Chapter 25

Father reviewed his concept with Ted. Ted was Taylor’s best friend Mary’s father and in charge of robots design. Father and Ted were in the Noetic’s lab that looked more like a toy store than a research center. Shelves and work benches were filled with bio-mechanical robot components, partial assemblies and some complete units designed to look like or at least function like the part of the body they represented.

A medical skeleton was hanging in a corner as a reminder of the parts that had to be developed. Next to it a replica of the skeleton was hanging made from parts developed in the lab in varying levels of completion. In some places there was only a piece of paper with the name of the item to be attached. The top of the backbone was a narrow flexible shaft called Neck covered with electrical connectors. Small doughnut shaped containers slipped over Neck that would hold part of what was called the brain.

Initially the brain parts were computer circuit boards and silicon chips. These were being replaced by prototypes of the components of the brain and nervous system. As new parts were developed they would be placed in a doughnut and connected to the framework called “You”.

Across the room was a second replica of the skeleton that looked like You named “Uoy”. All parts designed for You where duplicated to have a spare part and to test differences. You and Uoy were like identical twins with differences.

One of the doughnuts was designed to move the arms, fingers, legs and feet. It was named the Lfront indicating the frontal lobes which control motor functions, like arm movement, planning, reasoning, judgment, impulse control and some memory. Only limited motor control and some memory had been programmed into Lfront. It was planned that, in all of the parts, there would be some fixed or hardwired features and others that grew.

On top of Neck was a mirror. It was Ted’s idea of how to answer the question of who the robot looked like. The robot, to be, was whoever was looking at it. Ted could say, “It looks like You.”

The prototypes for the parts were usually very large, plastic foam models that could be filled with electronics and shaved and carved to fit together. Once a part was designed and made to work, a child toy size version was developed as part of the task of adapting them for a biological conversion. The initial prototypes were then put into the play area for the children. Spyde was one of the first complete robotic devices put into the children’s area; it was mechanical and had a miniature computer system for a brain.

Over time parts of its computer were replaced with bio circuits. One reason for putting the prototypes and modified items into the play area was to see if the children could detect differences. The children did not have pre-conceived notions about how the objects were supposed to work; the robots and parts either worked or they did not.

Lying around the lab were parts that looked like pieces of Spyde that had been made of material simulating bone and tissue and had some bio circuits that could plug into other devices or communicate by radio signals.

A baseball sized flesh colored nose, named Ollie, had sensitivity 500 times that of a person. It had been used to analyze wine, perfumes and colognes, soap fragrances and decaying food at the supermarket. It was connected to a computer screen where the chemical makeup of the air was displayed and could detect smoke and turn on an alarm.

A grey two foot high, three inch wide elastic stalk named Perry looked like submarine periscope with an eye on top that moved in a random pattern recording objects and motion in the lab. Like Ollie, Perry was connected to an alarm system and warned occupants if unexpected objects or people entered the lab. Once an item was detected it was compared to pictures stored in the eyes computer files. As Perry scanned the room, what it saw was printed out on another computer display. Perry could communicate with Amy the baseball sized mood ring both through electrical and chemical contacts if they were connected or by radio signal.

Perry scanned a round object, on a shelf, the size of a golf ball that was covered with round Velcro like patches that buzzed with energy discharges. On Perry’s display the label Reggie, Energy Source, aka, hypothalamus appeared. Reggie was the initiator of action in a bio-bot, the name given to the biology based robots. Reggie would sit near the top of Neck.

Reggie was constantly searching for other parts and trying to send them messages through the connecting patches. Sometimes other devices would try to stop the action Reggie started.

Perry’s programs were capable of pattern and motion recognition and whenever a new object appeared Perry connected to a speech robot and asked what the object was and what it did. Father, Ted and other researchers in the lab had developed a habit of talking aloud when they added something new or did something different because they knew that Perry would ask.

Perry was displaying a continuous stream of text that scrolled up the computer screen tracking the moves that father and Ted made as they bent over a large flat dish containing strips of synthetic material connected to wires.

