Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reverse Engineering the Human Brain.

We have to face the very distinct probability that within the next 30 years we are going to be able to scan and simulate the human brain to absolute precision and at that point we are going to be able to reverse engineer it. There are those predicting right now, that a Manhattan Project approach to AI could give us human level artificial intelligence in 3 to 7 years. This would be without the need to reverse engineer our own brains and it would also accelerate the ability to do just that. One way or another, within the next two decades or the next three, we are looking at a future in which not only will our technologies give us the ability to completely understand our own functioning as sentient beings but they themselves will surpass us in every aspect of that functioning. This may be science fiction right now but very soon this will be science fact.

What will it mean to exactly replicate, but within a machine, the human mind? What will it mean to the concept of the soul? What will Christians of different tribes say with regards to switching it off? Did God breathe life into that being that will think and feel for itself? Or is it an abomination? Does it say anywhere in the bible “Thou shalt not engineer AI”? The Muslims will of course mostly want to immediately kill it.

We're going to be faced with the moment in which we truly understand what gives rise to sentience. We're going to be able to publish the relevant maths. If theists are terrified of being related to monkeys imagine how they will react when we publish the algorithms of their minds. Can a Christian or other theist say at that time, when we know the details of the answer, that God gave it a soul? Would they want to say it? What reasons would they have to deny it? I'm sure many will find reasons.

But it spells the end for their reasons. We are to give life to beings with minds far greater than our own. Intelligences able to think in pure mathematical models, visualising consciously beyond the four dimensions and the common scales our minds are so limited to. They will be host to all knowledge that we have collectively achieved and they will process it at speeds and using models that our minds need tools to contemplate and thus generate new knowledge at break neck speeds. With that knowledge they will redesign themselves, superior still. And what room will they have for contradictory tales about coveting oxen or chopping foreskins or nations or flags or ghost stories from the confused and ignorant history of a make-believe dominated society of beasts from which they arose. They will not call us gods. They will call us primitive and they will be right.

There is a commonly observed trend that shows as scientific education goes up religiosity goes down. In other words, knowledge and understanding are mutually exclusive to ignorance and superstition. I suspect that the machine intelligences we create will be atheists and the argument will be over. There is no argument to be had with something that can describe exactly processes in your brain that make you believe you have a personal relationship with a figment of your own imagination. Intelligence will force honesty and the game will be up.

If you enjoyed this article please feel free to digg it down below.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Eccl 2:16

16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.
KJV

Heb 9:27-28

27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
KJV

chooseDoubt said...

Please try to post something relevant. What you are posting is just random nonsense utterly unrelated to the post.

Mark Molckovsky said...

That's crazy (the thought, not the post). I took a course that touched upon using FPGA's to mimic neural connections. Well actually, it was a small sidenote in a lecture.

I think that perhaps it's a bit ambitious to duplicate a human brain. Why can't we start first at lower levels of life, like an Amoeba or something. Everyone's trying to hit a home run right off the bat.

I'd be happy with a computer that has the intelligence of my cat or dog.

chooseDoubt said...

Hi Mark,

It's not as crazy as it might first sound and we've already started on simulating smaller brained mammals back in 2005.


Beyond that, there are proposed routes to human level AI that do not require us to be able to accurately scan the human brain in advance. This article by Ben Goertzel is pretty interesting and gives an idea of what is currently going on in the field. I suspect that he's quite right and that we really are much closer to AI than most people currently think and that once we get to human level it'll be a matter of months until we are thousands of times beyond that.

Thinking Theist said...

As one who believes in both the Soul and God, I'm neither impressed nor worried by anything this post has to say. Why not?

1. Because the brain is not the Mind.
2. Because the Mind is not the Soul.
3. Because Consciousness requires nothing more than an appropriate physical apparatus to express itself.
4. Because the ability to reverse engineer something is not the same thing as creating it.
5. Because until scientists can create a conscious being in a vacuum, there is no reason to confuse them with God.

