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  (Source: Pop Kitten)

Magic happens at Google Inc.'s (GOOG) X Laboratory, a secret research and development center located at an unknown location in the Bay Area of Northern California.  Some projects previously disclosed have been the augmented reality "Google Goggles" and the self-driving automobiles.  Google X is even rumored to be working on a space elevator.

I. AI Neural Net Loves Cats

But one of the most fascinating -- and perhaps frightening -- Google X accomplishment has been its creation of one of the world's largest self-learning "unsupervised" neural networks.  Consisting of 16,000 computer processors, the array is capable of complex task that are considered impossible using traditional algorithms.  One such task is finding cute cats on the internet.

As a test of the nascent cognizant system, Stanford University Electrical Engineering Professor Andrew Y. Ng and Google fellow Jeff Dean fed the machine 10 million thumbnails of YouTube videos.  Without being told exactly what to "look for", the network began to hierarchically arrange data, removing duplicate similar features and group certain images together.

One example was the cat.  Thanks to the wealth of cat videos on YouTube, the cyber-brain eventually came to a single dream-like image representing the network's knowledge of what a cat looks like.  The network was able to then able to recognize its favorite thing -- cat videos, no matter what subtle variations merry YouTubers come up with to their feline's appearance.

Google X cat
The "cat neuron" holds the learned appearance of what a cat looks like.
[Image Source: Jim Wilson/The New York Times]

The significant part, say researchers, is that the network wasn't told what to look for.

Professor Dean comments in an interview in The New York Times, "We never told it during the training, ‘This is a cat.'  It basically invented the concept of a cat. We probably have other ones that are side views of cats."

II. Future Systems May Match or Beat Human Brain

Google researchers believe this capability is due to the fact that the network operates similarly to the visual cortex in the human brain.  The visual cortex is thought to contain so-called "grandmother neurons", which store key images, such as your love ones' faces.  The system developed an idea of what a human face looks like, though it lacked the specificity of known faces stored in the human visual cortex.

human face Google X
The system taught itself what a human looks like. [Image Source: Google]

Dr. Ng describes, "A loose and frankly awful analogy is that our numerical parameters correspond to synapses [in the human brain]."

He says that despite that the network learned what a cat looks like and many basic human features, that it still had far less connections ("synapses") than a human brain.  In short, mankind is still winning versus his digital counterpart.  Writes the team, "It is worth noting that our network is still tiny compared to the human visual cortex, which is a million times larger in terms of the number of neurons and synapses."

David A. Bader, executive director of high-performance computing at the Georgia Tech College of Computing, though, says that the team's findings indicate that mankind's era of superiority will be short-lived.  He comments, "The scale of modeling the full human visual cortex may be within reach before the end of the decade."

In a difficult test of recognizing 20,000 images, the system performed better than any machine to date, post-learning.  The final accuracy was 15.8 percent, 70 percent better than the previous record-holder.

The work was presented at the 29th International Conference on Machine Learning in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The project is now headed out of the top-secret lab and into Google's server farms.  Applications that it may be used in include improving results in Google's image search and adaptive speech recognition for Android mobile devices.

But Professor Ng has his sights set on a far more ambitious goal -- a machine that is capable of fully learning, developing into a fully sentient digital system.  To get there he'll need to wait for the never-ending process of hardware improvements to reach a bit further and he'll also have to work on the fundamental algorithms.

The Google X system is close, but not quite there.  He states, "It’d be fantastic if it turns out that all we need to do is take current algorithms and run them bigger, but my gut feeling is that we still don’t quite have the right algorithm yet."

Sources: Google, The New York Times

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The only way
By geddarkstorm on 6/26/2012 3:45:29 PM , Rating: 2
Intelligence is simply order from chaos. Attempts to constrain AI's by feeding them all their parameters will never create intelligence. But the idea of simply letting it roam free to find its own parameters with which to make sense of the world... now that's a very intriguing plan.

Humans are insanely good at pattern recognition. Even a -single- neuron in the human brain can do pattern recognition. I don't think the claim the article says that eventually computer net like this could out do humans will ever come to pass (MAYBE if we find some really exotic quantum stuff). The problem of course right now, is there just isn't enough computers of sufficient power to simulate a good neural network. But we're getting there. So eventually basic pattern recognition like defining de novo "what is a cat," may be quite possible. Now, identifying an individual cat from a lineup? That's just a tad bit harder.

