Page last updated at 12:06 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Science goes back to basics on AI

Robots on car production line, AP
Robots are widely used but few are considered intelligent

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has begun a project to re-think artificial intelligence research.

The Mind Machine Project will return to the basics of AI research to re-examine what lies behind human intelligence.

Spanning five years and funded by a $5m (£3.1m) grant, it will bring together scientists who have had success in distinct fields of AI.

By uniting researchers, MIT hopes to produce robotic companions smart enough to aid those suffering from dementia.

"Essentially, we want to rewind to 30 years ago and revisit some ideas that had gotten frozen," said Neil Gershenfeld, one of the scientists leading the MMP and director of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms.

Mental help

The MMP will bring together more than 20 senior AI scientists in a loose coalition to conduct research.

Dr Gershenfeld said that although AI research was more than 50 years old, many scientists involved with the field were frustrated by the piecemeal progress that had been made.

The MMP will go back to re-visit some of the basic assumptions made when AI research got underway.

Dr Gershenfeld said AI research had got stuck on three separate areas that the MMP would tackle : mind, body and memory.

On the mind, the research will look at ways to model thought, produce problem solving systems and understand the social context in which human intelligence is played out.

In re-thinking memory, the researchers are interested in making machines that can handle the inconsistencies and messiness of human knowledge.

Finally, the team aims to end the division of mind and body to produce systems whose intelligence derives from what they can do.

The ultimate aim for the five-year project is not to produce an artificial human but to create a physical system that is smart enough to read a child's story book, understand the context surrounding that narrative and explain what happened.

This could lead, said MIT, to the creation of a "brain co-processor" initially intended for those with Alzheimer's to give them a better quality of life. Such mental prostheses could also be used by anyone needing help to co-ordinate their lives.

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