Much artificial-intelligence research addresses the problem of making predictions based on large data sets. An obvious example is the recommendation engines at retail sites like Amazon and Netflix.
But some types of data are harder to collect than online click histories —information about geological formations thousands of feet underground, for instance. And in other applications — such as trying to predict the path of a storm — there may just not be enough time to crunch all the available data.
Dan Levine, an MIT graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics, and his advisor, Jonathan How, the Richard Cockburn Maclaurin Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, have developed a new technique that could help with both problems. For a range of common applications in which data is either difficult to collect or too time-consuming to process, the technique can identify the subset of data items that will yield the most reliable predictions. So geologists trying to assess the extent of underground petroleum deposits, or meteorologists trying to forecast the weather, can make do with just a few, targeted measurements, saving time and money.
Collective behaviour is a widespread phenomenon in biology, cutting through a huge span of scales, from cell colonies up to bird flocks and fish schools. The most prominent trait of collective behaviour is the emergence of global order: individuals synchronize their states, giving the stunning impression that the group behaves as one. In many biological systems, though, it is unclear whether global order is present. A paradigmatic case is that of insect swarms, whose erratic movements seem to suggest that group formation is a mere epiphenomenon of the independent interaction of each individual with an external landmark. In these cases, whether or not the group behaves truly collectively is debated. Here, we experimentally study swarms of midges in the field and measure how much the change of direction of one midge affects that of other individuals. We discover that, despite the lack of collective order, swarms display very strong correlations, totally incompatible with models of non-interacting particles. We find that correlation increases sharply with the swarm's density, indicating that the interaction between midges is based on a metric perception mechanism. By means of numerical simulations we demonstrate that such growing correlation is typical of a system close to an ordering transition. Our findings suggest that correlation, rather than order, is the true hallmark of collective behaviour in biological systems.
Thalmic Labs is a Waterloo-based startup with a very ambitious goal – to change the way we interact with our everyday computing devices. To that end, they’ve developed the Myo armband, a gesture control device that fits around the meaty part of your forearm and detects slight muscle movements, arm rotations and even electrical impulses as you gesture, translating all that information into real-time input.
We were lucky enough to get one of the first hands-on demos of the new version of the Myo, which is set to begin to start shipping to developers shortly, and to pre-order customers this fall. Thalmic CEO and co-founder Stephen Lake also takes us through the process of building a hardware startup, and shipping that startup’s crucial first product. The hardware design is final, and though there are a few bugs still be worked out (you can see a couple in the video above), the Myo is just about ready for prime time.
Research on human social interactions has traditionally relied on self-reports. Despite their widespread use, self-reported accounts of behaviour are prone to biases and necessarily reduce the range of behaviours, and the number of subjects, that may be studied simultaneously. The development of ever smaller sensors makes it possible to study group-level human behaviour in naturalistic settings outside research laboratories. We used such sensors, sociometers, to examine gender, talkativeness and interaction style in two different contexts. Here, we find that in the collaborative context, women were much more likely to be physically proximate to other women and were also significantly more talkative than men, especially in small groups. In contrast, there were no gender-based differences in the non-collaborative setting. Our results highlight the importance of objective measurement in the study of human behaviour, here enabling us to discern context specific, gender-based differences in interaction style.
Network methods have had profound influence in many domains and disciplines in the past decade. Community structure is a very important property of complex networks, but the accurate definition of a community remains an open problem. Here we defined community based on three properties, and then propose a simple and novel framework to detect communities based on network topology. We analyzed 16 different types of networks, and compared our partitions with Infomap, LPA, Fastgreedy and Walktrap, which are popular algorithms for community detection. Most of the partitions generated using our approach compare favorably to those generated by these other algorithms. Furthermore, we define overlapping nodes that combine community structure with shortest paths. We also analyzed the E. Coli. transcriptional regulatory network in detail, and identified modules with strong functional coherence.
Honeybees are some of nature’s finest mathematicians. Not only can they calculate angles and comprehend the roundness of the earth, these smart insects build and live in one of the most mathematically efficient architectural designs around: the beehive. Zack Patterson and Andy Peterson delve into the very smart geometry behind the honeybee’s home.
