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  1. Task allocation is an important problem for robot swarms to solve, allowing agents to reduce task completion time by performing tasks in a distributed fashion. Existing task allocation algorithms often assume prior knowledge of task location and demand or fail to consider the effects of the geometric distribution of tasks on the completion time and communication cost of the algorithms. In this paper, we examine an environment where agents must explore and discover tasks with positive demand and successfully assign themselves to complete all such tasks. We first provide a new dis- crete general model for modeling swarms. Operating within this theoretical framework, we propose two new task allocation algo- rithms for initially unknown environments – one based on N-site selection and the other on virtual pheromones. We analyze each algorithm separately and also evaluate the effectiveness of the two algorithms in dense vs. sparse task distributions. Compared to the Levy walk, which has been theorized to be optimal for foraging, our virtual pheromone inspired algorithm is much faster in sparse to medium task densities but is communication and agent intensive. Our site selection inspired algorithm also outperforms Levy walk in sparse task densities and is a less resource-intensive option than our virtual pheromone algorithm for this case. Because the perfor- mance of both algorithms relative to random walk is dependent on task density, our results shed light on how task density is impor- tant in choosing a task allocation algorithm in initially unknown environments. 
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  2. The decentralized cognition of animal groups is both a challenging biological problem and a potential basis for bio-inspired design. In this study, we investigated the house-hunting algorithm used by emigrating colonies of Temnothorax ants to reach consensus on a new nest. We developed a tractable model that encodes accurate individual behavior rules, and estimated our parameter values by matching simulated behaviors with observed ones on both the individual and group levels. We then used our model to explore a potential, but yet untested, component of the ants’ decision algorithm. Specifically, we examined the hypothesis that incorporating site population (the number of adult ants at each potential nest site) into individual perceptions of nest quality can improve emigration performance. Our results showed that attending to site population accelerates emigration and reduces the incidence of split decisions. This result suggests the value of testing empirically whether nest site scouts use site population in this way, in addition to the well demonstrated quorum rule. We also used our model to make other predictions with varying degrees of empirical support, including the high cognitive capacity of colonies and their rational time investment during decision-making. Additionally, we provide a versatile and easy-to-use Python simulator that can be used to explore other hypotheses or make testable predictions. It is our hope that the insights and the modeling tools can inspire further research from both the biology and computer science community. 
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  3. Emulating a shared atomic, read/write storage system is a fundamental problem in distributed computing. Replicating atomic objects among a set of data hosts was the norm for traditional implementations (e.g., [ 11]) in order to guarantee the availability and accessibility of the data despite host failures. As replication is highly storage demanding, recent approaches suggested the use of erasure-codes to offer the same fault-tolerance while optimizing storage usage at the hosts. Initial works focused on a fix set of data hosts. To guarantee longevity and scalability, a storage service should be able to dynamically mask hosts failures by allowing new hosts to join, and failed host to be removed without service interruptions. This work presents the first erasure-code based atomic algorithm, called ARES, which allows the set of hosts to be modified in the course of an execution. ARES is composed of three main components: (i) a reconfiguration protocol, (ii) a read/write protocol, and (iii) a set of data access primitives. The design of ARES is modular and is such to accommodate the usage of various erasure-code parameters on a per-configuration basis. We provide bounds on the latency of read/write operations, and analyze the storage and communication costs of the ARES algorithm. 
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  4. We study the problem of house-hunting in ant colonies, where ants reach consensus on a new nest and relocate their colony to that nest, from a distributed computing perspective. We propose a house-hunting algorithm that is biologically inspired by Temnothorax ants. Each ant is modeled as a probabilistic agent with limited power, and there is no central control governing the ants. We show an O( log n) lower bound on the running time of our proposed house-hunting algorithm, where n is the number of ants. Furthermore, we show a matching upper bound of expected O( log n) rounds for environments with only one candidate nest for the ants to move to. Our work provides insights into the house-hunting process, giving a perspective on how environmental factors such as nest quality or a quorum rule can affect the emigration process. 
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  5. The house hunting behavior of the Temnothorax albipennis ant allows the colony to explore several nest choices and agree on the best one. Their behavior serves as the basis for many bio-inspired swarm models to solve the same problem. However, many of the existing site selection models in both insect colony and swarm literature test the model’s accuracy and decision time only on setups where all potential site choices are equidistant from the swarm’s starting location. These models do not account for the geographic challenges that result from site choices with different geometry. For example, although actual ant colonies are capable of consistently choosing a higher quality, further site instead of a lower quality, closer site, existing models are much less accurate in this scenario. Existing models are also more prone to committing to a low quality site if it is on the path between the agents’ starting site and a higher quality site. We present a new model for the site selection problem and verify via simulation that is able to better handle these geographic challenges. Our results provide insight into the types of challenges site selection models face when distance is taken into account. Our work will allow swarms to be robust to more realistic situations where sites could be distributed in the environment in many different ways. 
