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I Can Has Singularity?
Jamais Cascio   Nov 20, 2009   Fast Company  

IBM’s new cat brain simulation is both more—and less—than it seems.

IBM Moves Closer to Creating Computer Based on Insights from the Brain

Scientists perform cat-scale cortical simulations and map the human brain in effort to build advanced chip technology

A real-time computer-simulated cat brain? Could IBM have come up with a project more likely to trigger Internet excitement?




For the handful of you who missed the news, IBM’s Almaden Research Center announced this week that it had produced a “cortical simulation” of the scale and complexity of a cat brain. This simulation ran on one of IBM’s “Blue Gene” supercomputers, in this case at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). (An aside: LLNL is best known as the center for ongoing research into advanced nuclear weapons and related projects; if the lab is now turning its attention to brain simulations, I don’t know whether to be happy that it’s moving away from weapons or worried that it will try to weaponize AI.)

Worries about the Robopocalypse may be only partially tongue-in-cheek, but it’s worth taking a moment to examine what exactly has happened here. This is what the IBM press release says about the simulation:

Scientists, at IBM Research - Almaden, in collaboration with colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, have performed the first near real-time cortical simulation of the brain that exceeds the scale of a cat cortex and contains 1 billion spiking neurons and 10 trillion individual learning synapses.



This isn’t a simulation of a cat brain, it’s a simulation of a brain structure that has the scale and connection complexity of a cat brain. It doesn’t include the actual structures of a cat brain, nor its actual connections; the various experiments in the project filled the memory of the cortical simulation with a bunch of data, and let the system create its own signals and connections. Put simply, it’s not an artificial (feline) intelligence, it’s a platform upon which an A(F)I could conceivably be built.


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Jamais Cascio is a Senior Fellow of the IEET, and a professional futurist. He writes the popular blog Open the Future.



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