What gives researchers hope is the striking resemblance the olfactory system’s structure bears to other regions of the brain across many species, particularly the hippocampus, which is implicated in memory and navigation, and the cerebellum, which is responsible for motor control. Olfaction is an ancient system dating back to chemosensation in bacteria, and is used in some form by all organisms to explore their environments.
“It seems to be closer to the evolutionary origin point of all the things we’d call cortex in general,” Marblestone said. Olfaction might provide a common denominator for learning. “The system gives us a really conserved architecture, one that’s used for a variety of things across a variety of organisms,” said Ashok Litwin-Kumar, a neuroscientist at Columbia. “There must be something fundamental there that’s good for learning.”
Artificial Intelligence Has a Strange New Muse: Our Sense of Smell
Today’s artificial intelligence systems, including the artificial neural networks broadly inspired by the neurons and connections of the nervous system, perform wonderfully at tasks with known constraints. They also tend to require a lot of computational power and vast quantities of training data.