A computer that thinks like a human sounds like science fiction, but Chris Eliasmith, Director of the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, and his team have recently built what is currently the world’s largest functional brain model. This is pretty exciting because, although many large models of the brain have been built, none of them actually do anything.
Eliasmith’s model, SPAUN, is made up of software that simulates individual brain cells, or neurons, that are connected together as they would be in the human brain. Through it, Eliasmith’s team is hoping to figure out how to make these “neurons” communicate so that they can perform the information processing required to recognize an object, count, or complete different kinds of patterns. By building up large simulations from these component parts we can get a sense of how biology does the same kind of thing.
The benefits of this research are broad reaching. Not only are there medical applications, such as being able to tailor treatment specifically to an individual patient’s brain, but there are lifestyle applications as well. With this technology we can start to build robots and other intelligent entities that would think and behave just like people.