Friday, February 28, 2014

Neuromorphic Processors and the Fall of Man

Photo: Peggy Greb
What will happen when a computer cannot only think, but can think better than a brain? In terms of executive function. if the brain, which heads the food chain, as far as both humans and animals are concerned, can be mass produced, with the concomitant economies of scale, warranties, and even planned obsolescence, then why depend on nature? Who needs it or her? In an article entitled "Brainlike Computers, Learning From Experience” (NYT, 12/28/13), the Times’s John Markoff  describes how “new processors consist of electronic components that can be connected by wires that mimic biological synapses” and quotes Dharmendra Modha of I.B.M. who says, “Instead of bringing data to computation as we do today we can now bring computation to data.” Formerly computers were like dogs or other animals who you could teach to do tricks, but the new chips are producing computers that can “automate tasks that now require painstaking programming--for example moving a robot’s arm smoothly and efficiently.” Google’s Sebastian Thrun has taken robotics so far as to produce a driverless car. The kind of “neuromorphic processors” that Markoff is referring to, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg. In The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology Ray Kurzweil predicted that nanotechnology would produce immortality. But what is really as stake is the future of consciousness. It’s Darwin all over again. Computers will eventually become more naturally selective than brains and a more convenient receptacle for life as we know it--with computer generated consciousness in turn becoming more naturally selective than life itself. Well at least there won’t be the usual justifiable anxieties about work and love, which everyone tells you are all in your head. Now all of existence will be reduced to one big cyber soup.

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