Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The man with two brains

Published on E&T magazine of IET by Paul Dempsey
Jeff Hawkins sired the personal digital assistant and today’s smartphones as the founder of Palm Computing. But, frankly, this was never much of a priority for him. Even as a young engineer at Intel, he was nagging microprocessor pioneer Ted Hoff to let him investigate parallels between computing and the human brain. Back in the 1970s, Hoff said no – a decision Hawkins now agrees with – but as science and theory advanced, he returned to his obsession. In 2002, Hawkins set up the Redwood Neuroscience Institute, concentrating on brain theory, and in 2004, launched the start-up Numenta, which is developing a computing architecture called Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM). At this year’s International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), Hawkins described prototype HTM visual recognition systems, addressing a task that remains hugely challenging for computers. But it is one that the animal brain finds quite straightforward. It is one reason why a growing body of people, such as Hawkins, are looking more closely at the structure of the brain. Click fore more...

It thinks... therefore...

Published on E&T magazine of IET by Chris Edwards
Research into machine consciousness is leading engineers to re-evaluate the relevance of philosophy, discovers Chris Edwards. Inventor Ray Kurzweil has a dream. And he intends to live to see it. He claims he takes a daily cocktail of pills to help make sure he is around to witness the creation of the first artificial brain: something he reckons will happen by the end of the 2020s. One of Kurzweil’s hopes is that this will make it possible to cheat death: we could upload our consciousness into the machine and remain conscious just as long as the computer receives power and maintenance. But the prospect raises a conundrum: would that machine actually be conscious? Would it think? How would we know? Even if it told us it could see and feel, would we believe it? Or would we consider it no more than a simulation of consciousness, where the lights are on but nobody is home? Questions like these are leading engineers to consider whether it is time for the discipline to merge with philosophy, as engineering by itself will be unable to provide the answers. Philosophy as such still struggles with the questions. We don’t really know what intelligence is and whether consciousness is effectively synonymous with it. But the quest to uncover consciousness in an artificial entity may provide clues that classic philosophical introspection has not managed to uncover. Click for more...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chemical brain controls nanobots

Published by BBC on 11/03/2008

A tiny chemical "brain" which could one day act as a remote control for swarms of nano-machines has been invented.
The molecular device - just two billionths of a metre across - was able to control eight of the microscopic machines simultaneously.
Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists say it could also be used to boost the processing power of future computers. Many experts have high hopes for nano-machines in treating disease. "If you want to remotely operate on a tumour you might want to send some molecular machines there," explained Dr Anirban Bandyopadhyay of the National Institute for Materials Science, Tsukuba, Japan. "But you cannot just put them into the blood and [expect them] to go to the right place." Dr Bandyopadhyay believes his device may offer a solution. One day they may be able to guide the nanobots through the body and control their functions, he said. "That kind of device simply did not exist; this is the first time we have created a nano-brain". Click for more...

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Plan to teach baby robot to talk

Published by BBC on 28/02/2008

A university in Devon is preparing to find out if a baby robot can be taught to talk. Staff at the University of Plymouth will work with a 1m-high (3ft) humanoid baby robot called iCub. Over the next four years robotics experts will work with language development specialists who research how parents teach children to speak. Their findings could lead to the development of humanoid robots which learn, think and talk. The project is believed to be the first of its kind in the world and typical experiments with the iCub robot will include activities such as inserting objects of various shapes into the corresponding holes in a box, serialising nested cups and stacking wooden blocks. Click fore more...