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Here’s Why A Mouse Brain Might Just Be The Right Solution For Attaining Full-Blown AI Self-Driving Cars

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 13, 2021

Mighty mouse.

I’m referring to the aspect that mice can be amazingly smart, mightily so. We already all would likely agree that mice are quick on their feet and physically agile. That’s a given.

I dare say, and you are welcome to argue about the contention if you wish, that they are also remarkably cunning.

On a personal level, I’ve dealt with mice that perchance decided to take up residence at my home and were seemingly determined to stay without my permission and without paying any rent. Upon witnessing a mouse running around in my domicile, I rushed over to the local store and got an everyday mouse trap.

Turns out that the mice were able to readily avoid the thing and probably got quite a laugh at my having set it up, to begin with. Let’s refer to them as mocking mice, in addition to being mighty mice.

I then decided to copiously watch numerous popular online videos labeled as providing a myriad of guaranteed-to-work formulae about how to steadfastly catch a mouse. Those videos usually started by pointing out the futility and stupidity of trying those dime-store mouse traps. This made me cringe and feel embarrassed each time that such a video made such a proclamation, but I was determined to find the optimal means to snag the mice and would endure nearly any belittling to do so.

All told, I fervently tried many of the proffered solutions. Those darned clever mice seemed to escape each one. Sometimes the trap would remain untouched. Other times the cheese or other bait would be half-eaten, yet the ingenious creatures were not captured.

I finally threw in the towel and did what my colleagues and friends had kept adamantly suggesting all along.

I got a cat.

This nearly immediately solved the dilemma. It was also akin to conquering two birds with one stone. I gained the joys of having a beloved housecat, plus the mice mysteriously disappeared. It was like a magic act of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, except this was the part of the magic performance that made things disappear.

I don’t know if my beloved cat had summarily dispatched them directly or maybe they headed for the hills after realizing that there was a new sheriff in town. My cat never revealed to me the secret of the mice disembarking success. Either way, the house was now mice-free and had the warmth of a purring cat as protector and soulful playmate for the family.

Back to the claim that mice can be sharp cookies, as it were.

Scientists would generally say that mice are reasonably intelligent beings and are ostensibly worthy of rapt attention. A recent study has attempted to count up the number of mice that are used annually in the United States for biomedical research.

The number is staggering. Prepare yourself accordingly. The estimate is that there are about 107 million mice annually being used in scientific research and perhaps about another 4 million related rodents such as rats. That’s a grand total of around 111 million, with mice being about 97% of the count.

Mice are kindly doing a great service to humanity. They are being analyzed and scrutinized on a daily basis. The assumption is that mice can reveal all sorts of insights about animals in general, and about mammals in particular, and hopefully provide a helpful glimpse into the nature of humans and human capabilities.

You’ve undoubtedly seen or read stories about those ubiquitous mouse-in-a-maze efforts.

The mice often appear to showcase a number of intelligence-oriented characteristics.

They can seem to demonstrate having short-term memory and also having long-term memory. The mice will figure out more expedient paths of a maze and seek to optimize their self-behavior. They also go beyond doing work individually or independently and seem to be able to work in teams, making use of various communications to coordinate their joint activities. It is believed that the communications take place via sound, touch, smell, urination, and even by the act of thumping via their appendages.

You can make a pretty good case that mice are inquisitive about the world around them. They are explorers. Yet they also do so with caution and can seem to identify situations that might be subtly menacing, such as a mousetrap that is waiting to be sprung. They can be seemingly tricky or even devious when you are trying to catch them (perhaps I am somewhat jaded due to the fact that they outfoxed me, though I used the ultimate ace card and invoked an overarching predatory strategy to win the war, even after having lost numerous momentary battles).

Anyone that has had a pet mouse knows that you can train them to learn a human-assigned name.

Let’s be clear though that we don’t know for sure what the name means or signifies entirely to the mouse per se. All that we can reasonably assert is that the mouse learns to associate the sound of the name to the rewards that you proffer, and thus is presumably mainly tracking the sound rather than having any grasp of what a “name” consists of. Humans have a robust understanding of what a name denotes, for which we cannot necessarily ascribe equally so to the inner noggin calculations of the mouse brain.

