Understanding why we, as humans, do the things we do is one of the pieces of the puzzle of our existence. Too bad we may have to wait another 10 years for some definitive answers.
This week at the TED Global conference, Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project, revealed that he and his team in Switzerland are aiming to build a functioning, artificial human brain within the next 10 years.
The team started out a few years ago by attempting to create a fully functioning artificial rat brain using the IBM supercomputer, Blue Gene. The thought was if they could successfully replicate a rat's brain, they would then leverage their knowledge to do the same with a human one.
When they began their experiment, the digital rat brain only fired neurons when prodded by a simulated electrical current. Recently, however, the neurons have begun spontaneously organizing themselves into a more complex pattern.
According to the scientists, this is the beginning of the self-organizing neurological patterns that eventually, in more complex mammal brains, become personality.
Markram thinks that in 10 years, they'll either have an artificial human brain that has consciousness or they'll know that consciousness is more than just a neurological pattern. If they do succeed, Markram says they'll bring the brain to TED to speak.
In this speech the brain will reveal its plans to take over the world's computer-controlled weapons and enslave humanity. An audience member will smugly ask when the brain was planning to do this. To which it will reply, "Do it? I did it 35 minutes ago."
OK, I made up that last paragraph, but tell me we're not clearly headed down that path now. Scientists can talk all they want about this helping them cure diseases and whatnot, but they're probably most excited about creating a fully functioning self-aware A.I.
Let's just hope the our robot-laden future is more Isaac Asimov and less James Cameron.