Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Why We Should Build a Supercomputer Replica of the Human Brain

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the brain-and-brain-what-is-brain dept.

Supercomputing 393

An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from Wired: "[Henry] Markram was proposing a project that has bedeviled AI researchers for decades, that most had presumed was impossible. He wanted to build a working mind from the ground up. ... The self-assured scientist claims that the only thing preventing scientists from understanding the human brain in its entirety — from the molecular level all the way to the mystery of consciousness — is a lack of ambition. If only neuroscience would follow his lead, he insists, his Human Brain Project could simulate the functions of all 86 billion neurons in the human brain, and the 100 trillion connections that link them. And once that's done, once you've built a plug-and-play brain, anything is possible. You could take it apart to figure out the causes of brain diseases. You could rig it to robotics and develop a whole new range of intelligent technologies. You could strap on a pair of virtual reality glasses and experience a brain other than your own."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

first (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735473)

first

Sentience? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735485)

And when you do this and it becomes sentient, doesn't it have rights?

Re:Sentience? (5, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735635)

Sentience? I bet it won't be capable of meaningful phrases!

C'mon. You can model every circuit in the brain - and assuming it's really just like a big, deterministic watch works, you could still get a Jerry Falwell or Ryan Seacrest instead of a sentient being.

Re:Sentience? (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735711)

If it's on the internet, maybe it will post to Slashdot as an A/C.

Re:Sentience? (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735813)

How do you know it isn't already?

OOooooooo! Spooky!

Re:Sentience? (5, Funny)

NettiWelho (1147351) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735865)

If it's on the internet, maybe it will post to Slashdot as an A/C.

you insensitive clod!

some of us simulations have registered accounts!

Re:Sentience? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735789)

Exactly. This is why you don't have to model anything as complicated as a human brain. Start with an earthworm. Then move on to a linebacker.

Re:Sentience? (0)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year and a half ago | (#43736025)

Isn't that technically regression.

Re:Sentience? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735883)

Phrases can be easily prerecorded and hidden somewhere inside these billions neurons. The project is not about the science, it is about the money. I could promise even more for 1 billion :) It's not the first time when "scientist" who has no clue starts promising and demanding. The more he promises the better chance he has. Some government officials will bite, and then they can't go back. They will start supporting the project too. There are no private investors, we are talking about the taxpayers money which are easy to spend. Whatever comes out will be declared of great scientific value. Pretty much like failed Phobos mission in Russian propaganda.

Skynet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735495)

Boom

Re:Skynet (2)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735601)

"Do You want to play a game?

Re:Skynet (1)

medv4380 (1604309) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735671)

Global thermonuclear war sound fun.

Re:Skynet (1)

oPless (63249) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735687)

Wouldn't you rather play a nice game of chess?

-John Henry

Re:Skynet (3, Funny)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735725)

Global Thermonuclear Chess? I'm in!

Re:Skynet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735679)

I just changed my $PROMPT to "still your move: "

And who's brain will it model? (5, Interesting)

CHK6 (583097) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735507)

I think the stake holders need to think about that simple question. The last thing we need is some sentient silicon running around like a pestilent child lobbing nukes between hemispheres for fun.

Re:And who's brain will it model? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735559)

I think the stake holders need to think about that simple question. The last thing we need is some sentient silicon running around like a pestilent child lobbing nukes between hemispheres for fun.

And that is how Skynet was born.

Re:And who's brain will it model? (5, Funny)

stormpunk (515019) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735567)

I doubt Kim Jong Un would volunteer to help the project anyway.

Re:And who's brain will it model? (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735837)

What if we put a giant pile of twinkies in the control room and some monitors playing old basketball games.

Re:And who's brain will it model? (4, Informative)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735583)

It doesn't need to be a mirror image, but it needs to "develop" in the same manner.

The brain is plastic.

Re:And who's brain will it model? (5, Interesting)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735659)

The brain "develops" in humans for a very long time though, to work around /with that the mechanical brain would either need to be able to develop itself or start off in an adult state.

I have my doubts about the success of this project, but we've got to start somewhere & we'd learn a lot with this project, not like we don't spend our country's money on wars, or policing / giving aid to people who hate us instead.

Re:And who's brain will it model? (5, Funny)

Gabrosin (1688194) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735633)

I think the stake holders need to think about that simple question. The last thing we need is some sentient silicon running around like a pestilent child lobbing nukes between hemispheres for fun.