Economic models of animal behaviour assume that decision-makers are rational, meaning that they assess options according to intrinsic fitness value and not by comparison with available alternatives. This expectation is frequently violated, but the significance of irrational behaviour remains controversial. One possibility is that irrationality arises from cognitive constraints that necessitate short cuts like comparative evaluation. If so, the study of whether and when irrationality occurs can illuminate cognitive mechanisms. We applied this logic in a novel setting: the collective decisions of insect societies. We tested for irrationality in colonies of Temnothorax ants choosing between two nest sites that varied in multiple attributes, such that neither site was clearly superior. In similar situations, individual animals show irrational changes in preference when a third relatively unattractive option is introduced. In contrast, we found no such effect in colonies. We suggest that immunity to irrationality in this case may result from the ants’ decentralized decision mechanism. A colony's choice does not depend on site comparison by individuals, but instead self-organizes from the interactions of multiple ants, most of which are aware of only a single site. This strategy may filter out comparative effects, preventing systematic errors that would otherwise arise from the cognitive limitations of individuals.
The spontaneous mimicry of others' emotional facial expressions constitutes a rudimentary form of empathy and facilitates social understanding. Here, we show that human participants spontaneously match facial expressions of an android physically present in the room with them. This mimicry occurs even though these participants find the android unsettling and are fully aware that it lacks intentionality. Interestingly, a video of that same android elicits weaker mimicry reactions, occurring only in participants who find the android “humanlike.” These findings suggest that spontaneous mimicry depends on the salience of humanlike features highlighted by face-to-face contact, emphasizing the role of presence in human-robot interaction. Further, the findings suggest that mimicry of androids can dissociate from knowledge of artificiality and experienced emotional unease. These findings have implications for theoretical debates about the mechanisms of imitation. They also inform creation of future robots that effectively build rapport and engagement with their human users.
Statisticians have celebrated a lot recently. 2013 marked the 300th anniversary of Jacob Bernoulli's Ars Conjectandi, which used probability theory to explore the properties of statistics as more observations were taken. It was also the 250th anniversary of Thomas Bayes' essay on how humans can sequentially learn from experience, steadily updating their beliefs as more data become available (1). And it was the International Year of Statistics (2). Now that the bunting has been taken down, it is a good time to take stock of recent developments in statistical science and examine its role in the age of Big Data. Much enthusiasm for statistics hangs on the ever-increasing availability of large data sets, particularly when something has to be ranked or classified. These situations arise, for example, when deciding which book to recommend, working out where your arm is when practicing golf swings in front of a games console, or (if you're a security agency) deciding whose private e-mail to read first. Purely data-based approaches, under the title of machine-learning, have been highly successful in speech recognition, real-time interpretation of moving images, and online translation.
The future lies in uncertainty . D. J. Spiegelhalter
Online consumer behavior in general and online customer engagement with brands in particular, has become a major focus of research activity fuelled by the exponential increase of interactive functions of the internet and social media platforms and applications. Current research in this area is mostly hypothesis-driven and much debate about the concept of Customer Engagement and its related constructs remains existent in the literature. In this paper, we aim to propose a novel methodology for reverse engineering a consumer behavior model for online customer engagement, based on a computational and data-driven perspective. This methodology could be generalized and prove useful for future research in the fields of consumer behaviors using questionnaire data or studies investigating other types of human behaviors. The method we propose contains five main stages; symbolic regression analysis, graph building, community detection, evaluation of results and finally, investigation of directed cycles and common feedback loops. The ‘communities’ of questionnaire items that emerge from our community detection method form possible ‘functional constructs’ inferred from data rather than assumed from literature and theory. Our results show consistent partitioning of questionnaire items into such ‘functional constructs’ suggesting the method proposed here could be adopted as a new data-driven way of human behavior modeling.
Cooperating animals frequently show closely coordinated behaviours organized by a continuous flow of information between interacting partners. Such real-time coaction is not captured by the iterated prisoner׳s dilemma and other discrete-time reciprocal cooperation games, which inherently feature a delay in information exchange. Here, we study the evolution of cooperation when individuals can dynamically respond to each other׳s actions.
Neuronal activity in cortex is variable both spontaneously and during stimulation, and it has the remarkable property that it is Poisson-like over broad ranges of firing rates covering from virtually zero to hundreds of spikes per second. The mechanisms underlying cortical-like spiking variability over such a broad continuum of rates are currently unknown. We show that neuronal networks endowed with probabilistic synaptic transmission, a well-documented source of variability in cortex, robustly generate Poisson-like variability over several orders of magnitude in their firing rate without fine-tuning of the network parameters. Other sources of variability, such as random synaptic delays or spike generation jittering, do not lead to Poisson-like variability at high rates because they cannot be sufficiently amplified by recurrent neuronal networks. We also show that probabilistic synapses predict Fano factor constancy of synaptic conductances. Our results suggest that synaptic noise is a robust and sufficient mechanism for the type of variability found in cortex.
