Jeff Hawkins hacks the human brain (Cont.)

Erick Schonfeld, Business 2.0 Magazine editor-at-large

Among Numenta's four corporate partners that are researching projects around the HTM is EDSA Micro, a San Diego-based maker of software that designs and analyzes electrical power systems in factories, refineries, and data centers, where equipment is often extremely sensitive to power surges and other disruptions. Avoiding such hiccups can mean not having to dump a million-dollar batch of chip wafers or drugs.

"Facilities might have 10,000 real data points coming in per second, but no way of interpreting that data," says Adib Nasle, EDSA's president. He's convinced that an HTM will be able to monitor all the data from electrical and other systems and find abnormalities that would otherwise be missed. For instance, a piece of equipment in a factory might experience a slight increase in current, some minor vibration, and a decrease in pressure in a valve. Any one of these signals might not be enough to set off an alarm, but taken together the pattern might be an early sign of equipment failure.

Nasle has been working with Numenta for about a year and is impressed with the progress he's seen. "Every month these guys put out a system that is 300 times faster than the one I had before," he says. He hopes to roll out an HTM-based product within two years.

Another partner is a car manufacturer, which declined to be identified, that wants to see if an HTM-trained system with outward-looking sensors (cameras, infrared, ultrasound) can help a car understand traffic and dangerous situations. If there's smoke coming from the car ahead, or if a red ball rolls out from the curb, we know to step on the brake. A car equipped with an HTM may one day know that too.

Numenta has also been approached by oil companies that want to unleash an HTM on their seismic and satellite data to find geologic patterns that could lead to new oil strikes. A chip company thinks it might be able to improve its manufacturing yields if a computer could learn to model all the different steps and variables that go into making a semiconductor.