And there's some background on Poon's goals here:
The goals seem to me to be about studying specific theories about information propagation across synapses as well as studying brain-computer interfaces. They never mention building a model of the entire visual system or any serious artificial intelligence. We have only the vaguest theories about how the visual system works beyond V1, and essentially no idea what properties of the synapse are important to make it happen.
About two years ago, while I was still doing my undergraduate research in neural modeling, I recall that the particular theory they're talking about--spike-timing dependent plasticity--was quite controversial. It might have been simply an artifact of the way the NMDA receptor worked. Nobody seemed to have any cohesive theory for why it would lead to intelligence or learning, other than vague references to the well-established Hebb rule.
Nor is it anything new. Remember this story from ages ago? Remember how well that returned on its promises of creating a real brain? That was spike-timing dependent plasticity as well, and unsurprisingly it never did anything resembling thought.
Slashdot, can we please stop posting stories about people trying to make brains on chips and post stories about real AI research?