FORWARD THINKING: Haibo He, a researcher at the University of Rhode Island College of Engineering, is leading a team that specializes in complex mathematical formulas that attempt to have computers mimic the human brain.
IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer may be able to win a chess match against a world champion, but ask it to vacuum the floor and it’s game over. The computer, for all its might, remains hamstrung by its narrow focus and thus lacks the capacity to excel in numerous complex topics.
Building a better, smarter computer that can tackle chess just as easily as navigating around the kitchen table is an elusive goal that has challenged computer experts and mathematicians for years. But in nondescript offices at the University of Rhode Island in South Kingstown, professor Haibo He, 35, and his colleagues are making strides.
Led by He, the team specializes in adaptive dynamic programming. Essentially a compilation of complex mathematical formulas, the concept attempts to mimic no less than the human brain.
“The opportunity to develop truly intelligent machines will be the most fantastic thing on Earth,” said He, an assistant professor in the department of electrical, computer and biomedical engineering.
The concept is to build more than just a powerful machine that can handle one straightforward task repeatedly. He aims to construct an architecture that, with minor tweaking, can tackle any complex problem poised to it.
“What we are trying to do is build a real, true computational machine,” He said.
The possibilities are endless. He talks about a day when a computer system, in a matter of milliseconds, can analyze traffic along a busy roadway, predict the future traffic based on real-time events and past data, and then adjust traffic-control devices accordingly. He envisions a day when robots travel to the depths of mines to rescue trapped miners. But rather than a human on the surface navigating the machine, the robot has enough intelligence to undertake the rescue on its own.
“It’s all about intelligent decision-making,” He said.
The area of research has attracted interest from big corporations such as FedEx, looking for better ways to route packages and from government agencies such as the Army, searching for ways to make smarter weapons.