Whither ‘Brainware?’

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It’s nothing new for technological advances to be inspired by observations of the natural world. For example, Wilbur Wright — of the aviation pioneering Wright brothers — spent significant amounts of time looking at flying birds and noticed they sometimes “tipped” their wings to one side or another to gain balance and adjust to the differences in the lifting forces caused by the air around them. Unlike other aspiring aviators, he realized early on that the problem wasn’t one of powering a craft into the air, but of novel concepts such as lift and drag that helped sustain flight. As a result, he and his brother were the ones who made history as the makers and pilots of the first planes.

Another technology innovator has been in the news lately because of a cutting-edge project he’s working on that’s inspired by nodal-processing patterns within the human brain, or more precisely, the neocortex region. Jeff Hawkins — best known as the genius behind the PalmPilot — has spent the past few years of his career studying how these patterns can be applied to software design. He even formed a company, Numenta, to develop and promote the concept.

Specifically, this idea is manifested in the hierarchical temporal memory (HTM) model that ostensibly can be “trained” not only to recognize objects, but also identify and classify related objects it wasn’t trained on. The HTM system runs on the free-software Numenta Platform for Intelligent Computing (NuPIC) that was recently made available for download on the company’s Web site (http://www.numenta.com/for-developers/education/getting-started-htm.php).

Evidently taking architect Daniel Burnham’s advice to “make no little plans

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Brian Summerfield

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