Science

Neurosciencing a microprocessor

Now this is a topic that is rather fascinating to me: The scientists Eric Jonas and Konrad Paul Kording are applying the methods of neuroscience to a simulated microprocessor (a MOS-6502-Chip similar to the one used in the Commodore C64) in order to describe the observed behavior. Is it possible to get an idea of functionality? Apperantly, in 2002 there was a former study "Can a biologist fix a radio" (by Juri Lazebnik) with a very similar topic.

Here we will examine three different “behaviors”, that is, three different games: Donkey Kong (1981), Space Invaders (1978), and Pitfall (1981). Obviously these “behaviors” are qualitatively different from those of animals and may seem more complicated. However, even the simple behaviors that are studied in neuroscience still involve a plethora of components, typically including the allocation of attention, cognitive processing, and multiple modalities of inputs and outputs. As such, the breadth of ongoing computation in the processor may actually be simpler than those in the brain.

As it turns out in both cases: No, the methods of neuroscience/biology are not sufficient to understand or describe the behavior of the respective system. Does this mean anything? Yes and no. They are not designed to understand technology. Vice versa, an expert in reverse engineering probably would not understand a specified lifeform by the application of his methods aswell. But on the other hand the study reveals that we do not know for sure if the methods and the results they generate are useful for the purpose of understanding e.g. the brain. Do we have language centers in the brain or is this comparable to the misconception of space invaders centers in the micro processor?

Eric Jonas, Konrad Paul Kording: Could a Neuroscientist Understand a Microprocessor?

Golem: Könnten Hirnforscher einen C64 verstehen?

 

Image: Image of the circuit board of a Commodore 64 showing some important MOS Technology circuits: the 6510 CPU (long chip, lower left) and the 6581 SID (right). The production week/year (WWYY) of each chip is given below its name. Found on Wikipedia by Jef-Infojef

The brain is no computer

Right with its development, the comparision of the computer and our brain started and it goes on till today. If I remember correctly, in the times before, the comparision was between complex mechanical systems as steam machines and the brain as you may see in idioms as "letting of steam". But todays allegories go further - people not only compare the brain with a computer but also think it would indeed work likewise. In the Machine Translation discursus sometimes there would be the argument, that a human brain would not use language e.g. like a statistics based system (and here comes Chomsky who claims it would work with a lexicon and a grammar which is also wrong). The answer often is the comparision with a plane which does not fly as a bird does - but it flies. The attempts to let planes fly like birds were not as successfull as those that used the internal rules (i.e. the laws of thermodynamics) but adapted them to large objects made of steel. So: It does not matter if the brain works like a computer, it matters if we do the right things with brains/computers to make them intelligent. Ok, not quite the discussion I started with. Here is a very interesting article about the brain and how it works and why it is not a computer at all:

Senses, reflexes and learning mechanisms – this is what we start with, and it is quite a lot, when you think about it. If we lacked any of these capabilities at birth, we would probably have trouble surviving.

But here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them – ever.

aeon: The empty brain

Science, Mathematics and Vampires

 Histoire des vampires et des spectres malfaisans avec un examen du vampirisme, 1820

A surprisingly large number of academic studies—as in, more than one—have applied mathematical modeling to the concept of human-vampire co-existence. Using the depiction of bloodsuckers in various forms of media, from Bram Stoker's Dracula to True Blood, these papers look at whether Earth's vampire population would inevitably annihilate humanity, and, if so, how long it would take.

This article of Atlas Obscura presents an interesting history of mathematics dealing with the transylvanian problem of renewable resources. Great lecture!

Atlas Obscura: HERE'S HOW LONG IT WOULD TAKE FOR VAMPIRES TO ANNIHILATE HUMANITY

Image: « Les vampires » par Berthe — Google libros: http://books.google.com.co/books?id=h48BAAAAYAAJ. Sous licence Domaine public via Wikimedia Commons.

Modern Times Corpus

Charlie Chaplin.jpgIn 2012 and 2013 at the Hamburg Center for Language Corpora (HZSK) I compiled the Hamburg Modern Times Corpus (HaMoTiC). It consists of transcribed audio recordings of learners of German at different proficiency levels who renarrate a few scenes from the silent film “Modern Times” (USA 1936, Charles Chaplin). The main objective was to create a linguistic resource that is both based on and comparative to previous Modern Times corpora (esp. Perdue 1993), and makes use of the tools and methods for transcription, annotation and analysis of spoken language corpora that were implemented at the HZSK, in order to demonstrate their functionality (EXMARaLDA). In terms of their content, the Hamburg Map Task Corpus (HAMATAC) and HaMoTiC complement each other in reference to their authenticity and controllability of learner language. See more details on HaMoTiC at the Virtual Language Observatory by CLARIN.

Image: „Charlie Chaplin“ by P.D Jankens - Fred Chess. Wikimedia Commons.

How to distinguish normal food from super food

Blueberries on branch.jpg
Do you want to know, if there is scientific evidence for the health benefits of this new superfood? Take a look at this fantastic interactive visualization at Information is beautiful.

Snake Oil Superfoods?

 

Image Credits: "Blueberries, a so-called 'superfood' that actually does not have unusually dense nutrient content." ("Blueberries on branch" by Jim Clark) - [1]. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Negative Netze

Wie Sabatini und Sarracino feststellten, kann Online-Networking positiv für das subjektive Wohlbefinden sein – wenn es zu mehr realen Kontakten führt. Gleichzeitig aber sinkt durch Sozialnetz-Nutzung das Vertrauen in andere Menschen. Die Gesamtwirkung auf das individuelle Wohlbefinden ist laut den Forschern "signifikant negativ".

Technology Review: Belege für schädliche Folgen sozialer Netze

Asimovs First Law Revisited

Isaac Asimov's First Law of Robotics states that "a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." That sounds simple enough — but a recent experiment shows how hard it's going to be to get machines to do the right thing.

Cool Experiment Puts Asimov's First Law Of Robotics To The Test

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