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Ray Kurzweil Does Not Understand the Brain 830

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-want-futurist-business-cards dept.
jamie writes "There he goes again, making up nonsense and making ridiculous claims that have no relationship to reality. Ray Kurzweil must be able to spin out a good line of bafflegab, because he seems to have the tech media convinced..."
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Ray Kurzweil Does Not Understand the Brain

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:18PM (#33276994) Journal
    The singularity is to nerds what the rapture is to fundamentalist protestant wackjobs....
    • by benjfowler (239527) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:27PM (#33277138)

      There surely has to be a Rule 34 for pseudoscientific crap.

      "If it exists, there is woo of it".

      There's physics and quantum woo (Deepak Chopra), food and nutrition woo, health woo, laundry woo, automotive woo, fortune-telling and divination woo, religious woo.... wouldn't stupid and silly ideas like hard AI and the singularity count as "IT woo"?

      • by dfetter (2035) <david@fetter.org> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:44PM (#33277366) Homepage Journal

        And of course, John Woo. Let's hear it for two-fisting, slow motion and doves!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ceoyoyo (59147)

        You're conflating things that are entirely made up and claimed to be fact, predictions based on certain observations (singularity), and things that are known to be possible but that we don't know how to pull off artificially yet (intelligence). These three categories are very different. PZ actually should be ashamed for being so lazy as to compare Kurzweil, particularly in this instance, to Chopra.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:27PM (#33277978)

        religious woo

        Isn't that a tautology?

        (Incidentally, I'm really curious whether this comment will end up at -1, Troll or +5, Interesting now.)

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Schadrach (1042952)

          You could get really lucky and end up +5 Troll. I've only managed +1 Troll myself, I need practice. =p

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:07PM (#33278590) Homepage Journal

        There's physics and quantum woo (Deepak Chopra), food and nutrition woo, health woo, laundry woo, automotive woo, fortune-telling and divination woo, religious woo.... wouldn't stupid and silly ideas like hard AI and the singularity count as "IT woo"?

        There's also a "skeptic woo". It means dismissing things you know nothing about because they involve things you don't understand.

        It never ceases to amaze me how so many "skeptics" have decided that they've seen it all, know it all. They're the mechanical engineer who have decided that their expertise also qualifies them as experts in quantum mechanics. They're the chemist who has decided to write the "definitive" work on physics that's going to refudiate Einstein.

        It's very easy to tell someone serious who can discern the difference between scientific claims and hokum from the "professional skeptic" who dismisses anything they don't understand as phony. It's the corollary to the saying about how "technology that is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic". Basically, it says that "anything that I don't understand must be magic" and it's intellectually lazy. Yes, I'm saying that many "skeptics" who tout their intellectual rigor are actually intellectually lazy.

        Here's how I tell the difference between a serious skeptic and a "pop" skeptic: I ask them if acupuncture is "woo". One question, that's all. The question works just as well with tai chi chuan.

        • by benjfowler (239527) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:23PM (#33278816)

          ... and the mark of a good skeptic, is somebody who understands that they realistically cannot know all that much of anything, and to defer to the judgement of experts -- and not just ANY experts, but recognised experts.

          And I disagree that scientific skeptics are (as) susceptible to the Dunning Kruger Effect as the cranks and New Agers. At least the skeptics don't pretend they know more than people who've been to university (and have at least a basic enough grounding in physics and medicine that they know NOTHING about it).

          The idea that my Granddad -- who thinks he has magic TK powers -- is practicing some kind of science beyond my comprehension, is not very plausible.

        • Here's how I tell the difference between a serious skeptic and a "pop" skeptic: I ask them if acupuncture is "woo". One question, that's all. The question works just as well with tai chi chuan.

          And what if this was my answer; a vast majority of the claims relating to acupuncture are woo, though there are some areas that demand further research. I would use chiropracty as a test, personally, since 90% of the claims, and supposed reasons, are pure, unadulterated woo, but 10% of it is actually helpful (if if

    • by mbone (558574) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:27PM (#33277144)

      Myself, I think that both the singularity and the rapture have already happened. You didn't translate to the other realm. Get over it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lord Ender (156273)

      There is evidence to support the theory of the technological singularity. There is no evidence to support the idea of "the rapture." Your comparison is unfair.