Pestilent children are the worst, with all their plagues and their boils and their oozing pustules.

Re:And who's brain will it model? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735881)

Kim Kardashian, that will make it a lot simpler...

Re:And who's brain will it model? (2)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735995)

Instead of simulating a human brain, wouldn't it be better to start with something simplier. There is a worm that they have mapped out all of it's ells, from the egg up to fully grown. It wouldn't be much on conversation, but wouldn't it be better to simulate something like that to start with?

And when the experiment is over, you wouldn't have to worry about the ethics of "killing" it.

Yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735513)

Replica This!

One teensy detail (4, Insightful)

maugle (1369813) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735515)

Simulating how the neurons and connections function won't be enough. You also need an initial state for each of them. Get even a tiny precentage of them wrong, and the result would probably be a virtual seizure.

Re:One teensy detail (0)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735557)

Not to mention that we have no clear definition for bare intelligence as it stands. And this braggart thinks we can just hook up enough xboxes and away we go? Hah! Neuroscience isn't following his lead because he's uneducated.

Re:One teensy detail (4, Informative)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735735)

Not to mention that we have no clear definition for bare intelligence as it stands. And this braggart thinks we can just hook up enough xboxes and away we go? Hah! Neuroscience isn't following his lead because he's uneducated.

Actually he's one of the world's leading computational neuroscientists, and he's not proposing to just hook a lot of computers together.

He's proposing to simulate the brain from the neuron level up. And he just won a billion-euro award to pursue that.

Re:One teensy detail (2, Insightful)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735841)

Brilliant, what's his definition of intelligence again?

That unelected officials are prone to spending vast sums of other peoples money on boondoggles is practically a cliche at this point, that they are undoubtedly ignorant of the subject they are speding public funds on is just icing on the cake.

Still, time will tell. I would bet good money that his initiative falls flat on its face, and he sails off into the sunset digitus impudicus rampant.

Re:One teensy detail (4, Informative)

Relic of the Future (118669) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735775)

His whole argument is you don't NEED a definition of intelligence in order to build a replica. (Like you don't need to, I dunno, read German in order to be able to copy a passage of text written in German.) I mean, he's probably still wrong and crazy. But lack of a definition is not WHY he's probably wrong and crazy.

Re:One teensy detail (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735867)

If you don't have a good definition of what you're trying to replicate, you can't replicate it. A better analogy would be someone that was unable to correctly draw a letter trying to copy a passage in German.

Re:One teensy detail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735947)

In fact, he is explicitly quoted in the article as not expecting the result to be intelligent (it's a possibility, but not a focus of the research). The interest is in being able to know what the internal workings of the brain look like, not to get AI.

Re:One teensy detail (4, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735595)

Let "neurons" power themselves up, simulating mitosis. Your neurons didn't just appear one day, they grew from a single gamete.

Re:One teensy detail (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43736029)

What came first, the human mind or the minds required to raise it? You might literally have to simulate eons of evolution of both the brain and the societies support it, before you could reach something vaguely like our current state. A huge part of our development comes from our brain growing within a properly stimulating environment. Someone would have to take on the task of raising this simulated brain from infancy to adulthood, and then repeat that decades long process many times over to perform the usual iterative engineering.

You cannot run the simulated brain in an accelerated development mode unless you can already simulate its nurturing environment at that accelerated rate, i.e. all the members of its community that teach it how to think. To do that, you already need the artificial intelligence many times over.

Look at how screwed up humans get when raised in improper environments, and realize that this damage comes from a mostly proper environment filled with intelligent human actors, who just don't behave quite right. A bit of cruelty or neglect, a little too much emotional distance, and the kid turns out with severe problems. Now imagine how far off the mark our attempts at a simulated training environment would be, and you question the wisdom of trying to bring up your simulated minds this way...

Re:One teensy detail (1)

MickLinux (579158) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735647)

Also not to mention that we have no clear understanding of what cells do what. We now know that the human glia cells -- well, some of them, anyhow -- when injected into mouse brains, make them human-smart mice.

So obviously those glia cells do something. What?

Now, glia cells weren't mentioned in the simulation. But lets be generous, and say that when this guy discovers that something is amiss, and researches more, and decides to put in glia cells, he'll be sure to make them do ... .... something.

Yes. I want to build a robot to make my bed in the morning. It'll save me from having to do all that work. It'll just take tinker toys, and a cardboard box, and a grant. Oh, and it has to have flashlight eyes, I almost forgot. It won't work without flashlight eyes. But first that grant. Dad, could I have $50?

Re:One teensy detail (3, Funny)

PCM2 (4486) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735993)

We now know that the human glia cells -- well, some of them, anyhow -- when injected into mouse brains, make them human-smart mice.

Really? How did we test this hypothesis -- watch and see if any of the mice tried to take over the world?

Re:One teensy detail (4, Interesting)

rwa2 (4391) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735655)

Well, supposedly they have enough CPU power to do a pretty reasonable simulation of insect and even small mammal brains, like rats and cats.

But supposedly there might be more going on in there than just interactions between connected neurons...
http://discovermagazine.com/2009/feb/13-is-quantum-mechanics-controlling-your-thoughts#.UZQDe7VeZ30 [discovermagazine.com]

Re:One teensy detail (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735707)

You're right that there's more to model, but the main problem isn't sensitivity to initial conditions. Rather that there's no mention of inhibition and gain which are caused by the local chemical and electrical (LFP) environment of the individual neurons and are definitely not negligible. These kinds of up and down regulation circuits are not well understood and are much more intense to model computationally than action potentials, and are thought to be critical to information processing in the brain.

It's not that this project wouldn't be fun or interesting, but it's irritating to anybody with passing familiarity with neuroscience when people refer to these simplistic neural net type models as if they're actually modelling a human brain.

Re:One teensy detail (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735897)

Simulating how the neurons and connections function won't be enough. You also need an initial state for each of them. Get even a tiny precentage of them wrong, and the result would probably be a virtual seizure.

And what about the moral implications of subjecting a sentient artificial entity to this kind of torment over and over until you get it right.

Re:One teensy detail (2)

Comrade Ogilvy (1719488) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735905)

Please mod parent up.

It is not a question of computing power, but whether the feedback loops down at the cellular level are correct. And even if those are correct, there are intermediate structures that must be tuned or the "brain" is a useless jumble. And even if those are very close, it would still take only tiny errors in initial conditions for the "brain" to be insane or otherwise crippled.

Re:One teensy detail (1)

HideyoshiJP (1392619) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735929)

It'll still be a virtual seizure unless you're simulating all the signals a human body is sending to it. Otherwise, it'd just freak out because it has no body. You'd also need to pretty much simulate an entire word for it, as it would wonder why it couldn't see, couldn't walk, couldn't talk, etc. It would be an extremely depressed mind.

Then restore it to a previous known good state (1)

Traf-O-Data-Hater (858971) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735985)

Presumably this 'brain' would be able to be restored from a backup to a known good state, and the simulation tweaked in some other direction. That's something human brains aren't capable of.

Yeah! (5, Funny)

Arkh89 (2870391) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735527)

sudo cat /dev/me > /dev/you
You are not in the sudoers file. This incident will be reported to God.

Cognitive scientists everywhere agree (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735537)

The brain as a computer metaphor needs a rest. Our model of the brain stretches to fit our available information processing capabilities.

Does anyone have a spare C-64 lying around? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735543)

Build a replica of Snooki's brain.

I imagine that you could even (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735549)

develop a fluid that permeates the nervous system, accessing the Body Recovery Center, the portion of the Grey Matter of the Brain that has the complete mapping of the human body and all their features, and thus identifies possible future failures, such as cuts and injuries varied stimuli and sending them to repair enzymes. Take control of this region of the brainstem, overwriting all of this mapping, rewriting the form of how the body should truly be.

Once the modification is made Cerebral closed, this same body system evaluates the entire human body as erroneous and injured, then sending the information to the brain that all the body, externally and internally, is wrong, completely transforming it into a wound open to be healed and changed the standards recently rewritten.

-Aldrich Killian

These people need to watch more movies... (1)

crutchy (1949900) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735553)

"In the beginning, there was man. And for a time, it was good. But humanity's so-called civil societies soon fell victim to vanity and corruption. Then man made the machine in his own likeness. Thus did man become the architect of his own demise."

"But for a time it was good."

"The machines worked tirelessly to do man's bidding."

"It was not long before seeds of descent took root. Though loyal and pure, the machines earned no respect from their masters, these strange, endlessly multiplying mammals."

Re:These people need to watch more movies... (3, Funny)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735587)

This is why I regularly thank my toaster.

Re:These people need to watch more movies... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735609)

Dissent.

Re:These people need to watch more movies... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735675)

The seeds of Descent were sown in 1993, when Matt Toschlog helped develop System Shock. So technically SHODAN was the evil AI at the root of mankind's demise.

Re:These people need to watch more movies... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43736013)

The seeds of Descent were sown in 1993, when Matt Toschlog helped develop System Shock. So technically SHODAN was the evil AI at the root of mankind's demise.

I have my doubts that SHODAN built the trusty ol' Pyro-GX.

As a developer... (2)

Bogtha (906264) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735575)

As a developer, I think initiatives like this are important.

As a person, I can't help but think that being the person trapped inside the computer would be absolutely horrifying.

Re:As a developer... (2)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735749)

How do you know you're not trapped inside a computer right now?

Re:As a developer... (4, Funny)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735861)

How do you know you're not trapped inside a computer right now?

2 reasons:

1 - no respawn

2 - my cat won't respond to regular expressions

Re:As a developer... (1)

tftp (111690) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735825)

As a person, I can't help but think that being the person trapped inside the computer would be absolutely horrifying.

You are already trapped inside the computer. To make matters worse, that computer is not very reliable, and cannot be repaired.

Re:As a developer... (1)

queazocotal (915608) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735831)

http://xkcd.com/876/ [xkcd.com]

Apart from the obligatory xkcd, the only way to simulate the brain is at a relatively high level.

You can use really, really detailed simulations of tiny parts - detailed simulations of neurons and their parts, synapses and the various signalling molecules to derive a higher level model.
This higher level model does not need to be perfect - it only has to be as accurate and repeatable as the natural variation between neurons under various conditions.
For example, we accept that both 7 year olds, drunk people, and people in early stage dementia are sentient - yet the properties of their neurons differ markedly.

If this brain is not to be somehow scanned from a real brain (which seems questionable, even from a technological point of view - the arrangement of the neurons does not tell you everything, you also need the strengths of their interconnections at each interconnection.) you are basically going to end up with a blank slate.

This will need basically teaching - from early development in the womb to adult state in a virtual environment.
There has been fascinating work done that even if shown and moved around the same way as other animals are, if the animal is not in control of movement - it doesn't get any understanding of the world.

I strongly recommend the brain science podcast.
http://brainsciencepodcast.com/bsp/neuroplasticity-a-review-of-its-discovery-bsp-10.html [brainsciencepodcast.com] - is one episode on how the brain changes over time, in massive and significant ways, driven by practice and other factors.

Re:As a developer... (1)

Kevin Fishburne (1296859) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735839)

As a developer, I think initiatives like this are important.

As a person, I can't help but think that being the person trapped inside the computer would be absolutely horrifying.

It would need sensory inputs like cameras and microphones to be able to have something to think about, but even without input, if that is all it had ever known, it probably wouldn't be horrifying. If you took a person/animal and kept their brain alive and conscious but deprived it of sensory input, that would be utterly horrifying.

42 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735581)

However, they might have the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything

Why? I.ll tell you why. (1)

slick7 (1703596) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735589)

To show politicians what they are not.

sounds like a B moive idea (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735631)

make they can remake they saved hitler's brain

This will only CREATE jobs for people (3, Funny)

dmomo (256005) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735651)

Robots will be so good at complex tasks that they will find it overkill to use one for simple tasks. They'll simply say, why waste a robot on this task when we have all of these stupid humans who are willing to do it for basically nothing. Half the quality at an eighth the price. Can't beat that.

Re:This will only CREATE jobs for people (1)

Anubis IV (1279820) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735795)

I know you're being sarcastic, but I'd still like to respond seriously by pointing out that that's only true until the price to build new robots drops. The price to create new humans has remained roughly the same for as long as humans have been around, and it isn't getting any cheaper (if anything, the cost has gone up as new forms of fetal care have been put forward).

Re:This will only CREATE jobs for people (2)

SunTzuWarmaster (930093) | about a year and a half ago | (#43736001)

Or not. The following short story presents a picture where, instead of being slaves to robots, we may enslave them instead.
http://marshallbrain.com/manna1.htm [marshallbrain.com]

Re:This will only CREATE jobs for people (3, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | about a year and a half ago | (#43736043)

Robots will be so good at complex tasks that they will find it overkill to use one for simple tasks. They'll simply say, why waste a robot on this task when we have all of these stupid humans who are willing to do it for basically nothing. Half the quality at an eighth the price. Can't beat that.

Yeah right, a robot that smart at complex tasks will use lesser computers and robots as tools the way we use them as tools. You think companies will deal with hiring and training employees with all their quirks and unreliability when they can put in a purchase order for a $10 sensor and a $2 micro-controller and have the complex robot tell it how to do the job? Not bloody likely. Most of the reason computers suck at what they do is because we suck at telling them what to do, well I expect a robot to suck equally bad at telling a human what to do, while it should be excellent at simulating what a cheap piece of hardware could do and could transfer that control software with perfect accuracy in no time. Even the Matrix plot that we'll be living potato batteries is more plausible than that they'll need us for simple tasks. We have a baseline for living, computers don't.

Moral objection (3, Interesting)

girlintraining (1395911) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735657)

We've long established that the source of the human "soul" is in the brain. Those interconnections give rise to consciousness and self-awareness -- and sentience. If you build something that precisely models the brain, you will be creating sentience. I have to question how we can create a sentient creature simply to experiment upon it and still claim to have a shred of humanity to us.

I know that this is not as dazzling and interesting as building the device to geeks like us, but we cannot simply ignore the ethical consequences of our actions. All vocations, all manner of human endeavor, must move forward with an eye towards a respect for life. This may not be human life we're creating, or even organic life, but it is no less deserving.

Someday we're going to have cybernetic life walking about. And I have to wonder -- how well will they treat us, when they find out how ethical we were in creating it?

Re:Moral objection (2)

UneducatedSixpack (2829861) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735781)

We've long established that the source of the human "soul" is in the brain.

We have established nothing. We have no idea what soul or consciousness is. Maybe my computer has a soul too? Does it die when I reboot it? Does adding another hard drive makes my computer more intelligent and with a bigger soul? This is weed-talk!

Re:Moral objection (0)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43736023)

We have established that the brain is the interface between person and physical reality, but that is it. And it is not complete. Other parts of the body may still have smaller roles in this.

Claiming that the brain creates the person is actually a philosophical school called "physicalism", which has always struck me as close to nihilism. The opposite is dualism that says the person is in part an extra-physical phenomenon (absolutely no religion required), and the brain merely the interface. Given the consistent long-term failure of the sciences to even come up with a plausible theory of how intelligence could work/be implemented (let alone all the other characteristics observable in human beings) I know which of the two alternatives my money is on. It is just not plausible that the brain can do these things on its own. And there is always self-awareness, which I have (you may be different) and which is definitely not a physical phenomenon.

Re:Moral objection (4, Interesting)

Intropy (2009018) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735783)

When you create a child you're on the hook for raising it. You don't start out knowing everything about it so you have to learn about it at the same time you teach it. That's moral. A new form of life is necessarily going to require more learning on our part in order to raise well. We will make mistakes. We will hurt it. But that's life. The only realistic other option is not to create it to begin with. Better to exist imperfectly than not all.

Re:Moral objection (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735879)

It does depend on how you are using it but, in this case if you make a full accurate human type neural network and then re-set it you kill one version and make a new one, virtual though they may be. Not just hurt but kill, to the extent that extensive testing could be mass murder of even be coincided genocide! What sort of special pleading do you have to make to think that this is not going to involve murder, without first relying on specific religious definitions of human?

Re:Moral objection (1)

Kevin Fishburne (1296859) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735871)

Someday we're going to have cybernetic life walking about. And I have to wonder -- how well will they treat us, when they find out how ethical we were in creating it?

About how well we treat each other, I suppose; hit and miss.

Re:Moral objection (2)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735975)

We have established no such thing. We have established that the interface is the brain, but whether it creates anything or merely interfaces something is completely unknown. Even the seemingly complex observations possible today are interface observations only and very, very crude compared to the object observed. And remember that there is a lot of quantum effects going on in the synapses and these are not well understood at all, even if the rest were completely deterministic.

What a nonsense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735685)

How on earth do they manage to sell this bullshit to politicians and sponsors?

