Imitating synapses of the human brain could lead to smarter electronics and human-like artificial intelligence

Connections, or synapses, between neurons are inspiring scientists to create artificial versions that could lead to smarter electronics. Credit: American Chemical Society

Connections, or synapses, between neurons are inspiring scientists to create artificial versions that could lead to smarter electronics.
Credit: American Chemical Society

Making a computer that learns and remembers like a human brain is a daunting challenge. The complex organ has 86 billion neurons and trillions of connections — or synapses — that can grow stronger or weaker over time. But now scientists report in ACS’ journal Nano Letters the development of a first-of-its-kind synthetic synapse that mimics the plasticity of the real thing, bringing us one step closer to human-like artificial intelligence.

While the brain still holds many secrets, one thing we do know is that the flexibility, or plasticity, of neuronal synapses is a critical feature. In the synapse, many factors, including how many signaling molecules get released and the timing of release, can change. This mutability allows neurons to encode memories, learn and heal themselves. In recent years, researchers have been building artificial neurons and synapses with some success but without the flexibility needed for learning. Tian-Ling Ren and colleagues set out to address that challenge.

The researchers created an artificial synapse out of aluminum oxide and twisted bilayer graphene. By applying different electric voltages to the system, they found they could control the reaction intensity of the receiving “neuron.” The team says their novel dynamic system could aid in the development of biology-inspired electronics capable of learning and self-healing.

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The Latest on: Human-like artificial intelligence
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Poker-playing program knows when to fold ’em

via www.sciencenews.org

via www.sciencenews.org

UAlberta researchers solve heads-up limit Texas hold ‘em poker.

In a world first, researchers in the Computer Poker Research Group at the University of Alberta have essentially solved heads-up limit Texas hold ‘em poker with their program, called Cepheus.

“Poker has been a challenge problem for artificial intelligence going back over 40 years, and until now, heads-up limit Texas hold ‘em poker was unsolved,” says Michael Bowling, lead author and professor in the Faculty of Science, whose findings were published Jan. 9 in the journal Science.

For more than a half-century, games have been test beds for new ideas in artificial intelligence. The resulting successes have marked significant milestones, from IBM’s Deep Blue defeating world champion Garry Kasparov in chess and Watson beating top-earning Jeopardy! champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

But as Bowling points out, defeating top human players is not the same as actually solving a game—especially a game like poker.

The challenge of imperfect information

In poker, players have imperfect information—they don’t have full knowledge of past events, and they can’t see their opponents’ hands. The most popular variant of poker today is Texas hold ‘em. When it is played with just two players and with fixed bet sizes and a limited number of raises allowed, it is called heads-up limit hold ‘em.

The possible situations in this poker version are fewer than in checkers—which U of A computing science researchers solved in 2007, led by now dean of science Jonathan Schaeffer—but the imperfect-information nature of heads-up limit hold ‘em makes it a far more challenging game for computers to play or solve.

“We define a game to be essentially solved if a lifetime of play is unable to statistically differentiate it from being solved at 95% confidence,” explains Bowling. “Imagine someone playing 200 hands of poker an hour for 12 hours a day without missing a day for 70 years. Furthermore, imagine them employing the worst-case, maximally exploitive opponent strategy—and never making a mistake. They still cannot be certain they are actually winning.”

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Seeking Robots to Go Where First Responders Can’t

Image of Autonomous Robot From Second Grand Ch...

Image of Autonomous Robot From Second Grand Challenge Advancing to Urban Challenge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Darpa officials said they were hoping for international participation

In the event of another disaster at a nuclear power plant, the first responders may not be humans but robots. They may not even look humanoid.

The Pentagon’s research and development agency is to announce a competition on Tuesday to design specialized robots that can work in disaster zones while operating common tools and vehicles. And while such tasks may well inspire humanoid designs, roboticists say they may also lead to the robotic equivalent of the Minotaur — a hybrid creature that might have multiple arms and not just legs but treads. Rumors of the challenge have already set professional and amateur robot builders buzzing with speculation about possible designs and alliances. Aaron Edsinger, a founder of Meka Robotics in San Francisco, said he was speaking with fellow roboticists around the country and was considering a wide array of possible inspirations.

“Analogs to animals such as spiders, monkeys, bears, kangaroos and goats are useful inspiration when considering parts of the challenge,” he said.