Speaking of brains, as you likely know, the usual measure for the size or magnitude of a brain is to estimate how many neurons there are. This is not especially the most revealing way to try and gauge the possibility of intelligence within a being, but it is handy and relatively easy to discuss. In addition to the number of neurons, another similar numeric count consists of the number of synapses that tend to interconnect the neurons. A neuron is usually connected with other neurons in a networking fashion.

Okay, let’s consider some of the estimates about the number of neurons and the number of synapses there are in animals of keen interest herein.

It is said that the human brain has perhaps 86 billion neurons and around 125 trillion synapses, though these are only rough estimates and you can find a lot of other suggested counts throughout the scientific literature. We will take those counts with a grain of salt and merely use them as an order of magnitude indicator rather than any semblance of an exactitude.

What are the counts for those feisty mice brains?

Some estimates indicate that mice have perhaps 70 million neurons and around 1 billion or more synapses, but please do realize there are lots of other estimates in the scientific literature. Again, consider this merely as an order of magnitude indication.

Given the caveats that I’ve emphasized, we can perhaps be somewhat cautious but proceed to compare that human brains have approximately 86 billion neurons in contrast to mice that have a meager 70 million. And that human brains have possibly 125 trillion synapses to around 1 billion in mice brains. The gist is that there are a lot more of each in human brains versus mice brains, by leaps and bounds.

One reason to be cautious in making such a comparison is that the counts alone are not sufficient to fully portray whether intelligence-oriented behavior will arise or not, nor the degree of intelligence that will arise.

For example, some scientific studies altered a single gene of a set of mice and were able to produce seemingly much smarter mice than in comparison to everyday mice. These souped-up mice were shown to have more extensive short-term and long-term memory capabilities and be able to perform mazes at paces and in ways that everyday mice had not.

In any case, let’s suppose that mice brains are demonstrably scaled-down versions of human brains such that if we could figure out how mouse brains function, we could potentially get a leg-up toward unpacking the nature of the human brain.

Start small, and then go big, as they say.

You could though readily argue that the human brain might not be functioning akin to the same manner that a mouse brain does. In that case, perhaps learning about the inner workings of the mouse brain will not substantively aid our quest toward unlocking the secrets of the human brain.

Sad face emoji.

Nonetheless, most would reasonably agree that whatever we can stridently figure out about mouse brains is going to one way or another further inform us about the intrinsic underpinnings about how brains seem to work. That might or might not be crucial to reverse-engineering the human brain, though it seems a worthwhile try. Happy face ensues!

A recent study has done a yeoman’s job in trying to push toward further mapping of the mouse brain.

A large-scale study done via the Machine Intelligence From Cortical Networks program (known as MICrONS), unveiled a high-resolution 3D mapping of a mouse brain segment. This consisted of about 120,00 neurons and another approximately 80,000 other kinds of brain-related core components. The scientific study was conducted by computational neuroscientists from the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Baylor College, Princeton University, and other entities.

The dataset of the mapping is available online and publicly accessible. Visualization tools are included. The data is housed in the repository known as the Neural Data Access (NDA) as part of the MICrONS research collection and encompasses the electron microscopy (EM) results. The work states that:

·        “It is the largest multi-modal connectomics dataset released to date and the largest connectomics dataset by minimum dimension, number of cells, and number of connections detected (as of July 2021).”

·        “It is the first EM reconstruction of a mammalian circuit across multiple functional brain areas.”

An especially intriguing aspect is that the researchers captured the patterns of neural activity while the mouse was viewing various images and movies (generally consisting of natural scenes). This potentially allows for analysis of how the studied brain elements responded due to presented stimuli. Thus, it is one facet to simply gauge what the brain mechanistically contains and a more perhaps illuminating angle of trying to decipher the functional recordings of how the cells responded to the visual stimuli.

