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Science Technology

Artificial Synapse Created For Synthetic Brain 129

Zothecula writes "It's probably still going to be a while before autonomous, self-aware androids are wandering amongst us. That scenario has come a little closer to reality, however, with researchers from the University of Southern California having created a functioning synapse circuit using carbon nanotubes. An artificial version of the connections that allow electrical impulses to pass between neurons in our brains, the circuit could someday be one component of a synthetic brain."
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Artificial Synapse Created For Synthetic Brain

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  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2011 @12:54AM (#35949966)

    It's probably still going to be a while before autonomous, self-aware androids are wandering amongst us.

    Sure, that's what they'd like us to believe, anyway...

    (crap - forgot to post this anonymously!)

  • nevermind fixing brain trauma, I want a brain expansion just to upgrade my intelligence and functionality. Where is my exobrain? I don't want to wait another 30 years.
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      • oh, detachable brainz0rz. well that's ok.

        on a slightly more serious note (though still clearly fantasy) i expect connectivity, routing, and cooling to be an issue preventing integration on a scale allowing for androids walking about with us. which leads to the first androids "having the big head" or "being hot-headed". ba-da-bam. tsss! I'm here all the week. Try the chicken.

  • I dread to think of all the unintended consequences resulting from this nonsense. As the old saying goes, "just because something CAN be done, doesn't mean it SHOULD be done." This is definitely not a smart thing to do.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      God, Schmod! I want my monkey-man!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I dread to think of all the unintended consequences resulting from this nonsense.

      So instead you skipped right to the most absurd... borg. Skipped right over accidental contamination of workers and the environment, cancer, poisoning... took for granted that AI will be invented right around the corner... assumed sentient androids hellbent on the destruction of the human race was next.

      Amazing how many luddites and technophobes are cruising around on slashdot. I'm assuming they're trying to get to Amish slashdot, using stone and straw computer boxes, because, you know, skynet.

    • Thank heavens your kind are in the minority. All you ever see is the negative. You would do well in the Vatican...

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <mark@a@craig.gmail@com> on Wednesday April 27, 2011 @01:18AM (#35950096)

    If these so-called synapses can't spontaneously self-assemble and inter-connect, they still have a LOT of work to do to achieve real AI. A more likely practical use for this was mentioned in another article about it: repairing damaged tissue in human brains (or perhaps deliberately "re-wire" portions to alter function).

    • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2011 @03:58AM (#35950572) Homepage Journal

      For that it would need to be able to interface with plain old mark one grey matter, and there's nothing (wishes side) in the article to suggest that it can.

      Until it can do that, why is this any better than simply emulating the connections with software?

      • You being the enemy of a friend, groupthink demands that I dismiss anything you say as heresy, but-but-but... does not compute! I am Nomad, I am perfect....

    • AI is not having anything to do with brain mimetism. You are confusing things here. The Watson computer playing Jeopardy is not a brain-like device and is somewhat near what can be called AI.
      • No only that, why would mimicking a human brain be a good option for an AI? Unless I'm mistaken, transistors fire a lot faster than neurons do. This would appear to be a downgrade for an AI.

  • But can it... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrQuacker ( 1938262 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2011 @01:18AM (#35950102)
    FTA:In other words, it can take in the type of impulses generated by real neurons, and send them on in a form that could be further processed by other neurons

    But does this mean that they have discovered a way to "plug in" a computer to a brain? Can these be used as an adapter to "talk" with neurons?

    • Yes yes, I am jumping at the same thing :) I want 'the matrix' style 'quick learning'.. NOW NOW NOW :)

    • And that quote makes me wonder about a synthetic bridge over nerve damage. Get the details right, and you have a cure for paralysis. Wow . . .
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm more shocked why they would detract from the coolness of an analog transistor with some nonsense about it's later uses. This is really a very cool thing with lots of real-world applications TODAY (phased arrays come to mind offhand - which themselves have enormous potential in medicine, materials sciences and many other fields). Hyping up some bogus hypothesis of where it will go is so typical of these stoner journalists - get a real job!

