Not as crazy as I thought

In case you thought my NaNoWriMo novel‘s premise is ridiculous:

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at IBM have presented at paper at the SC09 supercomputing conference describing a milestone in cognitive computing: the group’s massively parallel cortical simulator, C2, now has the ability to simulate a brain with about 4.5 percent the cerebral cortex capacity of a human brain, and significantly more brain capacity than a cat.

[Ars Technica, “IBM makes supercomputer significantly smarter than cat”]

Mind you, it’s not actually simulating a cat’s brain, but it does work by modeling the interactions among 1.617 billion neurons across 8.87 trillion synapses, so in theory, if you could program in a sufficiently detailed model of a cat’s brain, it should work. The supercomputer that the simulation runs on consists of 147,456 CPUs with 144TB of memory, and even then can’t simulate neural activity in real time.

The article points out that even if you can simulate a brain with this system, that doesn’t mean you automatically understand what’s actually going on inside it, but it does give you something easier to study than a real live brain:

In the end, C2 is like having a (sorta) real cortex that you don’t fully understand, but that you can rewind, snap pictures of, and generally measure under different conditions so that you can do experiments on it that wouldn’t be possible (or ethical) with real brains.

So it turns out there really are people working on the sort of thing serving as my NaNoWriMo novel’s premise; they just aren’t quite as far along. But they’re getting there.

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