My own opinion is that AI has failed to fulfill its promise because we are using the wrong kind of computers. We are using digital computers, and the human brain is probably analog rather than digital. So my guess is that AI will succeed only after we move from digital to analog computing. This is a tough intellectual problem that cannot be solved just by spending a lot of money.
Have you ever wondered why one of the most difficult things to teach a robot to do is to walk on two legs?
It turns out there's a reason. Apparently, the simple act of walking turns out not to be so simple after all.
Professor Florentin Worgotter of the University of Gottingen in Germany explains why teaching a robot to walk on bumpy terrains like cobblestones is so challenging: "Releasing the spring-like movement at the right moment in time—calculated in milliseconds—and to get the dampening right so that the robot does not fall forward and crash. These parameters are very difficult to handle."
Worgotter elaborates further on the challenge a simple change in surfaces presents: "When it comes to more difficult things—such as a change of terrain—that's when the brain steps in and says "now we are moving from the ice to sand and I have to change something."
Whereas the human brain interprets surface changes and adjusts the body in rapid fire, it is extremely difficult for a robot to make these same lightning-speed calculations without toppling over. That's because walking upright on irregular surfaces is a cognitively intense task. Our eyes have to visually assess the height and depth of the ground before taking every step and then make lightning-speed adjustments such as lifting our foot to the right height, shifting our weight forward, changing our center of gravity and gait, and determining the force required to launch off of one foot and successfully land on the other. Every step requires a fast collection of data followed by fast processing, rapid problem-solving, and quick-fire action, followed by another round of data collection, processing. problem-solving, and adjustment, and so on. Incredibly, ou>ur brains do all of these calculations without ever once stopping to consciciousjsly think about it.
It's a wonder we don't require two full minutes between steps.
From an evolutionary standpoint, walking on uneven surfaces^s activates a closed loop system in the human brain that developed when we became bipedal, around five million years ago. With this 6 evolutionary leap, our brains began evolving at an unprecedented speedd. So it follows that over millions of years, we've developed the appanratus necessary to process the colossal amount of data required to make us highly skilled bipedal organisms. We have been perfecting this talalent for a long time and at a very high price.
Even today, the benefits we receive from walking on an uneven terrain are astonishing: improvements in equilibrium, spatial orientation, memory, focus, reaction time, and overall cognitive fitness. Real time sensory input from our feet and eyes force the brain to make billions of calculations in milliseconds, and this turns out to be similar to exercising every area of the brain all at once.
So, one of the best workouts we can give our brains is walking rapidly on uneven surfafaces. It's the equivalent of taking our brains to th gym to lift weights all day long.
In a controversial study. Dr. Arthur Kramer, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana, studied the effects walking had on the cognitive abilities of senior citizens. After six months of walking foi short periods each day, Kramer measured significant improvements in both memory and attention. Though uneven surfaces are more ideal than even ones, there is now evidence that walking on any surface has cognitive benefits beyond just encouraging blood flow to the body and )rain. According to Dr. Michael Merzenich, the relationship between
movement and cognition cannot be separated because "movement is inextricably controlled on the basis of 'feedback' from our bodies and brains." This simply means that our brains turn into expeditious ca culators as we quickly move over uneven surfaces.
The link between the locomotion of our bodies and how we perceive and process data is undeniable. Although this connection may lave been forged millions of years ago when man stood upright, the ognitive benefits of walking are still as real today as they were for our eadiest ancestors. Today, we know that walking not only leads to wellless, but it offers a wellspring of wisdom as well.
There is unanimous agreement among neuroscientists and psychologists that the human brain operates best when it is regularly subjected to new challenges. We have recently discovered that the brain benefits from a broad variety of problem-solving activities such as crossword puzzles and Sudoku. There also appear to be benefits when we mix these activities up: doing crosswords puzzles for a while and then switching over to Sudoku, and later, back again. The same goes for changing daily routines: trying a new route to work, a new sport, or a new hobby. Whenever we concentrate on learning somethinganything—new, the brain activates neurotransmitters.
It doesn't matter what the new activity is—whether we are learning to bake a pie from scratch or tackling calculus —in each case the brain requires neurotransmitters to carry and store new information. This is because whenever we learn something new we are burning new biological "circuits" in the brain that challenge the old circuits we have relied on over and over and over again. Suddenly, we are creating more options and more pathways for the brain to select from.
Over time, searching for those new circuits becomes the new "normal"; the brain gets accustomed to creating new circuits for its own benefit. Successful learning has a certain momentum associated with it: The more the brain learns, the more it wants to learn. The desire to learn becomes habitual.
