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Scientists Discover How Brain Recognizes Faces June 1, 2011

Posted by Metabiological in Synthetic Intelligence.
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Interesting news coming out of the PNAS.  A group of researchers have pinpointed the areas of the brain responsible for that most human of talents; recognizing another person’s face.

“Faces are among the most compelling visual stimulation that we encounter, and recognizing faces taxes our visual perception system to the hilt. Carnegie Mellon has a longstanding history for embracing a full-system account of the brain. We have the computational tools and technology to push further into looking past one single brain region. And, that is what we did here to discover that there are multiple cortical areas working together to recognize faces.”

While this is certainly cool in and of itself and will have great implications for our understanding of the brain and conditions like prospagnosia (the inability to recognize faces) what excites me most about this is the implications it could have for the field of synthetic intelligence.

One of the paradoxes of SI research has been that tasks we perform quite easily, such as face recognition or folding the laundry, has consistently given machines difficulties.  The reason for this as far as I can tell (not being a SI person) has to do with the underlying structure of the human brain.  The brain is more or less a giant pattern recognizing device, designed through evolution to allow us to tease apart the facts that allowed us to survive in a prehistoric world.  Facts like whether or not a certain colored fruit is okay to eat or whether there was a dangerous predators hiding in the grass or, you guessed it, whether or not that person standing in front of us was someone we already know.  Machines on the other hand, for all their great speed, are still little more than calculators performing single calculations one after another.  They lack the massive parallel processing abilities of the brain because their not built like it.

There’s a fair amount of debate within the SI community as to whether or not achieving machine sentience requires the construction of an artificial brain first.  Not being a computer scientist I’m not entirely sure where I stand on that debate, though I can say that plenty of computer scientists do believe so, but sooner or later we will create a machine in the model of the human brain.  Research like this may help us get their sooner.

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