[Paleopsych] IBM computing algorithm thinks like an animal

Steve Hovland shovland at mindspring.com
Mon Mar 28 13:51:05 UTC 2005

Published: March 22, 2005, 5:23 PM PST
By Michael Kanellos <mailto:michael.kanellos at cnet.com?subject=FEEDBACK:IBM 
computing algorithm thinks like an animal>
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
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IBM has devised a way to let computers think like vertebrates.
Charles Peck and James Kozloski of IBM's Biometaphorical Computing team say 
they have created a mathematical model that mimics the behavior of 
neocortal minicolumns, thin strands of tissue that aggregate impulses from 
neurons. Further research could one day lead to robots that can "see" like 
humans and/or make appropriate decisions when bombarded with sensory 
A research paper on the model is expected to come out this week.
The brain consists of roughly 28 billion cells, Peck explained. The 200 
million minicolumns essentially gather sensory data and organize it for 
higher parts of the brain. The minicolumns also communicate with each other 
through interconnections. Minicolumns are roughly 1/20 of a millimeter in 
diameter and extend through the cortex.
The mathematical model created at IBM simulates the behavior of 500,000 
minicolumns connected by 400 million connections. With it, "we were able to 
demonstrate self-organization" and behavior similar to that seen in the 
real world, Peck said.
"What we are trying to do is study the brain at the highest level of 
abstraction without masking the underlying function," he said.
In a test outlined in the upcoming paper, the system was able to solve a 
pattern recognition problem that will cause errors on ordinary computers.
Ideally, the algorithm could one day help scientists more fully understand 
the underlying processing that takes place when people see things. In a 
nutshell, an image is received, decomposed into color, shape, texture and 
other attributes and then reassembled, prompting the animal to change its 
behavior. Not all parts of the process are fully understood, Peck said.
Over the past two years, researchers have increasingly looked toward nature 
as a model 
tag=nl> to emulate. Some companies, such as Cambrios, are trying to develop 
new compounds by exploiting proteins secreted by biological viruses. 
PalmOne founder Jeff Hawkins 
meanwhile, is creating a company that will sell systems that use the same 
thought processes as the human brain. Intel co-founder Gordon Moore 
recently said that computers won't likely be able to think like humans 
unless they are redesigned.
Brains typically think by making predictions about future events by looking 
at a vast array of past experiences, Hawkins said in a speech Monday at an 
event unrelated to IBM. Hawkins showed off a prototype application that can 
recognize shapes it has "seen" in the past.
IBM is presenting the paper at the International Conference on Adaptive and 
Natural Computing Algorithms in Coimbra, Portugal.

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