Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Building a Brain?

"Twenty years from now, the author envisages the brain builder industry as being one of the world's top industries, comparable with oil, automobile, and construction."
—Hugo de Garis (1996)

Can we build a brain? Hugo de Garis thinks so. Currently a professor at Wuhan University, he is working on the "China Brain Project", a four-year project that aims to develop "an artificial brain (A-Brain)". The brain, which will consist of 15,000 interconnected neural net modules, will control "the hundreds of behaviors of an autonomous robot." de Garis promises that the technology will be fast and cheap "(e.g. $1500 for the FPGA board, $1000 for the robot, and $500 for the PC, a total of $3000)" and he hopes "that other brain building groups around the world will copy this evolutionary engineering approach."

Also interesting are de Garis's predictions for the future. According to an interview on, he summarizes the views he expresses in his book, The Artilect War:
The book is very pessimistic, unfortunately, although I hope it is at least realistic. Its basic scenario is as follows. It is predicated on the rise of the “artilect,” i.e., machines that use 21st century technologies such as 1 bit per atom storage, reversible, heatless, nano-teched, self assembling, (topological, i.e. robust) quantum computers, that will have capacities zillions of times above human levels. I foresee humanity then splitting into 2 (arguably 3) major philosophical groups, a) the Cosmists (in favor of building artilects), b) the Terrans (opposed), and c) the Cyborgists (who want to convert themselves into artilects by adding components to themselves, i.e. by becoming “cyborgs” (cybernetic organisms)).

These philosophical differences will ultimately lead to a major war, "using 21st century weapons, and hence probably billions (not millions) of people will be killed."

Still, de Garis supports continuing with the research. "If you are a strong Cosmist, you will place higher priority on the creation of godlike artilects than the survival of the human species."

To read the full interview, see Machines Like Us.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Finding truth in the brain?

Technovelgy published an interesting article about the use of lie detectors tests in India, where results from the Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature (BEOS) tests are now accepted in courts of law. The case described is of a young woman, Aditi Sharma, who was accused of poisoning her former fiance in a McDonalds. She agreed to undergo the test, and:
After placing 32 electrodes on Ms. Sharma’s head, investigators said, they read aloud their version of events, speaking in the first person (“I bought arsenic”; “I met Udit at McDonald’s”), along with neutral statements like “The sky is blue,” which help the software distinguish memories from normal cognition.

For an hour, Ms. Sharma said nothing. But the relevant nooks of her brain where memories are thought to be stored buzzed when the crime was recounted, according to Mr. Joseph, the state investigator. The judge endorsed Mr. Joseph’s assertion that the scans were proof of “experiential knowledge” of having committed the murder, rather than just having heard about it.

Proof that she is guilty? The verdict is still out. The National Academy of Sciences states "Almost a century of research in scientific psychology and physiology provides little basis for the expectation that a polygraph test could have extremely high accuracy..."

To read the full article, see Indian Court Says Brain Scan Proves Murder.