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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 19 2013: IMO, the founding questions that created this discussion, like many other discussions globally I guess, are based on a certain confusion, although the questions are very reasonable. Perhaps also that very interesting and ambitious project initiated by Europe to simulate the human brain in computer, might be based partly on a similar confusion or misperception.

    For example, let's take the Encyclopedia Britannica or the Wikipedia. These Encyclopedias hold an enormous amount of information. But all this amount of information do not turn the Encyclopedias into even the slightest intelligent or sensing entity. Millions are approaching these Encyclopedias daily and using them to enhance their own knowledge, to learn, to invent new things or whatever. People are getting more knowledgeable and more intelligent using those encyclopedias. But still the encyclopedias are remained forever lifeless. One can say that these encyclopedias are the best available simulation of the entire human knowledge. But this does not take the encyclopedias even one step further.

    To be even more specific, let's observe the hard disks of the Wikipedia. Those are the specific elements which hold these huge amounts of knowledge. Those hard disks interact with various sophisticated processors involving countless electric currents. But not the storing hard disks, nor the sophisticated processors, can be attributed to be intelligent or regarded as ones which would become intelligent in the future.

    Because holding, processing, manipulating, changing any amounts of data do not guarantee the very knowing of it, or getting aware of that data//information. A computer holding Einstein’s Relativity theory and making predictions by it -- this does not mean the computer understands the Relativity Theory.

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