      No one can deny that technology is advancing. It is hard to argue against the claim that the rate of advancement is accelerating. Yesterdays intractable problems are today's hobby projects. The idea of the Singularity is simply that what is possible according to physics will become practical as our technology progresses.

      Feel free to argue over the tim

      • by Surt (22457) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:36PM (#33278096) Homepage Journal

        I don't know where you got your definition of 'the Singularity', but I'd bet that the majority of slashdot readers would disagree with you. I expect most of them have the definition of the Singularity as the time when an AI capable of building an AI superior to itself exists, and begins the freefall towards an AI that is operating at the maximum capability that the universe will allow.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity [wikipedia.org]

        And of course the singularity folks typically conveniently ignore the possibility that we are already close to the limit on intelligence density with the human brain, or that the problem could become a steep exponential more difficult, etc.

        • by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:47PM (#33278254) Homepage

          From your wikipedia link:

          Technological singularity refers to a prediction in Futurism that technological progress will become extremely fast, and consequently will make the future (after the technological singularity) unpredictable and qualitatively different from today.

          The idea is more vague than your statement about AI writing AI; you indicate only one possible definition/manifestation of the concept.

    • Entering college we get students whos goals in life are the following.

      Make a True AI/Mimic a Human Brain - If they good they will end up getting a PHD and being a computer science professor and perhaps doing some cool research on a limited area of AI.
      Make an Operating System which can run any code for any platform faster and more securely then the exiting OS's - If they are good they may work for a software company doing some lower level programming
      Make the ultimate game which will make them millions nay bi

    • by Raindance (680694) * <johnsonmx@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:26PM (#33278862) Homepage Journal

      PZ Myers wasn't there; he based his whole critique on gizmodo's writeup.

      Speaking as someone who was there and heard Kurzweil's full speech, I can confidently say that PZ Myers does not understand Ray Kurzweil.

      First off, a significant factual mistake: Kurzweil -clearly- never said we'd reverse engineer the brain by 2020. He argued against exactly that (his prediction was late 2020s, shading into 2030-- perhaps also unbelievable, but if you're going to critique someone, why not get the facts right?). Sure, gizmodo's writeup was entitled "Reverse-Engineering of Human Brain Likely by 2020". It'd be an understandable attribution mistake for say, an undergraduate.

      Second, Myers is critiquing Kurzweil's ontological position based on a throwaway writeup dashed off by gizmodo. (Really, Myers? And you wonder why you're a magnet for shitstorms...)

      Third, Myers' criticism is essentially that the brain is an emergent system, and we'll have to understand all the protein-protein interactions, functional attributes of proteins, etc. in order to actually model the brain.

      This third assumption is arguable, but Kurzweil wasn't actually arguing against this. All Kurzweil meant with his comment about bytes and the genome was there's an interesting information-theoretic view of how much initial data gives rise to the wonderful complexity of the brain.

      I had a lot more respect for Myers before I read this rant.

  • It would be nice.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by djlemma (1053860) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:20PM (#33277034)
    Would be nice if the summary even hinted at what the ridiculous claim actually WAS...

    Namely, that we'll be able to reverse engineer the human brain in the next 10 years.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Yeah, the article quotes some pretty funny statements.

      Sejnowski says he agrees with Kurzweil's assessment that about a million lines of code may be enough to simulate the human brain.

      You know, the program they had set up in Jurassic Park supposedly had MILLIONS of lines of code, and look how well THAT turned out.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Yeah, but then Jaimie would have to read (and copy) more than the first paragraph.

      To be fair, PZ obviously slept through the class in high school where they teach you that the first paragraph of a news article should act as an abstract.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:30PM (#33277184) Journal

      Would be nice if the summary even hinted at what the ridiculous claim actually WAS... Namely, that we'll be able to reverse engineer the human brain in the next 10 years.

