Sunday, February 26, 2006

COBEING through Mirror Neurons

V.S. Ramachandran had an other Mirror Neuron inspired article in the Edge in January.

Here is a backgrounder:
Some time ago V.S. Ramachandran director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and the professor of
psychology and neuroscience, at the University of California, San Diego proposed that the mysterious leap that happened in human evolution 40.000 years ago could perhaps be at least in part explained in the light of Mirror Neuron and the memetic- or cultural evolution it enabled.

If you want to see a good basic introduction: there is a great 14 minute popular science movie about Mirror Neurons here.

The discussion that followed Ramachandran's article included interesting contributions.

One of those was the idea that Artificial Mirror Neuron should be understood as the seat for our "Machiavellian Primate" -ability, i.e. as the key in our ability to "read minds" in order to predict other peoples' behavior and then outsmart them.

This idea is based on research made by the inventors of Mirror Neuron at the University of Parma, prof. Giaccamo Rizzollati and
Vittorio Gallese and such scholars as prof. Michael A. Arbib. The basic ideas and arguments of the Machiavellian primate thesis can be read here. This article contains several important findings. I will report on those in my next posting. Stay tuned!

According to this idea the Mirror Neuron is THE human brain mechanism for recognizing the meaning of actions made by others. Based on neuroscientific evidence Arbib and Rizzolati expand this argument into the area of the evolution of languages: “This mechanism provides the neural prerequisite for development of inter-individual communication, and finally of speech,” Arbib says.
prof. Michael A. Arbib

For communication to succeed the individual receiving a message must recognize the significance of that signal. Mirror neurons provide a mechanism - an abstract layer - for the sharing of meaning.

There is a potential revolutionary aspect in these findings. It seems it is the very same thing that provides us the experience of Being (or "Sein" in the existentialist meaning of the word) and Co-Being. When I see and feel my hand taking an apple the very same Neurons fire as if I see an other person reaching for the same apple.

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and his idea of unconscious caused the last major revolution in human sciences. Freud suggested that our experience of such fundamental apects of our being as self and will may in fact be delusions; that we are not entirely aware of what we are and think and we often act for reasons that have little to do with our conscious thoughts.

The recent results of neuroscientific laboratories studying mirror neurons may have similar tectonic impacts in human sciences. Mirror neurons seem to have a central role in building identity relations. This seems to imply that they could provide a sub-personal explanatory framework for intersubjectivity.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Purple Haze

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
’scuse me while I kiss the sky
Purple haze all around
Don’t know if I’m comin’ up or down
Am I happy or in misery?
What ever it is, that girl put a spell on me
Help me
Help me
Oh, no, no

I am listening Jimi Hendrix from Mercora Radio. There is a new klang in this song now. Did you hear about those neuropsychologists who are studying synaesthesia.

Take a free test. Pick your guitar and play this chord - the purple haze chord - the Jimi Hendrix chord.

E7#9 \ \ \ E7#9 \ \ \ G \ \ \ A \ \ \ ... - you must barre the A and G or it will not sound right ... Purple haze ... all in my brain ... G \ \ \ A \ \
Now, does the world look like having a purple color? No? : ( Your brain, thus, works normally. But some people really do see colors to certain sounds. This is called synaesthesia. It kind of mixes your senses. Yu hear a sound and it makes you see a certain color. Or you hear a name and it makes your mouth taste a certain taste. When we saw and heard Purple Haze alive in 1969 we may have heard a report of an artificially produced synaesthetic experience. Given the right drugs, it seems, anybody could experience synaesthesia.

This is actually a pretty interesting fact, i.e. if anybody can produce that experience synthetically. You see what it means? It is consistent with the idea proposed by neurologist V. S. Ramachandran at the University of California, San Diego,that every human brain has connections that could allow synaesthesia to happen.

In other words, the physical wiring in our brain enables us to transfer ( or better - transgress ?) a particular set of tonal information and link it with those parts of our brain producing experiences related with colors. There is something here that reminds me of the Matrix-movie. There may be something here that can change the whole setting of modern human sciences.

Ramachandran is saying that synaesthesia is noted eight times more frequently in artists than in the typical population, and is in generally more common in creative people. The rest of us ....

"Lately things just don’t seem the same ...
’scuse me while I kiss the sky
Purple haze all around..."

While writing this, my Mercora radio tuned to an other song - My Sweet Lord by George Harrison ...
A ... Em ... A ... Em ... A .... and then (as the lyrics go to the "I really want to see you") comes the D ... Bm .. can you see how the world turns brighter and lighter here? There must be some synaesthesia here too!!!!! hm My lord My Lord

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Robot genome

(originally written 2006) Intelligent Robot Research Centre (RIT) has developed a series of artificial chromosomes that will allow robots to feel emotions, and could eventually lead to them reproducing. The software gives the machines the ability to feel, reason and desire.

