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    Snail Trail to Smarter Robots Starts in Picturesque South East England

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    Snails are often dismissed as just a garden pest or a French delicacy served with lashings of garlic butter- but now UK scientists are suggesting that the humble mollusk could hold the key for developing smarter robots.

    A study of freshwater snails shows that they have just two nerve cells that transmit information on whether they are hungry or not.

    ​Scientists at Sussex University discovered a circuit of two neurons that drive a snail’s decisions. The study, published in journal Nature Communications, say the simple circuit is sophisticated enough to influence artificial intelligence (AI) and how robots brains are designed.

    ​​While the snails moved around at a pretty slow pace searching for lettuce, scientists monitored their behavior and then measured the activity in the snail's brain by using electrodes to record electrical changes in the individual neurons.

    "Our study reveals for the first-time how just two neurons can create a mechanism in an animal's brain which drives and optimizes complex decision-making tasks," Professor George Kemenes who led the author says.

    "It also shows how this system helps to manage how much energy they use once they have made a decision."

    One neuron sends brain a message to say that food – in this case lettuce – is around. 

    The second neuron tells the snail if it is hungry or not. According to the scientists, this simple brain set up enables the snails to save energy by switching the brain to a standby mode when food is not around.

    ​"What goes on in our brains when we make complex behavioral decisions and carry them out is poorly understood," Professor Kemenes says, adding that the study’s findings could eventually help us design the 'brains' of robots based on the principle of using the fewest possible components necessary to perform complex tasks." 

    ​The study, 'A two-neuron system for adaptive goal-directed decision-making in Lymnaea' has been published in Nature Communications.


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