Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

dimanche 1 février 2004

Stephen Thaler is the CEO of Imagination Engines, Inc. (IEI) and has designed and patented a computer program called the Creativity Machine. His idea was simple: introduce noise in a rigid rule-based neural network. This noise disrupts the connections and helps generating new ideas. With his Creativity Machine, he invented such things as the Oral-B CrossAction toothbrush. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a long and captivating article on the subject, "The machine that invents."

Here is the opening paragraph.

Technically, Stephen Thaler has written more music than any composer in the world. He also invented the Oral-B CrossAction toothbrush and devices that search the Internet for messages from terrorists. He has discovered substances harder than diamonds, coined 1.5 million new English words, and trained robotic cockroaches.

He also deposited many patents.

What Thaler has created is essentially "Thomas Edison in a box," said Rusty Miller, a government contractor at General Dynamics.
"His first patent was for a Device for the Autonomous Generation of Useful Information," the official name of the Creativity Machine, Miller said. "His second patent was for the Self-Training Neural Network Object. Patent Number Two was invented by Patent Number One. Think about that. Patent Number Two was invented by Patent Number One!"

Here are some problems solved by the Creativity Machine.

A Creativity Machine used two neural networks to study toothbrush design and performance. A brainstorming session between the two produced the idea to cross the bristles of the toothbrush for optimal cleaning. That toothbrush became the Oral-B CrossAction toothbrush.
In one weekend, a Creativity Machine learned a sampling of some of Thaler's favorite Top 10 hits from the past three decades and then wrote 11,000 new songs. Some are good, Thaler said. Miller confesses to being haunted by one of the melodies in a minor key. Other offerings are the musical equivalent of a painting of dogs playing poker, Thaler said.

IEI is also involved in security projects.

Machines trained to detect dangerous objects could replace humans at baggage screening stations or watch for suspicious behavior.
Thaler's first contract with the Air Force used a Creativity Machine to help design warheads that reconfigure the pattern of shrapnel scattering. That's important to limit collateral damage and to save money by tailoring bombs to destroy a target in one hit.

As it is often the case with this kind of technology, this one creates some fears.

All of the possible applications for Creativity Machines make some people uneasy. The machines could easily supplant people for many mundane jobs, and Thaler predicts that some traditionally human-only jobs, including laboratory scientist, could be up for grabs.
Or worse, sentient machines could decide that they don't need humans at all and do away with people. That fear is fueled by the plots of science-fiction movies, such as "The Terminator." In that movie, a satellite called Skynet became self-aware, saw humans as a threat and destroyed more than 3 billion people.

Rusty Miller thinks that machines are not the real threat.

He worries more about humans with malicious intent turning Creativity Machines into weapons. Other countries are already studying U.S. patents and experimenting with revolutionary technologies. Terrorists could follow suit, he says.

For more information, you can visit the IEI's Creativity Machine homepage and look at a striking demonstration of the possibilities of this technology.

A million input-output STANNO (IEI's totally autonomously training neural network) has been exposed to bitmaps of 12 different faces over a period of 1 minute. Running freely, this Creativity Machine produces a wide gamut of new, potential faces, generalized from the STANNO's training set, and all distinct from those exemplary faces. Compare the invented faces within the AVI sequence with the the training exemplars surrounding it.

As you probably guessed by now, the whole original story is an absolute must-read!

Source: Tina Hesman, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 25, 2004

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