Do plants compute?

Plants are no longer considered as insensitive and passive life forms. We even found novel means they communicate. What is more interesting is that several recent news tend to suggest some ability to count in plants.

The case of Venus flytraps

venus flytrap

Venus flytrap by Jason

In this article, Jennifer Böhm et al. suggest that a carnivorous plant (Venus Flytrap Dionaea muscipula) is able to count the number of mechanical stimuli that trigger the production of digesting enzymes and sodium uptake modules.

The team asked the question as to “how many times trigger hairs (e.g. mechanosensors) have to be stimulated (e.g., how many APs are required) for the flytrap to recognize an encaged object as potential food, thus making it worthwhile activating the glands”.

What they found is the following:

One touch to a trigger hair sets the plant in a “ready” state. A second touch causes the trap to close around the prey. At five touches the plant begins to produce digestive enzymes and transporter molecules that take up nutrients.

It sounds like an algebraic summation that triggers different pathways.

Not yet impressed? Let me show you a more interesting computation in plants…

A more complex calculation…

Arabidopsis thaliana

A. thaliana by Alberto Salguero Quiles

Several years ago a team from the John Innes Centre found that Arabidopsis thaliana is able to perform some computations. In fact, this plant is able to have a perfect 5% of starch level after one night. Even when the night’s duration was artificially increased or decreased.

Actually, this well-known (but still unknown, in a way) plant can do arithmetic division to prevent starvation at night. The plant determines the remaining time before day then divide the starch level by this value to get the adequate velocity for consuming starch!

A novel perspective

Of course these calculations may not be conscious and are probably caused by a chemical imbalance. However, it opens really promising perspectives on the complexity of plants those are far more complex than initially thought.

A geeky map

I’d like to say a few words about my latest impulsive buy: a geeky map about British TV shows.UK TV shows map


Graphic designer Tim Ritz has created The Great British Television Map, stretching from Nothern Ireland and Scotland down to London.

You can buy it (free shipping until today, 12 P.M) here.

Boundless consciousness?

I’m back with my second post of 2016 regarding consciousness. Hope it will be delightful.

Intelligences are multiple


Consciousness is not yet fully defined. As well as intelligence was until recently. The boundaries of intelligence were fluctuating across history and constantly redefined to ensure human superiority over other species. The tools to assess intelligence are often designed from our own abilities therefore fail at measuring other species intelligence.

However, we all now agree on various form of animal intelligences even in the human species. It was a long road before it became a consensus, harder than believe in multiple personalities traits which is actually intrinsically related.

What about consciousness?

Consciousness is hard to define due to lack of consensus. The definition I prefer is sentience, i.e. feeling as distinguished from perception or thought. One could also add self-awareness to the definition.

So what beings are conscious?


Basically all animals (including humans) are sentient and sometimes self-aware. Plants may also be conscious beings. Although that they don’t have neurons or glia, they possess structures that allow them to process information and react to environment or even plan actions.

“They have ways of taking all the sensory data they gather in their everyday lives … integrate it and then behave in an appropriate way in response. And they do this without brains, which, in a way, is what’s incredible about it, because we automatically assume you need a brain to process information.”; “that the line between plants and animals might be a little softer than we traditionally think of it as.” – Michael Pollan

More interestingly, we may have created artificial beings that are conscious. The neuroscientist Christof Koch speculated that the Web might have achieved sentience. Pretty freaky, right?

I personally consider that at least cluster of networked machines (with their software) or intelligent machines may be sentient. Especially ones that auto-monitor. Some people argue that any system that is unpredictable may actually be sentient.

The fact is that such system may fail at the Turing test because they are so different than us and their consciousness is so different than what we expect. Their sensory modalities may even not map what we see as inputs and outputs.

Since they process information and act, even particles may be conscious, by flashes. Hard to believe…

Are you talking about panpsychism?


Most of living scientists consider that considering non-human beings as conscious is panpsychism thus discarding it as pre-science. Panpsychism is the view that consciousness, mind or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things (to some degree).

This century marked a renewed interest in these hypothesis. Max Tegmark (MIT) argues that mater may be intrinsically conscious and a more restrictive scale have been invented to measure levels of consciousness of artificial agents.

