Is that a Neuron firing in your Neocortical Column or are you just happy to see me?


The first major breakthroughs in AI seem most likely to come from a reverse engineering of our own human brains, leading to the holy grail of AI – a conscious, self aware computer. Alternatively they may come from some form of chip implants where we start to blend our own thought processes with CPU input and output, basically dramatically enhancing our own abilities. Least likely in my opinion will be a totally software programmed thinking computer, though that should follow soon after the first two innovations.

In the same way humans learned the basics of flight by observing the structure of bird wings, nature provides us with a lot of clues and an effective “blueprint” of how to create a thinking machine. In simple terms this blueprint is our neocortex, a vast but very repetitive assemblage of about 500,000 neocortical columns, each consisting of about 60,000 neurons. IMHO there is no reason to think that with some 30,000,000,000 neurons available to interact in quadrillions+ of possible ways we need nothing more to explain human thinking than a copy or simulation of an educated neocortex.

Places like the Brain Mind Institute are working to make this neocortical blueprint more readily readable and working on simulations of the brain on supercomputers. It seems to me that from a technological and a philosophical perspectivce this is the most interesting work happening on earth despite the fact that it’s not garnering much interest or funding. AI work in the 70’s somewhat dramatically failed to exceed expectations, especially as AI portrayals in film became increasingly clever and provocative. This early skepticism about the coming strong AI revolution continues to take a toll on the current state of AI research funding and interest, especially in the computer community where most new engineers are looking to populate the more practical, and more lucrative, job niches.

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About JoeDuck

Internet Travel Guy, Father of 2, small town Oregon life. BS Botany from UW Madison Wisconsin, MS Social Sciences from Southern Oregon. Top interests outside of my family's well being are: Internet Technology, Online Travel, Globalization, China, Table Tennis, Real Estate, The Singularity.
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5 Responses to Is that a Neuron firing in your Neocortical Column or are you just happy to see me?

  1. FoolsGold says:

    One of the first things learned in the study of Neural Networks is that when computer scientists say Neural Network they really mean an Artificial Neural Network and just from the viewpoint of habit and convenience choose to stop saying he word ‘artificial’ all the time. As more and more is discovered about biological neural networks more and more of it is becoming applicable to digial simulations of such neural networks. The biological ‘spike’ that allows urgent messages to be given great weight is now often duplicated in a digial neural networks. Whether such digital simulations will ever be used for such high order events as judicial proceedings remains to be seen but its a fascinating field of study and as we learn more of biology we are learning more about silicon intelligence too.

  2. JoeDuck says:

    FG at the SES conference I had a brief talk with one of Microsoft’s top search engineers. They use a Neural Network now to determine the search results and he said his AI person was “optimistic” about computer consciousness, and I think he meant about the Neural Network itself becoming conscious.

    My feeling is that the advent of consciousness in machines will be a watershed event in history, after which nothing will be the same. I just hope I live to see it happen.

  3. dkl says:

    most new engineers are looking to populate the more practical, and more lucrative, job niches – Games!

    I had many AI books, still have some. I even wrote and sold some software and a book on the subject.

    There are commercial products that utilize various NN schemes to achieve “AI” goals but developers are still thinking binary: On/Off, (synapse) fires/doesn’t, 1/0, etc.

    The brain is a massive fuzzy logic conglomerate with many chemical (non-binary) states. I continue to work in areas where “few have gone before” – a bit esoteric – but there are too many limitations of the current solid state devices.

    Still, nice post.

  4. JoeDuck says:

    Thx dkl – keep up the esoteric computer work which may wind up becoming … mainstream stuff in a decade or so…

  5. FoolsGold says:

    Multiple independent agents learning and operating in a cooperative manner tend to develop what is considered the closest a computer has yet come to consciousness.

    The future seems headed toward ‘fuzzy’ all over the place: fuzzy sets, fuzzy logic and fuzzy advertising. “soft” computing and an ability to deal with generalized goals and generalized command terminology is the wave of the future as computers will deal with ‘do laundry’ and ‘mop floor’ commands as well as ‘park near curb’ or ‘find whatchamacallit on the net’.

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