AI bot experiments suggest perception has a frame rate, emerges into consciousness as needed

The bot, called LIDA for Learning Intelligent Distribution Agent, is based on "global workspace theory". According to GWT, unconscious processing - the gathering and processing of sights and sounds, for example, is carried out by different, autonomous brain regions working in parallel. We only become conscious of information when it is deemed important enough to be "broadcast" to the global workspace, an assembly of connected neurons that span the brain. We experience this broadcast as consciousness, and it allows information to be shared across different brain regions and acted upon.

Recently, several experiments using electrodes have pinpointed brain activity that might correspond to the conscious broadcast, although how exactly the theory translates into cognition and conscious experience still isn't clear.


To increase her chance of success, they grounded the timings of LIDA's underlying processes on known neurological data. For example, they set LIDA's feature detectors to check sensory memory every 30 milliseconds. According to previous studies, this is the time it takes for a volunteer to recognise which category an image belongs to when it is flashed in front of them.

Next the researchers set LIDA loose on two tasks. The first was a version of a reaction-time test in which you must press a button whenever a light turns green. The researchers planted such a light in LIDA's simulated environment, and provided her with a virtual button. It took her on average 280 milliseconds to "hit" the button after the light turned green. The average reaction time in people is 200 milliseconds, which the researchers say is "comparable".

A second task involved a flashing horizontal line that appears first at the bottom of a computer screen and then moves upwards through 12 different positions. When the rate that it shifts up the screen is slow, people report the line as moving. But speed it up and people seem to see 12 flickering lines. When the researchers created a similar test for LIDA, they found that at higher speeds, she too failed to "perceive" that the line was moving. This occurred at about the same speed as in humans. Both results have been accepted for publication in PLoS One.

"You tune the parameters and lo and behold you get that data," says Franklin. "This lends support to our hypothesis that there is a single basic building block for all human cognition." Antonio Chella, a roboticist at the University of Palermo in Italy and editor of the International Journal of Machine Consciousness agrees: "This may support LIDA, and GWT as a model that captures some aspects of consciousness."

How to fight aging with time travel

Our experiment had similar ambitions; to take a group of seniors in their 70s and 80s and make them feel younger by recreating the world they had left behind 35 years ago.

They agreed to live in our time capsule house for a week, during which they dressed in 1970s clothes, slept in replicas of their very own 70s bedrooms, watched television from that era, and talked about 1975 in the present tense.

It proved to be a fascinating but draining experience - for both experimenters and experimentees.


How hereditary can intelligence be?

Researchers have in recent years scaled back their estimates of the influence genetics plays in intelligence differences. The previous figure of 80 percent is outdated. Nisbett says that if you take social differences into account, you would find "50 percent to be the maximum contribution of genetics." That leaves an unexpectedly large proportion of a child's intelligence for parents, teachers and educators to shape.

Is the Internet making you stupid?

On Saturday I made a horrible mistake and bought a copy of The Times. In it was one of the stupidest articles I have ever read in a major newspaper. Its title? Is the internet making us stupid?. It's thousands of words of utter drivel claiming that:

For the past five centuries, ever since Gutenberg’s printing press made book reading a popular pursuit, the linear, literary mind has been at the centre of art, science and society. As supple as it is subtle, it’s been the imaginative mind of the Renaissance, the rational mind of the Enlightenment, the inventive mind of the Industrial Revolution, even the subversive mind of Modernism. It may soon be yesterday’s mind.

Let me begin with a detailed, thoughtful critique: bollocks. Seriously though, this 'linear mind' (which we apparently got from books) is the source of the Renaissance, Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution? Surely, it's a complete lack of linearity, as in lateral thinking, that's given us the world we live in.

But the article is far worse than that simple paragraph. Let's start at the beginning...

read the rest at

Pro Tip: When a headline ends with a question mark, the answer is generally "No."

Exercise boosts your brain

New research is showing some of the molecular reasons why keeping fit also keeps you sharp, and it has to do with your brain’s untapped potential for growth.

