[PHOTOS] Fredrico Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’


Humans May Have One Thing that Advanced Aliens Don’t: Consciousness


It May Not Feel Like Anything To Be an Alien

Susan Schneider writes: Humans are probably not the greatest intelligences in the universe. Earth is a relatively young planet and the oldest civilizations could be billions of years older than us. But even on Earth, Homo sapiens may not be the most intelligent species for that much longer.

“Why would nonconscious machines have the same value we place on biological intelligence?”

The world Go, chess, and Jeopardy champions are now all AIs. AI is projected to outmode many human professions within the next few decades. And given the rapid pace of its development, AI may soon advance to artificial general intelligence—intelligence that, like human intelligence, can combine insights from different topic areas and display flexibility and common sense. From there it is a short leap to superintelligent AI, which is smarter than humans in every respect, even those that now seem firmly in the human domain, such as scientific reasoning and social skills. Each of us alive today may be one of the last rungs on the evolutionary ladder that leads from the first living cell to synthetic intelligence.

What we are only beginning to realize is that these two forms of superhuman intelligence—alien and artificial—may not be so distinct. The technological developments we are witnessing today may have all happened before, elsewhere in the universe. The transition from biological to synthetic intelligence may be a general pattern, instantiated over and over, throughout the cosmos. The universe’s greatest intelligences may be postbiological, having grown out of civilizations that were once biological. (This is a view I share with Paul Davies, Steven Dick, Martin Rees, and Seth Shostak, among others.) To judge from the human experience—the only example we have—the transition from biological to postbiological may take only a few hundred years.

AI robot Ava in the film Ex Machina. Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar

I prefer the term “postbiological” to “artificial” because the contrast between biological and synthetic is not very sharp. Consider a biological mind that achieves superintelligence through purely biological enhancements, such as nanotechnologically enhanced neural minicolumns. This creature would be postbiological, although perhaps many wouldn’t call it an “AI.” Or consider a computronium that is built out of purely biological materials, like the Cylon Raider in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series.

The key point is that there is no reason to expect humans to be the highest form of intelligence there is. Our brains evolved for specific environments and are greatly constrained by chemistry and historical contingencies. But technology has opened up a vast design space, offering new materials and modes of operation, as well as new ways to explore that space at a rate much faster than traditional biological evolution. And I think we already see reasons why synthetic intelligence will outperform us.

Silicon microchips already seem to be a better medium for information processing than groups of neurons. Neurons reach a peak speed of about 200 hertz, compared to gigahertz for the transistors in current microprocessors. Although the human brain is still far more intelligent than a computer, machines have almost unlimited room for improvement. It may not be long before they can be engineered to match or even exceed the intelligence of the human brain through reverse-engineering the brain and improving upon its algorithms, or through some combination of reverse engineering and judicious algorithms that aren’t based on the workings of the human brain.


In addition, an AI can be downloaded to multiple locations at once, is easily backed up and modified, and can survive under conditions that biological life has trouble with, including interstellar travel. Our measly brains are limited by cranial volume and metabolism; superintelligent AI, in stark contrast, could extend its reach across the Internet and even set up a Galaxy-wide computronium, utilizing all the matter within our galaxy to maximize computations. There is simply no contest. Superintelligent AI would be far more durable than us.

[Read the full story here, at Cosmos on Nautilus]

Suppose I am right. Suppose that intelligent life out there is postbiological. What should we make of this? Here, current debates over AI on Earth are telling. Two of the main points of contention—the so-called control problem and the nature of subjective experience—affect our understanding of what other alien civilizations may be like, and what they may do to us when we finally meet.

Illustration by Norwegian cartoonist and illustrator, Kristian Hammerstad, from “Rise of the Robots,” a New York Times Sunday Book Review article, May 11, 2015.

Illustration by Kristian Hammerstad

Ray Kurzweil takes an optimistic view of the postbiological phase of evolution, suggesting that humanity will merge with machines, reaching a magnificent technotopia. But Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and others have expressed the concern that humans could lose control of superintelligent AI, as it can rewrite its own programming and outthink any control measures that we build in. This has been called the “control problem”—the problem of how we can control an AI that is both inscrutable and vastly intellectually superior to us. Read the rest of this entry »

David Contemplating the Head of Goliath


David Contemplating the Head of Goliath
c. 1610
Oil on canvas, 173 x 142 cm
Galleria Spada, Rome



‘Enea Piccolomini Leaves for the Council of Basel’, Pinturicchio c. 1502-1508


Pinturicchio c. 1502-1508

Enea Piccolomini Leaves for the Council of Basel 

ISIS Supporters Release Video with Exploding Eiffel Tower 


‘We will invade London, Brussels and Berlin, like we did in Paris before…at the earliest time.’

