August 4, 2011
We live in exciting times. Within the next 15~20 years we will be simulating the entire human brain within computer simulations. Within 40~50 years, we will have machines which can think at millions (and later billions, and even later, trillions) of times the speed of a human being and process information in the same way our brains do. Wow!
I’d like to introduce you all to a rather new discipline called neuroinformatics. This new field is the bridge between neuroscience (brain research) and information science (computers, etc). From the ground up, scientists are building models of the brain, neuron by neuron, and simulating their interactions in super-computers. The most advanced project along these lines that I know about is called the Blue Brain Project. Their goal is to completely simulate the human brain, neuron by neuron, within super-computers. They want to make this tool available to all scientists around the world, so you can simulate any sort of brain area or circuitry, model it, and perform your experiments.
For example, scientists will be modeling autism all the way down to the firing of individual neurons. They’ll be able to pinpoint detailed causal chains and create powerful and effective cures. The same goes for any other mental disorder. Alzheimers, epilepsy, depression… your days are numbered! With more and more powerful computers, the simulations will get better and better, and medical science will be creating powerful cures.
From what I can tell, the project is very far along. The main thing holding them back is computational power. They simply don’t have the computational speed to simulate all the connections within a human brain. There’s just too many neurons and too many connections. But as for their computational model, and their understanding of individual neurons, their types, synaptic connections, and so on, they’re already done. It’s all ready to go. They just need more computational power to simulate larger neural networks. They’re already simulating various sections of the brain and their model’s results are yielding the same results as experiments done on real brains. The firing patterns and outputs are all the same.
Below you’ll find an amazing lecture delivered by Dr. Henry Markram who is the director of the Blue Brain Project. I love this presentation because it’s all graphical and 3D. In it, he outlines the roadmap to simulating the human brain with computers, where we are currently, and where we need to be headed. He concludes the lecture by saying that if computational speeds continue to increase at their current rates, they should be able to simulate the entire human brain by 2023. That’s very exciting. Watch the presentation below (It has 3 parts and is 45 minutes long).
If you’re around my age (30′ish) or younger, within your lifetime you will see computer intelligence soar off the map. It will not be long before computers are far more intelligent than human beings. They’re going to think like us yet at speeds billions of times faster with memory capacities far beyond our wildest dreams. They’ll also be able to share information between themselves at the speed of light. It’s so incredible and exciting!
It kind of pisses me off that I may die before all of this comes into existence. We’re on the very verge of it though. By “verge” I mean within a few hundred years, maximum. It’s going to be awesome. When I was out for a walk yesterday, I was thinking that this “mother brain” computer will eventually be running our entire world economy. I imagine that observational equipment of all sorts will be placed across the Earth’s surface (cameras, temperature sensors, vibrational sensors, audio microphones, etc), and all of it will be feeding into the mother brain which will be monitoring everything. This brain will learn how everything works, be able to monitor the entire planet, and keep us from destroying ourselves. I think it will also completely eliminate poverty, disease, and pollution.
This won’t happen instantly, but as computational speed increases, and more and more knowledge is put into the computer, it will get smarter and smarter. It will learn by interacting with us, as we teach it to do the things we need it to do and help us with. People’s cell phones will evolve into complex devices where people can communicate with the mother brain at all times, asking questions, asking for guidance, and so on. The mother brain will then help us direct our activities to balance and achieve everyone’s goals. Our current capitalist system is anarchic and disorganized, but this new mother brain will be able to organize us all effectively. Communicating with it through our computers, intelligent handheld devices, and so on, we will all be taking part in a dynamic process of reorganizing our world, culture, and society. It will know how each and every resource is produced, where it’s located, and understand each and every intermediate step of production. It will be able to make detailed plans to help us achieve our goals, and it will constantly be searching for ways to optimize the process and make things easier for all of us.
I found myself daydreaming about interacting with this computer. I imagined walking through the park, looking at a flower bed and speaking aloud, “Computer, what type of flower is this? Tell me about it.” Then a holographic gardener appeared and told me all about the flower and answered every question I had about it. I began asking about the detailed cellular structure of the plant, how it transported nutrients from the soil, and so forth, and the computer generated interactive 3D holographic simulations, blowing the process up big enough for me to see. The daydream alone was euphoric. There’d be no need for books or classrooms. You’d learn by direct interaction with the world around you.
I then told the gardner, “You know, I’m getting hungry. I’ve been in the mood for spaghetti and garlic bread sticks.” Then the gardener said, “One moment please.” Within five minutes, as I was listening to the gardner, a robot courier in a hover car pulled up and delivered me the food, along with a chair and stand. I ate my fill, yet I didn’t have have to worry about my weight or cholesterol because tiny nanobots were swimming around in my body, monitoring all my vitamin levels, blood pressure, and so forth, keeping me in perfect health. I then got up and walked off, and the robots cleaned up the mess.
There were small floating machines up in the sky, manipulating the weather. It was always a beautiful day, not too hot, not too cold. The new homes had no roofs and nobody locked their doors because the mother brain computer acted as the ultimate security system, observing and watching everything. You could never steal. But why would you? You could just ask the computer to make you whatever you wanted! And if you wanted to be alone, you could tell robot sentinels to keep people out of your yard, and monitor your property to keep things quiet and peaceful. Nobody could ever sneak past them, no matter how hard they tried. You’d live in total safety.
