'Schizophrenic' Computer Aids Researchers

A neural net computer was afflicted with 'schizophrenia' to help researchers understand more about what happens in the human brain. The results of the study support a hypothesis known as "hyperlearning", which suggests that people who suffer from schizophrenia are unable to forget or ignore as much as people normally would.

"The hypothesis is that dopamine encodes the importance-the salience-of experience," says Uli Grasemann, a graduate student in the Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas at Austin. "When there's too much dopamine, it leads to exaggerated salience, and the brain ends up learning from things that it shouldn't be learning from."

The neural network used by Grasemann and his adviser, Professor Risto Miikkulainen, is called DISCERN. Designed by Miikkulainen, DISCERN is able to learn natural language. In this study it was used to simulate what happens to language as the result of eight different types of neurological dysfunction.

In order to model the process, grad student Uli Grasemann and Professor Risto Miikkulainen began by teaching a series of simple stories to DISCERN. The stories were assimilated into DISCERN's memory in much the way the human brain stores information-not as distinct units, but as statistical relationships of words, sentences, scripts and stories.

"With neural networks, you basically train them by showing them examples, over and over and over again," says Grasemann.

In order to model hyperlearning, Grasemann and Miikkulainen ran the system through its paces again, but with one key parameter altered. They simulated an excessive release of dopamine by increasing the system's learning rate-essentially telling it to stop forgetting so much.

After being re-trained with the elevated learning rate, DISCERN began putting itself at the center of fantastical, delusional stories that incorporated elements from other stories it had been told to recall. In one answer, for instance, DISCERN claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing.

One of my favorite sf stories of the 1970's is Home is the Hangman, by Roger Zelazny. In the story, a robot (the Hangman) with a "learning brain" is trained using a telefactoring connection with each of several researchers. In the process of imparting lessons on how to move around and manipulate objects, the connection also passes some measure of the feeling and emotions of the researchers.

As a prank, the researchers use the Hangman to break into a bank. Unfortunately, a human guard is killed; the Hangman feels the guilt and horror of the researchers and has what amounts to a 'psychotic break'.

Perhaps readers can recall other stories about computers gone mad.

Via Science Daily.

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