This material ‘learns’ like animals, and could help further AI research

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

A unique material, nickel oxide demonstrates the ability to learn things about its environment in a way that emulates the most basic learning abilities of animals, as my colleagues and I describe in a new paper.

For over half a century, neuroscientists have studied sea slugs to understand basic animal learning. Two fundamental concepts of learning are habituation and sensitization. Habituation occurs when an organism’s response to a repeated stimulus continuously decreases. When researchers first touch a sea slug, its gills retract. But the more they touch the slug, the less it retracts its gills. Sensitization is an organism’s extreme reaction to a harmful or unexpected stimulus. If researchers then shock a sea slug, it will retract its gills much more dramatically than when it was merely touched. This is sensitization.