It turns out that you don’t need a computer to create an artificial intelligence. In fact, you don’t even need electricity.
In an extraordinary bit of left-field research, scientists from the University of Wisconsin–Madison have found a way to create artificially intelligent glass that can recognize images without any need for sensors, circuits, or even a power source — and it could one day save your phone’s battery life.
“We’re always thinking about how we provide vision for machines in the future, and imagining application specific, mission-driven technologies,” researcher Zongfu Yu said in a press release. “This changes almost everything about how we design machine vision.”
In a proof-of-concept study published on Monday in the journal Photonics Research, the researchers describe how they made a sheet of “smart” glass that could identify handwritten digits.
To accomplish that feat, they started by placing different sizes and shapes of air bubbles at specific spots within the glass. Then they added bits of strategically placed light-absorbing materials, including graphene.
When the team then wrote down a number, the light reflecting off the digit would enter one side of the glass. The bubbles and impurities would scatter the lightwaves in certain ways depending on the number until they reached one of 10 designated spots — each corresponding to a different digit — on the opposite side of the glass.
The glass could essentially tell the researcher what number it saw — at the speed of light and without the need for any traditional computing power source.
“We’re accustomed to digital computing, but this has broadened our view,” Yu said. “The wave dynamics of light propagation provide a new way to perform analog artificial neural computing.”
Teaching machines to accurate “see” will be key to achieving our goals for artificial intelligence — machine vision plays a role in everything from autonomous cars to delivery robots.