Studying How a Ferret Sees Revealed a New Source of Brainpower

An artist’s sculpture of a neuron, in Michigan. An anaesthetized ferret watched a geometric image move across a computer screen. The shapes were designed to stimulate the parts of the ferret’s brain that decode lines, so that researchers could use a brand new technique to watch what its visual neurons responded to. What they found may indicate that we’ve underestimated the total computing power of carnivores’ brains. Or, at least, their observations might assist in refining the brain-mimicking software that Google used to win Go and IBM used to win Jeopardy. Specifically, the researchers looked at neurons known for helping carnivore’s understand edges. Determining edges allows our brains to separate objects cognitively, so a creature knows which part of a scene is just a tree and which part is a…


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