A journey of 9 years to build an app that can mimic the brain

Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky started Numenta nine years ago to create software that was modeled after the way the human brain processes information. It has taken longer than expected, but the Redwood City, Calif.-based startup recently held an open house to show how much progress it has made.

Hawkins and Dubinsky are tenacious troopers for sticking with it. Hawkins, the creator of the original Palm Pilot, is the brain expert and co-author of the 2004 book “On Intelligence.” Dubinsky and Hawkins had previously started Handspring, but when that ran its course, they pulled together again in 2005 with researcher Dileep George to start Numenta. The company is dedicated to reproducing the processing power of the human brain, and it shipped its first product, Grok, earlier this year to detect unusual patterns in information technology systems. Those anomalies may signal a problem in a computer server, and detecting the problems early could save time.

While that seems like an odd first commercial application, it fits into what the brain is good at: pattern recognition. Numenta built its architecture on Hawkins’ theory of Hierarchical Temporal Memory, about how the brain has layers of memory that store data in time sequences, which explains why we easily remember the words and music of a song. That theory became the underlying foundation for Numenta’s code base, dubbed the Cortical Learning Algorithm (CLA). And that CLA has become the common code that drives all of Numenta’s applications, including Grok.

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