Bridget Johnson writes: A new video posted online by ISIS supporters shows the Eiffel Tower exploding and crashing to the ground in stylized, video game animation.

The video begins with a river of blood pooling and dripping off a wooden table filled with stacks of American money, guns, knives and bullets.

“We will come to you and terrify you everywhere. We will come after you from where you don’t expect…and fill your streets with blood.”

It’s ripped from a video game, as betrayed by the name of a video game designer with a U.S. company carved in the wood of the animated table.

Featured Image -- 62730

[Read the full story here, at PJ Media]

The video is titled “A message to the Western Kafir [Disbelievers] from the Supporters of the Caliphate.” It’s narrated in English and subtitled in Arabic, and was posted on YouTube and other file-sharing sites.

It included Defense Department footage related to strikes on the Islamic State and news footage of ISIS attacks. Read the rest of this entry »

Tacitus: ‘The More Corrupt the State, the More Numerous the Laws’


Renaissance Art: Maria Maggiore, Rome

Oh Yes We Can: NSA-Proof Wallpaper

Patrick Tucker reports: Your next tinfoil hat will won’t be made of tinfoil. A small company called Conductive Composites out of Utah has developed a flexible material — thin and tough enough for wallpaper or woven fabric — that can keep electronic emissions in and electromagnetic pulses out.

"THE  SPOOK SHACK" NSA headquarters. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“The material also holds promise for a scalable defense against an electromagnetic pulse weapon. EMPs are a rising concern for the national security community, but not a new one. Soviet research into electromagnetic pulse weapons goes back to 1949, and active experimentation back to the 1970s.”

There are a few ways to snoop on electronic communications. You can hack into a network or you can sniff out radio emissions. If you want to defend against the latter, you can enclose your electronic device or devices within a structure of electrically conductive, (probably metallic) material. The result is something like a force field. The conductive material distributes the electromagnetic energy away from the target in every direction — think of the *splat* you get when you hurl a tomato at a wall. These enclosures are sometimes called Faraday cages after the 18th-century British scientist who discovered electrolysis.


“EMPs entered the public eye via the 2005 James Bond movie GoldenEye, in which an EMP caused massive blackouts and widespread fried electronics.”

Today, Faraday cages are all over the place. In 2013, as the College of Cardinals convened to elect a new Pope, the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel was converted into a Faraday cage so that news of the election couldn’t leak out, no matter how hard the paparazzi tried, and  how eager the cardinals were to tweet the proceedings. The military also uses Faraday cages for secure communications: Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities or SCIFs are Faraday cages. You’ll need to be in one to access the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communication System, or JWICS, the Defense Department’s top-secret internet.

Conductive Composites has created a method to layer nickel on carbon to form a material that’s light and moldable like plastic yet can disperse energy like a traditional metal cage. Read the rest of this entry »



Bartolomeo Ammanati: The Fountain of Neptune, 1565


Bartolomeo AmmanatiThe Fountain of Neptune (detail) 1565, Bronze, Piazza della Signoria, Florence

The Twelve Labors of Hercules: Roman-Era Sarcophagus to Return to Turkey

La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita

Michael Barone: ‘Open Borders Would Produce Dystopia’, says Open Borders Advocate


Such large immigration would result in ‘certain American ideals’ dying — equality of opportunity, the social safety net, one-person-one-vote and bans on discrimination in employment. 

Barone-3Michael Barone writes: Believe it or not, there is a group of free market economists arguing for open borders — no restrictions on immigration to the United States at all (or nothing beyond public health restrictions, like those enforced on Ellis Island). Their idea is that the only way to reduce global economic inequality is to allow people to migrate in unlimited numbers to countries with more advanced economies. Of course that would reduce economic inequality globally. But what would it do to the United States?

 “We would see some modern latifundia, worked not by slaves this time…but by voluntary immigrants, working for pay rates that would strike native-born Americans as a form of slave labor.”

Answers of an unsettling sort come from Open Borders advocate Nathan Smith, an assistant professor of economics at Fresno Pacific University. He says that such large immigration would result in “certain American ideals” dying — equality of opportunity, the social safety net, one-person-one-vote and bans on discrimination in employment. Non-immigrant Americans would limit voting so they’d remain a majority and could “vote themselves increasing handouts from a burgeoning Treasury.”

