Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Am I Blue?

Clearly, IBM is on to bigger things than making Apple computers blare iTunes for teenagers, which is now Intel's new job.

The Blue Brain story is a jar from the usual event corollaries we can't help but follow, day by day, like trains on a rail. The war, democracy, crazy Muslims, crazy Americans, crazy Transnationals and crazy Chinese stand more than a chance to be a blip in the future's history books. We can be so absorbed in things that don't necessarily matter.

Perhaps this is an example of life's diversions: Blue Brain: Illuminating the Mind
On July 1, the Blue Brain computer will wake up, marking "a monumental moment" in the history of brain research, says neuroscientist Henry Markram, founder of the Brain Mind Institute at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). The event could usher in a new era of scientific discoveries about the workings of the human mind.

...The Blue Brain computer is the latest installation of IBM's BlueGene/L system, a radically new approach in supercomputer design. EPFL's machine has a peak speed of some 22.8 teraflops

...Markram's EPFL team, collaborating with IBM researchers and an online network of brain and computer scientists, will use Blue Brain to create a detailed computer model of the neocortex, the largest and most complex part of the human brain. "That's going to take two to three years," he says.

..."we'll be able to investigate questions about psychiatric disorders and how they arise," Markram says. Scientists believe that autism, schizophrenia, depression, and other psychological problems are caused by defective or malfunctioning circuitry in the brain.
Ah, yes. Self improvement -- always laudable. How many of history's greatest innovators were psychologically disordered, one wonders? Well, never mind. Perhaps the mission of technology is just to keep humanity happy and contained. And hopefully not enslaved in the process.
Next, that knowledge will be transferred into a torridly fast silicon simulator. Blue Brain promises a fantastic acceleration in brain research. It could be as dramatic as the leap from chiseling numbers in Sumerian clay tablets 2,500 years ago to crunching them in modern computers. And the Blue Brain Project just might culminate in a new breed of supersmart computers that will make even BlueGene/L seem like a piker.
Tom Friedman says the mission of parents today is to teach their kids to love learning. We've got to keep up with the Chinese and the Indians.

Daniel H. Pink says we have to become more right-brained as intelligent automation and Third Worlders extract number-counting technicians from their American jobs. The most creative will win in the neo-post-new-economy -- not people with photographic memories, which suited the industrial age. He's probably right -- we've got to keep up with the Blue Brains out there.

A lot of great innovation will come out of Blue Brain, to be sure. Innovation must curve ever upwards. It will be a tad interesting, though, to see how innovation starts to become the domain of our creations' minds, and not our own. Since we'll all be psychologically steadied by Blue Brain's bromides, we'll can pass the innovation torch over to HAL 9000. First the left brain jobs disappear. Next, the right brain jobs.

So while we consider Markram's bold claim that we're apparently blogging away on Sumerian clay tablets, let's be sure and have a few stiff drinks at the end of the day, and watch the kids frolic in the yard. The ultimate creative being might be one of Blue Brain's successors, down the road somewhere in the fog. That's sobering enough to justify an extra dash of gin in the 'ole tonic.

OK, back to the war.