UK government launches artificial intelligence drive

Research project will bring academics and businessmen together to tell the government how it can help Britain develop computers that can think

The UK government is attempting to boost Britain's involvement in intelligent computing by launching a research project into cognitive systems.

The collaboration, which is part of the government's UK Foresight programme, will involve business leaders, academic researchers and representatives of government organisations.

Its purpose is to examine the latest breakthroughs in cognitive computing -- an area of research that attempts to replicate human-like intelligence within computers -- and find what needs to be done to help UK firms and universities to succeed in this area.

The government said on Tuesday that the pilot project would examine how work on artificial intelligence could benefit from our knowledge of neuroscience -- the study of the human nervous system and the brain, which examines the biological basis of consciousness, perception, memory, and learning.

"Current computing technology is rapidly improving and computers will at some point in the future have the capacity to make decisions and have speech recognition. Soon computers, refrigerators and cars will be able to respond to even our most natural and colloquial speech," said a government statement.

The cognitive systems project is expected to last for between nine and 15 months. The government's chief scientific advisor, Professor David King, warned that the project has a challenging remit, but said he believed it could yield valuable results.

"It is vitally important that the UK stays at the forefront of developing industrial applications from breakthroughs in science, and new approaches to engineering and technology. The cognitive systems project will examine cutting edge areas of science to explore if there is more that could be done to accelerate progress and secure benefits for the UK," said King.

Many artificial intelligence workers believe that neuroscience contains many valuable lessons for those who are attempting to create a computer that can think.

While personal computers are built around a central processing unit that carries out one instruction at a time -- at very high speeds -- the brain is made up of neurons, a mass of interconnected nodes that between them give a living creature the power to think. Supporters of the "connectionist" theory of AI believe that duplicating this set-up is the way forward.

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