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Innovation Monitor: Brains and Computers | By NYC Media Lab | September 2021

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Innovation Monitor: Brain and Computer

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Welcome to this week’s Innovation Monitor.

This week we’ve jumped into a fairly complex but important topic: Can you build a computer modeled with the power of the human brain? Over the last decade, significant advances have been made in neural networks built on systems that mimic the elements of neurons that make up the brain.

Last year we all saw the power of innovation at the cellular level. The COVID-19 vaccine is driven by mRNA technology and aims to leverage biological systems in all areas of synthetic biology to solve problems across all areas of innovation. cancer.

Is it possible to create a computing system with similar potential based on modeling the human brain? The question still feels a bit theoretical, but worth remembering, ten years ago, everyone from searching for information to recreating photos to creating all sorts of things is the power of neural networks. It was impossible to predict that they would be taking advantage of. XR experience, all from the phone in our pocket.

In 2009, Henry Makram, director of a project called Blue Brain, gave a TED talk aimed at creating a supercomputer with the power of the human brain. He argued that modeling 100 million synapses in the brain could unleash the computational power to solve all kinds of problems. In the decade since then, scientists and engineers have pursued this challenge, with some progress and some faded dreams in the process.

He further speculates that the ability of 10,000 laptops could initiate the formulation of all decision-making functions, as well as mathematical calculations that would help reproduce the perceptions created by neurons in the brain. increase. But we have realized McLamb’s dream:

Finally, this weekend marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11, providing a moment of memory and remorse for those who choose. Thank you for reading. As always, if this email is forwarded, you can easily sign up here.

Thank you. Erica Matsumoto Brain Mapping This MIT Technology Review demonstrates a decade of work that began around the time of Makrams’ talk. Ten years ago, some of the world’s top neuroscientists and nanoscientists gathered at a symposium trying to integrate the two disciplines. As a result, there was a proposal for a large-scale international public effort, the Brain Activity Map Project, aimed at reconstructing a complete record of neural activity throughout the complete neural circuit. Comparing it to the Human Genome Project, scientists predicted that the project would lead to a whole new industry and commercial venture.

Despite its high goals, the race to map the human brain faced many conflicts along the way. While a team of US scientists worked primarily on the BRAIN initiative, in the EU researchers struggled with the Human Brain Project (HBP). The Brain Initiative received the enthusiastic support of President Obama, who called it the next great American project in 2013. By the completion scheduled for 2026, the BRAIN Initiative is estimated to receive approximately $ 6 billion in NIH funding. HBP, led by neuroscientist Henry Markram, initially received more than $ 1 billion in EU funding, but Markram lost control of the project in 2015 and was hurt by the fighting since its inception. According to Swiss entrepreneur Christoph Eber, who has a background in scientific diplomacy, the person appointed as executive director: he says the project was in crisis when I took over. People were openly wondering if the project would move forward. The HBP confusion is also the subject of the new documentary In Silico.

So, ten years later, are we approaching to uncover the secrets of human consciousness? Last year, HBP released a 3D digital brain map, which is essentially Google Earth for the brain. The BRAIN Initiative has made some progress, including accelerating the development of optogenetics, an approach that uses light to control neurons, and with its funding, a new high-density silicon electrode that can record simultaneously from hundreds of neurons. Was born. According to MIT Tech Review, these are all important steps, but far from their original grand ambitions. Instead of answering consciousness questions, developing these methods only opened more questions about the brain and showed how complex it was. Rafael Yuste, a professor of neurobiology at Columbia University, one of the scientists behind the original proposal, said I must be honest. We had higher hope.

In that same decade, Director Noah Hutton spent 10 years building a fully simulated brain model for both the Blue Brain Project and the Human Brain Project after Henry Markram’s journey. Over the years, as Hatton talked to more and more neuroscientists, the first excitement he felt when he first heard about Markrams 2009 TED began to disappear, replacing skepticism and eventually. Did not have a clear answer. Perhaps apart from that, flashy presentations and pure ambitions are bad indicators of success when it comes to understanding the brain.

As technology advances and certain tensions in technical salesmanship continue to dominate the collective human ear, the line between fiction and reality continues to blur, threatening long-term public confidence in science. It leads to a cycle of hype and disappointment. See the trailer for the Hattons documentary below.

Inspired by AI, computational neuroscience, like deep learning cousins, can eventually produce a black box that performs tasks but remains internally mysterious, perfect. Gradually leaving the biological brain in search of algorithms.

Is the brain even a computer? Is it because the brain isn’t even a computer that hasn’t seen a breakthrough in cell innovation yet? A series of experts were interviewed by MIT Tech Review on this exact question. Experts are divided: everyone agrees that our biological brain creates our conscious mind, but informs us of the important similarities claimed to be shared by the brain and the computer. They are divided by the question of what role the processing plays.

According to Blake Richards, a neuroscientist and computer scientist at McGill University in Montreal.

The brain processes everything in parallel, not at discrete intervals, but at continuous times, he says. In contrast, today’s digital computers employ a very special design based on the original von Neumann architecture. They work primarily by step-by-step through a list of instructions encoded in a memory bank, accessing information stored in individual memory slots.

Megan Peters, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, believes that the brain can be used as a computing model.

What the brain looks like is very well described as information processing.The brain takes spikes [brief bursts of activity that last about a tenth of a second] It converts sound waves and photons into neural activity, which represents information. Perception Finally, one of the reasons why the brain does not hear unexplained voices is traditionally associated with mental illness and religious experience. Still, we all hear strange voices and call vibrant images and other content almost nightly hallucinations. Computers can accomplish extraordinary feats of memory and processing, but they don’t dream of electric sheep. What if there is a fundamental flaw in the brain metaphor as a computer to explain the current prevalence of human consciousness and abilities? What if the brain is a transducer rather than a computer? According to Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute of Behavioral Research Technology and former editor of Psychology Today, transmission theory is a permanent mystery of human consciousness and our extraordinary abilities. May explain. Epstein makes that clear: I don’t offer transduction theory as yet another metaphor. I suggest that the brain is a truly bidirectional transducer and over time we will find empirical support for this theory. Moreover:

For centuries, we have been completely confused by where human intelligence comes from people, and have used metaphors one after another to explain our extraordinary abilities. Of course, it started with the metaphor of God thousands of years ago and has progressed. I hesitate to use the term in the current information processing metaphor. .. I am now proposing that we abandon the metaphor and begin to consider substantive ideas that we can test. If the transduction theory proves correct, our understanding of the universe and our position within it will change dramatically. Not only can we understand the dozens of strange aspects of human experience, but we may also begin to unravel some of the greatest mysteries of the universe: where our universe came from, what else Yes, and in a sense, who else is there, whether or not it is there.This week’s history of innovation

September 3, 1995: The first item on eBay is on sale

The site was originally launched as Auction Web by Pierre Omidyar. The first item sold so far was a broken laser pointer (which was $ 14.83) for testing the site, not for sale. For years, the buyer’s identity wasn’t disclosed, but on eBay’s 20th anniversary, he debuted a video featuring a buyer, Mark Fraser, who claims to be a collector of broken laser pointers.

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