14 July 2011

The Singularity is Far? - from BoingBoing

Interesting post today on BoingBoing: The Singularity is Far: A Neuroscientists View by David J. Linden.  He starts by stating some of Ray Kurzweil's more "ambitious" predictions (regarding nanobots cruising through the brain creating virtual reality - sometime in the late 2020s), and then looks at some reasons why he thinks Kurzweil has gone too far.
However, Kurzweil then argues that our understanding of biology—and of neurobiology in particular—is also on an exponential trajectory, driven by enabling technologies. The unstated but crucial foundation of Kurzweil's scenario requires that at some point in the 2020s, a miracle will occur: If we keep accumulating data about the brain at an exponential rate (its connection maps, its activity patterns, etc.), then the long-standing mysteries of development, consciousness, perception, decision, and action will necessarily be revealed. Our understanding of brain function and our ability to measure the relevant parameters of individual brains (aided by technologies like brain nanobots) will consequently increase in an exponential manner to allow for brain-uploading to computers in the year 2039.
That's where I get off the bus.
I contend that our understanding of biological processes remains on a stubbornly linear trajectory. In my view the central problem here is that Kurzweil is conflating biological data collection with biological insight.
Linden concludes:
Don't get me wrong. I do believe that the fundamental and long-standing mysteries of the brain will ultimately be solved. I don't hold with those pessimists who claim that we can never understand our minds by using our brains. I also share Kurzweil's belief that technological advancement will be central to unlocking the enduring mysteries of brain function. But while I see an exponential trajectory in the amount of neurobiological data collected to date, the ploddingly linear increase in our understanding of neural function means that an idea like mind-uploading to machines being usefully deployed by the 2020s or even the 2030s seems overly optimistic.

My take on it is that we will of course continue to learn more about both the brain and the mind, and we will gain new levels of understanding of the physical workings of mental processes.  Does that constitute "solving the mysteries"? - I tend to think there will always be many mysteries.  Anyway, worth a quick read.

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