    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      There are already plenty of existing ways to plug computers to brains. They have already been connecting animals to computers and having them play games, control robotic arms whether nearby or far far away.

      The problem is doing that safely without killing too many neurons and having other long-term issues (e.g. infection). Brains are about as soft as tofu, and actually move about a bit within the skull. It is tricky to keep stuff attached to precise parts of a brain without causing severe brain damage when t
    • It's a nice feat but there is still a long way to go before this thing matches what a real synapse do.
    • "But does this mean that they have discovered a way to "plug in" a computer to a brain?"

      No, well, at least not quite. To do so would require them to take a signal directly the neurons in your brain. Currently, the only way to do that at this scale is to cut open your skull and stick a whole lot of tiny electrodes in there.
      What they have done is make a hardware implementation of an artificial neural network. These have been widely simulated in software, and loads of other people have done similar things. The thing that makes this project stand out is the scale - those things are tiny!

  • AI isn't far off (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 )
    AI just needs to solve video cameras and laser range finders into a 3d representation. Once AI knows what is in its environment, robots can do all sorts of tasks and even understand natural language as a programming language. You can even make an AI which appears self aware by giving it desires to do different tasks, but that is kinda wreckless in my opinion. This AI isn't really that far off in the future. I know I'll be developing it when we got the software for turning environments into 3d levels. I
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ...The AI you're speaking of has a distinct lack of the I part. We can fake things along quite nicely, sure, but we're still ages away from true artificial intelligence. Slapping some cameras in front of a giant if/then/else statement ain't it.

      • by Troed ( 102527 )

        ... your post has a distinct lack of the I part. You can fake things along quite nicely, sure, but you're still ages away from true artificial intelligence. Slapping some words up on a giant screen ain't it.

        (that is: We consider things to be magic^H^H^H^H^Hintelligent as long as we don't understand how they work. As soon as we do, we shift the threshold for what's magic^H^H^H^H^Hintelligence to what we don't, yet, understand)

    • Deriving 3-d representations of the environment is mostly solved - what's needed is a way to recognize objects in the environment in an abstract fashion. There are techniques for recognizing, e.g., a specific box (one previously seen) in a complex scene, determining its 3-d position stereoscopically (no laser range finding needed), and interacting with the object robotically. What's needed is a way to classify unknown objects by abstract class, e.g., recognizing that there is a box in a scene, even though

    • You can even make an AI which appears self aware by giving it desires to do different tasks, but that is kinda wreckless in my opinion.

      I prefer my AI's wreckless. If they create wrecks the autonomous vehicle projects should never go AI.

    • robots can do all sorts of tasks and even understand natural language as a programming language

      Not on their own [wikipedia.org] - we'll have to endow the neurons with prior knowledge about how human language works. (The circuits for human language is ingrained into the brain at birth by our DNA; it is only by using the assumptions about language that we are born with that we are able to learn it within 2-3 years. A clump of neurons without these assumptions would find it extremely difficult to learn human language, if not impossible.)

      But, if we know enough about language to give robots the necessary prior knowledge

      • by Troed ( 102527 )

        The circuits for human language is ingrained into the brain at birth by our DNA

        I'd love to read more about that.

      • "The circuits for human language is ingrained into the brain at birth by our DNA"

        I would disagree and say it's more the function of mirror neurons versus any specific 'language only' neurons. Brain damage due to stroke or brain tumors show that the language centers of the brain can actually move around, suggesting that where the language centers are currently is not inherent to its function.
    • You're simultaneously overestimating and underestimating the state of computer vision. It's really kind of cute. It's actually very easy to make a 3D model of the world from sensor data now using a variety of simple, fast methods. The difficult part is perceiving what this data IS!

