Brain Building – The Key to Ending Mental Illness or The Beginning of the Robot Takeover?

So as usual, I am not sure what to make of an intriguing article, therefore I am sharing it with you (from the BBC Future “Will we ever” series): Will we ever… simulate the human brain?. For those who may not have the time to make the jump to the article it is basically this: the European Commission has granted One Billion Euros to the Human Brain Project (an aside: One Billion is always capitalized when paired with a major currency – it’s a rule I just made up. I call it the Caraballo Currency Capitalization Convention). As the “Human Brain Project” name implies, it aims to build a computer-based “simulated” human brain within 10 years.

digi brain

The a-MAZE-ing brain!
Ha! Get it?
Because it looks like a … oh never mind.

Two main points here:

  1. One Billion Euros is a whole lot of money. I mean, it’s like A TRILLION DOLLARS (see the above mentioned Caraballo Convention). Okay, okay. Actually, it is more like $1.3 Billion Dollars. Still, that’s a whole lot of €s and/or $s.
  2. Isn’t this how every dystopian sci-fi comic book, novel, movie, video game and music video starts? Try to do something awesome and it goes horribly, horribly bad? Did Terminators 1, 2, 3 or 4 (are there more?) not get released in Europe? Apparently not, since the Brits launched their fourth – fourth! – Skynet satellite in December 2012. At least we know who to blame when serving our robot overlords.
sony_13

The beginning of the end … robot line-dancing?

Now there are lots of good, scientifically sound reasons for building such a simulated brain, such as being able to beat all of the other scientists at chess, to count cards at the local casino, and of course, to beat up on all of the mere mortals on Jeopardy (Watson is now fully engaged in the fight against cancer, btw). While those are certainly fine reasons, the main purpose behind “creating” a human brain is it would (theoretically) help us better understand how parts of the brain interact with one another. Of particular interest is how one part of the brain compensates (or doesn’t compensate) for another part, without having to “test” (read: injure or impair) the actual brains contained in the actual heads of actual people. This would, in fact, be awesome, and revolutionize the care and treatment of those with severe brain injury or mental illnesses, and possibly even impact the way we organize and share information.

Abby Normal

What is a normal brain, anyhow?

The main problem is – we don’t really know how the brain works right now, so how do we build a model that simulates it? Apparently we’ve been trying for decades and have a few models that can do a few things, but nobody has had the audacity and/or the funding to build something as complex as the entire brain. Until now.

Here’s how we thought the brain worked 130 years ago. The map may have changed – but do we really know enough to build one?

I am all for bold research, but here’s the analogy that came to mind for me: early attempts at heavier than air flight. Some very smart and ambitious folks spent a whole lot of time and money looking at birds and building contraptions that tried to mimic the structures and movements of our feathered friends (just as the researchers in this project are building their model by mimicking the structures and activities they “see” in the brain). As it turns out, successful heavier than air flight (for humans) has nothing to do with feathers or flapping wings. Why would we think a successful “model” of the brain will “look” anything like the ones in our heads?

096235-red-bull-flugtag-sydney

Capes – not much better.
But don’t tell THIS superhero!!

Another reason for concern – two telling quotes from some recent research conducted at the University of Iowa’s Neurological Patient Registry:

… self-awareness corresponds to a brain process that cannot be localized to a single region of the brain … In all likelihood, self-awareness emerges from much more distributed interactions among networks of brain regions.

Followed up with this:

Clearly, neuroscience is only beginning to understand how the human brain can generate a phenomenon as complex as self-awareness.

In short – we aren’t sure how the brain becomes self-aware, but we’re going to go ahead and build one. Hmmm. So, what if it happens to become self-aware in the process? Maybe it won’t try to destroy us, but would it be ok to hurt it, or turn in off? Then what?

Finally, there is this – according to a top researcher (not associated with the HBP) the “race” to build a human brain is really about “who can get the most biological functions and animal-like behaviours” from their program. So, super-brains that behave like animals and make mistakes? Great. At least the big (real) brains at Cambridge have the funding to investigate how to mitigate the risk of robot uprising as well. Hopefully they finish before the brain-builders!

medium_5247303541

Granted, some animal behaviors are less dangerous than others.

So in case you couldn’t tell – I am not a fan of trying to replicate the human brain. In my opinion, the defining characteristic of the human brain … is the human heart.

What do you think?

