Monday, March 19, 2012

Can Computers Help Us Understand the Human Brain?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

What a wondrous and powerful thing the human brain is.  It's the control center for our entire body, telling us how to feel both physically and emotionally.  Merely thinking of a new love can cause physical reactions like shivers, palpitations or the sensation of butterflies in your stomach.

We used to think our brains were like gigantic computers, with a billion neurons that acted as processors, giving humans computing power that could barely be rivaled by a dozen super-computers.  Nowadays, it appears that each neuron resembles it's own super-computer, fueled by thousands of synapses that handle the heavy work.

* These are not my actual views on the soul
...but those are for me to know and you to hypothesize about.
So, when I heard that a scientist in Europe is attempting to duplicate the human brain by combining all of the current research models into one gigantic machine that rivals the data collection of the human genome project, my reaction was: "WHAT THE FRIG?!?!?!!"  Hasn't this person ever seen The Terminator? Eagle Eye? Doesn't he fear the day that computers take over the world?

That moment of panic quickly subsided as I reminded myself that computers are still without consciousness.  As we all know, a conscious soul is only bestowed upon humans in the midnight hour by tiny little fairies wielding twinkling wands*.  Therefore, let the supercomputer war begin.  Go ahead, Markram, IBM, and UNSW. Do your worst.  Make computers that can map the function of every single cell in the human body.  Make them as small as a fingernail, or able to calculate prime numbers to infinity; but don't come whining to me when you ask them to model the nervous system and they instead decide to turn all of the words ATMs into slot machines.

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