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Comment Re:HA .. oh god .. HA (Score 2) 176

Exactly. How long will it be before such people start to just vanish into some black hole somewhere. If that doesn't work then their family, friends, etc will likewise suffer. This is always the last resort of the more powerful to the weaker. That's what being weaker MEANS, you can't protect yourself.

And if the tactic does work? It will just become another tool of the scumbags. Turds always float to the surface.

Comment Never happen (Score 1) 31

If I could make a mechanical calculator at that scale, then I could just as easily make an electronic one, at that scale. The problem is the "manufacturing issues" they talk about are the same challenges that thwart building microelectronics on the same scale. Solve one, you solve the other, and electrons are a LOT smaller than rods, there's very little chance rods will outperform electronic or electro-optical gates of similar scale.

Comment Re:WHOOSHHH!!!! (Score 1) 63

Well, we have the ability to map a very small number of neurons. Actually do we even have that? We still don't EXACTLY understand how the potentiation of each synaptic junction works. There are something like 700 TRILLION of them in a human brain too, so we're not even remotely close, even assuming we can determine the weight for each one individually, to scanning even a tiny fraction of an actual brain. We couldn't even do that fruit fly, so even assuming we know where the synapses are that's like having just the hardware but not the software. And if you don't know how the things work at some higher level then you're going to actually have to measure the weight of each of those 700 trillion junctions to create a human brain sim. I'm guessing, but I think we're a LOT more than 30 years from being able to do that. Just think of it in terms of being adatabase problem. 700 trillion records? Yeah, good luck! In every respect our capabilities obviously fall far short, and even things like mice, heck even fish, are WAY beyond our reach there. So I think there's a huge amount of basic work that comes before even worrying about actual brain sim itself. At least that's how I see it, and that's STILL assuming that brute sim is a better investment than figuring out the principles and building more abstract models. By the time you get your brute force sim to work I may well be able to implement a more abstract one with 1 millionth of the effort.

But of course we don't know. I agree with you on this, Markram's way will cost a boatload more than EUR 500 million. I'm not so sure its WORTH that boatload, and I would want to know before going down that road at all, at least very far. With simply CNS sims there's almost surely things to be learned, but it is much less clear there's a real value proposition with higher organisms.

Comment Re:WHOOSHHH!!!! (Score 1) 63

I think you are presenting a false analogy at multiple levels here. We might say today that maybe the world progressed faster to steelmaking one way vs another, but AT BEST that's 20/20 hindsight, you can't actually prove it, the analogy shows no particular connection with AI, etc. There was no 'plan' to 'get steelmaking' this is the real world not Civ IV tech trees, and people 1000's of years ago didn't even have a concept of progress as a general thing. Nor is anyone proposing that we halt everything, Markram's project is only one possible way of advance, not the only way, so you've got an excluded middle AND a red herring in there as well! But really, its mostly just a limited analogy. I don't think we can know how good or bad it is right now.

Are we really that much cleverer than cavemen throwing rocks in fires? Maybe, but not cleverer than bronze age metalurgists. In terms of what we know about how brains function who's to say we're much ahead of them at all?

Overall I think we're not in huge disagreement. I think brain simulation WILL continue. I think its likely to be a bit less grandly ambitious than Markram's for a while. I think I'd simulate a C. Elegans CNS first, then maybe a Planaria worm, and then perhaps some higher invertebrates, simple chordates, etc. Its going to be a good solid 30 years before the raw compute power exists to simulate a human brain anyway, maybe longer, so there's not that much of a rush if you ask me.

Comment Re:WHOOSHHH!!!! (Score 1) 63

I would argue that it took 1000's of years, in fact if you go back to the invention of fire it took almost 4 hundred thousand years to go from there to bronzework by simple process of blind experimentation, and almost 10 thousand more years to go from there to iron, and another 2 thousand to get to a sophisticated steelmaking process. That's a very tough row to hoe, very slow progress. We would be in the same position if we're just fiddling with some brain model. Brains are also a LOT more complex than steel, so I'm not even sure how much progress we would make.

