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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 18 2013: The anatomy of a human brain and the computer isn't the same by itself, on the most basic level, our neurons operate on a "degree" level, while the computer chips operate on a "binary" level. This is to say, imagine the computer chip being a set of predefined set light bulbs that can either light up for be absolutely dim, the neurons are like light bulbs that can this switch thing that can adjust brightness. The action potential of a neuron might give you the illusion of a "fire or no fire mechanism", but the difference is that instead of being triggered by a single action potential coming from the "right" place, action potentials in the neurons are generated by the build up of electric potential instead, and there is a randomness factor in here, that's why our thoughts are so random, and a computer is always so predefined.
    So, is it possible to construct a brain? Yes it still is, but is it possible to construct a brain with computer chips, that's just not possible, the basic operational process is different, you need to actually build a brain with the same mechanism of it....which still isn't possible right now.
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      Mar 25 2013: Agreed. Based on current technology, the operational nuances of the brain simply cannot be duplicated. But these studies are seeking to unlock those characteristics...

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