TAMPA – When a computer breaks down, Bruce Toy notes, the solution is easy: take it to a repair shop.
Once it gets fixed, that computer is likely to operate smoothly, efficiently, and without a hitch.
If only the human brain could perform in the same way, he added.
“What happens if there’s a fault in the brain that prevents secondary motivation,” he said. “That’s what drives social interactions – secondary motivation.”
On the other hand, what if scientists and researchers could create an artificial intelligence model that is capable of processing algorithms, and begin learning “how does the brain itself work,” Toy said.
In computer science and mathematics, a algorithm is finite list of well-defined instructions for calculating a function – or a step-by-step procedure for calculations.
If an articificial intelligence model could figure out exactly how the brain calculates everything from drawing up a grocery list to deciding how to vote, it would hold out amazing potential for scientists who study human behavior, he added.
“They haven’t been able to model shopping behavior yet,” he said. “This could show how it is actually controlled.”
A native of North Carolina who is now a retiree in the Tampa area, Toy is working on a book about artificial intelligence, while also developing a screenplay for a possible television series that explores these concepts, making them accessible to a mass audience.
A graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, he has a degree in physics and masters in electrical engineering. He’s also a member of the Tampa Bay chapter of Mensa, the organization for people with intelligence in the top two percentile.
His hobby, he added, has been artificial intelligence – or the intelligence of machines, and the branch of computer scienes that works to create it. The online dictionary Wikipedia defines this field as “the study and design of intelligent agents where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success.”
The term AI was coined by John McCarthy, an American computer scientist from Boston, back in 1956.
The entire concept raises complex philosophical issues about the nature of the mind, or the ethics of trying to replicate human behavior in artificial beings. But for Toy, it’s a subject that’s endlessly fascinating.
Consider, he noted, that whole issue of secondary motivation – what drives human behavior in simple, every day functions, such as deciding what to eat when we get hungry.
“Consider safety,” he said. “A child has a motivation to chase a ball. You have to build up a secondary motivation that if the ball rolls into the street, the child has to stop.”
That fits in with how the brain perceives what is around it, he added. As an example, he noted his daughter, who Toy said is deathly afraid of spiders. That fear motivates how she reacts when she sees one — regardless of where she is when the spider appears in her field of vision.
“My daughter sees a spider, and her motivation is to scream – no matter where she is, even in church,” he said.
Through the brain, Toy added, “You’ve got the sensors and the action, and you’ve got to find a way to control it. The first time I jumped out of an airplane, I looked down – and didn’t see a thing. The first time I jumped out, I was blind and deaf. There was no fear, no panic – just looking down, I couldn’t see a thing.”
Subsequent attempts at sky diving, he said, was entirely the opposite – he saw everything around him. But the first time, it was all so new that his brain couldn’t comprehend the sky that surrounded him in those first few seconds outside of the airplane.
“There was no visual processing that allowed me to deal with stabilizing myself in mid-air,” he said. “You have one processor in your brain that may be doing many things. Anything you do has to have a virtualized piece of the process of the brain.”
Artificial intelligence, obviously, can be programmed to handle multiple tasks at once, Toy said.
“Virtualization is a product that allows you to create sub-processors,” he said.
Virtualization is the creation of a virtual – as opposed to an actual or literal – version of something, including a computer operating system or server. Operating system virtualization is a software that allows a piece of hardware run multiple operating system images at the same time.
What if something similar could be done to stimulate the human brain — and increase the number of functions it can juggle at any one time, he added.
“Once a program is given control, it runs by itself,” he said. “It’s a functional architecture – how you do it in a functional sense.”
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