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  6. Convolutional neural networks (CNNs), a class of deep learning models, have experienced recent success in modeling sensory cortices and retinal circuits through optimizing performance on machine learning tasks, otherwise known as task optimization. Previous research has shown task-optimized CNNs to be capable of providing explanations as to why the retina efficiently encodes natural stimuli and how certain retinal cell types are involved in efficient encoding. In our work, we sought to use task-optimized CNNs as a means of explaining computational mechanisms responsible for motion-selective retinal circuits. We designed a biologically constrained CNN and optimized its performance on a motion-classification task. We drew inspiration from psychophysics, deep learning, and systems neuroscience literature to develop a toolbox of methods to reverse engineer the computational mechanisms learned in our model. Through reverse engineering our model, we proposed a computational mechanism in which direction-selective ganglion cells and starburst amacrine cells, both experimentally observed retinal cell types, emerge in our model to discriminate among moving stimuli. This emergence suggests that direction-selective circuits in the retina are ecologically designed to robustly discriminate among moving stimuli. Our results and methods also provide a framework for how to build more interpretable deep learning models and how to understand them. 
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  7. We present a formal, mathematical foundation for modeling and reasoning about the behavior of synchronous, stochastic Spiking Neural Networks (SNNs), which have been widely used in studies of neural computation. Our approach follows paradigms established in the field of concurrency theory. Our SNN model is based on directed graphs of neurons, classified as input, output, and internal neurons. We focus here on basic SNNs, in which a neuron’s only state is a Boolean value indicating whether or not the neuron is currently firing. We also define the external behavior of an SNN, in terms of probability distributions on its external firing patterns. We define two operators on SNNs: a composition operator, which supports modeling of SNNs as combinations of smaller SNNs, and a hiding operator, which reclassifies some output behavior of an SNN as internal. We prove results showing how the external behavior of a network built using these operators is related to the external behavior of its component networks. Finally, we definition the notion of a problem to be solved by an SNN, and show how the composition and hiding operators affect the problems that are solved by the networks. We illustrate our definitions with three examples: a Boolean circuit constructed from gates, an Attention network constructed from a Winner-Take-All network and a Filter network, and a toy example involving combining two networks in a cyclic fashion. 
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  8. Animal brains evolved to optimize behavior in dynamic environments, flexibly selecting actions that maximize future rewards in different contexts. A large body of experimental work indicates that such optimization changes the wiring of neural circuits, appropriately mapping environmental input onto behavioral outputs. A major unsolved scientific question is how optimal wiring adjustments, which must target the connections responsible for rewards, can be accomplished when the relation between sensory inputs, action taken, environmental context with rewards is ambiguous. The credit assignment problem can be categorized into context-independent structural credit assignment and context-dependent continual learning. In this perspective, we survey prior approaches to these two problems and advance the notion that the brain’s specialized neural architectures provide efficient solutions. Within this framework, the thalamus with its cortical and basal ganglia interactions serves as a systems-level solution to credit assignment. Specifically, we propose that thalamocortical interaction is the locus of meta-learning where the thalamus provides cortical control functions that parametrize the cortical activity association space. By selecting among these control functions, the basal ganglia hierarchically guide thalamocortical plasticity across two timescales to enable meta-learning. The faster timescale establishes contextual associations to enable behavioral flexibility while the slower one enables generalization to new contexts. 
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  9. Interactions across frontal cortex are critical for cognition. Animal studies suggest a role for mediodorsal thalamus (MD) in these interactions, but the computations performed and direct relevance to human decision making are unclear. Here, inspired by animal work, we extended a neural model of an executive frontal-MD network and trained it on a human decision-making task for which neuroimaging data were collected. Using a biologically-plausible learning rule, we found that the model MD thalamus compressed its cortical inputs (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, dlPFC) underlying stimulus-response representations. Through direct feedback to dlPFC, this thalamic operation efficiently partitioned cortical activity patterns and enhanced task switching across different contingencies. To account for interactions with other frontal regions, we expanded the model to compute higher-order strategy signals outside dlPFC, and found that the MD offered a more efficient route for such signals to switch dlPFC activity patterns. Human fMRI data provided evidence that the MD engaged in feedback to dlPFC, and had a role in routing orbitofrontal cortex inputs when subjects switched behavioral strategy. Collectively, our findings contribute to the emerging evidence for thalamic regulation of frontal interactions in the human brain. 
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  10. Neuromorphic computing would benefit from the utilization of improved customized hardware. However, the translation of neuromorphic algorithms to hardware is not easily accomplished. In particular, building superconducting neuromorphic systems requires expertise in both superconducting physics and theoretical neuroscience, which makes such design particularly challenging. In this work, we aim to bridge this gap by presenting a tool and methodology to translate algorithmic parameters into circuit specifications. We first show the correspondence between theoretical neuroscience models and the dynamics of our circuit topologies. We then apply this tool to solve a linear system and implement Boolean logic gates by creating spiking neural networks with our superconducting nanowire-based hardware. 
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