Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/Reverse engineering the brain
Let's face it. Reading Kurzweil's theory on Accelerated Returns is like reading the inside cover of a science fiction novel. At least, that's how it feels to start reading his theory. However, slowly but surely, he starts to make some sense. After all, he has some rather convincing arguments and examples.
In this response, I need to take issue with his statement that, "There is no reason why we cannot reverse engineer the human brain, and essentially copy its design." As a software engineer, albeit not an artificial intelligent professional, I still think Kurzweil is oversimplifying the nature of "copying" the brain's design. I agree; I think we have made advancements in artificial intelligence. However, to programmatically create an artificial brain takes more than simply having the hardware computational power to do so. It takes an exact, intimate knowledge of how the brain works. I do not believe some innovation, or paradigm shift, as Kurzweil calls it, will suddenly provide that level of insight in the evolution of technology.
I was reading an article recently by Business Insider, where Dr. Thomas Insel, the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said "As central as the brain is to our existence, we understand very little about how it actually works (2015)". And this is a message I hear most frequently about our brain's inner workings: we simply know very little about how the brain works. On this particular topic, I think Kurzweil is absolutely wrong, and is confusing mathematical intrigue with scientific proof.
Kurzweil and Hybrid Humans (Jessica Ashdown)[edit | edit source]
Kurzweil asserts that, based on the theory of Accelerated Returns, that humans are moving towards a singularity or hybrid between the biological and non-biological. In other words, human-machine hybrids. He states that this hybridization and swift advancement in technology inevitably pushes humans to be more integrated with said technology. To me, the validity of his arguments are two-fold. On the one hand, it's questionable whether or not technological advances could really "reverse engineer" the brain as Kurzweil asserts. There are some things (as of yet), that technology has not been able to solve or understand. Amongst these things is the human brain. In an article published in the New York Times, researchers for the National Institute of Health point out that while "science found a genetic code...there is no brain-wide neural code; no electrical or chemical alphabet exists that can be recombined to say 'red' or 'fear' or 'wink' or 'run'".1 It would seem to me, that if science has yet to figure out exactly how the brain works and how to "control" it, the idea that we could "reverse engineer" seems implausible or far off at best. On the other hand, even if the brain could be reverse engineered and hybrid humans were possible, the question of whether or not that is ethical arises. Would these "hybrid" humans have the same rights as "regular" humans? At what point would they be considered "human" or "not human"? Would they have to abide by the same laws and regulations as "regular humans"? To me, one cannot ignore the weight of these questions. Just because it's possible to do something doesn't mean that it's ethical. With all of the controversy of technological advances such as cloning, even if human hybrids were possible, there may be ethical road blocks along the way to it becoming a reality.
Reference: 1. Gorman, J. (2014, November 10). Learning How Little We Know About the Brain. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/11/science/learning-how-little-we-know-about-the-brain.html?_r=0