The Obama Administration recently announced the formation of the “Brain Activity Map Project” to be funded by the National Institutes of Health and other public and private foundations and organizations to undertake a ten year study of the human brain. The effort, which is similar to the organized effort to map the human genome is expected to cost at least 300 million dollars a year over the ten years. It is anticipated by scientists that it will be much for complex and difficult to undertake than the genome project. The hope is to develop a complete model of brain activity and the process of neuron firings that lead to cognition.
In many respects this effort is as important and as potentially consequential as the Portuguese technology developments in the 14th century, the development of a central rudder fitted to the keel of ships, the development of the magnetic compass and the development of the portolan chart all of which led to the expansion of the world into the Americas.
The English Mathematician, Alan Turing, developed the essential and widely accepted test as to the ability of computers to think. His test required a computer to have the ability to converse in natural language using text messages. Ray Kurzweil, the inventor and futurist and the author of “The Singularity Is Near” and more recently “How to Create A Mind,” predicts that the Turing Test will be met sometime before 2029 and views the Watson performance against Jeopardy champions as a significant step on the way in terms of the use of information management architecture.
Mr. Kurzweil seems to agree with long time brain function specialist and author, Edward de Bono, that the secret to unlocking the structure of the human brain and its application to mechanical brains lies in the understanding of the self organizing hierarchical pattern recognition functioning methods of the human brain. As scientists plunge into the more complex hierarchical structure of the human brain through increasingly sophisticated scanning devices, those discoveries will be applied not only to our knowledge and capability of managing brain disease and disfunction, but also to the creation of an new world of brain function that not only mirrors are own but also with the advantage of perfect recall of all knowledge and data currently available in the universe. What we will do with that capability for good or evil will be the much harder construct to reach.WH