Monday, 13 November 2017

Fruit Fly Brains Inspire Search Engines of the Future

Image courtesy of André Karwath, CC BY-SA 2.5.

Joel Kontinen

Fruit flies have an amazing skills, including their sense of smell. They can distinguish between very subtle differences in odours.

Recently, Salk Institute assistant professor Saket Navlakha and colleagues reviewed the published literature on fruit flies and came up with some interesting details, reported by Science Daily:

When fruit flies first sense an odor, 50 neurons fire in a combination that's unique to that smell. But rather than hashing that information by reducing the number of hashes associated with the odor, as computer programs would, flies do the opposite -- they expand the dimension. The 50 initial neurons lead to 2,000 neurons, spreading out the input so that each smell has an even more distinct fingerprint among those 2,000 neurons. The brain then stores only the 5 percent of those 2,000 neurons with the top activity as the ‘hash’ for that odor.”

This strategy is surprisingly elegant and efficient:

The whole paradigm helps the brain notice similarities better than it would compared to reducing the dimension, Navlakha says.”

This discovery is very likely to inspire better search engines.

Biomimicry or copying intelligent solutions in living beings has become a lucrative research field. (See here, here, here and here for some other examples.)


Salk Institute. 2017. Fruit fly brains inform search engines of the future. Science Daily. (9 November).