Monday, 26 March 2018

#484 Life as a pool table - part 7

When we left our dust robot, it had developed the ability to detect and pursue food but it was far from having what we might call a mind. How can we imagine that it develops such a thing?

The concept of memory
In order to give our robot a mind, we should probably give it some neurons and a nervous system. We essentially did this earlier in the thought experiment when we gave the dust ball a pebble that was reactive to light-sensitive particles and in response to their movements upon sensing light, pushed itself out to the edge of the ball to make it roll faster. Neurons, similarly, are tiny things that respond to a stimulus and transmit an impulse from one place to another. 

One of the most basic forms of memory found in nature is in a sea slug, which, when squirted with water for the first time, closes its gills but when squirted with water many times, eventually stops closing its gills. This is because a neuron can eventually transmit less impulse over time when exposed to the same stimulus. The reason for this is that neurons exist for the purpose of detecting a change in the environment but when that new change becomes the norm, it's no longer a change and so the neuron no longer needs to detect it. This is known as neural adaption. We've already explained in principle several times how a dust ball or robot can acquire useful features, so we don't now need to go through the laborious process of explaining how or why it acquires a memory. We can simply imagine that it acquires one.

An important distinction between types of reason
When I explained above that the reason for neural adaption was because neurons existed for the purpose of detecting environmental changes, I was intentionally lying to demonstrate how easy it is to imagine that a function was intelligently designed rather than that it evolved by natural selection. What actually happened was that for no reason other than a chance encounter, one day, one robot acquired something a bit like a neuron and it happened to benefit the robot so it became an inheritable feature. The fact that having a memory allows the robot to detect environmental changes is in actual fact, a consequence, not a reason.

So far, our robot can sense things and remember things. In order to develop its mind further, we'll have to give it some more functions.

To be continued

4 comments

Fizzfan said...

I was wondering what function primary memory has and I kept thinking first and foremost ‘If it hurts, harms or degrades, don’t do it again.’
I guess we all latch on to things that seem to benefit us.
It’s the source behind it that’s so infuriatingly complex. What one will move towards, another will move away from.
Diversity of preference.

You can say what what you like about neural adaptions existing for the purpose of sensing changes in the environment. All I know is everyones are entirely different. My husband can sense a different car in the neighbourhood before he rounds the corner into our cul de sac, I have laser vision for a new plants, and people not closing their curtains at night, (it freaks me out)

You said in your last instalment you weren’t keen on ice cream! What happened?!
I love ice cream. I think it became hard wired when I tasted a Lord Toffington lolly when I was about 10. The combination of ice cream, chocolate and toffee was a revelation. I even remember the day. It was very hot and me n my sis had been driving my Mum nuts wrapping ourselves in the sheets hanging on the washing line. She sent us down the shops for lollies......The rest is history.
I still love that ice cream combo, cept now I have the added bliss of salted caramel.

I have no good news again today which has rankled me. You’d think a newspaper could come up with one feel good story a day in the world.
I think this is why I love animals and ice cream and food and drink and comedians.

Dan Copping said...

Diversity of preference.

Yes, how can those people sleep with moon and street light pouring into their room and don't they wake up at 5am when the sun comes up?

Ice cream... oh it's cold and causes brain freezes and teeth freezes. I don't need it. It's not that I don't like it, sometimes I do but overall I could live without it.

Salted caramel. Now there's a popular flavour combination.

It's starting to rankle me too that you have no good news. There are some online news sites that have good news sections but they're always about animals and stuff rather than looking for the good news angles to the main headlines.


Fizzfan said...

I have to clear up the open curtains offence.
The thing that freaks me out is that we have a neighbour who sits with his family in the lounge in the winter with the lights on and I feel compelled to avert my eyes when I walk past his house,
I feel weird and slightly pervy because I can see them all. Their lack of consideration for my embarrassment is wholly unacceptable.
Why don’t they know?
I don’t like slatted garden fences either. What’s the point of them?
I think I’m quite territorial and private. I don’t understand people that aren’t and I’m not alone otherwise we wouldn’t have net curtains. There should never be a reason for net curtains and they only exist because we (normal people) are desperate for privacy.
I would add I don’t have any because I’ve grown huge conifers outside the front of my house AND I close the blinds at night!

My neighbours have rows of pansies. They are exhibitionists.

I feel better now.

That’s good news!

Dan Copping said...

Pansies are massively underrated in my opinion. They're so pretty and colourful.