Artificial Intelligence

The idea of artificial intelligence has been the fascination of science fiction since its inception. While science fiction’s depiction of artificial intelligence is often insidious, it brings with it the promise of technologies that are more effective and more efficient. What was once fiction may be reality thanks to a group of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Although countless technologies have attempted to emulate the computing power of the human brain, few have come as close as the diffusive memristor. In essence, they succeeded in the production of a man-made neuron that has the unique ability to mimic the connections present in the human brain.

This new technology has the potential to create a new class of neuromorphic computers that bring with them the promise of energy efficiency and an increased capacity for learning. Previous efforts to duplicate the phenomenon of biological synapses have had limited success. The secret of this new class of artificial neurons lies in their ability to imitate the “synaptic Ca2+ dynamics that occur in biological systems” (Wang et al. 2016). The ability of memristors to incorporate these types of Ca2+ dynamics gives rise to both long- and short-term plasticity. Synaptic plasticity, the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time in response to their level of activity, has been linked to postsynaptic calcium release. Rather than using calcium, memristors make use of silver nanoclusters.

The basis on which the device functions can best be understood by investigating its structure. The diffusive memristor consists of two platinum or gold electrodes that sandwich a film with embedded silver nanoclusters. When a current passes from one electrode to the other, the silver nanoparticles begin bridging the gap between the electrodes. This results in a conductive channel that dramatically increases conductivity, and thus the speed of signal transmission. This conductive channel is only maintained in the presence of an electric current. Once the current stops running through the system, the silver particles relax back to their ground state and the conductive channel is broken.

Now we can observe how this tendency of the memristors can give rise to plasticity. If the time between pulses is shorter than the time it takes for the silver particles to relax, more particles are pushed into the gap. Over time, this can result in the formation of a fully conductive bridge. The researchers that observed this phenomenon called it “paired-pulse facilitation, or PPF” (Wang et al. 2016). PPF is similar to the way in which neurons increase the fidelity and strength of the signals they transmit in short-term plasticity. On the other hand, if a pulse excites the silver particles for too long, they being to migrate to one electrode. This decreases the number of silver nanoparticles in the gap between the two electrodes, and results in slower signal transmission. This phenomenon was deemed “paired-pulse depression, or PPD” (Wang et al. 2016). PPD is analogous to the refractory period that occurs after exciting a neuron.

Finally, when diffusive memristors were assembled into simple networks they gave rise to spike-timing-dependent plasticity. In other words, memristors that fired together reinforced each other by increasing the speed and strength at which a signal traveled through that frequently-used network. Networks of memristors that were not used as often had weaker signal transmission that those that were used frequently. This phenomenon arises without the need for complex pulse engineering and can lead to long-term plasticity. The remarkable promise that this technology shows in these early stages lends itself to the usefulness of its possible applications.

Summarizing a research article in a way that can be understood by a larger audience is a task I severely underestimated. Primary literature often has a narrow audience of highly trained experts and students, due to its reliance on jargon. For this reason, I had to carefully comb through the article and decide what I wanted to include in my summary. Often, I found myself having to look up words and concepts so I could better explain these crucial elements in my summary. It was a challenge to find a balance between including critical parts of the study and excluding nonessential, convoluted details.

I based what I included in my article in part on what the news article included from the study. While the news article did an adequate job summarizing the important findings of the study, it lacked essential background knowledge and the mechanism behind memristor plasticity. When I first read the article, I had to look up several key terms, like plasticity and spike-timing-dependent plasticity. This could be because the article is intended for an audience that has a scientific background however, it still detracted from the flow of the article. This problem could easily be solved by including short definitions of key terms. This is why I chose to include definitions of words that a general audience may not know in my summary. Furthermore, the article lacked an explanation for the mechanism behind memristor plasticity. While this may be a personal preference, I found the mechanism behind the machinery to be an important discovery that was easy to simplify.

