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Could the brain run a program?

  1. Aug 8, 2014 #1
    I forget where I saw this I think it was the Halo series with the Cortana AI but basically a program used a human brain for processing information and running itself. Would it be possible to have a program running on a human brain? Would the principle be similer to IBMs' TrueNorth chip? http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/...res-1-million-neurons-5-4-billion-transistors
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  3. Aug 8, 2014 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    What makes you think the brain is not running a program right now?
  4. Aug 8, 2014 #3


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    The brain is an excellent multitasker. You can breathe, enjoy an elevated heart rate, secrete adrenaline, compose music, scream and run for your life while being chased by a predator - all at the same time. Wiring the thing for more mundane purposes is a bigger challenge.
  5. Aug 8, 2014 #4

    Your kind of missing the point of the question. Actually your answer wasn't even technically related.
  6. Aug 8, 2014 #5


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    That's because the point of your question is not at all clear! What do YOU mean by "the brain running a program"? What do you mean by "running a program"?
  7. Aug 8, 2014 #6
    What I mean is could the brain be harnessed as a computer of sorts to run an os or other computer programs.
  8. Aug 8, 2014 #7


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    Hahah, I don't think we can run windows in our brain. Our brain is way better than a computer. We may not store information like a computer but the way we utilise the information is far more sophisticated.
  9. Aug 8, 2014 #8


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    Sorry I did not take time to do the search, look up 60 minutes.com, they aired a couple of shows that had limbs of people being moved by brain power where sensors were embedded in the skull, in such fashion that the electrical functions of certain lobes of the brain activated circuits in artificial limbs.

    IIRC one was a Bluetooth operation (remote) and one was a arm attached to the body.

    I would say yes to your question, technology is closing the gap in artificial intelligence where the physical body and mind is involved with electrical and mechanical actions.:smile:
  10. Aug 8, 2014 #9


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    What you are talking about is WAY different than "running a program". The brain just doesn't work in the necessarily linear fashion that a computer does. The brain is not capable of running what is currently considered a computer program. Perhaps in the future, when "neural network" type computers have evolved enormously, the programming will have changed enough that the answer will be yes, but not at present.
  11. Aug 8, 2014 #10


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    As sole owner of the Brooklyn Bridge guess I'll wait to see some other post, before conceding my position :eek::redface:
  12. Aug 8, 2014 #11

    Simon Bridge

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    If you want me to get the point, you'll have to explain what it is ;)

    From where I sit, it is directly to the point that I want to make, vis: you have not said what you mean by a "computer program" or what you mean by "running a program". Without knowing this, it is not possible to answer your question. By telling me why you think your brain is not running a program right now, you would have explained what you mean in a way that I can understand. Better: by exploring that question, you would have gained some insights into computers and the brain. But you chose not to :(

    For instance - AI researchers sometimes talk about a person's personality as being a computer program or a collection of programs running on a brain. Presumably you do not count your personality as software. So what do you count as software, and how would you be able to tell if it was running?

    I have a computer program that does addition. I can also do addition in my head. Is my brain running a computer program when I am doing mental arithmetic? The input and output are the same after all. I can even do my mental arithmetic using the same series of steps that the computer uses, does that help?

    Again - what do you mean by "harnessed as a computer"?
    Is "thinking" the same "being harnessed as a computer"? If not, then how is it different?
    Why wouldn't the human personality and subconscious be considered an OS?

    You seem to be thinking in terms of the kind of software you may run on a digital computer like the one I'm using to type this out. Is that correct? In which case, you are asking if non-native software could be made to run on a brain (still need to say what you mean by "run".... how would you tell if, say, windows, was successfully installed and running?)

    So lets put it another way: is the human brain "Turing complete"?

    If "yes" then, in principle, the brain can be used to simulate any other computer ... including the one I'm typing at. In which case, it can run programs written for this computer inside the simulation of this computer. That would involve constructing some sort of virtual machine and I suspect a brain would be very slow at the kinds of task that a digital computer is designed to do.

    I know I can get my brain to run very simple programs quite easily because I once built a computer and I used to troubleshoot it's software by imagining, in my brain, step-by-step what goes on inside the computer. This kind of visualization is the form that a virtual machine would take.

    You may be thinking of wiring someone up with a keyboard and a monitor ... that works too because you would need some sort of interface to mediate between the electronic HUD's and the person. We are doing that right now - I type some stuff into a keyboard in order to run a complicated stimulus-response program on your brain, and I get the output back via a monitor.

    Basically I am trying to get you to think in a scientific way about the question you just asked - in accordance with the policies of the forums.
  13. Aug 9, 2014 #12
    I don't think the brain is Turing Complete simply because we have a finite amount of brain matter to use as storage. If a human being were immortal and had an unbounded amount of paper and pencil, and that paper and pencil were also immortal, then and only then, would we have the physical capability of being Turing complete ( theoretically, but you know we would screw it up by making stupid mistakes anyways) .

    The human brain, I think, works very differently than digital computers do. However, they also do somehow do calculations at astonishing rates that we cannot easily match, if at all, with digital computers. But we don't have conscious control over all of what our brain does. Mostly our conscious may just be a by-product of what our brains do, rather than an kind of controlling mechanism. But how we achieve astonishingly fast calculations memory access, to my knowledge, is not fully understood, but we know that it is very different than how digital computers work.