In the Tuesday announcement, the Defense Advanced Research and Planning Agency, or Darpa, lists eight likely tasks the robot will need to perform — among them driving a vehicle to a simulated disaster site, moving across rubble, removing rubble from an entryway, climbing a ladder, using a tool to break through a concrete wall, finding and closing a valve on a leaking pipe, and replacing a component like a cooling pump.

Mr. Edsinger said the challenge would be not in completing any one of the tasks but rather in integrating them into a single mission. “I feel we have already have systems that can achieve each individual task in the challenge,” he said.

The idea for the competition came from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan a year ago, said Gill Pratt, a program manager in Darpa’s defense sciences office. “During the first 24 hours,” he added, “there were things that should have been done but were not done because it was too dangerous for people to do them.”

The agency has not yet announced how much it intends to spend on the program or the size of the prize. It is calling the program a “robotics challenge,” which is distinguished from a series of “grand challenge” events it held in 2004, 2005 and 2007, with $1 million and $2 million prizes for a contest to design autonomous vehicles to drive in desert and urban settings.

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The Best and the Brightest

New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg.

Image via Wikipedia

New York City’s bid to attract science talent could serve as a model for other cities

Two hundred years ago it was enough to rely on natural advantages to build a great city. Cities were built on the intersections of rivers or along gentle bays that launched commerce and trade on mighty oceans. Those days are long gone. Today our greatest competitive advantages are the qualities that attract the best and brightest from around the world to come here: our freedom, our diversity, our tolerance and our dynamism.

New York became the world’s greatest city because New Yorkers dared to dream it and build it. Today we are looking far into the future once again—and launching one of the most promising economic development initiatives in the city’s long history.

This summer we released a Request for Proposals to universities to provide prime New York City real estate, plus up to $100 million in infrastructure upgrades, in exchange for a university’s commitment to build or expand a world-class science and engineering campus here in our city.

This is not the first time government has offered land and funding in exchange for university development. In 1862 the U.S. government created a land grant program for the creation of new universities. President Abraham Lincoln? and Congress sought to promote innovation and expertise in agriculture and engineering—because they knew those fields were critical to the nation’s economic growth. Cornell University, M.I.T., the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan and many other major universities grew out of that land grant program, and along with them came pioneering discoveries that helped America become the world’s largest economy.*

For most of our history, New York City was the technology capital of the U.S. and of the world. When Robert Fulton built the first commercially viable steamship in 1806, he spawned a shipping industry that would employ countless New Yorkers for generations to come. The discoveries and innovations of Fulton, Samuel Morse, Charles Pfizer and Alexander Graham Bell?, among many others, fueled the industries that employed generations of New Yorkers. We became the country’s economic engine because our entrepreneurs were the most innovative, and their ideas and investments built our city into a global powerhouse.

But despite that legacy of innovation, like most American cities, New York struggled in the face of fundamental changes to the national economy. In expanding New York’s applied science capabilities, what we are proposing is our most ambitious attempt yet to counteract a decades-long economic trend that once threatened the very future of American cities.

Between 1966 and 2001, New York City went from about 800,000 jobs in manufacturing to about 150,000. Three out of every four jobs were lost—most of them middle-class jobs that did not require a college degree. Although New York fared far better than the nation as a whole, at the same time our economic health became ever more dependent on Wall Street’s booms and busts.

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GE Ecomagination Challenge winners announced

General Electric (GE) says that over 100 products have been brought to market since launching its Ecomagination project in 2005.

Phase I of its latest Challenge has already resulted in 12 commercial partnerships aimed at developing the next generation of power grid technologies (including the outright acquisition of smart grid technology company FMC-Tech), and now the winners of Phase II: Powering Your Home have just been announced. GE has awarded five innovators US$100,000 each to further develop their technologies and also partnered with ten home energy technology companies.

From a field of over 800 innovation submissions for second phase of its Challenge, GE’s panel of judges has chosen five to receive a cash injection to advance the development of the various clean technology concepts – including solar, communications and software and building efficiency technologies. In no particular order of preference, the winners are:

A student run initiative from London called E.quinox that’s developing a financially sustainable, off grid, stand-alone renewable energy solution for developing countries.

From a field of over 800 innovation submissions for second phase of its Challenge, GE’s panel of judges has chosen five to receive a cash injection to advance the development of the various clean technology concepts – including solar, communications and software and building efficiency technologies. In no particular order of preference, the winners are:

A student run initiative from London called E.quinox that’s developing a financially sustainable, off grid, stand-alone renewable energy solution for developing countries.

Read more . . .

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