Putting myself in the shoes of a journalist has developed my respect for the unique challenges they face. Their task is to provide an accurate summary of the material in a study while capturing the attention of a large audience. Understanding a research article thoroughly enough to decided what should be summarized and what should be excluded requires a great deal of experience and intuition.

 

References

Wang Z., Joshi S., Savel’ev S. E., Jiang H., Midya R., Lin P., Hu M., Ge N., Strachan J. P., Li Z., Wu Q., Barnell M., Li G. L., Xin H. L., Williams R. S., Xia O., Yang J. J. (2016 March 23). Nature Materials, 16, 101-108. Retrieved Mary 10, 2017.

News article- https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-artificial-synapse-gets-closer-to-mimicking-brain-connections/

The research article had no link to it since it was sent to me in the form of screenshots.


Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs when performing an action that contradicts one of those beliefs. One of my most notable experiences with cognitive dissonance came in high school. I decided to take AP English to challenge myself, since English already wasn’t my favorite subject. I struggled with the class the entire year, and nothing seemed to improve my performance. Eventually I lost interest in the class, and justified losing interest by convincing myself that English is a useless subject. While this assertion is narrow-minded and ignorant, it did help me cope with the fact that I was performing poorly in a class. I believe cognitive dissonance serves as a defense/coping mechanism when we are faced with a compromising situation. As we discussed in class, coping mechanisms aim to reduce stress through any means possible. While cognitive dissonance may not be the most beneficial coping mechanism, it does serve a purpose without doing substantial damage. Additionally, I discussed how important perspective can be on a stressful situation in my last post. If cognitive dissonance changes one’s perspective for the better and alleviates stress, then by all means engage in it.


Managing Stress

In Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk, she discusses how a change in your perception of stress can change its physiology. It is no mystery that prolonged stress is detrimental to your health, but thinking about stress as a way that your body energizes itself could completely negate the negative effects of stress. I wanted to believe these claims however the more I watched the TED talk the less I believed in the speaker’s claim.

At first I found the speaker credible because she shared that she’s a health psychologist, but that trust was broken as she continued to talk. The studies she presented to back up her claim had little weight behind them. She discussed the death rates of people that viewed stress as a negative influence in their life, but failed to discuss why these people died. Were their deaths stressed related? There is correlation but no causation. Maybe changing your perspective on stress can ease some of your stress, but the underlying reason for that stress will still negatively impact your health. In the end, stress is a mechanism to prepare you to perform; it wears on your body over time. I believe in moderation; some stress is necessary to meet goals that you set for yourself. Reducing stress should still be a goal for those that have a lot of stress in their life, but I do agree that changing your outlook on a situation can be powerful. It can incite you to finish your work so you spend less time stressing over it. In the future, I’ll try changing my outlook on stress but I’ll also focus more on preventing excess stress in the first place.


Predicting Personality

I took the Humanmetrics Jung Typology Test, IPIP-NEO, Big Five Personality Test, and the Color Test to assess how closely each test would match my perceived personality. Accoding to the Humanmetrics and IPIP-NEO tests, I ranked as an ENFJ. Those with this personality type tend to be leaders in groups, rather than followers. They see themselves as helpers and enablers most of the time. I had many of the traits that these personality tests predicted I would have. I dedicate some of my time to serving the community through APO and I enjoy helping others by being a TA/peer tutor. Both of these tests seem to be accurate predictors of personality, as shown by my example. The questions on the test were relevant to personality, unlike the color test. Additionally, the tests gave a statistical analysis of how common one’s personality is, which lent to its credibility.

The Big Five Personality Test ranked me in the 88th percentile for extroversion, 74th percentile for emotional stability, 62nd percentile for agreeableness, 72nd percentile for conscientiousness, and in the 76th percentile for intellect. Overall, I would agree that this test is representative of my personality. The healthy relationship I have with myself fosters things like emotional stability and extroversion. While I don’t think I’d personally rank myself in the 88th percentile for extroversion, I would agree that it is higher than the average person’s. I value time by myself after being around a lot of people for a long time. Then again, I don’t think anyone can be around large groups of people for extended periods of time. I found a lot of the credibility of the test came from the fact that it used statistical analyses to estimate one’s personality, and did so accurately.

