Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Evolving Artificial Organism

A taste of things to come, researchers are finally firing-up an artificial organism to record how it evolves from primitive unicellular origins to hyper-plexed associative memory network.

The artificial organism unfolds in a virtual world at over ten-thousand generations per hour (kind of hard to do in real life). We can then see how higher beings develop the ability to create associations, and eventually use this knowledge to build more intelligent robots.

Good thing olfaction is the prototypical primordial sensory system, because that’s why this new research is being posted right here. But think about this for a moment – there is no artificial nose. We already have the seeing retina, the hearing cochlea, and even a hand that feels. The nose however, has not been reverse-engineered.

There is a true challenge in replicating the sense of smell, and that is because our sense of smell is programmed by our autobiography. Smells don't mean much to us outside of our subjective experience with them. You just can't upload a dictionary of smells into an electronic nose and expect it to recognize random odors in its environment.

The only way you could do that is if you had a robot that grew up, just like a little kid, with multimodal experiences, social integration, and existential episodes, all associated together and built together into the tangled ball of nerve fibers that we call Self.

Your robot would then have its own limbic system, programmed by a childhood of interaction with the world. It would have to develop a life of its own, an autobiography. This self-identity would then be the substrate upon which the odor network is built. It could then recognize odors, as they would stimulate physiological and emotional responses and associative episodic memories.

Because smell is so tied to our limbic system, it requires a body in order to work. A cerebral organoid isn't a body per se. And neither is an artificially intelligent neural network. And neither is a robot that “comes to life” as a fully-formed adult, all booted-up and ready to go. Humans don’t do it like that. You can’t have a self without a history. (See Patient HM for more on that, however.)

What this new research now reminds us, is that not only does an artificial intelligentity need a body in order to smell, it also needs a lifetime of learning as well.

Sep 2019, phys.org

Anselmo Pontes et al. The Evolutionary Origin of Associative Learning, The American Naturalist (2019). DOI: 10.1086/706252

Post Script:
Finally seeing someone recognize the utility of studying olfaction in the context of machine learning artificial intelligence:

"Srinivasan says he will focus on how noise or variability in odor coding determines the balance between discrimination and learning, explaining that the variability the duo is finding in their work might be a mechanism for distinguishing odors, which could be applied to making better machine learning or AI systems."
July 2019, phys.org

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