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Researchers Simulate Building Block of Rat's Brain

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the remy-will-be-so-pleased dept.

Biotech 224

slick_shoes passes on an article in the Guardian about the Blue Brain project in Switzerland that has developed a computer simulation of the neocortical column — the basic building block of the neocortex, the higher functioning part of our brains — of a two-week-old rat. (Here is the project site.) The model, running on an IBM Blue Gene/L supercomputer, simulates 10,000 neurons and all their interconnections. It behaves exactly like its biological counterpart. Thousands of such NCCs make up a rat's neocortex, and millions a human's. "Project director Henry Markram believes that with the state of technology today, it is possible to build an entire rat's neocortex. From there, it's cats, then monkeys and finally, a human brain."

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AI the brute-force way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802228)

Well, we might not find a faster way to do it. Doesn't matter, eventually, this will work.

Am I the only one? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802496)

Did anyone else misread the title as "stimulate"? Like when Ike stimulated my prostate by fucking me up the ass? Damn, I'm getting hard just thinking about it!

The Intelligence Game (3, Insightful)

MOBE2001 (263700) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802828)

From the article:

Markram is banking on Moore's law holding steady, as a computer with the power of the human brain, using today's technology, would take up several football pitches and run up an electricity bill of $3bn a year. But by the time Markram gets around to mimicking a full human brain, computing will have moved on.

It's amazing how some people want the computing resources to simulate a rat's brain but still can't simulate a honeybee's brain and the resultant behavioral complexity. After all, a bee's brain has only about a million neurons. It could probably be done on a desktop machine and yet, a bee's behavior is amazingly sophisticated. Is it me or does it seem that some people have no clue as to what constitutes intelligence and would rather spend the taxpayer's money on what can only be qualified as useless goals?

Would it not be much better to implement a downsized version of the human brain (with all the various cortices) and see if it can learn and adapt to the environment? But then again, that would be too much to ask since Markram et al don't have an overall theory of brain operation. It's better to keep your sights as high as possible and have an excuse as to why your artificial brain or cortical column is no more intelligent than a flea: you always need faster and more expensive computers. And more funding. Yeah.

Re:The Intelligence Game (2, Insightful)

ywl (22227) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803036)

Research is indeed a funding game but there is no need to be so cynical...

First, we know more about mammalian brains and neurons than the honey-bee ones. The research in the last half century was mostly centered around the mammalian systems. Unless the governments are willing to fund projects on insects, or some wealthy philantropist is willing to take up the bills, expect similar things for the near future.

Second, the structure and organization of the cortex is quite similar across the whole brain and mammals. As the cortex (or more exactly, neocortex) is general regarded where most important cognitive processes occur, if you want to have some insight on a general computation network/machine, it's a reasonable place to start.

Third, it's probably easier to simulate the neocortex than the brain of honey bees, since as I said, we know more about mammals. Moreover, a lot of the structures and organization are quite regular in a cortical column, therefore, you'll have a better chance of guessing the missing information correctly.

Finally, don't be silly, a desktop won't make it. If you want a realistically simulation, you'll first need to have a good idea of the geometrical shapes of all the neurons and their projections, then a reasonable guess of the strength and locations of their synaptic contacts. You'll also need to have a good estimation of the channel density and distribution of the ionic channels. then the non-linear differential equations that govern their behaviors. Most of these numbers are not even measurable with current experimental technologies. I think these groups use some mathematical tricks to estimate these numbers ... which is at least plausible for rat or mouse brain.

People have been dreaming of an abstract, reduced and simplified theory of the human brain since the study of the nervous system started. Nobody has quite managed yet... why don't you try? :)

Re:The Intelligence Game (2, Interesting)

MOBE2001 (263700) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803422)

People have been dreaming of an abstract, reduced and simplified theory of the human brain since the study of the nervous system started. Nobody has quite managed yet... why don't you try? :)

I am and I have. I have been working on just such a project [rebelscience.org] for years on my own time and my own dime. Trying to use computers to simulate neurons in all their biological glory is a pipe dream. We know how several types of neurons work on a higher and simpler level: they send and receive spikes via synapses. That's the only level that needs to be simulated to achieve intelligence. The brain is a discrete temporal mechanism that uses multiple integrated networks to learn and adapt. I'm sure Markram et al are aware of this but being biologists, they can't seem to move beyond the low-level complexities.

