Tech Companies Seek to Teach Computers to Think Like Us

Tuesday, 04 Feb 2014 11:03 AM

By Courtney Coren

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A technology company outside of San Francisco is trying to teach a computer to think like a human.

So far the software being developed by Vicarious FPC has the ability to draw a picture that sometimes looks like a cow, The Wall Street Journal reported. But those images aren't created from pictures the computer sees, but from the computer's "imagination."

The goal of the company is to create a software that works like the human brain.

While there are many potential benefits, such as the ability to translate foreign languages, the ability to identify objects in a photograph, and drive unmanned vehicles through traffic, the technology also raises many ethical questions as well.

Companies such as Facebook and Google are very interested in what may come of the technology and have both heavily invested in artificial intelligence research. The San Francisco-area Vicarious is supported by Facebook employees and investors. Google just bought a competitor to the artificial intelligence company called DeepMind, based in London.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has said the technology could help the social media company develop a better understanding of its users, by being able to identify objects in pictures that it could then use for marketing purposes.

Neither Vicarious nor DeepMind have yet to release any products, and their locations are kept secret. Even some of the heaviest investors in Vicarious have yet to visit its lab; co-founders D. Scott Phoenix and Dileep George say this is to protect it from hackers. The most they will say is that it is somewhere in the South Bay area of San Francisco.

The focus at Vicarious is to recreate the sensory part of the brain by teaching the software to process information it "sees" with the program's visual receptors. For example, if the computer is looking at a cat which is partially hidden by a box, it is supposed to fill in the missing parts.

According to the Journal, it could be another five to 10 years before the software will be advanced enough to be useful.

Both DeepMind and Vicarious are concerned about unethical uses of the technology when it is fully developed. When the London-based company was sold to Google, it was done on condition that the Internet giant form an internal ethics board. Vicarious has said that its technology will only be used for civil purposes.

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