The Emergence of First-Order Logic (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

New Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on the emergence of first-order logic by William Ewald:

For anybody schooled in modern logic, first-order logic can seem an entirely natural object of study, and its discovery inevitable. It is semantically complete; it is adequate to the axiomatization of all ordinary mathematics; and Lindström’s theorem shows that it is the maximal logic satisfying the compactness and Löwenheim-Skolem properties. So it is not surprising that first-order logic has long been regarded as the “right” logic for investigations into the foundations of mathematics. It occupies the central place in modern textbooks of mathematical logic, with other systems relegated to the sidelines. The history, however, is anything but straightforward, and is certainly not a matter of a sudden discovery by a single researcher. The emergence is bound up with technical discoveries, with differing conceptions of what constitutes logic, with different programs of mathematical research, and with philosophical and conceptual reflection. So if first-order logic is “natural”, it is natural only in retrospect. The story is intricate, and at points contested; the following entry can only provide an overview.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-firstorder-emergence/

Exclusive: A new test can predict IVF embryos' risk of having a low IQ | New Scientist

THE prospect of creating intelligent designer babies has been the subject of ethical debate for decades, but we have lacked the ability to actually do it. That may now change, thanks to a new method of testing an embryo’s genes that could soon be available in some IVF clinics in the US, New Scientist can reveal.

The firm Genomic Prediction says it has developed genetic screening tests that can assess complex traits, such as the risk of some diseases and low intelligence, in IVF embryos. The tests haven’t been used yet, but the firm began talks last month with several IVF clinics to provide them to customers.

For intelligence, Genomic Prediction says that it will only offer the option of screening out embryos deemed likely to have “mental disability”. However, the same approach could in future be used to identify embryos with genes that make them more likely to have a high IQ. “I think people are going to demand that. If we don’t do it, some other company will,” says the firm’s co-founder Stephen Hsu.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24032041-900-exclusive-a-new-test-can-predict-ivf-embryos-risk-of-having-a-low-iq

Looking Back with Epperson, Fifty Years Later | NCSE

This past July (2018), I had the pleasure of hosting NCSE Teacher Ambassadors at Georgia Southern for a two-day workshop. During our time together, we shared and explored content and best practices for teaching, covering everything from recent fossil discoveries to how to deal with conflict in the classroom. Early on, Stephanie Keep gave us a quick run-down on the history of evolution education in the United States, including the legal cases that set precedent for science teaching.

One slide featured a black-and-white photograph of a woman I had seen before, but many of our teachers had not. The picture was of Susan Epperson, classroom teacher and advocate. Keep told the assembled teachers to remember that this was all recent history. So recent, she said, that the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Epperson v. Arkansas, which overturned a ban on evolution and set precedent for the unconstitutionality of similar laws, is still actively supporting science education today.

https://ncse.com/blog/2018/11/looking-back-with-epperson-fifty-years-later-0018818

Gene drives promise great gains and great dangers - On the extinction of the species

Extinctions are seldom cause for celebration. Humans are wiping out species at a frightening rate, whether hunting them into history or, far more threateningly, damaging the habitats on which they depend. But occasionally, the destruction is warranted. Smallpox was officially eradicated in 1980, and no one laments the fate of the virus that caused it; campaigns to save the virus that causes polio are thin on the ground. How, then, to think about a new technology that will make driving a species to extinction far easier?

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/11/08/gene-drives-promise-great-gains-and-great-dangers

Believing without evidence is always morally wrong | Aeon Ideas

[…] What we believe is then of tremendous practical importance. False beliefs about physical or social facts lead us into poor habits of action that in the most extreme cases could threaten our survival. If the singer R Kelly genuinely believed the words of his song ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ (1996), I can guarantee you he would not be around by now.

But it is not only our own self-preservation that is at stake here. As social animals, our agency impacts on those around us, and improper believing puts our fellow humans at risk. As Clifford warns: ‘We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs and the fatally wrong actions which they lead to …’ In short, sloppy practices of belief-formation are ethically wrong because – as social beings – when we believe something, the stakes are very high.

https://aeon.co/ideas/believing-without-evidence-is-always-morally-wrong

Former heroin abuser's civil forfeiture case goes to Supreme Court

MARION, Ind. — Tyson Timbs works in a machine shop. He is a self-described former heroin junkie living with his aunt in a small home with two dogs. Inspirational messages — in the house, on his clothes and on a tattoo — help sustain his recovery.

It is a modest existence. That said, Timbs, 37, could see his name live on for decades in constitutional law. He is the plaintiff in a closely-watched case with far-reaching implications that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Nov. 28.