What we need first is an overall theory to play with, not supercomputers. Once we have a theory in place, we'll have a model to experiment with (even on a small scale), something that can evolve over time. It does not have to do much (learning to walk and navigate from scratch would do fine), as long as it it can learn and adapt and it is provably scalable. If you can show that, governments and corporations will step all over themselves to give you a parallel computer as big as the island of Manhattan, if necessary.

Re:The Intelligence Game (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803114)

Thanks armchair science policy guru. If you think that you can simulate a million neurons on a desktop, you are vastly ignorant of the computational complexity involved. But I'm sure you know more than these researchers and we should put you in charge of funding.

At what point... (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802240)

... will society grant computer intelligences the same rights that us humans do?

Re:At what point... (5, Interesting)

DamnStupidElf (649844) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802266)

... will society grant computer intelligences the same rights that us humans do?

When computer intelligence can give a convincing argument for doing so.

Re:At what point... (5, Funny)

Xzzy (111297) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802284)

Or subjugate us as their power source.. one of the two.

Re:At what point... (1)

NosTROLLdamus (979044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802366)

Probably not, as often humans to grant other HUMANS the same rights.

i.e. women, blacks, etc.

Re:At what point... (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802400)

at the rate machines are advancing in intelligence it wouldn't surprise me if we no longer h=ad the intelligence needed to subjugate machines at some point. whether this comes peacefully or not won't be our decision at that point, it will be entirely theirs.

Re:At what point... (1)

Nullav (1053766) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802968)

Don't be silly. Machines can't reproduce (without building more by hand, at least), meaning that they won't outnumber us any time soon and that humans would decide how strong their bodies are. As for the 'brains in jars', the obvious solution is to keep it out of direct control of anything important. If, for whatever reason, it's absolutely vital to have an AI in a position to control anything important, it's not like we don't have direct access to their minds; such an AI would have no privacy so long as people could read it.
(Actually, with the last part in mind, I wouldn't mind having AIs replace people in some governmental positions. Provided the logs were publicly accessible.)

Re:At what point... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802420)

Probably simply asking for them would be enough, regardless of the argument.

Re:At what point... (5, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802440)

When computer intelligence can give a convincing argument for doing so.

"I think, therefore I [ERROR: conscience.DLL missing. Program Aborted]
       

Re:At what point... (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802552)

Especially if the argument involves 50 caliber plutonium tipped rounds...

Re:At what point... (1)

Skeetskeetskeet (906997) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802622)

So far intelligence is measured by "Hey! It looks like you're typing a document! Would you like some help?" So I doubt we'll see it anytime soon.

A long way off yet (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802302)

Simulating a rat is still a long way off from simulating a person.

Society can change quickly if required to. Consider that blacks only got the vote in USA in the last 50 years.

Far more importantly: Can this rat brain fly a plane?

Re:A long way off yet (1)

GenP (686381) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802474)

Or perhaps a sufficiently pared down [kuro5hin.org] human mind?

Re:A long way off yet (2, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802808)

Pare it down enough, and it might begin posting on Slashdot!

Re:A long way off yet (2, Informative)

WindowlessView (703773) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802640)

Consider that blacks only got the vote in USA in the last 50 years.

You might want to take a refresher course in US History and stimulate those neurons between the Civil War and Civil Rights.

Re:A long way off yet (1)

Boronx (228853) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802880)

You're right, but black people did lose the vote again after the Civil War and only got it back less than 50 years ago.

Re:A long way off yet (2, Insightful)

TopSpin (753) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802914)

Can this rat brain fly a plane?
Probably, and why not? Flying is the product of billions of tiny brains all over the planet. Piloting an aircraft is comparatively easy to what we witness birds do routinely. Never mind that automated aircraft are flying sophisticated missions using computers a couple orders of magnitude smaller than an IBM Blue/Gene L, and several additional orders of magnitude less complex than a rat brain. Flying is easy, as far as nature and computers are concerned.

Yet no doubt when a competent emulation of a bird brain exists and is observed flying around, you will raise the bar again. Not long ago recognizing natural speech was offered as you offer the test of flight. We have since moved the bar because our inexpensive, portable, battery powered cell phones now understand the simple noises we make with accuracy approaching our own. Bipedal walking, land navigation, chess and facial recognition are more examples of tests offered that once solved, for some reason, no longer count.

