Computer chips using AI might put sniffer dogs out of work — at least in the area of smelling dangerous chemicals in drugs, explosives, and other substances — according to a new study published in the journal Nature.
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AI computer chip 'smells' the world
Researchers for Cornell University and Intel produced a "neuromorphic" chip called Loihi that reportedly makes computers think like biological brains, according to Daily Mail.
The researchers created the circuit on the chip, mirroring organic circuits found in the olfactory bulbs of a dog's brain, which is how they process their sense of smell.
The Loihi chip can identify a specific odor on the first try and even differentiate other, background smells, said Intel, according to Daily Mail.
The chip can even detect smells humans emit when sick with a disease — which varies depending on the illness — and smells linked to environmental gases and drugs.
Computer chips out-sniffing sniffer dogs
The key to sniffer dogs isn't their olfactory system alone, but their incredible ability to remember — this is why they're trained. Similarly, the artificial intelligence of the chip is trained to identify disparate smells and remember, so that next time, it knows.
The chip processes information just like mammal brains by using electrical signals to process smells. When a person smells something, the air molecules interact with nasal receptors that forward signals to the olfactory bulb in the brain.
Then the brain translates the signals to identify which smell it's experiencing, based on memories of previous experiences with the specific smell.
"We are developing neural algorithms on Loihi that mimic what happens in your brain when you smell something," said Senior Research Scientist in Intel's Neuromorphic Computing Lab, Nabil Imam, in a statement, according to Daily Mail.
Imam added that the work "demonstrates Loihi's potential to provide important sensing capabilities that could benefit various industries."
So far, the researchers have trained it on ten noxious smells, including ammonia, methane, and acetone. It can be installed on robots in airports to help identify hazardous objects, or integrated with sensors in power plants or hospitals to detect dangerous gases.
Similar biotechnology has seen implementation in grasshoppers recently outfitted with computer chips to sniff-out bombs. However, this negatively affects their lifespan, limiting their use.
While sniffer dogs might one day be out of a job, the circuits using AI to mimic the process of smell brings us one step closer to recreating the human sensorium in artificial intelligence.