A scientist’s dream: a “thinking” computer smart enough to recognize objects by sight, understand human speech and respond in kind, even learn by example. And if that’s not enough, the computer’s pattern of thought would help unlock the mysteries of how the human brain works.

That’s the promise of the hot new approach to computing that’s been dubbed neural networking— and scientists are paying attention. Neural network courses and doctoral programs at places like the Marine Biological Laboratory and Caltech have been forced to turn away interested graduate students. Industry is funneling millions of dollars into neural net research (The Scientist, October 17, 1988, page 1). And in July, a study done for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) suggested that more than $400 million be poured into the burgeoning field during the next eight years. “There’s no question that this is a promising technology and we’re going...

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