A Nigerian citizen called Oshi Agabi has unveiled a computer that has been trained to recognize the smell of explosives at the TEDGlobal conference in Tanzania.
The system as it is reported could be used to replace traditional airport security, he said. He launched his start-up Koniku over a year ago, has raised $1m (£800,000) in funding and claims it is already making profits of $10m in deals with the security industry.
While computers are better than humans at complex mathematical equations, there are many cognitive functions where the brain is much better: training a computer to recognize smells would require colossal amounts of computational power and energy.
Mr Agabi is attempting to reverse-engineer biology, which already accomplishes this function with a fraction of the power it would take a silicon-based processor. “Biology is technology. Bio is tech,” he says. “Our deep learning networks are all copying the brain.”
The prototype device shown off at TED – the pictures of which cannot yet be publicly revealed – has partially solved one of the biggest challenges of harnessing biological systems – keeping the neurons alive, said Mr Agabi.
Prof John Donoghue, who heads up the Wyss Centre for bio and neuro-engineering in Geneva, believes the idea being pursued by Mr Agabi is interesting, he said.
“Digital computers are fast and reliable but dumb, whereas neurons are slow but smart,” he said.
PICTURE CREDIT: GETTY-IMAGES and TED-GLOBAL