Always,

Felix

 

photo credits:

Digital Brain – dailygalaxy.com

Dancing Robots – PC Watch – Japan

Abnormal Brain – Young Frankenstein (A great Mel Brooks movie, 1974)

Phrenology Chart – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrenology

Red Bull Flugtag – Sydney Telegraph

Cute Puppy – Awesome Joolie via photopin cc

Science Says: Stress out and be helpful – it’s good for you!!

Want to live a longer, healthier life? Researchers in California who recently updated the results of a longevity study begun in 1921 (yes, 90+ years ago) have come up with some advice for those who do, and it may fly in the face of what many of us have been taught:

“The people who said, ‘I don’t stress, I take it easy, I retire early,’ – those were the people who tended to die at a young age.

Seriously

Yes. Seriously.

Well there goes my plan – totally not cool! Thank you very much smart people from  Stanford University and the University of California. Now I need to hone my road rage skills and work until I die.

Wait a minute, that’s not what it means at all! What they’re really telling us is that a little worry is a good thing, just don’t overdo it (Moderation? Balance? What’s that?). The idea of eustress vs distress. And although it is pronounced “you stress”, it may not mean what you think it means.

pygb45

No. It does not. Nor does “Dessert Sue” serve eustress.

Okay – I kind of figured that already. A little stress is what “gets us going”, gives us the “edge” we need to perform at our best and to be ready for action when sharpness and alertness really counts, like here:

Bowser_(smb1)

No stress, no rescue of Princess Peach. It’s that simple.

The most interesting part of the research (for me, anyhow) suggests that people who lived a more worthwhile and socially responsible life, helping others, being involved with other people and in their community groups, lived longer.

Huzzah! New plan: develop eustress around helping others, live forever. Maybe not physically, but certainly in the hearts and minds of those I am able to help along the way. Even if the theory doesn’t pan out, I will have hopefully left the world a better place.

So what will you stress about today? You-stress … see what I did there?

Always,

Felix

 

Check out the full article here: BBC News – The science of a long life.

photo credits:

Seriously? face – knowyourmeme.com

Futurama Fry – memelatte.com

Super Mario Bros. “Boss Fight” – wikipedia.org

Life “By the Numbers” – Quantified self: The tech-based route to a better life?

As a former Six Sigma guy and lover of gadgets, this article caught my eye.  I am pretty much on board with most of it, but am not ready to start counting how many times I poop.  Interesting read – BBC – Future – Health – Quantified self: The tech-based route to a better life?.

A New Year, A New Blog, and a reNewed Resolution

Having apparently misjudged the exact date of humanity’s demise (again), here we are at the beginning of a new year, and I, for one, am quite happy to be here.

I was not looking forward to this.

Not only here (on a mostly intact Earth), but here in my life as it is right now, and here, blogging on Semper Felix. Will anyone read these entries? Ideally, yes. I hope a community of interested folks (no matter how small) decides to share on a regular basis. But who knows? What I know for sure is that it will never happen if I just sat around thinking about it. I’ve tried journaling a couple of times in the past, but it was much too “solitary” for me. Don’t get me wrong – I totally “get” the benefits to journaling – I just couldn’t maintain the enthusiasm for writing without sharing (and if you know me, you know I love to share). I already know how to write – but Blogging is something quite different. I have already learned a great deal, and there is so much more to learn (it is barely day two). Exciting stuff – for me anyway :-)

So now what? Resolutions, of course! I’ve got plenty, but the main one I’ll be sharing is with regards to my health. A few years back (the end of 2009 to be precise, shortly after turning 40 and weighing in at 197 lbs. I am barely 5′ 9″), I resolved to losing 20 lbs by the end of 2010. I did that and proceeded to lose another 10 before hurting my shoulder and straying from the path sometime in 2011, and regaining about half the weight I lost.

What bothers me more than the weight gain is the energy loss, so while there is a “new” magic number out there for me, that isn’t (nor has it been) the focus – just a proxy. When I was at 167 lbs I felt great because I could do more. More at work, more for my friends and family, more for myself. I still feel good (a lot better than when I was tipping 200), but I want to feel great again. Because I have a lot more I want to do this year. And next year. And every year that an asteroid just misses the Earth. I’ll keep you posted.

What are you looking to do this year? More importantly, why?

Here’s to an awesome 2013! Wishing everyone a Happy and Blessed New Year.

Always,

Felix

KILLER ASTEROID Image credit: NASA/Don Davis (no copyright in accordance with NASA’s use policy)