      It's a little more complicated than that. You see, the article actually breaks down the logic behind that statement and points out how poor it is. Here's the initial part of Kurzweil's argument:

      Sejnowski says he agrees with Kurzweil's assessment that about a million lines of code may be enough to simulate the human brain.

      Here's how that math works, Kurzweil explains: The design of the brain is in the genome. The human genome has three billion base pairs or six billion bits, which is about 800 million bytes before compression, he says. Eliminating redundancies and applying loss-less compression, that information can be compressed into about 50 million bytes, according to Kurzweil.

      About half of that is the brain, which comes down to 25 million bytes, or a million lines of code.

      I have only taken high school biology but I know that the genome doesn't magically become the brain. It goes through a very complex process to amino acids which fold into proteins which in turn make cells that in turn make tissues that in turn comprise the human brain. To say we fully understand this transformation entirely is a complete and utter falsity as demonstrated by our novice understanding of the twisted beta amyloid protein that we think leads to Alzheimer's. How amino acids turn into which proteins I believe is largely an unsolved search problem that we don't understand (hence efforts like Folding@Home). And he claims that in ten years not only will we understand this process but we will ... reverse engineer it?

      The man is insane. I've posted about this same biologist criticizing him before [slashdot.org] and it looks like P.Z. Myers just decided to take some extra time to point out how imprudent Kurzweil's statements are becoming. Kurzweil will show you tiny pieces of the puzzle that support his wild conclusions and leave you in the dark about the full picture and pieces that directly contradict his statements. This is a dangerous and deceptive practice that -- despite my respect for Kurzweil's work in other fields -- is rapidly turning me off to him and his 'singularity.' He's becoming more Colonel Kurtz than Computer Kurzweil.

      • by jeff4747 (256583) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:44PM (#33277368)

        There's a few more major flaws.

        The proteins/cells that make up the brain are only part of the story. The protein/cell level is roughly what a newborn can do. The rest of brain development is creating and tearing down billions of interconnections between neurons. It's those interconnections that turn the brain from a pile of goo into something interesting, and we have no understanding of how that mechanism works.

        Secondly, 3 billion base pairs does not mean 6 billion bits. First, DNA is base-4, not base-2. Second, the pairs are the units of information, not 2 nucleotides that make up the pairs.

        3rd, source code isn't compressed.

        4th, there isn't much redundancy in a gene sequence. There is redundancy in that we have 2 copies of our genome, but that's already accounted for by the '3 billion base pairs' number. While there's a lot of 'junk' DNA, there isn't much (if any) redundant DNA.

        • by jonored (862908) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:08PM (#33277694)

          The "3 million base pairs are 6 million bits" isn't because each pair has two parts, it's becuase each pair has four possibilities. 3 million digits in base 4 is equivalent to 6 million digits in base 2.

          For instance, decimal 15 is "33" in base 4 and is "1111" in base 2. You could think of it as one bit for which basepair is at this point in the chain, and one bit for which orientation it's in.

        • by BitZtream (692029) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:43PM (#33279080)

          There is no such thing as 'junk DNA', I wish people would stop saying that.

          Just because we don't know what it effects doesn't make it junk DNA.

      • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:45PM (#33277400)

        it looks like P.Z. Myers just decided to take some extra time to point out how imprudent Kurzweil's statements are becoming. Kurzweil will show you tiny pieces of the puzzle that support his wild conclusions and leave you in the dark about the full picture and pieces that directly contradict his statements.

        He staked his reputation on a timeline that everyone but him knew was impossible and now he tries to find little pieces of evidence to support the idea that we are still on that timeline. As reality and his predictions diverge further from each other his claims and evidence become weaker, until the day he predicted the singularity would happen passes by and he is forced to revise his proph-... er, prediction. Even assuming his basic premise is correct (an idea which I feel there isn't enough evidence to say either way) it should be obvious by now that his time scales are way, way off, probably by at least an order of magnitude. He'd better serve himself and his causes by admitting his mistake and reevaluating his predictions.

