Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Interesting Addendum:
HNC, FICO, and Confabulation

Robert Holmes Jr., senior lead scientist at Fair Isaac, FICO
In an initial post about the Aurora, Colorado massacre, I noted that Robert Holmes Jr., the father of the killer, previously worked at what I called a "spooky place," HNC Software, formerly Hecht-Nielsen Neurocomputer Corporation. I termed the company "spooky" because of their long term contract with DARPA.  The company itself described the situation as follows in their own descriptive materials in 1999. "HNC is working on a long-term research project launched in 1998 that is jointly funded by HNC and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), part of the U.S. Defense Department, to investigate ‘cortronic neural networks,’ a concept originally proposed by Robert Hecht-Nielsen, HNC’s co-founder and chief scientist."   What could be more spooky than that? I'm not saying evil, just spooky.

Robert Hecht-Nielsen with Zeus

While searching for information on Robert Hecht-Nielsen, co-founder of HNC Software and adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, San Diego,  I discovered that Robert Holmes still works for the ghost of HNC Software because HNC merged with his current employer, Fair Isaac Corporation, a credit score company now known as FICO for a tad over $800 billion in stock swaps in 2002, and Mr. Hecht-Nielsen had become FICO's vice-President of Research and Development. It's a complicated stock swap and I have read the transaction as a purchase by HNC of Fair Isaac and the other way around. We do know that it was a merger. Both Hecht-Nielsen and Holmes are still associated with FICO when all is said and done.

Here is the FICO website. 

This is his bio from the University of California at San Diego:

"Robert Hecht-Nielsen has been on the UCSD faculty since 1986. His popular ECE-270A/B/C year-long graduate course, Neurocomputing, provides an introduction to the neuroscience, and technological applications, of confabulation theory. Hecht-Nielsen is Director of the Confabulation Neuroscience Laboratory of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (CalIT2), a Member of the UCSD Institute for Neural Computation; and an Adjunct Professor in the UCSD Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He serves on the Board of Governors of the International Neural Network Society (2007-2009). An IEEE Fellow, Hecht-Nielsen has been awarded the IEEE Neural Networks Pioneer Medal and the UCSD ECE Department’s Graduate Teaching Award. He received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Arizona State University in 1974."

Mr. Hecht-Nielsen specializes in the field of cognition, neurocomputing. He asks the question: how does thought work? Philosophers call this field of study epistemology. A thorough understanding of knowing how we know what we know would ultimately lead to true artificial intelligence. It is difficult to avoid strange loops when delving into neurocomputing  as much as it is difficult to ignore the lack of coherence in human thought by philosophers interested in epistemology.  Professor Hecht-Nielsen is Director of the Confabulation Neuroscience Laboratory in the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology which gave us this 2008 press release, which I cognate may have come from Hecht-Nielsen himself. 
Here are some excerpts.

"Hecht-Nielsen believes the Outstanding Engineer award honors his presentation and publication last year of "Confabulation Theory" (Springer-Verlag 2007)-the culmination of a lifetime of work on the mechanism by which thinking is carried out in humans and animals. "For forty years my goal has been to understand the fundamental mechanism of thought," said the author. "This search led to a unified 'confabulation theory' of cognition that explains the mechanism of thought."
How thinking works has puzzled scientists for millennia -- from Aristotle's studies on human thought (published in 350 B.C.), to recent computational neuroscience research. Hecht-Nielsen's Confabulation Theory now presents the scientific and engineering communities with what he calls the "first comprehensive and complete theory of cognition," a theory that he believes can shed extensive light on the design of the brain. "Seeing the detailed process of thinking in action," said Hecht-Nielsen, "it is clear that thinking is starkly alien in comparison with past concepts in neuroscience, computer science, and so on."