Mice might be a crucial pathway toward figuring out the human brain, as mentioned earlier.

Mice might also be a crucial pathway toward devising Artificial Intelligence (AI) in machines.

Say what?

Yes, the more than we can identify how brains work, mice or humans, the better chance we would seem to have toward crafting AI systems. If we can somehow reverse engineer brains, we might be able to create AI systems that do more of what brains do. Some believe that we will simply mimic or simulate the wetware of brains. Others indicate that we might not need to do such mimicry and can instead glean insights to devise AI systems that are able to exhibit intelligent behavior, though they might be made in completely different ways than that of wetware brains.

I’ve extensively covered these two contrasting trains of thought (a bit of a pun there), namely the bottoms-up versus the top-down theories of how to attain AI, see the link here.

You can conceive of efforts in AI as racing forward on multiple fronts at once.

There are those that don’t especially pay attention to the biomedical efforts of brain reverse engineering. They are fine with such work taking place, but the pace and progress have little bearing on their AI efforts. Absent any hard-and-fast tangible indications from the wetware focus, those AI developers and researchers are forging ahead anyway. No need to wait for the bio side to pin down how the brain operates.

Meanwhile, there are other AI developers and researchers that closely monitor or are directly involved in these wetware examinations. This is then infused into their AI constructions. The AI use of Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) is notably influenced by and tends to use Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs), which are somewhat akin to wetware neural networks, though decidedly less so and not on par (as yet).

The thing is, there is a huge debate about whether having tons upon tons of something that runs on a machine in a computer-based way that mimics neurons is ever going to arise to intelligent behavior in the manner that we construe intelligence. If we don’t also come to understand how intelligence arises from the neurons and their interconnections in wetware, we might be doomed to having merely a humongous network of computer-based simulated neurons that aren’t particularly overwhelmingly impressive.

Perhaps we might get AI toward parts of intelligent behavior via these massively ANN’s and then get stuck. The widespread supposition is that the only way to get unstuck will involve decoding how brains give rise to intelligence in the natural world.

The mighty mouse might be a significant step in that direction.

Where might a better devised AI be used, namely an AI that might be shaped around what we ultimately learn from the brains of mice?

Hold your breath. Get ready to fall off your chair.

Get this: The seemingly humdrum and shall we say at times unheralded mouse brain could be one of the cornerstones or keys to achieving AI-based true self-driving cars.

Oopsie, if you fell to the ground, I hope you had a pillow waiting to catch your fall.

Let’s talk about self-driving cars.

The future of cars consists of AI-based true self-driving cars. There isn’t a human driver involved in a true self-driving car. Keep in mind that true self-driving cars are driven via an AI driving system. There isn’t a need for a human driver at the wheel, and nor is there a provision for a human to drive the vehicle. For my extensive and ongoing coverage of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and especially self-driving cars, see the link here.

Here’s an intriguing question that is worth pondering: How might the insights from reverse-engineering the brains of those lovable and clever mice somehow stoke the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars?

I’d like to first further clarify what is meant when I refer to true self-driving cars.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And The Mouse That Roared

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.

Why is this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the facets of driving. Driving and all that it entails will need to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.

We are considering how mouse brains might be useful for making further progress on achieving AI-based true self-driving cars.

First, let’s dispense with something that is a bit nonsensical but has to be covered herein else there might be some unfortunate misinterpretations. I am decidedly not suggesting that we could put a mouse in the driver’s seat of a conventional human-driven car and ergo suddenly find ourselves with a mighty mouse driver.

Quite unlikely.

Of course, some might bitterly complain that a mouse is not physically capable of driving a car, regardless of whether there might be a mental capacity to do so. A mouse cannot reach the brake pedal and the accelerator pedal, could not seemingly adequately turn the steering wheel and would be unable to sit in the driver’s seat and peer over the dashboard and out the front windshield. In that sense of objective constructs, the mouse is at a crucial disadvantage at the get-go.

It is an unfair playing field.

Sigh.

