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Human mind to solve quantum physics problems

I’d like to briefly share with you an interesting example of gamification in quantum physics.

schrodinger equation

You can find the corresponding article here.

The point is that computers used to fail at solving a quantum equation. So a team created a game ruled by quantum rules which was played by 10.000 people.

quantum moves

This game was an analogy of this quantum problem that may lead to the creation of a quantum computer: Quantum moves models the moves of an electron (its wave function corresponds to a “fluid” in the game) towards a crystal (the target). The tool at the bottom of the screen is actually a LASER that moves the electron to the target without impairing its quantum state.

Guess what?

Gamers outperformed algorithms in terms of speed and performance. Actually, they solved the problem leading to an accurate model.eyewire

It was not the only one example of gamification that have succeeded. In the past, Foldit let people explore the possibilities in protein structures. An other example is Eyewire, a game that lets you explore a brain and, actually, map it.




Can 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

Robot

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?

Coral_polyps_in_symbiosis_with_unicellular_dinoflagellates

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?

laniakea

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.




Why are men stronger than women?

Hope you’re doing well! I’m back for this first post of 2016 (sorry for being late).

I often hear of opponents to gender equality saying that inequality is natural because of biological differences. Saying that gender is not linked to biological sex and that feminists and pro-feminists want solely gender equality of rights, the opponents’ argument is required to be tackled.

Bisexuality symbol

Gender differences are socially induced

Actually, in terms of cognitive and social skills women differ almost only when a pressure of social environment is observed. That’s true in several aspects of life: patriarchy influences skills and can be counterbalanced by education, civil right movements, … Women often performs as well as men (even better) in working life when self-confident or well-educated.

There also exists a bias in evaluating skills as a second explanation to differences. I know that scientific papers are often gender-oriented when observing or explaining a gender difference but I came across the best example ever of this bias: women source code gets more often accepted than men source code but the opposite occurs when evaluators are aware of the gender of developers.

social interaction

The main cause of differences is socially induced (either for the observed ones and for the evaluation bias) that’s why gender equality is necessary to ensure rebalancing.

But what about “natural” men’s superiority in terms of strength?

I must admit that the main argument of opponents to gender equality is that there may exist an ontological difference that would justify inequality. The fallacious argument is that men are biologically stronger than women. Besides the fact that this argument falls in the domain of explaining extremum sex differences (sex can be viewed as a continuum) instead of justifying gender differences (gender is also a continuum, thanks to human complexity) it is extremely interesting. Let me explain.

Arm wrestling

Interestingly human male is, on average, stronger than female which is the exact opposite in the vast majority of the animal reign. The question is, why?

In fact, the question is essentially why women are smaller than male because the main explanation is muscular strength which is related to one’s height. So why are they smaller than males?

The difference is called a dimorphism, which cannot be explained by genetic differences because size genes can explain only 5% of the observed phenotypic variation. So what can explain the size differences and, ultimately, the strength differences?

As usual, the environment. At the species point of view, tallest females should have been selected (mainly regarding the contribution to gestation and breastfeeding, moreover a larger pelvis eases childbirth).

What we know is that short people are favoured in case of famine because they need less energy to survive. What if an organized penury of food has led to the size differences? We observed that kuru was more predominant in women in anthropophagic ethnic groups because they eat the worst meal rations, just after men. And more interestingly, it is noticeable that historically and in all cultures where women are shorter, they always used to eat less and worse than men.

A gender order

The explanation is that size differences are not explained by natural selection but also by pure inequality in food access. That is the only one explanation that resists to multidisciplinary analysis.

The height difference between women and men is currently explained by both socially-induced male preferences those are now fully internalized (men prefer small women and women prefer tall men)… and division of labour (see Challenging Popular Myths of Sex, Gender and Biology). In fact, men often control women’s protein intakes by gender division of labour (see here and here].

This food access pressure which is a side-effect of patriarchy (a gender order) may act epigenetically (because genes only cannot explain the stature differences).  But the epigenetic aspect hasn’t been proven yet. An epigenetic effect would mean that genes are switched off by the induced food intakes but are still available. It is then possible that gene expression can be restored by normal food intakes across several generations. That is supported by the fact that we started to observe taller women.

Why does this epigenetic effect not affect men since women can give birth to either a boy or a girl? An explanation would be that this effect is sex-specific (just like the BPA effect over generations).

The lesson to be learned…

To conclude, even the fallacious argument that women are ontologically weaker is false. The mean difference in strength between women and men is actually due to male pressure and can probably be counterbalanced by equal access to food, a right. Therefore, gender equality applied to food access is more than necessary to allow women to have full rights over their own bodies. Promoting healthier food has changed habits in women. Raising awareness about the consequences of normal food intake among women may help them to (more) freely choose the physical appearance they want.

This post is evidently not the best argument in favour of gender equality. There are plenty of better arguments. I just wanted to tackle one of the favourite arguments of opponents to equality.




Women and men do have the same brain

Brain

I often hear that “boys and girls doesn’t have the same brain”. In fact, it is not true.

Brain

In a recent study, the connectome “showed few differences in connectivity up to the age of 13, but became more differentiated in 14- to 17-year-olds” between women and men, explaining some observable general differences. Moreover, it does mean that the observable difference can neither be generalized to all women and men nor imputed to a biological determinism. In other words you can meet less than 5 girls out of 10 who have a “man’s brain” and less than 5 men out of 10 who have a “woman’s brain” (supposing that these typical brains exist…), these people are normal and not infrequent… and the mean difference is not necessarily due to a genetic or hormonal determinism.

Talking in my capacity as graduate in cognitive science and former master’s student in neuroscience, I can claim that the brain is mainly a social construct.

The brain is a social construct

social interaction

The first argument is that, like many scientists have proven, the biological sex should not be seen as a dichotomy but rather as a continuum. If typical women and men existed by essence then they would both have a functionally distinct brain. Fortunately, each cognitive functions can range between two extremes that are not determined by the biological sex.

For the second argument I can confirm that there is no anatomical difference between foetal brains. In the adulthood, the structural scheme of the brain is the same except for control structures of physiological functions and reproduction. You may find more differences between two male brains than between a female and a male brain (exactly like the genomic differences that are likely to be as numerous between two white people as between two randomly selected black and white people).

The third argument is: the only observable differences (that are statistically significant) are a social construct.

Remember the citation about the connectome? The difference appears by 14-17. It doesn’t seem to support the idea that the brains are wired differently from start.

So far, I have never seen an article claiming to prove a chemical or structural difference which doesn’t suffer from a bias. The only sexual differences are actually gender difference, socially induced in every species (read here and here)… which affects the way we behave. Humans are able to bypass genetic and hormonal determinisms.

If you make an effort, thanks to neural plasticity, you can unmake a learned difference. Think about it the next time you will consider a behavior as a natural one…




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

Pi

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

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!

TensorFlow

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.

TensorFlow

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…