        • by bbtom (581232) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:24PM (#33277946) Homepage Journal

          Kurzweil hasn't just staked his reputation on this barmy timeline, but his life too. I mean, seriously, the guy is popping vitamin pills like crazy thinking that if he can just extend his life a decade or so, the nerd rapture will finally happen and he'll get to be absorbed into the giant galactic Googlebrain.

          But, no, this isn't religious enthusiasm gone too far. No, this is SCIENCE. I mean, the man has graphs, so it has to be science, right?

        • by Khazunga (176423) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:45PM (#33278238)

          Moore's law, the base of his argument that technology is evolving exponentially is pretty much on schedule. We are now on the Petaflop (10^15) range, with the transistor count following the predicted exponential [readwriteweb.com].

          Cost of DNA sequencing, another of his examples, is today at 0.000008(USD) per base pair [scienceblogs.com]. Fits the curve.

          RAM cost is now at 28000kB/USD, also fitting the curve

          GDP per capita also is within schedule [www.bit.ly] (note that the scale is logarithmic), even with the wealth transfer east (which is bound to be limited in time to ten more years give or take)

          And, lastly, the core of all atacks on Kurzweil, so is life expectancy [www.bit.ly] on track.

          You may still believe these exponentials will hit some kind of ceiling somehow. That might be true. The numbers, however, support Kurzweil's theory. And predicting from the number of times Moore's law depletion was announced in the last twenty years, I'd wager my bets on Kurzweil.

      • The code is simple.

        Simulate_Brain();

        Now just find the compiler with the right set of libraries that can compile it. And yes, I am NOT just being anal. Half a million lines of code is MEANINGLESS. Quickly, how many lines do you need for a "Hello World" program? In assembly? C? Java? PHP?

        If one day someone designs a cpu with a built in Hello World function, then it would require what? 2 instructions in assembly? Meanwhile the java guy will be pounding out yet another page of code.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

          Just for reference, the GCC compiler is pushing 1.5 million lines of code. Windows XP supposedly had 40 million lines of code.

          Kurzweil is literally saying that the human brain is 2/3 as complex as a C compiler, and 1/40th the complexity of Windows XP.

          Complete lunacy.

    • by rotide (1015173) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:39PM (#33277308)
      You're looking for a level of effort above pure copy'n'paste and as such are asking for way too much. Slashdot submissions and editing have gotten so bad that the summaries are generally misleading if not entirely wrong. The summaries tend to be nothing more than the submitter taking the most polarizing sentence/paragraph from TFA and pasting it into the summary field. RTFA is no longer to glean more details for the sake of learning more or backing up your opinions in comments... RTFA is now necessary to understand just what the fuck the submitter wants us to learn. The term "summary" appears to be _entirely_ lost now, at least in the Slashdot story submission crowd.
  • But, but, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shmeck (583877) <shmeck@summercon.org> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:22PM (#33277052)
    ...he must be right! He used math, and everything! I'm a little shocked that Kurzweil equates blueprints with the functioning organ. I am not shocked, however, that the tech media latched onto this--at first blush it sounds so *reasonable.*
  • IT press gasbags (Score:5, Interesting)

    by benjfowler (239527) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:22PM (#33277054)

    Kurtzweil is just the latest in a long line. How do you think publications like Fast Company and Wired get written?

    And does anybody remember JonKatz?

  • 10 years?! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:22PM (#33277068) Homepage

    His latest claim is that we'll be able to reverse engineer the human brain within a decade

    Amateur. I could put something together to simulate the human brain in about 8 months.

    (Plus another 3 minutes at the start)

  • by mangu (126918) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:23PM (#33277088)

    FTFA: The end result is a brain that is much, much more than simply the sum of the nucleotides that encode a few thousand proteins.

    Likewise, the end result of a computer is much, much more than simply the sum of the commands that encode a CPUs instruction set.

  • Bad compsci (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:25PM (#33277118) Journal

    Sejnowski says he agrees with Kurzweil's assessment that about a million lines of code may be enough to simulate the human brain.

