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"the power of possibilities overwhelms me more than the fear of misuse"

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Yesterday, your's truly was quoted in CIO.com magazine in a beautiful article by Esther Schindler:

Dharmendra Modha, manager of cognitive computing at the IBM Almaden Research Center, believes that this transition is part of the next hundred years of technology leadership. The current data paradigm is structured data management, but in "real life" we deal with unstructured data (of which emotion is a single element). That is, we recognize a friend's face no matter how she's dressed or despite her mood; we detect patterns with a large amount of sensory data and we act appropriately. According to Modha, "We are at a crucial juncture in history where two trends are converging: the tremendous availability of computational power, and the amount of neuroscience knowledge that has exploded over the last few years."

"Cognitive computing is about engineering the mind by reverse engineering the brain," Modha explains. If the brain is the biological wetware, a collection of neurons and a set of interconnection between the neurons, then neuron by neuron and synapse by synapse, computer science is putting together the architecture of the mind. Thus, IBM Research is simulating collective dynamics; researchers are studying how a very large population of interconnected neurons evolve in order to characterize them mathematically and then to synthesize them for harnessing in synthetic computations. Says Modha, "Today, on a 4096 processor Blue Gene supercomputer with 256MB of memory per CPU, we are able to simulate 8 million neurons and 50 billion synapses, 10 times slower than real-time." That's just a start, but then the Cognitive Computing project is new. A mouse brain has 8 million neurons in one hemisphere and 64 billion synapses.

This research aims to assemble the knowledge to build novel perception machines, or novel sensory systems. Business issues, says Modha, will eventually involve visual recognition, pattern detection in the stock market, or inventory management in neurological devices—systems that underlie a wide variety of applications.

It's all very blue sky, of course, as research is supposed to be. But those science-fiction computers-get-emotion stories spoke of both opportunity and horror. What dystopia do such researchers worry that they may unleash? Says Modha, "At this stage in science and technology, the power of possibilities overwhelms me more than the fear of misuse."

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