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Big Data May Mimic, Replace Brain

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Big data analytics may both mimic the human brain and replace it, according to presentations at an IBM symposium here.

Veteran venture capitalist Vinod Khosla called for advances that reduce human error by putting more healthcare decisions into the hands of smart systems. Separately, cognitive computing researcher Jeff Hawkins showed advances in applying techniques used in the neocortex to sorting large datasets.

Today's medicine relies on doctors' expert opinions, which are often “based on a series of biases that are more often right than wrong,” said Khosla, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Sun Microsystems. “I suspect we will need humans out of the loop.”

Khosla cited numerous studies quantifying the impact of human errors in diagnosing and treating health issues. He argued for more work on healthcare sensors and analytics, an area where he is currently investing in several startups including AliveCor, Ginger.io, Kyron, and Quanttus.

“Data science will do more for medicine in the next 10 years than biological science,” Khosla told a symposium on cognitive computing at the IBM Almaden Research center in San Jose, Calif.

He referred to today's digital medicine products as “clumsy toddler steps” that will lead to more sophisticated offerings that empower consumers. “I think change will come from consumer-driven healthcare, and I hope a few role models will cause an avalanche of interest.”

Separately, Jeff Hawkins described his latest product, Grok. It uses a technique employed in the neocortex to track large datasets by creating so-called sparse distributed representations (SDRs).

Grok is based on an SDR algorithm Hawkins's company released as an open-source code. “We don't know how to characterize it mathematically, but I'd argue this is a basic building block of cognitive computing,” he said.

The software, released for use on Amazon's cloud service, handles rapid detection and ranking of anomalies in data streams and provides tools to investigate them quickly. Hawkins described the tool as a single sensor — like an ear — attached to a very rudimentary brain “a thousandth the size of a mouse's neocortex.”

“We see something unusual — we don't know why it happened or its root cause — that requires a physics model and an understanding of how things are supposed to work” in a given system, he said.

Nevertheless, he claimed the tool is a powerful one that could be applied broadly to big data analytics problems in areas as diverse as finance, web sales, and manufacturing. CEPT Systems in Austria is already using the open-source algorithm at the heart of Grok in its work on natural language recognition.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on EETimes .

8 comments on “Big Data May Mimic, Replace Brain

  1. _hm
    November 23, 2013

    This is a good progress for medical science. However, you may not ever dispense with human intervenation and human touch. Also you should not. Self learning computing system is far from human brain and its motivations. Also, group discussions and collective decisions are very unique in nature and pretty dynamic which changes with real time in medical world with condtion and response of human body.

     

  2. _hm
    November 23, 2013

    “Data science will do more for medicine in the next 10 years than biological science”

    This sounds to be pretty loose statement or preposterous. I wish author understands total contribution of biological science.

    Data science employs all concept and theory of biological science. And they will continue doing so. They are complementry branches and also I do not see any need to compare them.

     

  3. FLYINGSCOT
    November 24, 2013

    I am a firm believer in all of the sciences working together in medical research.  Big data, if used correctly, must be a real boon to medical research.  If data can be disseminated and assimilated quickly it will help find breakthroughs in conditions ranging from simple allergies to devastating cancers.  

  4. ahdand
    November 25, 2013

    @flyingscot: Good signs are there for medical science. I think we should support in these research programs since it helps to save lives if things works out well. Who knows it may save me , you or any of our family members.   

  5. Eric Artille
    November 25, 2013

    Of course I would like to see advances in this field…anything that can reduce errors and help to cure the sick will be a great thing indeed…my concern is the issue with the software requiring a knowledge of physics and them not understanding exactly why…physics has come a long way, a while we think we have a basic understanding of how things work in the universe and on this planet, anyone working in the filed of physics will tell you that everything we think we know may not be correct because there are places where the physics we know breaks down…black holes…big bang..etc…I guess I would wonder exactly what would happen if the physics we put in this software isnt correct…will that somehow make the systems not function correctly…being off by even millimeters could be disastorous in something as complex as brain surgery or something of that nature…definitely think much more research is necessary.

  6. SunitaT
    November 26, 2013

    Computer systems will advance and hence make healthcare easy and efficient. However, the healthcare is still plagued with management of data services. Automation of healthcare using cloud architecture is being adopted by many, and also at the same time, electronics are being developed that assimilate within the body and upload patient health data to the hospital's cloud for doctors to view them. This system, although still new, has been giving positive results. The only concern remains is privacy and simple accessibility. 

  7. ahdand
    November 28, 2013

    @trilapur: Yes it's a good sign and will boost the whole industry too but there is a certain level of risk which might be common to all while integrating with IT but still when you are dealing with sensitive data like this, it gets highlighted in a much more different manner.

  8. ahdand
    November 28, 2013

    @trilapur: Yes it's a good sign and will boost the whole industry too but there is a certain level of risk which might be common to all while integrating with IT but still when you are dealing with sensitive data like this, it gets highlighted in a much more different manner.

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