The human brain is the organ of the mind, and it is human minds that have fashioned our civilisation and culture. However there are now reasons, such as climate change, to suspect that those very things are under threat along with the long term survival of the human species.
Throughout the ages humans have faced various threats, and have coped with them by adapting: when we needed to travel further and faster we lost much of our body hair; when we needed to keep warm we invented clothes; when we needed to light our cities we invented nuclear power; and when we needed to communicate on the go we came up with mobile phone deals. Thus our ability to cope with an uncertain future may well depend on our ability to continue to be adaptable.
There are various projects being undertaken in Europe, the US and Asia on creating an alternative to the human brain that can function as an organ of the human mind. In Europe the project is known as “The Silicon Brain” and it has created a silicon chip which has 200,000 neurons and 50 million synapses that connect them. The chip simulates the way in which the brain learns, but represents only a tiny fraction of the actual organ.
A different approach is what is known as the SIM or substrate independent mind. Here the aim is to transfer mind functions from the brain to other machines that are better able to cope with the environment than the relatively feeble human body. This would ensure that personality and self would continue even though the mind would have an alternative embodiment.
For many years neuroscientists have been building a detailed picture of the brain and how neurones respond to stimuli. The SIM project builds on this in an attempt to emulate (rather than simulate) the human brain. It is a huge undertaking.
Some advances in this field include the cochlear implant which restores a sense of hearing in the profoundly deaf, and the hippocampal chip as an aid for sufferers of Alzheimer’s and similar diseases which result from the loss of brain cells. Recent work has also shown that it is possible to take brain scans and use them to create neural circuitry and determine its function, and although these are huge leaps forward they are only tiny drops in a very large ocean.
Although today it has the ring of science fiction, there are many scientists worldwide who are convinced that one day we will create the SIM. Although somewhat more complicated than the free SIM cards we use in our mobile phones, they will be equally portable and require only similar levels of power to survive. Perhaps they will be the future of the human race.
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This is a guest post by Claire Chat a Londoner interested in technology in general as well as in the mobile and telecommunication industry. If you want Claire to write you specific content, you can find email her here or contact her on Twitter (Claire_Chat).