Sunday, 1 June 2014

Biosciences Seminar Speaker - 05 June 2014

Biosciences Seminar Series - Spring 2014
05 June 2014 - 1pm - Zoology Museum (Wallace 129)

Evolution of Information Processing

Dr. Andrew L Jackson

If you are like me, this is the time of year to take any opportunity to marvel at the aerial acrobacies of the swallows, hunting insects at lightning speed in the open air and maneuvering with incredible accuracy between obstacles in barnes or cliffs to reach their nests. Certainly, if these birds would not be able to quickly detect obstacles and change their flight, they wouldn't survive long time. Now, think of a sloth, hanging down from a tree and slowly picking some leaves to eat. Do you think it would be able to process visual information at the same speed? More importantly, do you think a sloth would need such capacities, in the first instance? If you wonder, come and listen to our seminar speaker this week, Dr. Andrew Jackson from Trinity College Dublin, and listen to why this may have relevance also to understand how we perceive time.
Image from

But first, who is Andrew? He is an Assistant Professor, broadly interested in the role of evolutionary processes in the formation of ecological systems, especially in the role of interactions among individuals, and to approach these questions Andrew likes to use computational and mathematical models. Recent example include work on the roles of aggression and cooperation behaviours, or how predation has driven the fragmentation of a penguin colony. 

Andrew is also Leader of the Complex Ecological and Evolutionary Systems research group, Principal Investigator in the Ecological and Evolutionary Networks cluster and member of the Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research. But back now to the evolution of information processing - here the Abstract of the seminar:

Perception is in the eye of the beholder. What information about the world animals can access is constrained by their biology and the physics of their environment. Acquiring, processing and acting upon this information is a costly business, and evolution has developed some ingenious approaches to working within, and sometimes beyond these constraints. 

I will present some comparative work we have done on the ability of animals to detect movement with their visual systems which in humans at least is linked to the perception of the passage of time. I will also introduce evolving artificial neural networks as a tool to understand how selection pressure on cognitive systems can drive the evolution of intelligence in systems comprising complex social interactions.

Relevant literature:

Healy, K., McNally, L., Ruxton, G.D., Cooper, N. & Jackson, A.L. 2013. Metabolic rate and body size linked with perception of temporal information. Animal Behaviour, 86(4), 685-696 doi

McNally, L., Brown, S.P. & Jackson, A.L. 2012. Cooperation and the evolution of intelligence. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 279, 3027-3034. doi (Open Access).

Fig. 1 from Healy et al. (2013) Animal Behaviour.

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