Simanaitis Says

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THE AMERICAN Association for the Advancement of Science publishes a weekly magazine, Science. Yesterday’s SimanaitisSays offered Part 1 of its recent tidbits. Here’s Part 2.

Could artificial intelligences get the blues? This question of AI depression was addressed by Zachary Mainen, a neuroscientist at Lisbon’s Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown.

Mainen spoke on this topic at a recent symposium of Canonical Computations in Brains and Machines, held at NYU March 16–18, 2018. His presentation can be viewed here.

Mainen discusses whether there’s an AI counterpart to serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps the human brain rewire itself. He says, “… if serotonin goes wrong in humans, the equivalent in a machine could also go wrong…. So humans—or machines—with low serotonin or its equivalent may fail to rewire adequately, getting stuck in the rut that we call depression.”

This becomes all the more relevant in light of AI’s increased sophistication leading to a degree of AI independence.

Darwin Comes to Town is the title of a book by Menno Schilthuizen, an evolutionary biologist at the Netherlands’ Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Leiden University. Arne Mooers’ book review in Science, April 10, 2018, notes that “Two cross-cutting ideas permeate the book.”

The first theme is “rampaging sameness,” caused by mankind’s scattering of other species around the world. For example, Schilthuizen observes that a Singapore estuary is home to house crows, mynas, apple snails, red-eared slider turtles, and peacock bass—all of them thriving, yet non-native. He calls these migrants “anthropophiles;” that is, lovers of human society.

The second theme is how quickly these anthropophiles evolve in their new habitats. The feathers of city pigeons, for example, have adapted to sequester toxic metals. Birds of the great tit variety have learned to sing soprano, better to be heard over urban din. Moths in European cities have become less attracted to deadly distractions of artificial light.

Science reviewer Mooers poses a provocative question: To what degree is our meddling to the benefit of nature?

France plans to compete in AI, described in Science, April 6, 2018, gives details of its President Emmanuel Macron’s goal of a €1.5 billion ($1.83 billion) investment, between now and 2022, in specialized institutes developing artificial intelligence. It’s akin to Macron’s 2017 climate research initiative, “Make Our Planet Great Again.”

Emmanuel Macron, President of France, statesman. Image of his presentation to the U.S. Congress from

This Science item is particularly timely, in light of Macron’s remarks to a joint session of Congress earlier this week, April 25, 2018, during his U.S. visit.

Macron observed, as others have noted, “There is no Planet B.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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