Category Archives: Brain in a jar

No Brain Required

I was watching a PBS special on how plants, through their roots, compete with other species and sometimes support their own relatives. The narrator and some of the scientists hinted at plant cognition and asked the viewer how plants think. Observing analogous dynamics in software, it’s clear that there is no brain or thinking required.

These types of behaviors can have local (cellular) controls and do not require central planning. Coordination emerges from the cells’ common responses. All plant roots produce chemicals and these chemicals can promote or inhibit growth, trigger other chemicals, etc.

This leads me to point out another widespread misunderstanding or miscommunication about how human behavior. A lot of what we do is conditioned or innate, and does not require or use the brain. Our bodies have nervous tissue throughout, and muscle stimulation originates all over the nervous system. The brain gets too much credit for the complex system of cells that in many cases are doing their own thinking in their own simplistic way.

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Anticipating the Singularity

If you don’t know about the singularity, here is some background and context.

I love Ray Kurzweil.  I saw him once in a diner but I’ve never met him. I feel like I know him, though, and have benefitted so much from his published work.

However, I’m confused by this update on his new job with Google.  Maybe he is simplifying for the interview, but his focus on language seemed off target.  I also believe in Marvin Minsky’s “Society of Mind“, and see language as a small piece of the big picture.

I think the information architecture (how concepts are defined and connected) is much more important, and distinct from the language used to represent it.  In other words, the reality is distinct from the words used to describe it.  If you are a programmer, you might draw an analogy to the MVC framework, where the Model is the information architecture and the View is the language.  If you are bilingual, you feel this.

If Kurzweil and his team focus on language, I hope they do so merely as an interface.  They can look through the lens of language to build the AI, and users will use language to interact.  But language seems like just an interface to the actual interesting work to be done building the singularity.

Maybe this is what he meant.  It probably is.

Visual overlay will be very cool

I’m not making any forecasts about when this is going to happen, but visual overlay will be very cool.

We will still see the world as it is, of course.  But we will be able to add layers.  Layers can give us information like the ratings of a restaurant we see or night vision or heat vision, or little flying arrows showing the direction and speed of the wind.  Layers can also give us controls like interacting with vending machines or unlocking your car, or saving a good bottle of wine.

It will be very cool.

Things have changed since I wrote about this in 2002, but I wasn’t completely wrong: The Etherface


Wikipedia anything you see.  Add people you meet to your contact list with context.  Users generate content.  API lets developers add controls.

New application overlays data and control over the real-world

The new App: http://thenextweb.com/2009/06/17/amazing-mobile-app-lets-world-through-online-eyes/

I wrote about this in 2002:
http://vonkohorn.blogspot.com/2002/01/etherface.html

AI and Program Trading

NewScientist published a good article describing neural network program trading systems.

An extension allows for a large number of competing signalling systems. One such signalling system may be an improvement on traditional cointegration techniques.

Smart Clothes

ZDNet reports that Infineon Technologies is weaving sensors, processors, and supporting systems into fabrics. They see near-term applications in entertainment, communications, health care and security. I like that they say: “The further evolution of our information society will make everyday electronic applications ever more invisible and natural”.

The Next Generation

Washingtonpost.com has a story about what biotechnology means to being post-human. While the article gets a little dorky at times, and the comic-book references somewhat over-the-top, it manages to penetrate well past the surface of what most articles would do. (And come on, admit it, how many of us have daydreamed well into our twenties about doing the kinds of things only comic book heros can do?) They reference a lot of good material, talk to John Kurzweil and Max Moore, and use the excellent Science Magazine issue on this subject for a lot of their material.