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DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains
By Sandra I. Erwin



The next frontier for the robotics industry is to build machines that think like humans. Scientists have pursued that elusive goal for decades, and they believe they are now just inches away from the finish line.

A Pentagon-funded team of researchers has constructed a tiny machine that would allow robots to act independently. Unlike 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 on a program called “physical intelligence.” 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.

This project does not use standard robot hardware with integrated circuitry, he said. The device that his team constructed is capable, without being programmed like a traditional robot, of performing actions similar to humans, Gimzewski said.

Participants in this project include Malibu-based HRL (formerly Hughes Research Laborary) and the University of California at Berkeley’s Freeman Laboratory for Nonlinear Neurodynamics. The latter is named after Walter J. Freeman, who has been working for 50 years on a mathematical model of the brain that is based on electroencephalography data. EEG is the recording of electrical activity in the brain.

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.

A “physical intelligence” device 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, he said. 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.

It is not clear, however, that the Pentagon is ready to adopt this technology for weapon systems. The Obama administration’s use of drones in “targeted killings” of terrorist suspects has provoked a backlash and prompted the Pentagon to issue new rules for the use of robotic weapons. “Autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force,” said a Nov. 2012 Defense Department policy statement. Autonomous weapons, the document said, must “complete engagements in a timeframe consistent with commander and operator intentions and, if unable to do so, [must] terminate engagements or seek additional human operator input before continuing the engagement.”

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Comments

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

Sounds like the usual BS to loosen the spigots of money from DARPA.  Are there any results?  Or, more likely, is it just that, it is claimed that one day nanoscale wires will be developed that exhibit synaptic plasticity like real neurons and neural network learning algorithms will be able to be embodied in them?  Let me guess --- varistors are to be basis of synaptic learning!?

"This one 'looks and thinks like a human brain,' said James K. Gimzewski, professor of chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Really?  It looks like it in having dozens of species of voltage-gated ion channels with different kinetic and functional dependencies, and dozens of distinct neurotransmitter receptors with scores more of neuromodulators? It looks like a human brain in being connected in a very complex architecture that we haven't unraveled yet, and in using the same principles that we don't understand yet?  It thinks like a human being in having rapid intuitive decision-making and slow, reason-based decision making?  It thinks like a brain in changing its priorities when a beautiful being walks by, or smells fresh coffee, or feels tired?
Are any of these true?
Allan Dobbins at 4/12/2013 3:29 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

Probably be easier to have some one volunteer their brain and just implant it into a drone really. Fantasy Land!
Amid MAny at 4/12/2013 8:23 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

This is a complete boondoggle.  Artificial neural never worked in the first place, and now they're building specialized hardware for the task?  The mind works nothing like an ANN, and nothing like the physical brain observed using EEGs.  What a joke.
FStone at 4/13/2013 4:38 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

Sounds great until you remember that these things have no compassion or love which set the human race apart astronomically from any so called 'marvelous' machine.
Pamela Hankins at 4/13/2013 4:51 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

And what if they can do it? What if it's all really as good as they say? What then? Let us not forget that if this machine can think and learn on its own that it will become smart enough to realize that it's creators are easily wiped out by launching a nuke. Can anyone say terminated! Why not use this technology to help one who has brain damage or reverse Alzheimer's. Enough building weapons!
Bill Harlow at 4/14/2013 11:10 AM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

All this is going to do is create a new humanoid that will turn into Frankenstein's monster.
Bill Harlow at 4/14/2013 11:12 AM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

Before we get to 'artificial intelligence', we'll have to work our way through 'artificial stupidity' and 'artificial insanity' first.
R.C.Jones at 4/14/2013 8:47 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

I think people are getting hung up on the notion this is supposed to work like a human brain.  Sounds more like it is designed to learn and adapt.  Which really is the next major frontier in computing.