Dr. Fred Gage and collaborators have been publishing a variety of papers describing the molecular pathways by which exercise leads to brain growth. Gage’s work in the 90’s showed that our brains have a store of stem cells that lie largely dormant, waiting for some stimulus to initiate cell division. A growth factor called bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) works to control cell division throughout the body, including in the brain. The more BMP, the less growth. Regulatory factors like BMP are essential to a healthy body; studies have shown that the absence of BMP activity is linked to colon cancer.

But as we get older, higher counts of BMP accumulate in the brain and keep our neural stem cells asleep. This is where exercise comes in. Within one week of being given an exercise wheel, mice showed half as much BMP signaling in their brains. The mice also showed increased levels of the protein Noggin (yes, I know), which acts as a BMP-antagonist. There are still questions as to whether exercise directly decreases BMP, or does so indirectly via Noggin production. Either way, stem cells begin to divide and new neurons are born.

Google: the perfect crack machine

For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.

The juice that fuels the seeking system is the neurotransmitter dopamine. The dopamine circuits "promote states of eagerness and directed purpose," Panksepp writes. It's a state humans love to be in. So good does it feel that we seek out activities, or substances, that keep this system aroused—cocaine and amphetamines, drugs of stimulation, are particularly effective at stirring it.

Ever find yourself sitting down at the computer just for a second to find out what other movie you saw that actress in, only to look up and realize the search has led to an hour of Googling? Thank dopamine. Our internal sense of time is believed to be controlled by the dopamine system. People with hyperactivity disorder have a shortage of dopamine in their brains, which a recent study suggests may be at the root of the problem. For them even small stretches of time seem to drag. An article by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic last year, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" speculates that our constant Internet scrolling is remodeling our brains to make it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing. Like the lab rats, we keep hitting "enter" to get our next fix.

Changing your mind--with magnets

MIT neuroscientists have now shown that they can influence those judgments by interfering with activity in a specific brain region--a finding that helps reveal how the brain constructs morality. In the new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers used a magnetic field to disrupt activity in the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ). The stimulation appeared to influence subsequent judgments that required an understanding of other people's intentions.

The findings offer "striking evidence" that the right TPJ, located at the brain's surface above and behind the right ear, is critical for making moral judgments, says Liane Young, the paper's lead author and a postdoctoral associate in brain and cognitive sciences. It's also startling, since normally people are very confident and consistent in such judgments, she adds. "You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior," Young says. "To be able to apply [a magnetic field] to a specific brain region and change people's moral judgments is really astonishing."


Are you a super-Turing quantum gravitic computer?

The average human’s resting heat dissipation is something like 2000 kilocalories per day. Making a rough approximation, assume the brain dissipates 1/10 of this; 200 kilocals per day. That works out (you do the math) to 9.5 joules per second. This puts an upper limit on how much the brain can calculate, assuming it is an irreversible computer: 5 *10^19 64 bit ops per second.

Considering all the noise various people make over theories of consciousness and artificial intelligence, this seems to me a pretty important number to keep track of. Assuming a 3Ghz pentium is actually doing 3 billion calculations per second (it can’t), it is about 17 billion times less powerful than the upper bound on a human brain. Even if brains are computationally only 1/1000 of their theoretical efficiency, computers need to get 17 million times quicker to beat a brain.

The model of the Antikythera mechanism shown here is one of the clearer I've seen. I'm fascinated by analog computers, but figure we need an entirely new category for "organic" models.

Good sleep, good learning, good life

"This article attempts to produce a synthesis of what is known about sleep with a view to practical applications, especially in people who need top-quality sleep for their learning or creative achievements. Neurophysiology of sleep is an explosively growing branch of science. Many theories that are currently contested will soon be forgotten as a result of new findings. Consequently, this text is likely to grow old very quickly. Yet some basic truths about sleep are well-established, and practical conclusions can be drawn with the benefit to human creativity and intellectual accomplishment. In this text, I provide some links to research papers and popular-scientific articles that advocate disparate and contradictory theories. Please consult other sources to be certain you do not to get a one-sided view! This article includes some indications on how to use free running sleep in the treatment of insomnia, hypersomnia, advanced and delayed phase shift syndromes, and some other sleep disorders."