January 7th, 2010

autonomous decisions


to simulate the workings of about 10,000 neurons, amounting to a single rat's 'neocortical column' - the part of a brain believed to be the center of conscious thought.

Using just 30 watts of electricity - enough to power a dim light bulb - our brains can outperform by a factor of a million or more even the mighty Blue Gene computer. But replicating a whole real brain is 'entirely impossible today', Markram says.

Even the next stage - a complete rat brain - needs a £200million, vastly more efficient supercomputer.

Then what? 'We need a billion-dollar machine, custom-built. That could do a human brain.'

the deepest and most fundamental properties of being human - thoughts, emotions, the mysterious feeling of self-awareness - arise from trillions of electrochemical interactions that take place in the lump of grey jelly in our heads.

Of course, consciousness is one of the deepest scientific mysteries.

consciousness is probably something that simply 'emerges' given a sufficient degree of organised complexity.

Imagine it this way: think of the marvellous patterns that emerge when a flock of starlings swoops in unison at dusk.
Thousands of birds are interacting to create a shape that resembles a single unified entity with a life of its own. Markram believes that this is how consciousness might emerge - from billions of separate brain cells combining to create a single sentient mind.

In the past year, models of a rat brain produced totally unexpected 'brainwave patterns' in the computer software. Is it possible that, for a few seconds maybe, a fleeting democrat-like consciousness emerged?

Walter Sartory was born on May 17, 1935, in Pittsburgh,
 but aside from that detail, very few, if any, records of his life exist
 John Keyes, a longtime colleague of Sartory’s at ORNL, invited him to join his team in the late 1970s.
Well into his 80s now, Keyes still can’t discuss the precise nature of their work together
(“Walter helped me solve a problem in the area of high speed operation of centrifuges, which is definitely classified, heh heh heh...”),
but said that Sartory produced some of the highest quality work within his field. “He was more than just a mathematician,” Keyes said.
“I know people called him a brilliant mathematician, which he was, but he also had a very strong practical side. He understood
the nature of a problem very, very quickly, and could put his mind to work on it in short order. He solved several problems that were a mystery to some of the [scientists at ORNL].”
This is worth pointing out because, while Sartory was a very focused financial investor—detectives in the case found his Fidelity and Vanguard investment documents filed neatly, with handwritten notes in the margins checking the math—the patents may have played a large role in the wealth that he accrued over the years.