18 January 2012

Nature-Inspired AI : Wings :: Good Old Fashioned AI : Blimps

NY Times | Steve Lohr | Creating Artificial Intelligence Based on the Real Thing

I work on the algorithms/software side of biologically-inspired computing, not the hardware side this article describes, but I still really like this overall approach.

Other than "yeah! more of this please!" I don't have much to say about the article as a whole or the research project.  I can address this part though:
If it succeeds, the project [to make neuromorphic chips] would seem to make peace with the “airplanes don’t flap their wings” critique. “Yes, they are different, but bird wings and plane wings both depend on the same aerodynamic principles to get lift,” said Christopher T. Kello, director of the Cognitive Mechanics Lab at the University of California, Merced. “It’s the same with this project. You can use essential design elements from biology.”
I've run into the "airplanes don't flap" objection before.  My stock answer is to compare our current computing paradigm to hot air balloons.

Imagine a world where no one ever invented planes, and never tried all the wacky Da Vinci-like flapping flying machines. But this world does have a lot of hot air balloons, and even some blimps, and some people were researching dirigibles. Those are all cool and all, and they're up in the air like birds, and they even have some advantages over birds. But they're nothing like birds, and they have a lot of limitations that birds don't.  Furthermore we've been hearing about how lighter-than-air machines are going to catch up to birds any year now for decades, and they never seem to get there.

In that world doesn't it make sense to look into wings and airfoils and more natural methods of flying? Maybe you don't end up with something flappy, but shouldn't you start looking there?  Doesn't it make sense to take a good long look at birds, and make sure you know how they work before you write off airfoils as a method of flight?  Or do you really want to ignore the one example nature gave you of flight and stick it out with Good Old Fashioned Flying Machines?

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