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Magic from invention

Against a backdrop of cuts to government research grants in theearly to mid-1980s, engineer Professor Igor Aleksander took great strides in developing artificial intelligence (AI), creating the world's first neural pattern recognition system.

Considered one of the founding fathers of AI technology, Prof Aleksander took up professorship at Brunel in 1974, taking on research interests such as artificial consciousness and digital neuromodelling, despite his electronic engineering background. Collaborating with psychologists and neurobiologists from both Brunel and Imperial College London, Prof Aleksander created WISARD - a facial recognition machine with the ability to work like a human brain.

Built in 1981, at a time when machine learning still felt like something from science fiction, the WISARD system was - and still is - considered revolutionary. Facial recognition technology had previously been based on mathematic techniques, whereby a machine would be preprogrammed to recognise certain things, falling short of emotional characteristics. WISARD, on the other hand, was able to recognise human faces, registering their expressions by comparing them to a database of known football hooligans.

Slowly learning the feelings associated with smiling or frowning, WISARD was able to build knowledge of basic emotions and apply it to any scenario - mimicking how the human brain functions. While WISARD was initially designed for facial recognition purposes, it had numerous applications, from the rapid counting of banknotes to the verification of documents, alongside control of package labeling. Since Prof Aleksander's cutting-edge research at Brunel, AI technology has been adopted widely and is used across many sectors.