“We will create a microscopic multilayered patch of nerve tissue as a brain seed. Hopefully it will grow like these strips of MEAC that Mark and I developed last month. They can be activated by the Reggie and other devices connected to Reggie, in fact, they will be the soul of the robot determining how it behaves.”

“I never understood MEACs,” Ted said as he watch fingers sprouted along the edge of what looked like a four inch long Chinese noodle and grew longer. Perry projected an enlarged version of a finger onto a display; it looked a tree sprouting branches. When a finger reached a wire mesh on the edge of the disk a small light turned on for a fraction of second and a beep was heard and a point was seen on a computer display. Ted looked up at the display. “Looks like jack frost painting my windows with ice crystals, but the crystals are really neurons.”

Father smiled, “MEAC stands for Multi-nodal Elastomeric Accretion Channels. When the smooth noodle seed is placed in this solution of bio-ions and the noodle is charged with this signal generator, the bio-ions will attach to the noodle like a static electricity charged balloon will stick to a wall. When the bio-ion fingers get long enough it makes contact with a receptor. Every time a signal goes through the finger, the finger will accrete more bio-ions and grow thicker.”

“Let me start a new one.” Father took the noodle out of the dish with long forceps. He dropped the noodle into a red disposal canister. He then pushed a button on a grey box, on a shelf, above the dish. A new noodle rode out on a small tray and moved left where it was attached to a fine wire. Father picked the noodle up with his forceps and placed in the dish.

“I will start with a signal pulse every ten milliseconds. That is the about how fast a node, a bio-ion finger, can process a signal when it first grows long enough to contact the wall. As it grows thicker it can process the signal faster.” He turned the dial on the signal generator and every ten milliseconds there was a beep. “Where it starts growing the first finger appears random. I think some positions on the noodle are more receptive to initiation that others, but once growth starts the signal will try to go there. However, if the finger is processing a signal and another signal pulse arrives the pulse will not wait but will pick a spot at random on the noodle and start another finger growing. Let me turn up the arrival rate of signals.” He turned the dial on the signal generator.

After a few seconds dozens of fingers could be seen sprouting and thickening along the noodle. The beeping sound was a continuous drone and the display on the computer screen showed lines rising up all along the horizontal axis of the graph and rising and dropping as the signals passed. When father turned off the signal generator the computer chart showed hundreds of lines of nearly the same height.

“Let’s do this again with a signal that is random in strength and arrival time.” Father discarded the noodle into the red canister and loaded a new noodle. Ted noticed that Perry was recording all of father’s moves on its display.

Ted asked, “can you input a Gaussian distribution and see if the noodle develops a standard bell shaped growth pattern?”

“Sure”, father said and selected a Normal curve from the list of statistical distributions programmed into the generator. “This has all the standard patterns and numbers that we have created.” He pushed the start button and after a few minutes the growth pattern matched the input signal.

“Now watch this.” Father said and he pushed a button on the computer screen and erased the pattern. “I am going to generate signals at a constant rate like we did in the beginning. Since the MEAC is already developed lets see how the response pattern changes, that is, what the chart will look like.”

He pushed the start button and the beeps were spaced evenly apart. After a few minutes Perry announced a pattern change. It had been watching the pattern on the MEAC display. The pattern had started out looking like the bell shaped curve generated from the random input but slowly flattened.

“What is happening?” Ted asked.

Father said, “look at the noodle. Fingers that are not used eventually dissolve and return the bio-ions to the solution. A perfect example of Use-It or Lose-It.”

Ted asked if these MEACs were the approach they were going to take in developing brain seeds.

“Yep, the MEAC fingers are serving the same purpose as neurons in our bodies. Each brain seed will be nothing more than several thin strips of tissue holding neurons. If stimulated a neuron on one layer can make a connection to other neurons on the same layer and to neurons in the next layer above or below. One edge of a layer is connected to activating input signals sources. In the lab we use a series of electrical signals representing optical, auditory, and olfactory and several somatic stimuli. At the other end of the layer are connections to actions or activities that might be thought of as actions like a finger moving, a funny feeling, or the storing of a picture in memory. Activating a neuron is the equivalent to turning on a switch which gets turned off when the message has passed. If the switch is on and another signal arrives a different switch, if it exists, is turned on; otherwise the new signal has to wait to be processed. These neuron switches remind me of people.