      As a researcher in AI and robotics, I can assure you that we're a very, very long way off from having artificial intelligence which is even close to functioning autonomously in a human environment. I'd put the level of understandi

      • What sort of sensors do autonomous cars require that would cost $1,500,000? That seems like a far fetched number considering these days you get phones with several camera's, gyroscopes, compasses and GPS for only a few hundred dollars. What else do the cars need?

        • I'm exaggerating only slightly, there should be one less zero there. Sensors for robotics cost an absurd amount of money. Velodyne lidars, for instance, cost $30,000 each. Infrared range cameras cost between 5 and 10 thousand dollars. Typical high speed stereoscopic navigational cameras typically cost about $3,000 each. 45 degree laser range finders typically cost a few thousand dollars as well. The computer we put on board the robot for the grand challenge cost $11,000, and so on and so on.
    • I know I'll be developing it when we got the software for turning environments into 3d levels. Imagine the Google cars driving down streets and instead of just taking picture, they're databasing the world for some sort of awesome MMORPG Cannonball run across continents. Imagine taking a video camera into the city and turning it into a big quake level.

      It's easy to imagine when it's already being done: http://tech.slashdot.org/story/11/01/24/1710210/Kinect-Hack-Builds-3D-Maps-of-the-Real-World [slashdot.org]

      Like Gibson said, "The future is already here --it's just not very evenly distributed."

  • All we need is about a quadrillion of them for a brain.

    Can they get back to us with a time & cost estimate?

    • All we need is about a quadrillion of them for a brain.

      Maybe if we only used half or may be a third of that?

      The first AI capable of acting as a CEO is still an achievement.

      • There's already an investment firm in New York run by a program (I think the program was called Stella? Can't find a source now, I think it was either on Wired or CNN).

    • All we need is about a quadrillion of them for a brain.

      Who wants to make brains out of these? I'm guessing not the researchers, since we can already make brains the natural way, and there's little advantage that I could see to making one synthetically.

    • 5 to 10 years, as always.

  • "Although there are a multitude of variations in synapses, we have modeled a typical cortical synapse. Action potentials, the signals from other neurons that arrive at the synapses are about a millisecond in duration and about 100 mV in amplitude. Under certain conditions, the synapse responds with an output potential of around 5-10 mV that lasts around 10 ms. Thus the synapse slows and spreads the effect of the action potential, synchronizing its effect with other action potentials, since not all action p
    • "Although [we have an incomplete brain model description]."

      I think the same thing could be achieved with just an RC filter. If I'm following this correctly, the difference here is a "demonstrated variation in synaptic strength, a key neural mechanism associated with memory and learning." Things will really start to get interesting when something like this circuit can be made that is also capable of amplification. That would be a complete artificial neuron.

      Perhaps, but the model would still be wrong -- They're still fundamentally doing it wrong.

      Brain waves form magnetic eddy currents which induce currents in near-by neurons that are NOT EVEN CONNECTED to each other.

      This is where almost all AI research gets the brain wrong... The neuron connections are only part of the brain -- Actual thought is carried along the connections as well as in neurons that are physically close to each other (and to a lesser degree the neurons they are attached to).

      There are

  • From TFA:

    "This is a necessary first step in the process," said Parker. "We wanted to answer the question: Can you build a circuit that would act like a neuron? The next step is even more complex. How can we build structures out of these circuits that mimic the neuron, and eventually the function of the brain, which has 100 billion neurons and 10,000 synapses?"

    Uhhh... That number of synapses is off by about 10 orders of magnitude. I assume the number of synapses was meant to be a "per neuron" number, but that's a pretty glaring thing to leave out of that sentence. :-/

    • by JTsyo ( 1338447 )
      Also a study has shown that neurons also have a "wireless mode" in which information is passed via a electric field. I'll try to find the link.
      • Yeah, I remember this coming up before. A poster in that thread mentioned an instance where algorithmic circuit optimization produced a design that utilised the magnetic field generated by its components in its operation. Optimising neural networks using such techniques may yeild similar results (field strength notwithstanding).
  • 23 years since Penrose pointed out that the Strong AI proponents were wearing no clothes and still we're getting articles about their latest catwalk
    • I didn't find the arguments in that book very convincing at all.

