder is murdered, and scientists are fascinated by their behavior around fallen comrades.
Calling to each other, gathering around, and paying special attention to a fallen comrade is common among the highly intelligent corvids, a group of birds that includes crows, jays, magpies, and ravens, says Kaeli Swift, a Ph.D student in environmental science at the University of Washington. (See "Are Crows Smarter Than Children?")
But it doesn't necessarily mean the birds are mourning for their lost buddy. Rather, they're likely trying to find out if there's a threat where the death occurred, so they can avoid it in the future.
One study involved using masks to see if crows would avoid humans who handled dead crows (and thereby implicated themselves in the investigation.) They did. On the other hand, if crows are smart enough to investigate murders, maybe they're smart enough to take one look at that mask and think: "OK, that is definitely a murderer." Read the rest
In July 2015, Freedom of the Press Foundation sued the Justice Department (DOJ) over the agency’s secret rules governing how the FBI can target members of the media with due process-free National Security Letters, and we have just received documents back in the ongoing lawsuit. Read the rest
Numerous research studies have correlated higher IQs with longer lifespans. Why? One reason could be that smarter people apparently don't do as many dumb things that could kill them early. In Scientific American, Michigan State University psychologist David Z. Hambrick looks at the latest research in cognitive epidemiology:
One possibility is that a higher IQ contributes to optimal health behaviors, such as exercising, wearing a seatbelt, and not smoking. Consistent with this hypothesis, in the Scottish data, there was no relationship between IQ and smoking behavior in the 1930s and 1940s, when the health risks of smoking were unknown, but after that, people with higher IQs were more likely to quit smoking. Alternatively, it could be that some of the same genetic factors contribute to variation in both IQ and in the propensity to engage in these sorts of behaviors.
Another possibility is that IQ is an index of bodily integrity, and particularly the efficiency of the nervous system.
"Research Confirms a Link between Intelligence and Life Expectancy" Read the rest
The documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed a division of British intelligence focused on the use of psychological science to influence, deceive, and infiltrate suspected terrorist cells, hostile states, criminal gangs, and activist groups. Vaughan "Mind Hacks" Bell investigates, and notes that some of their techniques draw heavily from the work of Robert Cialdini, author of Influence
, an absolute must-read classic book about techniques of persuasion. Read the rest
The answer is yes — but only in certain circumstances and that "yes" comes with a whole bunch of caveats. At Discover, Emily Sohn has a nice basic primer on what we know now about intelligence testing
and what your score on an IQ test does and doesn't mean. Read the rest
The Washington Post's Barton Gellman and Greg Miller detail the vast sums of money America spends on intelligence operations, far from public scrutiny.
Among the notable revelations in the budget summary:
•Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013. The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 percent above that of the National Security Agency, which conducts eavesdropping operations and has long been considered the behemoth of the community.
•The CIA and NSA have launched aggressive new efforts to hack into foreign computer networks to steal information or sabotage enemy systems, embracing what the budget refers to as “offensive cyber operations.”
•The NSA planned to investigate at least 4,000 possible insider threats in 2013, cases in which the agency suspected sensitive information may have been compromised by one of its own. The budget documents show that the U.S. intelligence community has sought to strengthen its ability to detect what it calls “anomalous behavior” by personnel with access to highly classified material.
•U.S. intelligence officials take an active interest in foes as well as friends. Pakistan is described in detail as an “intractable target,” and counterintelligence operations “are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel.”
Don't miss this incredible, clarifying interactive chart. Read the rest
A couple of years ago, I recorded a talk on octopus neurobiology
. One of the freakiest things you'll learn, if you watch it, is that an octopus' "brain" isn't really a centralized thing the way ours is. The processing capacity is distributed throughout the animal's body. At io9 today, Annalee Newitz writes about a new study that backs up that idea
, demonstrating that disembodied octopus arms react to threats in ways a severed human hand never could. Read the rest
As reported earlier today
, CIA chief David Petraeus has resigned after an FBI probe into whether someone else was using his email led to the discovery he was having an extramarital affair.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the investigation focused on his Gmail account, and that the traffic they observed "led agents to believe the woman or someone close to her had sought access to his email." The woman in question has now been identified as West Point graduate Paula Broadwell, author of "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus."
While Mr. Petraeus was still a general, he had email exchanges with the woman, but there wasn't a physical relationship, the person said. The affair began after Mr. Petraeus retired from the Army in August 2011 and ended months ago, the person said.
Previously: CIA chief Petraeus steps down, having failed to keep his drone in his pants Read the rest
"Over the weekend, I borrowed a friend’s time machine and cold-bloodedly killed a Neandertal, a Homo erectus, an Australopithecus, a dolphin, a chimp, eight sentient robots, the first extraterrestrial visitor to Earth, and my neighbor with the unreasonably loud sound system. Question: in the eyes of the law, how many murders did I just commit?"
