Neural Nets: Turning Computers Into Fast Learners

Neural networks are a special breed of computer circuit, loosely patterned after the "wiring" in the brain. What sets them apart is their uncanny ability to learn from experience. For instance, they can be taught by repeated exposure to recognize faces and understand speech--feats that are extraordinarily hard for ordinary computers. But training a neural net is a time-consuming chore, especially when the network must be simulated with a regular computer because of the paucity of neural-net hardware. The snail's pace of learning is crimping progress, says Les E. Atlas, director of the Interactive Systems Laboratory at the University of Washington. He is itching to get his hands on the lightning-fast neurocomputer that will be introduced late this year by Adaptive Solutions Inc., a Beaverton (Ore.) startup.

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