We're still probably decades away from useful results, but that's how basic research works.  I'd rather we weren't doing things like this and energy research via DARPA, but better than us not doing it at all.
Ron Phillips at 4/15/2013 12:39 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

I'm with R.C. Jones and Ron Phillips.
S. Honeycutt at 4/15/2013 5:59 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

Pamela. We are not looking for brains that feel such unnecessary emotions as "compassion" and "love". We are looking for the "Military Mind"; ie one which follows orders to the letter, and if possible adds a few elements that increase terror and mayhem in a target population, just for the thrill of experiencing the rush of power which makes sadism such an addictive pastime.
Intelligence comes from the top down, not from the bottom up. Each component neuron integrates itself into the whole because of the requirement of the soul to manifest itself in the world which God has created around and for us.
Cartesianism is delusion.
BTW, really enjoyed the comments here. Alan Dobbs especially good.
Tim at 4/16/2013 2:23 AM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

@Tim,

So will these things be released on the battle field by us to "liberate" the populations of resource rich countries, and come back 10 years as alleged terrorists hating us for our freedom? ala mujadeen?

A robot that can replicate itself from household parts (they learn, right?), and is intent on causing mayhem would be something like a humanoid-size virus. Hiding. replicating. destroying.
james at 4/16/2013 11:46 AM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

How many times do we view dreams becoming reality. We see science fiction as a tool to dream of what possibilities may exist or become. Though this sounds futuristic it also is a scary concept, should governments want to creat an army of such creatures who have no compassion or compunction to destroy without having the human senses that stop our choices of action. What an army that would make! Things that start out as a useful tool; how many of these have become deadly devices? Just think of the "Smart Meters" they are trying to put out to us today to allegedly "improve our lives and give some unknown source all the information of our habits and actions. Shades of George Orwell's "1984"! Even manufacturers of televisions or programs and devices that they can watch us and determine what products they can shove down our throats!  So many of them came from good intentions.
Robert Green at 4/18/2013 3:54 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

Every technology we build can be used for good or bad.  It is very scary to build something that will be smarter and more intelligent than any human.  We see ourselves as Masters.  I see something like this as an opportunity to advance the human race.  I believe DARPA has cracked the code or built model for future robotical Brains.  I think humans have many flaws which in a sense makes us perfect.  This is and will be part of our evolution. If we are to survive in the future, most people can't see that far, so it's normal to have fear and pessimism.  For the most part technology has done more good throughout its existence than bad.
Oli at 4/18/2013 7:18 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

Every technology we build can be used for good or bad.
Mind control technologies have abused and tortured innocent civilians for years.
Mind control technologies are weapons which use drugs, electronic microchip implants, nanotechnologies, microwaves and /or electromagnetic waves to subvert an individual's sense of control over their own thinking, behavior, emotions or decision making by attacking the brain and nervous system.
I had collected many reported articles which introduced 'mind control technologies'. The listing of these articles would not mislead readers; it was a short cut for readers to learn what mind control technologies were.
http://peacepink.ning.com/forum/topics/introduce-mind-control-and 

Stories about Soleilmavis Liu                    

The Fact and evidence of abuses and tortures of mind control technologies:
I was controlled by remote Voice to Skull technologies and remote electromagnetic Mind Control technologies, and I was brought inside US Embassy in Hong Kong
(http://peacepink.ning.com/profiles/blogs/kidnapped-by-mind-control )

Soleilmavis case summary of mind control abuses and tortures
http://peacepink.ning.com/profiles/blogs/soleilmavis-case-summary-on-mind-control-torture-and-abuse   
Soleilmavis at 4/19/2013 4:15 AM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

Scoff all you want. I honestly don't care about anyone else here's background or level of nerd/geekdom they think is compared to mine, IQ, knowlegeability of the subject/people involved, or the amount of information they have access to - I DO KNOW MINE!, and, especially if DARPA's involved and they've already published this much information on the possibility, it IS real! You NEVER hear about any DARPA-funded project until it's past completion or far enough down the pipeline that there's likely no stopping its completion or deployment. I would point you to Discover magazine's article on DARPA in the 1997 or 1998 issue (don't remember exactly what issue as I had a running subscription, along with Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, US News and World Report and a few others like PC Mag, PC Shopper and Internet Computing, but the first 4 were the only ones I read cover to cover every month, and I'm pretty certain it was in Discover, but I'd have to do some digging to find out which issue and the whole article was about what the "edited and official" functions of DARPA was and singing its praises). You can bet this is real folks. They built the first petaflop (in Japan, I think. That's a quadrillion calculations per second for those of you that don't already know) in the late 90s. I was alreapdy doing some in-depth researching into a couple of DARPA projects including seek and destroy android soldiers, dogs, and cheetahs, plus, so far successful reports of rat and chimp mind melds that has successfully combined intellects (and who knows what else) and attempts to meld minds to machines (go figure). You can find these articles at www.infowars.com and www.prisonplanet.com archives. They're not too long ago - couple two or three weeks tops. You're welcome. Feel free to find me on fb - Scott Wooten
Scott Wooten at 4/28/2013 6:09 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

