Some of the most intelligent minds in the country are taking a closer look at artificial intelligence, and if the student surpasses the master in this scenario, the world will have some pretty impressive machines on its hands. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a government institution that concerns itself with large-scale research efforts, has awarded a $28 million grant to Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), Harvard’s Center for Brain Science (CBS), and its Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. The sizable grant to these three departments is meant to help the famed Boston institution develop “advanced machine learning algorithms by pushing the frontiers of neuroscience.”
The goal of the latest research effort is to better understand the human brain so that machines may emulate our biological capabilities. Today, our minds and our machines each excel at two differing functions — while humans are able to quickly recognize patterns and learn, machines are far better at processing large amounts of data. The sweet spot, then, would be to design an AI that can not only learn as well as humans can, but do so with the speed of a robot.
“This is a moonshot challenge, akin to the Human Genome Project in scope,” said project leader David Cox, assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and computer science. “The scientific value of recording the activity of so many neurons and mapping their connections alone is enormous, but that is only the first half of the project,” Cox continued. “As we figure out the fundamental principles governing how the brain learns, it’s not hard to imagine that we’ll eventually be able to design computer systems that can match, or even outperform, humans.”
Of course, if the project proves to be too successful, the Harvard researchers conducting it could turn out to be the last people on earth who are gainfully employed.
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