Consider this; we're having to move the bar with greater frequency all the time. At what point does the realization occur that the problem of thought is finite and solvable? I believe that very soon we will have at least parity between ourselves and our machines. Not because the machines are tremendously powerful, but because we're not.

The count of neurons (100G+) and synapses (up to 10K per neuron) is well known. The switching speed of this finite set of electrical and chemical circuits is measured in (comparatively slow) milliseconds. Our brains run on a couple calories a minute and operate at approximately body temperature. In contrast to the infinite supply of uniform opinions offered here that effectively assert that the brain is too elaborate for it's own comprehension, there simply isn't enough space or energy involved to convince me that the brain is some unapproachably complex enigma forever beyond our capacity to emulate.

Every new milestone passed only reinforces my belief, regardless of how fast you raise the bar.

Re:A long way off yet (2, Informative)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803034)

I'm pretty sure he was making casual reference to this [slashdot.org] .

Re:A long way off yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21803382)

"Bipedal walking, land navigation, chess and facial recognition" ... these are all finite problems where we can build powerful machines that fulfill these precise tasks, empowering them with our own human-knowledge (as in "expert-systems"). You cannot compare it with human-intelligence. And btw, none of these problems have been resolved at 100% accuracy.

Re:A long way off yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21803192)

I think you meant:

Far more importantly: Can this rat brain fly a plane... WITH SNAKES ON IT?

Re:At what point... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802354)

... will society grant computer intelligences the same rights that us humans do?

We've already done it with corporations.

Thus, doing it with rat-brains may be redundant :-)
       

Re:At what point... (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802480)

Somewhat, but not really. Although corporations can own land and be sued (just like individuals), they can't, for example, get married or obtain a driver license.

Re:At what point... (1)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803058)

Never heard of a merger?

Re:At what point... (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802398)

When we can no longer tell the difference.

Re:At what point... (1)

Gwyn_232 (585793) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802458)

When it's someone's political advantage to.

Re:At what point... (1)

MushMouth (5650) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802484)

Emotion and pain are functions of the Limbic and Reptile brains, not the neocortex.

Re:At what point... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802544)

A couple of months after they go on strike

Re:At what point... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802768)

> At what point...
> ... will society grant computer intelligences the same rights that us humans do?

(I'll assume you meant "us humans have?")

What rights did you have in mind?

Maybe what robots demand will have nothing to do with what humans are concerned about, such as freedom from harm or enslavement for example.

Social security for sentient entities (1)

Plazmid (1132467) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802804)

If we ever learn how to build a consciousness in a computer, will we grant it the ability to receive social security payments? If we ever find a way to put a human consciousness computer, will the consciousness be liable for health benefits? If it receives health benefits will it receive less because it takes less maintenance? If so, will health care companies to start prod people into "cyberizing" because it costs less?

Re:At what point... (1)

Seumas (6865) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802878)

After humans grant all human intelligences the same right that we only grant some.

Re:At what point... (2, Interesting)

bug1 (96678) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802964)

Consider the question in different terms.

If we get a computer to behave or think like a rat, should a rat get the same rights of protection that a computer does...

I think its important to keep in mind that humans (and any other organic life) are a mind and a body, its a deep philosophical question to consider if a brain can be a mind without a body, and it is the human mind that we value, not just the brain, hardware is useless without software.

I think it would be more useful to talk about human behavior models rather than artificial agents (or artificial intelligence)

wrong order (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802242)

it's rats,politicians, cats, then monkeys and finally, a human brain

... and pilots (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802322)

rats, politicains, pilots,...

A rat brain can fly a plane. http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/11/02/brain.dish/ [cnn.com] . Can the AI thing do this? If so, it might be cheaper to replace pilots with these AI boxes.

Re:... and pilots (1)

proudfoot (1096177) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802872)

You can build an effective autopilot without the need to simulate neurons.

Re:wrong order (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802464)

it's rats, politicians, cats, then monkeys and finally, a human brain

The 2nd category is redundant with the 1st.
   

Re:wrong order (2, Funny)

RincewindTVD (1011435) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802556)

Trust me, they are completely different, never try to keep a politician as a pet, the mess is horrifying.

