Every organism in this world performs tasks which are voluntarily or involuntarily critical to their survival. These tasks collectively help them with their intuition, and thus with their existence. In this regard, humans stand at the very top compared to other species. Given this intuitive phenomenon, complex brain structure and intricacies in mind mapping, it is difficult to emulate human brain in AI. But that can be relatively easier with other animals who have less complex brains and are at a primitive intelligence level.
For instance, smaller animals such as birds have brain functions limited to gathering food, staying away from predators and interacting between their own species. This may seem simple in hindsight, but building an AI model on this can be quite challenging since it involves analysing sensory functions of those birds (flight, smell, vision) to engineer tasks in line with the brain functions mentioned earlier. This way the exact functioning of the bird’s brain can be emulated. Similarly, emulating a fruit fly, which has a meager 100,000 neurons in its nervous system, can seem a relatively less daunting task.
While this is a new method in AI, and there is no 100 percent success rate yet recorded and that’s why companies and researchers are working on achieving it. A company even patented its method working with the entire brain and its structure to create AI, which they termed the ‘whole brain’ approach. This new development allows AI to function more like human brain as it integrates with multiple brain areas.
Challenges Of Emulating Animal With AI — The Effect of Neuron Count
Number of neurons or brain cells present in an organism is an important factor that determines the prospecting intelligence and brain complexity. Even though previous studies have suggested that intelligence primarily depends on the brain size, it has proven to be false. One study by scholars at University of Bremen show that intelligence largely depends on the type of neurons present, not on the number of neurons or size of the brain. They focus on the neuron concentration in mammals. In the paper titled Neuronal Factors Determining High Intelligence, the researchers said:
“The best fit between brain traits and degrees of intelligence among mammals is reached by a combination of the number of cortical neurons, neuron packing density, interneuronal distance and axonal conduction velocity — factors that determine general information processing capacity (IPC), as reflected by general intelligence. The highest IPC is found in humans, followed by the great apes, Old World and New World monkeys. The IPC of cetaceans and elephants is much lower because of a thin cortex, low neuron packing density and low axonal conduction velocity. By contrast, corvid and psittacid birds have very small and densely packed pallial neurons and relatively many neurons, which, despite very small brain volumes, might explain their high intelligence. The evolution of a syntactical and grammatical language in humans most probably has served as an additional intelligence amplifier, which may have happened in songbirds and psittacidae in a convergent manner.”
This relation between neurons and intelligence is a significant factor for AI development as intelligence serves as the main factor for the quality in AI. The more intelligent functions observed in neurons, the more sophisticated the AI system is in emulation.
Current Developments Under AI Emulation
The AI project OpenWorm is an initiative that extensively promotes advances in the field. This project uses insights from biological experiments and simulation data to create a digital, functioning replica equal to that of an earthworm. Started as a brain research project, OpenWorm has turned into more of a computer simulation, thus facilitating AI. In addition, the project has also developed different software to run these models.
These developments will definitely act as a stepping stone to emulate other beings on the planet. Ultimately, the context of application from animal brains should be the focus when developing AI from animals. As mentioned earlier, animals with lesser number of neurons such as fruit fly, zebrafish, honey bee might act as perfect models for emulating AI to begin with. Some researchers also are considering rat to study its brain structure and train AI models based on it.
The developments in AI in today’s scenario is yet to mature. As of now, AI is restricted to building applications such as self-driving cars and drones, without giving much thought to tapping benefits from biology and organisms. AI is still believed to be at its infant stage by experts. This makes it a tad disheartening for AI enthusiasts those who are looking for advanced developments in AI such as emulating animals with AI. Nevertheless, if more development is seen in this approach, the future of integrating the brain with a machine to tap cognitive abilities can soon be a reality.