I'm not sanguine about the value of the results. Brains are horribly complex things, and without understanding how they relate to the minds they embody we have no way of 'creating a research team' of such artificial minds. I'd say we'd have a HUGE challenge just creating a simulation so perfect it worked at all. Any small problem at the brain level could create a catastrophically disordered mind, but you'd have no way of knowing how to fix it without any conceptual framework. Beyond that, most of the most high-value potential uses of AI are likely to be highly specialized niche applications which won't benefit that much from emulations of humans (or rats, etc for that matter). Emulations of some of the low-level neural circuitry I can definitely see as having value, that's already happening, but it seems to be a bit differently focused effort than Markram's.

Given that Markram was set on controlling a HUGE part of the research in this area, it seems like maybe it wasn't prudent to go ahead with it that way before at least getting some publications out on the existing research program. That was mostly my point.

I mean, I don't doubt that nobody can really predict the exact value of future research, or which is the fastest route to interesting technology. Markram's approach could hit a gold mine, or it could be a wasteland. Its primarily a question of how much effort to put into each direction.

Comment Re:WHOOSHHH!!!! (Score 1) 63

To be clear, what I think is that you have to develop conceptual models, not just simulations. If all you did was literally make a neuron simulation and wire a huge number of them together you would learn what? Nothing much really, because you'd then have the same questions about how that simulation works that you have about how a real brain works. What we need are the equivalent of Kirchhoff's Laws and Ohm's Law, etc for neurology. That is a set of principles from which you can engineer functionality that meets requirements. When you have something like that, then you have understanding. (not to imply that these principles would be of the same character as the simple laws of basic electrical circuits, or so deterministic, etc, just that generalized rules of this sort ARE what constitute understanding, and it can only be measured in terms of mastery of the subject, the ability to employ those generalizations to accomplish novel things as needed).

The point is that Markram's work doesn't seem to put any focus on that. Actually we don't KNOW how much it bears on that because, until now, he hadn't published anything!

My personal opinion is that an overall framework goal of reproducing the behavior of very large sets of neurons (IE on the scale of mammalian brains) might not be a bad direction to take, but we're probably not going to succeed without developing these generalizations and using them to construct less detailed models which still perform in 'brain-like' ways that we can use as I've stipulated above. And it may well be that the low-level simulation approach simply isn't the most efficient way to get there. Maybe there are higher level neurological functional units that we can abstract, but we don't have a good understanding of what those might be yet. Maybe small-scale neuron-level simulation is the way to gain THAT understanding too, but I'm certainly not the person to even have an opinion on that.

So, my guess would be that work like Markram's is almost surely going to be valuable, at least up to a point and in service to the right goals.

Comment Re:WHOOSHHH!!!! (Score 1) 63

Thanks for your comments. I think maybe a lot of the management problems arose because the FET flagships were a new funding mechanism, and the EC may not have had clear ideas how they should be managed. Management problems have certainly loomed large in the HBP, but I think they have still been blown out of proportion. I wonder if the FET mechanism is only a beta version, and next time the EC will devise the release version. After all, the EC has many goals that are not only scientific, and 0.5 billion is not in european terms a huge amount (think Greece bailout funds). From the EC point of view, if side products of the HBP research led to a 1% increase in european employment and proved that brain simulations were not possible, the EC would be delighted.

Yeah, its nice to have actually intelligent conversations ;) Thx. I think you may be right, and it is certainly true that as a govt institution EUR 1 billion must not seem like a very big stake. The other flagship project it seems has been quite successful so far though, so its not clear that the issue is entirely the overall mechanism, it seems more likely that project's individual characteristics are a really important aspect of the equation. Certainly I think people will agree that in the future the lessons learned from these projects should be used to improve the overall process. I would assume that the public should expect this, as it only meets something like CMM level 2 grade management, and we should insist on at least that level of competence from large governmental institutions (I'd argue that we should demand CMM level 5 performance from ALL public institutions and any failure to reach it should be rectified actively).

