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20 February, 2020 - 22:01 By Tony Quested

Knot a problem for computers of the future

An Essex University scientist has been awarded a £196k grant from the Leverhulme Trust to use advances in machine learning to investigate how to train computers to unravel knots on their own without human involvement.

Learning the skill could be the next step towards computers having a better understanding of our 3D world, according to the academic’s new research project.

Dr Alexei Vernitski, from the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the university is steering the project.

Computers having a better understanding of our 3D environment could have many useful applications in the future, he contends.

Although humans have an understanding of the 3D world, we are not so competent when it comes to untangling apparently. When presented with 2D pictures of knots, computers can untangle knots much better than humans – thanks to humans developing computer algorithms specifically for untangling knots.

Working with a computer scientist Dr Alexei Lisitsa, from the University of Liverpool, Dr Vernitski will be developing artificial intelligence to train computers to recognise rotated, twisted and tangled objects and then learn how to untangle them.

Currently, the most successful technology for computer vision is deep neural networks, which will be used in this three-year project so computers learn to accentuate the parts of the rope that should be pulled to untangle the knot.

Dr Vernitski said: “This research is inspired by recent achievements of deep neural networks. Now, computers only need to know the rules of challenging games, such as chess, to be able to train themselves, without humans teaching them. Likewise, we will give computers a few basic facts about the 3D space, and see how computers will develop their knowledge.”

Photograph by Tsaiwen Hsu on Unsplash

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