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Old 07-22-2009   #1
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Artificial Brain "10 years away"

Probably more than 10 years away, but it still sounds cool.

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A detailed, functional artificial human brain can be built within the next 10 years, a leading scientist has claimed.

Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project, has already simulated elements of a rat brain.

He told the TED Global conference in Oxford that a synthetic human brain would be of particular use finding treatments for mental illnesses.
Around two billion people are thought to suffer some kind of brain impairment, he said.

"It is not impossible to build a human brain and we can do it in 10 years," he said.
"And if we do succeed, we will send a hologram to TED to talk."

'Shared fabric'

The Blue Brain project was launched in 2005 and aims to reverse engineer the mammalian brain from laboratory data.

In particular, his team has focused on the neocortical column - repetitive units of the mammalian brain known as the neocortex.

"It's a new brain," he explained. "The mammals needed it because they had to cope with parenthood, social interactions complex cognitive functions.

"It was so successful an evolution from mouse to man it expanded about a thousand fold in terms of the numbers of units to produce this almost frightening organ."
And that evolution continues, he said. "It is evolving at an enormous speed."

Over the last 15 years, Professor Markram and his team have picked apart the structure of the neocortical column.

"It's a bit like going and cataloguing a bit of the rainforest - how may trees does it have, what shape are the trees, how many of each type of tree do we have, what is the position of the trees," he said.

"But it is a bit more than cataloguing because you have to describe and discover all the rules of communication, the rules of connectivity."

The project now has a software model of "tens of thousands" of neurons - each one of which is different - which has allowed them to digitally construct an artificial neocortical column.
Although each neuron is unique, the team has found the patterns of circuitry in different brains have common patterns.

"Even though your brain may be smaller, bigger, may have different morphologies of neurons - we do actually share the same fabric," he said.
"And we think this is species specific, which could explain why we can't communicate across species."

World view
To make the model come alive, the team feeds the models and a few algorithms into a supercomputer.

"You need one laptop to do all the calculations for one neuron," he said. "So you need ten thousand laptops."

Instead, he uses an IBM Blue Gene machine with 10,000 processors.
Simulations have started to give the researchers clues about how the brain works.

For example, they can show the brain a picture - say, of a flower - and follow the electrical activity in the machine.
"You excite the system and it actually creates its own representation," he said.

Ultimately, the aim would be to extract that representation and project it so that researchers could see directly how a brain perceives the world.

But as well as advancing neuroscience and philosophy, the Blue Brain project has other practical applications.

For example, by pooling all the world's neuroscience data on animals - to create a "Noah's Ark", researchers may be able to build animal models.
"We cannot keep on doing animal experiments forever," said Professor Markram.

It may also give researchers new insights into diseases of the brain.
"There are two billion people on the planet affected by mental disorder," he told the audience.

The project may give insights into new treatments, he said.
The TED Global conference runs from 21 to 24 July in Oxford, UK.
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Old 07-23-2009   #2
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Re: Artificial Brain "10 years away"

You can always count on TED to have amazing innovations to share. Good find.
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Old 07-23-2009   #3
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Re: Artificial Brain "10 years away"

Unless you believe the soul is a mystical thing that a being gave you, I expect to see a 'soul' emerge from this new brain. If they make it right, anyways.
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Old 07-23-2009   #4
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Re: Artificial Brain "10 years away"

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Unless you believe the soul is a mystical thing that a being gave you, I expect to see a 'soul' emerge from this new brain. If they make it right, anyways.
Perhaps they can make a soul for you, then.

That's really cool, though. But I don't expect they will succeed completely, though they may come close. I mean, isn't it sort of like replicating a Monet painting, at this point, still? Another artist can look at it and emulate it at face value, but never really recreate it the way he originally painted it. Couldn't there be some (even just biological or functional) depth that is still being overlooked?
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Old 07-24-2009   #5
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Re: Artificial Brain "10 years away"

I remember hearing about this on the Science Channel. I've come to an understanding that reverse engineering, be it in genetics or computers, is an excellent way of making scientific advances. At this point, it is almost entirely possible to reverse engineer a chicken into a dinosaur. That advance was one that was along after about two years of researching it. Think of what ten years could be!

I am very optimistic about scientific advances though perhaps not as fanatically as Ray Kurzweil.
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Old 07-26-2009   #6
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Re: Artificial Brain "10 years away"

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Originally Said by EmperorChaos View Post
I remember hearing about this on the Science Channel. I've come to an understanding that reverse engineering, be it in genetics or computers, is an excellent way of making scientific advances. At this point, it is almost entirely possible to reverse engineer a chicken into a dinosaur. That advance was one that was along after about two years of researching it. Think of what ten years could be!