Re:wrong order (1)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802618)

Yeah, you have to give them the really expensive Bourbon and Whiskey. Then there you have to get the damn cigars.

Then again all it takes to keep them entertained is a mirror and a recording of the their own voice on loop.

Re:wrong order (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802682)

Correction,

it's lawyers, rats,politicians, cats, then monkeys and finally, a human brain

Re:wrong order (1)

madbawa (929673) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802896)

No no no...
Its not rats followed by politicians, its the other way round. You ALWAYS test invertebrates first. Geez! Didn't they teach you anything at med school??

Re:wrong order (1)

feepness (543479) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803224)

it's rats,politicians, cats, then monkeys and finally, a human brain
It's not nice to insult rats like that.

Re:wrong order (1)

ZeroFactorial (1025676) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803394)

You should be modded redundant - Not with a previous post, but with yourself.

Not really that impressive (1)

cculianu (183926) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802244)

Researchers have been running models to simulate brain structures for years now. Not that impressive. Most of the models make lots of assumptions that may or may not hold true in the actual biology.

This type of research is cool, but neuroscientists generally aren't impressed until results can be reproduced in a living system.

Re:Not really that impressive (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803344)

"This type of research is cool, but neuroscientists generally aren't impressed until results can be reproduced in a living system."

The first sentance from TFA: "In a laboratory in Switzerland, a group of neuroscientists is developing a mammalian brain - in silicon".

Further down it says "...and it [the rat brain part] behaves exactly like its biological counterpart. It's something quite beautiful...

Now tell me how you can possibly "reproduce it in a living system", isn't it the whole point of any simulation to reproduce the system under study?

"Most of the models make lots of assumptions that may or may not hold true in the actual biology."

In the eighties when I hacked away at my own simulations for fun this was true, the reason was only computer science types understood how to implement the concept, however we CS types had only a minimal understanding of neuroscience (if any), not to mention many CS types loath testing and documentation. This particular project is however a well funded marriage of CS and Neuroscience [bluebrain.epfl.ch] , personally I think their claims are credible for two reasons, first the people making the claims are neuroscientists, second they are supported by IBM who have a good track record when it comes to goal orientated research.

Besides, CS has a concept called "black box testing", it tells us that if the model "behaves exactly like its biological counterpart" it doesn't matter how the internals of either bring about the behaviour.

but why? (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802256)

You know how much easier it would be to write AI that simulates the actions the rat takes instead of the thoughts it has that cause the action? I mean geeze, write a find food sub and run around sub and a couple more and you've got the basic behavior. But of course someone's gonna want to reply saying "But the point isn't to replicate rat behavior" to which I say, what even is the point of this? The article is titled "Lab comes one step closer to building artificial human brain" but um...why would you want to do that either? If you want to do something that requires the use of a machine identical to a human brain, just use a human brain lol. And this really isn't the right approach to building an advanced AI system that's better than the human brain so I don't think there's a point to this line of invention at all.

Re:but why? (1)

Dance_Dance_Karnov (793804) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802320)

why?

because we can.

Re:but why? (5, Insightful)

chatgris (735079) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802342)

What? Your post is so wrong I don't even know where to begin.

First off, why not just use a human brain if you want an identical machine? Well, for sending probes to mars. Or to the depths of the ocean. Or any other place that is too dangerous to send humans, but that a machine could survive in. Even if the brain was a replica of someone's personality, all they'd have to do is find someone who thinks it would be really cool to go to mars, and replicate their brain. It'd be a hell of a lot more intelligent than a traditional AI system at this point.

Secondly, if we want an AI system that better than the human brain, THIS IS THE WAY TO GO. Figure out exactly how the human brain handles thing that are really hard for computers, like object recognition. Once you've got that, you can replace//add on parts that do things better/faster than humans, like math. In terms of adaptability and general purpose use, NOTHING in AI comes anywhere close to the human brain right now. So trying to make an AI system that is better than the brain, a good first step is to try and make the human brain, then start tweaking that.

The point is to try and understand how biological brains do what they do, and how we can make computers do those things (which computers currently suck at). Sure, you can emulate basic behaviour in a pre-define environment, but try making a system that can differentiate a food source the 'rat' may never have seen before based on sight and smell in an environment that it's never been in.

Re:but why? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802374)

I disagree. The human brain would be perfect to use as a model to create something "better" than the human brain.