An interesting conclusion

Depending of what frame of reference we consider, we may:

  • Be surrounded by above suspicion conscious beings: from artificial intelligences (not that terminator-like we all think about those are maybe not conscious of us at all) and even superintelligences (if they exist) to inert chromosomes.
  • Be living in a vast conscious system with a lot of subconscious entities.

The second option may be plausible since supercluster processes a lot of information as a complex system.

But the light speed limit tends to suggest a long scaled consciousness (if it exists) or consciousness at early stages of structures self-organisation only… although quantum entanglement or shared routines in a computational universe may also allow long-distance rapid information processing.

An affordable credit card-sized supercomputer by NVIDIA

Jetson TX1

NVIDIA announced yesterday the Jetson TX1, a small form-factor Linux system-on-module, credit card sized for various application ranging from autonomous navigation to deep learning-driven inference and analytics.

Jetson TX1

It will soon be available as development kit, e.g. a mini-ITX carrier board that includes the pre-mounted module and has low power consumption which provides an out of the box desktop user experience (it comes with a linux’s ubuntu custom distribution). Unfortunately, the development kit requires a USB hub to work with a keyboard and a mouse and the 16GB eMMC memory storage is probably too few.

Since I really enjoyed performing artificial intelligence at the university and during an experience as contractor in a public research center, I think I will ask the developer kit for christmas. I plan to use it as media center, intelligent home automation and for personal deep learning projets.

You may wonder why I chose this solution? Just because this card packs several interesting characteristics:

  • a Tegra X1 SoC : an ARM A57 CPU and a Maxwell-based GPU packing 256 CUDA cores (delivering 1 teraflop at 5.7W, i.e. the same peak speed as a small 15 years old supercomputer!)
  • 4GB of RAM shared between the CPU and GPU

It sounds interesting to me.

Some hints for a mathematical world


Max Tegmark, a cosmologist, considers the external reality to be essentially mathematical.

In that sense, the mathematical entities (such as groups or varieties) may not be different from physical entities (photons, magnetic fields, etc.) by nature, explaining why the mathematics are so successful at describing the physical world. In other words, the so-called “universal structural realism” asserts that our physical universe is isomorphic to a mathematical structure.


pi number by J.Gabás Esteban

A link between quantum physics and mathematics

I personally believe in the power of loop quantum gravity, combined to the idea that physical laws are reducible to a quantum circuit.

Therefore the universe may exhibit fundamental mathematical properties inherent in the quantum circuit’ subroutine “archetype”. That’s it for the theoretical digression.

If the universe has fundamental mathematical properties then we must be able to find similar patterns in formulas.

And that is the case: researchers found the same formula in quantum mechanical calculations of the energy levels of a hydrogen atom as in the derived formula for pi as the product of an infinite series of ratios in a book of the mathematician John Wallis (the so called Wallis product for π in the Arithmetica infinitorum from 1655).

It reminds me of something…

The formula links π and the quantum mechanics. That’s a fact.

I recently read an article in french that talked of the tau manifesto, saying that the value of pi is wrong and should be 6.28…

Interestingly, if we use π = 2π then several classical formulas in mathematics and physics exhibits the same appearance:

area of a disk = ½ π r2

Ec = ½ m v2

d = ½ g t2

Physics and mathematics are maybe two sides of the same coin…

Home reading environment is beneficial to children

Reading at school

While we already know that reading fiction improves brain connectivity and function and its effects is long lasting, a new study proves that “listening to stories, greater home reading exposure is positively associated with activation of brain areas supporting mental imagery and narrative comprehension, controlling for household income”.

Reading at school

If you want smart kids, just don’t put your children in front of the TV for long hours. Give instead priority to active play and reading. They will develop better cognitive capabilities and be healthier.

Deep learning for everyone!


That’s great news! Google just open-sourced TensorFlow, its deep (machine) learning library.

The engine is widely used at Google: by speech recognition systems, in the new Google photo product, in Gmail, in search, etc.


From now on startups will be able to develop systems as intelligent as a 4 year old children. More interestingly, code sharing in python between researchers or data scientists has never been easier.

