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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: Well, it could be the perfect being, on a digital scale, which, does not exist on this planet. Allowed to make a mistake and repair it, commit adultery or feel lust , take a life and feel remorse, envy another computers abilities, all the human aspects and experiences of being? No, it is not the human-like mind. With all the power and ability, would it not be over controlling or overbearing in throwing out all the jargon that goes on the the human mind, at random impulse, such as, speak the unspoken thought at will. Feelings of the senses, emotional or physical, is not a trained or learned knowledge, but rather a part of being. It comes naturally. No spreadsheet here. Can this computer reproduce itself or desire to? Far from perfect when you start eliminating things like desires. As computers are, it would be a great attempt for the perfect knowledge base But, do we really want it to have the ability to, pardon the expression, part the seas?
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      Mar 16 2013: I'll preface this by saying I'm no expert -- just an average Joe thinking out loud...

      But I don't know if I agree Leslie. We were not always as we are now. When you say, "Feelings of the senses, emotional or physical, is not a trained or learned knowledge, but rather a part of being. It comes naturally. "

      All of these concepts and emotions have been learned and acquired over time and generations in my view. I truly believe this was an evolutionary process in which the human species has continued to evolve. Within the vast expanse of time, it was just a second ago that we arrived -- and we are evolving perhaps faster than any species now or before us. The game changer has been the way in which our brains' developed -- which many scientists believe was a product of environmental change.

      With the advent of language and the written word, our ability to preserve, recall, transfer and build upon past experience and knowledge creates an exponential multiplier in our ability to evolve intellectually. And now with the Internet, the whole of the humanity can connect, learn from and add to that body of knowledge. We have evolved in a technological sense in the last few decades more than in all of our previous 200 thousand year history.

      Do we want to create a non-biologic, human-like intelligent entity is another question. If it were truly an open-ended program designed to think for itself -- it might decide the human race is flawed and who knows what the consequences would be...

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