DARPA Looks To New Form Of Computation That Mimics The Human Brain
The next frontier for the robotics industry has always been to build machines that think like humans. Scientists have pursued that elusive goal for decades, and some now believe that they are now extremely close to achieving the goal.
Now, a Pentagon-funded team of researchers has constructed a tiny machine that might allow robots to act independently.
Compared to traditional artificial intelligence systems that rely on conventional computer programming, this one “looks and ‘thinks’ like a human brain,” said James K. Gimzewski, professor of chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Gimsewski is a member of the team that has been working under sponsorship of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on a program called Physical Intelligence.
The stated objective of the program is: “The analysis domain is to develop analytical tools to support the development of human-engineered physically intelligent systems and to understand physical intelligence in the natural world”.
This technology could be the secret to making robots that are truly autonomous, Gimzewski said during a conference call hosted by Technolink, a Los Angeles-based industry group.
Gimzewski says his project does not use standard robot hardware with integrated circuitry. The device that his team constructed is capable, without being programmed like a traditional robot, of performing actions similar to humans.
What sets this new device apart from any others is that it has nano-scale interconnected wires that perform billions of connections like a human brain, and is capable of remembering information, Gimzewski said. Each connection is a synthetic synapse. A synapse is what allows a neuron to pass an electric or chemical signal to another cell. Because its structure is so complex, most artificial intelligence projects so far have been unable to replicate it.
“Physical Intelligence” devices would not require a human controller the way a robot does, said Gimzewski. The applications of this technology for the military would be far reaching.
For instance an aircraft, for example, would be able to learn and explore the terrain and work its way through the environment without human intervention, he said. These machines would be able to process information in ways that would be unimaginable with current computers.
Artificial intelligence research over the past five decades has not been able to generate human-like reasoning or cognitive functions, said Gimzewski. DARPA’s program is the most ambitious he has seen to date. “It’s an off-the-wall approach,” he added.
Studies of the brain have shown that one of its key traits is self-organization. “That seems to be a prerequisite for autonomous behavior,” he said. “Rather than move information from memory to processor, like conventional computers, this device processes information in a totally new way.” This could represent a revolutionary breakthrough in robotic systems, said Gimzewski.