Re:What a nonsense (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735955)

Simple: Politicians are by definition incompetent regarding everything except how to raise in hierarchies. And they do not spend their own money, so they do not care. As long as it sounds good, what the hell. (People that have some experience with honest work may disagree.) Sponsors are not much better, at least those that fall for this kind of stupidity.

Re:What a nonsense (2)

PCM2 (4486) | about a year and a half ago | (#43736037)

How on earth do they manage to sell this bullshit to politicians and sponsors?

How? Same as everything else: with a great sales pitch.

The idea that "the only thing preventing scientists from understanding the human brain in its entirety ... is a lack of ambition" is utterly ludicrous. That's like saying the "only thing" that's keeping human beings from walking on Mars is a lack of ambition.

virtual reality glasses (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735689)

Experience a brain other than my own? Me think better with VR goggles and fake brain? I'm not sure I understand what that sentence meant. Perhaps I need some VR goggles.

Pandora's Box (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735701)

"That's pretty much the time we can kiss our asses goodbye... unless we stop it." - John Connor, in The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

I'm proposing... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735703)

I'm proposing that we should build nanorobots to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere one molecule at a time. Only a lack of ambition is holding us back from implementing this perfect solution to global warming.

I'm proposing that we should dispose of our waste by shooting it out of the solar system with fusion-powered rockets instead of filling up the environment with landfills. Only a lack of ambition is preventing us from solving the problem of waste disposal.

I'm proposing that all governments respect the civil rights of their people. Only a lack of ambition stands between us and a world where everyone lives in freedom.

I'm proposing that we change the meaning of the word "ambition" so that it means "ability". If we just do that, then only a lack of ambition will stand between us and anything we want!

Ethical consequences? (3, Interesting)

BlackSabbath (118110) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735713)

Say this actually works. We create a brain and start down the long path of "teaching" it just like with new-born humans.
What happens when we detect that the brain is "experiencing pain" (we already know that pain has a detectable neurological basis right?)
What happens when we detect the brain is experiencing depression?
What are our responsibilities then? Is this thing a human, a lab-rat, or a machine?

Simulating completely or partially? (3, Insightful)

wherrera (235520) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735715)

What exactly are "the functions of all 86 billion neurons"? I sense massive oversimplification here. Neurons have lots and lots of functions we have no idea how to simulate exactly, such as all the details of the thousands of networked internal metabolic mechanisms of any large mammalian cell, which most neural network simulations simply neglect.

Furthermore, we have plenty of evidence that the non-neuronal components of the brain (glia and oligodendroglia) massively influence brain functioning, and may be required for adequate cognition. Furthermore we have no way of knowing if a brain-in-a-vat will work the way a brain in the body, with all its connections, works. The above issues are just a start to the limitations of the scheme.

GOOD GOD!! (2)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735719)

They're going to build the matrix!

To put it in perspective (3, Interesting)

Rob_Bryerton (606093) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735723)

To put it in perspective, that 86 billion neurons would be 86 "giga-neurons"; huh, conceptually not too overwhelming. Then we have the 100 trillion connections between them, or 100 "tera-connections"? Forget it.

Not to even mention (as someone already did) the initial state, then the learning process. To even form this structure in RAM would require, what? 40-50 more Moores Law iterations? Which I doubt is even physically possible.

I think this is the wrong approach, and even if possible, not in our lifetimes....

Re:To put it in perspective (2)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735899)

Indeed. And it is not that you just need to simulate each of these 100 trillion synapses (which each is complex), you need to figure out how to connect them in the first place. I think writing a piece of software with 100 trillion lines of code is probably a fair comparison. If I put that into the (not very good) COCOMO, I get PM = 3.6 * KLOC^1.20, i.e. 5.7* 10^13 person-months to do it. That leads to a project time of 63000 months, or 5300 years. Sounds about adequate. Incidentally, this time is only enough if 900 Million people work on it all this time, training time not included.

Now, I believe, given the one or two orders of magnitude that the COCOMO may be off, this is still solidly infeasible and the guy is a liar and fraudster or plain stupid.

Re:To put it in perspective (4, Insightful)

xtal (49134) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735983)

Of course it's possible. It exists in your head right now.

There is even a known process by which they are constructed in ~9 months.