Look here, this is an insipidly transparent concern (sincerely stated?) that can be easily dealt with. We can take that grievance off the table by stipulating that we would craft a set of driving controls that would adequately accommodate the petite size and limbs of a mouse.

Assume that this could be done.

In case you doubt the efficacy of making that possible, I’d like to point out to you the prior efforts that have taken place to see if dogs could drive a car. Yes, dogs. As per my coverage, see the link here, the usual driving controls were modified to accommodate those beloved paws of mankind’s loyal companion. The dogs seemed to enjoy the driving and the attention, but they assuredly were not going to be everyday drivers that you would see waving at you during those weekday commutes and weekend go-to-the-park jaunts.

Anyway, the overarching point is that we are focused on the brainpower of the mice, rather than their physicality per se.

Despite the general shrewdness of mice, it seems altogether fair-minded to assert that they could not drive a car, even if we could tap directly into their noggin. When I refer to driving a car, I mean this in the normative sense of what we as humans consider the act of driving. Envision a mouse taking the written exam at your local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and then having to showcase to a driving instructor or tester that the mouse could readily drive on community streets and local highways.

A nice form of dreamy imagery, though not real-world oriented.

If you want to play a wild kind of futuristic outside-of-the-box game, we could possibly do something to mice that could somehow transform them into potential drivers. There have already been efforts of trying to infuse human-related brain cells into those of a mouse. Also, earlier it was mentioned that there are efforts of altering the genes of mice to see what results arise.

To clarify, this notion that mice by themselves could not drive a car is based on the unadorned semblance of today’s ordinary mouse brain.

Shifting gears, we ought to get back to the mainstay of the topic.

We can consider this rather vexing question; namely, how do humans manage to drive a car?

There are lots of logical rules that we all agree are presumably at the core of the driving task. You can learn about those rules by reading books about how to drive a car. You can take classes in driving. An instructor can sit with you while you are driving and explain to you what to do. And so on.

It would seem apparent that we know everything there is to know about how humans drive.

The thing is, all of those discernible rules and abundant logic about the driving act are ultimately converted into the human brain. Once the whole kit and caboodle go into your brain, we really do not know what takes place. The brain in terms of turning all that wetware machinations into human thinking is still an abundant mystery (see my coverage at this link here).

In short, if studies of the brains of mice could reveal the innermost secrets of how the brain arises to the task of thinking, we might be able to unlock the same as it pertains to human thought. And, if we did that, we would have a much clearer understanding of what goes through the human mind during the driving chore. Some ardently believe that the vaunted and revered Level 5 will not be achieved unless we can first unpack the inner workings of human thought.

That being said, I would not want to imply that the glories of finally figuring out how humans think are going to be used simply to garner autonomous vehicles and self-driving cars. You can bet your bottom dollar that a lot more could be achieved with AI that leveraged or exploited the byzantine complexities of the human brain.

Conclusion

Start small and make our way to something big, really big.

We can welcome and seek to squeeze every ounce of insight from the mapping of the mouse brain. A lot more mapping is going to be needed. Be thankful for those gallant mice that contribute to this grand quest.

A final comment for now.

Remember earlier that the approximate estimated count for the number of human neurons in our brains is around 86 billion, while for a mouse it is something akin to 70 million. Recall too that I described how I obtained a cat, partially prompted to aid in dealing with my mouse problem at home.

The estimate of the number of neurons in the brain of a cat is around 250 million. On a rough comparison, this means that the cat has perhaps three to four times the number of neurons of a mouse. Please note that you have to be careful making any generalizations by the sheer count of neurons alone since (as mentioned earlier) that’s not the only factor involved.

But, I’m sure your neighborhood cat indubitably thinks it can readily outsmart those troublesome mice, and the feline is eagerly and earnestly willing to prove to you that by far a cat is heads and shoulders smarter than those annoying mousekin freeloaders underfoot.

The race to figure out how to best attain AI is akin to a cat and mouse gambit that we don’t yet know how it will play out. It is going to be mighty exciting, that’s for darned sure.

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