Technology Review – Your eyes work with your brain to teach you about the world. You learn to recognize objects, people, and places, and you learn to imagine new things. A startup called Vicarious thinks computers could learn to do likewise, and it’s building software that tries to process visual information the way the brain does.
Vicarious hopes to combine neuroscience and computer science to create a visual perception system inspired by the neocortex, the wrinkly outer portion of the brain that deals with speaking, hearing, seeing, moving, and other functions.
Vicarious is developing machine learning software based on the computational principles of the human brain. Our first technology is a visual perception system that interprets the contents of photographs and videos in a manner similar to humans. Powering this technology is a new computational paradigm we call the Recursive Cortical Network.
Cofounder Dileep George, who was formerly chief technology officer at an AI company called Numenta.
At Singularity Summit 2011
Vicarious, George says, is using a more sophisticated architecture and training its system with a video stream that varies over time. “We’re going back to the drawing board and asking, ‘What is wrong with that architecture people have been building?'” he says.
Vicarious hopes to have a vision system developed and possibly commercialized in the next several years. Cofounder D. Scott Phoenix believes it could have many applications: a computer could analyze diagnostic imagery to determine if a patient has cancer or glance at a dinner plate to let you know how many calories you’re about to consume. “Having a visual perception system that works well would be enormously transformative to anything a person wants to do,” he says.
Phoenix says that Vicarious’s software, like the human brain, essentially learns by seeing a series of images and forming connections in response. This means it’s smart enough to identify an object even if there’s missing information—it will, for example, still recognize an arm even if it’s obscured by paint or a wristwatch.
Vicarious has not published details of its technology. But the company, which was created in 2010, has piqued the interest of some investors. Last month, it raised a $15 million series A round of venture funding from a group of investors that includes Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz.