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On The Road To Artificial Intelligence

By James Donahue

It may have been about four or five years ago when we ran across a report by three researchers at the IBM Almaden Research Lab and the University of Nevada that they had used a super computer to simulate ten seconds of the thought patterns of half of a brain of a mouse.

In a published paper, researchers James Frye, Rajagopal Ananthanarayanan and Dharmendra S. Modha told how they ran the simulation on a BlueGene L. supercomputer that used 4,096 processors, each of them containing 256 megabites of memory. In the experiment, they said the created half of the brain of a virtual mouse that had 8,000 neurons with up to 6,300 synapses.

The simulation was so complex that it only lasted for ten seconds and was run at a speed ten times slower than a mouse brain operates in real life. What was achieved was the equivalent of one second in time in the brain of a mouse.

The research has continued since then. Now a new team at the University of Pittsburgh has successfully created an artificial rat brain that was successfully turned on for 12 seconds of short term memory.

Researchers Ashwin Vishwanathan, Guo-Oiang Bi and Henry C. Zeringue say they created an artificial microbrain, derived from 40 to 60 neurons of rat brain cells and “nurtured it into existence” long enough to study neural networks. The team says it is attempting to study neural networks and learn how the brain transmits electrical signals and stores data.

To accomplish this the University of Pittsburgh team attached a layer of proteins to a silicon disk, added brain cells from embryonic rats that attached themselves to the proteins and grew to connect with one another.

Research into the computerized similarities of the electronics of the human brain has been moving ahead through groups like the Blue Brain Project. The driving force behind all of this research appears to be thinkers like futurist Ray Kurzweil, whose 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines, predicted that computers will one day prove superior to the best human minds. The rapid increase and volume of information that can now be handled by even the home operated computers has already proven Kurzweil’s 1999 prediction to be quite correct.

Kurzweil now is predicting that it will soon be possible to use computers to simulate the workings of the human brain and use artificial intelligence in machines to explore the universe, construct human clones and perhaps move the memories of ourselves into such machines.

Indeed, the findings of the Pittsburgh researchers while experimenting with tiny particles of a rat’s brain growing on some protein inside a petri-dish revealed something unexpected. When the team stimulated the neurons with electricity, the pulse circulated the microbrain for 12 full seconds, something that was not expected.

The science team believes that the 12-seconds of activity amounted to a form of artificial short term memory. They say the neurons were relaying the signal in sequence and mimicking the activity caused by the electrical charge, long after the power was gone.

They excitedly note that this appears to be “a big deal for a tiny brain grown in a dish.”