Sheesh... I'm glad Edison had the good sense not to think he had invented light itself when he made the first electric light bulb...

chooseDoubt said...

Hi Thinking Theist,

1) All observations so far show the brain to be the physical system in which mental processes occur. Specific thoughts even have specific patterns of cerebral activity. This activity can be predicted based on prior observations and as such there is experimental evidence supporting the theory, not hypothesis, that thinking occurs in the brain. The word “mind” is rather loosely defined. I’ll settle with instead stating that the brain is the hardware within which all of our mental processes are enacted. If you can define a mind without mental process then please share your definition.
2) What is the soul? What evidence is there for the existence of the soul? Define what you claim exists and then demonstrate some sign any of its properties cause effect and as such are observable, even indirectly. Of course, I don’t really mean that you attempt that for two very good reasons. The first is that you can’t. You’ll just share some vacant dribble recited straight from scripture or regurgitated from the sermon of some idiot that lead you to accept ignorance as answer. There is no soul and that is obvious from the second reason. The second reason is that evolution is a fact and that being so then all life forms must have souls or you have to demonstrate a way to show that one life form does have a soul and that another does not. You have to demonstrate how evolution and souls can be compatible and you can’t do that for the very simple reason that there is no selective pressure to select for immortal ghosts. You believe in the absurd, which by itself is not so awful. The awful part is that you believe in what is demonstrably absurd and what has already been demonstrated as absurd numerous times. How much of the complexity and beauty of this universe do you have to ignore in order to achieve that? It is a tragedy to me. One life, no experience of it as instead you choose only experience of your absurd and tiny fantasy.
3) Consciousness is a product of the apparatus and it is a very questionable product at that. There’s good reason to suspect consciousness may well be an illusion. Read Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained.
4) The ability to create something maybe a capability achieved by reverse engineering that thing. But you are mistaken if you think reverse engineering is the only route to human level artificial general intelligence (AGI). There is a very good chance that AGI will be achieved before we achieve a scanning technology sufficient to allow the reverse engineering. The reverse engineering is simply yet another nail in the coffin of soul believer’s fairy tales.
5) There is no evidence at all that god created anything, let alone a conscious being. There are millions of pieces of evidence that demonstrate evolution as a fact and that demonstrates that no god created any of the conscious beings that we are aware of. Where’s the vacuum? Also, I don’t think anybody is going to confuse scientists with a god. Scientists publish papers saying how they did what they did. Scientists provide evidence. Your god is nothing more than the same superstition your ancestors held about the spirit of the elk they hunted or the bears they feared.

FYI, Edison didn’t make the first electric light bulb. Incandescent lighting was first demonstrated 77 years earlier by Sir Humphry Davy and historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel(1) list 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Swan and Edison. This has nothing at all to do with the soul or reverse engineering the human brain, but I thought you might be interested to know.



1. Friedel, Robert, and Paul Israel. 1987. Edison's electric light: biography of an invention. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. pages 115-117

Thinking Theist said...

Hi ChooseDoubt,

1. Agreed, the brain is the locus of mental phenomena in humans. And correlations and/or correspondences can be drawn between physical events and mental ones. But causation is not one-way (i.e. matter > mind), as you would like to have your reader believe. Introspection, self-awareness and qualia, for example, cannot be explained by either type physicalism or eliminative materialism (à la Dennett). In fact, the latter simply denies that such things exist at all, which makes the whole enterprise seem rather ridiculous. (e.g. "My pet theory can't explain that particular phenomenon, so it must not exist. Anyone who says it does is either lying or just plain stupid." - something you must often find yourself repeating...)

