Unit 2 – Future of the Mind – Grid cell context/research

My research into AI and artificial minds took me into the latest developments of DeepMind, the research arm of Google. I was intrigued to learn in this article that the increasing sophistication of AI is in turn advancing our understanding of the human brain – specifically here in relation to how we navigate space. It particularly fascinated me this notion of there being cells specialised to certain sensations (a bit like the individual conscious agents that Hoffman mentioned in the interview I posted – the specialised cells all contributing to one seamless conscious experience of space) – one type acting as a ‘you are here’, one for the direction of your head, and another forming a grid for relative position/spacing.

This regular pattern of grid cells was especially intriguing for me – here it referenced a hexagon, though it could also be considered a tesselated pattern of triangles. It has previously been proven in rat brains, and only in the past few years have we seen early proofs it could too be present in humans.

I love this notion of a secret/hidden mental map that is created to help us navigate the world, that is underlying our visual interpretation of the world. I wondered too if there could be a future in which we could ‘hack’ this secret mental mapping system, to make familiar spaces that we are new to, or allow you to immediately understand the best route through a maze, for instance. Use of this regularised grid could help you to better predict or adjust to new situations, which of course the Future is the ultimate one.

This strikes me as similar to the dots used in motion capture technology – to help digital imaging ‘navigate’ an actor’s body/face in order to best map it to a 3D computer generated image.

That this should be in a hexagonal grid was also very intriguing for me. Instinctively, I imagine organic forms and shapes to be irregular, curved, amorphous, but hexagons are geometric, regular, straight edged. That said it is a form we do see in nature, for instance in honeycomb structure, or the basalt columns visible in places such as a the Giants Causeway. It is described as being the most ‘efficient’ shape, and hence why the cooling rock forms in this way. It is also described as the strongest shape – hence it’s use in the structure of the strongest known material, graphene.

Giants Causeway basalt columns

It was thus especially eery to come across this display in the Whitworth, just a day after reading of grid cells.

I was interested too to see what these grid cells might look like in reality. Unfortunately it does not seem there are specific electron microscope images of these in existence, so I instead looked to images of generic neurons.

These images, magnifying the molecular to amazing detail, show an intriguing textural quality, and complex intricacy of connection
I experimented recreating this texture using gummed tape and tissue paper, along with ink and paint. I could not quite achieve the level of intricacy I might have liked but it was an intriguing effect. I particularly liked using the gummed tape to make the 2D surface more structural
With another, less magnified image (the original here on the right), I found hexagonal areas within it and cut or drew over to indicate these, before overlaying it with a regularised pattern on tracing paper. I particularly like the effect this produced, the juxtaposition of the geometric and irregular, organic and structured.

Personal Cartography: Peer Critique

My initial thoughts on receiving the brief were to use data to map the desire lines on campus, or to map my interactions with the geography of Oxford Brookes in my first week, as a record of spatial navigation.

I liked these ideas as a way of joining up a map of the space itself with human intentions and behaviour, and how the two inform each other. So how our behaviours shape the spaces around us (e.g. the paths created across green spaces where people walking through have worn away the grass) and how the spaces themselves impact our behaviour (e.g. the positioning of doors impacting the way we cross a large open space). However I felt this might be a more interesting investigation once there were more bodies to observe, and I had more time to do this observation (i.e. once term had gotten underway for the majority). I also did not feel it necessarily fit in with another element I was interested to explore – how I am discovering a new place and so in the process of creating my interactions.

I was therefore interested to see some peers producing maps that played on these themes, and to observe what did/didn’t work in their executions here.

A map showing the routes taken in 1st week on campus at Oxford Brookes: Unknown FAD student

The use of a birdseye view here (a convention in maps) serves to produce a highly simplified view of the campus lay out, with the mostly straight, angled buildings juxtaposing with the more fluid movement of the student. I like the use of stitched thread here as this implies for me that they are making their mark in this space and the movement across that space (i.e. one stitch at a time).

However, it seems as though the travel is only ever across the space, in and out. This implies that it is a transitory relationship at this time, which may or may not have been the intention. There is also only red and black thread used, and no key for what these might symbolise, nor labels for the buildings or indication of any activity that might have happened through the course of the day. The piece itself is decentralised on the page, and the paper is folded and scrumpled, suggesting that it is unfinished.

This map has similarly used thread to indicate routes across the map, though here the subject is broader than the campus alone. Similar to a bus route map, we here see different way points/landmarks along each route that might symbolise a place in which they stopped along the way, e.g. aldi being one that 3 routes convene on. There is also a paper cutout of ‘me’ that can be slide along the threads to indicate their progress through the map – an adjustable ‘You are Here’ marker, which is a clever device.

The map itself has been mounted on cardboard, to allow for the pins to be fixed in place, but has been cut to an unusual shape which defies the convention of maps as there is no clear geographic reason for the shape of this ‘island’ of sorts. Here too we do not have a key though the threads are in different colours, but there is description of the points marked out. X marks the spot though we know not to what (a convention from Treasure Island) – and this stands out as somewhat not in keeping with the rest of the map as a reference to something not otherwise explored.

I think what I might take from these works would be that a use of thread can help to delineate routes from the maps themselves, though colour keys would be useful. Also too that use of stitching might help to communicate speed/time passing which could be useful if cataloguing multiple agents across a space. Though I think care is needed to understand what is wanting to be communicated vs the level of detail and explanation required to effectively do so.