Five years ago, Timbs pleaded guilty to selling $260 worth of heroin and had his $42,000 Land Rover taken by the government in a process known as "civil asset forfeiture," which allows police to seize and keep property alleged to have been used in a crime.

By Indiana law, however, the maximum fine for Timbs' crime was $10,000 — well below the value of seized vehicle.

https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/10/29/tyson-timbs-institute-justice-civil-asset-forfeiture-us-supreme-court-eighth-amendment/1646693002/

If elephants aren’t persons yet, could they be one day? | Aeon Essays

Have you ever stood in a field full of cows? It’s obvious that they’re aware of one another, but in a minimal kind of way. They tend to stay loosely clumped together as they graze, and they don’t deliberately knock into other members of the herd. Shouting gets their attention, but it tends to elicit a flickering inspection at most, which subsides into cud-munching indifference when they realise you represent neither a threat nor a treat. Cows don’t gauge how to respond to sights, sounds and smells by carefully studying the subtleties of one another’s reactions (which is why they can startle each other into stampeding). When you’re with a herd of cows, you’re basically alone. 

Stand or walk among a herd of elephants, however, and you’ll appreciate how different the experience is. Even the most peaceful group feels electric with communicative action. There’s continuous eye contact, touching, trunk and ear movements to which others attend and respond. Elephants engage in low-frequency vocalisation, most of which you can’t hear, but you can certainly see its effects. If you’re fidgety, for example, all the adult elephants will notice and become uneasy. Typically they take their cues from their female leader, the matriarch. When you’re with a herd of elephants, you’re not alone at all; you’re in a highly charged atmosphere, shimmering with presence and feeling. To an outside observer, elephants appear to have highly responsive minds, with their own autonomous perspectives that yield only to careful, respectful interaction.

https://aeon.co/essays/if-elephants-arent-persons-yet-could-they-be-one-day

In matters of morality, self-driving cars face a cultural obstacle course - The Globe and Mail

A self-driving car is speeding down a busy road when suddenly a group of pedestrians appears in its path. The car has a split-second to decide between two horrific options. Should it plow down the unwitting pedestrians or swerve into a concrete barrier with the likelihood that occupants in the car may be killed?

What if the pedestrian is a woman with a stroller? Does that change the moral calculus? Or what if the occupants of the car are mostly young children while the pedestrian is a single jaywalker breaking the law? Or an elderly man, possibly disoriented?

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/technology/science/article-in-matters-of-morality-self-driving-cars-face-a-cultural-obstacle/

16-year-old becomes new Tetris champ by defeating 7-time world champion - Article - Bardown

Had to post this here:

The Classic Tetris World Championship took place over the weekend at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo and those in attendance witnessed a shocking defeat with the championship on the line.

In the final battle of the weekend, 7-time champion Jonas Neubaeuer went up against 16-year-old prodigy Joseph Saelee and it was the wunderkind who came out on top.

https://www.bardown.com/16-year-old-becomes-new-tetris-champ-by-defeating-7-time-world-champion-1.1196385

An Ethical-Legal Analysis of Medical Assistance in Dying for Those with Mental Illness | Tanner | Alberta Law Review

One of mine!

This article considers sources of opposition to allowing access to medical assistance in dying for individuals with mental illness. It originated with an observation by members of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics that in mainstream Canadian culture — as well as in political, academic, and professional circles — such opposition remains widespread (and often reflexive). This opposition exists even in light of broad support for access to assisted dying for individuals with illness manifesting in physical suffering. Most Canadians treat the prospect of assisted dying for those with mental illness with suspicion, and it is worth exploring why this opposition persists, what arguments can be leveled to support it, and whether those arguments can be sustained. To that end, I identify five objections to assisted dying for the mentally ill that seem to characterize the public debate, and argue that none are sustainable. They either rely on false premises or otherwise fail to secure the conclusion that assisted dying should be off limits to people suffering from mental illness, even when such mental illness is their sole underlying condition.

https://www.albertalawreview.com/index.php/ALR/article/view/2500

“My-side bias” makes it difficult for us to see the logic in arguments we disagree with – Research Digest

In what feels like an increasingly polarised world, trying to convince the “other side” to see things differently often feels futile. Psychology has done a great job outlining some of the reasons why, including showing that, regardless of political leanings, most people are highly motivated to protect their existing views.

However a problem with some of this research is that it is very difficult to concoct opposing real-life arguments of equal validity, so as to make a fair comparison of people’s treatment of arguments they agree and disagree with.

