An introduction to the concepts and problems with reverse engineering the human brain:
The ongoing debate between PZ Myers and Ray Kurzweil about reverse engineering the human brain is fairly representative of the same debate that’s been going in futurist circles for quite some time now. And as the Myers/Kurzweil conversation attests, there is little consensus on the best way for us to achieve human-equivalent AI.
That said, I have noticed an increasing interest in the whole brain emulation (WBE) approach. Kurzweil’s upcoming book, How the Mind Works and How to Build One, is a good example of this—but hardly the only one. Futurists with a neuroscientific bent have been advocating this approach for years now, most prominently by the European transhumanist camp headed by Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg.
While I believe that reverse engineering the human brain is the right approach, I admit that it’s not going to be easy. Nor is it going to be quick. This will be a multi-disciplinary endeavor that will require decades of data collection and the use of technologies that don’t exist yet. And importantly, success won’t come about all at once. This will be an incremental process in which individual developments will provide the foundation for overcoming the next conceptual hurdle.
A first for the game, the replicator demonstrates how astounding complexity can arise from simple beginnings and processes – an echo of life’s origins, perhaps. It might help us understand how life on Earth began, or even inspire strategies to build tiny computers.
The Game of Life is the best-known example of a cellular automaton, in which patterns form and evolve on a grid according to a few simple rules. You play the game by choosing an initial pattern of “live” cells, and then watch as the configuration changes over many generations as the rules are applied over and over again (see “Take two simple rules”).
The rules of the game were laid down by mathematician John Conway in 1970, but cellular automata first took off in the 1940s when the late mathematician John von Neumann suggested using them to demonstrate self-replication in nature. This lent philosophical undertones to Life, which ended up attracting a cult following.
Life enthusiasts have since catalogued an entire zoo of interesting patterns, such as “spaceships” that travel across the grid, or “guns”, which constantly spawn other patterns. But a pattern that spawned an identical copy of itself proved elusive.