Using IBM computers, Dr. Henry Markram is building a model of the human brain that he hopes will take about 10 years to complete. Filmmaker Noah Hutton is chronicling the endeavor in an ongoing documentary that will be finished once the brain model exists. This is one of the most fascinating and important efforts I have ever heard about in modern science. The brain project is called Blue Brain and is located at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. The idea to build a model based on minute and precise observations of how the brain synapses and cells actually work is a good one. Dr. Markram emphasizes that once you understand certain principles you can start to build models that increase in complexity and accuracy until you have have an understanding of how things work. Careful observation and exact mimicry will lead to a functioning model. Markram goes further to say that eventually you will be able to teach the model languages and watch it learn. He’s talking about artificial intelligence. He’s talking about making a machine think.
This is the modern world’s alchemy. The simplistic understanding of Medieval alchemy is that it was the attempt to turn base metals into gold. We are now trying to turn base metals into thinking beings. It is a logical thing to do. Think about it. Every household and every pocket in almost every developed nation on earth has a small thinking machine in it. What does that really tell you? It tells me that our main effort on a planetary scale – a human species level – is to make machines think. We aren’t going to the moon. Or going to Mars. Or trying to travel to the stars. What we’re actually doing is trying to make metal and electricity think. To live.
A working model of a brain is going to take us places we never thought we could go.