“Non-immigrant Americans would limit voting so they’d remain a majority and could ‘vote themselves increasing handouts from a burgeoning Treasury.'”

People would increasingly segregate themselves in gated communities and ethnic ghettoes. “We would see some modern latifundia, worked not by slaves this time [as in the Roman Empire] but by voluntary immigrants, working for pay rates that would strike native-born Americans as a form of slave labor.”

[Read the full text here, at Washington Examiner]

There would be good news as well: lots of economic growth and rises in land values. Read the rest of this entry »

Movie Poster: Frederico Fellini’s 8 1/2



[PHOTO] William Klein: Rome 1962


William Klein  Rome 1962

‘Perfect: As Italy Continues to Hound Amanda Knox and Rafael Sollecito For a Brutal Murder They Didn’t Have Anything to Do With, They Release Rudy Guede, The Actual Murderer, from Prison’


The DNA results from the crime scene come in. It turns out there’s lots and lots of DNA at the crime scene. Unfortunately, not a speck of it is Knox’s or her boyfriend’s. Not. A. Speck.


Ace of Spades HQ writes:

Let me explain what happened. Under pressure to solve a brutal murder quickly — in a sleepy college town where such things were rare — Italian prosecutors fixated early upon Amanda Knox and her boyfriend Rafael Sollecito as Meredith Kercher’s murderers. They also thought a third man, a black nightclub owner with no criminal history, was involved, because Amanda had texted “See you later” to him on the night of the murder, but in Italian. Amanda worked at this guy’s bar, and the night wasn’t busy, so he had told her not to bother coming in, and she said “See you later,” literally translating the English phrase.

They thought this literally meant “see you later,” rather than “Until next time.” Or as the Italians would say it, arriverdercci.

I say he’s black because it’s relevant. I’ll explain later.

They interrogated Knox almost nonstop for three days, telling her that the killer was this black nightclub owner and they knew it, and that she was a coconspirator so why didn’t she just admit it before she went to jail for life?

[Read the full text here, at Ace of Spades HQ]

Finally, they asked her to envision what it would have been like to see this black nightclub owner at the murder scene, and she wrote out a statement speaking of herself “having a vision” of the man at the scene.

Case closed, they say in a dramatic press conference, in which very high ranking members of the Italian prosecutor corps and police are all flanking the main prosecutor. They then drive Amanda and Rafael around the town of Perugia, doing laps with them in the back of the squad car like Achilles dragging Hector behind his chariot, as the town cheers.

And bonus, they can lock up this black nightclub owner with no possible motive to kill Kercher and no history indicating he’d be interested in killing anyone at all.

Yeah one problem with that: The black nightclub owner was at his bar all night and at least nine witnesses could put him there all night.

So, the prosecutors decide their theory is still sound, but now they just need a different third man.

See, their theory has just been completely refuted, but no sweat, it just needs to be tweaked.

Well, after a few days, the DNA results from the crime scene come in. It turns out there’s lots and lots of DNA at the crime scene. Unfortunately, not a speck of it is Knox’s or her boyfriend’s. Not. A. Speck.

However, there is a ton of DNA material identified as that of one Rudy Guede, a drifter with a prior background of breaking into homes for petty theft while armed with a knife (on a previous burglary, he merely warned the startled occupant of the home away with the knife, rather than killing him).

He only casually knew Amanda Knox because he occasionally played basketball with Knox’s downstairs neighbors, some Italian boys. They had merely been present in the same room when the girls and Guede were watching tv with the downstairs boys.

Guede had murdered Kercher with a frenzied attack with the knife, and had cut himself on the hand with the blade (as happens). He had a cut on his hand when arrested. Read the rest of this entry »



Amanda Knox’s conviction overturned by Italian court. She will not be sent back to prison


Italy’s top court orders acquittal of Amanda Knox in Meredith Kercher murder case

ROME — Italy’s highest court overturned the murder conviction against Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend Friday, bringing to a definitive end the high-profile case that captivated people on both sides of the Atlantic.

‘‘Finished!’’ Knox’s lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova exulted after the decision was read out. ‘‘It couldn’t be better than this.’’


The decision by the supreme Court of Cassation is the final ruling in the case, ending the long legal battle waged by Knox and Italian co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito. Both Knox, who was awaiting the verdict in her hometown of Seattle, and Sollecito have long maintained their innocence in the death of British student Meredith Kercher.

