Heard of a Sea Slug? This Animal Teaches How to Improve AI Hardware

The intelligent animal sea slug to help researchers in learning to develop AI

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Can you guess which animal is the intelligent and  most simplest creature in the animal kingdom? Any guesses? It is a sea slug. The latest study found that a material can imitate the tiny animal, the sea slug’s most vital intelligence features. This is one of the discoveries towards building hardware that can aid make AI more reliable and efficient for the latest technology when we take a look at self-driving cars to the robots that are being used for social media algorithms. 

This study was conducted by the researchers of Purdue University, Rutgers University, the University of Georgia and Argonne National Laboratory. The findings are published by the name, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A professor of material engineering at Purdue, Shriram Ramanathan says, by studying sea slug, the neuroscientists discovered the new hallmark of intelligence that can be fundamental to any of the organism’s survival. 

The neuroscientists have learnt two things from a sea slug which can be the main signs of intelligence, one being habituation and other being sensitization. As we all know that habituation is getting used to a stimulus over a brief period, for instance, turning out noises when driving the same route everyday. On the other hand, when we talk about sensitization it is quite opposite to that, it is reacting strongly to a new stimulus for example, avoiding a particular type of food or beverage. 

The problem with AI is that it is hard for it to learn and store new information without overwriting what it has learnt and stored. The problem that researchers examine in brain-inspired computing is called the ‘stability-plasticity dilemma’. In the case of AI, habituation would allow AI to forget unnecessary information gaining more stability. On the other side, sensitization can help with retaining vital and new information enabling plasticity.  

The researchers found a way where both habituation and sensitization can be used positively. They demonstrated it in nickel oxide, which is a quantum material. And this material is named “quantum”. The name derived from its properties which cannot be explained by any classical physics. 

This quantum material has the ability to reliably mimic these forms of learning both habituation and sensitization. This can be helpful in building AI directly into hardware. AI can be operated both through hardware and software, it might be capable of performing more complex tasks that consume less energy. 

Ramanathan also said that they have performed experiments done on sea slugs in quantum materials towards understanding how these materials can be of interest for AI . After which, the neuroscience studies have shown that the sea slug also demonstrated both the habituation and sensitization features. 

For nickel oxide, the withdrawal of gill is an increased change in electrical resistance and finding that the repeated exposure to the material to hydrogen gas causes nickel oxide’s change in electrical resistance which results in decrease over time. But by introducing a new stimulus like ozone greatly increases the changes in the electrical resistance too. 

For the practical use of quantum material as AI hardware, the researchers will be required to figure out how to apply both habituation and sensitization in large-scale systems. This can also determine how a material could respond to stimuli while being integrated into a computer chip.