Connecting with Tiny Insect Brains through Virtual Reality | Dr. Shannon Olsson | TEDxChennai

Connecting with Tiny Insect Brains through Virtual Reality | Dr. Shannon Olsson | TEDxChennai


Translator: Suyeon Ji
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I’d like to start by having
everyone close their eyes and think about all the decisions
that you’ve made so far today. Now, I suppose the first decision
you must have made is to get out of bed, and I’m hoping that the last decision
you’ve made is to start listening to me. Please open your eyes. We’re constantly making decisions, even the path that you took to get
to where you are at this very moment was an entire series of decisions: if you should move,
when you should move, even how you should move. Now, what if you’re a fly? Insects also have to make decisions about if, when,
and how they should do things. Should they fly or should they walk? Should they eat, should they wait? And where should they go
to find their food? And just like us, insects have to take
information from the world around them as well as internal information –
hunger, thirst, hot, and cold – and then decide. Why should we even care
about the decisions of a tiny fly? It seems so inconsequential to our lives. In fact, insects are some of the very
first animals to emerge on this planet. They are nearly half a billion years old. If you add up all the species of insects
that exist on this planet today, it is nearly equal to all other
forms of life put together, all species of bacteria, fungi –
even you and me. While we often think of insects as pests
that bring disease or destroy our crops, they also serve incredibly important
ecosystem services, such as pollination and reducing waste,
like these termite mounds do. They have survived mass extinctions,
and we cannot survive without them. And I believe that understanding
the decisions that these tiny animals make is not only essential
for the future of this planet but can also teach us about ourselves
and our own decision making. And that is important
for treating neurological disorders, improving education,
predicting financial trends, even generating artificial intelligence. But the fact of the matter is we don’t even know
how the tiny brain of an insect, with only 100,000 neurons, makes decisions. So how can we possibly
comprehend the human mind, when we have 80 billion neurons. To start, maybe we should think
about the decisions themselves. We humans understand
each other’s decisions by making a connection with each other
through an emotion called empathy. Now, this photograph was taken
after I’d had a very horrible day at work. And I’m sure you’ve all
had days liked these, and I’m sure you all know what you
feel like at the end of those days. And my then five-year-old daughter,
Grace, noticed how I was feeling, and she came up to me, and she gave me
what I most needed at that very moment, which was a warm embrace. See, Grace was practicing empathy. It’s perhaps the most profound
of human emotions, and it’s often confused with sympathy. But sympathy is when you
feel bad for someone, or you’re thinking about another person,
but empathy is very different. It’s feeling along
with another individual. It’s connecting with them
on such a deep level that you share their experiences
as if they were your own. Now how can you possibly empathize
with a fly, to understand their decisions. You can’t talk to them, and they’re too small and too quick
for you to follow them around and observe their decisions
as they make them. You simply can’t put yourself
into their world. Perhaps, instead,
you can put them into our world, into a world that we create just for them, so we can give them choices and observe the decisions
that they make in real time, exactly as they make those decisions. But now, if you’re going
to build a world for a fly, you’d better have an architect. Pavan, could you please say hello? Pavan Cowshick: Hello. Shannon Olsson: This is Pavan Cowshick. (Applause) He’s a graduate student in the lab, and when Pavan joined the lab
three years ago, I asked him to do nearly the impossible – I asked him to build a universe
for an insect. And that’s exactly what Pavan has done. So here’s the world
that we’ve created for a fly. It’s an artificial world,
so it’s a virtual reality arena. And the most important part of this arena
is, of course, the fly itself, which you see here right in the middle. And it can fly, and it can move its legs, but it’s held in place
so it doesn’t fly out of the world. We have a camera that can film
the fly’s behaviors as it moves, and we have a panoramic display. Many insects have very large eyes so they can literally see
in the back of their heads. So our display also has to wrap
around the insect in 360 degrees. The last two components are actually
what sets our arena apart from virtual reality that you might have
for humans or for other animals. And that’s that we give our fly
both a wind direction and also an odor. In the real world, when insects
are flying to objects at a distance, it often can’t see them. So it uses its sense of smell
to locate plants or fruits or flowers or whatever are the objects
of its affection. This is not unlike
if you’ve ever lost your cell phone, and you call it up, and you follow the ring tone
until you can locate where that phone is. Insects do a similar thing, but instead
of using sound, they use smell. And the wind direction
is actually what tells them where the smell is coming from
and where they can locate the object. So this is, right here – I will show you – part of the arena. And you can see how tiny it actually is. And that’s because it’s actually
made for a fly and not for us. And I’m going to show you also a fly. So, this fly is balancing
on a ball right now. Now you can see that it’s flying. If you zoom in on it – there you go. This fly is actually flying in this world,
but in this world – there you go again. In this world, it’s actually
looking at me right now. And it’s not getting any wind and odor other than what it’s getting
from the air around it. In the real world, when this insect
is flying around and making its decisions, it will move within the world
when it makes its choices. But I’m holding it in place,
which means instead of the world moving while the insect flies, we have to move the world
around the insect. This is how we do it. This is the cockpit
of a virtual reality arena. So this is what the visual part
of our arena looks like. You see two trees on it,
and it looks a bit distorted because, as I said,
in reality it’s wrapped in 360 degrees, so this is what it looks like
when it’s unwrapped. And you can see the fly
down there at the bottom. This is a still frame,
so it’s not yet moving. When a fly wants to move left or right,
it changes how it beats its wings. If it wants to move left,
it beats its wings very hard on its right. If it wants to move right,
it beats its wings hard on its left, and that’s how it turns. So in our world, we pay attention
to those wing beats, and we turn the world
in response to those wings, so the fly is actually driving the world. Now, in the video, you’ll see,
when we start on the right, you’ll see the trajectory
that the fly would be making if it were actually flying in this world. So you can see this fly
is making a choice to go to this tree. This is an apple fly,
and these are apple trees, so it really likes them. If you observe
the trajectory on the right, you’ll see that it’s gone to the tree, and it’s actually flying
in and around the branches of the tree and circling them. And now we’ll give it
the same choice again, and it will actually fly
to the trees with apples. And if you watch very closely, you’ll notice that as it gets very
close to these objects, very close to the leaves of the apples, it actually will throw its legs out. And in the real world,
it does this for two reasons: either it’s about to crash into something,
or it wants to land on it. And this is how we truly know
that this fly is making decisions because it actually is detecting these
virtual objects as if they were real. So we’re using the power
of this technology as a way to present
these animals with choices and observe through their eyes, through their antenna,
and through their behavior how they make decisions, and how these tiny brains can make
such complex choices in the world. And we feel that this
is extremely important, not only for understanding
decision making in general but for a much bigger reason. So often, in today’s digital
and urban world, we forget our connection with nature. We forget how important the plants
and animals around us are for the food we eat, the water we drink,
and the very land that we live on. So I hope that when you leave today,
go home, go outside in your garden or even inside your house
and try to find an insect – an ant, a grasshopper, maybe even a fly – and try to watch it for a little bit, and think about all the decisions that it must have made to get to the exact
place that you are right then. And also realize
that many of those decisions are not all that different than the kind
of decisions that you might make. Because we’re all connected
on this planet. And in the end, our two worlds are exactly the same. Thank you. (Applause)