Sweet research though! Sure hope this helps in developing good, autonomous robots for industry and basic tasks.

RE: The only way
By kingmotley on 6/26/2012 4:02:38 PM , Rating: 2
Instead of doing useless stuff like watching cat videos, perhaps they could train it on online forums and have it identify troll posts?

RE: The only way
By geddarkstorm on 6/26/2012 4:09:12 PM , Rating: 3
Seems it just finds trolls uninteresting. But cats, oh man, most exciting things computers have ever seen!

RE: The only way
By FaaR on 6/27/2012 12:19:07 PM , Rating: 2

The project is now headed out of the top-secret lab and into Google's server farms.

Ok, so now every time you search for images using Google, you'll get cat images in return? :D

RE: The only way
By EricMartello on 6/27/2012 10:41:25 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't care about cats. It's using the photo as a euphemism to let everyone know it wants some hairy pussy. Google must have "safe mode" enabled, that's why it's being so discrete.

RE: The only way
By MonkeyPaw on 6/26/2012 4:23:47 PM , Rating: 3
It's simple, really. Google has been taken over by cats. Hence the underground lair. Once all cats have been accounted for, it is game over for humans and maybe dogs.

RE: The only way
By geddarkstorm on 6/26/2012 4:53:53 PM , Rating: 1
This is by far the only logical conclusion. I would stand up and resist, but they are just too blastedly cute!

RE: The only way
By sviola on 6/26/12, Rating: -1
RE: The only way
By superstition on 6/27/2012 12:19:22 AM , Rating: 3
The black plague's severity is actually due to the systematic killing of the Gypsies' cats, due to religious zeal.

The cats killed the rats that carried the plague fleas. This is something that Foucault missed in his famous work on punishment in his plague village example. The actions of the authorities ended up being security theater, mad ritual.

RE: The only way
By hiscross on 6/27/2012 3:08:17 PM , Rating: 2
Actually We Christians won't waste our time with people like you.That is what Hell is for. Just think (if that is possible with a liberal) by rejecting Jesus you want to spend eternity is pain. Please be my guess.

RE: The only way
By TSS on 6/27/2012 10:30:06 AM , Rating: 4
Always with the hell. Join us or burn.

I think i can speak for enough athiests on here if i say that we too would ignore the OP. Has nothing to do with rejecting or accepting christ.

RE: The only way
By FaaR on 6/27/2012 12:23:19 PM , Rating: 3
If you think worshipping an imaginary terrorist god that holds you hostage is a good idea, be my guest. I myself prefer to not waste my time on nonsense and superstitions. We don't need any gods (the universe goes on just fine without them), and gods don't do anything for us anyway so why bother.

RE: The only way
By geekman1024 on 6/26/2012 10:16:50 PM , Rating: 2
oooookay.... I am imagining a picture of Google workers wearing Cat Ears Hairband in their work place.....

Nekomimi for the win!

RE: The only way
By sviola on 6/26/2012 5:36:54 PM , Rating: 2
It seems to me that it identified what was a cat without being told what a cat would look like.

RE: The only way
By geddarkstorm on 6/26/2012 8:47:14 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, that is the point. It created its own parameters. That's the only way to make real intelligence, as that's the hallmark of what intelligence is.

I was thinking about the future of doing this on a single machine, or a robot. They won't remotely challenge humans at our current tech level, but be cool if a single device could do at least this basic bit of learning.

RE: The only way
By ShieTar on 6/27/2012 3:24:12 AM , Rating: 2
A single device has been pretty able to do basic learing for about 20 years now. The google-farm merely needs thousands of processors because it is fed with images; or worse videos. This is a very inefficient method of handing data over to a neural network, as you send millions (or billions in case of vide) of pixels just to transport a few hundred pieces of information like what is in the image, do I know it, is it funny etc.

What surprises me is that everybody seems to discuss intelligence in the comments, but there is no intelligent action of the system described. It merely managed to group videos by correlating their content. I would say google is about 10 years behind facebook on this one, as theirsystem can differentiate between different human faces already, and not merely identify everybody as human.

RE: The only way
By Digimonkey on 6/27/2012 2:18:19 PM , Rating: 2
I think you are missing the point. Facebook has algorithms to identify different people in pictures, Google X is about an algorithm that gives the software the ability to identify whatever, without specific guide lines being entered which is way more complex.

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