Here is a documentary made by Noah Hutton about EPFL’s Blue Brain Project:
The Blue Brain project is an immense undertaking to simulate the neuronal activity within an entire human brain. The project is also looking at the brains of smaller mammals along the way, such as mice and cats.
I’m very excited about this project. Even if it doesn’t yield fruitful ‘simulated’ behaviour in the first instance, I think that it will be invaluable as a resource for other projects. I feel it’s a bit like a connectome project. The map will be useful, even though it still won’t tell us the best way to get from A to B.
The worry I have about systems like this is the absence of interaction with a real environment. I think a brain simulation would need a lot of information from an environment which is similar to that in humans for it to even have a chance at simulating ‘human like’ patterns of behaviour. Additionally, a large proportion of the brain is dedicated to all the regulatory biology of the human body, and processing of sensory input information. What happens to all these inputs, for example the hormone regulation control and the immune system? Are they just to be left open circuit?
The documentary talked about how the plan was to use the simulation to control a virtual mouse or rat body in an artificial environment. In addition to the obvious motor control and sensory inputs, what other parts of the rodent biology will have to go into this simulation?
I guess the question that arises is: Will Blue Brain be given a Blue Body? And what kind of body would be suitable? As far as the senses go, is it easier just to interface with the real world rather than try and simulate an entirely virtual world with exquisitely controlled feedback just to provide the correct inputs for all the I/O systems? In other words, perhaps the simulated brain should be built into a cybernetic organism.
Such an organism would have a completely different ‘biology’ (in fact it wouldn’t be biological at all, but the brain would still need to control complex systems in such an entity) and therefore the brain simulation would have to be grossly hacked to make it compatible. However, this is both more ethical and somewhat easier than, say, cloning an organism without a brain and developing an entire Brain/Body-Computer-Interface just so it can be controlled by the simulation.
The other main thought I have on this is that to simulate a real brain of any kind the structure would have to change in response to new inputs (i.e. learn and form new memories by growing new connections). I wonder if this capability could be built into the simulation. I imagine it must be, otherwise you’d just end up with a purely reactive system, something more akin to a lizard brain with very little adaptive neocortical component.
I wonder how an organism would function if a ‘snapshot’ of it’s brain (including a neocortical component) was run as a simulation, but it was not able to grow any new connections. How would the organism behave? Would it work at all? Is this similar to any existing disabling conditions in humans? Presumably it would not be able to learn, or form new memories.
Any thoughts appreciated.