Ray Kurzweil is working on another book, this one to explore the principles of human level intelligence in machines. Titled How the Mind Works and How to Build One, the new book will explore all the amazing developments in reverse engineering the brain that have come along since his last book, the Singularity is Near was released in 2005. Whether or not you agree with Ray Kurzweil’s predictions, the inventor and author stands out as one of the foremost futurists of our time. What inspiration or controversy will this next book bring?
Kurzweil has been mentioning How the Mind Works… in public since last year. Both H+ Magazine and World Future Review have excellent interviews with the author that highlight some of the motivations for the book, and what it might discuss. As Kurzweil mentioned in his BCI X presentation, and elsewhere, scientists are making progress with directly modeling the cerebral cortex in computers. Endeavors like the Blue Brain Project raise the possibility that we could create a “brain in a box” in the next few decades (or perhaps sooner).
Those projects, however, face some serious obstacles. The human brain is one of the most complex processors we know. It still far exceeds computers in pattern recognition and creative decision making. As digital processing power increases, we’ll likely have the means to simulate the physical structure of the brain, but will there be mechanisms we haven’t anticipated? Will we really understand how the brain stores memories in its neural connectivity? When we make a simulation of the brain, will we simply copy an individual’s neuron pattern – is that even possible? – and if we don’t will the simulation be an accurate replication of a mind? Is the hardware of the brain (the neuron connections) actually the software as well, or is there an OS we just haven’t found yet? All of these questions stand in the way to creating an artificial brain. Kurzweil’s book, if it does propose that we’ll make an artificial mind successfully, will have to address these concerns and many others.
Yet as we approach human level computer intelligence we won’t merely be concerned with replicating the machinery of the brain. We’ll have to deal with the morality, politics, and philosophical ramifications of creating systems with some level of consciousness. The complex consequences of spawning artificial general intelligences is something Kurzweil is acutely aware of. Not only does it inform the entire narrative plot of his Singularity is Near Movie, it is partly responsible for his next book using ‘mind’ and not ‘brain’ in the title. As always Kurzweil does more than simply predict what may happen, he ventures to understand the implications and consequences of future technology before it arrives. How the Mind Works and How to Build One should be a very interesting read. I can’t wait.