South African scientist Henry Markram is developing what he hopes will be ‘the world’s first fully conscious, artificial human brain,’ a Times Live article reported. Not only could the technology lead to extremely accurate diagnosis and efficient, effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other brain dysfunctions, it could also give scientists and doctors a window into treatments for traumatic brain injuries.
The Times Live article reported that Markram’s research has developed beyond any other comparable research in the U.S. and the U.K. In addition to the development of potential medical benefits, Markram’s computer-build model of the human brain could also lead to the discovery of the origins of consciousness and the inner workings of intelligence. Markram told the Times, ‘We want to understand how consciousness emerges. It comes out of the brain, it doesn’t come from the sky, it doesn’t come from some magical place.’
Markram’s work on the Blue Brain Project began three years ago. The group has managed to create a pinpoint-sized piece of a rat’s brain, and they hope to use similar computerized methods to build an entire human brainï‚¾including consciousness and personalityï‚¾in only eight years.
While a fully functional computer-built model of a living, conscious human brain holds the potential to revolutionize science’s understanding of the workings of the mysterious organ, opponents of Markram’s work worry that his success will create an ethical nightmare. The idea of an artificially produced brain connected to a computer without a human body is somewhat startling.
Markram admitted that difficulties might arise. He said, ‘If it becomes conscious, perhaps it would experience pain. That would raise a lot of philosophical issues.’ He added that the brain his team creates might end up being smarter than a human brain. The implications of an artificial intelligence the becomes smarter than the humans who created it have been dealt with in a wide range of science fiction stories, from leisurely utopias to horrific warlike robotic futures.
Time will tell how computers and the human brain will interact in the future. Who knows? If the artificial brain delivers on all the speculations of Markram and his team, brain disorders and permanent brain damage from traumatic brain injuries could be a thing of the past.
Ferreira, Anton. (January 17, 2010) ‘Blue Brain Project can save the planet.’ Retrieved on January 17, 2010 from the Times Live Web site:http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/article264325.ece