Sunday, May 23, 2004

Creaping Dualism

Thinking about earlier posts on AI vs AE in the light of the mind as a ecosystem, I think I was engaged in some creaping dualism: intelligence vs emotion. They may be well be in different parts of the hardware, with the emotions more in the central, older parts and intelligence in the outer, newer parts of the brain, but, I think it would be a mistake to treat them as different. They both live in the ecosystem of the mind. Just as there are old organisms in modern ecosystems (sharks, turtles), emotions may be evolutionarily older, but they are no less players for that.

Got some new cds:

  • "The Girl in the Other Room", by Diana Krall. I have one other of hers I don't like that much. It would be great sitting in a jazz bar and listening to it, but w/o the atmosphere, it's kind of dull. I was interested in this new one, since she cowrote a number of the songs with her (new) husband, Elvis Costello -- but, still, kind of dull. There's a cover of a Joni Mitchell song, "Black Crow", that really made me want to her the original.
  • "The Evening of My Best Day", by Ricki Lee Jones. I have most of her cds, this one starts out strong, but then seems to peter out. Needs a few more listens.
  • "Grows Backward" by David Byrne. Great tunes, suitably quirky, hardly a weak track.
  • "Musicology" by Prince. Prince was, of course, the great musical genius of the 80's. Unbelievable the number of hit songs he cranked out, and an unbelievable musician. My kids used to always get me Prince cds/tapes for gifts, hadn't had any for a while. This latest is great, the funk groove is still there. I'm jealous, my baby sister is going to see him.
Have lots of good stuff to read, the new Stephenson, the new Sterling. Have to drain the magazine stack 1st, I'm into June now.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Phenotropic Computing

I've been thinking about this -- approximate "surface-based" interfaces. Intuitively, it seems like you would want it to work like molecular receptors, 3-d lock and key fashion. That seems hard to model in any current computer methodologies.

In terms of what's out there now, it seems like two software agents trying to communicate would 1st have to negotiate ontologies -- i.e., do we both speak the same language or know about the same things such that we have a topic of communication. W3C has published their ontology language for the semantic web: OWL, the Web Ontology Language, presumably everybody would speak that. Clearly easiest would be exact ontology match. If not, maybe a subset ontology matcher?

Speaking of agents, haven't seen much press on intelligent agents lately ...

So, what would these agents be, a new flavor of Web Service? If so, then we probably need PWSDL -- Phenotropic Web Service Description Language. Seems like it would not look like WSDL, with its "send me this, I will give you this". Rather, it seems like it would be more of a language syntax type thing. Simplest sentence: verb noun, both pulled from the ontology, such as "Create Object" or "Fetch Object". Rather than an input argument list like WSDL, you would instead populate the verb and noun with appropriate properties, has-a instances, etc.

Presumably your organic behavior would come from the subset ontology matcher, and you would also want synonym matching on the syntax elements, and defaults on everything. I wonder if this winds up being stuff you can do with XPATH or XQUERY. I'm not up on either of these, nor on XSLT -- the ugliest programming language since RPG. I guess tho, that the XML-based stuff is ugly because it is very LCD. Kind of like LISP as Lots of Stupid Insipid Parenthesis, maybe XML as eXtremely Many Left-angle-brackets.

I also wonder if, analagous to the cell incorporating mitochondria and spirochetes, you could have services that grew by ingesting unknown ontologies. Sounds like it'd be lots of fun to code.

Had an interesting night Friday. We have a QA person who is in his mid-50's and Japanese. He came to the US 10 years ago to study vibrophone under Gary Burton at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He and his wife bought a house and had an open house. I took my guitar to play. The other musician there was a French-Canadian support person who played keyboards -- but all show tunes, 50's standards, etc. A couple of times the Japanese gentlemen and I were getting a jam going on a tasty riff, then from the piano would some "Volare". A little frustrating.

The best part was some world class cognitive dissonance. There was a QA person there, Chinese from Beijing in her mid-30s, in the US 10 years. She had a beautiful, clear soprano -- and beautifully sang 19th century and earlier American standards -- "Red River Valley", "Beautiful Dreamer", "Yankee Doodle Dandy" -- in Chinese ?!?!? She said they were popular in China when she was growing up ?!?!?

Then, my 21 year old baby daughter was having a party that we were invited to go to. So we took the Chinese woman and her husband and 6 year old son and another friend with us. "Invasion of the Parents". It was kind of fun.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Ecosystems Redux

Thinking about the glial cells "tending" the neurons, you wonder how this came about. The glial cells are reacting to the excitation of the neurons. Is it "interesting" to them in some sense? It seems like a strategy of cooperation as opposed to competition would have evolutionary advantages. Is this all based on the stuff they are finding with bacterial communication (see for example this wired article -- seems like there was a more complete writeup in Scientific American, where they thought they had found the chemical that all cells would use to communicate). Yet another thing that we may have scientific understanding of soon.