93 thoughts on “Connecting with Tiny Insect Brains through Virtual Reality | Dr. Shannon Olsson | TEDxChennai”

  1. You have To improve your capacities because of many reasons
    We are alive to be able to do everything in this world
    So go on..

  2. Manger manger
    Maikle jacson
    Anita marten
    محمد عبد المجيد ، تحيا مصر يا عم
    اللي فهم يدوس لايك ويشترك في قناتي

  3. Je me demande pourquoi il y a des vidéo en français sous titré en français et autres mais les vidéos étrangères sont non sous titré en français c’est ennuyeux.

  4. What if, and this is a BIG what if, some evolutionary biological creatures on our planet (like the common house fly) was put here by aliens to keep an "eye" on us. It seems impossible, but is it? I know I sound ridiculous, but those damn flies are everywhere!

  5. Why not have a real world Topic : Like child predators ( why like the catholic priest are protected by not only the pope but also the media ) 300 predators in one state from the same organization with over 1000 molested children isn't News Worthy Enough . How Sad is this Nation and its populous .

  6. Very cool discovery, but the talk was too emotional – probably because of indian audience. Still cool enough to keep me subscribed.

  7. I want to speak like a native speak do. I wish i had a native speaker friend. I am from India and does any native speaker want to be my friend please?

  8. Pigeons and grasshoppers don't mix but when you talk about technology they're together in your new cars ,GPS and stopping by itself. Front, rear, left and right camera. Pretty soon we will see an old blind lady (122 yrs)driving a Tesla car at 250mph. Taking the decision, turn right or left. Let me smell first. 😂😂😂🤣🤣🤣😉😉😉

  9. It's amazing how SHE thinks… Out of empathy, she is controlling the life of a fly.
    I hope SHE feels how she would be if she was placed in virtual reality and her life be controlled.
    Please leave them alone.

  10. There is emerging evidence that flying insect populations are crashing worldwide. It's amazing that she didn't mention this. It's also amazing that scientists examine things like fly decision making, instead of fly population losses.

  11. You suppose wrong! My first decision was to go back to sleep because I went jogging the other day and I was too sore today and the dreams I had wile sleeping in were great! Gatcha!

  12. Pro tip, never use bitmap graphics (ted logo and word mark) with vector graphics / text. The crip vector edges will make the bitmaps look even blurrier and fuzzy

  13. The process of critically examining past history will hopefully prompt a greater effort to curb potential abuse. As a result of retrospective moral judgment ethical principles and resulting guidelines have evolved and coupled with serious efforts to hold government officials and medical researchers personally accountable for any wrongdoings will provide better protection for human subjects.

  14. الذين يذكرون الله قياما وقعودا وعلى جنوبهم ويتفكرون في خلق السماوات والارض، ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا سبحانك فقنا عذاب النار

  15. It seems that we use our brain too often before taking decisions compare to insects which seems following a pattern by instinct.

  16. I luv science. I luv the message & the awareness you're raising, BUT, when you choose to enslave & torture a living being in order to get your message across then that message becomes mute. I lose respect for science when it chooses an unethical route in order to find answers.

  17. I'm sorry but did we actually learn something from this experiment? "Flies make decisions." Duh! They fly to smelly things, land, eat and reproduce. We already knew all that.
    I feel that this was unnecessary cruelty towards the flies. Especially bringing one to stage.
    This woman talks about empathy but doesn't show any for the fly… They're not objects. If they're going to spend their whole life glued to a stick it better be for a damn good reason, like finding the cure for a deadly disease or learning something really important about how the brain works, and it better be for no longer than the necessary amount of time and no more than the necessary amount of flies.
    I know people will comment and say "It's just a fly!". Well I find them just as annoying as you and I shoo them away too. But I wouldn't torture a fly for fun. If you're going to cause suffering it better be for a good reason and this experiment didn't teach us anything new. "Let's have fun building a tiny little game for flies and call it science and get payed for it! We even get to do a Ted Talk and sound smart and add that to our CV!"
    Animal cruelty disguised as science. That's all.

  18. A lot of thought went into the design of brains in general, and the human brain in particular. That's why the human brain is truly the most complex object in the universe.

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