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Jeffrey Fadness

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Are we on the brink of creating a human-like digital mind?

The human brain contains some 100 billion neurons, grouped in specialized function zones, connected by a hundred thousand billion synapses - the neurons representing individual data processing and storage units; and synapses the data transfer cabling, connecting all the processing units.

Correlating its processing ability to a supercomputer, it's been estimated it can perform more than 38 thousand trillion operations per second, and hold about 3.6 million gigabytes of memory. Equally impressive, it's estimated that the human brain executes this monumental computational task on a mere equivalent of 20 watts of power; about the same energy to power a single, dim light bulb. In today's technology, a supercomputer designed to deliver comparable capabilities would require roughly 100 megawatts (100 million watts) of power; an energy equivalent that could fully satisfy the power consumption needs of roughly a thousand households.

An ambitious $1.3 billion project was very recently announced in Europe to simulate a human mind in the form of a complete human brain in a supercomputer. It's named the Human Brain Project. A similar project in the U.S. planned by National Institutes of Health (NIH) is called the Brain Activity Map project.

Assuming we learn enough from these efforts to design a new architecture in computer processing which can approximate the ability of the human brain - what's to stop us from creating the cognitive faculties that enable consciousness, thinking, reasoning, perception, and judgement? After all, we as human beings develop these abilities from data we acquire over time through sensory inputs connecting us to our experiences, and from information communicated to us by others.

Think about it. Is there anything related to our experience - be it physical, historical or conceptual - that cannot be described in language, and therefore be input as executable data and programming to create a human-like digital mind?


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    Mar 14 2013: Humans have the prerogative to change their minds. We live in a constant state of changing and evolving within our thoughts and opinions, we get wiser with age and the passing of time. Will a computer have such an ability, really? A computer could never be a philosopher unless it can teach and learn itself.
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      Mar 14 2013: There are many such advanced systems that are programmed to learn from data (experiences - trial and error) just as we do. That being said, I do understand and appreciate the point of your question.

      Currently, computer programming is pretty much based on issues of pure logic -- black or white in a sense. They are mostly closed-end systems. At the moment, we don't have enough understanding or technical ability to reproduce the functional ability of the human brain -- more than 38 thousand trillion operations per second, and about 3.6 million gigabytes of memory. And more than just the awesome processing ability, is the way in which we receive, store, categorize, relate, interpret, and formulate our thought process.

      I absolutely believe we are moving inexorably in that direction. When you say will a computer -- and I'll call the computers of the future designed for such higher function, a non-biologic intelligent entity -- get wiser with age and time? I believe the answer is yes. It's actually not age or time that makes us (hopefully) wiser; it's experience -- trial and error. But we're all different. Some of us learn from our mistakes, and others seem to make the same mistakes over and over again.

      We as human beings have a certain degree of predetermined genetic programming that dictate certain desires and processes. It's kind of like an empty spreadsheet program. Our programs are then populated by data taught to us by our relatives and peers, and the remainder is data from experience, which none of us process in the exact same precise way. Our programming is an open-ended system that allows for unlimited expansion and direction based on acquired experiences upon which we make decisions that result in a process of trial and error -- that's how we learn. And this is precisely the way the programming wizards of today say that the computer programs of tomorrow will need to be designed to achieve human like results.

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