      • The argument is pretty simple. Every computer is a Turing machine. All Turing machines are essentially alike. Building faster computers is not going to bring about Strong AI.

        If you think your brain is a Turing machine fine, I don't think mine is.

        Strong AI needs something we haven't discovered yet, that something will probably explain our sense of consciousness too. It is probably some aspect of Physics that we don't understand yet. Penrose speculates about this for which he has been ridiculed but his
        • by treeves ( 963993 )

          "his basic argument that we are not Turing machines is sound"

          Really? What is the argument? It needs to be more than just the assertion "I don't think my brain is a Turing machine."
          I'd like to believe it is not, but I don't have an argument that it is not.

        • by urusan ( 1755332 )

          Here's an argument in favor of the brain being a Turing machine (or lower class of machine):
          1. Any system that is not a Turing machine or emulatable on a Turing machine will be capable of hypercomputation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypercomputation [wikipedia.org] and will therefore be capable of being fashioned into a hypercomputer.
          2. A hypercomputer can solve undecidable problems such as the halting problem and almost certainly can solve any decidable problem in a tractable timeframe.
          3. Despite millennia of observation

          • How do you justify :

            1. Any system that is not a Turing machine or emulatable on a Turing machine will be capable of hypercomputation?

            That's a ridiculous statement therefore your argument is nonsense.

            Certainly a system capable of hypercomputation would not be emulatable on a Turing machine (by definition if I understand the idea - I've only skimmed your link) but it doesn't mean that any system that is not a Turing machine is going to be capable of hypercomputation.
            • by urusan ( 1755332 )

              It's true that not every system that is not a Turing machine is capable of hypercomputation, because lower classes of machine exist...as do "better" machines that end up falling into the same class as Turing machines (which includes things like present day quantum computers). However, these machines are all equivalent to a Turing machine due to the Church-Turing thesis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church-turing_thesis [wikipedia.org] (The "better" machines are just faster.) Therefore they are all capable of being run on c

              • I'm perfectly willing to admit that if we do not have free will then the brain is a Turing machine.

                I happen to believe in free will though, in fact I think it takes an amazing self deception to pretend that you don't believe in free will, although as I stated before, if indeed there is no free will then we are both simply arguing because we have no choice in the matter.

                There is no room in the laws of Physics as formulated at the moment for free will. I think therefore there is something missing, that
                • by urusan ( 1755332 )

                  I don't believe in free will the same way you do. I do have a useful conception of free will, but it's not the same as yours.

                  The basic problem with your argument is that you are taking free will on faith. This is fine if you're willing to accept other things on faith, but you don't seem to be that kind of person.

                  Let's assume free will exists and that we can rationally analyze it (that is, it is a system). How could free will work?

                  Let's say that after years of study we have put together a scientific theory o

                  • and therefore not understandable by science, so it must be spiritual or something along those lines

                    I know when someone says 'trust me' that it invariably means they are a snake oil salesman ( or an omega 3 fish Birds Eye oil salesman) but trust me I'm no spiritualist.

                    You however say that you do not believe in Free Will. I think that that is a truly fundamentalist stance and I would say that if Ocham was still alive, your idea that everything was set in stone would not pass his test, simply because hi
                    • by urusan ( 1755332 )

                      You are drunk and it shows. It's probably a good idea to sleep it off and resume when you're sober.

                      I'd like to continue here on Slashdot as long as we can, but when the article gets archived I'll contact you at that address if we're still arguing. Don't worry about hurrying.

                      I'd like to point out here that you haven't really attempted to address my main argument about free will. If we can understand true free will then it is not really "free". Therefore it either must not exist or it must be a non-understand

                    • I'm going to sidestep your point about meaning because I think it falls into a related but separate area from the initial discussion.

