TED Conversations

Jeffrey Fadness

This conversation is closed.

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?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Mar 29 2013: "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?"

    Yes there is. Feelings.
    If a digital mind is to become truly human like, it needs to be capable of lying, liking or disliking questions, falling in love and be questioning itself; questions like if there is intelligence beyond human mind.
    • thumb
      Mar 31 2013: I agree completely.
      I believe that consciousness works on a quantum level, what else could explain the mystery of the human mind, but the mystery of quantum interaction?
      It has been demonstrated in a series of brilliant experiments that electrons are waves and particles. They only become "real" after being observed or measured.
      I propose that this is the same way thoughts are created, symphonies composed and love shared. I am dyslexic and cannot truly know what other people experience, but at least for me thoughts seem to come from nowhere, especially when i am not consciously focused on something. It is as if i am driving a Hogwarts carriage, with absolutely no clue as to what invisible power propels me.
      Thus i believe that these projects will not be able to achieve their expressed aim.
      However any project that gathers the best and brightest in one area has the potential to invigorate our species and expand our scientific corpus. And if the publicity surrounding these epic projects gets people questioning the universe behind our eyes, it can only be for the best.
      • thumb
        Mar 31 2013: I shall recommend you the book : The Quantum Self by Danah Zohar.
        • thumb
          Mar 31 2013: Much appreciated!
          I am very much interested in learning more about the workings of the mind, for a start are emotions the product of unconscious thought, are they effecting our physical brain, or only our "ego" the charioteer of plato?

          I invite your ideas
      • thumb
        Apr 1 2013: Emotions may appear as products of unconscious thought but cognition is an important aspect of emotions. Interestingly one can feel fear, happiness, sadness even sexual arousal in dreams. This I think is because even in dreams our minds can recognize experiences and emote.
        By effecting physical brain do you mean neurogenesis? Experiments show that application of mind can influence neurogenesis in certain parts of human brain; however more experimental results are needed to confirm this adequately.
        Ego is what our consciousness identifies our selves as.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.