Mice, Bugs, Tortoises and foxes

It sounds childish, too, to report that scientists have reproduced, aside from the big electronic computers, such delightful little creatures as moths, bugs, and mice.

The animals are not made of skin and bones, though, but of sheet metal and wire. In other words, they are not real mice, but only carry on like them.

The father of the science of electronic brains, an American, Norbert Wiener, was the man who founded the zoological department. In the 1940's he built the first artificial animaI. It was a hybrid, a reversible one. You could make it behave like a moth or a bug at will. This remarkabIe creature was a kind of little eIectronic vehicIe with a built-in motor and photo-sensitive cells. As a "moth," it wildIy went for every source of light.

Switched over to "bug," it ran as far as it could away from the light.

Now a Iittle machine that can do such tricks is of course no technicaI miracle. We are not suggesting that it is anything Iike an "electronic brain." But it was the first of these "imitation animaIs." Wiener made a beginning with his moth-bug and showed that it is possible to build apparatus that will react towards a particular situation like a light-hungry or light-shy animal. From this start there is a long road, but a straight one, to the great eIectronic computers which can respond to stimull like thinking hunans.

Other scientists took up Wiener's idea. Grey Walter, another American, invented in 1951 an artificial animal he called Cora. Cora, he announced, was a tortoise. Cora not only creeps towards Iamps; on the way she deft1y avoids such obstacles as the legs of people or chairs.

A Frenchman, A. Ducrocq, built in 1953 a very remarkabIe animal that rcacted to Iight, sound wavcs m1d touch-impressions. Ducrocq ca1led it a fox.

An Austrian, Heinz Zemanek, a notable personallty, also pinned his faith on tortoises. He built two of them that were obviously close relatives of Cora, though much brighter. In addition to having an urge towards light, they listen when you whistle to them! You can let them crawl towards the light a few times and whistle at the same time. Then you can switch off the light. They are now conditioned to obey a whistle and creep towards this acoustical signaI. These artificial tortoiscs can "learn" from experience. Zemanek's animals are, of course, fitted out with all-electronic brains. Otherwise they would not he capabIe of a learning process. The experiment can be repeated as often as you like. But press a switch, and the tortoises have forgotten all they ever learned and you havc to teach them all over again.

The redoubtabIe scientists of Vienna University, of whom Heinz Zemanek is one, have recently invented still another animal that can leam from experience: an artificial mouse. You put it down at the entrance to a maze. Perplexed yet untiring, the electronic animal seeks the right route to the way out. It dashes hither and thither and apparently has a great deal of trouble in finding its way. But it remembers exactly the path it has to follow, and if it is allowed to try again, it finds the exit by following the direct route without making a single mistake.

As you might suppose, these artificial animals are not made just for fun. It is hoped that they will turn out to be the bridges that join the worlds of humans and animals to the kingdom of the electronic computers. Even at this stage they have given the people who are at work on electronic brains - and the biologists as well - some new ideas.

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Kybernetik - Was ist das?

First printed in Germany: 1963

 

Cybernetic Computer and Electronic Brain


The fascinating story of how computers work in clear, non-mathematical language