Jun 19, 2019 - Technology

Silicon Valley wants to poach animal researchers to improve self-driving AI

In this image, two mice stand in a clear plastic container with hay on the bottom.

Mice used to study ALS. Photo: Whitney Hayward/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Neuroscientists studying birds, mice, and fish are landing seven-figure salaries in Silicon Valley to help advance artificial intelligence for self-driving cars and more, reports Bloomberg.

The big picture: Tech companies are raiding universities for specialized animal researchers to help them understand how mice and other animals learn in hopes of teaching computers or autonomous vehicles to do the same.

  • "With whole new industries at stake, the race to unlock the secrets of the animal mind is getting weird," Bloomberg writes.

What's happening: Married Harvard neuroscientists Mackenzie and Alex Mathis record the decision-making activity of mice playing tiny video games, for instance. And Drew Robson and his partner, Jennifer Li, study zebra fish, a type of minnow whose bodies are transparent when they’re young, which allows researchers to observe their neurons at work.

  • The pair uses a special mobile microscope they developed to record which neurons are active while the fish swim, adapting to changing conditions.
  • It's similar to the way their Tesla's driving skills evolve with each Autopilot software update, Robson tells Bloomberg.

The bottom line: AVs need better artificial intelligence to advance beyond basic object recognition to human-like decision-making. They might learn a thing or two from mice and fish.

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