There’s been a rash of coverage on Dr Markram and the IBM-supported Blue Brain project, one of the experiments designed to move us closer to creating a silicon simulation of the animal brain. Blue Brain is currently based on a silicon recreation of a slice of rat cortex, and Markram’s team have observed spontaneous emergent interaction between their artificial neurons which suggest to them that they’re on the right track… though not everyone is quite so sure.
“We’re building the brain from the bottom up, but in silicon,” says Dr. Markram, the leader of Blue Brain, which is powered by a supercomputer provided by International Business Machines Corp. “We want to understand how the brain learns, how it perceives things, how intelligence emerges.”
Blue Brain is controversial, and its success is far from assured. Christof Koch of the California Institute of Technology, a scientist who studies consciousness, says the Swiss project provides vital data about how part of the brain works. But he says that Dr. Markram’s approach is still missing algorithms, the biological programming that yields higher-level functions.
“You need to have a theory about how a particular circuit in the brain” can trigger complex, higher-order properties, Dr. Koch argues. “You can’t assemble ever larger data fields and shake it and say, ‘Ah, that’s how consciousness emerges.'”
The possibility of simulating consciousness by building a model of the brain is one of those frustrating quandaries that will seemingly only ever be answered by someone succeeding at doing it; the proof is quite literally in the pudding. Still, Markram is pretty convinced he’s on the right track, going so far as to announce in his TED talk that he’ll have built a model human brain within the next decade… which is something that AI researchers have been saying since the sixties, I believe. I’d love to see it happen, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t hold my breath or place any bets just yet.