May 11, 2006 2:05 PM PDT

This is your brain on a microchip

SAN JOSE, Calif.--To Jeff Hawkins, today's projects in cognitive computing take him back to the early days of mobile computing.

When the mobile company he co-founded, Palm Computing, was getting off the ground in 1992, the industry was called "the mother of all markets" by one technology executive, Apple Computer's John Sculley, and "a pipe dream driven by greed" by another, Intel's Andy Grove.

Now, cognitive computing--essentially, when computers process information the same way a brain does--is either "'not in our lifetime' or 'any moment now,'" Hawkins said wryly to an audience at a conference of the same name this week at IBM's Almaden Research Center. "We've been trying to do this for 50 to 60 years. Artificial intelligence, fuzzy logic, neural networks, the Fifth Generation project--they've all had big moments in the sun."

He added: "The reality is we've not had much success."

Despite the false starts, many high-profile neuroscientists and bioengineers gathered this week at IBM to talk about how and why cognitive computing research is finally bearing fruit. Scientists from around the world talked about projects ranging from digitally mapping the human brain to developing microcircuits that can repair brain damage.

"Billions of dollars will be invested over the next decade."
--James Albus, senior fellow, NIST

Hawkins himself founded a company called Numenta in March 2005 after writing a book called "On Intelligence," which outlined his theories on the brain. Numenta is building a computer memory platform called the Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM) platform, which is modeled after the human brain. Hawkins said this week that Numenta's open-source software toolkit will debut later this year or early 2007, and it will let developers create applications for computer vision, artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning.

Hawkins also published a white paper on cognitive engineering and HTM this week.

James Albus, a senior fellow and founder of the Intelligent Systems Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, made the most convincing case for why the era of "engineering the mind" is here. He also proposed a national program for developing a scientific theory of the mind.

"We are at a tipping point...analogous to where nuclear physics was in 1905. The technology is emerging to conduct definitive experiments. The neurosciences have developed a good idea of computation and representation of the brain," he said Wednesday at the two-day gathering.

He laid out several specific projects and figures. For example, computational power is advancing. The human brain produces between 10^13 (10 to the 13th power) and 10^16 operations per second, emitting 100 watts of energy while at rest. The human brain is incredibly efficient, too: The brain takes about 20 percent of the body's oxygen to perform at that rate.

Today's supercomputer, such as IBM's Blue Gene, processes about 10^14 operations per second, but with six orders of magnitude more wattage.

Also, money is flowing into artificially intelligent systems. Car and truck companies, for example, are investing heavily in collision-warning systems and vehicles that can drive themselves. (Hawkins even acknowledged that several major car companies have contacted him and are showing interest in his intelligent platform.) And a study from the Department of Transportation said that robotic vehicles with safety warnings will likely save more lives than airbags and seatbelts together, Albus said.

The military is building future combat systems and investing in technology such as fighter drone planes. Albus said that by 2015, cognitive reasoning capabilities in computer-driven systems will enable tactical behaviors on the battlefield.

The entertainment industry is creating intelligent video games; and academic researchers are making leaps and bounds in robotics.

"Billions of dollars will be invested over the next decade," he said.

Still, despite the investments, computers have a long way to go in many areas.

As of now, machines cannot recognize pictures, nor understand language as well as humans do. Robots, long the promise of science fiction, have yet to match the abilities of humans.

That's why many scientists are focusing research on the neocortex, which comprises about 80 percent of the brain and governs high-level thinking and function. Scientists say the neocortex is a model for cognitive computing because it's fast, flexible and robust--desirable attributes for a computing system.

CONTINUED: Simulating the neocortex…
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This is way, way, way, way in the future
I'm sorry, but this is not going to happen anytime soon. Lump it up there with the paperless office, jet packs for all, and the flying car.
Posted by joshuaguttman (110 comments )
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Maybe Not...
Do some research on Quantum Computing and you might find yourself a little more excited about what is going on. The hope of Quantum Computing offers at the least (if we can make it work) processors that are exponentially (millions of times) faster than they are now. And remember, we are not talking about IRobot here, we are only talking about a technology that is going to start accelerating instead of crawling.

Also even without the advent of Quantum processors on the scene, there is still going to be a significant increase in processing power. If Moore's Law holds for the next two decades, then your 3 Ghz processor on your desktop will be running around 50 Terahertz in 20 years. A supercomputer on your desk. Now close your eyes and imagine that same computer with the parallelism that quantum computers can offer.

(50 Terahertz) * (1,000,000) = HOLY Petahertz Batman!!!

Anyway, that is 50x10^15 in case anybody was wondering just how many operations per second that is. Which is just one magnitude shy of being able to simulate protein folding in real time. Now string together several thousand of these guys together into one massive cluster and you got one heck of a computer.