There is nothing to worry about, just our money.
"Scientists" involved in that project simply did not know what role a brain play in our body.
The project is look like some body trying to understand how a car is working by studying how a tire is working on the quantum level.
Michael Zeldich at 6/29/2013 10:36 AM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

   Fort Benning’s Maneuver Battle Lab will conduct a Robotics Rodeo October 7-10. 
   This year’s demonstration will focus on the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport capabilities.  The S-MET is an unmanned robotic platform which will reduce the load of  equipment required by an Army maneuver squad.
   Some of these requirements include carrying 1,000 lbs. (weight carried by a nine-man squad on a 72-hour mission), capable of maintaining a 4 KpH march speed for eight hours and a total of 32 km with 0-38 KpH bursts of speed for 200 meters on a hard, dry and level surface, and capable of traversing in forward and reverse on slopes of up to 30% and descending on slopes of 60%.
   The 2012 event was attended by 44 vendors, seven academic partners and more than 700 participants.
   For more information about this event, please contact the Maneuver Center of Excellence Public Affairs Office at 706-545-6674 or 706-545-8970 or email elsie.e.jackson.civ@mail.mil.
Elsie Jackson at 8/19/2013 1:38 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

I disagree that this robotic brain looks and thinks like a human brain. I mean, humans have a great beautiful complex mind that can do so MANY things. For example: humans can be whatever they believe, we can accomplish the most outrageous things if we set our minds to it, if we train our brains to think that certain way. These robotic brains will always perform to their abilities; there is no such thing as a challenge for them. Also, humans have priorities. They change their minds according to what happens along the way. We make fast decisions usually based on emotion or a gut feeling rather than a reasoned based logic. The robots will think nothing like the humans. Another reason is because of emotional intelligence. Sometimes it's better to follow your instinct that the logical way; it can save many lives in the military. However, these robotic brains don't have intuition, do they? I agree that these brains will be far smarter than us, but do we really want that? These creations can control us; we are humans, constantly trying to gain power from each other. What will happen to us when we realize that not our species but a different one completely is gaining control? When these independent smarter robots take control, we will try to fight back, but we will lose due to the fact that these things are military machines and we are obsolete compared to them I don’t think that we should make anything equal to or more advance that us. In conclusion, this robotic brain is not at all like the human brain. Yes it may be shaped that way and have similar robotic synapses, but in reality it is nothing compared to the complexity of human brains. There are many reasons for this. Humans have an EQ, do the robots", Humans have priorities, do the robots, Humans have intuition,  do the robots? Humans have the power to train and shape their own brains, do the robots? What we are creating is a killing military mind that will destroy humanity. I understand a war is a war, but what if this independent robotic brain doesn't know when to draw the line? 
Mahika Lunker at 8/29/2013 8:28 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

A nano particle saying..." I am only a few inches away"
Hugo Gómez at 9/18/2013 3:00 AM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

Sorry to blow away the illusions but DARPA's 'freeing up of the purse-strings' here, is to facilitate the creation of near-future hunter-killer and a whole new generation of predatory Drone-Skull like war-fighters.
You see how quickly we adapted to the term 'war-fighters' instead of patriotic soldiers?

 - Killers; killers with no conscience hence no need for the dispensable complexities and luxuries like those exhibited by the human frontal temporal lobe, the seat of rationality, sense of fairness, empathy, justice, compassion and learning from past mistakes.
- So, like a serial killer released from death-row it goes straight back to killing its evolutionary, adaptive adversary: — Human beings.

Great times ahead 'gentlemen', they shall roam the earth like Jolly-Green-Giants, with Directed Energy weapons (which won't require re-loading): YES?!

Trust me I'm an electronician.
General Lee Ivor Craven at 12/15/2013 3:34 PM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

P Ledernier at 1/3/2014 4:06 AM

Re: DARPA Building Robots With ‘Real’ Brains

I watched a movie not a documentary on a robot brain that a young man performed surgery and put the part in a dead woman. She came back to life. Is a brain pacer always a brain or cerebral pacer? Google is making robots. Please reply. Good day.
Brent Dunlevy at 2/27/2014 12:06 PM

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