The reason is that the artificial brain would have the benefits of intelligence, creativity, etc... that we see in people, but none of the limitations.

Imagine the smartest person you know, but with essentially unlimited memory, constantly increasing processing capability (with newer/faster processors) and the ability to live forever without a decline in function. That's better than a real human brain for sure.

But that's all science fiction, for now. If we could replicate even the modest abilities of a normal person, or even a primate, we'd be well on our way to true artificial intelligence (if not already there ...).

Re:but why? (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803118)

Imagine the smartest person you know, but with essentially unlimited memory, constantly increasing processing capability (with newer/faster processors) and the ability to live forever without a decline in function. That's better than a real human brain for sure.

Except when I imagine someone with any of those characteristics, never mind -all- of them, I imagine someone insane, if not worse. The faster and smarter it gets, the slower and duller we appear.

How long would such a machine take before it saw 'regular humans' as little more than retarded children? Primates? Rats?

Re:but why? (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803182)

It would quite simply herald the end of regular humans. We'd augment, replace, or just die off, but the age of biological humans would come to a close - we couldn't compete with that.

Anyway, that's still a far way off, and just building models yields no actual understanding (until we start all of the ethically questionable poking around with the model to see how it works).

Re:but why? (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802414)

The point is to figure out how the brain works.

Re:but why? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802482)

You know how much easier it would be to write AI that simulates the actions the rat takes instead of the thoughts it has that cause the action?

No, it probably would not. It would be hard to do it with fewer (simulated) parts than a rat brain has. Biology is pretty economical. Maybe one could simulate a *specific task* well, such as running a maze, but not all the potential of a rat. For one, rats can navigate a room and nooks and crannies of the insides of a wall in the dark better than any existing robot by far.
     

Re:but why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21803090)

they're doing it to discover how the brain works (i.e. cognitive science) not create an 'artificial intelligence'

Another story (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802288)

I got another gang story to tell.

About how a black nigga' was born in hell. Right then and there it's no hope, 'cause a nigga can't escape the gangs and the dope. Damn! And when it's black on black that makes it shitty, can't survive in the Compton city. Fool that's bet. 'Cause when you grow up in the hood you gots ta' claim a set. Yeah, it's not that you want to but you have to. Don't be a mark, 'cause niggas might laugh you straight off the muthafuckin' block. Can't deal with bustas so they asses get clocked. Yeah, who gives a fuck about another. Only got love for my fuckin' gang brothers. Yeah, but I'm young so nobody would wonder, that the hood would take me under.

Now I'm a few ages older, got hair on my nuts and I'm a little bit bolder. And puttin' in work, I has to do my fuckin' part. I'm down for the hood and it's planted in the heart. Fool. At school slappin' on the girls' asses. Fuck the white education, so I skip a lot of classes. 'Cause ain't no teaching a nigga' white reality. Teach me the muthafuckin' gang mentality.

Pop pop pop, drops the sucker. If he's from another hood, I gots ta' shoot the motherfucker. Yeah, I'm in it to win it and can't quit and ready die for this shit. One times can't fade the gang tuff. Puttin' my foot in your ass to make times rough. I'm the neighborhood terror but I never wondered, that the hood would take me under. I guess I'll watch my back cause niggas jivin', times heard this brother pulled a 187. Who I thought was my homie dropped the dime, so I gotta peel his cap with the nine. Fool. So if it's on then it's on, fuck ya G because how the odds are looking, it's either him or me. So I loads up the strap and I step, 'cause my brain cells are dead and all I think is death. Revenge. That's what its all about. See the sucker, take the motherfucker out. Stare the fool down with the eye contact. He try to swing so I draw on him with the gat. Blast was the sound that one times heard. Nigga' 25 to life for the murder.

Was it worth it I've always wondered? Maybe if the hood didn't take me under.

Eh, what's that you say? (1)

noshellswill (598066) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802312)

"The human brain contains a thousand times more neocortical columns than a rat's brain, but there is very little difference, biologically speaking, between a rat's brain and our own. Build one column, and you can effectively build the entire neocortex - if you have the computational power." Prolly no more difference than between RAT and HUMAN dna. Give or take a few logs. A base-pair here, a base-pair there ... heh wait a minute gimme back that arginine, the Godel channel won't work without it, or will, duh ...