Since the success of social media in private usage settings, social media applications spread rapidly in the working context. In business internal contexts these applications seem useful as a measure for strategic knowledge management. Social media in this context promises to offer adequate facilities to support a systematic storage of knowledge as well as a support of knowledge exchange and communication in enterprises. But since social media is only successful when used, the usage motivation of employees is one central key for their success. Therefore this paper focusses on the motivation to use social media professionally. To achieve this we are investigating the influence of user diversity factors such as age, gender, and social media expertise on aspects of usage motivation. In a study with N=84 the employees of an enterprise were asked which reasons for using social media are relevant to them. Findings show that both factors age and gender reveal a relatively low influence on the factors evaluation of usage motives, tools (as a measure for motivation), and incentives/reinforcements for social network usage. In contrast both expertise with social media and achievement motivation revealed many correlations with both usage motives and tools as well as incentives and reinforcements.
In mammals, the developmental path that links the primary behaviours observed during foetal stages to the full fledged behaviours observed in adults is still beyond our understanding. Often theories of motor control try to deal with the process of incremental learning in an abstract and modular way without establishing any correspondence with the mammalian developmental stages. In this paper, we propose a computational model that links three distinct behaviours which appear at three different stages of development. In order of appearance, these behaviours are: spontaneous motor activity (SMA), reflexes, and coordinated behaviours, such as locomotion. The goal of our model is to address in silico four hypotheses that are currently hard to verify in vivo: First, the hypothesis that spinal reflex circuits can be self-organized from the sensor and motor activity induced by SMA. Second, the hypothesis that supraspinal systems can modulate reflex circuits to achieve coordinated behaviour. Third, the hypothesis that, since SMA is observed in an organism throughout its entire lifetime, it provides a mechanism suitable to maintain the reflex circuits aligned with the musculoskeletal system, and thus adapt to changes in body morphology. And fourth, the hypothesis that by changing the modulation of the reflex circuits over time, one can switch between different coordinated behaviours. Our model is tested in a simulated musculoskeletal leg actuated by six muscles arranged in a number of different ways. Hopping is used as a case study of coordinated behaviour. Our results show that reflex circuits can be self-organized from SMA, and that, once these circuits are in place, they can be modulated to achieve coordinated behaviour. In addition, our results show that our model can naturally adapt to different morphological changes and perform behavioural transitions.
Do we have the Internet we deserve? There’s an argument to say that yes, we absolutely do. Given web users’ general reluctance to pay for content. We are of course, paying. Just not with cold hard cash, but with our privacy — as digital business models rely on gathering and selling intel on their users to make the money to pay (the investors who paid) for the free service.
Users are also increasingly paying with time and attention, as more ad content — and more adverts masquerading as, infiltrating and degrading content — thrusts its way in front of our eyeballs in ever more insidious ways. Whether it’s repurposing our friends’ photos and endorsements to socially engineer selling us stuff, or resorting to other background tracking and targeting tricks to divert our attention from whatever it was we were actually trying to do online.
The commercialization of the web is the ugly reality of the hidden cost of all the datacenters and servers required to power the Internet. And that commercialization is compounded by the power of the big digital platforms that dominate the web we have today: Google, Facebook, Amazon. Increasingly we’re forced to play by their rules if we want to participate in the digital space where most of our friends are.
Understanding why spectra that are physically the same appear different in different contexts (color contrast), whereas spectra that are physically different appear similar (color constancy) presents a major challenge in vision research. Here, we show that the responses of biologically inspired neural networks evolved on the basis of accumulated experience with spectral stimuli automatically generate contrast and constancy. The results imply that these phenomena are signatures of a strategy that biological vision uses to circumvent the inverse optics problem as it pertains to light spectra, and that double-opponent neurons in early-level vision evolve to serve this purpose. This strategy provides a way of understanding the peculiar relationship between the objective world and subjective color experience, as well as rationalizing the relevant visual circuitry without invoking feature detection or image representation.
Societies are built on social interactions among individuals. Cooperation represents the simplest form of a social interaction: one individual provides a benefit to another one at a cost to itself. Social networks represent a dynamical abstraction of social interactions in a society. The behaviour of an individual towards others and of others towards the individual shape the individual's neighbourhood and hence the local structure of the social network. Here we propose a simple theoretical framework to model dynamic social networks by focussing on each individual's actions instead of interactions between individuals. This eliminates the traditional dichotomy between the strategy of individuals and the structure of the population and easily complements empirical studies. As a consequence, altruists, egoists and fair types are naturally determined by the local social structures, while globally egalitarian networks or stratified structures arise. Cooperative interactions drive the emergence and shape the structure of social networks.