Anyway, just something to think about before you go telling us all that 640K of Ram is all we will every need.
Posted by jwarren.carroll (84 comments )
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maybe ... but what if?
No technology could change our lives more than this ... and imagine for a moment .. what if? :-)
Posted by tasteven (1 comment )
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Nano-tech can only enable this
We need hardware at a nano-level (atomic) if were going to be able to actively interact with our bodies and especially our brain in this type of transparent way. Then *** would be more of an enhancement as I don't see how we could make a a total digital transfer. We might have to go along the lines of what Hawkins describes as patterns because we simply wouldn't know exactly how to 'play God' and make a perfect transfer. There is a limit to the 0s and 1s because of fast evolution and nurturing aspects.

Example. A Nano-laser would be needed at an atomic level for implementing this physically. Probably could stimulate the brain in lesser ways though with more bulky equipment. But there needs to be fuzzy reasoning so in some way we would have to use patterns or DNA as a base; as usual.

We mustn't take it too far and we need open standards of course for safety and competition so I am glad they are releasing that program open source.

I just want to sustain my life in a healthy way not upload myself and live in a computer. I want to enhance my life, not hide away in a computer

In Richard Morgans Altered Carbon series book 3, there is a religion that decides uploading (living completely digital) is a perfect way to live but they have to deal with allot moire unknowns and computer viruses that are not the case in real or slower time like now. I think a balance will be needed. That's why I don't want to be on the Internet too much and prefer to keep most of my stuff on the desktop. The Internet is too digital. There's not allot of reality to it. It's easy to say we are in a 'Live' era and not to make decisions for ourselves; so putting everything on the Internet isn't going to happen.

Also the only way to 'upload' or digitally live would be to a have part of it physical and a part digital because we couldn't live in both places. I am not sure how to transfer consciousness.

I am excited about the prospects for neural and spinal repair becaseu I am part of that world too.
We need halp over here.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
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What on earth are you talking about?!
Posted by DeusExMachina (516 comments )
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..if they knew how the brain worked..
Neurologists still only know relatively little about the brain, yet scientists are already planning to duplicate it?
Posted by DaClyde (96 comments )
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how the brain works
They know a great deal about the brain and how it works. It would suprize you. They can turn it on and shut it off, at will, without the person who actually owns that brain even being aware of it. They can control a whole community with electro magnetic radiation, of a specific strength, being emitted from a cell phone tower.
Go to www.educate and start discovering a few things that you really should know.

Posted by emeraldgate (53 comments )
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already here
Brain microchips are already here. They have been experimenting with them since the 50's.
What is actually done in science labs is not always released to the public.
Posted by emeraldgate (53 comments )
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or maybe not
"Brain microchips are already here. They have been experimenting
with them since the 50's. What is actually done in science labs is
not always released to the public."

And what you saw on Star Trek and read about in the pamphlet
from the Area 51 UFO abductee convention is not always true. But
maybe I should keep my foil helmet on, just in case.
Posted by DeusExMachina (516 comments )
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an electronic brain
the brain is awhole more then ones and zeros.
a child can still do alot better then the most expensive supercomputer.let alot downloading anything into one.
scifi sometimes tells the truth even if it where true like in robocop we would go mad from the experience
Posted by newcreation (118 comments )
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about to enter the age of intelligent machines
No, friends, we are quietly on the verge of entering an astounding age of intelligent machines, and it isn't centuries away. There have been developments quietly working in the background, not being reported on in mainstream media, that are about to explode upon us in just a few short years.

When the artificial intelligences begin to arrive in functional forms they are not going to be what we expect. Firstly, genetics has made astronomical gains in the last 2 decades and now stands on the brink of being able to manufacture or radically alter organisms. So there may be an organic component to artificial intelligence that few are really contemplating. It requires only some crossing of social and legal lines rather that tons of extra lab work to set this in motion.

The second important factor is that our military establishment is working diligently on creating semi-intelligent machines to carry out combat missions. This line of development is the most frightening and will advance the fastest because it ignores the problem of imitating human intelligence (which is wrapped up with a lot of complexities like sex, hunger, pain, and other chemical matters that are largely irrelevant to mechanisms) in favor of creating intelligences which are focused on defined tasks. Think of the spider--a marvel of organic evolution whose form of intelligence is so entirely focused on its prey-catching task that we fail to comprehend it as intelligent. The intelligent machines of the military are going in short order to become capable of wresting control of our planet from us, with or without a programmed sense of purpose. Machines that can make and design other machines will also be a threat.

The issue, that Deus and others are not seeing, is that intelligent machines will not threaten or serve us when they have brains like ours: they will be designed for specified purposes and carry them out in complex ways that we can't hope to imitate.
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
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intelligent war machines?
partly true but i think your watching to many terminator movies.intelligence is one thing self motivation is something beyond more iq
Posted by newcreation (118 comments )
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