Escher Circuits: visual computation programs

Paul Raven @ 30-03-2010

Here’s a proper science fictional “what-if?”, via the ever-reliable MetaFilter, where the brilliant slug-line “software for your wetware” was applied: is it possible to exploit the biological computation power of our visual apparatus to deal with tasks that we find difficult at a cognitive level? Or, to put it another way: can we set up the brain to act like a processor that uses complex visual stimuli as a form of program?

Or, even more simply: can we make diagrams that, when looked at, produce a certain computational output in our minds?

Yeah, I know, it sounds a bit crazy… but Mark Changizi sure comes across like he knows what he’s doing.

The broad strategy is to visually represent a computer program in such a way that, when one looks at the visual representation, one’s visual system naturally responds by carrying out the computation and generating a perception that encodes the appropriate output to the computation. That is, there would be a special kind of image that amounts to “visual software,” software our “visual hardware” (or brain) computes, and computes in such a way that the output can be “read off” the elicited perception.

Ideally, we would be able to glance at a complex visual stimulus—the program with inputs—and our visual system would automatically and effortlessly generate a perception that would inform us of the ouput of the computation. Visual stimuli like this would not only amount to a novel and useful visual notation, but would actually trick our visual systems into doing our work for us.

And the visual stimuli he’s on about [image borrowed from linked article]?

XOR gate Escher circuit

Well, that elicited a few cognitions from my brain… though I’m not sure that any of those cognitions are particularly useful.

Stoned neural networks, wet computers and audio Darwinsim

Paul Raven @ 13-01-2010

Here’s a handful of links from the weird and wonderful world of computer science…

First of all, Telepathic-critterdrug is described as “a controversial fork of the open source artificial-life sim Critterding, a physics sandbox where blocky creatures evolve neural nets in a survival contest. What we’ve done is to give these animals an extra retina which is shared with the whole population. It’s extended through time like a movie and they can write to it for communication or pleasure. Since this introduces the possibility of the creation of art, we decided to give them a selection of narcotics, stimulants and psychedelics. This is not in Critterding. The end result is a high-color cellular automaton running on a substrate that thinks and evolves, and may actually produce hallucinations in the user.

You can download your own copy of this bizarre experiment to play with. Quite what it’s supposed to achieve (other than entertaining its creators) I’m not entirely sure… but then again, that’s what we tend to think about the reality we inhabit, so maybe there’s some sort of simulation-theory microcosm metaphor that could be applied here, eh?

Next up, wetware is about to make the transition from science fictional neologism to genuine branch of technological research; boffins at the University of Southampton are hosting an international collaboration aimed at making a chemical computer based on biological principles [via SlashDot].

The goal is not to make a better computer than conventional ones, said project collaborator Klaus-Peter Zauner […] but rather to be able to compute in new environments.

“The type of wet information technology we are working towards will not find its near-term application in running business software,” Dr Zauner told BBC News.

“But it will open up application domains where current IT does not offer any solutions – controlling molecular robots, fine-grained control of chemical assembly, and intelligent drugs that process the chemical signals of the human body and act according to the local biochemical state of the cell.

And last but not least, DarwinTunes is an experiment by two ICL professors to see whether they can use genetic algorithms to “evolve” enjoyable music from chaos, using the feedback of human listeners [via MetaFilter]. The DarwinTunes project website is sadly lacking a page that explains the project in a nutshell (or at least one that’s easily located by a first-time visitor), but a bit of poking around in the early blog entries should reveal the details. Or you can just listen to their 500th-generation riffs and loops from the project, which is still running.