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April 16, 2008 at 12:04 PM

UW leads “Sherlock Holmes” military computing project

Maybe this will help finally locate Osama bin Laden.

Seven universities, led by the University of Washington, announced today that they’re looking into ways to harness the power of complex, distributed systems to interpret data and predict behavior.

The project, funded with a five-year, $6.5 million grant from the Department of Defense, involves research in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Software companies such as Microsoft are also exploring this frontier of computer science, trying to figure out how to make the most of the flurry of diverse information streaming from cameras, sensors and other monitoring devices.

Here’s how the UW announcement described the project:

The basic approach is the same as that of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes: using the powers of reasoning to discover the best explanation for a set of clues. But today’s reasoning can’t be done by a single, pipe-smoking sleuth. The modern military has millions of possible clues, including sensors on soldiers, satellite maps, road monitors, aerial drones and written observations from reconnaissance missions. The Army Research Office that provided the grant wants to make sense of this information in order to make decisions and predict an adversary’s next moves.

The project is led at the UW by Pedro Domingos, associate professor of computer science. The UW is receiving about $2.5 million of the grant.

“A complex monitoring system has far too many pieces of information for any one person to look at,” Domingos said in the release. “This award lets us do the research to develop a system for the military to look at all the available information that might be valuable and use it to predict behavior.”

Products of the research will be made publicly available, and could benefit other areas such as the medical profession, Domingos said in the release.

Other participants include Thomas Dietterich at Oregon State University, Raymond Mooney at the University of Texas, Carlos Guestrin at Carnegie Mellon University; Jerry Hobbs at the University of Southern California; Henry Kautz at University of Rochester and Josh Tenenbaum at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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