Tuesday 27 March 2018

#485 Life as a pool table - part 8

The concept of decision-making
So far we've been describing the development of robots from balls of dust. At present the robots don't have brains although they do have nerves and memory and are able to respond to stimuli. This puts them in the same league as jellyfish, which have around 6,000 neurons. In order to develop them further, we'll have to give them a basic brain, which will put them in the same league as slugs, which have around 20,000 neurons.

Slugs have often been used in brain studies because unlike humans, whose neurons are microscopic, the neurons of a slug can be up to a millimetre in length and can be seen with the naked eye. Studies have shown that inputs from as few as two neurons in a slug's brain are sometimes used in making a decision about how to pursue food. One neuron picks up and transmits a signal about how hungry the slug is and the other picks up and transmits a signal about how far away the food is. The two signals can then be sensed by the slug's brain. The brain is made up of six clusters of nerve cells, which mediate and moderate its reactions and bodily functions. In this case, some are used to sense the signals from the two neurons and will determine how much energy the slug uses in its pursuit of food versus other bodily activities. The more desperately the slug needs the food, the more energy will be allocated to its pursuit.

The concept of a sense of self
Having covered the principles of feature acquisition and development in previous parts, we can probably imagine how, bit by bit, our robot could acquire a basic slug-like brain. Does the robot have some sense of self? It's another yes and no answer. No because it wouldn't recognise itself in a mirror. Yes because when its brain makes a determination about how hungry it is, a part of the robot really is sensing another part of the same robot. When our dust ball first developed light sensitivity, it had no sense of self. All it could sense was a change in light or dark. It then responded to that change. However, when the robot's brain is checking to see if it is hungry, it's sensing a change in itself. It's sensing itself, in about the most basic way imaginable.

But it's not much of a sense of self. It pales in comparison to our own sense of self to so many orders of magnitude that I suspect many people would be disinclined to call it a sense of self or to make such a comparison at all. In any case, there are still more developments that we can make to our robot.

To be continued


Fizzfan said...

This is all just amazing! I’m stuck on the revelation of slugs being used for research into brain function and scratching my head over just how far removed we are from them?
Food versus energy expulsion........Fast Food.......It’s quite popular!

Also, I do have a notion that quite a lot of our functions or ‘intelligence’ is really not that good for us. Possibly why there’s such a lack of good news?

Fortunately I have been able to find the following:-
Researchers at Soochow University in China have made a hybrid solar cell that works in gloomy weather: it generates electricity from the movement of raindrops sliding on its surface. If this is true it’s genius!
I have no idea why we don’t plough untold amounts of money into natural ways of producing and/or storing energy, so this makes me feel positive. YAY!
Also over in the Isle Of Wight they had their first screening of a film you can take your dog to........I like the fact they had pig ear snacks on sale but the idea of making a dog sit through a feature length film?
Having said that it did remind me of my cat watching a David Attenborough documentary, crouching down, her pupils dilated and her bum wiggling in preparation to pounce on the bird she’d set her intentions on.
I was almost sad I had to kill her intent lest she knock herself out on the TV screen.
And finally, Lord Toffingham lollies (I misremembered them as Toffington) have got their very own Bring Them Back campaign on Facebook! Sadly it’s not been on News @ 10 or even made it onto a Change.Org petition so they’ve only managed 500:(

What is the point in a sense of self as opposed to not having one? I wish I hadn’t thought of that. I’m really struggling.......

Profound Familiarity said...

Yes people say the thinking mind evolved to look for problems and so that would support the runaway train idea of intellect creating bad news.

That is encouraging about the "solar" panels though! Good find. I am now building a mental list of the things that you care about. I have animals and the environment. Oh and fizz. Lord Toffingham? Yes they look worth bringing back.

In response to the sense of self question, I would ask, might we not need that sense of self in order to be whatever it is that we are? I mean yes we're capable of imagining people that are effectively just zombies and don't feel anything but I would question whether such zombies could imitate us in every respect.

Fizzfan said...

OMG that must be what it is!
The News is almost without exception bad or very bad. I wonder what effect it would have on us to be brought up in an environment that made sure that as much good news was aired and written about every day?
Positive reinforcement of what we are and what we’re capable of could only be a good thing!
We’re still so stupid it’s depressing.

Important things to me tend not to crop up in conversation very often. You’re very observant.
I’m pretty sure a lot of life is about managing your inner you, while cultivating a more generally acceptable one.
I have grievances about the state of the world and people that are really best left locked in a dark box. I’d be angry all day every day otherwise, and I much prefer feeling content and happy. Ignorance is a form of bliss and often the happiest people are maybe not that well informed?

I think I was thinking if we had no sense of self we’d just be and do like animals. Kind of live in the moment and as long as we had food, shelter, friends and family it would be enough.

How many thoughts per day do we have about perceptions others have of us? I guess it’s good in that self awareness teaches us to try to be better, but it also limits us and causes a lot of angst.