— John Rennie on the ongoing debate about intelligence, species, and the rights of non-human persons. Read his great story at Smart Planet
. (Via Philip Yam) NOW WITH WORKING LINK! Read the rest
Recently, I posted a series of videos where science writers talked about some of the fascinating things they learned at the 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. In one of those clips, Eric Michael Johnson talked a bit about a panel session on whether or not certain cetaceans—primarily whales and dolphins—deserve to have legal rights under the law, the same as people have.
This is an issue that just begs controversy. But in a recent blog post following up on that panel and the meaning behind it, Johnson explains that it's not quite as crazy an idea as it might at first sound.
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It was just this understanding of rights as obligations that governments must obey that formed the basis for a declaration of rights for cetaceans (whales and dolphins) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Vancouver, Canada last month. Such a declaration is a minefield ripe for misunderstanding, as the BBC quickly demonstrated with their headline, “Dolphins deserve same rights as humans, say scientists.” However, according to Thomas I. White, Conrad N. Hilton Chair of Business Ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the idea of granting personhood rights to nonhumans would not make them equal to humans under law. They would not vote, sit on a jury, or attend public school. However, by legally making whales and dolphins “nonhuman persons,” with individual rights under law, it would obligate governments to protect cetaceans from slaughter or abuse.
Maher Arar, a Canadian who was rendered to Syria for years of brutal torture on the basis of bad information from Canada's intelligence agencies, writes in Prism about the revelation that Canadian public safety minister Vic Toews has given Canadian intelligence agencies and police the green light to use information derived from torture in their work. Arar cites examples of rendition and torture based on the "Hollywood fantasy that underlines the 'ticking bomb' scenario that minister Toews was apparently contemplating when he wrote this directive."
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What makes this direction even more alarming is that the fat annual budgets devoted to enhancing national security have not been balanced by a similar increase in oversight. In fact, the government chose to ignore the most important recommendation of Justice O’Connor which is to establish a credible oversight agency that has the required powers to monitor and investigate the activities of the RCMP and those of other agencies involved in the gathering and dissemination of national security information. Unlike the powerless Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP (CPC) or the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) this agency would also be granted subpoena power to compel all agencies to produce the required documents.
Coming back to the directive one can only cite two examples here which I believe are sufficient to illustrate the hollowness of the argument presented in the directive. The first relates to the invasion of Iraq which we now know was based on false intelligence (see this video) that was extracted from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi while he was being tortured in Egypt.
In the tradition of The Shining re-cut to look like an uplifting comedy, comes this music video, which repurposes scenes from several movies—most prominently 2001: A Space Odyssey—to tell the story of a misunderstood computer that accidentally hurts the ones it loves.
The song is "Limited" by Jascha. The video was created by my friend John Pavlus (who has also made some cool films about entropy and the Antikythera Mechanism). He says:
It seemed like a fun challenge to take images that have acquired so much "baggage" over the years — like the glowering cyclops eye of HAL from 2001, which has become visual shorthand for "evil machine" — and try to attach completely opposite emotional associations to them. What if something like HAL wasn't evil at all, but just misunderstood in its intentions, like a puppy who plays too rough with its owner? That's exactly the image that Jascha's plaintive refrain in "Limited" put into my head. Remixing material from five very different films creates a necessarily impressionistic approach to telling a story, so maybe the story this video tells in your head isn't the same one that it tells in mine. Either way I hope it's a good one.
Video Link Read the rest
Last year, I interviewed Binyamin Hochner of Hebrew University about his work developing new robotics systems based on the neurobiology of octopuses and other cephalopods. That interview ended up being incorporated into a video about cephalopod intelligence that was posted here on BoingBoing.
Long story short: Cephalopods don't have their neurons organized in the same way that we vertebrates do. An octopus has as many neurons as a cat, but instead of relying on a central brain, the octopus' neurons are far more scattered. Some are centralized into what we might think of as a "brain"—in this case, a donut-shaped organ that actually wraps around the octopus' esophagus. But the bulk of the neurons are distributed throughout the octopus' body. When the octopus moves, the centralized and decentralized neurons work together, sharing information and the duties of processing and control*.
Researchers like Hochner think that distributed processing system could make for better robots that can do more thinking on their own. Now, his work is paying off. In the video above, you can see the robotic arm produced by an interdisciplinary, team funded by the European Commission, of which Hochner is a part. The 17-inch arm can grasp objects and is the first step in a larger plan to build an entire robot octopus.
I'll say that again, "Robot octopus." Feel free to squeel with delight.
*For the record, this is my guess for why the technically dead squid in that video Xeni posted on Monday still reacted when doused with soy sauce. Read the rest