                      To reiterate my main argument, I believe that I have Free Will and that therefore I am not a Turing machine. Since all computers are Turing machines, regardless of parallel computing and so on, the Strong AI project of big computer plus clever software, is never going to emulate any real intelligence.

                      You deny that there is any Free Will in the universe, or at least rede
                    • by urusan ( 1755332 )

                      I already handled your argument previously. The potential systems you propose are stochastic.

                      The problem is that such free will isn't really free. It is unpredictable, but in a merely random way. These particle decay-like events are essentially truly random dice rolls. It would be as though your life decisions were made by die rolls (well, more accurately die rolls filtered through layers of deterministic systems and possibly other stochastic systems, as there are clearly deterministic elements to our world

                    • You ask me whether the process I have in mind that might explain Free Will is either stochastic or deterministic, but It wouldn't be Free Will if it was either of those.

                      I'm not proposing a stochastic process, I'm proposing a way in which an unknown process, outside of the current Laws of Physics could in theory interact with the world without violating those Laws.

                      The example I gave was just that an example. I suggested that by influencing events that we currently think of as essentially random, a new
                    • by urusan ( 1755332 )

                      I misunderstood your argument earlier. You're right that your proposed system is not necessarily stochastic, as you were using that as an interface between your free will and the physical world rather than proposing it was free will itself.

                      However, what I said earlier still stands. The idea you propose in this post is non-systematic (and if not, it must be deterministic or stochastic).

                      The main problem is the 'choice is made here' marker you mention. Planting that flag there and leaving it there is just givi

        • I don't see any reason to believe my brain isn't a Turing machine. Why do you think yours is not?

          • Guess I believe in Free Will and you don't.

            If you're right then I have no choice but to be wrong anyway.

            If I'm right, you are just plain wrong with no excuses.
  • Its not like adrenaline will make the nano tubes toss a petri dish off of there siblings.

    We cant weaponize it just yet :)
  • Don't really know how it works, but we can brute force a replica with a beowulf of these.

  • by MMC Monster ( 602931 ) on Wednesday April 27, 2011 @06:22AM (#35951086)

    Just because biological brains have synapses, do computer brains need them as well?

    Serious question. I don't know where AI is or where it's taking us.

    This is more useful to study human neurology.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 27, 2011 @06:51AM (#35951174)

      ust because biological brains have synapses, do computer brains need them as well?

      Serious question. I don't know where AI is or where it's taking us.

      The answer to the question is simply: "nobody knows". Is the role of the synapse simply to connect one cell to another, like a piece of wire in a circuit, or does it have some deeper functional role? Its behaviour is certainly far more complex than the OP suggests. My money is on the current paradigm (the brain as a computer) being about as completely and utterly wrong as the previous paradigm (the brain as a clock-work mechanical machine) was.

    • Some of the most useful achievements come from science mimicking nature.

    • No, current research in AI doesn't try to emulate the brain, it even doesn't study it. AI study knowledge, knowledge organization, logic and so on. Not biological brains and synapses.
    • There are a lot of boxes that are hard for people to think outside of. For example, while this article was scant on technical details, I'll bet money that their "synapse" uses orders of magnitude more power than a biological synapse and that its accuracy/reliability is a great deal higher (not a desirable feature) and is not affected by neighboring artificial synapses.

      Part of what makes the brain awesome is the low amount of power it uses. The "noise" in the brain is still a bit mysterious but also seems

    • Well, the brain is a massively parallel computer, so the only way such a massive parallel computer can be done is by imitating its structure.

  • I literally almost drooled upon reading that.

  • Comment removed based on user account deletion
  • One hypothesis for A.I. or Androis is they dont have to copy human physical brains exactly. I recall some aeronautical pioneers tried to imitate birds very closely.
  • Its a start, how long till Asimov's Positronic Brain..........is US Robots's funding this?

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun