Streams and Lakes

Jeff Hawkins • Founder

Two weeks ago I attended a workshop at U.C. Berkeley titled, “From Data to Knowledge: Machine-Learning with Real-time and Streaming Applications.” This was a remarkable workshop, not just because of who presented or its location, but simply because it was a workshop on streaming analytics. Today we hear so much about “big data” and the database tools you can use to sort through large amounts of data. However at Numenta we see a different future. The future we see is one with billions of data sources streaming data. Every building, server, machine, and windmill will be equipped with multiple sensors. Data from these sensors will flow directly to predictive models, which will make predictions and detect anomalies. Through these models we will take immediate action. This future is about billions of data streams flowing to hundreds of millions of predictive models, not petabytes of data sitting in hard drives to be looked at later, hence Streams and Lakes.

This isn’t an either or situation. There is plenty of opportunity mining big data repositories, but we believe the growth will occur mostly in the proliferation of data sources and the ability to act on data as soon as it is created. For example, imagine a building adjusting its energy consumption minute-by-minute based on predictions of price and demand several hours in the future. If the price of electricity is predicted to go up later in the day, the building lowers its temperature now and so it can turn off the cooling later, saving money. Today we may do this for a campus or building, tomorrow your refrigerator will do the same.

Predictive models for streaming data are fundamentally different than models used on stored data.

In my talk at the Berkeley workshop, titled “Modeling Data Streams Using Sparse Distributed Representations,” I focused on two essential and unique attributes of streaming models. First, they must be “online.” This means that the models have to learn with each new record. Online models automatically adjust, record by record, as the patterns in the data change. Second, streaming models also must be “variable order” temporal models. To make good predictions, a model might need to take into account what happened two steps ago, four steps ago, or ten steps ago. Patterns over time, like a melody, are usually more important than what is happening now.

At the heart of our product Grok is a novel learning algorithm that is inherently online and variable order. This isn’t surprising because it models a slice of the neocortex, which is also online and variable order. Although much of the detail in how these algorithms work is explained in a white paper on our website, my 25-minute talk at Berkeley covered the essentials, yet is simpler and easier to understand. The workshop organizers recorded my talk and posted it online, but the audio is separate from the visuals. We decided to re-record it as a screencast.

By the way, I believe the algorithms we use in Grok are key components of machine intelligence. I will be talking about that during my keynote speech on June 11 at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture. More on that in a later blog post.

Jeff Hawkins • Founder

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