"The objections were so serious, so widespread, and involved such highly successful and influential academics"

It is not clear to me that this is true. Some highly influential people have blown up a story that has flown in the press, but that does not mean the objections are serious. The press, including the scientific press, love a good battle, and being negative about something that costs a lot of money (waste!) is more saleable than describing the truth about a complex story. And even if some influential academics don't like the project, that is not evidence that they are right and the project is wrong. The HBP also has a lot of influential scientists on board, whose arguments do not get so much coverage.

Sure, and not being a neuroscientist of any sort I can only make a relatively arms-length and perhaps superficial analysis of the whole crisis. Still, the EC seems to have drawn largely the same conclusions as these objectors and they've restructured the project (or are in the process anyway), so its likely there was at least SOME substance to it. I think my conclusion is that AT LEAST Dr Markram failed to manage the project in a way that allayed these fears and objections. I suspect that earlier publication of substantial results from his own project would have helped, but I could be wrong, maybe there was no avoiding this crisis, it was just purely a product of politics and ego.

  " If something is known to be impossible or its value can't be established then maybe it isn't a suitable target for such large-scale research ". Clearly, if it is "known" to be impossible, there is no point doing it. But in the HBP case, a certain subset of neuroscientists think a cellular level simulation of the mammalian brain is either impossible or not worth doing. This is not the same as it being impossible, Maybe the HBP would demonstrate its possibility or impossibility. Its a judgement call whether that knowledge is worth 0.5 Billion euros ( not 1 billion as all the press report, as graphene gets the other half, and the partners in the project have to stump up the matching funds).

OK, I didn't delve that deeply into the details of the funding. Its a pretty chunk of change from the science perspective in any case, certainly a hunk of red meat that they'll fight hard over in these times! I agree, there's merit in finding out, but again it seems like a big step in the 'finding out' would have been to see publications by Markram's group on the research they've already been doing for 10 years now. It just seems very ODD that this didn't happen in say 2012. Sure, the last 3 years may have shown much more substantial results perhaps, but its hard to imagine there was nothing in 7 years that could have warranted publication, and yet it was such a good idea that it needed another 500 million EUR dropped on it to find out. At the very least it seems like Markram made a mistake by not publishing earlier. It may well be an understandable mistake, he probably had reasons for it at the time, but in retrospect at least it seems unfortunate.

By comparison, when the Apollo missions started, rockets failed and people died, and it was not known that it was possible to survive a journey to the moon and back. But people building trains did not get to interfere in the development of rockets.

Yes, OTOH the space program was pretty incremental, and its the STRUCTURE of the project that is at issue, more than the existence of A project of some sort. The space program was large and highly collaborative in nature. If rocket engineers or physiologists or etc had said "nope, here's the evidence, manned missions to the Moon are not possible, you have to address issue X first" then that would have happened. Its not clear the HBP was organized like that.

Finally, about publications: there are more papers that have been published now than just the Cell one. Maybe, earlier publication would have been better, but I doubt that it would have changed the minds of those scientists who object to the principle of a brain simulation. And this is, for me, the big point. Some arguments against the HBP are of the form "its badly managed, too concentrated in a few hands, not obviously worth the money" - these are reasonable arguments, and the mediation committee have addressed them and the HBP is taking them on board. But the other arguments, especially those expressed in the open letter, and Nature commentaries, are just invective and not subject to rational argument. Go and read some of the comments on the letter. These comment authors are not interested in the finer details of the argument, they just hate the idea of a brain simulation, or they hate Markram, or they hate the money going to someone else. And this, for me, is the depressing aspect for a community that is supposed to be made up of rational scientists.

