A picture paints a thousand words …

A picture paints a thousand words. And words are painted across our brains.  In a paper titled “Natural speech reveals the semantic maps that tile human cerebral cortex” by Huth et al, and published in Nature in April 2016, authors have mapped words to different regions of brain using functional MRI data while subjects listened to hours of narrative stories. Interestingly, despite having our individual maps, our minds are organized in similar and consistent manner, and words cluster as per semantic domains. Here is the amazing video:

Nature video on how brain maps words to different regions

Here is a screenshot of part of brain and words mapping to that region:

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(Figure Credit: Nature video on brain dictionary, April 2016)

One cannot help observing connection with current research in Natural Language Processing (NLP) in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Machine learning models such as deep recurrent neural networks can work with words. But since computer models work with numbers, words have to be first converted into numeric representation in the form of vectors. Here dimensionality of these vectors can be large. In a way, the words are being converted into spatial points in a high-dimensional spaces and then semantics becomes spatial concept. Words which are semantically similar, map to close by regions, and their relative displacements capture semantic concepts. See the following reference for technical details of word2vec (word to vector) approach:

Vector representation of words

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(Figure Credit: Tensorflow tutorial on word2vec)

It seems we are making progress in unraveling how mind works.

At the same time, a lot has yet to be discovered and understood.

How does a new born baby develop this semantic map within a matter of few years, which seems to be consistent across individuals?

And, where are our thoughts in all this?

In a semantic world, where words become colorful entities in space, perhaps our thoughts are nothing but mysterious dances in this surreal landscape.

And, where are our dreams in all this?

One can only wonder, as a wise philosopher did long time ago:

“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” – Zhuangzi, 4th century BC

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Ultra Advanced Autonomous Artificial Intelligence

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Computer Vision, Speech Recognition and Natural Language Processing are experiencing convergent and synergistic progress these days. Breakthroughs are being reported in mass media. Large neural networks with many layers and deep learning are active areas of research at present.

I believe this is just the beginning and coming decades and centuries will witness great progress. And that brings me to the topic of this post.

What if we can eventually build ultra advanced autonomous machines? Should we do it?

Recently Stephen Hawking warned us against the dangers of Artificial Intelligence. To not have a human in the loop could lead to unpredictable scenarios. As any computer programmer knows even a simple program has to face all kinds of situations when deployed in the real world, so if it is a highly complex and completely autonomous system, then it will be very hard to foresee all possibilities in advance.

To be on the safe side, we may choose not to build fully autonomous systems and always have human in the loop. At least if they are to be used on the Earth. This may make them less efficient but we may choose to live with this decision. But what if we need to move out into space. Let’s say we want to terraform Mars. Then it would be perfectly reasonable to first send robots there. And they will have to be autonomous with no humans around.

Oh, on a lighter note, in Hollywood, it is fashionable to suggest that such machines can even become conscious and have feelings. Unless we first understand what states of matter can cause consciousness to emerge, it really is rather pleasant and entertaining fiction at this time, which I do enjoy when I go to see such movies with my children. In this post, I am talking about highly complex state transition of such machines from rather geeky software engineering point of view. Of course, one day it will be very exciting to learn about scientific breakthroughs in understanding human consciousness which undoubtedly will have far reaching implications.

Since I am in favor of technological progress and I see great practical benefits of smart software – in medicine, space exploration, scientific research, energy, education, commerce and many other fields, I think it is really for us to become responsible in use of technology as a society and have appropriate rules in place.

Technology just gives us tools. How we use them, it is for all of us to decide together. 🙂

SamSolo

Amazing Train: A Poem for Children

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Children, let us go on a wonderful train.

We will board it at Big Bang.
In a dazzling explosion of light
Our train will begin journey!

Galaxies will spin
Like fireworks around us.Through the window
We will witness
Greatest wonder
As life in its humblest origin
Of floating specks full of potentialities,
Transforms into men and women and their cities
And their short lived dreams
And their final anguish,
When we will see the Sun finally die
And we will cry for our dearest beautiful Earth.
Train will keep on speeding
Through the strangest vistas
Inside Black Holes
And even beyond.

Trillions of trillions years will pass,
We will be just as amazed
By what we will see and hear and know.
Will we ever get answers to your questions:
What is all this? Who are we?
In a dream-like landscape,
Our train will just keep on going
Towards Eternity

You and I listening to the most melodious
Vibrations of Space-Time
As finally we become one with the Music.
(May 1, 2012; Written for all science loving children and my kids.)