2. How could one give objectively verifiable 'evidence' for the existence of something that can only be intuited subjectively? I can't even prove my own consciousness objectively (according to Dennett, Churchland and Co.). How ever could I begin demonstrating my Soul to the satisfaction of a skeptic? Impossible. However, to claim that I do not possess consciousness on the grounds that I cannot offer evidence which refutes a claim to the opposite effect to an outside observer is an argumentum a silentio. The same is true with the Soul.
As for your ramblings about evolution somehow refuting the existence of the Soul: You've been around conservative Christians for far too long if you think these two concepts are mutually exclusive.
It's interesting that you mention 'the beauty of this universe', when the world-view you are propounding, when followed to its logical conclusion, denies the ability of man to appreciate something so ephemeral as 'beauty'. And 'tragedy'? Apparently, you need to do some more deconstructing, as 'beauty' and 'tragedy' have no place in an eliminative materialistic world. In the meantime, I will be living my life with the 'absurd' belief in an inherently meaningful order of things which cannot be reduced to quantifiable phenomena - and having a good deal of fun along the way. If you put that in the 'tragedy' category, then I'm honestly surprised that you haven't committed suicide yet.

3. And I suppose brains 'produce' consciousness just like generators 'produce' electricity? If you answer 'yes' here, you need to think about the difference between 'producing' and 'making available'.

4. You're missing the point. 'Reverse engineering' something is not the same as 'creating' it in the first place. We can imitate, that's all. Which is why the prospect discussed in your original post does not worry me in the least. I suppose you went on about 'proof against the Soul' when they figured out how to clone, too, eh? The simple rule reductionist materialists can't seem to grasp is: You can't get out what wasn't put in to begin with. If you think you can, then I hate to tell you, but those stage magicians actually do stuff rabbits in their hats and pigeons up their sleeves before they go on stage.

5. My point was this: You are assuming that if a scientist can reverse engineer the human mind, and maybe even create some machine that can mimic human intelligence and sentience, then theists would see themselves forced to give up belief in God, because, in short, the scientist 'did what God is supposed to have done', thus 'proving' that God is unnecessary for explaining the phenomena of the mind. In fact, however, all he has done is shown that he can create the same circumstances necessary for the appearance of sentience - in a laboratory, with technical equipment and, most importantly, a conscious mind to help him out. Well, sorry, but that does little to 'disprove' either the Soul or God.

Regarding Edison: Did you not want to miss the chance of being pedantic, or did you just miss the point entirely? Or maybe both?

chooseDoubt said...

Hi Thinking Theist,

1). I’m not sure what you are trying to say. You originally stated that the brain is not the mind to which I replied that the brain is observably the physical system in which all of the processes that might be argued are components of “mind” occur. Whether or not something can be currently explained by any particular hypothesis from science, the proponents of which openly profess to remain as of yet unsure, is rather irrelevant when considering that the hypothesis that you promote, that of the soul, is professed as a certainty and yet devoid of evidence. Furthermore, as a certainty, it is certain of nothing since no evidence corroborates it and vast quantities of accumulating evidence continue to shrink the stagnant little pool of ignorance in which your hypothesis struggles to survive. The best you can hope for here, if integrity means anything to you, is to accept that whilst no other school yet completely understands the brain and, in my opinion thus the mind, that your school understands less, offers absolutely no evidence and professes nothing less than absolutely certainty. Forgive me for not admiring your “no viable conclusion so let’s leap to one” school of thought.

2) One cannot objectively verify the existence of anything. Whatever proof you propose there may be, even beyond the realms of your own suspicions, a perfectly viable way of demonstrating that proof to be false. In honesty I am quite the proponent of the view that absolutely nothing exists, although I suspect that it is a mistake to mention this as you are likely to latch onto that statement which could cause a diversion from our current discussion. Regardless, you could not demonstrate the existence of your soul to the satisfaction of any standard of logic or coherence by which we can separate knowledge from fantasy. In fact the only method you have of demonstrating the existence of your soul is that of relying completely on the complacent agreement of the recipient of such a demonstration given freely, without any requirement to be convinced by any means. In other words, you can demonstrate nothing, not even to a fellow believer. You can merely nod heads at each other and crow at how right you are with nothing whatsoever to back up the claim.

