Caveat lector: This blog is where I try out new ideas. I will often be wrong, but that's the point.

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Blue Brain Project

We know a lot about the biology of the neuron. It's quite amazing to see what information we have amassed these last few decades. Given my recent introduction to the whole Singularity way of thinking via the upcoming Singularity Summit, I've been thinking about brain-emulation, brain-computer interfacing, thought digitization, etc. more lately.

And of course, this has lead to the Blue Brain Project. For those who don't know about it, this project, funded by the Government of Switzerland and individual benefactors (edited to correct my error, see comments below), aims to "reverse-engineer the mammalian brain, in order to understand brain function and dysfunction through detailed simulations," and, "[u]ltimately, given additional resources, the facility can be extended to permit whole brain modeling, simulation and experimentation."

In his TED talk and in the associated BBC story, Henry Markram, the director of the Blue Brain Project claimed that "[i]t is not impossible to build a human brain and we can do it in 10 years."

So here's what I've been thinking: No.

I mean, not to be a super skeptic naysayer and all who ends up looking really dumb for making a sci/tech forecast that's woefully ignorant, but seriously. No. Not to say that it won't ever happen, but at this point we honestly just don't know enough about how all the pieces play together to give rise to our cognition. I think the neurosciences right now are where physics was in the early 1900s. A bunch of people thought Newtonian mechanics could explain everything. Turns out, the physical universe is much more complicated than that. Now we have quantum mechanics, relativity, the multiverse, dark energy, etc.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, we know a lot about the biology of the neuron. Similarly, computational modeling has gotten very sophisticated. When researchers build computational models incorporating known biology, they call it a "biologically-plausible" model. I think we're still stuck in the Newtonian mechanics period of neuroscience, and we're just now segueing into the more complicated "oh my god this stuff is harder than we thought!" part of our science.

To think that modeling a bunch of neurons digitally is akin to a thinking, evolved, conscious, aware human brain is like thinking that by soldering together a couple of million transistors in a "Apple-like fashion" will give you a working MacbookPro.