Designing the human brain: the big blue singularity


For any of you fans of the singularity you will have to check out this short 15 minute video; “Designing the human brain” (hosted at seedmagazine).

One component of the singularity is when man humans are able to build computers as powerful as the human brain. Some also think of this point as when we get artificial intelligence (AI) up to the level (and beyond) of the human brain. Many approaches to AI have been largely software driven (top down) with the thought that the we don’t  have to understand the biology of the brain. The difference between a rat and us is that we have more of these columns and that the connections between them are more complicated and diverse (see )

Ray Kurzweil, and others, running with Moore’s Law predicted that by 2013 we will reach a point of computer power able to run human brain functional simulation (see here (2001 essay), and his book, The Singularity is near). Further on, by 2025 there will be supercomputers capable of ‘uploading’ human brains (only 17 years from now).

The video features Henry Markram, from the blue brain project, giving a talk at MIND08. What makes this talk interesting is instead of taking a top down approach to obtaining human level intelligence this group is taking a bottom up approach (ok – if the cortex is considered the bottom). They are trying to “create a biologically accurate functional model of the brain”. To accomplish this they are first reverse engineering the brain – database this (500 petabytes) – then forward engineer this into mathematical models where they can run brain simulations on IBM supercomputer hardware. The piece they have started out, which they think is the most strategic, is the neocortical column. These neocortical columns he refers to as our microcircuits that enable us to have our higher cognitive functions. The difference between a rat and us is that we have more of them and that the connections between them are more complicated and diverse (see this piece regarding the small-network properties of the human brain). Each column is made up of 10,000 neurons  (400 different ‘types’) with 30 million connections.

They expect to have a full scale human brain model within 10 years. Markram says they will need a computer 20,000 time more powerful (exoflop ability) than any computer that exist currently (2008) along with 200 petabytes of memory. The 2018 date of full scale human brain model puts us about 5 years behind Kurzweil’s 2001 prediction (not sure about his updated 2005 predictions in ‘The singularity in near‘) – but reasonably close. Of course Markham is also only predicting that his team will be able to accomplish this goal within 10 years.

Some of the visuals of this video are quite impressive.

We live in interesting times, and interesting near-future times.

via: mindhacks and psique

8 comments for “Designing the human brain: the big blue singularity

  1. CC
    October 13, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    Why do people always want to model the human brain? Can’t a computer be just as ‘smart’ as a human brain, but works on different principle?
    Or is the aim really to ‘immortalize’ people – ‘uploading the brain’?

  2. JI
    October 14, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    I hope you mean when HUmans are able to build computers as powerful as the human brain.

  3. Ward
    October 14, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    a computer could potentially be as smart as a human – but this has not been demonstrated yet. The one line of thinking is it might be easier to build intelligent machines if we base it on an architecture that we already know is capable of the level of intelligence we are after. And yes part of the singularity would be the ability to immortalize people (though many would argue you don’t necessarily have to copy the human brain architecture to accomplish this).

  4. Ward
    October 14, 2008 at 3:42 pm


    a small slip of the tongue/writing fingers (or just figure of speech. But of course you are correct and I will edit it to read correctly.

    (If the truth is to be known I think I need to go back to all my posts and fix my many spelling, grammatical, and other slips of the tongue, missing of words, etc. I think I have several missing components in my linguistic brain structures – among other miss-developed brain components)

  5. JI
    October 14, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    It should have been written with a smile. :)
    I was just kidding

  6. Ward
    October 14, 2008 at 5:13 pm


    smiley or not you made a good point. I think humans devising a human brain simulation is far smarter than just man attacking this problem (judging from history).

  7. CC
    October 14, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Imagine a world run by computers modeled after the human brain:

    White (Mac?) computers trying to kill off black ones and vice versa.

    Computers running on Linux trying to kill off the ones running on every other OS, those on Windows killing off those on others, …

  8. Ward
    October 14, 2008 at 7:46 pm


    you better write up your near future story – it could be a winner.