$25 Million NSF Grant to Build Machines Smarter Than Average 3-Year-Old

September 20, 2013 - 11:28 AM

door knob

(Wikicommons)

(CNSNews.com) – The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded a $25 million grant to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to research ways to build smarter machines that think more like human brains.

“Recent advances in areas ranging from artificial intelligence to neurotechnology present new opportunities for an integrated effort to produce major breakthroughs in fundamental knowledge,” a Sept. 9 NSF press release announcing the grant said.

But “significant obstacles remain before the gap between brain and machine can be bridged,” NSF acknowledged. “For example, some digital computers can now rival the raw processing power and memory of the human brain….Yet, a three-year-old child can identify a door knob better than an intelligent machine can.”

The $25 million NSF grant will be used to establish a Center for Brains, Minds and Machines at MIT’s campus in Cambridge, Mass. It’s part of the $100 million Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative announced by the White House on April 2.

“NSF is pleased to support a cohort of exceptionally strong center proposals in Fiscal Year 2013 that scientifically ‘top the charts’ in terms of their timeliness and their potential contribution to U.S. competitiveness,” NSF’s Wanda Ward, head of NSF's Office of International and Integrative Activities, said in a statement.

"These new leading-edge centers will produce the next generation of diverse, globally engaged talent and have the potential to attract more Nobel Prize-caliber researchers," she added.

However, some economists fear that creating machines smarter than the average three-year-old will have a significant downside for most Americans.

After analyzing employment data from 20 countries, the Associated Press reported in January that “millions of midskill, midpay jobs already have disappeared over the past five years, and they are the jobs that form the backbone of the middle class in developed countries.”

“It turns out that computers most easily target jobs that involve routines, whatever skill level they require. And the most vulnerable of these jobs, economists have found, tend to employ midskill workers, even those held by people with college degrees — the very jobs that support a middle-class, consumer economy,” according to AP’s three-part series entitled, “Will Smart Machines Create A World Without Work?”

“The old machines replaced human brawn but created jobs that required human brains,” Paul Wiseman and Bernard Condon wrote. “The new machines threaten both.”