In 1950, Alan Turing famously predicted that within 50 years we would have a computer capable of passing his ‘Imitation Game’ Turing Test, and thereby satisfying his criteria for intelligence. Unfortunately, Turing’s estimate was a little wide of the mark, but efforts to satisfy his test continue. Nevertheless, the crusaders of artificial intelligence, or ‘AI’, appear confident of closing in on their mark. In fact, yesterday at the TED Global conference in Oxford, Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project, suggested that a functioning, artificial human brain running as a simulation will be constructed within the next 10 years. Markram’s project has already simulated aspects of a rat’s brain, but Markram is aiming bigger: “we cannot keep on doing animal experiments forever”, he said.
Markram’s aim is that the proposed simulation will shed new light on brain disorders, and possibly suggest new forms of treatments. Whether or not these aims are plausible are interesting practical questions. The project does, of course, also raise a variety of more philosophical issues. Would such a simulation be intelligent? How would we know? Could it achieve consciousness, or is there something fundamentally important about the biological matter from which human minds are made that no set of algorithms in a computer program could ever capture? Perhaps more seriously, would such a brain, if it gave rise to intelligence, constitute a life? (Markram himself muses that such a program might develop emotions.) And might not some interesting ethical issues arise about running brain-disorder simulations on such a being, if indeed a being it would be?
The Search for Neural Correlates of Consciousness
By Jakob Hohwy, Monash University
(Vol. 2, April 2007)
Computationalism in the Philosophy of Mind
By Gualtiero Piccinini, University of Missouri – St. Louis
(Vol. 4, April 2009)