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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: I have a philosophy which is built on a core theory that the value model we call utilitarianism has been short-sighted and with all the power and flexibility and the change in nature of digital tools we need a balancer or supplanter of utilitarianism. I call my philosophy "facilitarianism". Now I can say that the utilitarian mind sees the ultimate ideal of technology as a machine that does everything we do and in effect this fails to think about what is our utility if we have machines that do everything we do? The ideal of the facilitarian mind is a machine which facilitates the best within us where we are the objective of improved technology and not the disposable inferiors to be cast aside. Whenever I see such projects and fixation with artificial intelligence I see it as the product of the utilitarian bent. It is more than time to re-tune our relationship with the digital tools which have no finite purpose like a shovel or axe but a nature of automation that lets humans overcome distance and knowledge gaps. Facilitarianism must guide technology going forward--making technology able to "lead" us to do things we are undisciplined to do so that we grow in capacity and imagination. Utilitarianism will reach an end where we have only given thought to improving the machine while we ourselves stay the same. We are the one who must advance, not just out technologies. You heard it here first folks.
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      Mar 16 2013: I agree that this is most likely the initiative of and for artificial intelligence that we'll initially pursue.

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