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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Brain research projects - no more digital computers or programming!?

There are several huge "artificial brain" research projects going on now. There is one in Israel, United States (biggest NIH research grant in history), and the one in Europe is called the Blue Brain Project. One of the leading directors of the BBP is Henry Markham. I was listening to an interview with him in which he stated that within 10 years, once the virtual brain is created, it will mean computers will no longer need to be programmed - it would mean the end of the line for digital computers! These computers would not need to be programmed because they will have ability to learn by themselves. This really astonishes me. He further stated that the desktop computers in the future will be both digital and artificial brain.

The eHealth implications for the BBP are astronomical. At first the goal of such a virtual brain would be simulations to test drug reactions for Parkinsons or Alzheimers. Of course, those are more translational bioinformatic type of applications, but it would mean that every ordinary computer device would have access to a Dr. Watson type of medical intelligence.

In the spirit of this movement towards neuroscience integration of knowledge and huge research, I am reading Ray Kuzweil's new book "How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed". Parts of the book are beyond my ken, especially the chapters describing how the brain grid is constructed and how it works, but I like reading Kurzweil because his theories of the evolution of computers is compelling. Not everyone appreciates the Kuzweil vision, and I found very humorous a review of Kuzweil by Don Tapscott in the Globe and Mail where he quotes a detractor of his writings:

He also has many detractors. Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, once said that Kurzweil's books are “a very bizarre mixture of ideas that are solid and good with ideas that are crazy. It's as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can't possibly figure out what's good or bad.”
I have to return "How to Create a Mind" to the library now, but I almost finished. Can't say I completely understand the "hidden Markov models". I also don't fully agree with Hofstader. Kurzweil even has quotes from Albus Dumdeldore and one of the Weasley clan, and I don't think that detracts from the scholarly work. Many times throughout reading the book I get the feeling that the book was written for both a human and a computer audience. Future "Hals" from 2001 a Space Odyssey are a target audience, and I think this book is a great contribution for computer understanding of human intelligence and how the brain works. br />