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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: In my subjective judgement, Chris Kelly is the star of this discussion. I guess I think so also because Chris Kelly's arguments and explanations match my own thoughts regarding what the nature of our mind might be and how the brain might relate to mind.

    Take for example the radio receiver. We all agree that the sound we hear from a radio receiver is originated far away from our radio. The radio is just a mean which accepts the sound in the form of electro-magnetic waves which are created (by the same sound) in a broadcasting station far away and then it turns them into sound which we can hear. But now somebody takes scissors and cuts some major wire in the radio so that we stop hearing any sound from the radio. Can we deduce from this that the radio receiver is the originator of the sound ?? Can we say that putting an end to the sound just by cutting the wire means that the sound was an exclusive creation of the radio ?? I think we all agree that the answers to the both questions is, NO. Now suppose we could take this receiver to the middle ages, before the discovery of electricity, magnetism, etc. If would ask the same questions to the middle agers, their answer would be, YES -- DEFINITELY YES.

    Jeffrey Fadness who started this discussion asks in the sub-headline text:
    "what's to stop us from creating the cognitive faculties that enable consciousness, thinking, reasoning, perception, and judgement?"

    These cognitive faculties need something without which they cannot exist and at least today look as which cannot be created within any computer, and that is : The experiencer.

    In some essay I had read, the author there put it very nicely & precisely. He wrote something like: The brain is not the creator of our thoughts, memories, knowledge. Our brain is just a display of them in form of electric currents and chemical activity.

    In other words, the Brain (or at least its activity) is not the cause for our thoughts and memories, but the result of them.
    • Mar 18 2013: If the human consciousness cannot be recreated as you are saying in the end. Then why not transfer one?

      Isn't the human consciousness the path electric activity takes within the brain which I'd way different in every other body. So why not map the path of it and transfer? And use a real human consciousness to learn the digital environment how to use everything it has to recreate a part of consciousness?
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        Apr 2 2013: I have nothing against transferring, mapping, learning the human brain activity. But it should be strictly kept in mind while doing all this that what we are doing is just to simulate or replicate or mimic the physical effects of the brain. But as I tried to explain with various examples, the transferring or simulation of these effects in computer do not recreate the very consciousness or experience, just like an ultrasound simulation on a screen of a embryo in the womb is not the embryo itself but just an electronic display of it to our eyes or consciousness for learning it and nothing more than that.

        This discussion originated from the very idea//argument of creating a digital human mind and so my original comment was aimed against this idea//argument, not against a digital simulation of the mind's physical display or effects as they appear in the brain.
        • Apr 3 2013: Yes testing simulating everything that is good for our understanding of ourselves..

          But what if they were to create a digital mind that isn't based on any human so far...
          What might happen if the worst possible scenario happens.
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        Apr 3 2013: Actually this is a reply to your last comment of mine.

        Your question deals with a problem which the mankind had already dealt and still dealing with other similar problems.

        See what's going on now with the nuclear energy or the dynamite. The nuclear energy discovery originally was a pure outcome of mankind's curiosity and ambition for understanding more. The dynamite was an outcome of the ambition to ease the work for paving roads. But as we all see now, they have become an enormous threat to our very existence.

        But despite all this, I think we should not and even cannot restrict the human aspiration to know more, to make a progress, etc. What should be restricted is only the misuse of any discovery or progress.

        So, if the scientists would be really able to create a digital mind, that would be a tremendous achievement. Then what we would need is taking care not allowing this amazing achievement to be misused to harm, to dominate others, etc.

        But IMO, and that what I was trying to explain, is that it does not look reckonable in the seeable future that such an alive and sophisticated human-like mind or even much lesser that that, could be created artificially based strictly just on man-made technology.
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      Mar 25 2013: Interesting point of view. But I do see the brain as the processor of our experiences. It clearly does not operate similar to conventional computer programming because it is not "task specific". It is an open-ended processing system capable of connecting the dots from an infinite number of experiences to make discovery and new conclusions. I believe that advanced computer programming will indeed be designed to mimic these objectives...
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        Apr 2 2013: I don't have any disagreement with this. But it remains to wait and see if creating an open-ended system will really create such a complex entity which we call consciousness. To face this question we don't have necessarily to wait until then. We should & can face it even now.

        Take even the most primitive or the most simplest life forms we know today and we find that they are conscious of their surrounding, they feel their surrounding, they interact with their surrounding with such a tiny brain, with such a low energy consumption. They are already far more sophisticated than the most advanced computers and processors available today and as far as seen today, they will remain far more superior to any future computer, no matter what sophisticated simulation we design into it. Unless we use with those computers certain ingredients of the biological world. And just remember we are only dealing now with the simplest & primitive life forms.
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        Apr 2 2013: Hi Don Wesley,

        I did not get why my star selection was helpful for understanding but still it's not good enough. I also don't get if you mean to the star personally when you wrote "It has been around for some time time now", or just to his ideas.

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