БЛОГ

Nov 11, 2015

David Eagleman: Can a Computer Simulate Consciousness?

Posted by in categories: computing, information science, neuroscience, space travel

Yes, conceivably. And if/when we achieve the levels of technology necessary for simulation, the universe will become our playground. Eagleman’s latest book is “The Brain: The Story of You” (http://goo.gl/2IgDRb).

Follow Big Think here:
YouTube: http://goo.gl/CPTsV5
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BigThinkdotcom
Twitter: https://twitter.com/bigthink

Transcript — The big picture in modern neuroscience is that you are the sum total of all the pieces and parts of your brain. It’s a vastly complicated network of neurons, almost 100 billion neurons, each of which has 10,000 connections to its neighbors. So we’re talking a thousand trillion neurons. It’s a system of such complexity that it bankrupts our language. But, fundamentally it’s only three pounds and we’ve got it cornered and it’s right there and it’s a physical system.

The computational hypothesis of brain function suggests that the physical wetware isn’t the stuff that matters. It’s what are the algorithms that are running on top of the wetware. In other words: What is the brain actually doing? What’s it implementing software-wise that matters? Hypothetically we should be able to take the physical stuff of the brain and reproduce what it’s doing. In other words, reproduce its software on other substrates. So we could take your brain and reproduce it out of beer cans and tennis balls and it would still run just fine. And if we said hey, “How are you feeling in there?” This beer can/tennis ball machine would say “Oh, I’m feeling fine. It’s a little cold, whatever.”

It’s also hypothetically a possibility that we could copy your brain and reproduce it in silica, which means on a computer at zeroes and ones, actually run the simulation of your brain. The challenges of reproducing a brain can’t be underestimated. It would take something like a zettabyte of computational capacity to run a simulation of a human brain. And that is the entire computational capacity of our planet right now.

There’s a lot of debate about whether we’ll get to a simulation of the human brain in 50 years or 500 years, but those would probably be the bounds. It’s going to happen somewhere in there. It opens up the whole universe for us because, you know, these meat puppets that we come to the table with aren’t any good for interstellar travel. But if we could, you know, put you on a flash drive or whatever the equivalent of that is a century from now and launch you into outer space and your consciousness could be there, that could get us to other solar systems and other galaxies. We will really be entering an era of post-humanism or trans-humanism at that point.

Read more

1

Comment — comments are now closed.

  • Peter G Kinnon on November 12, 2015 11:15 am

    As we see here there are many who still cling to the traditional science fiction based notions involving transhumanism. That we snoutless apes are destined to somehow become “Masters of the Universe”. Unable to accept the reality that we are but a tiny cog in natures vast machinery.

    In actuality, the real next cognitive entity, the next phase in the evolutionary process, quietly self assembles in the background, mostly unrecognized for what it is. And, contrary to our usual conceits, is not stoppable or directly within our control.
    We are very prone to anthropocentric distortions of objective reality. This is perhaps not surprising, for to instead adopt the evidence based viewpoint now afforded by “big science” and “big history” takes us way outside our perceptive comfort zone.
    The fact is that the evolution of the Internet (and, of course, major components such as Google) is actually an autonomous process. The difficulty in convincing people of this “inconvenient truth” seems to stem partly from our natural anthropocentric mind-sets and also the traditional illusion that in some way we are in control of, and distinct from, nature. Contemplation of the observed realities tend to be relegated to the emotional “too hard” bin.
    This evolution is not driven by any individual software company or team of researchers, but rather by the sum of many human requirements, whims and desires to which the current technologies react. Among the more significant motivators are such things as commerce, gaming, social interactions, education and sexual titillation.
    Virtually all interests are catered for and, in toto provide the impetus for the continued evolution of the Internet. Netty is still in her larval stage, but we “workers” scurry round mindlessly engaged in her nurture.
    By relinquishing our usual parochial approach to this issue in favor of the overall evolutionary “big picture” provided by many fields of science, the emergence of a new predominant cognitive entity (from the Internet, rather than individual machines) is seen to be not only feasible but inevitable.
    The separate issue of whether it well be malignant, neutral or benign towards we snoutless apes is less certain, and this particular aspect I have explored elsewhere.
    Stephen Hawking, for instance, is reported to have remarked “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all,“
    Such statements reflect the narrow-minded approach that is so common-place among those who make public comment on this issue. In reality, as much as it may offend our human conceits, the march of technology and its latest spearhead, the Internet is, and always has been, an autonomous process over which we have very little real control.
    Seemingly unrelated disciplines such as geology, biology and “big history” actually have much to tell us about the machinery of nature (of which technology is necessarily a part) and the kind of outcome that is to be expected from the evolution of the Internet.
    This much broader “systems analysis” approach, freed from the anthropocentric notions usually promoted by the cult of the “Singularity”, provides a more objective vision that is consistent with the pattern of autonomous evolution of technology that is so evident today.
    Very real evidence indicates the rather imminent implementation of the next, (non-biological) phase of the on-going evolutionary “life” process from what we at present call the Internet. It is effectively evolving by a process of self-assembly.
    The “Internet of Things” is proceeding apace and pervading all aspects of our lives. We are increasingly, in a sense, “enslaved” by our PCs, mobile phones, their apps and many other trappings of the increasingly cloudy net. We are already largely dependent upon it for our commerce and industry and there is no turning back. What we perceive as a tool is well on its way to becoming an agent.
    There are at present more than 3 billion Internet users. There are an estimated 10 to 80 billion neurons in the human brain. On this basis for approximation the Internet is even now only one order of magnitude below the human brain and its growth is exponential.
    That is a simplification, of course. For example: Not all users have their own computer. So perhaps we could reduce that, say, tenfold. The number of switching units, transistors, if you wish, contained by all the computers connecting to the Internet and which are more analogous to individual neurons is many orders of magnitude greater than 3 Billion. Then again, this is compensated for to some extent by the fact that neurons do not appear to be binary switching devices but instead can adopt multiple states.
    We see that we must take seriously the possibility that even the present Internet may well be comparable to a human brain in at least raw processing power. And, of course, the all-important degree of interconnection and cross-linking of networks and supply of sensory inputs is also growing exponentially.
    We are witnessing the emergence of a new and predominant cognitive entity that is a logical consequence of the evolutionary continuum that can be traced back at least as far as the formation of the chemical elements in stars.
    This is the main theme of my latest book “The Intricacy Generator: Pushing Chemistry and Geometry Uphill” which is now available as a 336 page illustrated paperback from Amazon, etc.
    Netty, as you may have guessed by now, is the name I choose to identify this emergent non-biological cognitive entity. In the event that we can subdue our natural tendencies to belligerence and form a symbiotic relationship with this new phase of the “life” process then we have the possibility of a bright future.
    If we don’t become aware of these realities and mend our ways, however, then we snout-less apes could indeed be relegated to the historical rubbish bin within a few decades. After all , our infrastructures are becoming increasingly Internet dependent and Netty will only need to “pull the plug” to effect pest eradication.
    So it is to our advantage to try to effect the inclusion of desirable human behaviors in Netty’s psyche. In practice that equates to our species firstly becoming aware of our true place in natures machinery and, secondly, making a determined effort to “straighten up and fly right