Building cognitive machines that process information the same way a brain does has been the dream of neuroscientists for more than 50 years.
Artificial intelligence, fuzzy logic, and neural networks have all shown some degrees of success, but by human standards, most machines are still considered ‘dumb’.
However, as technologies continue to advance exponentially, this may change. Futurist Ray Kurzweil believes that by integrating machines into our bodies, we will soon experience a mindboggling future that today, might sound more like fiction than science. He explains this in an interview on robot evolution, in the video below:
The following examines different types of cognitive technologies, and the future they promise:
Brain-on-a-chip – A team led by Dharmendra Modha at the IBM Almaden Research Center, with support from DARPA, recently completed the first phase of a computer chip project known as Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE); a human-like brain built on a microchip that promises radical improvements in tomorrow’s computers. Modha details his team’s work in the video below:
SyNAPSE currently operates with 256 neurons, 262,144 synapses and 256 axons. For comparison, an adult human brain has about 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses. However, the researchers believe that future versions of this project can be expanded to mimic more of the human mind capacity.
Reverse-engineering the brain – researchers at the Blue Brain Project hope to reverse-engineer the human brain and construct an exact replica in silicon. Chief scientist Henry Markram believes the project could achieve human brain emulation by 2024. Goals and progress are highlighted in this TED video below:
This venture promises cures for brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; and one day, it might even provide robots with human-like emotions, reasoning, and thinking abilities.
‘Smart’ Cars – Department of Transportation officials believe that driverless vehicles (widespread use expected in the 2020s), empowered with human emotions and high-speed computer logic, will reduce congestion on streets and highways and slash death tolls by preventing most auto accidents.
Automating War – Department of Defense planners predict that by the 2020s,robots, battlefield illusion technologies, and auto-fly drones will remove most soldiers from battlefield dangers. Though these futuristic combat systems wield horrific destructive capabilities, experts believe they may actually lead to less destruction, becoming a deterrent force in wars, while assisting in the fight against terrorism.
Desire to become more intelligent will drive BCI science forward. Imagine a hard drive linked directly to your mind enabling you to ‘download’ memory implants for skill enhancements. This would allow actions to be performed that have not been learned directly. You could master any subject without
Replacing human brain cells with non-biological alternatives – USC researcher, Theodore Berger has created implantable biomimetic electronics that can replace aging neurons. Foresight Institute consultant John Burch sees neuron replacement/enhancement becoming a common medical procedure.
By 2040, positive futurists believe we could be replacing all of our brain cells with materials that process thoughts faster than biological brains can. This faster brain would allow us to run hundreds of simulations in split seconds when making decisions, which would reduce mistakes and raise our intelligence levels.
Burch describes how we would switch to the new brain: a pill would supply materials with instructions for nanobots (expected late 2030s) to form new neurons and place them near cells to be replaced. The changes would be automatic, and within six months, we would be enjoying our new faster-thinking brain.
Conclusion – As we trek into the coming decades we see machines becoming more like us; and by adopting their computing power, we become more like them. Where will this take us? Stay tuned.
Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.
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