The last personality test I took was the color test, which did not seem to be a credible test. It determined one’s personality by asking them the way they felt about colors. There is very little, if any, correlation between personality and the way one feels about a color. I agreed with the results of the test because they used blankets statements that a majority of people would agree with, like horoscopes do. For example, the test said things like “I desire to live in a calm, peaceful, relaxing environment, where everyone gets along and there is a strong sense of belonging”. I don’t think I know anyone that aspires to live in a stressful, chaotic, exhausting environment where discrimination provokes constant fights.


Addiction

Drug addiction is a problem that requires a holistic approach. It has been proven time and time again that addiction is unpredictable, and the initial motivation for an addict to seek treatment is not an indicator of how successful their treatment will be. The two main schools of thought behind treating addiction are the abstinence model and the harm-reduction model.

The abstinence model is the “classic” model of addiction treatment e.g. alcoholics anonymous. The idea behind this model is that the chemical/mental dependency that leads to addiction is so great that even a single indulgence can lead to relapse. Behavioral Health compared and contrasted the benefits and drawbacks of both models. It should be noted that the statistics for many addiction programs are flawed due to the nature of the issue. They largely rely on self-reporting, which can easily be influenced by the sense of shame associated with substance abuse. Abstinence-only models report that only 7% of addicts were able to remain sober for at least 90 days over a three-year period (Henwood et al. 2013). Addicts that have been sober for a year or less have an 80% chance of relapsing; that number drops to 34% for those have been sober for three years (Horton). Addicts that have been sober for five years or more have a 14% chance of relapse (Horton). Although these numbers may seem encouraging, many are unhappy with the way in which abstinence programs operate. Many users abandon this type of treatment because they don’t want to completely stop using (Tennison 2010). Even worse, these programs tend to demonize those that relapse, rather than realizing that relapse is an unavoidable outcome for many users (Stoicesu).

The harm reduction model is a treatment philosophy that was popularized by Audrey Kishline. An addict herself, Kishline opposed the ideas of the abstinence model. This model aims to gradually reduce the frequency of use while accepting that relapse may be an unavoidable setback in the battle against addiction (Tennison 2010). Although moderation may sound like an attainable goal, it may be too much of a temptation for some (Horton). Many addicts use moderation as an excuse to relapse (Henwood et al. 2013). Encouraging someone to moderate themselves enables that person to continue a risky behavior. In addition to this, the harm reduction model is insufficient when dealing with “hard drugs”, like heroin or cocaine. These drugs are so detrimental to one’s health and general well being that there is no acceptable amount (Horton). In addition to all of these factors, many of the statistics proving the effectiveness of the harm reduction model are controversial. Due to its arbitrary nature, operationalizing moderation is difficult. What can be said is that around 30% of patients enrolled in a harm reduction course move onto abstinence-only programs (Stoicescu).

Based on the physiology of addiction I believe that the abstinence model should be the golden standard for addiction treatment. Often times moderation can have a snowball effect and quickly escalate into a full-blown relapse. Also, there is evidence that drug addicts are hard wired to respond better to drugs i.e. their reward pathway is more sensitive to the effects of drugs, resulting in poor impulse control (Henwood et al. 2013).

The internet articles I chose to use were found from pages that were specifically related to mental health. Behavioral health had been featured on A&E and CNN, two news outlets that strive to report the most accurate information they can. Harm Reduction International is an institution that works globally to educate people about how the harm reduction model operates. Much of their information comes from top researchers. The other two sources were primary literature articles that presented sound findings.

References

Tennison, L. R. (2010). Abstinence-Based Treatment. Addiction and Substance Abuse, 3-5. Retrieved April 2, 2017.

