Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hunting for a Brainy Computer

NYT - November 20, 2008, by Steve Lohr

Want a really intelligent digital assistant?

Well, it certainly won’t be ready for this holiday season, but that is the long-range goal of a $4.9 million grant from the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to five universities and I.B.M. Research.

The funds are for the first phase of an ambitious research venture in cognitive computing, an emerging field that lies at the outer edge of artificial intelligence. The leader of IBM’s cognitive computing program, Dharmendra Modha, describes the research as “the quest to engineer the mind by reverse-engineering the brain.”

“It’s a quest like Dorothy looking for the Wizard of Oz,” he added.

Computers excel at tasks, even daunting ones, when they work in domains with clear rules, like chess (as in I.B.M.’s Deep Blue beating the chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997). But they do not excel at fuzzier problems, said H.-S. Philip Wong, a Stanford professor who will work on the Darpa-sponsored project. Mr. Wong cites the example of how a human devises a mental strategy for finding a car, whose exact location has been forgotten, in a busy parking lot. That task, he said, requires higher-level cognition — sensation, perception, learning and reasoning.

The time is right to pursue cognitive computing, according to Mr. Modha, because of advances in computing, nanotechnology and neuroscience. In neuroscience, for example, there has been a data-driven surge in research on neurons, synapses and neurotranmitters.

But will the brain and its workings, like so much else in biology, prove to be far more complex than foreseen, and thus resistant to the math-modeling of computer science?

Read source>>

Technological Singularity and Futurism is updated often; the easiest way to get your regular dose is by subscribing to our news feed. Stay on top of all our updates by subscribing now via RSS or Email.