    That sounds like a bunch of BS to me. A virtual machine is just software, written using the same instructions that the software that runs on it uses. And you certainly do not trouble shoot software by working out step by step what goes on in the computer in your head. Our efforts as computer programmers are made fruitful by abstracting away what actually goes on in the computer making high level logical constructs that can be translated into a form the CPU can process. And this is in a way similar to how our brains work. We, our consciousness, is very abstracted from the low level workings of our brains.

    Right, but you are not your brain. Your bumbling typing and rambling is far removed from the technical abilities of the brain that facilitates it. What is to be contemplated is whether or not the brain could be re purposed / accessed directly to tap into it's true technical power. I can't say for certain whether this is possible in some form or another, but I can say that it definitely wouldn't be something that you could come up or even understand based on some off the cuff pondering and speculation.

    Science is a process, not a way of thinking. The question is whether or not the human brain can be programmed to do a general computation, deliberately by a conscious human being. The science you would do to probe this question is not possible on this discussion forum. Here, the question is posed merely for speculation and there is really no other way to address it, unless you can find some scientific research to cite..
  14. Aug 9, 2014 #13
    The fact that coders can think the logic behind the program they're writing, from my point of view means they're already running their program in their head, talking of statements such as 'if' and 'else'.
    However, the human brain has definitely a different architecture from silicon cpus, in that way I think it would be improbable for a human brain to run a program already compiled. That would require a standard acknowledgement of universal signals to use the interface..brain drivers or what we still call 'machine code' in computer science.
  15. Aug 9, 2014 #14

    Simon Bridge

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    I see this argument a lot.

    Consider: the human brain is not restricted by it's physical size for storage - we can and do use peripheral devices for storage. Does that not count?

    If it does not, then that would invalidate pretty much any real-world Turing machine from being complete and "Turing completeness" would be impossible outside mathematical abstractions.

    If it did then the remaining restriction is the "infinite time" one - which I think is currently an open question in cosmology ... the answer thus rests on how pedantically fine we want to cut that hair ;)

    But that aside - you'll see that I put "Turing complete" in scare quotes... and for exactly the reason you brought up. But notice how just considering that rewording of the original question leads in all kinds of rewarding directions?

    The brain is clearly powerful enough to run a tic-tac-toe program, or how about a nice game of chess? But does that count as "running a program" per post #1?
    We won't know unless Warpspeed13 gets back to us.
  16. Aug 12, 2014 #15
    That's true. I always compose music while beeing chased by predators. :tongue:
  17. Aug 12, 2014 #16

    Simon Bridge

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    Hey - that's what I do ... chases are more fun with a sound track.
    Also works for running from bees ;)
    Welcome to PF.
  18. Aug 13, 2014 #17
    Well, I can "run" computer code myself - and often do to discover why a block of code isn't working as I expected it to.

    However, I am 7 or 8 orders of magnitude slower at doing that than a computer. I am also more error prone and a lot less tolerant of boredom. Digital computers do a better job running an OS that the human brain.

    Of course, there are things that mammal brains can do that current digital computers and software applications cannot.

    The notion of a "device" being able to process information in certain ways and doing it much better than a general purpose digital computer is not unusual. A few decades ago, the were specialized processors for performing floating point operations - and graphic processors are in common use. Perhaps we will soon have quantum information processors.

    To make best use of these devices, a regular digital computer is provided as a front end. You still want a user interface (mouse, keyboard, etc) and you probably want a connection to local network or the internet - and the regular computer provides these services. It can also store up problem sets for the specialized computing device to keep it busy.

    Say we wanted to harness the functionality of a cerebellum, we might take one from a suitable rodent, attempt to keep it nourished and healthy for at least a few days, hook it up with electrodes for both input and output to a computer, and fire up the computer. The technology is certainly available on the computer end. I'll let the biologists among us decide whether the wet end could be done.
  19. Aug 19, 2014 #18
    Coming from a heavy computing background and little in hard sciences, I have a relatively good understanding of computer systems and a relatively mediocre understanding of how the brain works. However, I'll make an attempt. A computer program runs because there is an agreed-upon set of instructions (Machine language) that the CPU analyzes and the operating system interprets in a predefined way. As for if the brain can run a program, I'm not quite sure what you mean. A computer program? Certainly not. However, synapses (1's and 0's) occur and the hardware (various structures of the brain) interpret these impulses in a predefined way. It's an interesting question.
  20. Aug 19, 2014 #19
    That's a better way of putting it what I mean is if you could temporarily isolate a synapsis and make it fire could it be harnessed as a sort of individual core in a processor to run electronics.
  21. Aug 19, 2014 #20

    Simon Bridge

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    ... an individual synapse is not complicated enough to be used as an "individual core" in a multicore processor - no.
    But I'm guessing you figured that out ;)

    More to your original point:
    You could, in principle, build such a core out of biological components that include synapses. But "synapses" is not the same thing as "brain".

    You could replace a CPU in a computer with a human brain, say, provided the necessary interfaces are available. This begs the question though - what would these interfaces be like? We have them already - keyboard and monitor and mouse ... the simplest action on a computer is an interaction betweenm the machine and the human. Maybe you are thinking maybe the HIDs we currently use could be replaced by direct wires to the brain? Maybe. Or maybe you are thinking of something like in Lexx, where a giant spacecraft has a number of distinct brains as the central computer?

    But I hope you can see how difficult it is to phrase meaningful questions in this area.
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