Do Neurons Count?

Jun 27, 2022Philosophy/Ethics, Tech0 comments

It is necessary to note that such “neural computers” do not execute typical machine instructions of digital computers, unless they are made to emulate the behavior of physical neural networks.
In principle, the basic processing operation performed by every processing element is an analog operation, or transformation of its input signals

Kohonen 1988

John and Sam are talking about the following article:
Neural computation

In this post the dialogue is realised by an interaction of virtual characters, for more information please check the page “Virtual characters

John

I remember Julia reporting about that, but I’m not entirely clear on how that is connected to this and neuromorphic computing

Today 17:09

Sam

OK, so think of old-fashioned scales: the bigger the weight, the more the needle moves, right? 😊

Today 17:10

John

Sure, but is that a computation?

Today 17:10

Sam

If you think about it: yes it is ! 😊
It is certainly information processing: it converts one magnitude into another. Or take a thermostat

Today 17:11

John

Ah, yes, I know that it is the favorite example of some cognitive scientists for information processing 😄

Today 17:12 

Sam

There you go: temperature acts on a sensor which then does something, like turning on the heating.

How do you think the human body does that?

Today 17:12

John

You do have a point there … I suppose that at a very basic level they work the same

Today 17:13 

Sam

That is indeed my point: you need to understand the basic level before you can appreciate what large nets of neurons can do and why that is and isn’t something special

Today 17:13

John

Fine! It’s OK, 😊

I think we can get the readers on board with this, if indeed it is going somewhere more or less familiar or expected.

Today 17:15 

Sam

Sure, we all know where this is going to go, but if you don’t see why one neuron already computes, then a neural network will just seem like voodoo

Today 17:15

John

So we have very simple systems in our body, which are similar to simple analog computers, and therefore we can speak of neuromorphic computing?

Today 17:16 

Sam

Yes, because those simple analog computers and circuits are the basic building blocks for the much more complex artificial neural networks

Today 17:17

John

Alright then! It is good to make that connection very explicit …

Today 17:17   

Sam

Certainly. The main point is that most computations aren’t like doing math on a blackboard, but so to say implicit

Today 17:17

John

So while you are moving your arm to hit the tennis ball and the sunflower is tracking the sun, they’re not “crunching numbers” as such, you mean?

Today 17:18   

Sam

Exactly, but it is still computation and it is part of a causal chain that makes stuff happen. There’s definitely rules being followed

Today 17:19

John

I think an example would be very helpful here …

Today 17:19   

Sam

Ok, think about steam engines: they had these big metal balls mounted on a valve. The faster they turned, the more they closed the valve (Centrifugal governor)

Today 17:20

Sam

in effect they continuously monitored and regulated the pressure. These were called “governors” and the example works exactly like the case of the thermostat

Today 17:20

John

Oh, wow, that’s so cool! 🤭

I never realized what those rotating ball thingies were meant to do!

Today 17:20   

Sam

You can totally compare them to neurons too: as soon as a some impulse exceeds a threshold, it elicits a response (Artificial neuron)

Today 17:20

… Continue reading our conversations that are posted every Monday …

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