Well, I can certainly agree that it is depressing when people lower themselves to that sort of level. Hopefully some good science will get done, and maybe Dr Markram will put egg on a lot of faces still, which I'm sure he's human enough to desire at some level!

Comment Re:WHOOSHHH!!!! (Score 1) 63

I don't think your point 2 actually is fair. HBP is not 'a research project', at least that isn't how the EC CONCEIVED of it, they conceived of a large-scale multi-disciplinary project with many different research groups working on related issues. So it wasn't intended to be simply a research project that was proposed by Markram, it was intended to be an umbrella program that directed the overall high-level goals. But Markram and a very small group of his people had an outsized influence on the direction, and were able to steer much of the resources of the project to their own research groups. I'm not sure to what extent IN PRACTICE they did this, but they clearly didn't listen to a lot of other input, else why the 'rebellion'?

And that brings us to point 1. The objections were so serious, so widespread, and involved such highly successful and influential academics that they couldn't be ignored. When a panel was convened 56 findings were made, and the EC people have largely agreed with those findings. Now, I'm sure there's plenty of politics involved here, but this project had a VERY unusual governing structure, and it was clearly having some real issues. It wasn't just some griping from what I've seen. Maybe "only 156 people" objected to start with, but I see very few people out there on Markram's side, and there are a LOT of questions that have been asked and the answers aren't good.

3 doesn't make sense. If something is known to be impossible or its value can't be established then maybe it isn't a suitable target for such large-scale research spending. Shouldn't more effort go into answering the basic question of if this kind of simulation is possible and what the benefits might be? Like maybe starting with simulations of much simpler nervous systems?

and I don't understand 4 at all. His publication isn't 'a footnote', its just way late in the scheme of things, because its a horse coming well after a cart. His publication record on the project should have been out there demonstrating what was actually being accomplished, BEFORE EUR 1 billion was committed. Now, its not Markram's fault perhaps that the EC was stupid enough to launch the project, but he might have achieved a very different result than being tossed off the project board and perhaps getting the whole thing defunded if he'd published 3 or 4 years ago. SURELY there was something interesting enough in the first 6 years of his research to warrant the publication of a paper? If not then one REALLY needs to ask if this research was leading somewhere or not. I think it is at least unfortunate that publication was a low priority for Dr Markram and he probably made a bad mistake there, which was really all my original comment was saying.

So I'm full circle to that original comment, "isn't this kind of too little, too late, now that he's publishing after being politically defeated."

Comment Re:Isn't it a bit late? (Score 1) 63

I'm not sure. I have read the popular reports. They sound interesting in some ways, and I don't think the effort is worthless. I may not be qualified to say exactly whether it is the best way forward or if other initiatives, which now seem to have gotten the upper hand, are better options. I will read the paper though if I can. I have an open mind about it, and 'simulate the human brain' certainly has a certain visceral appeal.

Comment Re:Isn't it a bit late? (Score 1) 63

I'm just saying, its been 10 years since Markram began this line of research, and NOTHING has been published in the formal literature up to now. One might question whether or not they've actually ACHIEVED anything, and if 10 years of effort isn't enough to publish a paper if the project is worth funding at a huge level going forward (Because the HBP is essentially just funding Markram's project as he's in complete control of all its funds, or was until recently). I think a year for a publication to be reviewed and finalized is maybe longish, but maybe not. Still, the HBP was started in 2013, so it was still begun on the basis of a project that hadn't published in 8 years. THAT is very unusual indeed!

Comment Re:WHOOSHHH!!!! (Score 1) 63

Yes, but what you fail to understand is these "emergent properties" would be what? Intelligence? Suppose you simulated a human brain and it talked to you intelligently. What have you learned about intelligence that you can't learn from talking to me? The learning process involves the ability to analyze and control your simulation, not just to make it. In essence if you can 'instrument' this brain simulation in a way that lets you 'dissect' its process and decompose it into more abstract representations then you've learned something. Thus the 'journey' to the brain simulation, not the simulation itself, is the value. Its what you learn when you tinker with some parameters and different things happen. Its when you can build models of PARTS of the brain and analyze them in isolation and with controlled inputs, etc.

