The attempt to replicate the functioning of the mind by simulating the mechanisms of the brain on a computer still has obvious limitations. Which will not be able to be filled soon

MIT Technology Review Italy

Two years ago, a team from the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, United States, mapped the 3D structure of all neurons in a one-cubic-millimeter sample of a mouse brain – they counted more than 100,000 ( one millionth of humans) as well as more than a billion connections between them.

They recorded the corresponding information on the computers, including the shape and configuration of each neuron and the different connections, which required two petabytes of storage space, collecting 100 million images of 25,000 extremely thin sections of the tiny sample.

Extracting and archiving data, however, isn’t the only challenge. For a computer to replicate how the brain works, it would have to access all stored information in a very short amount of time: the information would have to be stored in its random access memory (RAM). But if we tried to store the amount of data researchers collected in a computer’s RAM, it would occupy 12.5 times the capacity of the largest single-memory computer. (a computer based on memory, rather than computing) never built.

A simple rule of thumb for storing information is to make sure you have enough space to hold all the information that needs to be transferred before you begin. If not, it is necessary to establish exactly the order of importance of the information and their internal organization, which is far from simple in the case of brain data.

In the absence of this data, the space may run out before the transfer is complete, presumably damaging the functioning of the information string. Additionally, all data should be stored in at least two (if not three) copies, to prevent the dire consequences of a potential loss.

Another problem is thatto fully replicate the 3D structure of the neuronal network in the tiny piece of mouse brain, a subdivision into 25,000 thin sections of tissue had to be made because the information in the brain is stored in minute detail in the physical structure of the connections between neurons. It is a highly unlikely undertaking to divide the entire volume of the brain, approximately 1.26 million cubic millimeters, with such precision that it can then be correctly “reassembled”.

Another factor that plays an important role is time. By the age of 20, our brains lose 85,000 neurons per day. A kind of collective suicide, but which does not put our thinking skills at risk as most of them are neurons that are not involved in any phase of information processing.

Furthermore, we have nearly 100 billion neurons by the age of 20, and with such a dropout rate, we have simply lost 2-3 percent of our neurons by the age of 80. But the question that arises is what would be the right age to scan and archive data? Is it more advantageous to “photograph” an 80-year-old mind or a 20-year-old one?

There are pros and cons. A young mind would lack many memories and experiences, but a transfer to a computer in old age would run the risk of storing a mind that doesn’t “work” at its best. Even if we admit to solving these problems, we would still be faced with a great unknown: how does it work?

After the question “what” (what information is there?) And the question “when” (when would be the right time to transfer it?), The most difficult question is “how”. In reality, however, some things are known. Neurons communicate with each other either directly or via exchange surfaces called synapses – electrical signals that are converted into chemical signals to activate or deactivate the next neuron.

To know what types of connections apply between two neurons, molecular techniques and genetic testing must be applied. This once again means fixing and cutting the fabric into thin slices, often killing it. But this way of proceeding is not necessarily compatible with the cut necessary to reconstruct the 3D structure.

Understanding how neurons communicate is an extra layer of information, which means that much more memory is needed than the untold amount previously anticipated. Therefore the ability to upload information contained in brains to computers is absolutely remote and could be forever out of reach.

But even if all the difficulties were solved and the brain could literally be “copied” into a computer, explains in an article in “The Conversation” Guillaume Thierry, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Bangor University, the transferred mental image would no longer be alive than the host machine. This is because living things like humans and animals exist because they are alive.

“The claim may seem trivial,” says Thierry, “but it isn’t. The mind is tied to a body that feeds on physical sensations: changes in heart rate, breathing and sweating, which in turn can be felt and contribute to the inner experience. How would a computer work without a body?

The brain seamlessly and constantly integrates signals from all senses to produce internal representations, makes predictions about these representations, and ultimately creates conscious awareness in a way that is still a total mystery to us. Without interaction with the world, however subtle and unconscious, how could the mind function even for a minute? And how could it evolve and change? If the mind, artificial or not, has no input or output, then it is lifeless, just like a dead brain.

“One could argue”, continues Thierry, “that the human mind can be transferred into a sophisticated robot equipped with a series of sensors capable of seeing, hearing, touching and even smelling and tasting the world and that this robot would be able to act, move and speak “.

But even then, it is theoretically and practically impossible for the required sensors and motor systems to provide sensations and produce identical or even comparable actions to those provided and produced by the biological body. And how to connect artificial sensors to the digital copy of the living mind? And the danger of hacking? Or the hardware failure? Androids still dream of electric sheep.

Image: Pixabay, Tumisu


The post Knowledge is flavor, that’s why AI can’t work like the mind first appeared on Technology Review Italia.

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