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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Artificial intelligence: Making the whole universe intelligent?

Ray Kurzweil's current artificial intelligence prognostication is a yet grander dream than the conscious computer (which was supposed to be here already, but don't let that detain us): The intelligent universe. In his forward to James Gardner's book of that name, he says,
Where is all this headed? It is leading inexorably to the intelligent universe that Jim Gardner envisions. Consider the following: As with all of the other manifestations of information technology, we are also making exponential gains in reverse-engineering the human brain. The spatial resolution in 3D volume of in-vivo brain scanning is doubling each year, and the latest generation of scanners is capable of imaging individual interneuronal connections and seeing them interact in real time. For the first time, we can see the brain create our thoughts, and also see our thoughts create our brain (that is, we create new spines and synapses as we learn). The amount of data we are gathering about the brain is doubling each year, and we are showing that we can turn this data into working models and simulations.

The idea is to meld brains and computers to create super brains, and tomorrow the universe. In my humble opinion, it would be well to address some issues in basic nervous system physiology like this one and this one before moving on to take over the universe, as Kurzweil and Gardner suggest.

The whole introduction is worth a read, if a little spacey. Kurzweil has some interesting things to say about the search for extra-terrestrial life (he doesn't think the ETs are really out there):
My own conclusion is that they don’t exist. If it seems unlikely that we would be in the lead in the universe, here on the third planet of a humble star in an otherwise undistinguished galaxy, it’s no more perplexing than the existence of our universe with its ever so precisely tuned formulas to allow life to evolve in the first place

Perplexing? No, Ray, it's just a very strong signal, that's all. At any rate, you can tell that the search for ET has lost its oomph! when people like Ray Kurzweil express skepticism.
Check out The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary (Harper 2007).

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