Saturday, May 08, 2004


They're everywhere, they're everywhere!

In her senior year of high school, my oldest daughter did a research project involving factors affecting mylenization of neurons. The myelin sheath around neurons makes them transmit impulses faster; lack of it is I think mostly what Multiple Schlerosis is. The myelin sheath is composed of Schwann cells that wrap themselves around the neurons. I remember thinking and mentioning to her at the time that this seems like a relationship that may have started out parasitic and evolved to be symbiotic.

Last month's Scientific American had an article on glial cells, of which Schwann cells are a type. Glial cells make up the majority of the brain and were thought to mostly provide nutrition to the neurons. Now they have found out that they react to synapse firing and in fact moderate it. As such, they may have a role in moderating neuron activity and development, i.e., memory and learning. Really cool pictures of glial calls with tendrils wrapped around synapses, clearly they are involved in the synapses' operation. Kind of like neuron shepherds. You wonder how this relationship evolved -- this little ecosystem in our brains.

I read a few years ago "Slanted Truths", by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan. One of the points of this book is that one of the techniques by which life evolves is by things merging, rather than strictly by mutation. Basic cell structure is a case in point. Mitochondria were a bacteria or something that got eaten by early cells at some point and that then got incorporated rather than digested -- they have their own DNA. Also mentioned, if I remember right, were the spindles used in mitosis, which are basically spirochetes, just as sperm tails are. So, an ecosystem in every cell.

This was also one of the coolest things of the many cool things in "Genome", already blogged -- that the genome itself is an ecosystem, with little snippets of replicating genetic code trying to make more copies of themselves, snake other sequences, and otherwise engage in Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest strategies.

So, is it surprising at all that our minds are an ecosystem? No, not at all, what else would they be? Good books on this: "Society of the Mind", by Marvin Minsky, the father of AI at MIT; and also "The Meme Machine", by Susan Blackmore, already blogged.

Read a post by Jaron Lanier at The Edge, kind of talking about how the early pioneers of computer science (Von Neumann, Wiener, Shannon) were too hung up on serial architectures and ignored surface-based (not parallel) computing. He got totally blasted on it. Still I agree with his idea, blogged previously, that current software interfaces are too brittle. It is too hard to get things to talk together, any software developer can tell you that. Re the above thoughts, it makes it too hard for software ecosystems to self-organize and evolve. If we can come up with the more approximate, organic interfaces that Lanier proposes, then our silicon children can maybe begin to evolve into something interesting. Kind of funny, Lanier is saying the Cybernetic Singularity is a pipe dream, but his idea might be a key one to make it happen.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

MayDay + 1

Well, I was going to blog yesterday with the snappy title "MayDay, MayDay, Derby Day, Derby Day" -- but, I correctly decided I should cut the grass, which left me not a lot of time for the traditional Kentucky Derby bourbon consumption -- so, no blog yesterday.

My son sent me a link to a good nebula award nominated sci fi short story by Cory Doctorow. Definitely reads as written by and for computer geeks. Good premise, computer interface to let you control your autonomic systems. Kind of like an early version of the glanding capabilities of future humans in Ian Banks Culture novels, where you can produce hundreds of designer drugs in your head by thinking about it. Still, this got me thinking. If we had such capabilities, it is hard to see how we wouldn't just bump our dopamine levels up to the max and bliss out. Kind of like the rats with the levers to give them cocaine -- they keep hitting the levers until they starve to death.

I was talking to my wife about a female friend of hers who had had a supernatural experience -- a visitation by a spirit. The read a book that told her to put a cross on the wall and tell the spirit to go away, so she did it and, shazam, it worked! No more spirit!

My wife also told me a story she had shared before, about how at age 5 she had three times in a row known what number would come up in the the church carnival chuck-a-luck wheel. I of course counter-argued, that I had things happen in my life that I thought might have been out of the ordinary, but when analyzed, could (of course) be accounted for with a scientifically sound explanation. My whole life, I have watched carefully for any "break" in reality and, damn, I just haven't seen any. But, like in the Piattelli-Palmarini book on cognitive illusions I've already blogged, the human mind is great at ignoring large number of negative results when given very small numbers of positive results (the principal by which psychics make money).

The two things together got me thinking tho. There is probably some evolutionary value in believing in miracles, luck, and all the rest and ignoring bad results. In times of crisis or quick-thinking, having to rationally justify all actions could have been a bad thing. Being able to get a group moving together quickly and cohesively would definitely be a good thing. And rallying behind a magical idea, leader, whatever, at times might have been just the ticket.

Plus, total rationality is clearly the wrong way to go in courtship and breeding. With 50% of marriages ending in divorce, a rational person might decide to steer clear of the whole thing. Falling in love enough to try marriage requires a "leap of faith" that is probably totally irrational, but is hopefully worth it in the long run. I tell this to some the rational young males I know, they don't seem to be buying it.