At what point will a program make a break from its human origins and become something independent and just plain weird? While self-aware artificially intelligent robots may still be pretty far off, there are some very strange things going on in experimental computing.
As Dorothy might say, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Neurologists are in the process of reverse-engineering a biologically accurate brain down to the molecular level using a supercomputer. Headed by Henry Markram, the Blue Brain Project is programming elements of the supercomputer to model individual neurons, building to the various brain regions and intends to model the complete human brain within ten years. This is particularly tricky and computation-intensive due to all the interconnection and feedback loops within a human brain.
I could go into neocortical columns and interconnected influence of one brain region on another, but more interestingly is the question: if a simulated brain DID behave just like a human one, would it be self-aware?
As compared to artificial neural networks and the avenues of AI research dependent on constructing human-like action rather than human-like thought, the Blue Brain project is putting together a vast parallel computing network to simulate what is REALLY going on in a brain, neuron by neuron, column by column, up through a “real” human brain. Essentially, computers are being built which are able to literally think like humans. Interestingly, this project is more neuroscience than AI, though (if it works) it will be all that sci-fi hoped AI would become.
This sort of thing has been tried (and failed) before. The Artificial Intelligence System (AIS)(2008-2010) was a distributed computing project which, utilizing an artificial neural network based on Hodgkin-Huxley models, attempted to create artificial consciousness by simulating the human brain in real time. It aimed to exceed the prior benchmark established by Eugene M. Izhikevich, who managed to simulate 1 second of the activity of 100 billion neurons, which is roughly the number of neurons in the human brain. Unfortunately, this 1 second of activity took 50 days of computations on a cluster of 27 2-gigahertz processors. (AIS got to 700 billion neurons by April 2009 but was canceled in 2010.)
One could protest machines can never truly feel, or want, or have all of the elements that we feel make us conscious, self-aware individuals. In our brains, our hearts, and our flesh lie the building blocks of humanity, but together they combine to something more, and a computer will never have that. This is exactly the viewpoint espoused by the proponents of embodied cognition, who believe that who we are is greater than the sum of our parts. So, too bad for robots, they never will understand, because they can’t.
And the Scarecrow said: “I haven’t got a brain… only straw…”
Wizard of Oz: Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have.”