Without sensory feedback, flies cannot fly. Exactly how various feedback controls work in insects is a complex puzzle to solve. What do insects measure to stabilize their flight? How often and how fast must insects adjust their wings to remain stable? To gain insights into algorithms used by insects to control their dynamic instability, we develop a simulation tool to study free flight. To stabilize flight, we construct a control algorithm that modulates wing motion based on discrete measurements of the body-pitch orientation. Our simulations give theoretical bounds on both the sensing rate and the delay time between sensing and actuation. Interpreting our findings together with experimental results on fruit flies’ reaction time and sensory motor reflexes, we conjecture that fruit flies sense their kinematic states every wing beat to stabilize their flight. We further propose a candidate for such a control involving the fly’s haltere and first basalar motor neuron. Although we focus on fruit flies as a case study, the framework for our simulation and discrete control algorithms is applicable to studies of both natural and man-made fliers.
In a wide range of contexts, including predator avoidance, medical decision-making and security screening, decision accuracy is fundamentally constrained by the trade-off between true and false positives. Increased true positives are possible only at the cost of increased false positives; conversely, decreased false positives are associated with decreased true positives. We use an integrated theoretical and experimental approach to show that a group of decision-makers can overcome this basic limitation. Using a mathematical model, we show that a simple quorum decision rule enables individuals in groups to simultaneously increase true positives and decrease false positives. The results from a predator-detection experiment that we performed with humans are in line with these predictions: (i) after observing the choices of the other group members, individuals both increase true positives and decrease false positives, (ii) this effect gets stronger as group size increases, (iii) individuals use a quorum threshold set between the average true- and false-positive rates of the other group members, and (iv) individuals adjust their quorum adaptively to the performance of the group. Our results have broad implications for our understanding of the ecology and evolution of group-living animals and lend themselves for applications in the human domain such as the design of improved screening methods in medical, forensic, security and business applications.
It has been suggested that numerosity is an elementary quality of perception, similar to colour. If so (and despite considerable investigation), its mechanism remains unknown. Here, we show that observers require on average a massive difference of approximately 40% to detect a change in the number of objects that vary irrelevantly in blur, contrast and spatial separation, and that some naive observers require even more than this. We suggest that relative numerosity is a type of texture discrimination and that a simple model computing the contrast energy at fine spatial scales in the image can perform at least as well as human observers. Like some human observers, this mechanism finds it harder to discriminate relative numerosity in two patterns with different degrees of blur, but it still outpaces the human. We propose energy discrimination as a benchmark model against which more complex models and new data can be tested.
Several studies have indicated that between-group competition is a key stimulator of trust and trustworthiness. Another important but neglected type of competition may also affect trust and trustworthiness: within-group competition, especially competition among acquaintances. The present study investigated the effects of both within- and between-group competition on trust and trustworthiness, which were measured using an investment game played by acquaintances. We found that, compared to the participants' performance in the non-competition condition, when individuals were motivated to compete with their in-group members or the other groups for financial rewards, they demonstrated more trust. When individuals were motivated to compete with their in-group members, they exhibited lower trustworthiness than in non-competition and between-group competition. In addition, within-group competition decreased the trustor's payoff while both within- and between- group competition increased the trustee's payoff. Finally, we found that males trusted their group members more than females.
Inspired by biological design and self-organizing systems, artist Heather Barnett co-creates with physarum polycephalum, a eukaryotic microorganism that lives in cool, moist areas. What can people learn from the semi-intelligent slime mold? Watch this talk to find out.
Collective decisions in animal groups emerge from the actions of individuals who are unlikely to have global information. Comparative assessment of options can be valuable in decision-making. Ant colonies are excellent collective decision-makers, for example when selecting a new nest-site.
The popularity of mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, provides both new opportunities and challenges for companies. Mobile devices allow companies to reach users anywhere, anytime; however, these devices present the challenge of designing websites that can adapt to smaller screen sizes. Because competition is shifting more and more toward user experience, creating a positive mobile experience is becoming increasingly important in maintaining a competitive edge in the market place. To address this issue, we measured the user experience of an actual e-commerce website before and after it was optimized for mobile devices and used Google Analytics to follow user behavior. The results suggested that optimized websites are likely to have a major positive impact on the ROI for a company.