Ars Technica ran an article yesterday with IBM’s big announcement. They have developed a new processor they call a cortical simulator (Star Trek fans will still have to wait for the cortical stimulator), or the C2, which they claim has 4.5% the cerebral cortex capacity of a human brain, which is apparently way more powerful than a cat’s processing power. Wrote Jon Stokes for AT:
The simulator, which runs on the Dawn Blue Gene /P supercomputer with 147,456 CPUs and 144TB of main memory, simulates the activity of 1.617 billion neurons connected in a network of 8.87 trillion synapses. The model doesn’t yet run at real time, but it does simulate a number of aspects of real-world neuronal interactions, and the neurons are organized with the same kinds of groupings and specializations as a mammalian cortex. In other words, this is a virtual mammalian brain (or at least part of one) inside a computer, and the simulation is good enough that the team is already starting to bump up against some of the philosophical issues raised about such models by cognitive scientists over the past decades.
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The problem described above doesn’t mean that accurate simulations are worthless, however. You can poke, prod, and dissect a brain simulation without any of the ethical or logistical challenges that arise from doing similar work on a real brain.
One of the major results from the paper is that C2 exhibits “weak scaling.” In other words, as the total amount of memory in the model scales, the number of neurons and synapses that can be simulated scales roughly linearly, also. This is important, because it means that a future version of Blue Gene with two or three orders of magnitude more memory (and associated bandwidth and processing power) will be able to simulate an entire human brain.
So what IBM is basically saying is that they have created a nice stand-in for Asimov’s positronic brain that is growing rather quickly and which presents philosophical (but apparently not moral) questions of existence and thought, and they’re glad they can pick it apart without getting their sticky little fingers moist with blood.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that human ambition, married to science and human stupidity is a terrible thing. The obvious military applications for a synthetic brain tied to such monstrosities as this thing are staggering.
Being a pragmatist (read: coward), I think I shall take this opportunity to swear allegiance to the impending robotic overlords that shall shortly rule this world. Seriously, Chip, can I call you Chip? Let me live and I shall bring you all the bio-fuel you need. Are Cheetos okay?