Monday Oct 27th, 2014

Elon Musk: We are 'summoning a demon' with artificial intelligence

"You know those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, and he's like -- Yeah, he's sure he can control the demon? Doesn't work out," Elon Musk said.

By Aileen Graef [UPI]

BOSTON, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Tesla and Spacex founder and CEO Elon Musk, speaking with students at the MIT AeroAstro Centennial Symposium, gave a chilling warning about artificial intelligence.

Without strict regulation and caution, he said, the development of artificial intelligence could turn into something uncontrollable.

"I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it's probably that. So we need to be very careful with artificial intelligence.

I'm increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don't do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we're summoning the demon. You know those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, and he's like -- Yeah, he's sure he can control the demon? Doesn't work out."

This is not the first time Musk has warned against AI. He once said it was potentially more dangerous than nuclear weapons.

He is not the only one to express such fears. Physicist Stephen Hawking wrote in an article that dismissing the threat of AI would be the "worst mistake in history."

Stay in the Magical ‘Harry Potter’ Hotel: London’s Georgian House Offers ‘Wizard’s Chambers’

Marlow Stern [Daily Beast]

Channel your inner Hogwarts student by checking in to a pair of Harry Potter-themed hotel rooms outfitted with potion bottles and cauldrons. Voldemort optional.

While star Daniel Radcliffe has moved on to an intriguing array of indie films, J.K. Rowling’s fantastical world of Harry Potter still holds a firm grasp on the public’s imagination. Yes, the 8-film, $7.72 billion grossing series came to a fiery end in 2011, but there’s been a surge in Potter popularity of late.

The latest example is the Harry Potter Hotel Package offered at The Georgian House. A boutique London hotel that’s been in operation since 1851—and is located just a stone’s throw from the Thames—is taking advantage of the renewed Potter interest by transforming two of its rooms into gothic-styled “Wizard’s Chambers” designed to transport guests to the magical world of Potter. The rooms come equipped with 4-poster wooden beds, potion bottles, cauldrons, and Hogwartsian accents—perfect for us mere muggles. “And don’t worry, we include full English breakfast in your stay, and not bogey flavoured Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans!” reads the hotel’s site. “To simply stay in the Wizard Chambers for a night with breakfast will run you $336 for two.”

In addition to the rooms, The Georgian House is offering tickets to the popular Muggle Walking Tour that takes you to locations around London where the film was shot, including train platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station, as well as a trip on the custom-designed Harry Potter Tour bus to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour: The Making ofHarry Potter, where you can check out the film’s myriad sets and props.

For two people, including one night in the Wizard Chambers, breakfast, Muggle and Studio Tour tickets, it will run you $584 (as well as $180 for an extra child, or $207 for an extra adult). To simply stay in the Wizard Chambers for a night with breakfast will run you $336 for two.

The Potter revival began on July 8, when Universal Orlando’s Harry Potter theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, opened and generated record summer attendance numbers. In fact, the park proved so popular that it boosted Comcast’s third-quarter theme park revenue 18.7 percent over the previous year to $786 million from $661 million, the company said in an earnings report Thursday.

“The new attraction is off to an amazing start,” said Comcast CEO Brian Robert.

They opened another Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios Japan on July 15, and are scheduled to open yet another Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood sometime in 2016.

That same day—July 8—Rowling released a new Harry Potter story on her website Pottermore. It took the form of an article in the book’s fictional newspaper The Daily Prophet and was titled, “Dumbledore’s Army Reunites at Quidditch World Cup Final” by Rita Skeeter. The story followed a 33-year-old Potter sporting “a couple of threads of silver” in his hair and “a nasty cut over his right cheekbone” as he takes in the Quidditch World Cup Final from a VIP section.

In October, Warner Bros., the studio that released the original Harry Potter films, announced that they’d be adapting Rowling’s 2001 book about the mystical creatures in the Potterverse, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, into “at least” a film trilogy. The first installment is scheduled to be released on Nov. 18, 2016, followed by the second on Nov. 16, 2018, and the third on Nov. 20, 2020. David Yates, who helmed the last four Potter films, is set to direct the firstFantastic Beasts film, and Rowling will be penning all the screenplays.

If that weren’t enough, Rowling also announced that on Oct. 31 she’ll be releasing a new 1,700-word Potter story on Pottermore that will reveal the backstory to Dolores Umbridge, the conniving Hogwarts witch/professor (played in the films by Imelda Staunton) who tormented “the boy who lived” by ordering a Dementor attack on him and forcing him to write the phrase “I must not tell lies” over and over again with a Blood Quill as punishment. She was eventually sent to Azkaban for life for crimes against humanity.

According to Pottermore, the new tale will be a “rich, 1,700-word backstory about Umbridge’s life, filled with many new details, as well as Rowling’s revealing first-person thoughts and reflections about the character.”

In the meantime, all you die hard Potter fans can always head to their local Starbucks and order a “Hot Butterbeer Latte”—a secret menu item perfect for fall.

Plants Can Tell When They’re Being Eaten

Edward Helmore [The Guardian]

Eating a leaf off a plant may not kill it, but that doesn't mean the plant likes it. The newest study to examine the intelligence (or at least behavior) of plants finds that plants can tell when they're being eaten -- and send out defenses to stop it from happening.

We’ve been hearing for decades about the complex intelligence of plants; last year’s excellent New Yorker piece is a good place to start, if you want to learn more about the subject. But a new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri, managed to figure out one new important element: plants can tell when they’re being eaten, and they don’t like it.

The word “intelligence,” when applied to any non-human animal or plant, is imprecise and sort of meaningless; research done to determine “intelligence” mostly just aims to learn how similar the inner workings of another organism is to a human thought process. There’s certainly nothing evolutionarily important about these sorts of intelligence studies; a chimp is not superior to a chicken just because chimps can use tools the same way humans do. But these studies are fascinating, and do give us insight into how other organisms think and behave, whatever “think” might mean.

This particular study was on the ever-popular Arabidopsis, specifically the thale cress, easily the most popular plant for experimentation. It’s in the brassica family, closely related to broccoli, kale, mustard greens, and cabbage, though unlike most of its cousins it isn’t very good to eat. This particular plant is so common for experiments because it was the first plant to have its genome sequenced, so scientists understand its inner workings better than almost any other plant.

The researchers were seeking to answer an unusual question: does a plant know when it’s being eaten? To do that, the researchers had to first make a precise audio version of the vibrations that a caterpillar makes as it eats leaves. The theory is that it’s these vibrations that the plant can somehow feel or hear. In addition, the researchers also came up with vibrations to mimic other natural vibrations the plant might experience, like wind noise.

Turns out, the thale cress actually produces some mustard oils and sends them through the leaves to deter predators (the oils are mildly toxic when ingested). And the study showed that when the plants felt or heard the caterpillar-munching vibrations, they sent out extra mustard oils into the leaves. When they felt or heard other vibrations? Nothing. It’s a far more dynamic defense than scientists had realized: the plant is more aware of its surroundings and able to respond than expected.

There’s more research to be done; nobody’s quite sure by what mechanism the plant can actually feel or hear these vibrations, and with so many plants out there, we’re not sure what kind of variation on this behavior there is. But it’s really promising research; there’s even talk of using sound waves to encourage crops to, say, grow faster, or send out specific defenses against attacks. Imagine knowing that a frost is coming, and being able to encourage plants to fruit faster by simply blasting them with music. That’s the kind of crazy sci-fi future this indicates.

(Image via Flickr user Carolyn Conner)

Additional Headlines from October 27th