The supreme Court of Cassation overturned last year’s convictions by a Florence appeals court, and declined to order another trial. The decision means the judges, after thoroughly examining the case, concluded that a conviction could not be supported by the evidence.

Their reasoning will be released within 90 days.

The case has aroused strong interest in three countries for its explosive mix of young love, murder and flip-flop decisions by Italian courts…(read more)

Boston Globe

TIME reports: The Italian Supreme Court overturned Amanda Knox’s conviction Friday for the 2007 murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher.

Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted as co-conspirators in Kercher’s murder in the apartment they shared as exchange students in Perugia in 2009. But that conviction was overturned in 2011 and in 2014, after prosecutors argued that evidence had been omitted in the appeal, the original guilty verdict was reinstated.

But Italy’s Supreme Court ruled Friday afternoon to finally acquit the American of the long-hanging charges over her. She had faced extradition to Italy if the conviction had been upheld. Read the rest of this entry »

Still Waiting for Ruling in Amanda Knox Case


ROME – Italy’s highest court was expected to decide Friday whether to uphold the murder convictions of Seattle resident Amanda Knox and her Italian ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito. But by noon Seattle time — 8 p.m. in Italy — nothing had been heard from the justices.

While Knox is watching what is happening from Seattle, Sollecito is in Italy. His lawyer made a last-ditch appeal to overturn the pair’s convictions for the 2007 slaying Meredith Kercher, Knox’s British roommate.

Attorney Giulia Bongiorno began her defense of Sollecito by offering what she called a “little sampling” of the errors and contradictions of “colossal proportions” in the 2014 Florence appeals court verdict that convicted her client and Knox.

Bongiorno noted, for example, that trial documents indicate that there were “no traces of Sollecito in the room” where Kercher, 21, was sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed.

A one-hour warning will be given before the verdict is read. Read the rest of this entry »

Déjà Vu: U.S.A. vs Italy ‘Double Jeopardy’ Extradition Fight on Horizon as Italy’s Highest Court to Rule in Amanda Knox Case


Italy’s high court set to rule on Amanda Knox case

Italy’s highest court on Wednesday took up the appeal of Amanda Knox’s murder conviction, more than seven years after the American was accused in the brutal killing of her British roommate in Perugia.

The decision is likely to spark a U.S. versus Italy extradition battle that would call into play the American legal system’s “double jeopardy” rule.

“To date, the high-profile legal saga of Knox and Sollecito has produced flip-flop guilty-then innocent-then guilty verdicts, polarizing observers in three nations.”

The court will consider the fate of a “very worried” Knox, according to her attorney, as judges decide whether the former undergraduate student’s convictions and 28 ½-year sentence should stand. The court also will decide on the 25-year sentence of Knox’s ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted in the murder of  21-year-old British student  Meredith Kercher.

“Knox has been portrayed alternately as a victim of a botched investigation and shoddy Italian justice, or a promiscuous predator who falsely accused a Congolese bar owner of the murder.”

Kercher was found dead Nov. 2, 2007, in the apartment she shared with Knox in the idyllic hillside town of Perugia, where both women were studying. Her throat was slashed and she had been sexually assaulted.


“Amanda is innocent.”

— Luciano Ghirga, attorney for Amanda Knox

Suspicion quickly fell on Knox and Sollecito, who were arrested in the days after the murder. The couple denied involvement and said they had spent the evening at Sollecito’s place watching a movie, smoking pot and making love.

They were found guilty by a trial court in Perugia in 2009, but freed in 2011 after an appellate court overturned the convictions.

They found themselves back in an appellate court after the Court of Cassation vacated the acquittals in 2013 in a harsh rebuke of the Perugia chief appellate judge’s reasoning.

APTOPIX Amanda Knox_Cham

“Some legal experts say the U.S. Constitution’s ‘double jeopardy’ ban on being tried twice for the same offense after an acquittal would stand in Knox’s favor, and that U.S. courts would frown on her having been tried in absentia.”

To date, the high-profile legal saga of Knox and Sollecito has produced flip-flop guilty-then innocent-then guilty verdicts, polarizing observers in three nations. Knox has been portrayed alternately as a victim of a botched investigation and shoddy Italian justice, or a promiscuous predator who falsely accused a Congolese bar owner of the murder.

Now, Italy’s highest court could decide to confirm the convictions, throw out the convictions and order a third appeal trial or, less likely, it could overturn both convictions without ordering a retrial, which would be tantamount to an acquittal.