“How so?”

“Remember the flood last year and we all worked passing bags of sand from one person to another to build a wall to keep the river from flooding the lab. Each person is like a neuron. You were a neuron in this example. You received a bag of sand which represents a message and passed it to the next person; say for example, Charlie, who represents another neuron passing the message. We passed messages from the truck of sandbags to the wall in front of the river. If the fellow in front of you dropped his bag of sand and was picking it up you gave your bag of sand to the person standing next to him. Every neuron can received messages from different neurons and pass them on to other neurons.

“When a neuron wants to pass a message or stimulus, or bag of sand, it generates an enzyme that closes the gap between the foot of the neuron and the dendrite of the next neuron. The dendrite is like the hand of the person grabbing the bag of sand. Neurons have many dendrites while we only have two hands. The neuron that received the message generates an enzyme that dissolves the material that allowed the signal to jump between the neurons to begin with. That is its way of saying, I have got it. The signal continues along the second neuron then to the third and eventually gets passed off to all the neurons in the chain that lead to a processor that interprets the signal and initiates an action.

You are bigger and stronger than Charlie. You hand him a bag and have to wait to pass the next bag. If Arnold is available, you pass him the next bag. If Charlie finished passing off his bag of sand while you were handing yours to Arnold you can pass the third bag to Charlie. The stronger you are the more people you need to pass bags to or you have to wait.

“Every stimulus in the body activates the same processing procedure. When more signals are arriving than can be processed with the available number of neurons, the growth of more neurons starts. Brain development is a matter of growing more neurons and making new connection patterns. Growth in a layer is different for each layer and is influenced by the pattern of stimuli or messages at a given moment.”

“Remember when you were piling up sand bags and the water in front of you stopped coming in from the river but four feet to your right water started leaking in. You called to Charlie to come over and start stacking bags of sand to stop the flooding there. In order to stop the flooding you knew that more people had to stack sand bags. Well, the body knows when more neurons are needed to process messages and grows more. It takes time but it happens. Our bodies have NGF or Neuron Growth Factor which stimulates neuron development. As you were fighting the flood you found you had more people to pass sandbags to. Every time someone gave you a bag you had more people to hand it to. First you had one, then two, then three. Like rolling a die.”

“The thin strips of neurons are like dice that grow more sides. If we start off with six sides and role the die a new side might be added depending on the outcome of the role. The size of a side on the die can also change depending on the outcome. If Charlie dropped his bag you might hand it to Jim or Ron. If Charlie hurt his back you might stop handing him bags. Neurons are like Charlie with a bad back. If neurons are not used they can atrophy. Think of the guys trying to stop the river from flooding the building as biological dice that grow and shrink in terms of the number of sides”.

Ted had been nodding like he understood and looking at the arrows and circles father was drawing. Neurons looked like tinker toys with the circle and stick. “Where did you come up with these ideas?” He asked.

“Some of them are basic biology. Some are from a game the kids like to play call Stochasts in which the probability of outcome of a role of the die changes as the game is played. Another is from resource scheduling in large systems. Another is from Taylor wondering why we had to stand in line so long in the bank. She suggested I ask for another teller. Adding a teller is like starting to grow more neurons to process more messages.”

“Bags of sand and tellers in a bank is a crazy way to design a biological robot.” Ted said. “Why are there different layers in this brain seed, as you call it?”

“Some researchers like to think of people as having three kinds of brain. These have developed in the different stages of evolution over that last 300 millions years and develop at different rates before and after we are born.

This thing inside our skull that we usually call our brain is only part of who we are. We do all kinds of things without seeming to think about them. You bang you knee and your leg jerks. We call that a reflex. It does not involve your brain, at least not the Cortex Brain, the big one inside your skull in the front and around the sides. It is part of our hardwired circuitry but it still involves neurons passing signals. There are a number of things we do that we don’t originally think about and sometimes never think about but wonder why we did what we did. We all try to avoid harm and to preserve our species. We have survived millions of years of evolution as have all other animals because of the most basic of our brains. Some people call it our reptilian brain. So we will have a layer we call the R layer.

