Do you believe Westworld brains are so far away from reality? That they are only a work of complete fiction, with no base in reality? If that is the case continue reading and you will find more about an extremely interesting and new field of science. The science of building artificial brains: neuromorphic computing.
From nature to technology — the human brain
Humanity has always looked out in nature for inspiration. Most of our technology is inspired by mechanisms that are already working in nature. We just took those mechanisms and built our own devices in their image. We did not imitate nature exactly, but rather modified the structure while keeping the functionality intact. Or even improve it.
The best example for this is how planes were created. Humans always dreamt about flying. But what inspired us to fly? It was nature, of course. We saw birds flying and we wanted to see how it feels to do so. In mythology, Icarus tried to fly by building literal wings so that he could flap his wings towards the sun, like birds do. That did not work out too well for him.
In the non-mythological arena, the airplane was created. It does look somewhat similar to a bird, but it works quite differently. It is way heavier, takes long to lift and is much slower in turning. However, it reaches speeds that birds can only dream of. In some areas we beat nature, while in others, nature still beats us. But the fact remains that birds taught us how to fly.
In some areas we beat nature, while in others, nature still beats us.
The same thing is now happening with the human brain. We are finding more and more about the way it works. It inspired us to create software algorithms, like neural networks, which started the artificial intelligence revolution. They, as in the case of birds and planes, do not work exactly like the brain’s neural networks. But the biological neurons inspired us to build the artificial neurons. Now it inspires us to create hardware devices that imitate the brain and its internal mechanisms.
In the future, those hardware devices may look just like the brain of Dolores and the other androids in Westworld. Some 3-dimensional cubes, full of artificial neurons that gives those robots the ability to control their bodies. However, right now most chip designs are focused on the two-dimensional space, as it is less expensive and much easier to build.
Of course, they will not be conscious or try to destroy all humanity, as depicted in the movie. We will be able to teach those artificial brains how to do mundane tasks in the beginning. This way we will remove mundane and repetitive jobs from the world by creating robots that process every task locally, in their “brains”. This will leave much more space for people to do more creative and complex jobs.
What about consciousness?
The conscious brain is a much more complex mystery. We cannot yet define what consciousness is or how it “works”. Yet most people are afraid that we will create a conscious AI. The question is, how can you create something you do not even understand? We created planes by knowing the laws of physics that govern them. How then can we create conscious robots or artificial intelligence?
The only way that may be possible is by using the same mechanisms that created consciousness in humans. Those mechanisms are genetic algorithms and natural evolution. We could simulate an environment that can make evolution happen much, much faster than it took in the case of humans. To condense millions of years in a few years and hope that consciousness is born out of artificial evolution. Then, maybe, conscious devices could be born.
But do we really need conscious devices?