So, here we go. I was listening to one of my podcasts yesterday and the breathless announcer was peppering his guest with questions about the President’s directive to begin mapping the human brain. We don’t even know what that means, really, at this point, but we need to get started. And I couldn’t help wonder why the show’s host was so shocked by the concept. Did he not read Ray Kurzweil’s 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines? Did he not know all of this has been predicted including the timing – which is just about right on!
Personally, I’m quite excited about the prospect of beginning this project. I fully believe that it will require incredible effort, dedication, education, energy and yes, financial investment. This project will definitely show us how complicated big data can be. We will need all the genius super math “quants” we can find. A fantastic side benefit will be, if we’re truly lucky, that all those geniuses that would have gone off to Wall Street to fleece all of us with the next set of derivatives might actually find it more exciting to figure out how to understand all the trillions of neuronal and synaptic connections comprising the human brain. Here’s a challenge to all you aspiring quants out there – come up with an algorithm that determines when consciousness arises from complex human neuronal connectivity. Go for it!
We will also need help from chemists. We know that the brain is an electrochemical marvel. There are more chemicals running around performing intricate functions to get the rest of our body in line with what the brain believes we should be doing – fright, fight, flight or . . . procreate! We’ll need electrical and mechanical engineers, no doubt, to build bigger and better supercomputers. Bring on the computer scientists to help the quants develop incredibly complex software to parse all the data, organize it into a central database and compare my brain scan to your brain scan and discover commonality in how things are structured.
Of course we need the neuroscientists too, to help us explain the structures in the brain and how they relate. Oh, and bring on the Psychologists and Psychiatrists to figure out why our program is acting neurotically – because the program will go crazy trying to figure out all the interconnections and keep track of anomalies. This is indeed a very grand project and will make the mapping of the human genome look like child’s play and the trip to the moon and back like something from the dark ages. We need this project to put us back on the path of having an exciting, challenging and worthy goal for which to strive. The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being. Let’s get going! Time’s a-wasting.[Update: Here’s a Wired article on where we are.]