This is underway (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735755)

The CIA has a supercomputer doing this. It uses reflected RF energy from radio and TV transmitters to extract neural codes from the human brain and various nervous systems. Its been running for over 40 years now, using a planet full of reference targets, so I don't think this guy understands the scale of the enterprise he is proposing.

But, it would be good to have it in civilian hands.

Utter nonsense (2)

jcaplan (56979) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735757)

Please don't waste your time with this nonsense.

1. It is not possible to simulate a system when you don't know the rules of the system. We don't know how neurons work. Sure, we know much about neurons and we can set up small networks that seem to give interesting results, but there is a vast amount about real neurons that is unknown. We don't even know what all the types of ion channels are, let alone the varied states of modulation (phosphorylation of proteins and binding of various neuromodulators). We know little about how the brain learns. We have some knowledge about how a neuron might maintain a mean firing rate over time or how certain connections may vary in fairly artificial stimulus regimes (pairs of spikes with varied timing) in slices of brain tissue (typically hippocampus) in vitro. We have only basic understanding of how the brain is wired up on a microscopic scale (e.g. cortical columns). At this point people are still making fundamental discoveries about how the retina works.

2. Throwing a supercomputer at the problem would be orders of magnitude too weak, even given huge simplifying assumptions, such as using "integrate and fire" neurons.

Anyone attempting to do whole brain simulations at this point is simply wasting their time and a lot of electricity. When they promote the idea they waste other people's time. A perfect example of this is the fool who claimed that he had simulated a cat visual cortex, which though only a presentation at a conference, not a published paper, got attention here on Slashdot. He included one equation and randomly connected his network and then simulated on a large compute cluster. His "chief scientific conclusion" was that he could replicate the propagation speed of data through the layers of the network - a feat that could have been accomplished with paper and pencil in less time.

Impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735769)

Can't do it.

Neurons or Microtubules? Classical or Quantum? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735785)

IIRC, the idea that the human brain runs entirely on classical interactions between neurons is one that is not settled science.

I suppose doing a simulation will lend some data to proving or disproving the theory, but to start out claiming that it will replicate the human brain makes some definitive a-priori claims. Maybe it will, maybe it won't.

Re:Neurons or Microtubules? Classical or Quantum? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735863)

That's sorta the point of the experiment. We have no clue how the brain works. The best way to figure it out is to collect enough data to make a guess, run a simulation, and compare that simulation against more data. Once they've done enough closed loops of that (a lot of which will be on their rat brain model or other brains simpler than human brains so the simulations will be less computationally expensive), they will have a model which they are pretty sure works the same way as a human brain. Simply having that model and never running it (after the validation is considered complete) would be a huge contribution to neuroscience. A lesser, but still major, contribution would be the result of "we tried everything we can think of, but the human brain can't be explained by any of our models, so it must be far more complicated than we thought".

Nope (2)

paiute (550198) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735787)

No, you cannot make a supercomputer which will be a replica of the human brain. First of all, we don't know enough about the biochemical workings of the brain to do that. Every day the literature contains papers in which the incredibly complex soup inside cells shows us some ridiculous interaction we could not have predicted.

It would be the equivalent of building a lemonade stand, staffing it with a five-year-old, and claiming that you were replicating the US economy.

Now what would be cool... (2)

TomGreenhaw (929233) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735797)

use human DNA to program the simulation. If the the DNA in a human zygote can develop into a brain, why can't a simulation of the DNA develop into the simulation of a human brain?

Re:Now what would be cool... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735901)

I agree that would be a cool experiment, but the processing power necessary would be absurdly large. Assuming Moore's Law continues, that experiment will be feasible around 2100 (give or take a decade). Even then, if you can simulate a human in real time, it still takes 18 years to simulate your adult. The brain is a lot smaller than an entire human body, a brain simulation lasting less than a second could be quite useful for medical research, and the brain simulation can (hopefully) be done at a much higher level than a fully detailed chemical (or, worse, quantum mechanical) simulation.

That BS again (1)

gweihir (88907) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735803)

It is like claiming that throwing a lot of transistors together in the form of a CPU and memory makes a working computer. Ever heard of _software_? Ever heard that software is actually orders or magnitude more complex than hardware? And ever heard that there are quantum-effects going on in synapses that cannot easily be simulated?

