A network of artificial nerves is evolving right now in a Swiss supercomputer. This bizarre creation is capable of simulating a natural brain, cell-for-cell. The Swiss scientists, who created what they have dubbed "Blue Brain", believe it will soon offer a better understanding of human consciousness. This is no sci-fi flick; it’s an actual ‘computer brain’ that may eventually have the ability to think for itself. Exciting? Scary? It could be a little of both.
The designers say that "Blue Brain" was willful and unpredictable from day one. When it was first fed electrical impulses, strange patterns began to appear with lightning-like flashes produced by ‘cells’ that the scientists recognized from living human and animal processes. Neurons started interacting with one another until they were firing in rhythm. "It happened entirely on its own," says biologist Henry Markram, the project's director. "Spontaneously."
The project essentially has its own factory to produce artificial brains. Their computers can clone nerve cells quickly. The system allows for the production of whole series of neurons of all different types. Because in natural brains, no two cells are exactly identical, the scientists make sure the artificial cells used for the project are also random and unique.
Does this ‘Brain’ have a soul? If it does, it is likely to be the shadowy remnants of thousands of sacrificed rats whose brains were almost literally fed into the computer. After opening the rat skulls and slicing their brains into thin sections, the scientists kept the slices alive. Tiny sensors picked up individual neurons, recorded how the cells fired off neurons and the adjacent cells’ responses. In this way the scientists were able to collect entire repertoires of actual rat behavior- basically how a rat would respond in different situations throughout a rat's life.
The researchers say it wouldn't present much of a technological challenge to bring the brain to life. "We could simply connect a robot to the brain model," says Markram. "Then we could see how it reacts to real environments."
Hmm, are rats capable of revenge? What I’m wondering is what this brain would do to those researchers if it was attached to a giant metallic rat body and equipped with teeth and claws…now there’s a good sci-fi movie.
Although over ten thousand artificial nerve cells have already been woven in, the researchers plan to increase the number to one million by next year. The researchers are already working with IBM experts on plans for a computer that would operate at inconceivable speeds – something fast enough to simulate the human brain. The project is scheduled to last beyond 2015, at which point the team hopes to be ready for their primary goal: a computer model of an entire human brain. So, who’s brain will they be slicing up for that one? Lets hope it’s not a psychopath.
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