As reported in IEEE Spectrum, DARPA’s new memristor-based approach to Artificial Intelligence consists of a chip that mimics how neurons process information. As a kind of holy grail for computer scientists, AI deployments today are limited to applications like tech support, but are still far away from the reasoning capabilities of HAL in the film 2001.
Things may be changing with the advent of MoNETA (Modular Neural Exploring Traveling Agent) software being designed at Boston University’s department of cognitive and neural systems, which will run on a brain-inspired microprocessor under development at HP Labs in California. The chip is a new class of electronic device called a memristor.
Basically, memristors are small enough, cheap enough, and efficient enough to fill the bill. Perhaps most important, they have key characteristics that resemble those of synapses. That’s why they will be a crucial enabler of an artificial intelligence worthy of the term. The entity bankrolling the research that will yield this new artificial intelligence is DARPA. When work on the brain-inspired microprocessor is complete, MoNETA’s first starring role will likely be in the U.S. military, standing in for irreplaceable humans in scout vehicles searching for roadside bombs or navigating hostile terrain. But we don’t expect it to spend much time confined to a niche. Within five years, powerful, brainlike systems will run on cheap and widely available hardware.
In this video, R. Stanley Williams from HP Labs gives a keynote presentation on memristor technology at the UC San Diego Center for Networked System’s Winter Research Review 2010. And to put all this into the context of high performance computing, HP’s Marc Hamilton has this to say on his blog:
At a very basic level, memristors form the fourth fundamental circuit element alongside the resistor, capacitor, and inductor. For those of you who aren’t electrical engineers and didn’t take basic circuit theory in college, one of the first uses of memristors will most likely be in new types of non-volatile memory, bridging the gap between DRAM and SSD-Flash technology. Of course a good question is, if memristors are so powerful, why did it take from 1971 until just recently to demonstrate the technology and why are we still some number of years away from commercial memristor products? Stan hints at this in his video. The fundamental electrical properties of memristors work better the smallerthe memristor is. It is at nano scale that memristors really begin to shine.