    Here's how that math works, Kurzweil explains: The design of the brain is in the genome. The human genome has three billion base pairs or six billion bits, which is about 800 million bytes before compression, he says. Eliminating redundancies and applying loss-less compression, that information can be compressed into about 50 million bytes, according to Kurzweil.

    About half of that is the brain, which comes down to 25 million bytes, or a million lines of code.

    Idiot. The design of the brain is encoded in the genome in the same way that the design of a 4KiB program is encoded in its load module: useful for running the program on its original hardware.

    But then you have architectural issues. That 4KiB of information does not run unless it's supported by a complex operating system, which itself is supported by complex logic in an ISA and memory managment architecture backing it up. And all that is implemented on a specific design in a specific physics model.

    Translating that program to SPARC takes work, and it comes out roughly the same size. Translating that program to a progression of chemical reactions produces something vastly different, especially since you need a new middle ware (chemical environment) running on top of different physics (chemistry).

    Translating a physical architectural design from chemistry to computer logic on top a given ISA is the same problem. You now have odd issues that are messy, and then the program running on the brain needs to be built again. That program is even more complex and less known.

  • Whaaa... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by al3k (1638719)

    About half of that is the brain, which comes down to 25 million bytes, or a million lines of code.

    I'm not even sure what to say about this statement

  • Man (Score:3, Funny)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:28PM (#33277154) Homepage

    I wish I could get a job as a futurist....think about it:

    "What do you think is going to happen in the future???"
    "Um...dogs will bring soda to you when you whistle a Cradle of Filth song?"
    "OMFG THATZ BRILLIANT. HERE R MONIES, PLZ HAS MAH BABBIES!"

  • Laughable (Score:4, Insightful)

    by brain1 (699194) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:31PM (#33277206)

    Let's see. On another recent article it was stated that the average car has several million lines of code running in it. I haven't come across a sentient Prius yet.

    And there's that pesky parallel processing the brain does. I don't think that a rack full of Nvidia Tesla cards can approach the average two year old's parallel processing capability.

    I agree, Kurzweil is smoking something and not sharing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)

      I haven't come across a sentient Prius yet.

      Of course not. No self-respecting Autobot would be caught dead disguised as a Prius.

  • by mbone (558574) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:35PM (#33277248)

    Sejnowski says he agrees with Kurzweil's assessment that about a million lines of code may be enough to simulate the human brain.

    Kurzweil explains: The design of the brain is in the genome. The human genome has three billion base pairs or six billion bits, which is about 800 million bytes before compression, he says.Eliminating redundancies and applying loss-less compression, that information can be compressed into about 50 million bytes, according to Kurzweil.

    Dude, the equations of quantum mechanics can be written on one page. General Relativity can be written on a second page. What more do you need ? Clearly, a few hundred lines of code (and a few do loops) should be enough to simulate the entire universe, brains and all.

    Glad we cleared that up. All you physicists and astronomers can go home now and work on your resumes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      Dude, accepting as you do that the equations of quantum mechanics and general relativity are precise models of the universe (they aren't, but let's leave that for now), it actually would be that simple to simulate the entire universe. The thing that's really going to kill you is the data. You have a universe full of it to simulate. Where are you going to get that kind of RAM? See also [xkcd.com].
  • by Lazy Jones (8403) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:41PM (#33277334) Homepage Journal
    Kurzweil seems to understand the basics of Algorithmic Information Theory [wikipedia.org], whether by intuition or study, I can't tell. What I can tell is that PZ Myers has problems comprehending the interaction of code and data (hint: the history of billions of cells is data) and the fact that seen from outside the field of highly specialized machines for processing of digital information, 8 bytes of code can seem to do an extremely complex piece of work to their environment, just like small proteins observed from outside their "working environment". When we model the brain successfully, we will probably not do it by simulating proteins and their environment, we will simply simulate the input/output, i.e. on a higher level than what gets PZ, who wants to plug proteins into computers, so aroused.