I am very optimistic about scientific advances though perhaps not as fanatically as Ray Kurzweil.

It is possible to reverse engineer a chicken to have teeth and a tail with vertebrae, but not to make it a dinosaur. That is a total oversimplification.

If making a dinosaur could happen, it would require reverse engineering but also DNA manipulation (from partial dino DNA) to happen. Reverse engi can only take you so far with genetics, because mutations don't leave traces... you can't say "oh, at this point, they gained beaks; before they had lipped mouths, and now they have beaks. we just have to CTRL Z the code enough". It takes many mutations in a mostly-unknown order for something like that to happen.
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Old 07-26-2009   #7
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Re: Artificial Brain "10 years away"

Is it really an oversimplification? I mean, can we really be sure that birds aren't dinosaurs anyway? Are they not surviving dinos?

Besides, you give a chicken teeth and a tail, and perhaps some more down-like feathers like the recessive gene of a certain Chinese chicken population and would you not call it a dinosaur?


But then, you're probably right... you're the biology lady.
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Old 07-26-2009   #8
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Re: Artificial Brain "10 years away"

ZP, I have no use for a soul. They just get in the way. Trying to replicate the painting is replicating something that had a creator. Alas, we do not.

I saw that chicken to dinosaur program on the science channel. Chickens have some of the leftover genes from the dinosaurs. Like foxy said we can do teeth and some other things.

Btw, they are finding that the velociraptor and probably some other dinosaurs were feathered. Feathers don't show up on the fossils for several reasons.
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Old 07-27-2009   #9
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Re: Artificial Brain "10 years away"

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Originally Said by Demento View Post
Btw, they are finding that the velociraptor and probably some other dinosaurs were feathered. Feathers don't show up on the fossils for several reasons.
Velociraptor mongolienses has quill knobs on its forearms, much like larger birds (ostrich, emu, cassowary) today, therefore implying feathers.

Other members of the deinonychus clade (raptors) also have the quill knobs.

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Is it really an oversimplification? I mean, can we really be sure that birds aren't dinosaurs anyway? Are they not surviving dinos?
In the same way we are surviving slime molds... specificity is necessary for any meaning in terms of evolutionary progression. Birds, dinos, and humans are all in the fish clade, technically, but saying we're all fish doesn't do anything to delineate meaningful groups.

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Besides, you give a chicken teeth and a tail, and perhaps some more down-like feathers like the recessive gene of a certain Chinese chicken population and would you not call it a dinosaur?

But then, you're probably right... you're the biology lady.
No, I would call it a bird. Even if you got it to have clawed three fingers within its wings, toothed beak, tail with vertebrae, etc, it might make it similar in outward appearance to an Archaeopteryx. Even so, though, Archaeopteryx is technically a bird, not a dinosaur.

The skeleton would have to undergo extreme changes, for one thing:

(Coelos being the first true dinosaurs on the cladogram.)


And shown in direct comparison here:

(The compy being the only true dinosaur shown.)
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Old 07-27-2009   #10
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Re: Artificial Brain "10 years away"

Goddammit, I hate being wrong.

Excellent job explaining how I am. The pictures help. I didn't like that backwards was spelled "backwords" though. If that exists, maybe there's more errors, right? Right?
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Old 07-28-2009   #11
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Re: Artificial Brain "10 years away"

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ZP, I have no use for a soul. They just get in the way.
I'm sorry, de Mento.

Quote:
Trying to replicate the painting is replicating something that had a creator. Alas, we do not.
Actually, that was just a general analogy, Mr. Assumes All My Analogies Are Theological. I think it could apply to even an Atheist's interpretation. Okay?!

...

This whole "pseudo-brain" thing brings to mind the Ian Malcolm Paradigm* all over again:

"Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Not saying that this research and the creation of a synthetic brain is necessarily, in itself dangerous. I just wonder what it (like other "brazen" experimentation, of late) could lead to--if it could lead to breaking ethical boundaries, if indeed such boundaries exist in this postmodern playground of a world. I wonder if such advances will lead to tampering with or redefining what it means to be human, if indeed that means anything at all inside the jungle gym of relativism. It just seems as if things which were once cozily fictional are now beginning to approach reality, and that's slightly scary (to a cowardly person like me).

* Sorreh if that's incorrect usage. I've just been wanting to try using that word "casually" ever since I first read it.
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