Fri, Jun 29, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Google’s artificial brain fixates on cats

Google scientists created a huge neural network for machine learning by connecting 16,000 processors, but the network is still tiny compared with the human visual cortex

By John Markoff  /  Ny Times News Service, MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA

Illustration: Mountain People

Inside Google’s secretive X laboratory, known for inventing self-driving cars and augmented-reality glasses, a small group of researchers began working several years ago on a simulation of the human brain.

There Google scientists created one of the largest neural networks for machine learning by connecting 16,000 computer processors, which they turned loose on the Internet to learn on its own.

Presented with 10 million digital images found in YouTube videos, what did Google’s brain do? What millions of humans do with YouTube: look for cats.

The neural network taught itself to recognize cats, which is actually no frivolous activity. This week, the researchers will present the results of their research at a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Google scientists and programmers will note that while it is hardly news that the Internet is full of cat videos, the simulation nevertheless surprised them. It performed far better than any previous effort by roughly doubling its accuracy in recognizing objects in a challenging list of 20,000 distinct items.

The research is representative of a new generation of computer science that is exploiting the falling cost of computing and the availability of huge clusters of computers in giant data centers. It is leading to significant advances in areas as diverse as machine vision and perception, speech recognition and language translation.

Although some of the computer science ideas that the researchers are using are not new, the sheer scale of the software simulations is leading to learning systems that were not previously possible. And Google researchers are not alone in exploiting the techniques, which are referred to as “deep learning” models. Last year, Microsoft scientists presented research showing that the techniques could be applied equally well to build computer systems to understand human speech.

“This is the hottest thing in the speech recognition field these days,” said Yann LeCun, a computer scientist who specializes in machine learning at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.

And then, of course, there are the cats.

To find them, the Google research team, led by the Stanford University computer scientist Andrew Ng and the Google fellow Jeff Dean, used an array of 16,000 processors to create a neural network with more than 1 billion connections. They then fed it random thumbnails of images, one each extracted from 10 million YouTube videos.

The videos were selected randomly, in itself an interesting comment on what interests humans in the Internet age. However, the research is also striking. That is because the software-based neural network created by the researchers appeared to closely mirror theories developed by biologists that suggest individual neurons are trained inside the brain to detect significant objects.

Currently, much commercial machine-vision technology is done by having humans “supervise” the learning process by labeling specific features. In the Google research, the machine was given no help in identifying features.

“The idea is that instead of having teams of researchers trying to find out how to find edges, you instead throw a tonne of data at the algorithm and you let the data speak and have the software automatically learn from the data,” Ng said.

“We never told it during the training: ‘This is a cat,’” said Dean, who originally helped Google design the software that lets it easily break programs into many tasks that can be computed simultaneously. “It basically invented the concept of a cat. We probably have other ones that are side views of cats.”

This story has been viewed 3164 times.
TOP top