Science 5 min read

5 Reasons why the Octopus Inspires Artificial Intelligence

Anastasia Sokolenko |

Anastasia Sokolenko |

In our quest to create artificial intelligence, we use neural networks that emulate the human mind. Is humanity the only source of inspiration for machine learning?

Advanced technology often imitates nature because it is based on science, which seeks to understand nature. It’s the circle of tech, and one of the biggest challenges in modern technology is the creation of artificial intelligence software.

Neural networks crunch data respecting context to judge appropriate outcomes, and that should sound familiar. After all, animals do this every day to survive.

Octopuses are brilliant, perhaps even sentient, and that means that we could learn a lot from studying how they think.

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According to Peter Godfrey-Smith, “If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over. This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.” Looking at another mind close in intelligence to our own, then, can help us understand how to create a new one.

Here are five reasons why octopus intelligence may have some bearing on the future of AI software:

1. They may be Sentient

There is a long-running debate in the marine biology community over whether octopuses and other cephalopods are sentient beings, but even if they aren’t fully conscious they are intelligent enough to warrant some scientists to think that they are.

“Sentience is not easy to prove, but it is relatively easy to understand.”

If you have a sense of self, you can start to have a greater understanding of how you fit into the world around you. Some call it free will; others call it an identity. Either way, self-awareness it is the first step to developing a personality.

2. They have Personalities

Many people that work with the octopus claim that the animal has personality. Some are shy, and some are outgoing. Among cephalopods, you have thieves, problem-solvers, and even those who can come up with some pretty impressive escape strategies.

Heck, the octopus has even been accused of stealing aging Albariño wine bottles off the coast of Rias Baixas, Spain.

Personality often guides our choices, which makes character a key component of decision-making and our ability to form preferences. Character helps ensure that everybody doesn’t need or want the same thing at the same time, which makes the distribution of resources more even and fluid.

This means that as we continue to refine AI for specific tasks, installing personalities might be the most efficient way to fine tune AI responses to get accurate results for the task at hand.

3. They Interact With Their Surroundings

We want AI that can enter a new situation and figure out how to handle it without needing our guidance, and octopuses might be even better than we are at adapting to their environment.

Depending on the type of octopus you are working with, they can use adaptive camouflage, burrow, and even squeeze themselves through impossibly tight spaces. Each of these adaptations would require a high degree of intelligence because they are reactive, controlled changes in physiology.

The world of production and manufacturing will need AI that can adapt to new processes to make sure that significant investments in robotics will be worth it. Imagine you are a company owner who has implemented a robotic workforce to help you produce a product; if you ever want to create a different product, would you prefer a machine intelligence that can learn to make that product, or spend millions on a new software overhaul for your workforce?

4. They are Expressive

Octopuses and other animals have personality because they can express their thoughts and feelings.

Many, if not most animals are expressive, but traditionally machines are not. If neural networks seek to change that, then they should look to as many sources of emotive expression as possible. AI can be loaded into any physical object or molded into any digital form, so a greater understanding of expression could lead to a robot dog or butler worth making an actual emotional connection with.

Robots with colorful personalities are all over science fiction, from the Jetsons’ maid to almost every droid in Star Wars, and the one thing that delivers their personality to us is their ability to express their feelings, even if those feelings are simulated.

5. They Have Memories

A critical component to intelligence is your memory. For intelligent animals like octopuses, having a good memory could make the difference between getting your camouflage right or not. For an artificial intelligence, being able to cross-reference the data of thousands of ‘memories’ is the difference between getting an accurate judgment or not.

Much of the inner-workings of neural networks have to do with how data can be organized, but organizing data on the level of thought is a daunting task, and we would do well to see how each animal accomplishes it. Doing so would give us a greater understanding of how everything thinks, which would improve the models that we create for artificial intelligence.

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