Biomimetics are one of the fastest growing areas of technology today, which seek to develop technology that is capable of imitating biology. The purpose of this, in addition to creating machinery that can be merged with our physiology, is to arrive at a computing architecture that is as complex and sophisticated as the human brain.
While this might sound the slightest bit anthropocentric, it is important to remember that despite their processing power, supercomputers like the D-Wave Two, IBM’s Blue Gene/Q Sequoia, or MIT’s ConceptNet 4, have all shown themselves to be lacking when it comes to common sense and abstract reasoning. Simply pouring raw computing power into the mix does not make for autonomous intelligence.
As a result of this, new steps are being taken to crate a computer that can mimic the very organ that gives humanity these abilities – the human brain. In what is surely the most ambitious step towards this goal to date, an international group of researchers recently announced the formation of the Human Brain Project. Having secured the $1.6 billion they need to fund their efforts, these researchers will spend the next ten years conducting research that cuts across multiple disciplines.
This will involve mapping out the vast network known as the human brain – a network composed of over a hundred billion neuronal connections that are the source of emotions, abstract thought, and this thing we know as consciousness. And to do so, the researchers will be using a progressively scaled-up multilayered simulation running on a supercomputer.
Concordant with this bold plan, the team itself is made up of over 200 scientists from 80 different research institutions from around the world. Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, this initiative is being put forth by the European Commission, and has even been compared to the Large Hadron Collider in terms of scope and ambition. In fact, some have taken to calling it the “Cern for the brain.”
According to scientists working on the project, the HBP will attempt to reconstruct the human brain piece-by-piece and gradually bring these cognitive components into the overarching supercomputer. The expected result of this research will be new platforms for “neuromorphic computing” and “neurorobotics,” allowing for the creation of computing and robotic architectures that mimick the functions of the human brain.
According to a statement released by the HBP, Swedish Nobel Laureate Torsten Wiesel had this to say about the project:
The support of the HBP is a critical step taken by the EC to make possible major advances in our understanding of how the brain works. HBP will be a driving force to develop new and still more powerful computers to handle the massive accumulation of new information about the brain, while the neuroscientists are ready to use these new tools in their laboratories. This cooperation should lead to new concepts and a deeper understanding of the brain, the most complex and intricate creation on earth.
Other distinguished individuals who were quoted in the release include President Shimon Peres of Israel, Paul G. Allen, the founder of the Allen Institute for Brain Science; Patrick Aebischer, the President of EPFL in Switzerland; Harald Kainz, Rector of Graz University of Technology, Graz, Austria; as well as a slew of other politicians and academics.
Combined with other research institutions that are producing computer chips and processors that are modelled on the human brain, and our growing understanding of the human connectome, I think it would be safe to say that by the time the HBP wraps up, we are likely to see processors that are capable of demonstrating intelligence, not just in terms of processing speed and memory, but in terms of basic reasoning as well.
At that point, we really out to consider instituting Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics! Otherwise, things could get apocalyptic on our asses! 😉
Sources: io9.com, humanbrainproject.eu, documents.epfl.ch
4 thoughts on “Judgement Day Update: The Human Brain Project”
O.K. Science is wonderful but hey this I think is CRAZY! Or is it that these scientists are in their own worlds – or is their some other motive to this research – as politicians are supporting it and obviously some holders of large amounts of money. My problem with this is that we KNOW, creating “artificial” intelligence that can mimic the human brain, can lead to some very scary future conflicts which our human creative minds have already shared in writing and film. And the part of me that cares more for the living, sentient beings wonders why this amount of money can’t be given to raising the bar for millions seeking basic education and health.
Well, we don’t exactly know that creating AI will lead to conflict – in many ways its a tired old cliche – but I do agree that its hard to fathom how this is going ahead so readily when its clear our societal notions of sentient machines is loaded with fear. And in many ways, it is inevitable that we will try to create machinery that will be able to do all the tasks of a human, since that’s been our path for so very long – one form of more sophisticated automation replacing another. But given the current budget environment, I’d say we have better things to spend 1.6 billion on for sure!
I think this is a very valid point, and there are certainly concerns when we head down this road, just as with cloning, there are implications that have the potential to be pretty…corrupt. On the other hand, if we were to get down to brass tax, isn’t it true that although we could spent 1.6 billion doing a lot of good, there really is that much and more to go around out there for everyone to have a comfortable life, and a personal AI assistant, it’s just that the top doesn’t “trickle down” the way they’re always claiming they do. So, rather than pulling the plug on science/technology in favor of much needed social support and restructuring, let’s have our cake and eat it too – because I think we can. 🙂 We have this indoctrinated sense of work ethic that keeps all of us (down here) believing that working hard is the ideal, and that in “tough times” working harder is more ideal. We have long past the time where we have abundance of resources and technology to, all of us, live much more comfortable lives, but greed and gluttony (and over-breeding) have gotten in the way. Wouldn’t it be great to get a tax incentive or some sort of reward for not having children (somewhat sarcastic).
Yeah, I’m betting you just want to see some fully-functional Replicants walking around in a few years, don’t you? I know I do! 🙂