Thursday, May 1, 2008

Blue Brain

Somewhere in Switzerland, a team of researchers has spent a great deal of time learning exactly how a neocortical column works and they've built a supercomputer to simulate it perfectly.

It didn't take long before the model reacted. After only a few electrical jolts, the artificial neural circuit began to act just like a real neural circuit. Clusters of connected neurons began to fire in close synchrony: the cells were wiring themselves together. Different cell types obeyed their genetic instructions. The scientists could see the cellular looms flash and then fade as the cells wove themselves into meaningful patterns. Dendrites reached out to each other, like branches looking for light. "This all happened on its own," Markram says. "It was entirely spontaneous." For the Blue Brain team, it was a thrilling breakthrough. After years of hard work, they were finally able to watch their make-believe brain develop, synapse by synapse. The microchips were turning themselves into a mind. #

Henry Markram, the director of the Blue Brain project, takes issue with the strictly-empirical nature of neuroscience and favors a more model-based approach akin to physics. It's in that spirit that he and his team have come up with Blue Brain, where its "virtual neurons are more real than reality."

After scaling up the current iteration of Blue Brain, he plans to give his virtual brain a body in the form of a robotic rat (all his work is being modeled around the likeness of a two-week old rat) and watch it grow into a real mind, learning through its body just as any 'real' animal.

This is one of the most exciting articles I've read in ages, and I urge you to take the time to read it yourself. I always sort of wondered how we'd get from our current state of technology to Kurzweil's Singularity, and this has the distinct feel of being the direct course to that end.

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