Neurosciencing a microprocessor

Now this is a topic that is rather fascinating to me: The scientists Eric Jonas and Konrad Paul Kording are applying the methods of neuroscience to a simulated microprocessor (a MOS-6502-Chip similar to the one used in the Commodore C64) in order to describe the observed behavior. Is it possible to get an idea of functionality? Apperantly, in 2002 there was a former study "Can a biologist fix a radio" (by Juri Lazebnik) with a very similar topic.

Here we will examine three different “behaviors”, that is, three different games: Donkey Kong (1981), Space Invaders (1978), and Pitfall (1981). Obviously these “behaviors” are qualitatively different from those of animals and may seem more complicated. However, even the simple behaviors that are studied in neuroscience still involve a plethora of components, typically including the allocation of attention, cognitive processing, and multiple modalities of inputs and outputs. As such, the breadth of ongoing computation in the processor may actually be simpler than those in the brain.

As it turns out in both cases: No, the methods of neuroscience/biology are not sufficient to understand or describe the behavior of the respective system. Does this mean anything? Yes and no. They are not designed to understand technology. Vice versa, an expert in reverse engineering probably would not understand a specified lifeform by the application of his methods aswell. But on the other hand the study reveals that we do not know for sure if the methods and the results they generate are useful for the purpose of understanding e.g. the brain. Do we have language centers in the brain or is this comparable to the misconception of space invaders centers in the micro processor?

Eric Jonas, Konrad Paul Kording: Could a Neuroscientist Understand a Microprocessor?

Golem: Könnten Hirnforscher einen C64 verstehen?


Image: Image of the circuit board of a Commodore 64 showing some important MOS Technology circuits: the 6510 CPU (long chip, lower left) and the 6581 SID (right). The production week/year (WWYY) of each chip is given below its name. Found on Wikipedia by Jef-Infojef

Did language evolve out of bird songs?

Birdsong lacks a lexical structure. Instead, birds sing learned melodies with what Berwick calls a “holistic” structure; the entire song has one meaning, whether about mating, territory or other things. The Bengalese finch, as the authors note, can loop back to parts of previous melodies, allowing for greater variation and communication of more things; a nightingale may be able to recite from 100 to 200 different melodies.

MIT News: How human language could have evolved from birdsong