A second brain has two parts. Again, it operates without our thinking. Thinking is what we do with our third brain. The second brain has two basic parts so we will develop two layers. One is our body’s operational sensations, not just touch but sensing heat, pain, smelling, seeing, twitching and everything you think your body is.

Another layer is our emotional structure which involves a lot of chemical activities. Some times we are aware of them but our awareness is something that develops as we grow. Some types of awareness develop in our first year after birth, others by our sixth year and some not until we get into our teenage years. The two parts of the second brain is sometimes referred to as our limbic system.

The first and second brain types are generally found in wiring of the spinal column and the brain stem going into the skull as a few layers at the top of the stem.

The third brain is the cortex, the place where images are stored, where we plan and take actions to achieve those plans, where we think. It is divided into four parts, called lobes, which surround the first two brains. At the moment I am not sure how many layers might be involved. Our brain has all kinds of folds and creases.

One thing that really separates us from other animals is the ability to recall images, that is, past experiences that have been stored and re-experience the emotions and other sensations we had with the initial experience. We can also think about things we are going to do and develop a plan. We use the images of what we did in the past to create images of what we are going to do. Once we think about what we might do they are images of the future. A plan is really a future that hasn’t been experienced yet.”

“Okay,” Ted said, “these noodles are really biological probability distributions that channel the energy from Reggie and devices connected to Reggie to guide the robots actions. They are like arrays of neurons; that means there are millions of them, maybe billions.”

“Could be. There are estimates that the brain contains 100 billion neurons. That, you have to admit, is pretty dense wiring. I doubt we can replicate mother nature but we should be able mimic some concepts of neural network growth. We already have some computer models. These MEACs are our first attempts at bio-chemical models.”

“Since we are interested in building something with these noodles which appears to have mental or intellectual capabilities we might call them noetic noodles.”

“We know from evolution that there are some noodles designed for survival. When a person is challenged or threatened the survival noodles provide responses like fighting or running. If the survival game is played a lot of times more noodles grow to provide other options and the noodles that are there change shape. There are actually more scientific approaches and a lot of research on how brains work. The part that is missing is how…”

Ted shook his head, interrupting. “This is the goofiest conversation I have ever had. You must be hungry. A noodle is a noodle. Spaghetti is spaghetti.”

“No, there are all kinds of noodles. Go to the grocery store and look in the pasta section. There are long ones, short ones, thin ones, thick ones. Some are flat and narrow, some are flat and wide. Some are hollow so you can stuff them with meat and cheese. Some are bent, some are curly, and some are shaped like sea-shells. Some look like pieces of rice.

There are all kinds of noetic noodles. Some help us survive. Some make us think like artists or engineers or real estate agents or preachers or politicians.

What we have to figure out is how do these noodles grow and change shape when they interact with their environment. Remember, there are the physical environmental as well as the social, cultural and emotional environments.”

Ted smiled. “Does this mean that if next Halloween a bowl of spaghetti on legs carrying a sandbag knocks on my door that one of your experiments escaped for the lab?”

“Maybe. My next experiment is to see what happens if we place a thousand MEAC strips in solution so that the fingers of each MEAC reach out to other MEACs and pass the signal from one to another then to other devices.

When we do that then…”

“Mr. Dance,” father’s secretary knocked and entered the lab.

Several devices on the shelves said, “Hi Mary.” And those that were not vocal printed “Hi Mary” on their display devices.

“Yes, Mary.”

“There is an English gentleman here to see you. He says he is Sir Real.”

Ted smiled, “You are kidding us.”

“I am not kidding you. The reports about the cave exploration had caught the attention this gentleman, a world famous biologist named Reginald Real in England. He is a specialist in a field called Crypto-Zoology and is interested in looking for and studying animals that might not exist, or might have existed but nobody can prove that they have seen them. He had studied reports on the Lock Ness Monster, the abominable snow man, big foot, chupacabra, the Tasmanian tiger, mapingauri, the Yowie and other creatures. He is so famous that he was knighted By the Queen and given the title of Sir. He is known as Sir Real. Sir Real is interested in the images in the cave of the creature that looked like a flying octopus that Taylor had called a Getya bird.”


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