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What is “representation” in the human brain and AI systems?

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You know the way Google search will sometimes finish your sentences for you? Or, when you’re typing an email, there’s some ghostly predictive text that floats just in front of your cursor? Well, there’s a new kid on the block that makes these gadgets look like toy tricks out of a Christmas cracker. Give it a sentence of Jane Austen and it will finish the paragraph in the same style. Give it a philosophical conjecture and it will fill the page with near-coherent academic ruminations. GPT-3 is essentially just predicting what words should come next, following on from the prompt it’s been given. That the machine does so well is partly because it’s been trained on an unimaginably huge database of samples of English (reputedly, $13 million worth of training). A similar machine can predict, from a sequence of amino acids, how the resulting protein will fold, short-cutting months of lab work and in some cases years of human ingenuity (AlphaFold). But what is going on inside the machine? What is it keeping track of inside its huge neural network “brain”?We face the same question, of course, when we look at the human brain—a seemingly inscrutable organ of even greater complexity. Yet neuroscience is beginning to make sense of what’s going on inside: of patterns of activity distributed across millions of neurons, flowing into other patterns; coupling and modulating; unfolding in a way that opens the organism to the world outside, projected through its inner space of needs and drives, bathed in the wash of past experience, reaching out to control and modify that world to its own agenda. We can now see what some of these patterns of activity are, and we have an inkling of what they are doing, of how they track the environment, and subserve behaviour.Neuroscientists are recording these patterns with new techniques. But what do the patterns mean? How should they be understood? Neuroscience is increasingly tackling these questions by asking what the activation patterns represent.. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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