Scientists from the University of Zurich, ETH Zurich and partners in Germany and the U.S. have developed a microchip that processes much like the human brain. Unlike clunky predecessors that react only to environmental stimuli these new chips use neurons that will use analytic abilities, decision-making capabilities, as well as short-term memories to react to their environment in real time.
The key to this discovering is that it can take sensations from the environment like humans and process them to make quick paced decisions. As the machine picks up on environmental cues it is capable of processing the multiple sensations to make meaning out of these cues and in term devise a type of strategy and change or adjust its course of action. It works fundamentally the say way the human brain works.
The science of neuroinformatics typically seeks to recreate artificial bundles of nerves on supercomputers in an attempt to determine how information is processed in much the same way as the human brain processes information. The field of neuroinformatics uses mathematical models, tools, and other systems to try and mimic the neuroscientific aspects of the human nervous system.
You may ask yourself what would be the main point in developing a computer chip that works much like the human brain? The ultimate goal is to create independent functioning machines that have the ability to take cues from their environment, change their courses, and complete their missions. At present, machines still need to be run through remote control because humans still have the most efficient decision making processes available.
According to Professor Giacomo Indiveri from the Institute of Neuroinformatics (INI) the goal is to, “…emulate the properties of biological neurons and synapses directly on microchips” (University of Zurich). In essence, you would have an independent machine that can adjust course, behavior, and actions based upon environmental information. This processing would be limited by the sensory systems attached to the system.
There are some theoretical problems with the process. Unless the system can build new connections, behavioral models, and hardware independently it would not be able to mechanically/biological adapt to its environment. It would be limited by its design. Furthermore, it would be a rational machine that wouldn’t necessarily be able to use emotion to further those connections to create new forms of knowledge such as intuition. Data is only half the equation while emotion is the other. According to the French Mathematician Descartes emotion hampers decision making but others have argued it is truly part of and enhances the decision making process.
In either event, it certainly will be interesting to figure out where all of this leads. Such machines might be of benefit in space, underwater, combat situations, and places where communication has been cut off. The development of miniaturization in manufacturing is likely to make these processing systems more efficient and capable of use in multiple arenas. We may soon have a machine that think as fast as we do but would be limited in its ability to intuitively “feel” its environment in the way humans can. The good news is that you could probably still confuse such a computer with questions that require an intuitive answer based in emotional judgement where the pieces don’t create the solution.
Neftci, et. al (2013). Synthesizing cognition in neuromorphic electronic systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073