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For more than a decade Jeff Hawkins, founder of mobile computing company Palm, has dedicated his time and fortune to a theory meant to explain the workings of the human brain, and provide a blueprint for a powerful new kind of artificial intelligence software. But Hawkins’s company, Numenta, has made little impact on the tech industry, even as machine learning has become central to companies such as Google.

Now, one tech giant is finally taking an interest.

IBM has established a research group to work on Numenta’s learning algorithms at its Almaden research lab in San Jose, California. The algorithms are being tested for tasks including interpreting satellite imagery, and the group is working on designs for computers that would implement Hawkins’s ideas in hardware. Hawkins says that around 100 people are working on the project, known internally as the Cortical Learning Center.

IBM would not make the project’s leader, Winfried Wilcke, available for an interview. But Wilcke described his work publicly at a conference at Sandia National Lab in February. He praised Numenta’s software for being closer to biological reality than other machine learning software, and said it can learn how to make sense of raw data more efficiently. Experts usually have to train machine learning software with example data before it can go to work. Numenta’s algorithms might make it possible to apply machine learning to many more problems, Wilcke said.

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