Mapping the Brain to Build Better Machines

Take a three year-old to the zoo, and she intuitively knows that the long-necked creature nibbling leaves is the same thing as the giraffe in her picture book. That superficially easy feat is in reality quite sophisticated. The cartoon drawing is a frozen silhouette of simple lines, while the living animal is awash in color, texture, movement and light. It can contort into different shapes and looks different from every angle. Humans excel at this kind of task. We can effortlessly grasp the most important features of an object from just a few examples and apply those features to the unfamiliar. Computers, on the other hand, typically need to sort through a whole database of giraffes, shown in many settings and from different perspectives, to learn to accurately recognize the…

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