Google researchers say a breakthrough in a neural networking project could pave the way for major advancements in image and speech recognition technologies.

A network of 16,000 computers scanned 10 million random YouTube frames over a one-week time frame, and was eventually able to teach itself to recognize familiar objects.

Researcher says the network, dubbed the Google brain, became highly receptive to cat images.

“I think the really impressive thing about this result is that we never told (the brain) what was in any of the images,” Google fellow Jeff Dean told CTV News Channel.

“So without ever being told what a cat was, some neurons in our simulated brain had become receptive to the idea of a cat.”

He added that another neuron was able to recognize a human face within an image.

Dean said the breakthrough could lead to major developments in Google’s existing technologies. The tech giant already uses facial and speech recognition software in its Andriod platform and Dean said cameras can soon be equipped with the ability to recognize images and automatically label photos.

While smaller-scale brain simulation projects have been able to identify simple elements of an image, such as the corners of an object, Dean said using 16,000 computers increased the brain’s accuracy in recognizing objects.  

“What is unique about our project is we applied this on a much larger scale and got very high-level concepts,” said Dean, who’s currently in Edinburgh to present the Google brain at a conference on machine learning.

He said Google’s employees aren’t the only ones to contribute to the brain. Loads of photos and videos that run through Google’s data centre are used to teach the network to recognize objects. 

And while 16,000 computers may seem like a lot, Dean described it as a moderate network that he’d like to see “scaled up.”


‘Brain’ follows other Google announcements


News of the Google brain tops off a busy week for the company.

On Wednesday the tech giant unveiled a tablet computer, the Nexus 7, which will rival Amazon’s Kindle Fire and challenge Apple’s iPad.

The Nexus 7 is designed specifically for Google Play, the online store that sells movies, music, books, apps and other content – all items that Amazon also sells for its tablet computer.

Google also announced this week it will begin selling a prototype of its Internet-connected glasses -- known as “Project Glass” -- to computer programmers. Developers willing to pay $1,500 for a pair of the glasses will receive them early next year. The company is counting on programmers to suggest improvements and build apps that will make the glasses even more useful.

"This is new technology and we really want you to shape it," Google co-founder Sergey Brin told about 6,000 attendees during the 2012 Google I/O conference, which ends Friday.

"We want to get it out into the hands of passionate people as soon as possible."

A less expensive version of the glasses is expected to go on sale to consumers in early 2014. Without giving a cost estimate for the consumer version, Brin made it clear the glasses will cost more than smartphones.

With files from The Associated Press