The Brain Is Not Computable

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A leading neuroscientist says Kurzweil’s Singularity isn’t going to happen. Instead, humans will assimilate machines.

Miguel Nicolelis, a top neuroscientist at Duke University, says computers will never replicate the human brain and that the technological Singularity is “a bunch of hot air.”

“The brain is not computable and no engineering can reproduce it,” says Nicolelis, author of several pioneering papers on brain-machine interfaces.

The Singularity, of course, is that moment when a computer super-intelligence emerges and changes the world in ways beyond our comprehension.

Among the idea’s promoters are futurist Ray Kurzweil, recently hired on at Google as a director of engineering, who has been predicting that not only will machine intelligence exceed our own, but people will be able to download their thoughts and memories into computers (see “Ray Kurzweil Plans to Create a Mind at Google—and Have It Serve You”).

Nicolelis calls that idea sheer bunk. “Downloads will never happen,” he said during remarks made at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Sunday. “There are a lot of people selling the idea that you can mimic the brain with a computer.”

The debate over whether the brain is a kind of computer has been running for decades. Many scientists think it’s possible, in theory, for a computer to equal the brain given sufficient computer power and an understanding of how the brain works.

Kurzweil delves into the idea of “reverse-engineering” the brain in his latest book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed, in which he says even though the brain may be immensely complex, “the fact that it contains many billions of cells and trillions of connections does not necessarily make its primary method complex.”

But Nicolelis is in a camp that thinks that human consciousness (and if you believe in it, the soul) simply can’t be replicated in silicon. That’s because its most important features are the result of unpredictable, nonlinear interactions among billions of cells, Nicolelis says.

“You can’t predict whether the stock market will go up or down because you can’t compute it,” he says. “You could have all the computer chips ever in the world and you won’t create a consciousness.”

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source: MIT Technnology Review / Antonio Regalado

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