    To simplify it so a computer science ignorant biologist with a tendency to inane rants can possibly get it, you don't need to simulate electrons in a semi-conductive material at specific temperatures in order to build a complete working emulator for an old computer.

    • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:29PM (#33278014) Homepage Journal

      you don't need to simulate electrons in a semi-conductive material at specific temperatures in order to build a complete working emulator for an old computer.

      Maybe not, but you do need to understand the fundamental laws and rules that govern the systems of a computer. The fellow who wrote this article seems to be asserting that we actually don't know the fundamental laws and rules that govern the systems of the human brain, or, at least, Kurzweil doesn't. In other words, Kurzweil seems to oversimplify the problem by stating that, since the brain is organically grown from a base set of information, it should be trivial to emulate a brain once we can emulate that base set of information. Meyers seems to be asserting that the fundamental laws that govern the functions of the human brain appear to be far more complex and tend to derive from things other than that base set of information. The human brain appears to function under a set of laws and rules different than the set that Kurzweil assumes it does. That is the fallacy that Meyers is pointing out in Kurzweil's logic. Meyers may not understand computers very well, but he certainly does seem to have some insight on what rules and laws (biochem, protein folding, etc.) at least partially govern the human brain. Similarly, anyone writing a computer emulator needs to have the understanding of the fundamental laws and rules that govern the computer (binary logic, architectural pathways, memory addresses, etc.). Meyers goes on to say that our understanding of the fundamental laws of the human brain are incomplete at best and downright ignorant at worst. That's how he derives his argument.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hardburn (141468)

      That's not really how Kurzweil is arguing. He's looking at the genome, then saying you can build a working brain from that info alone. It may be theoretically possible, but it's so difficult that we shouldn't even bother trying. It's akin to trying to understand the behavior of a volume of a gas by looking at how just two molecules bounce off each other; it looks very straightforward, but you're actually missing some hugely complicated behavior going on.

      A prediction of my own: if the brain is ever simulated

    • by tucuxi (1146347) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:09PM (#33278638)

      you don't need to simulate electrons in a semi-conductive material at specific temperatures in order to build a complete working emulator for an old computer

      You do, if you have no idea what the higher levels are all about. Our knowledge of how the brain works (hell, even of the biochemistry of a single cell) is so poor that we cannot yet discard "lower details" if we want to get a working system. So finding upper bounds by looking at the lower level of the picture is not such a bad idea.

      Myers does not raise any objections to code or data "quantity" -- the big hurdle is that vital part of the system is outside the DNA, and we are only beginning to explore it. Read up on epigenetics [wikipedia.org].

  • by Chris Tucker (302549) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:41PM (#33277340) Homepage

    ...except, maybe, Pinky.

  • by shish (588640) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @12:49PM (#33277456) Homepage
    Scanning down the comment list, it looks like every (+2 or more) comment has read the article and is quoting from it -- what has happened to the slashdot I knew and loved?
  • by taylorius (221419) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:03PM (#33277630) Homepage

    I'm not sure what it is about his claims that are supposed to be so ludicrous. For example, a million lines of code seems at least plausible, as long as we bear in mind the following:

    1. We're not trying to mimic the brain at the protein level, rather at the broader, inter-neuron level (and whatever complex intra neuron behaviour we discover).

    2. The million lines of code don't need to encompass the capacity of the brain, just its general neural architecture and adaption rules - there will no doubt be many gigabytes (terabytes?) of working memory, which would actually store the neural connections and whatever parameters they may have.

    To be honest, the authors of this article seem to be rather too cocksure in dismissing all this. Even the apparent agreement of Terry Sejnowski (co-inventor of the boltzmann machine) doesn't give them pause. I'm not that familiar with Kurzweil's predictions, but this seems fairly reasonable to me.

