Jan 09, 2021 I Paul Seaburn

Scientists Give Neural Networks AI Psychedelics – Did They Hallucinate Electric Sheep?

"Do androids dream? Rick asked himself."

Fans will recognize that line from the 1968 classic sci-fi novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick about Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who “retired” androids. If Dick were alive today, he might ponder whether neural networks giving artificial intelligence psychedelics hallucinate electric sheep after hearing about a new study by neuroscientists who gave deep neural networks, considered to be the brains of machine learning, a dose of AI that modeled psychedelic trips under DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) to better understand how the real drugs affect the human brain.

“(Deep neural networks) can help illustrate how psychedelics perturb perception and can be used to guide hypotheses on how sensory information is prevented from updating the brain’s model of the world.”

Swiss neuroscientist Michael Schartner, co-author of the study published in Neurosis of Consciousness, explains to PsyPost the purpose of the experiment he and his colleague Christopher Timmermann conducted. While they knew they could disrupt deep neural networks, their goal was to model the disruptions caused by DMT in the human brain, and then see if the end result matched the descriptions of hallucinations given by humans after taking DMT.

“Using two generative deep neural networks as examples, we discuss how such models have the potential to be, firstly, an important medium to illustrate phenomenological visual effects of psychedelics—besides paintings, verbal reports and psychometric testing—and, secondly, their utility to conceptualize biological mechanisms of gating the influence of exogenous and endogenous information on visual perception.”

The two models gave the researchers what they wanted – an AI way of describing the visual effects of psychedelics and a tool to help determine how other psychedelic drugs affect human brain processes. This will help further research into the drugs’ benefits for treating depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder and other psychological illnesses.

So, did the models hallucinate psychedelic sheep? That depends … do humans taking psychedelic drugs hallucinate sheep? The model is only as good as the data it’s fed. If psychedelic drug users report sheep visions, someday the deep neural networks on AI drugs will do the same. While AI and deep learning continue to blow the scientific sides of our minds, they’re not perfect yet.

Maybe what they need to do is model the brain of Philip K. Dick.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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