“Others argue the very existence of an extradition treaty implies that the United States accepts the Italian justice system, strengthening the case for extradition.”

A decision by the judges to confirm the convictions would then raise questions of extradition for Knox since she is free in the U.S. That verdict would then divert attention from Italy’s judicial process to a matter of diplomatic ties. Read the rest of this entry »

Giuseppe Cesari: Perseus and Andromeda

RISDM 57-167

Giuseppe Cesari

Italian, 1568-1640

Perseus and Andromeda, ca. 1592

Oil on slate

RISD Museum

Pietro da Cortona: Ceiling vault in the Salone, Palazzo Barberini, Rome, 1633-39


Ceiling vault in the Salone (detail)
Palazzo Barberini, Rome


Giovanni Baglione c. 1602


Giovanni Baglione c. 1602

Sacred and Profane Love


Today in History: 1598 Birthday of Bernini, Whose Breathtaking Reimaginings of classical Myth, Including Apollo & Daphne

Choir Screen, Michele Sanmicheli c. 1534


Michele Sanmicheli c. 1534

Choir Screen


[PHOTO] Ooh La La! French Teenagers on a Boat on the Seine, Paris 1988

Detroit Demise Spurs Tourist Attraction of ‘Ruin Porn’


Robert Wilde reports:  Sightseeing of abandoned buildings, factories, schools, and churches is becoming a growing industry in the now dilapidated city of Detroit.

Some people come from far away to visit Los Angeles and tour the houses of the rich and famous. Architectural student Oliver Kearney came from England to tour the ruins of Detroit. “No other American city has seen decline on this scale,” Kearney claims.

With 78,000 remaining vacant structures that investors are cool on renovating, and with a city too bankrupt to shell out the $8000 per structure needed to demolish them, the landscape has become a fertile ground for curious exploration. Kearney explains that in Europe, when buildings become derelict, they tear them down. “In Detroit, you can relate, you can see traces of what’s happened, you can really feel the history of a city,” he says.

Since the city declared bankruptcy in July, there has been an appreciable increase in visitors inquiring about the ruins. Photographers from all over have come to take pictures capturing the downfall of the once burgeoning motor city.  A couple of French photographers produced a book called The Ruins of Detroit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Was Michelangelo the First Celebrity Artist?

Museum staff at the British Museum looking up at a projection of Michelangelo's “Creation of Adam”. Photo: Getty

Museum staff at the British Museum looking up at a projection of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”. Photo: Getty

Martin Gayford writes:  On 14 February 1564, a young Florentine living in Rome named Tiberio Calcagni heard rumours that Michelangelo Buonarroti was gravely ill. Immediately, he made his way to the great man’s home in the street of Macel de’ Corvi near Trajan’s Column and the church of Santa Maria di Loreto. When he got there he found the artist outside, wandering around in the rain. Calcagni remonstrated with him. “What do you want me to do?” Michelangelo answered. “I am ill and can find no rest anywhere.”

Somehow Calcagni persuaded him to go indoors but he was alarmed by what he saw. Later in the day, he wrote to Lionardo Buonarroti, Michelangelo’s nephew, in Florence. “The uncertainty of his speech togetherwith his look and the colour of his face makes me concerned for his life. The end may not come just now, but I fear it cannot be far away.” On that damp Monday, Michelangelo was three weeks short of his 89th birthday, a great age in any era and a remarkable one for the mid-16th century.

Later on, Michelangelo sent for other friends. He asked one of these, an artist known as Daniele da Volterra, to write a letter to Lionardo. Without quite saying that Michelangelo was dying, Daniele said it would be desirable for him to come to Rome as soon as he could. This letter was signed by Daniele and also underneath by Michelangelo himself: a weak, straggling signature, the last he ever wrote.

Read the rest of this entry »

Is the NSA Spying on Obama?

Image source: Mad Magazine

Image source: Mad Magazine

Robert Costa reports:  In light of a recent report, Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) fears the National Security Agency may be spying on President Barack Obama. “They could well be spying on the president, for all I know,” Paul says, in an interview with National Review Online. “He has a cell phone, and, in fact, my guess is that they have collected data on the president’s phone.”

Paul also believes the federal government may be tracking Pope Francis. “The most important question we need to ask the NSA is, ‘Are you telling us you’re collecting no data on the pope?’ And, ‘Did you collect any information on him when he was the archbishop, while staying in a certain residence in Rome at the time of the election?’ I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”

Read the rest of this entry »