Computational intelligence research in Israel gets a $15 million boost

Intel is betting $15 million on the relatively new field of computational intelligence – and is betting that Israeli scientists can make it work

The artificial intelligence revolution is 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 developed right now in university labs and startup companies around the world. Including in Israel, where a number of startups are working on applications that make use of what is broadly called computational intelligence (CI), which enable 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 research in Israel is set to get a huge boost in the coming months: Intel 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. The institute 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.

CI had a major breakthrough last 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!

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 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 U.S. 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 BrainDamage is working on a product called Noesis, which uses something called “atural 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.

It’s too soon too 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 with projects like Noesis and the research boost from Intel, Israeli researchers may be the first to successfully train computers how to think.

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