    There is a google tech talk by Geoff Hinton on restricted boltzmann machines, (a sort of stochastic neural network) that's well worth a watch, for those that are interested. They are considered biologically plausible, and he seems mostly to apply them to machine vision tasks.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:03PM (#33277632)
    Ray's documentary about the Singularity [imdb.com] has been touring the national film festivals along with Ray. I saw it June. Its begins as a dull-talking heads piece about the current state of A.I. Many of the Big Name A.I. Scientists are interviewed. Then it transitions into a crime-drama story about the legal rights of A.I.s. That part was more interesting, since it had a story. The film is full of special effects to advance the story. Although I know most of the film to be factual, I suspect it will look like a scifi movie to the average audience member. I think Ray is seeking looking at broader distribution on cable television or arts theaters after the festival run.

    Ray was interesting in person during a film-makers Q&A. He reminded me of Woody Allen, but more confident and intelligent. He was graduated from M.I.T. about decade before myself. I personally believe in the Singularity, but more likely in centuries rather than decades.
  • by melchoir55 (218842) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:13PM (#33277756)

    There are currently four academic disciplines working on the reverse engineering of a human mind. Linguistics, psychology, computer science, and philosophy. You can count neurology too if you want to start talking about the *actual* brain. Several tens of thousands of individuals are directly and indirectly working on this problem. We've come a long way in the last few decades. Unfortunately, we have a pretty long way to go. For the moment we lack a model which accurately describes how mental processes work. There isn't even a consensus on how the processing is done.

    "modeling the brain" is not even really the hard part. One only needs sufficient computing power to model what they *think* is going on logically (there isn't even a consensus here). The trick is modeling the mind. We are very, very far away from that.

    A fun number to throw around is how many synaptic connections are present in the brain. Synaptic connections are widely believed to be the best indicator of overall memory storage and processing speed (to an extent). There are about 10 to the 15th (Peta I believe?) synaptic connection in a normal human brain. A significant number of these are active at any given time. In other words, the brain is performing a HUGE number of "calculations" simultaneously at all times. Modeling just the hardware is obviously not easy... modeling the software is currently not possible. I doubt it will be in the next 50 years.

    For a good read on what many cognitive scientists think is going on, though it is clearly not an accurate model but rather a best guess, go read up on "connectionism".

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @01:35PM (#33278090)

    First off, Ray Kurzweil doesn't want to die. That's a preoccupation that a lot of people have (including one of his critics, Rudy Rucker, who has written whole books hoping to find immortality in the fourth dimension), and it leads them to some pretty fantastic conjectures from time to time. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you keep the proverbial grain of salt handy. Modern chemistry and its not insignificant contributions to our vastly expanded lifespans arose from the alchemical search for immortality. Alchemy was bullshit, of course, but the incidental discoveries of alchemists on the way to their illusory elixir of life paved the way for the real science to follow and build upon after it had ejected the dross.

    And secondly, I don't think it's entirely implausible that we can eventually design hardware and software that will match and exceed the performance of the human brain. Our brains, after all, are the end product of evolution, and like pretty much every other part of our bodies, an accumulation of kludges that were just good enough to get passed to the next generation (or not bad enough not to get passed on). It's also implemented using hardware so unreliable that it wouldn't function at all if it wasn't constantly repairing itself, and even then, no matter how well you treat it, it irreparably craps out after about 75 years. And it still doesn't work all that well -- ever seen the long chain of train wrecks that is the history of human civilization? We might be able to engineer something that works a lot better. Granted, it's not going to be by deriving simulated human brains from a copy of the human genome. More likely, it will be very much unlike the way biological brains work.

    The fundamental problem, which I think smart and optimistic guys like Ray Kurzweil are particularly prone to forgetting, is that it may not be possible for a mind to understand a mind of equal complexity, i.e., humans may lack the necessary intelligence to duplicate their own intelligence. That will force us back on genetic algorithms to evolve AI, leading to an end product that will likely be just as badly undesigned as natural brains. Worse, it will do little to advance our understanding of how minds work: if we can't reverse-engineer our own brains, we probably won't be able to reverse-engineer even more sophisticated artificial minds, nor will they be able to reverse-engineer themselves. (We can hope that they could reverse-engineer us, and then explain it to us in terms we can understand, if such terms exist, but that takes us so far out on a conjectural limb that I can see Ray Kurzweil from here.)

