Computational intelligence: Coming to a start-up near you

"Thinking" technology may soon change the way people interface with machines.

By DAVID SHAMAH
November 14, 2011 21:27
Journalism in the modern day and age

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Don’t look now – but pretty soon computers are going to be doing a lot of our thinking. Now that computers have relieved us of much of the drudgery of physical work, the next hurdle for programmers is getting them to “think” logically and take over some of the basic decision-making and communication tasks that we humans have had all responsibility for until now.

Good or bad, moral or corrupt, freedom-enhancing or the augur of a dark age, the artificial intelligence revolution is already here, and the building blocks of that revolution – the development of applications and technologies that make use of fuzzy logic systems, neural networks, knowledge-based engineering, swarm intelligence, and many other theories – are being advanced right now in university labs and start-up companies around the world.

Including in Israel, where a number of start-ups are working on applications that make use of what is broadly called computational intelligence (CI), which enables computing systems to augment the human brain in a wide array of complex tasks – analyzing huge amounts of data, making sense of rich inputs, taking autonomous decisions and communication back to human beings in a meaningful way. CI had a major breakthrough this past year, when IBM’s Watson beat all comers on TV’s Jeopardy quiz show earlier this year – answering questions that required logical analysis, not just access to a database. True, the system was hulking (with dozens of computers hooked up to create the “intelligent” presence entity that became Watson) and it acted a bit oddly on the show, but those are just details; by the time they get to Watson 3.0, the thing will probably be ready to run for President! CI research in Israel is set to get a huge boost: Intel this week announced a plan to invest $15 million over the next 5 years in a multi-university collaborative research institute in Israel. The institute will conduct advanced research in CI, and will focus on the integration of the key underlying technologies required for computational intelligence: advanced processor architectures and machine learning techniques to process rich sensory data and convert it into intelligence.

Intel’s collaboration with university researchers will accelerate the development of next-generation technologies that can learn, adapt, and interact to provide consumers with a personalized experience, the company says, adding that the new institute will be co-led by researchers from Intel and academia, and will focus on computational intelligence.

It’s too soon to declare Israel as a center of CI – most of the work in the discipline is still in the research stage, with the research being done by universities all over the world – but the Intel project should certainly push local CI research significantly.

It’s not clear when – or even if – this research will produce a “game-changing” application or technology, but there are already hints of what a CI tomorrow might look like, as applications and services have begun to appear that make at least rudimentary use of recent advances in CI research. Apple’s SIRI, which “understands” voice commands and replies to questions, is a very basic version of the results of research conducted by CALO, a program funded by the US government.

But SIRI is “small potatoes” compared to what’s coming. How about a search engine that can understand what you are looking for, in the proper context? Israel’s Brain- Damage (http://braindamage.co.il) is working on a product called Noesis that uses something called “natural thinking technology,” which will put the burden of “understanding” on the search engine, enabling it to return far more accurate results than are currently possible.

The system does this by assembling a huge database of texts and, using its proprietary and patented system, reassembling the information into logical constructs and ideas with definitions and meanings attached to them. A part of those data constructs is supplying contexts for terms and ideas, so in a case where the question being asked can apply to different situations, the engine will seek to clarify the question by asking for more information.

In other words, you could have a conversation with a computer, just like you would with a person at an information booth in the mall. Eventually, the company says, the technology behind Noesis could be used to teach machines to figure out what humans have in mind when they make a request, and could be deployed in a host of devices – washing machines, ovens, information kiosks and many more.

Or how about an application that can protect computer operating systems by understanding the “psychology” of viruses? That’s exactly what Israel-based Nyotron (http://nyotron.co.il) is doing with its Paranoid application, which installs itself in the operating system kernel on a PC or server. When a virus or worm (which, technically, is really just an application) tries to undertake an action affecting the operating system, Paranoid examines its “modus operandi” and compares it to the methods that viruses use to create havoc on computers. The intelligent technology utilized by Paranoid is able to differentiate between legitimate and suspicious activity in the OS.

Thus, when a virus tries to undertake a suspicious action – like attempting to hijack processes they aren’t associated with, downloading code from websites, installing itself as a DLL, etc. – Paranoid alerts the system administrator or computer user that something suspicious is afoot.

Paranoid thus examines the “psychology” of a program and decides whether or not it fits the profile of a virus, and if it does, it prevents the suspicious activity from taking place.

The great advantage of Paranoid is that, thanks to its intelligent analysis, it doesn’t need to consult a database or white-list to figure out what’s allowed and what isn’t – and is thus the only anti-virus application that can halt a “zero-day” attack by a brand-new virus that hasn’t shown up on the radar of the makers of “traditional” anti-virus systems.

Paranoid is a good example of how a CIrelated technology will be a boon, not a threat, to mankind. Let’s hope that all of the things they do with computational intelligence are this helpful!

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