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John Horgan - No - Issue 15

John Horgan - No - Issue 15 - BIOMEDICAL IMAGING FEATURE...

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Image: Courtesy Pablo de Heras Ciechomski, Ph.D. Copyright all rights reserved 2006–2008, Visualbiotech Sarl(www.visualbiotech.ch), Switzerland Image: Courtesy Pablo de Heras Ciechomski, Ph.D. Copyright all rights reserved 20062008, Visualbiotech Sarl(www.visualbiotech.ch), Switzerland Neocortical Column of a rat, 2 millimeters high, as simulated on IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer. The image above show s about 50 kinds of neurons; the image on the opposite page , around 100. A rat’s neocortex has 10 000 such columns; a human’s has millions. BIOMEDICAL / IMAGING FEATURE The Consciousness Conundrum The wetware that gives rise to consciousness is far too complex to be replicated in a computer anytime soon By JOHN HORGAN / JUNE 2008 This is part of IEEE Spectrum's SPECIAL REPORT: THE SINGULARITY I'm 54, with all that entails. Gray hair, trick knee, trickier memory. I still play a mean game of hockey, and my love life requires no pharmaceutical enhancement. But entropy looms ever larger. Suffice it to say, I would love to believe that we are rapidly approaching ”the singularity.” Like paradise, technological singularity comes in many versions, but most involve bionic brain boosting. At first, we'll become cyborgs, as stupendously powerful brain chips soup up our perception, memory, and intelligence and maybe even eliminate the need for annoying TV remotes. Eventually, we will abandon our flesh-and-blood selves entirely and upload our digitized psyches into computers. We will then dwell happily forever in cyberspace where, to paraphrase Woody Allen, we'll never need to look for a parking space. Sounds good to me! Notably, singularity enthusiasts tend to be computer specialists, such as the author and retired computer scientist Vernor Vinge, the roboticist Hans Moravec, and the entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil. Intoxicated by the explosive progress of information technologies captured by Moore's Law, such singularitarians foresee a ”merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence,” as Kurzweil puts it, that will culminate in ”immortal software-based humans.” It will happen not within a millennium, or a century, but no later than 2030, according to Vinge. These guys--and, yes, they're all men--are serious. Kurzweil says he has adopted an antiaging regimen so that he'll ”live long enough to live forever.” Specialists in real rather than artificial brains find such bionic convergence scenarios naive, often laughably so.
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Gerald Edelman, a Nobel laureate and director of the Neurosciences Institute, in San Diego, says singularitarians vastly underestimate the brain's complexity. Not only is each brain unique, but each also constantly changes in response to new experiences. Stimulate a brain with exactly the same input, Edelman notes, and you'll never see the same signal set twice in response.
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