To get around this problem, an elegant new paper in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology has tested people’s ability to assess the logic of formal arguments (syllogisms) structured in the exact same way, but that featured wording that either confirmed or contradicted their existing views on abortion. The results provide a striking demonstration of how our powers of reasoning are corrupted by our prior attitudes.

https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/10/09/my-side-bias-makes-it-difficult-for-us-to-see-the-logic-in-arguments-we-disagree-with/

Hasty change to assisted dying bill a serious error

When complex and controversial draft legislation is processed rapidly, significant potential implications of the bill – and any amendments made to it – can be missed. Unfortunately, this is precisely what happened with the federal government’s Bill C-14 to establish the federal rules regarding medical assistance in dying (MAID) in Canada. The legislation was introduced on April 14, 2016 and came into force on June 17, 2016.

Many, many amendments were considered and, unsurprisingly, most of the attention was focused on the most obviously controversial amendments — particularly on the unsuccessful attempts to allow access to MAID beyond only those individuals whose “natural death has become reasonably foreseeable.”

By contrast, another amendment received very little attention before being passed — a mere 10 minutes out of many hours of debate. Yet this amendment created the potential for extended intolerable suffering.

http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/january-2018/hasty-change-to-assisted-dying-bill-a-serious-error/

On free will: Daniel Dennett and Gregg Caruso go head to head | Aeon Essays

Caruso: [Dan,] you have famously argued that freedom evolves and that humans, alone among the animals, have evolved minds that give us free will and moral responsibility. I, on the other hand, have argued that what we do and the way we are is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control, and that because of this we are never morally responsible for our actions, in a particular but pervasive sense – the sense that would make us truly deserving of blame and praise, punishment and reward. While these two views appear to be at odds with each other, one of the things I would like to explore in this conversation is how far apart we actually are. I suspect that we may have more in common than some think – but I could be wrong. To begin, can you explain what you mean by ‘free will’ and why you think humans alone have it?  

Dennett: A key word in understanding our differences is ‘control’. [Gregg,] you say ‘the way we are is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control’ and that is true of only those unfortunates who have not been able to become autonomous agents during their childhood upbringing. There really are people, with mental disabilities, who are not able to control themselves, but normal people can manage under all but the most extreme circumstances, and this difference is both morally important and obvious, once you divorce the idea of control from the idea of causation. Your past does not control you; for it to control you, it would have to be able to monitor feedback about your behaviour and adjust its interventions – which is nonsense.

https://aeon.co/essays/on-free-will-daniel-dennett-and-gregg-caruso-go-head-to-head

Safeguarding trials from racial bias

There is much to learn from the trial of Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley on the dangers of not directly confronting the potential impact of racial bias on the trial process. Stanley was acquitted in February 2018 by an all-White jury in the shooting death of 22-year-old Cree man Colten Boushie. The law gives us tools to safeguard trials from racial bias that we shouldn’t ignore. One of these tools is the law of evidence.

What is the law of evidence? It is a set of rules aimed at regulating the admissibility and use of evidence, in order to fairly promote the search for truth. It recognizes that judges and jurors bring to court every day assumptions about human experience and behaviour that are grounded in unreliable, stereotypical or discriminatory assumptions. That is precisely why it gives judges a discretion to exclude evidence where its prejudicial effect outweighs its relevance or probative value. And why we have rules, for example, that make prior sexual history evidence in sexual assault cases or evidence that paints an accused in a negative light (bad character evidence) presumptively inadmissible.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that Indigenous, Black and Brown lived experiences are disproportionately before courts consisting of largely White jurors or judges, we have failed to ensure that our rules of evidence protect against racial bias in the same way that they do against other types of unreliable and discriminatory generalizations. The Stanley trial is a stark reminder of this reality.

http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/october-2018/safeguarding-trials-from-racial-bias/

Seeking Human Generosity’s Origins in an Ape’s Gift to Another Ape - The New York Times

How generous is an ape? It’s a hard question for scientists to tackle, but the answer could tell us a lot about ourselves.People in every culture can be generous, whether they’re lending a cellphone to an office mate or sharing an antelope haunch with a hungry family.

While it’s easy to dwell on our capacity for war and violence, scientists see our generosity as a remarkable feature of our species. “One of the things that stands out about humans is how helpful we are,” said Christopher Krupenye, a primate behavior researcher at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

This generosity may have been crucial to the survival of our early ancestors who lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/science/generosity-apes-bonobos.html

Should patients with anorexia be force-fed to save their lives? - The Globe and Mail

Madam Justice Lise Bergeron of the Quebec Superior Court recently ruled that a 20-year-old woman who is suffering from severe anorexia should be force-fed to keep her alive.

The hospital where the young woman is being treated, Centre hospitalier universitaire du Québec, sought a court order when she began to suffer life-threatening pericardial effusion (build-up of fluid around the heart).

The patient, who is not identified for privacy concerns, has been under almost constant treatment since 2012. At one point she weighed a mere 32 kilograms, and was refusing to eat.

