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IBM supercomputer used to simulate a typical human brain

This post was first published on 19 December 2012.

This story is a fascinating read.  The very notion of computers that simulate the human brain seems like total science fiction. The reality however is that progress across a number of disciplines is both accelerating and converging. As a result the prospect of this type of technology emerging in the next 10 to 20 years is much greater than most people appreciate. It’s important to understand that the quest to build this technology isn’t a fringe play. It is being pursued by some of the brightest minds on the planet, at some of our most prestigious universities and by some of our largest, most accomplished and most well-resourced corporations (e.g. IBM). The following quotes from the article describe IBM’s end goal and examples of the ways they see the technology being applied.

“IBM’s end goal is to eventually build a machine with human-brain complexity in a comparably small package, and with a power consumption approaching 1 kW.”

“Future applications could include dramatically improved weather forecasts, stock market predictions, intelligent patient monitoring systems that can perform diagnoses in real time, and optical character recognition (OCR) and speech recognition software matching human performance, to name just a few.”

Some observations:

  • If IBM and others are successful in this pursuit, it will radically transform a number of industries built on a deep seated belief that they are safe because only humans can perform the key value adding activities in the industry
  • Even if IBM and others are only partially successful, the technology will still have a massive impact on a range of industries 
  • While it might take 20 years for IBM and others to reach their ultimate goal, you can expect them to make progress along the way and for the early impacts of that progress to be felt long before the final goal is achieved
  • History shows that companies tend to either discount or completely miss trends with momentum such as this until it’s too late

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