Today on The Cycle: A beautiful mind

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By The Cycle Staff
How To Create A Mind: The Secreate of Human Thought Revealed
How To Create A Mind: The Secreate of Human Thought Revealed

We’re going a bit Sci-Fi today. Author Ray Kruzweil joins The Cycle to discuss his book How To Create A Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. The book focuses on reverse engineering the human brain.  The futuristic idea starts by mapping out every spec of the human brain and ends with designing a machine to replicate, and ultimately replace it.  Think of it as artificial intelligence on steroids.

Ray Kruzweil is a controversial futurist whose work examines emotional and moral intelligence as well as the radical possibilities of merging humans with the technology we create.

Be sure to tune in at 3:40 p.m. for the full conversation and check out an excerpt from his book below.

The story of evolution unfolds with increasing levels of abstraction.

Atoms— especially carbon atoms, which can create rich information structures

by linking in four different directions— formed increasingly complex

molecules. As a result, physics gave rise to chemistry.

A billion years later, a complex molecule called DNA evolved, which

could precisely encode lengthy strings of information and generate organisms

described by these “programs.” As a result, chemistry gave rise to

biology.

At an increasingly rapid rate, organisms evolved communication and

decision networks called nervous systems, which could coordinate the

increasingly complex parts of their bodies as well as the behaviors that

facilitated their survival. The neurons making up nervous systems aggregated

into brains capable of increasingly intelligent behaviors. In this way,

biology gave rise to neurology, as brains were now the cutting edge of storing

and manipulating information. Thus we went from atoms to molecules

to DNA to brains. The next step was uniquely human.

The mammalian brain has a distinct aptitude not found in any other

class of animal. We are capable of hierarchical thinking, of understanding

a structure composed of diverse elements arranged in a pattern, representing that arrangement with a symbol, and then using that symbol as an

element in a yet more elaborate configuration. This capability takes place

in a brain structure called the neocortex, which in humans has achieved a

threshold of sophistication and capacity such that we are able to call these

patterns ideas. Through an unending recursive process we are capable of

building ideas that are ever more complex. We call this vast array of recursively

linked ideas knowledge. Only Homo sapiens have a knowledge base

that itself evolves, grows exponentially, and is passed down from one generation

to another.

Our brains gave rise to yet another level of abstraction, in that we have

used the intelligence of our brains plus one other enabling factor, an opposable

appendage— the thumb— to manipulate the environment to build

tools. These tools represented a new form of evolution, as neurology gave

rise to technology. It is only because of our tools that our knowledge base

has been able to grow without limit.

Our first invention was the story: spoken language that enabled us to

represent ideas with distinct utterances. With the subsequent invention of

written language we developed distinct shapes to symbolize our ideas.

Libraries of written language vastly extended the ability of our unaided

brains to retain and extend our knowledge base of recursively structured

ideas.

There is some debate as to whether other species, such as chimpanzees,

have the ability to express hierarchical ideas in language. Chimps are capable

of learning a limited set of sign language symbols, which they can use

to communicate with human trainers. It is clear, however, that there are

distinct limits to the complexity of the knowledge structures with which

chimps are capable of dealing. The sentences that they can express are limited

to specific simple noun- verb sequences and are not capable of the

indefinite expansion of complexity characteristic of humans. For an entertaining

example of the complexity of human- generated language, just read

one of the spectacular multipage- length sentences in a Gabriel García

Márquez story or novel— his six- page story “The Last Voyage of the Ghost”

is a single sentence and works quite well in both Spanish and the English

translation.

The primary idea in my three previous books on technology (The Age

of Intelligent Machines, written in the 1980s and published in 1989; The Age

of Spiritual Machines, written in the mid- to late 1990s and published in

1999; and The Singularity Is Near, written in the early 2000s and published

in 2005) is that an evolutionary process inherently accelerates (as a result

of its increasing levels of abstraction) and that its products grow exponentially

in complexity and capability. I call this phenomenon the law of accelerating

returns (LOAR), and it pertains to both biological and technological

evolution. The most dramatic example of the LOAR is the remarkably predictable

exponential growth in the capacity and price/ performance of information

technologies. The evolutionary process of technology led

invariably to the computer, which has in turn enabled a vast expansion of

our knowledge base, permitting extensive links from one area of knowledge

to another. The Web is itself a powerful and apt example of the ability

of a hierarchical system to encompass a vast array of knowledge while preserving

its inherent structure. The world itself is inherently hierarchical—

trees contain branches; branches contain leaves; leaves contain veins.

Buildings contain floors; floors contain rooms; rooms contain doorways,

windows, walls, and floors.

We have also developed tools that are now enabling us to understand

our own biology in precise information terms. We are rapidly reverse-engineering

the information processes that underlie biology, including

that of our brains. We now possess the object code of life in the form of the

human genome, an achievement that was itself an outstanding example of

exponential growth, in that the amount of genetic data the world has

sequenced has approximately doubled every year for the past twenty years. 2

We now have the ability to simulate on computers how sequences of base

pairs give rise to sequences of amino acids that fold up into three-dimensional

proteins, from which all of biology is constructed. The complexity

of proteins for which we can simulate protein folding has been

steadily increasing as computational resources continue to grow exponentially.

We can also simulate how proteins interact with one another in an

intricate three- dimensional dance of atomic forces. Our growing understanding

of biology is one important facet of discovering the intelligent

secrets that evolution has bestowed on us and then using these biologically

inspired paradigms to create ever more intelligent technology.

There is now a grand project under way involving many thousands of

scientists and engineers working to understand the best example we have

of an intelligent process: the human brain. It is arguably the most important

effort in the history of the human- machine civilization. In The Singularity

Is Near I made the case that one corollary of the law of accelerating

returns is that other intelligent species are likely not to exist. To summarize

the argument, if they existed we would have noticed them, given the

relatively brief time that elapses between a civilization’s possessing crude

technology (consider that in 1850 the fastest way to send nationwide information

was the Pony Express) to its possessing technology that can transcend

its own planet. From this perspective, reverse-engineering the

human brain may be regarded as the most important project in the universe.

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Today on The Cycle: A beautiful mind

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