Compute Scotland

Brain-Machine Interface issues

  • 15 Aug 2017
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As Web giants look to emulate how the human brain works with complex neural networks, they are simultaneously looking to tap into the brain directly as with  Facebook investing in an initiative called Building 8 that in future could allow you to “think” commands at your smartphone, or what The Guardian dubbed  “reading your brainwaves.” Starmind CEO Pascal Kaufmann says better research into how the brain works is the key to AI

“It sounds impossible but it’s closer than you may realize,” Facebook’s Building 8 manager (right) Regina Dugan, who previously ran DARPA, told an audience earlier this year. “It’s not about decoding random thoughts….We’re talking about decoding the words you’ve already decided to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain.”

While Facebook promises a “non-invasive” way to capture the brain signals from caps that sit atop the head, billionaire technologist (left) Elon Musk is going all in with the brain with his new machine-brain interface company, Neuralink, which proposes the use of electrodes to extract data from human brains, transform it into binary form, and load it into an external computer — a sort of cyborg ETL, if you will.

“I think it’s a lot of marketing hype,” Kaufmann says. “Many scientists were disappointed when they read Musks’ announcement, because that was really exaggerated….If you don’t understand the language of the brain, how should you be able to talk to the brain?”

Breaking Brain (Code)

For all the medical research that’s gone into understanding the human brain, we really don’t have a good theory on how it actually works. To really drive true AI, we need to figure out how it really works, or “crack the brain code,” (right) Kaufmann says to Datanami

“I think we should look for the principals of the brain and not try to copy and paste the brain, because that would be impossible,” he says. “You can’t simulate hundreds of billions of brain cells.  You need to look for the principles, and I think we’re lagging in good principles. We are lagging in basic understanding of how the brain works. If we crack the brain code, and I think we can build an artificial brain.”

Leonardo Da Vinci sketch of a wing
We need more out-of-the-box thinking to really get a good grasp on what’s going on inside our craniums, says Kaufmann, adding that the popular analogy that compares the human brain to the working of a computer is misleading and should be abolished from our school’s curriculum because it diverts our ability to see the problem clearly. “We need to have a fresh new approach to crack the brain code,” he says.

For example, if we set out to build an artificial bird, it would be a very complex endeavor requiring the simulation of all sorts of systems, including blood, bones, and feathers. But that work would miss the point entirely. “It was Leonardo Da Vinci who said it’s completely irrelevant whether there are feathers or blood or bones flowing into the birdwings. It’s the profile of the wing that’s important.”

What we need, Kaufmann says, is a Newtonian moment where the creativity of the human mind suddenly grasps the fundamental principles governing how the brain actually works. “I think we should bring together the smartest people in the world and laser-focus them on some old requests in brain research and hopefully there will be Newtonian moments and someone will come up with those two or three principles,” he says.

In the same way that (left) Da Vinci extrapolated the principles of flight from watching birds wings and sketching designs of some of the first human aircraft more than 500 years ago, AI will be allowed soar — once we crack the brain code.

“Ninety five to 98% all investments in AI I think are misplaced because they are betting on a form of computers and I really don’t believe in that,” Kaufmann says. “Ultimately I think if you crack the brain code, you can actually build AI brains that are much more powerful than biological brains.”

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