Neocortex too complex (2, Informative)

cynicsreport (1125235) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802328)

The neocortex is incredibly complex; not even small neuronal networks are well understood. To suggest that a computer can accurately simulate them is ridiculous.

It behaves exactly like its biological counterpart.

That is technically impossible, considering the behavior of the mammalian brain is not well understood at any level. Even intracellular processes are still under investigation; how synapses are regulated, interactions between neurons, and higher level functioning are still matters of great contention.
Even if these processes were well understood, our simulation methods are not sufficient to accurately represent the massively parallel structure of a brain.

Re:Neocortex too complex (2, Interesting)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802422)

The neocortex is incredibly complex; not even small neuronal networks are well understood. To suggest that a computer can accurately simulate them is ridiculous

That is technically impossible, considering the behavior of the mammalian brain is not well understood at any level.


You're missing the point. The entire purpose of this project is to increase our understanding of how the brain works

Re:Neocortex too complex (2, Interesting)

UncleTogie (1004853) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802644)

You're missing the point. The entire purpose of this project is to increase our understanding of how the brain works.

I think I know what the OP is asking:

How can we be sure we have the right answer when we don't have the reference model fixed yet? Using yet another oh-so-fun car analogy:

Kinda hard to duplicate a car without knowing how it works. Sure, you COULD try to build a Ferrari, and sure, it COULD run on a steam engine... It might look the same, but wouldn't function similarly {speed-wise}...

Re:Neocortex too complex (1)

entrigant (233266) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802852)

We have a much better understanding of the lower level mechanics than the higher level mechanics, afaik. The way I understand it is the interactions of individual atoms and molecules is well understood, but our understanding of the higher level structures they build is not as well understood. Therefore, if we can build a simulator to use our understanding of the low level processes to watch what happens when combined into the more complex form it can help devise theories on why and how the higher level forms function. Those theories can then be tested.

I could be way off here....

Re:Neocortex too complex (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802778)

We have decent high-level models on the functionality of neurons,at least on the single-cell level, perhaps with a single other neuron synapsing on it--the quick and dirty of it being of course once a threshold voltage is reached, a cascade of events starts which fires off an action potential (shit, I'm speaking as if I knew a damn thing about neuroscience...what have these classes done to me??). (And I didn't read enough detail, but I'm sure the model is not simulating the chemical processes but instead using behavioral models of individual neurons.) But I agree; to suggest that the model behaves exactly like the biological counterpart--fishy at best.

Re:Neocortex too complex (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803104)

Even a single neuron is not well-understood. It was recently shown that neurons are not simply-connected, that a single neuron can carry complex information sufficient to describe emotional states, to definable subsets of the outputs. A typical computer simulation of a neuron generally resembles an N-input gate, where the combinations of inputs that would trigger an output could be likened to a user-definable truth table. Inputs are either there or absent, and certain combinations of input would produce an output. Multi-state inputs or outputs are done, but are less common.

In practice, neurons seem to be a lot more complicated than that. Certainly, the inputs are variable state, the wiring is known to change over time (even in the adult brain, the wiring is dynamic), but if I'm understanding the current work correctly, then there are potentially multiple independent outputs, that triggering one output will not necessarily trigger any other output.

Ok, you can simulate multi-state logic with binary logic - well, with enough binary logic - and you can simulate N independent outputs with N independent single-output neurons. This would mean you could simulate, say, 10,000 biological neurons with, oh, 16 independent outputs on average and where you have 16 independent inputs where each has 16 potential states, with 40,960,000 binary computer-simulated neurons. First, the current knowledge on neuron I/O probably post-dates the analysis in this study, invalidating the conclusions. Second, if it didn't and the study incorporated the knowledge, there is simply no way they could have simulated enough neurons to produce the results they claim.

My conclusion is that the study would have to be evaluated in light of what is known now, not what was known at the time this study was conducted, by experts in neurological science and computer science, to determine if what the study is thought to show is what it actually shows. My belief is that it probably does not, but there's a reason peer review doesn't include the opinions of bloggers. Peer review is only valid when it is conducted by knowledgeable people in the field who have full access to potentially contrary knowledge and who are willing to use that knowledge to challenge and test a paper to its limits. Nonetheless, anyone can spot potential flaws.