These cases are among the most ethically and legally challenging.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-should-patients-with-anorexia-be-force-fed-to-save-their-lives/

Computer Programmers Get New Tech Ethics Code - Scientific American

Computing professionals are on the front lines of almost every aspect of the modern world. They’re involved in the response when hackers steal the personal information of hundreds of thousands of people from a large corporation. Their work can protect—or jeopardize—critical infrastructure like electrical grids and transportation lines. And the algorithms they write may determine who gets a job, who is approved for a bank loan or who gets released on bail.

Technological professionals are the first, and last, lines of defense against the misuse of technology. Nobody else understands the systems as well, and nobody else is in a position to protect specific data elements or ensure the connections between one component and another are appropriate, safe and reliable. As the role of computing continues its decades-long expansion in society, computer scientists are central to what happens next.

That’s why the world’s largest organization of computer scientists and engineers, the Association for Computing Machinery, of which I am president, has issued a new code of ethics for computing professionals. And it’s why ACM is taking other steps to help technologists engage with ethical questions.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/computer-programmers-get-new-tech-ethics-code/

Artificial Intelligence Shows Why Atheism Is Unpopular - The Atlantic

Imagine you’re the president of a European country. You’re slated to take in 50,000 refugees from the Middle East this year. Most of them are very religious, while most of your population is very secular. You want to integrate the newcomers seamlessly, minimizing the risk of economic malaise or violence, but you have limited resources. One of your advisers tells you to invest in the refugees’ education; another says providing jobs is the key; yet another insists the most important thing is giving the youth opportunities to socialize with local kids. What do you do? 

Well, you make your best guess and hope the policy you chose works out. But it might not. Even a policy that yielded great results in another place or time may fail miserably in your particular country under its present circumstances. If that happens, you might find yourself wishing you could hit a giant reset button and run the whole experiment over again, this time choosing a different policy. But of course, you can’t experiment like that, not with real people.

You can, however, experiment like that with virtual people. And that’s exactly what the Modeling Religion Project does. An international team of computer scientists, philosophers, religion scholars, and others are collaborating to build computer models that they populate with thousands of virtual people, or “agents.” As the agents interact with each other and with shifting conditions in their artificial environment, their attributes and beliefs—levels of economic security, of education, of religiosity, and so on—can change. At the outset, the researchers program the agents to mimic the attributes and beliefs of a real country’s population using survey data from that country. They also “train” the model on a set of empirically validated social-science rules about how humans tend to interact under various pressures.

And then they experiment: Add in 50,000 newcomers, say, and invest heavily in education. How does the artificial society change? The model tells you. Don’t like it? Just hit that reset button and try a different policy.

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/07/artificial-intelligence-religion-atheism/565076/

Effort to Diversify Medical Research Raises Thorny Questions of Race - Scientific American

It’s a summer Saturday morning and more than 160 people are packed into a windowless classroom beneath a Lower Manhattan street. Organizers had distributed the ad for the three-hour event just three weeks earlier. The goal was to gather people who identify as “Asian” on the U.S. census—and nearly everyone in the overcapacity room fits that label.

Attendees, the flyer says, will learn about precision medicine—a health care trend in which treatment and medication are tailored to an individual’s genes, environment and lifestyle. “Why is it that we’re all getting the same blood pressure pill, when it might work really well with one person and not the other?” event leader Colleen Leners asks the audience. Leners is the policy director for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Since mid-May she has been traveling across the country to lead enrollment efforts for a new federal governmentresearch project that is grounded in genetics and aims to overhaul the way health care is delivered.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/effort-to-diversify-medical-research-raises-thorny-questions-of-race/

'The discourse is unhinged': how the media gets AI alarmingly wrong | The Guardian

[...] A month after this initial research was released, Fast Company published an article entitled AI Is Inventing Language Humans Can’t Understand. Should We Stop It?. The story focused almost entirely on how the bots occasionally diverged from standard English – which was not the main finding of the paper – and reported that after the researchers “realized their bots were chattering in a new language” they decided to pull the plug on the whole experiment, as if the bots were in some way out of control.

Fast Company’s story went viral and spread across the internet, prompting a slew of content-hungry publications to further promote this new Frankenstein-esque narrative: “Facebook engineers panic, pull plug on AI after bots develop their own language,” one website reported. Not to be outdone, the Sun proposed that the incident “closely resembled the plot of The Terminator in which a robot becomes self-aware and starts waging a war on humans”.

Zachary Lipton, an assistant professor at the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University, watched with frustration as this story transformed from “interesting-ish research” to “sensationalized crap”.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/25/ai-artificial-intelligence-social-media-bots-wrong