Behind the Headlines Weizmann Institute is Moving Rapidly into the 21st Century

The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovoth is moving rapidly into the 21st century — a full 15 years before that calendar event. Its researchers are working on the application of mathematical theory to social and economic problems; on the development of computers more intelligent than the human brain; and on robotics.

Prof. Yakar Kannai, of the Institute’s faculty of mathematical science, has just been appointed the first incumbent of the Erica and Ludwig Jesselson professorial chair in theoretical mathematics, created by Ludwig Jesselson of New York.

Kannai has been working on a new class of equation, similar to partial differential equations used to describe such phenomena as heat, electricity and wave motion. He is also employing “game theory,” known too as “conflict resolution,” to understand the interaction of various social and economic factors, to describe the process of inflation and unemployment.

Such mathematical models could be of importance in the optimum allocation of manpower. It can demonstrate how a group of individuals can affect a large economic structure, such as the stock exchange.

ANOTHER AREA OF RESEARCH

In another area of research, Prof. Shimon Ullman, who heads the Weizmann Institute’s National Center for Artificial Intelligence (AI), is trying to develop computers superior to the human brain, mainly by studying how the brain functions.

Ullman, recently installed as Samy and Ruth Cohen Professor of Computer Sciences, says the Center’s efforts combine interdisciplinary research in computer sciences, neurosciences and psychology.

Ullman is working on computers with elementary visual processing capabilities which are essential to intelligence. His colleague Dr. Ehud Shapiro, is trying to design hardware and language for parallel processing. Dr. Tamar Flash, formerly of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where Ullman spent 10 years on Al research, will take charge of a robotics program focussing on manipulator kinematics and dynamics and on trajectory planning.

According to Ullman, “The main message of Al research seems to be that those areas once considered inordinately difficult — such as designing a computer that can play world class chess — have proven relatively simple, whereas teaching a computer elementary tasks such as understanding English or visually discerning shapes, have proved nearly impossible.

“The main objective is to learn more about the brain through this research. The reason we’re not sure just how to make computers intelligent is that we still aren’t certain what goes on in the brain,” he said.

The Al Center at the Weizmann Institute is funded by the Israel Ministry of Science and the Defense Ministry.

AWARDS TO MEMBRANE TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH

Meanwhile, three membrane technology researchers recently received awards funded by H. Dudley Wright, an American industrialist who founded and heads the Orbisphere Corp. which specializes in the manufacture of scientific instruments based on membrane technology.

Prof. Francis De Korosy of Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Prof. Michael Schramm of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem received the Dudley Wright Achievement Prize. Dr. Rafi Korenstein of the Weizmann Institute received the Dudley Wright Research Award. Wright was on hand to congratulate the recipients at the award ceremonies held at the Weizmann Institute.

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