DARPA flirting with transhumanism?

Paul Raven @ 11-05-2009

neuronsIt shouldn’t come as any great surprise, I guess; it’s not like DARPA doesn’t routinely churn out ideas with more than a tinge of the science fictional about them. But according to Wired’s DangerRoom blog, everyone’s favourite Pentagon agency has decided to investigate the human brain in the same reductionist/physicalist terms that transhumanist thinkers use to discuss the potential of mind uploading and simulation:

The idea behind Darpa’s latest venture, called “Physical Intelligence” (PI) is to prove, mathematically, that the human mind is nothing more than parts and energy. In other words, all brain activities — reasoning, emoting, processing sights and smells — derive from physical mechanisms at work, acting according to the principles of “thermodynamics in open systems.” Thermodynamics is founded on the conversion of energy into work and heat within a system (which could be anything from a test-tube solution to a planet). The processes can be summed up in formalized equations and laws, which are then used to describe how systems react to changes in their surroundings.

Now, the military wants a new equation: one that explains the human mind as a thermodynamic system. Once that’s done, they’re asking for “abiotic, self-organizing electronic and chemical systems” that display the PI principles. More than just computers that think, Darpa wants to re-envision how thought works — and then design computers whose thought processes are governed by the same laws as our own.

As pointed out, that’s a pretty tall order – even for DARPA, the world leader in tall orders. But if there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s throwing money and expertise at otherwise intractable problems… and in a young field of research like this one, there’s as much to be learned from failure as success. [image by LoreleiRanveig]

And there’s an added bonus – the tinfoil hat crowd have got a nice new conspiracy to gnaw on.

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