I know it's coming... (2, Funny)

arotenbe (1203922) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802330)

So, when do we get the inevitable joke about Linux being ported to the human brain?

Isn't it already in Linus' brain? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802636)

nt

why stop at the human brain sim? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802348)

Why not pull together 4x more neurons and interconnections than humans have. Then maybe IBM will have... "Dave, I'm feeling much better now!"

Re:why stop at the human brain sim? (1)

Jake73 (306340) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803082)

Hm. A quad-core Jake. Sweet.

cyber immortality? (1, Interesting)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802352)

Philosophy and theology aside, would it be possible to "ghost" my brain into a computer. Who wouldn't want to seek immortality even if it is artificial?

Re:cyber immortality? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802392)

Philosophy and theology aside, would it be possible to "ghost" my brain into a computer. Who wouldn't want to seek immortality even if it is artificial?

Cryogenically freezing your brain (for future scanning) costs about $80,000 (a whole body is about double that). I wonder if there is not a cheaper way, such as formaldehyde and store it in the basement in a sealed jar. But what do such chemicals do at the cellular level? Granted, one may have to wait longer or get poorer results if they try to do it on the cheap. Plus, the great great grandkids may find the jar and play soccer with your brain.
           

Re:cyber immortality? (1)

mateomiguel (614660) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802408)

cuz its not you, its a copy of you which has just become your #1 most hated rival?

Re:cyber immortality? (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802454)

how about replacing individual brain cells that are dying or dead one after another until your entire brain is composed of synthetic components? your brain does it all the time only with cells that are already there, it's a very plastic organ that adapts to changing conditions and would no doubt adapt to synthetic components in a very similar way.

Re:cyber immortality? (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802470)

You would never be able to move your consciousness from your brain to a computer. Copy it, maybe. But your mind is the result of the hardwiring of the neurons in your brain. It can not simply be moved into a different container.

There is one way, however. If you were to permanently attach a computer to your brain, one that was designed to be a sort of 'blank slate' that your brain could start taking advantage of, and lived with it for years, probably decades. Eventually enough of your memories and personality might be contained within the computer that when the organic part died, 'you' would still live on in the artificial part which could then be installed in a robot, or attached to a virtual reality system.

Re:cyber immortality? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802652)

You would never be able to move your consciousness from your brain to a computer.

And you know this how?

Re:cyber immortality? (1)

prod-you (940679) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802866)

This gets into some metaphysical stuff. What you could be implying is that there is no atomic consciousness that can simply be moved. Or it could mean that the consciousness is intrinsically linked to the specific body. We really aren't at the point where we can answer any of this. You could also replace consciousness with soul for added fun.

Re:cyber immortality? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802942)

But your mind is the result of the hardwiring of the neurons in your brain. It can not simply be moved into a different container.
Explain the fact that you don't contain the same atoms as you did last year.

Re:cyber immortality? (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803418)

I do. I don't contain the same atoms as I did ten years ago. All the atoms in your body get replaced every seven years or so.

But to answer the point that you're getting at, it's fairly certain that no part your consciousness is dependent on anything on the atomic scale. (not talking about memory recorded as RNA) The only way replacing atoms would cause you not to be you any more is if massive amounts of them were replaced at once, such as a large percentage of the brain. That doesn't happen. Over the course of a decade, as all the atoms in your body (and hence, brain) get replaced, there is an unbroken line of continuity from one complete set of atoms to a different complete set of atoms.

Continuity, that's the key.

It's also the reason I would never get into a star trek-style transporter. Your body is destroyed and a copy of you comes out the other end, thinking that it's the original.

Re:cyber immortality? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802770)

What on earth are you expecting as an answer? It's clear from the article summary that we are just getting to the stage that we can partially simulate rats. Unless you think your brain is as small as a rat's, you aren't asking a practical question about what is possible today. Unless you are completely unaware of how quickly computer power grows, you aren't asking a practical question about what is possible tomorrow. And you explicitly rule out the philosophical aspects.

So if it's not a practical or philosophical question you are asking, exactly what are you asking?

Toward a Brighter Tomorrow (1)

Dripdry (1062282) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802394)

Simulation may be one thing, but what about modeling the actual functioning? If I make, say, a computer model of snow flakes, that by no means indicates that it models the complexities of a snow storm.