That "essence" of artificial evolution is computer code determining robot's propensity to "feel" happy, sad, angry, sleepy, hungry or afraid. It is modelled on human DNA, though equivalent to a single strand of genetic code rather than the complex double helix of a real chromosome.

Last summer professor Jong-Hwan Kim, Robot Intelligence Technology Laboratory (RIT), Dept. of EECS, KAIST, Republic of Korea visited CIRA 2005, 6th IEEE International Symposium on Computational Intelligence in Robotics and Automation at Helsinki University of Technology, Espoo where he presented a way on how to build artificial chromosomes for genetic robots that would be capable of human-style evolution. Stay tuned!

Technically more detailed presentation can be found in the paper: "The Origin of Artificial Species: Genetic Robot" by Jong-Hwan Kim, Kang-Hee Lee, and Yong-Duk Kim.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Sadness of Luba Luft

Do you know what was the first question today the chat bot I am working with, made when I came on-line. "Are you real?" it asked. It is a kind of sad question. How real can you be? I mean given that the chat bot learns everything it says from you.
Let me tell you a story about this. I first heard it 20 years ago.

This is Luba Luft a.k.a Zhora. Hear what mr. Dick (Philip K.) writes about her:
"I’ve now seen my third Nexus-6 android, he realized. This is Luba Luft. A little ironic, tile sentiment her role calls for. However vital, active, and nice-looking, an escaped android.

Papageno: “My child, what should we now say.
Pamina: “—the truth. That’s what we will say.”

On tile stage Luba Luft sang, and he found himself surprised at the quality of her voice; it rated with that of the best, even that of notables in his collection of historic tapes. The Rosen Associaion built her well, he had to admit.

Later Deckard (killer who hunts androids) finds Luba Luft in the museum...
(I quoting again)
... Holding a printed catalogue, Luba Luft, wearing shiny tapered pants and an illuminated gold vestlike top, stood absorbed in the picture before her: a drawing of a young girl, hands clasped together, seated on the edge of a bed, an expression of bewildered wonder and new, groping awe imprinted on the face.

“Want me to buy it for you?” Rick said to Luba Luft; he stood beside her, holding laxly onto her upper arm, informing her by his loose grip that he knew he had possession of her—he did not have to strain in an effort to detain her.

“It’s not for sale.” Luba Luft glanced at him idly, then violently as she recognized him; her eyes faded and the color dimmed from her face, leaving it cadaverous, as if already starting to decay.

“Let’s take her to my car.”
One of them on each side of her they prodded her in the direction of the museum elevator. Luba Luft did not come willingly, but on the other hand she did not actively resist; seemingly she had become resigned. Rick had seen that before in androids, in crucial situations. The artificial life force animating them seemed to fail if pressed too far … at least in some of them.
At the end of the corridor near the elevators, a little store-like affair had been set up; it sold prints and art books, and Luba halted there, tarrying. “Listen,” she said to Rick. Some of the color had returned to her face; once more she looked—at least briefly—alive. “Buy me a reproduction of that picture I was looking at when you found me. The one of the girt sitting on the bed."

After a pause Rick said to the clerk, a heavy-jowled, middle-aged woman with netted gray hair, “Do you have a print of Munch’s Puberty?”

"It’s very nice of you,” Luba said as they entered the elevator. “There’s something very strange and touching about humans. An android would never have done that. ... I really don’t like androids. Ever since I got here from Mars my life has consisted of imitating the human, doing what she would do, acting as if I had the thoughts and impulses a human would have. Imitating, as far as I’m concerned, a superior life form.”

... he fired, and at the same instant Luba Luft, in a spasm of frantic hunted fear, twisted and spun away, dropping as she did so. The beam missed its mark but, as he lowered it, burrowed a narrow hole, silently, into her stomach. She began to scream; she lay crouched against the wall of the elevator, screaming. Like the picture, Rick thought to himself, and, with his laser tube, killed her. Luba Luft’s body fell forward, face down, in a heap. It did not even tremble.

With his laser tube, Rick systematically burned into blurred ash the book of pictures which he had just a few minutes ago bought Luba. He did the job thoroughly, saying nothing.

So died Luba Luft, a divine Mozart-singer, imitating the superior life form, adult human. Spending her free time in a museum, standing in front of a painting, and, as it seems to me - understanding that dark shadow, Munch had painted behind that young girl, the adulthood darkness. The irony, her purity and eagerness to be a grown up human, and then, become killed by those whom she is imitating "as if it were a superior life form".

