Whole Brain Emulation
Whole Brain Emulation (WBE) is a proposed approach to Artificial Intelligence and Mind-Uploading that involves transferring the information contained within a brain onto a computing substrate. The simulated brain would operate in a way that was indistinguishable from the biological original. Such technology would also be useful for assessing the effectiveness of drugs and may give insight into the nature of consciousness.
The required technology to achieve this feat would have to draw from several fields of science including supercomputing, biology, neurology, and neuroinformatics. The complexity of the challenge is controversial within the scientific community with many leading scientist remaining skeptical and mainstream funding having proved so far to be elusive.
Many leading scientists and technology experts such as Marvin Minsky, Ray Kurzweil and Henry Markram believe that it will be possible. The feasibility of such a project has been examined in detail by The Future of Humanity Institute which concluded that a human brain emulation would be possible before the mid-century providing investment and computing power continued to grow.
There are several engineering factors that need to be achieved in order for WBE to be feasible. These include the development of computers with sufficient processing power, the availability of brain-scanning equipment that can analyze the brain at a high enough resolution\speed to capture the brain’s salient information and a programmed environment that can process the interaction between brain and simulated environment.
Estimates have been suggested that calculate the processing power of the human brain, these have been based on the observed physical characteristics (100 Billion neurons, each connected to as many as 1000 other neurons) that may be firing up to 100 times a second. These figures suggest 10^15 calculations per second (though this estimate is by no means uncontested), which as of 2012 is roughly equivalent to the power of the world’s most advanced supercomputer. However, even if the processing power of the human brain proves to be a thousand times more powerful this would soon be achievable anyway due to the rapid exponential growth of Moore’s Law. These figures also make the assumption that the mind is a construct of nothing more than the physical brain and that quantum events within the brain are not fundamental to cognitive processes (which has been disputed by Roger Penrose).
The issue of data storage will also have to be addressed, as the brain is estimated to occupy 20,000TB. However, due to the law of accelerating returns this issue is projected to be resolved in the coming decades.
The technology for scanning the brain will also need to be improved in order to accurately create a duplicate. With current scanning technology there has to be trade-off between the level of detail captured and the size of the brain being scanned. Electron-microscopy can capture the synaptic connection between neurons, but is not viable for anything larger than a fruit fly brain. However, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory are currently building a map of a mouse brain scanning at a “mesoscopic” resolution of 20 microns which is enough to capture neuronic structure beyond the capabilities of fMRI technology. The ultimate aim of this project is to a have a working simulation of a mouse brain.
Even more ambitious is Henry Markram’s Blue Brain project which rather than consisting of a simulated network of neurons, also emulates the biological function of neurons too. The project is currently under consideration for a 1 Billion Euro grant, which if awarded, will result in the project being renamed the Human Brain Project with the objective of creating a working simulation within a decade.
- Brain Emulation Roadmap Report by The Future of Humanity Institute.
- Hans Moravec's Estimation of Human Brain Processing Capacity
- Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Mouse Brain
- Blue Brain Project Website
- Blue Brain Project Henry Markram Presentation on YouTube