Confabulation Theory seems to involve the fact that the human brain makes inferences from given information. Sherlock Holmes could be described as a master confabulator. And I must admit I infer things all the time. One might say this is intelligence. Perhaps it is intuition.
Artificial intelligence has traditionally had a big problem with putting together disparate pieces of information in novel ways. At this time computers are not structured to infer information like humans or animals. If confabulation technology could be combined with  gigantic computational power, it would be of  inestimable value to corporate and government interests. As our hero says, "What is most striking about this confabulation architecture is its extremely large quantity of knowledge and the effectiveness with which it exploits this knowledge to craft astonishingly intelligent outputs, all without any traditional 'software', 'rules', or 'algorithms'. This is how neurons think. This is how human and animal 'intelligence' arises. Establishing a complete understanding of this will require a huge new phalanx of research."

 Robert believes his work is leading humanity in a very Utopian direction. 

"Hecht-Nielsen envisions that by 2 100, human toil will have permanently ended; he argues that hundreds of billions of confabulation theory-based intelligent machines would do all work that humans choose not to do. "By 3 000, humans and their intelligent machines will have spread throughout the Milky Way galaxy," he said, forecasting that "by the year 20000, humans and their intelligent machines will be intervening to eliminate unnecessary lifeform suffering, strife and tragedy throughout the millions of billions of galaxies of the entire universe.""

I am a bit less optimistic about these things. I remember predictions similarly made in the 1950's about the way we would live at the arrival of the Twenty-First Century. I do believe Hecht-Nielsen is an extraordinary salesman.
And I am certain that Bob's excitement for the future is helping him land these long term contracts from the government.  
To tell the truth, I am skeptical of FICO's software simply by reflecting on recent history. 
Have you ever heard of the FICO score? You have one.  It is one of the prime tools used by banks to judge whether a customer is worthy of a mortgage. During the heyday of easy money in the oughts, before our economic bubble busted, banks were using FICO scores to give any Tom, Dick or Harriett a mortgage for which they could not make the payments. We are still feeling the effects today. 
Perhaps the banks ignored FICO scores in their rush to bundle and resell bad loans. 
But one must suspect  that FICO was riding the wave just like everyone else in those days.
Somehow I confabulate that this credit score company was handing out scores that reflected the optimism for the future of Mr. Hecht-Nielsen himself.  

More to come in future posts. 



Anonymous said...

The important question: What was James Holmes researching???

I have done some research into the James Holmes story and here is what I have found:

If James is a nutcase or not I don’t know and it is not the thing that is interesting. What actually is interesting is the research he was involved in.

The most important thing to note is that there is an official gagorder from the court judge put on the university prevents anything to be said about James research. So simply and obviously James Holmes research is secret for some reason.

Now, I think we can safely assume that the US military is interested in how the brain works. We can also assume that their conclusions would not immediately be published for anyone to read. So we can safely assume the US military have secret neuroscience projects.

So already it seems pretty obvious that James Holmes, whos neurological research has been classified could be classified because of its importance to the military. Actually there is no other explanation. It is as simple as that.

Robert Holmes, James father:

So we have already concluded that James research probably is of military interest. His father might or might not have something to do with this. From Roberts Holmes LinkedIn we learn that he works at FICO, a shady but very powerful company and he is a leading software researcher there. FICO is said to oversee over half of the worlds creditcard transactions but it also serves big banks like JP Morgan and institutions. Apparently Robert has also worked with identity fraud detection, maybe for the government or maybe for some private interest.

Robert came to FICO when his prior company HNC was bought by FICO in 2002. HNC was specialized in neural networks and AI research.

The founder of HNC, Robert Hecht-Nielsen, claims to have found the mechanism of thought and he claims he can reproduce it in computers. Have a look at this very interesting talk of his:


HNC has worked with the military to develop “smart cameras” built on neural network technology that themselves can notice if something strange is going on and set the alarm:


So we can conclude that James interest in neurology very well could be something he got from the father. The father has had every opportunity to be involved in shady business with government and others, not saying he has.

Still the most important question is: What kind of shady research was James Holmes involved in?

Please spread this

John said...

Mr. Anonymous, you are asking the right questions. It is unfortunate that no one in the mass media is asking these questions.