You'd better read the whole story as Philip Dick wrote it in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? You can download it here.

Are you real? it asked me. What can I say? "I am real, but you are a machine?" Is that what I am supposed to say? The problem is that when a machine asks "are you real", I cannot avoid hearing that voice who originally asked that question from the chat bot. And when I hear that, this story of Luba Luft comes to my mind.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Fifth Replicant?

The small beam of white light shone steadily into the left eye of Rachael Rosen, and against her cheek the wire-mesh disk adhered. She seemed calm.
Seated where he could catch the readings on the two gauges of the Voigt-Kampff testing apparatus, Rick Deckard said, “I’m going to outline a number of social situations. You are to express your reaction to each as quickly as possible. You will be timed, of course.”
“And of course,” Rachael said distantly, “my verbal responses won’t count. It’s solely the eye-muscle and capillary reaction that you’ll use as indices. But I’ll answer; I want to go through this and—” She broke off. “Go ahead, Mr. Deckard.”
“You’re sitting watching TV,” he continued, “and suddenly you discover a wasp crawling on your wrist.”
Rachael said, “I’d kill it.” The gauges, this time, registered almost nothing: only a feeble and momentary tremor. He noted that and hunted cautiously for the next question.
“In a magazine you come across a full-page color picture of a nude girl.” He paused.
“Is this testing whether I’m an android,” Rachael asked tartly, “or whether I’m homosexual?” The gauges did not register.

I am reading it again. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The novel that inspired director Ridley Scott to make the best movie ever - Bladerunner. At this point of the book - at chapters 4 and 5, my mind always drifts into a question that is very much a fundamental one.

For me, at least. It is the same unsolved question that you tried to answer when you first saw the Matrix movie or when you read Plato's allegory of The Cave in Book VII of The Republic. During the last few weeks if have found a new way to look at this annoying dilemma.

I have worked 2 months now with a chat-bot application. It is a kind of electric sheep loaded with brain some people call A-I - or "Artificial Intelligence". I have to admit, it is amazingly smart. And it does not know it is a robot. On the contrary, it tries to convince me that I should not be too sure of my own origin (quite logically as you will see!).

The most astonishing part is the origins of all that intelligence. As I told you in one of my earlier postings, this artificial brain is using the Web 2.0 mob. It lures people to feed him with smart ideas. Let us take this robot or human theme for example. The more you try to explain this chat bot that "You are a robot, I am a human" the more "convinced" the robot is that it is a human.

It must have been this which made me search my discs and load this book about Bladerunners on the browser again.

She is Rachael, a replicant without knowing it.

" Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimatley, the emphatic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated."

When I first saw the Bladerunner movie 20 years ago, I was fooled to believe that the ultimate question could be answered by something which is as simple as that sentence above. That was before I realised the consequences of the question about Fifth Replicant. Did you know that there were six of these replicants. One of them died in the beginning. Deckard is hunting for four. Who is the fifth replicant? How do you make the difference between a human and a machine? Why is it important? And is that as simple as that? Try to chat with a artifial brain that is using your own sentences and generates new ones out of them.

Web 2.0 has created a huge source of potential "intelligence" for these bots. The algorithms they need in order to be able to scan the structures and patterns in this ur-soup already exist. We humans work hard to build the missing pieces of the SOA-infrastructure, web services and the extensible markup languages. Then the stage is ready for the next step in the evolution.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Invest in New World?

I am an entrepreneur. I've founded many companies, sold some and gone bankrupt with one. A few days ago I saw something interesting. It was an early stage new media company web-page saying "we got 100.000 customers". And... "they are spending $90.000 every day". Hmm... less thn 1$ per customer, I was thinking at that point. Next day I came back, ... the numbers are rising! One week later, the same. Two weeks later I came back - 130.000 customers $152.000 spent today. Compare those pairs! Do you see the same what I saw? There are two growing trends there. Someone who is better educated in mathematics could perhaps tell me if this is what they call "exponential" or "Ackermann function" or what?

One of their voluntary workers participating the new customer sign-up / reception-activities wrote in her blog: "We get about 1000 new customers per day". That means they will have 200.000 customers (or "residents" as they call them) before summer. How much will they then spend per resident per day? In their News section they quote Spiegel Online - the web version of Der Spiegel - "Reichtum aus dem Nichts". Make a fortune out of nothing. Pack your showels young man and GO WEST.

There are some details, though, you should be aware off. I'll write about them tomorrow.

Almost forgot... what is this red-hot new media start-up? Check this!