Just as in a real brain, communications are initiated whenever a sender wants to send, and signals arrive at the receiver unheralded and must be handled, ready or not. Using this method, Furber, a division co-leader on the
Furber is not the only neuromorphic engineer whose approach Markram hopes will one day pay dividends. Another is
By correlating the auditory and visual signals with the simulated brain activity as the robot learns about the world, researchers could then introduce distortions to the simulation - so as, say, to mimic the wiring of an autistic brain - and then hit the replay button. In theory, it should then be possible step inside a 3D hologram of the simulation and experience the world as an autist experiences it and, at the same, watch what is going on in the autist's mind.
Indeed, speaking to Markram, you get the impression that this is his real ambition and the source of his drive. "To be able to dial up everything, the colours, the sounds - that's what motivates me," he says. "To be able to step inside a simulation of my son's brain and see the world as he sees it. At the moment, I can use fMRI and ECG [electrocardiogram] to see how the brain processes information and which regions are activated during different tasks but I can't see what it is perceiving, I can't see what it sees."
To his critics, this is simply wishful thinking, the sort of statement one would expect from a sci-fi enthusiast rather than a serious neuroscientist. At TED in 2009 Markram even seemed to hold out the prospect that such a simulation might be capable of consciousness, ending his talk with the promise that if he succeeded in building his brain, then in 10 years he would "send a hologram to talk to you".
This is not the first time a scientist has made such a promise - in 1946 Alan Turing predicted that "in 30 years it would be as easy to ask a computer a question as a human being" - and since his TED talk Markram has learned to be more circumspect. When I ask him whether his simulation would be conscious for once he hesitates. "That we are not sure about," he replies eventually. "We will see a lot of neural correlates to complex cognitive behaviour but whether this is going to lead to consciousness I don't know and I don't think anybody knows."
Scientists will get a chance to grill Markram about this and other questions as his project takes shape in the months ahead. At the inaugural meeting of the
Most Popular Stories
- Bipartisan Budget Deal Gets Key Support in House
- Bitcoin Clones Lurch Onto Financial Scene
- Clinton to Keynote Annual Simmons Leadership Conference
- Budget Deal Will Cut 220,000 Californians Out of Jobless Benefits
- Futures Fall, Holiday Spending and Unemployment Up
- Senate Not So Keen on Budget Deal
- Oil Nears $98 a Barrel
- Health Coverage Disparities Emerge Among States
- Selena Gomez, Shakira Among Top Hispanic Searches
- PhD Project Grooms Business Profs