Tag Archives: cognition

Forget to remember; remember to forget – daydreaming solves problems

Another data point to add to the collected studies of creativity and problem-solving: daydreaming activates the same parts of the brain that are used in solving complex quandries:

Until now, the brain’s “default network” – which is linked to easy, routine mental activity and includes the medial prefrontal cortex (PFC), the posterior cingulate cortex and the temporoparietal junction – was the only part of the brain thought to be active when our minds wander.

However, the study finds that the brain’s “executive network” – associated with high-level, complex problem-solving and including the lateral PFC and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex – also becomes activated when we daydream.

Having spent a good half of my life hanging around with artists, writers and musicians – all of whom tend to mental drifting to a greater or lesser degree, especially when working – this doesn’t really seem like a surprising result, but it’s interesting to have scientific support for an observational theory. All I need now is more time to daydream with… [via BoingToTheBoing]

The fives ages of the brain

brain of manJust for a change, I’m going to post a link without running my metaphorical mouth off about the article in question. New Scientist has been running a multi-part feature on the five ages of the human brain – from gestation to ageing and senescence – with loads of related material on the side, and I thought those of you who’ve not read it already might find it very interesting. [image by Andrew Mason]

There’s a kind of final frontier aspect to neuroscience that really intrigues me; it’s got the same sensawunda kick that good sf gives, as well as a sense of potential that’s starting to rival pure technology as we develop the ability to observe and test the systems in close detail. For example: sew a new set of hands onto someone, and their nervous system gets busy with rewiring the connections and making them work like the originals. That’s a pretty good resilience feature right there, wouldn’t you say? Especially considering it’s a built-in capability of the unmodified 1.0 release…

Monkey robot thought control!

robot-monkeyFully aware of the fact that its sounds like something pulled from the mind of an overcaffeinated Japanese TV executive, this week, scientists were revealed to “have trained monkeys to control a robotic arm using the power of their thoughts.”

The team … first trained the macaque monkeys to retrieve marshmallows — a favourite treat — by using a joystick to control the prosthetic arm. Once they had mastered this, the team inserted electrodes into the animals’ motor cortex and used brain signals … to control the arm’s movement.

During the trials, the animals’ limbs were restrained in plastic tubes so that they could not reach for the food themselves. After some errors, the animals learned to perform subtle movements using the robotic arm, which has a jointed shoulder, elbow and wrist, as well as a gripping hand.

But where the Guardian is distracted by the future implications for “controllable prosthetic limbs for patients with stroke, spinal cord injuries or neurodegenerative conditions”, the BBC report remains relatively grounded in the specifics of the actual lab experiments;

The monkeys were able to use their brains to continuously change the speed and direction of the arm and the gripper, suggesting that the monkeys had come to regard the robotic arm as a part of their own bodies.

The success rate of the experiment was 61%.

“The monkey learns by first observing the movement, which activates its brain cells as if it was doing it. It’s a lot like sports training, where trainers have athletes first imagine that they are performing the movements they desire.”

Of course, the only way you’re going to get the full monkey-mecha-wow! impact is by checking out the video footage.

[2nd story from BBC; image by d&e]

Second Life artificial intelligence passes basic cognitive test

Second-Life-AI-Sally-Anne-test I think we’ve got an early candidate for futurist talking-point of the week right here: researchers from New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed artificial intelligence software that appears to possess a rudimentary “theory of mind” – a cognitive ability not manifest in human children until the age of four or five. [image from NewWorldNotes]

The researchers are using the software to control a Second Life avatar called Eddie:

“Two avatars controlled by humans stand with Eddie next to one red and one green suitcase. One human avatar then leaves and while they are gone the remaining human avatar moves the gun from the red suitcase into the green one.

Eddie is then asked where the character that left would look for the gun. The AI software correctly realises they will look in the red suitcase.”

Doesn’t sound too impressive at first, but it’s being hailed as a significant advance in the capabilities of artificially intelligent software by some – though others are less impressed, as Eddie’s reasoning engine has to be seeded with a simple logical statement before he can pass the test.

Even so, the Rensselaer guys reckon it’ll be great for making games with more realistic computer-controlled enemies … but I imagine there’s a number of people in the assorted military-industrial complexes of the globe thinking waaaay bigger than that right now.