The limitations of the previous system no longer exist:

[DistBelief] was narrowly targeted to [artificial] neural networks, it was difficult to configure, and it was tightly coupled to Google’s internal infrastructure — making it nearly impossible to share research code externally. […] TensorFlow has extensive built-in support for deep learning, but is far more general than that — any computation that you can express as a computational flow graph, you can compute with TensorFlow (see some examples). Any gradient-based machine learning algorithm will benefit from TensorFlow’s auto-differentiation and suite of first-rate optimizers. And it’s easy to express your new ideas in TensorFlow via the flexible Python interface.

Maybe the engine will soon get available for its cloud-based service on a clustered architecture…

Everyone should speak SQL!

Do you know that you use databases everyday? Actually databases are everywhere. When you log  in, your credentials are validated against a database. When you are querying google or bing, a large amount of data get filtered to provide you adequate results. Even your phone contact list is a database too. Etc.

More interestingly, we have entered in the era of data. For example, “Wal-Mart, a retail giant, handles more than 1m customer transactions every hour, feeding databases estimated at more than 2.5 petabytes—the equivalent of 167 times the books in America’s Library of Congress”.


big-data_conew1 by luckey_sun (some rights reserved)

This accumulation of diverse data makes it possible to do many interesting things: spot behavioral or business trends, prevent diseases, extract unknown knowledge, detect fraud and prevent crime and so on.

Such advanced data analytics and data science is out of the scope of this article. First, I will present you what is SQL and what it looks like. Secondly, I will assess the advantages of learning SQL and tell you what is the expected level you should reach.

What is SQL?

SQL (pronounce it “sequel”) stands for Structured Query Language and it is the primary language to interact with Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS) which are based on the relational model as invented by E. F. Codd.

RDBMS are widely used in the world of databases management systems. There are several alternatives like hierarchical model, object-oriented databases or graph databases. So there are several query languages like SPARQL for RDF graphs or MDX for multi-dimensional analytical databases. Each fits for a specific purpose.

In a relational model, all data are represented in terms of tuples, grouped into relations. More explicitly, data are stored in tables with related tables.

Relational data

Let’s talk of SQL. SQL is a language with a high level of abstraction, similar to natural language, then accessible to everyone.

4 sub-languages

SQL is divided in several sub-languages:

  • Data Definition Language (DDL) statements that are used to define the database structure or schema.
  • Data Manipulation Language (DML) statements that are used for managing data within schema objects.
  • Data Control Language (DCL) statements
  • Transaction Control (TCL) statements that are used to manage the changes made by DML statements.

Not all are necessary for everyone. While some are mainly used by well-defined professional (DDL by database architects, DCL by database administrators and TCL by programmers), DML should be known by everyone who uses databases.

The most known DML statements are the SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE and DELETE (a few people know the other useful statements like the MERGE which is an upsert operation, e.g. INSERT or UPDATE).

As you may see the commands are quite intuitive (SELECT for section for example).

Required level at performing DML queries

SQL queries are quite intuitives. Here is an example:

SQL statement anatomy

Sql statement anatomy by SqlPac. CC-BY-SA-3.0-MIGRATED

As you can imagine, the language allows complex queries with aggregate and analytic functions, recursion, even pattern matching in the Oracle dialect. Since it is a high level language, you have to be very careful with such advanced functionalities to get reliable results.

To understand the power of this language, take a look at the following image. It is the standard way to join data from several table into adequate sets.

SQL join

The different types of SQL join and their outputs as determined by sets, by arbek

Basic level

For basics purpose, you have to know the basics of a relational databases, being able to perform simple SELECT, INSERT and DELETE statements with the restricting WHERE clause and the ordering ORDER BY clause. You should also learn how to deal with dates and nulls, how to use the GROUP BY statement and built-in single row functions.

Intermediate level

For intermediate level, you should know every concepts which are taught in the Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Databases Jump Start (and how to implement it the dialect of the RDMBS you use).

Advanced level

At an advanced level, you should be able to became Oracle certified expert and pass the Oracle Database SQL Expert 1Z0-047 exam.

The advantages of speaking SQL

No more Excel crashing

The RDBMS are designed to be extensively used and do not crash so easily.

Answer advanced questions by yourself

Once the DBAs allowed you to connect to the appropriate databases, you can answer business questions in an advanced manner (far more powerful than Excel spreadsheets). No more need to rely on pre-built reports!


SQL queries can be saved and then be checked and re-used.

And last, but not least:

Being well-paid

Since employers seek for this skill, you may earn more money. Actually most of people use SQL in a bad way and being certified is a great advantage.