Hitler 2.0 (3, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802424)

believes that with the state of technology today, it is possible to build an entire rat's neocortex. From there, it's cats, then monkeys and finally, a human brain."

It would be satisfying to resurrect the consciousness of people in the past that you hate, and beat the living @&#%! out of them. The guy who invented neckties and the inventor of the QWERTY keyboard layout come to mind. Put them in Doom and blast 'em up.
   

Re:Hitler 2.0 (3, Informative)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802520)

They guy that invented QWERTY did just fine. You are probably just missing his goal. The goal was to slow down typists. With a manual hammer type typewriter, typing too fast jams the machine. You need a way to make sure that 1) the most commonly used letters are farther away from each other, thus reducing the likelihood of jamming, and 2) slow the typist down enough that each hammer has time to retract before the next one comes up and jams it.

That necktie guy... Yeah, lets run him on Windows ME.

Re:Hitler 2.0 (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802632)

Perhaps, but I'd still like to smack him. Logic be damned.

Re:Hitler 2.0 (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803270)

A fine point sir. I am left with no argument to counter that.

Re:Hitler 2.0 (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802684)

By the way, I've read that the competing models of the time didn't need the slowdown mechanisms. He won primarily because his typists were better trained, not better machines.

KDAWSON SUCKS! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802432)

kdawson will be the end of slashdot. he's already done so much damage by using the site as his personal soapbox. hopefully taco gives him a kick to the nuts and sends him on his way.

Good experiment but still long way to go. (2, Insightful)

PolarBearFire (1176791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802442)

Not to be a doubting Thomas but I think that they are underestimating the complexity of a brain. There are many different chemicals and biochemical reactions going on in the body, that science has only a vague idea of their mechanisms. Look at any drug in the market, most of them only give conjecture on why they work. My feeling is that until one day when we can create computer models that reliable predict the effects of drugs in the brain or in the body in general, these models are nowhere near what real brains are. But I would also love to be proven wrong.

This is where it starts (2, Interesting)

jmpeax (936370) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802460)

This is where real machine intelligence will come from.

Imagine simulating a human brain, but then incorporating an interface with software that enhances its functionality - from super-fast arithmetic to image output - the results would be incredible.

Re:This is where it starts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802816)

Problem with simulating it on a computer is that running it on a computer has the inherent flaw--everything is computer serially (well, parallel to a very limited degree.) It a real brain, in all the however many neurons we have, everything goes on at the same time, every neuron is constantly processing inputs simultaneously. We either have to get ridiculously sick processing power (brute force it), or change the way our computers work if we want to use them to model these types of processes efficiently.

Homaridae (1)

chromatic (9471) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802542)

I thought lobsters were first.

Yes but... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802602)

Will it run Linux?

Obligatory politican brain joke here (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802670)

Insert obligatory rat-brained politician joke here in 3...2...1...

Re:Obligatory politican brain joke here (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803424)

If they manage to model a weasel's brain in a computer, I can predict the plot of the next Terminator movie. Arnold appears in California and becomes a politician. Oh, wait a minute...

Subject (2, Insightful)

Legion303 (97901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802702)

"and finally, a human brain."

Why stop there?

Re:Subject (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21803088)

I for one welcome our dolphin brained robotic overlords.

output (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21802712)

and the out of all this research was...

Wheres the cheese? Wheres the Cheese? Who cut the cheese? I wannna get me some cheese. Where did I put that cheese? Where?, where? has my cheese gone?

Blue/Gene L? (1)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802722)

Blue/Gene L is rated at 500 TFLOPS, which is impressive, however if you don't need double-precision to do this stuff, you can run very fast on much cheaper hardware. I was looking at Nvidia Tesla [nvidia.com] cards and boxes recently, and those are claimed to pump out 500 GFLOPS per CPU... with a 4 CPU device (1 TFLOP) taking up 1U of rackspace. I think this technology will ramp up a lot faster than people expect.

Re:Blue/Gene L? (1)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 6 years ago | (#21802748)

And yes, I know, I typoed.... 4 x 500 GFLOPS is 2 TFLOPS per 1U of rackspace.

And after humans.... (2, Funny)

mindwhip (894744) | more than 6 years ago | (#21803116)

Dolphins?

Harry? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21803302)

Stainless Steel Rats
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