Do You See What Eye See?


[Roger Hanlon] We are in one gorgeous part
of the world. This is Lembeh Straits, it’s in the northern part of Indonesia.
A place called North Sulawesi. [Derya Akkaynak] This is the
number one place in the world to look for camouflaged animals. [Hanlon] We’re here on an expedition
that really is the culmination of an eight year odyssey and we have a
specialized instrument called a hyperspectral imager to see if we
can image camouflaged animals. [Akkaynak] The primary purpose
of this project is to gain a better understanding of the visual
world of animals. [Hanlon] The quest here is much larger
than just camouflage. What we’re really looking at are these broad questions of
how sophisticated nature is. The things that are going on out there that we’re
unaware of. One of the great questions is how did this invertebrate animal come to
evolve this complex looking brain and certainly diverse and complex behaviour. I’m Roger Hanlon, senior scientist at
the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. My specialty
is diving research on cephalopods that change colour and pattern. [Akkaynak] I’m Derya Akkaynak. I’m
an oceanographer and I specialize in underwater imaging. Using a hyperspectral
camera to study camouflage is actually really powerful in terms of
revealing mysteries. [Hanlon] An octopus or a cuttlefish
on a coral reef seems to have extraordinary camouflage. But you have to
remember that we’re making that judgement based on our cameras which are
all based on human vision only. [Akkaynak] The hyperspectral camera has
16 colour channels. Thats’s a lot more than the three we have as humans, so when
take the hyperspectral camera image, we use what we know about their predator
visual systems and we project hyperspectral images into an animal’s world. Then we can
see if the camouflage that looks so good to us is actually as effective
to the predator as we think. [Hanlon] We’re making at least three
dives, if not four, per day for eight or nine days in a row. It’s very taxing, but
it’s exciting at the same time. Probably the highlight of this week has
been at a reef called Angel’s Window. We found the octopus up in the shallow part
which had beautiful, colourful coral and we had this fantastic sequence where the
animal was just moving on different colourful backgrounds, stopping and we
were getting gorgeous data. It was heaven to a biologist to see this animal changing
and doing its full repertoire of tricks with perfect colour in clear water. The machine locked up and we couldn’t
really get it going again. We took it back to the boat, we opened it up, we checked
all the connections, we checked the battery, and we just could not get it focusing back
and forth. Turns out one of the wires broke. Typical field work. Let’s hope. I’ve devoted my 40 years to this. I want
to know how life works. That’s what biologists do. If you look at brain
development on planet earth, the vertebrate line, which we’re apart of, creates really
incredibly complex brains. But if you look at an evolutionary tree, the last common
ancestor was a worm with very few neurons. And that’s where things split 500, 600 million
years ago. A basic question pops up at this point in time. Is the brain structure,
the fundamental brain structure of an octopus, different from that of the vertebrate
line? Down to the tiniest cortical structure that is processing information in a
different way, this could be a boon to the artificial intelligence community. Give
them a different way to approach this subject. New framework for testing ideas.
And really to inspire a different way to thinking about artificial intelligence. The equipment didn’t work very well we did
not get the data we wanted. So it was a little bit of a tragedy. Little tragedies
happen all the time in field research. [Akkaynak] The idea that there could
be another kind of intelligence and brain system out there is absolutely fascinating.
It’s remarkable how little we know about the brains of these animals that
mesmerize us all the time. [Hanlon] We’re all tied into this
floating thing we call planet Earth. We have to understand it better.

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