KIC 8462852 is kind of Wow!

Arecibo Observatory

Today I will talk about astrophysics, exobiology and, somehow, metaphysics. I will also submit a personal (counterintuitive) hypothesis that needs confirmation: the Wow! signal, the best clue on extraterrestrial existence ever recorded, may be topologically linked to the star what is hypothesized to be surrounded by a swarm of megastructures!

You have certainly heard of KIC 8462852 recently. It is a star located in the constellation Cygnus which exhibits some strange behavior. More explicitly, unusual light fluctuations were observed by the Kepler telescope (e.g. small non-periodic dips in brightness of inconsistent intensity occurs frequently, up to 22% down).

NGC 6866

Map of NGC 6866, Roberto Mura (KIC 8462852 is nearby)

Amongst the proposed scenarios, these fluctuations could notably be explained by a Dyson swarm which is a hypothetical structure that an advanced civilization might build around a star to intercept some of the star’s light for its energy needs (Type II civilization on the Kardashev scale).

That is why KIC 8462852 raises some hopes in finding an extraterrestrial civilization.

Is it serious to talk of extraterrestrial civilization?

As you may know, water and organic compounds are abundant in the universe. It is realistic to think that the life emerges where conditions for the emergence of life are found. Lee Smolin, a physicist and quantum gravity scholar even proposed a Cosmological natural selection theory (CNS), also known as fecund universes which I personally find interesting.

The hypothesis is cosmological natural selection, and its power, beauty and logic provide what may be the best scientific explanation for the existence of complexity and life in the universe.


CNS with intelligence (CNS-I) are models which attempt to bring intelligence and information theory into the CNS framework. They propose that accumulated end-of-universe, or more precisely, end-of-black-hole evolutionary intelligence may somehow aid in universe/black hole replication and selection within the multiverse. These models assume that any universe where emergent intelligence was able to play a less-than-random role in replication or selection might become replicatively favored, more resilient, or perhaps dominant in some multiversal environment, over lineages where emergent intrauniversal intelligence does not increasingly factor into replication, as in Smolin’s original CNS model. – Cosmological Natural Selection,

Some people go further and defend the idea of an intrinsic support for intelligence emergence through a strong anthropic principle. Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin–Madison proposed the Integrated information theory (IIT) which is a framework intended to understand and explain the nature of consciousness. According to this theory, even subatomic particles possesses subjective experience. I admit it is a strong hypothesis that can sounds weird to you.

Arecibo Observatory

More interestingly, several scientists think that the dominant life form in the Cosmos is probably superintelligent robots which is not a stupid idea. Actually the most recent advances in NBIC tend to suggest that we are near the singularity, the moment where artificial intelligence overtakes human thinking (e.g. System that replaces human intuition with algorithms outperforms human teams and Kurzweil predicts that by 2045 computers will be a billion times more powerful than all of the human brains on Earth). I personally believe in the powerful combination of AI, information theory and semantic Web.

Considering all I have mentioned, and the tendency to break down barriers between scientific disciplines and even between metaphysics and science, I think that we will see both the singularity and the discovery of simple forms of life on potential candidates in our solar system (Enceladus and Mars for the best candidates… Titan or even Pluto for a radically different biology, maybe based on methane and tholins). Since we may soon reach the technological singularity, and considering both the number of potential habitable worlds in the universe and the age of some solar systems, the eventuality of advanced alien lifeforms should not be discarded so easily.

But, (yes, there is still a but), the so-called Fermi paradox that is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for such civilizations. Amongst all the hypothetical explanations, several allow the eventuality of abundance of alien life which would be really difficult to identify.

Detection of advanced civilization and the Wow! signal

One of the well-known techniques to identify an “advanced” civilization is to monitor electromagnetic radiation for signs of transmissions from civilizations on other worlds. It is hypothesized that we are able to discover a civilization through their radio signals.

Wow! signal

To my opinion, such a civilization would emit in a detectable manner on rare occasions. That is precisely the point. The Wow! signal “was a strong narrowband radio signal detected by Jerry R. Ehman on August 15, 1977, while he was working on a SETI project at the Big Ear radio telescope of The Ohio State University”. The best candidate of extraterrestrial radio emission that hasn’t been detected again.