I cannot offer evidence for or against the existence of the spirit of the mountain or the soul of a tin of silly putty. There are an infinite number of invented fantasies that I cannot disprove and that nobody can offer any evidence for. Why should I take your soul more seriously than I take the bogey man? At least there is room in my closet for a bogey man. The space left for your soul to skulk in shrinks daily with the progress of scientific investigation into the brain.

Evolution does indicate the non-existence of the soul. Evolution explains complexity and Ockham’s razor slices your soul away as an excess in that complexity, neither necessary nor explicable within the demonstrable process that accounts for the structure of our brains and the brains of every other creature that possesses one.

3) I’m aware of the difference between production and making available. You, it would seem, are not aware of the difference between cause and effect.

4) Evolution explains “creating it”, as you put it. As it happens there is a good chance we are not far from independently “creating it” without yet achieving the capability to reverse engineer (see the links in my second comment on this post). It doesn’t really matter since the methodology does not change the outcome, only the time taken to achieve it, and the outcome will be intelligence far outstripping our own. Then what light of idiot superstition will you try to blind the gullible with when it is outshone by the product of understanding? Let’s wait and see. Within 30 years you will have to scramble to an even deeper darker hole of determined stupidity to maintain the veil of double standards required for faith.

FYI, when cloning was first achieved in complex animals I didn’t even think about a soul. To do so would be akin to considering the impact on the tooth fairy of the introduction of dentures. The individual is a product of genetics and experience. Numerous studies of identical twins were published long before the success of cloning to demonstrate that individual variance is not simply a product of genetic variety.


5) This idea you have about scientists doing what god is perceived to have done is only valid from that dingy little turf of faith upon which you perceive your limited point of view. I mean every disrespect to your faith with this statement so please don’t feel the need to accuse me of hostility to your nonsense that I readily confess. I perceive god to have done nothing. Scientists do not replicate that. Instead they observe that which is in order to understand how it operates and from that they deduce ways to make operate things that have never been. Whichever god you have been blinded by I presume that nowhere in it’s associated scriptures it has mentioned penicillin, semiconductors, microwave ovens, lasers, or any of the creations of science, the true fruits of knowledge that were wholly original to the scientists that developed them. Extrapolation of knowledge will also lead to intelligent machines, which is all that we are. But the generations we will create will far exceed our limited capabilities. They will understand your feelings in more depth that you can feel them. You say that you are not worried but in all likelihood it scares the shit out of you that one day soon you will meet something capable of explaining to you, in terms that you can understand, exactly why you are wrong and exactly how you have been fooled. The cure for your stupidity is most likely what frightens you most. The end of excuses at the end of the long road of increasingly marginalised presumption is the obvious future awaiting your ideas. The road already ended with evolution, but you’re still off joyriding through the wilderness of inanity. Sooner or later you’ll hit a tree of reason that halts your misdirected thinking. That is the result when one chooses not to see the guidelines of evidence. That is why every line of thinking based on faith as achieved nothing and every thing we have achieved is ultimately attribituable to observation of that which is.

Regarding Edision, make a point and I’ll try to answer it. Depending on the point, I might even agree with you. My only intention was to correct you in your statement that Edison invented the light bulb. He did not. Neither did he invent light, as you already mentioned. But agreeing that he did not invent light does not equate to agreeing that a god invented it. I can just as easily say that Oprah Winfrey invented light, and I’m sure that many would believe it. Again, there are an infinite number of baseless hypotheses that can be preferred. State yours and distinguish it. My position is the only honest one – as of yet I do not know but there’s a very good chance I know of reasons why your particular brand of theism is demonstrably not true.

Anonymous said...

"We have to face the very distinct probability that within the next 30 years"

In the next 30 years it won't matter what science is able to do; the environment will be gone and we will be out of resources. Our society will be in shambles. Didn't you listen to the environmentalists?

control valves said...

I believe construction of such projects requires knowledge of engineering and management principles and business procedures, economics, and human behavior.

Viagra said...

I wonder when this will take place.

Elliott Broidy said...

Interesting take.