Artificial intelligence is a tough thing to pull off. And perhaps the trickiest part of it is knowing how much processing power it’s going to take to pull it off. But, the crazy thing about it is, it’s not inconceivable, at least not in the sense that Vizzini meant it. The Blue Brain Project has made some pretty impressive progress in one particular avenue of artificial intelligence theory.
What they have done is model a portion of the neocortex–the part of the brain that is responsible for complex thought–on a computer. Specifically, a pretty tremendous super computer. And they’ve done it right down the molecule. The question, of course, is what happens when you model something as complex on the human brain and then turn it on. Is it tantamount to creating life?
Well, that depends on how you define life. If life begins at conception–i.e. a sperm penetrating an egg–then it’s probably not life. But if life is consciousness. If life is the ability to think. Then what? If you model a human brain, aren’t you creating something capable of thinking? Aren’t you creating something that is potentially conscious? Is that life? Does it matter that at its most fundamental it’s still just 1s and 0s?
There are further questions to be explored here as well. There is an interesting argument, most eloquently outlined by Nick Bostrum, an Oxford philosopher, that simply states that if Moore’s Law is true and computer processing power continues to increase, then it will eventually be possible to simulate real life. Bostrum’s argument is that if it is possible, then it’s necessarily the case that we already exist in a computer simulation.
Haven’t you ever wondered? The fact that this is such an intriguing and pervasive question is the single most important reason (only?) that The Matrix was such a successful movie.
And so, as scientists and computer programmers make their first tentative steps toward creating intelligence or life or consciousness, what will you be doing? That’s what I thought.