A link between the Wow! signal and KIC 8462852?

Disclaimer: The following hypothesis needs further investigations but is still interesting to be shared with you.

The Wow! signal appears to have come from the northwest of the globular cluster of M55 in the constellation Sagittarius, near the Chi Sagittarii star group.

How the Wow! signal and KIC 8462852 could possibly be related? Let me explain it.

Almost everyone think that the universe is infinite and flat. In the Poincaré Dodecahedral Space (PDS) model, the universe is a dodecahedron (a spherical 3-manifold). Such a topology can be detected.

An international team of cosmologists, led by a researcher from Paris Observatory, has improved the theoretical pertinence of the Poincaré Dodecahedral Space (PDS) topology to explain some observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). In parallel, another international team has analyzed with new techniques the last data obtained by the WMAP satellite and found a topological signal characteristic of the PDS geometry.

– The Poincaré Dodecahedral Space model gains support to explain the shape of space, Observatoire de Paris

The correlated circles of universe from WMap data suggests that the universe is a dodecahedron. It means that several directions in the space would actually be the same.


Visualization of the matched circles solution reported in Roukema et al. 2004

In an ideal world, KIC 8462852 and the Wow! signal would be located in the same area. Which could be the case in a universe with a PDS topology.

Guess what?

If you superimpose the WMap correlated circles (“they would represent the same physical points but observed from different directions due to topological lensing”) onto a sky map then you will see that the Wow! signal and KIC 8462852 are possibly in the same direction in a PDS topology !

As far as I know, both maps were made according to the galactic coordinate system that make the superimposition a valid one. Correct me if I’m wrong.


Tadaa! The maps superimposition.

As you may see, the Wow! signal & KIC 8462852 are located in different directions… but in a PDS topology these directions are actually the same. Indeed, the Sagittarius area where the Wow! signal has originated and the Cygnus area where KIC 8462852 is located are in two correlated areas (i.e. the same physical point in a dodecahedral universe).

I must confess, there is uncertainty in the exact location (still large area considered) and the PDS theory is still not fully proven but this raises new hopes for finding extraterrestrial life!


The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanation of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be “Seek simplicity and distrust it.” – Alfred North Whitehead

The benefits of mind mapping

An handmade mind map

Today, I’m back with a new post. I will present the advantages of using mind maps over concept maps.

Mind map guidelines


A mind map example: guidelines

Information mapping

There are plenty of information mapping techniques. However, I chose to consider only 2 sort of them which are often seen as rivals : concept maps and mind maps.

Structural difference


Both techniques can be used by engineers, educators, technical writers, psychologist to organize knowledge.

Concept map

More precisely, the former are used to structure knowledge by using link between words or phrases (mainly by engineers). They exhibit a hierarchical structure.

Electricity Concept Map


A concept map

Mind map

… where the latter can be considered as spider diagrams (such diagrams are an extension to Vienn-Peirce diagrams and Euler circles which “express constraints on sets and their relationships with other sets”) and are used mainly for brainstorming and visual thinking.

An handmade mind map


An handmade mind map

So what is exactly the difference? Actually both techniques are similar in radial structure but differ in that the latter are simplified by focusing around a single central key concept. That’s the point.

Rigorous vs creative

In one hand, concept mapping is rather advantaging logical thinking and tend to be precise and verifiable. In the other hand, mind mapping equally combine logical thinking with creativity in that they are more personal and stimulating.


I found a picture of Philippe Boukobza that summarize the differences and similarities of both approaches but I would like to present you the true benefits of mind mapping.

Shared advantages

Both techniques improves comprehension and memorization.

Specific ones

Mind mapping exhibits specific benefits which don’t always exist in concept mapping:

  • extensive use of icons and visual metaphors
    • studying easier
    • better memorization
  • fun
    • Improves contribution in teamwork
  • easy to use
  • better thinking
    • deeper understanding
    • excellent overview
      • whole picture
      • understanding of connections
      • Avoid to post review and structure ideas in note taking
    • clarity and conciseness


As you may conclude, such approach is useful for:

  • brainstorming
  • essay planing
  • studying
  • solving problems
  • generating creative ideas
  • creating presentations

I hope you found this technique useful and will use it in a near future.

If so, there are several software which can help to to create such mind maps.