Horton, G. (n.d.). The Efficacy of Abstinence Treatment vs. Harm Reduction. Retrieved April 02, 2017, from https://www.bhpalmbeach.com/recovery-articles/efficacy-abstinence-treatment-vs-harm-reduction

Stoicescu, C. (n.d.). What is harm reduction? Retrieved April 02, 2017, from https://www.hri.global/what-is-harm-reduction

Henwood, B. F., Padgett, D. K., & Tiderington, E. (2013). Provider Views of Harm Reduction Versus Abstinence Policies Within Homeless Services for Dually Diagnosed Adults. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 41(1), 80-89. doi:10.1007/s11414-013-9318-2


Conditioning Performance

In Jane Elliot’s classic brown eyes/blue eyes experiment, a third grade teacher convinced her class that people with blue eyes were superior to people with brown eyes. Soon enough, the children began teasing each other, and the children that were deemed superior discriminated against the children that were deemed inferior. After enough time had passed, the children’s test scores reflected what group they were placed in. The “inferior” children scored lower than the “superior” children. One can quickly see how this experiment ties into issues, like socioeconomic status.

The stereotype threat is the idea that the pressure negative stereotypes place on individuals is so great that it adversely affects their performance. The main fear is that one will fulfill, or be reduced to, a negative stereotype. This relates back to Jane Elliot’s idea of “if you are told you will perform poorly, you will believe in that statement and perform poorly”. This can even apply to good stereotypes too. Many times Asian Americans are expected to be gifted in STEM fields and classically trained in piano. Their hard work to attain a high level of achievement in these fields is often overlooked. These achievements are often attributed to their race, rather than their work ethic or goal-oriented mindset.

Finally, the Pygmalion effect describes a predictable pattern: students that are told by teachers that they will perform well often times do. Teachers allocate more time and energy to the students they feel are the most deserving of it. This can cause other students to feel as if they are of less value, ultimately hurting their performance.

I thought the videos all displayed the same general idea: your performance can be controlled by the expectations of others. Although we can teach students to talk kindly to one another, and we can educate teachers to not discriminate, we are only ignoring the root cause of the problem. We need to acknowledge that differences naturally exist between individuals, and many of them are arbitrary; they are not an indication of character or intelligence. Although I believe in this cause, there are few times where the Pygmalion effect and historical discrimination have negatively impacted how others have perceived me. As I’m sure with many other people at Austin College, I was told I was going to college from an early age. The idea of not going to college never crossed my mind. I had teachers and family members cheer me on as I worked to fulfill their expectations of me. I couldn’t imagine getting to where I am today without the help of a lot of people. It can be exhausting to be the only one that believes in yourself, which is why many people tire out and quit. Within the last century, America has made incredible amounts of progress, as far as tolerance of other people is concerned. No where else in the world can we find so many different people getting along so well. Change came quickly at first, but now it seems to be plateauing. We have to constantly feed the fire of change or else it dies out. We can’t become complacent with the progress we’ve made so far.


Violence in Video Games

While I don’t think that violent video games are solely responsible for violent behavior in children, they do play a role in desensitizing children to violence. As with many things, if a child is exposed to a stimulus repeatedly they’ll slowly begin to ignore that stimulus. In the cause of violence, this can lead children to believe that violence is acceptable in situations where it isn’t called for, and can cause them to underestimate the impacts of violence. Video games, as a whole, can positively impact children via socialization, problem solving, abstract thinking, etc. Due to this, I don’t believe that they should be permanently banned. I believe it is up to the parents of the child to gauge how well their children can tolerate the negative effects of video games. Many psychological issues lead to overly-violent tendencies. Video games exaggerate these underlying problems, not cause them.


Study Habits

Although my current study habits are well developed, there’s always room for improvement. I have a tendency to wait until the last minute to do things, which is something I would like to change. This is especially problematic before tests because it doesn’t give me a chance to learn the material. For my first exam I ready the book consistently but didn’t actually sit down to study the material until the night before. I mainly studied by reading through my notes. I did make a quizlet for Piaget’s stages of development. The quizlet helped me sequentially organize the material in my head and helped me recall it quickly.