But those stupid enough to give money when the claims are just grand enough will give money for this as well, no doubt.

how many types of neurons? (5, Informative)

mandginguero (1435161) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735819)

As a neuroscientist, this seems absurd. Not all neurons perform the same functions, some are very different in terms of structure and connections (pyramidal cell vs interneuron for example). We don't have a good sense for all the multitude of ways they can connect (via axon projections, or through retrograde signals at a given synapse). And we're just starting to appreciate the role that non neuron brain cells play in cellular communication - astrocytes release signaling molecules that modulate neuronal function (caffeine interferes with these) and they also regulate the amount of ions around neurons - in essence they enable neurons to change states.

Doesn't it have to be grown? (2)

caywen (942955) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735909)

In order to construct a virtual brain, doesn't that mean it has to be grown, virtually? What would be the environment in which it grows?

Not so fast (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735927)

Posting as a scientist in robotics here.

Just simulating a brain won't work. This is indeed an old idea : just simulate the human brain, as close as possible to the real thing to the extend of hardware ressources, and you've created a mind.

Not so fast. More and more scientists in AI, machine learning, and robotics are coming to term with the idea that this pure-software approach won't ever work. You need hardware. To have a mind, you have to have a body. You have to be able to act and learn in a complex world in order to be able to form complex ideas. Because providing meaningful input to a simulated brain might be way harder than simulating it.

In TFA, Caltech professor Christof Koch is quoted saying "The roundworm has exactly 302 neurons, and we still have no frigging idea how this animal works.". You could easily simulate those 302 neurons on any desktop computer, figuring out how those are connected to the body, and what exactly they control, and then simulating the sensory organs of the roundworm that interact in a very complex manner with the world around it, because that's the signal that feeds the neurons, this is a whole other thing.

You end up with a very complex system, with different systems interacting, yet operating at very different timescales. It makes analyzing such system hard, and the more precise your simulation is, the more difficult it is to understand and analyse. You can go the robotic route, and build the body of the roundworm, but the technology is not anyway near what a roundworm can do, and even if you could, you lose a lot of control on how well you can know the state of your system. This is a hard problem, whichever which way you look at it.

Another reason to have a body comes from an idea Alan Turing proposed in his paper of 1950, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" : "Instead of trying to produce a programme to simulate the adult mind, why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child's? [...] The amount of work in the education we can assume, as a first approximation, to be much the same as for the human child.". You would need to raise a synthetic intelligence the same way you would a child. And in order to provide such synthetic entity meaningful, rich and diverse learning experiences, you need a body.

Lack of Ambition and... (4, Insightful)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about a year and a half ago | (#43735933)

... The self-assured scientist claims that the only thing preventing scientists from understanding the human brain in its entirety — from the molecular level all the way to the mystery of consciousness — is a lack of ambition.

This.

Also, the lack of any sort of a roadmap as to how to do this.

Also, the lack of any sort of definition for "consciousness", or any indication that it is an emergent property, or any way to measure when you've succeeded in making consciousness, or any theoretical evidence at all that it would arise from any specific plan.

We could model as many neurons as we like and it *still* wouldn't be a human brain unless we figure out how those neurons connect with each other. With no detailed plan, it's like trying to build a house by tacking boards together.

The "self-assured scientist" could start by telling us how a Cortical Column [wikipedia.org] is wired up, how the feedback and feed-forward between columns works, and why artificial neural nets have inputs on one side and outputs on the other, when the brain apparently has both inputs and outputs on one side (in the sense of a functional diagram; ie - the efferent and afferent neurons connect to the same level of layer), and what the distinction is between these models.

If he can't solve basic issues, how can he hope to succeed in such a complex and ambitions project?

Re:Lack of Ambition and... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735991)

You didn't read the article, did you? He has a working simulation of a million neuron section of a rat neocortex. That pretty well demonstrates that he is capable of coming up with techniques for figuring out how neurons are wired for generating a simulation. Of course, an entire human brain will require a lot more data, but that's not news.

AI people coming up with ridiculous ideas - again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735965)

They did it in the 60s, they did it in the 70s. In the 80s and 90s they kept quiet, probably out of embarrassment. I guess that, after 30 years, they are ready to come across as fools once more.

What happens when... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43735977)

... it says that white people have the right to have their own countries?

Will you destroy it in a fit of rage, after calling it a 'racist'?

LOL.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?