What a Bird Brain - Or, Why Neurons Are Amazing
This morning I watched a bird – I believe a finch – in the back yard. He was making use of the bird house, which is quite small, featuring perhaps a 3/4” hole for a front door.
This bird arrived on the perch with about a 4 inch long stick in it’s beak. Obviously, getting that in the front door didn’t go too well.
Many birds are known tool users and problem solvers, and this very tiny clump of neurons knew enough to execute an Olympic, 2-inch horizontal perch hop with 1/2 twist, rotating 180 degrees and craning a tiny neck by sufficient additional measure to insert the long end of that stick into the house, then squeeze past and move inside to drag the stick inside.
Now, to my mind, that’s one hell of a computation problem to solve, so I took a minute to check out how the hell birds do that. Wikipedia is usually a good starting place:<blockquote>It seems that birds use a different part of their brain, the medio-rostral neostriatum/hyperstriatum ventrale (see also nidopallium), as the seat of their intelligence, and the brain-to-body size ratio of psittacines and corvines is actually comparable to that of higher primates.</blockquote>Interesting. So, just because the neocortex is the location of our highest human brain functions, that doesn’t necessarily place any restrictions upon neuronal capabilities in other regions or configurations, in general. This seems like an interesting avenue of inquiry for machine intelligence, because compared to what little computers can do today in terms of visual context construction, it would be quite a compliment to call any computer a total “bird brain.”
Maybe when it comes to machine intelligence, or even modeling substrate independence for any kind of intelligence, we should consider learning to fly, before we walk.