Before my second exam, I’d like to begin studying at least a week in advance. This gives me an opportunity to clarify any ideas that might still be hazy. In addition to this, I believe the more I look at the material the better I’ll remember it. I believe this relates to plasticity, or the ability of the brain to create new synaptic connections. The more you look at the material, the stronger the neural networks involved in learning that material become. Conversely, the less frequently you look at the material the weaker the neural networks involved in recalling that material become. This is process is known as pruning, and it allows for the removal of “clutter” from the brain.


Inside the Mind of a Killer

USA - Crime - O.J. Simpson Trial - Armed Robbery and Kidnapping

I chose to watch Jim Fallon’s TED talk about investigating the minds of killers. My own morbid curiosity is what attracted me to this talk. In addition to this, the connection between abnormal behaviors and irregularities in the brain is also something that interests me.

Jim Fallon, a neuroscientist, gave a summary of his research on psychopathic killers. He examined the combination of genes, environment, and brain damage that give rise to psychopathic killers. The main culprit appeared to be damage to the orbital cortex and the anterior part of the temporal lobe. He also identified an X-linked “violence” gene called MAOA. In utero, the MAOA gene causes the brain to be bathed in serotonin. Later in life, this confers a decreased sensitivity of the brain to serotonin. Although having the MAOA gene produces violent tendencies, it alone cannot create a psychopathic killer. Serial killers often have both the MAOA gene and are exposed to violence in early development.

I found the speaker and his findings to be very credible. The jargon that he used to describe his research demonstrated that he had experience in the field of psychology. He discussed factors that shape development (environment, genes, and trauma) that we recently learned about. The mechanism by which the MAOA gene increases somebody’s violent tendencies is also sound. Your brain’s tolerance to a neurotransmitter directly correlates with how often you expose your brain to it. He also mentioned that the study he conducted was double-bind. In this type of experiment, neither the researcher nor the participants knew what group, experimental or control, the participants are in.

In the future, I would like to see if the MAOA gene can be linked to other psychological disorders, since serotonin deficiency is linked to so many other problems. I would use case studies to track the development of individuals with the MAOA gene over the course of their lives. By doing this, I could examine traits that can be attributed to genetics as well as traits that can be attributed one’s environment.


Parenting Styles

Although I believe there isn’t a single, “ideal” way for one to raise their children, there are several overarching themes that should be present in their parenting style. These themes include: unconditional love, discipline, and dependability.

It should go without saying that one should have unconditional love for their children. Since parents are the first support system that a child has, they should enthusiastically embrace what their child is passionate about. This means not forcing their aspirations on their child so they can discover their own meaning in life. They should also be sure to not love their children in spite of their flaws, but because of them. Parents should teach their children that it’s expected to have flaws and they’re a part of what makes us unique. Showing a child unconditional love early on helps them mirror the values of acceptance and fosters their sense of self-worth. They can now go on to build healthy relationships, founded on trust and acceptance, with people other than their parents.

Unconditional love goes a long way when raising a child, however, it should not be synonymous with negligence to glaring problems. Parents should always advocate for their child’s happiness within healthy/moral limits. They should be quick to steer their child away from habits and behaviors that cannot impact their lives in any meaningful way e.g. drug use. Discipline is often the hardest concept for parents to grasp since it can put a temporary strain on their relationship with their child. It is, however, critical to healthy development. With so many options in the world, discipline helps guide a child to a correct decision and, maybe one day, helps them make their own sound decisions. Discipline also teaches a child that they’re not entitled to everything just because they want something-which is a very important concept in the adult world.

Finally, dependability is a trait parents must show towards their children. As I stated earlier, parents are the first support system someone has. Due to this, children place all of their trust into their parents during early development. If a parent is undependable, a child feels as though they are not worth someone’s time and may begin to feel as if they are unwanted. Children must be shown this type of support so they know there are people in the world that will treat them how they deserve to be treated.