We Almost Gave Up On Building Artificial Brains

We Almost Gave Up On Building Artificial Brains

Today artificial neural networks are making art, writing speeches, identifying faces and even driving cars. It feels as if we’re riding the wave of a novel technological era, but the current rise in neural networks is actually a renaissance of sorts.

It may be hard to believe, but artificial intelligence researchers were already beginning to see the promise in neural networks during World War II in their mathematical models. But by the 1970s, the field was ready to give up on them entirely.

“[T]here were no impressive results until computers grew up, that is until the past 10 years,” Patrick Henry Winston, a professor at MIT who specializes in artificial intelligence, says. “It remains the most important enabler of deep learning.”

Today’s neural networks are essentially decision trees that rely on mathematical logic that resembles, for lack of a better analogy, the firing of synapses in the human brain. Several layers of artificial neurons, or nodes, are utilized to arrive at the solution to a problem. As data is fed through the layers, a simple computation occurs at each node, and the solution is passed to the next layer of neurons for another round of computations. All the while, the math that occurs at each neuron is being slightly modified by the previous result. In this way, a neural network can teach itself patterns in data that match a desired solution and optimize the path to it, sort of like tuning a guitar. The more data you feed a neural net, the better it gets at tuning its neurons and finding a desired pattern.

While the field has emerged in recent years as a tour de force for computer experts and even some hobbyists, the history of the neural network stretches back far further to the dawn of computers. The very first map of a neural network came in 1943 in a paper from Warren Sturgis McCulloch and Walter Pitts. But McCulloch’s framework had little at all to do with computing; instead, he was focused on the structure and function of the human brain. The McCulloch-Pitts model of neuron function, of course, arose during a time when the technology to monitor such activity didn’t exist.

McCulloch and Pitts believed each neuron in the brain functioned like an on-off switch (like binary numbers 1 and 0), and that combinations of these neurons firing on or off yielded logical decisions. At the time, there were many competing theories to describe the way the brain operated, but according to a paper by Gualtiero Piccinni of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, the McCulloch-Pitts model did something others hadn’t: It whittled brain function down to something that resembled a simple computer, and that sparked interest in building an artificial brain from scratch.

The first successful — and that’s a generous term — neural network concept was the Perceptron algorithm from Cornell University’s Frank Rosenblatt. The Perceptron was originally envisioned to be a machine, though its first implementation was as a class of neural networks that could make fairly rudimentary decisions. Eventually, the algorithm was incorporated into a refrigerator-sized computer called the Mark 1, which was an image recognition machine. It had an array of 400 photocells linked with its artificial neural network, and it could identify a shape when it was held before its “eye.”

A few years later in 1959, ADALINE arrived via researchers at Stanford University, and was at the time the biggest artificial brain. But it, too, could only handle a few processes at a time and was meant as a demonstration of machine learning rather than being set to a specific task. B

These small, but tantalizing advancements in computing fueled the hysteria surrounding artificial intelligence in the 1950s, with Science running the headline “Human Brains Replaced?” in a 1958 issue about neural networks. Intelligent robots stormed into science fiction at a swifter clip. This same cycle, though, has repeated itself with many automated processes throughout history.

Posted on 7wData.be.