Friday, 31 August 2012

Michael Arbib takes a look at Ada

Ten years ago, my colleagues and I at INI had a lot of fun, and stress, working on 'Ada - the intelligent space' [1] for the Swiss national exhibition of 2002. Recently, influential theoretical neuroscientist and a computer scientist Michael A. Arbib [2][3] published a paper in the journal Intelligent Buildings International [4] entitled Brains, machines and buildings: towards a neuromorphic architecture [5].

Ada was conceived as a novel artificial organism, a creature in the shape of a space that visitors could enter. The space could then perceive and playfully interact with her visitors via sensory organs. She could see, hear and sense touch and contact. She expressed herself through sound, light, and projections on the walls.

In Arbib's paper he points out that
"While there is a great deal of work well underway in the design of intelligent buildings and ambient intelligence, this work has almost entirely ignored the findings of neuroscience"
and asks what might happen
"if our knowledge of the structure and function of brains informs our design of perception, control and communication systems for buildings, so that these systems are based on brain operating principles rather than ad hoc computational designs".

In trying to answer this question he takes a new look at Ada, amongst other systems. Ada's various subsystems were inspired to different degrees by neuroscience [6], and as such Arbib suggests that Ada represents a 'seminal precursor' of future buildings constructed as perceiving, acting and adapting entities based on lessons learnt from studying real, biological brains, and "a significant stepping stone towards neuromorphic architecture."

Part of his paper may be read as an introduction to neuroscience for architects and building automation engineers. If these readers take up Arbib's ideas and those expressed in INI's Ada, in the not too distant future we may find ourselves living and working in buildings that react much more intelligently to our habits and requirements.

One small correction to Arbib's article - Ada was exhibited in Neuchatel (aka Neuenburg), not in Lausanne.


(This post is adapted from my post which first appeared on the Institute of Neuroinformatics' Blog )

Arbib also gave a lecture at ANFA, the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, see