Desperately Seeking (the origin of) Intelligence

Dr. David Peak
Physics Department
Utah State University


The brain, our favorite example of organic intelligence, is too hard (for me) to study.  Like all lazy physicists, I look for something simpler.  In fact, what I really want to know is not how the brain works but rather, what are the minimal ingredients a biological or artificial system must have in order to be able to perform sophisticated tasks? 

 My talk will consist of three parts.  In the first, I will describe sophisticated task performance in (other people’s) experiments done with the amazing “many-headed slime mold,” Physarum polycephalum. 

 As P. polycephalum can be viewed as a network of elementary processing units lacking a central controller, I will give an extraordinarily brief overview of network science in the second part of the talk—focusing especially on how artificial cellular networks can compute through the emergent (i.e., without the help of a CPU) collective dynamics of their constituent processing units.

 Finally, I will describe the research my colleagues and I are conducting at USU on a much simpler organismal structure: stomatal networks on the surfaces of plants.  Our research suggests that emergent collective dynamics among stomata can produce sophisticated task performance similar to what is observed in artificial cellular networks.  I will discuss a few implications of “computation” in plants, and leave you with a spooky, yet to be tested, hypothesis, drawn from contemporary network science, regarding “landscape intelligence.”