Simulating an entire brain by 'brute force'? I don't see any inherent value in that at all. I think the problem is Markram seems fixated on this 'whole brain' part of the question and he's just either not expressing or genuinely not understanding the perspective I'm putting forward. The neuroscience community generally seems to believe that we have to approach this all bottom up, that we need to parameterize the processes of mental function and model them as abstract systems in order to really understand them. This seems to be very different from Markram's vision and its not clear that his approach is really valid.

Comment Re:WHOOSHHH!!!! (Score 1) 63

Well, I reserve judgement on whether his ideas have merit or not. I might have some slight insight into models and certainly software and such. Still, its an interesting project in one sense, and yet in another sense I understand the objections perfectly. If you end up with a simulation that is as hard to understand as the actual brain, what have you gained? The value MUST all be in the process, not the result, so why fix now on one specific result which may not prove to be the best choice?

My guess is this project is over in its current form. Some funds will probably be withdrawn, and the scaled-back project will be structured to complement the US 'BRAIN' project, which is looking at neuroanatomical tools. The two research programs could be highly complementary, with Europe developing the software to manage and manipulate data about the brain, and the US developing the tools to acquire that data. The whole simulation project probably should be built on top of these tools anyway, and it may actually be helped more by a stepwise approach to that vs Markram's all-in strategy.

We shall see, but I suspect we'll never know exactly what Markram was going for.

Comment Re:WHOOSHHH!!!! (Score 2) 63

Well, the whole rest of the neuroscience community pretty much rose up in rebellion. It turns out the structure of the HBP was pretty much entirely whatever Markram wanted it to be, it was his little dictatorship and he was answerable to nobody in effect due to the way he structured things. The EC gave him virtually carte blanc, didn't properly oversee the project, etc etc etc. There's a long and complex litany of issues. Finally the outcries of the rest of the field became so deafening that they HAD to look into it. A panel was formed, etc. Markram is effectively dethrowned at this point, though I guess technically he's still the head of the project for the time being. The entire thrust of the endeavour has been renegotiated, its now designed to be a project developing technological support and software/hardware infrastructure to support neuroscience research. The 'build a human brain simulation' goal is perhaps not gone, but its not realistically expected to be accomplished or even attempted within the scope of the HBP as it exists today. Its still an open question what level of funding the whole effort will retain, it was a $1.3 billion project, but it could well be scaled back to 10 or 20% of that.

And one of the big issues is that Markram was just pushing his research agenda, yet he'd never formally published anything on the last 10 years of research with IBM! Nobody really has any idea except his pop science articles about what exactly he's actually accomplished. The whole notion of throwing EUR 1.0 billion into a research project that's never published a single result was frankly absurd.

Now, maybe Markram's goals are valid and we'd gain some great insight or at least a hugely valuable experimental tool, if we could execute his vision, but its simply not clear that it CAN be executed. This publication is the VERY FIRST one that can be evaluated on its merits to help come up with an answer to that question. The fact that Markram didn't publish SOMETHING at least 3-5 years ago is crazy. Either he's very shy of criticism or has a huge ego (and the later is thought to be the case anyway).

Its a hot mess in any case, and this publication is just a very interesting footnote to the greater story.

Comment WHOOSHHH!!!! (Score 2, Interesting) 63

I think you should read up on the Human Brain Project. Markram has been doing this rat brain thing for 10 years now, and he's launched a billion Euro super project based on it, yet this is the FIRST time he's ever published any results. The HBP is also crashing and burning right now, bigtime. In fact it looks like Markram is pretty much been kicked off it.

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas l'Informatique. -- Bosquet [on seeing the IBM 4341]