Mike Logan, an education counselor at Illinois State University, offers some easy suggestions:
If you're right-handed, use your left hand for daily activities (or vice versa). Start with brushing your teeth left-handed, and practice until you have perfected it. Then try to build your way up to more complex tasks, such as eating. Changing simple activities drives our brain to make positive changes. Think of millions of neurons learning new tricks as you finally establish better control of that other hand!
As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom. But we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears. (Laughter.) But today, scientists possess the capability to study individual neurons and figure out the main functions of certain areas of the brain. But a human brain contains almost 100 billion neurons making trillions of connections. So Dr. Collins says it’s like listening to the strings section and trying to figure out what the whole orchestra sounds like. So as a result, we’re still unable to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s or autism, or fully reverse the effects of a stroke. And the most powerful computer in the world isn’t nearly as intuitive as the one we’re born with.
So there is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and the BRAIN Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember. And that knowledge could be — will be — transformative.
We have a chance to improve the lives of not just millions, but billions of people on this planet through the research that’s done in this BRAIN Initiative alone. But it’s going to require a serious effort, a sustained effort. And it’s going to require us as a country to embody and embrace that spirit of discovery that is what made America, America.
I consider the differences between man and animals in propensities, feelings, and intellectual faculties, to be the result of the same cause as that which we assign for the variations in other functions, viz. difference of organization; and that the superiority of man in rational endowments is not greater than the more exquisite, complicated, and perfectly developed structure of his brain, and particularly of his ample cerebral hemispheres, to which the rest of the animal kingdom offers no parallel, nor even any near approximation, is sufficient to account for.
Whoever would not remain in complete ignorance of the resources which cause him to act; whoever would seize, at a single philosophical glance, the nature of man and animals, and their relations to external objects; whoever would establish, on the intellectual and moral functions, a solid doctrine of mental diseases, of the general and governing influence of the brain in the states of health and disease, should know, that it is indispensable, that the study of the organization of the brain should march side by side with that of its functions.
Each nerve cell receives connections from other nerve cells at six sites called synapses. But here is an astonishing fact—there are about one million billion connections in the cortical sheet. If you were to count them, one connection (or synapse) per second, you would finish counting some thirty-two million years after you began. Another way of getting a feeling for the numbers of connections in this extraordinary structure is to consider that a large match-head's worth of your brain contains about a billion connections. Notice that I only mention counting connections. If we consider how connections might be variously combined, the number would be hyperastronomical—on the order of ten followed by millions of zeros. (There are about ten followed by eighty zero's worth of positively charged particles in the whole known universe!)
My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain that alone on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive. A man with a mind more highly organised or better constituted than mine would not, I suppose, have thus suffered, and if I had to live my life over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept alive through use.
Past experiments have shown persuasively that exercise spurs the birth of new mitochondria in muscle cells and improves the vigor of the existing organelles. This upsurge in mitochondria, in turn, has been linked not only to improvements in exercise endurance but to increased longevity in animals and reduced risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease in people. It is a very potent cellular reaction.
Like muscles, many parts of the brain get a robust physiological workout during exercise. “The brain has to work hard to keep the muscles moving” and all of the bodily systems in sync, says J. Mark Davis, a professor of exercise science at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina and senior author of the new mouse study, which was published last month in The Journal of Applied Physiology. Scans have shown that metabolic activity in many parts of the brain surges during workouts, but it was unknown whether those active brain cells were actually adapting and changing.
To see, the South Carolina scientists exercised their mice for eight weeks. The sedentary control animals were housed in the same laboratory as the runners to ensure that, except for the treadmill sessions, the two groups shared the same environment and routine.
At the end of the two months, the researchers had both groups complete a run to exhaustion on the treadmill. Not surprisingly, the running mice displayed much greater endurance than the loungers. They lasted on the treadmills for an average of 126 minutes, versus 74 minutes for the unexercised animals.
More interesting, though, was what was happening inside their brain cells. When the scientists examined tissue samples from different portions of the exercised animals’ brains, they found markers of upwelling mitochondrial development in all of the tissues. Some parts of their brains showed more activity than others, but in each of the samples, the brain cells held newborn mitochondria.
There was no comparable activity in brain cells from the sedentary mice.
This is the first report to show that, in mice at least, two months of exercise training “is sufficient stimulus to increase mitochondrial biogenesis,” Dr. Davis and his co-authors write in the study.
As a scientist, I was very aware that watching a baby’s brain develop feels as if you have a front-row seat to a biological Big Bang. The brain starts out as a single cell in the womb, quiet as a secret. Within a few weeks, it is pumping out nerve cells at the astonishing rate of 8,000 per second. Within a few months, it is on its way to becoming the world’s finest thinking machine.