Friday, December 11, 2009

Vitamin D for Machine Understanding?

As usual, I have too many projects going at once, and this MU blog suffers. I have been slogging through Pearl's Probablistic Reasoning in Intelligent Systems; bookmark last left at the end of the section "2.1.4 Recursive Bayesian Updating." Also continuing Kuffler et al's From Neuron to Brain, where I just finished reading about GABA, a neurotransmitter for inhibitory synapses. I doubt the specific biochemistry of synapses will be much help in MU, but sometimes it gets me thinking, and sometimes I do some biotechnology analysis and investing, so the database accumulation can't hurt.

People are already applying some of Numenta's HTM technology. In case you missed it, Vitamin D, Inc. has a beta you can try, Vitamin D Video. It apparently can pick out objects from a webcam video stream. On the one hand that is very impressive, on the other hand it is a long, long way from machine understanding. Typical of my hands-off style, for years I contemplated how I could get my computer to watch my aquarium, and inentify and track the fish in it. I never came up with a good enough plan to try to implement.

The section in Kuffler I just started reading made me think about animal rights and machine understanding issues because one of the animal models for the neurotransmitter discussed, an LHRH analogue (or apparently now GnRH analogue), was based in part on studying frogs. I have tended to have the view that understanding and consciousness go together, and that only a few species of animals have much in the way of understanding. I was thinking about whether experimenting with a frog's nerves is a form of torture. In the past I would have said no, but I am not so certain. Frog neural systems are very, very complicated, if only a tiny fraction compared by size to human neural systems. Since I can't say with certainty how human understanding or consciousness work, I can't be certain if a frog understands anything, or if a lack of understanding implies lack of conciousness. Which may just put the animal rights debate on a different level: should animals have rights just because (if) they are conscious?

One great thing about working with computer models for "artificial intelligence" is that no one is being tortured, except maybe the computer programmers.