    Anyway, there's room for bold conjectures. That doesn't mean that when Kurzweil completely fails to understand the way molecular biology works that we shouldn't call bullshit on it, but we shouldn't be entirely hostile to futurist speculation. By nature, most of it will be bullshit, but a lot of progress in unexpected areas has been made in the pursuit of mirages (alchemy leading to chemistry, astrology leading to astronomy), and explaining (or discovering) why a conjecture is bullshit is a beneficial exercise in and of itself.

  • Oh come on how. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by _KiTA_ (241027) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @02:32PM (#33278954) Homepage

    Is this a slashdot story, or someone's twitter page? At least some kind of objective summary would be nice, other than "Lul Kurzweil, here, a link, he stoopid!"

    But before I just hit preview and go, lets take a look at the article itself. Aaand, holy crap, the post is verbatim from the article.

    Kurzweil's effective claim is "There's only so much data in the DNA. The brain is about 50 million bytes. If we can reverse engineer the process used to turn those 50 million bytes into a brain, we can then reverse engineer the brain."

    Seems logical - and even though the endpoint might not be "brain on a chip" it might be "oh, there's a flaw in the DNA here that's causing the hypothalamus to be malformed, lets start checking for that and maybe fixing it in the womb." There are many, many scientists that are trying to puzzle out this "source code" for that very reason. It's a perfectly valid point of study.

    Kurzweil is a futurist. His scientific area of study is not "You should do X Y and Z to get to points A B and C." His area of study is "Scientists are working on X, which may lead someday to Z, and might bring us technology C." There's an important difference there, which I always find amusing when scientists and the anti-singulatarians start hooting, "he forgot Y, A and B!"

    His math all points to Technology C and beyond being really amazing [wikipedia.org], but that's besides the point. His area of study is not "every technology field ever", but rather "this is where things are trending". People mix the two up, sometimes intentionally, and hoot hoot hoot, Y A B.

    Anyway. Back to the article. The rebuttal in the article is "We cannot derive the brain from the protein sequences underlying it; the sequences are insufficient, as well, because the nature of their expression is dependent on the environment and the history of a few hundred billion cells, each plugging along interdependently."

    In other words, It's too complex to do. It's maaagiiic. (Feel free to insert hand wiggling here.)

    He forgot Y, A and B!

    See, the brain might have a source code, one that's remarkably small and turns into something really complex, but that doesn't mean anything cause... maaaagic. And you can't understand magic, right? Everyone knows that something that's so complex that it seems impossible to understand [wikipedia.org] should never be attempted. Worthless endeavor. Everyone knows that. Right? ... Maagggiiiiccc~~~

    The fact of the matter is, DNA is source code. For a system we don't fully understand, one that's remarkably complex, but ultimately, DNA, even our DNA, is just data. We can understand, change, manipulate, and create data.

    To treat it all as magic -- as something that we will just never be able to understand -- is to do a disservice to centuries of scientists, of the past and the future.

  • by careysub (976506) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:15PM (#33279544)

    A model of the human brain would need to model 10^10 neurons, each connected (not at random) to some 10,000 other neurons to produce a net of 10^14 synapses.

    To understand the challenge of modelling a system this vast and complex, consider the state of research on the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans (a tiny worm). After many years of work its nervous system has been (almost) exactly mapped: it contains 302 neurons, 6393 chemical synapses, 890 gap junctions, and 1410 neuromuscular junctions. Imagine now the difficulty of reaching this level of precision in a system 10^7 times larger. Unlike the genome, we have no clues about how to automate mapping of an intact brain.

    But the good news is that with this level of neuro-mapping precision we can now completely simulate the neural network ("brain") of a tiny worm, right? Right?

    Wrong. Not by a long shot. We are still struggling with characterizing the behavior of this primitive neural net, and making efforts at simulating some aspects of that behavior. The 302 neuron "brain" is far beyond our abilities to simulate at present.

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