Jul 8, 2009

memristors, slime molds, and artificial intelligence

Memristors, a fairly recent discovery that I've blogged about twice previously, get the long form treatment in NewScientist.
To Chua, this all points to a home truth. Despite years of effort, attempts to build an electronic intelligence that can mimic the awesome power of a brain have seen little success. And that might be simply because we were lacking the crucial electronic components - memristors.

So now we've found them, might a new era in artificial intelligence be at hand? The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency certainly thinks so. DARPA is a US Department of Defense outfit with a strong record in backing high-risk, high-pay-off projects - things like the internet. In April last year, it announced the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics Program, SyNAPSE for short, to create "electronic neuromorphic machine technology that is scalable to biological levels".

Williams's team from Hewlett-Packard is heavily involved. Late last year, in an obscure US Department of Energy publication called SciDAC Review, his colleague Greg Snider set out how a memristor-based chip might be wired up to test more complex models of synapses. He points out that in the human cortex synapses are packed at a density of about 1010 per square centimetre, whereas today's microprocessors only manage densities 10 times less. "That is one important reason intelligent machines are not yet walking around on the street," he says.
You'll have to read the article to figure out how slime molds fit in--and then judge for yourself whether this new technology will lead to a breakthrough in artificial intelligence.

Of course, as Slate's Tom Vanderbilt reminds us in an otherwise unrelated essay on the Segway, the future has its own plans.

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