I imagined if I wanted to visit my friends, I just plugged into virtual reality and met them in some virtual world. Or if we were to meet in real life, I’d just wormhole there. “Computer, create a wormhole between the area in front of me and so and so’s front door.” A wormhole appears and I walk through it and knock on their door.
I love physics, computers, and technology. I want to build this technology so future generations live pampered spoiled lives. Even the lowest pauper of this upcoming world will live in infinitely greater luxury than the richest Wall Street baron of today. I want our great great great grandchildren to hear about our lives in history lectures and think to themselves, “I can’t believe people had to live so miserably. They didn’t even have virtual reality, where they could experience anything they could imagine! How did they manage?” I’ll then wake up for a short moment in my grave and give a thumbs up toward the sky, knowing I played a part in moving the world in the right direction.
I guess nobody knows the future for certain. Maybe things will turn out badly, I don’t know. But this has some serious potential. Lately I’ve been thinking that it’s such a shame that I’m aging and will one day die. The longer I live in this world, the more I love it. Sure, currently humanity is in a nasty mess, and the United States is buried in debt, and politicians and their actions are disappointing. But their time is numbered. This new world is around the corner, and things are going to get a lot better. I guess it’s because I spend most of my time these days reflecting on science and technology. I see so many possibilities and I even have a general grasp as to how to bring those changes into the world. The only thing separating me from those amazing possibilities is time. Even if all of you died, and I was the only human left alive, as long I wasn’t aging, and had access to food, I could rebuild the world. I could draw my blood and analyze my DNA, build super-computers, and then reconstruct my fellow humans to live with. I could rebuild all the technology. I just need time! TIME! I’m not given enough time on this Earth. I finally start figuring stuff out and then my body falls apart and I die. We need to stop aging and death.
I think I get so excited about life because when I think about what my brain is, it’s a learning machine. I’m capable of finding patterns as to how the world works, and then I’m able to use that new knowledge, in conjunction with my imagination, to change the world into what I want it to be. My mind is a bridge between what currently is, and infinite possibilities. With each new day, I’m navigating through those infinite possibilities, and by my choices, I can direct myself into pure bliss if I just had enough time to figure out the patterns. These machines we’re building are amplifications of that same principle, so they’ll take us there faster. They learn faster and think faster, and can navigate through the various possibilities at light speed. The computer can simulate infinite possibilities, including virtual worlds and virtual reality. They can simulate what would happen if we were to try various actions before we do them! They’re super-minds with super-imaginations. That’s what I think drew me to computer programming all those years ago when I was just a young boy. Computers are not glorified calculators; they’re information processors, and that information can be anything, including thought and imagination.
Lately I’ve been considering that life is evolving more and more rapidly. First we had atoms, which came together into molecules, and proteins, and cells, and so forth. Then, in order for those organisms to change their forms, they had to evolve, and that took millions and billions of years. With the advent of the brain, we were no longer hard-wired to perform mindless reflexes, but we could learn and choose between different possibilities which could be evaluated and imagined, and to a slight degree, experienced, all within a very short time-frame. Now we’re shortening that process by many orders of magnitude with computers and electronic intelligence. Growing up, we had to learn how to move our arms and legs, and how to get around in the world. Now we’re building a brain that can control any sort of robotic body, with any type of appendages, in any sort of environment. Using simulations, we can program and artificially evolve these robotic minds to control spacecraft and bodies in strange and foreign worlds. We’re preparing for exploration of the cosmos! This isn’t just about life on Earth, it’s also about our expansion out into the universe! We’ll be blasting robotic probes of all sorts out into space, and moving outward to explore every nook and cranny of the infinite cosmos awaiting us.
I’ve also been thinking about the survival advantages to virtual reality. Is it just escapism? No! Not at all! It allows our brains to experience new environments and learn how to control and interact in them. Take the game Mirror’s Edge. Imagine being immersed in virtual reality, doing these same sorts of tasks. You’d become super-skilled in evasion and movement, and if you were in control of a robotic body, or even your own body, this gives you huge survival advantages. It also helps you explore and experience new environments without danger.
We can also take part in vast simulations in competition between ourselves. We’ll play war games against one another in VR, and that will enhance our brains without us dying! We’ll learn how to do all sorts of new skills, command infantries, and become more and more intelligent, ever learning how to behave in all sorts of new novel situations, without ever being in danger of injury. We’ll also be pitting AI algorithms against one another in competitions, to see which one is better at controlling resources. Then, if we’re invaded aliens or something, and we had to fight a war for real, we’d own them! We’d be masters at fighting wars. Robots would start creating weapons of all sorts and our minds would be infused remotely into the robotic bodies and crafts, and we’d be able to fight them off with no problem. Also the AI algorithms would become intelligent and skilled, and they too would be controlling the robotic drones to fight for us.
We’d also play other types of simulations and games, and we’d have to outsmart one another. In games of strategy for instance, we’d compete, getting smarter and smarter. The same is true for our AI. Deceit has its advantages if you aren’t injured by it. Imagine playing a difficult video game, where all the characters in the game are lying to you, yet some are telling you the truth. You have to choose your allies carefully and not be deceived. You’d get better and better at life strategies, always growing smarter, learning from your mistakes. In real life, deceit is painful because we often can’t recover from the pain and injury caused by it. But in VR, you can lose at a game and then just try again. You can hit the reset button and play again until you figure it out. This greatly expands critical thinking and judgement.
Video games are not mindless wastes of time. They’re evolving into virtual experiences by which we can rapidly compete with one another in new and novel ways, ever expanding our minds without fear of injury and danger.
Just a thought.