New Fast Company: The Meowtrix
My new Fast Company essay is now up, looking at the news that IBM researchers have produced a cortical computing system with the connection complexity of a cat's brain. (My original title is shown here on the illustration; the replacement title is a bit inaccurate and I've suggested a replacement, so let's just move along.) It's a follow-up to the research from a couple of years ago on a mouse-scale brain simulation; we're still on-target for a human-level brain connection simulation by 2020.
All of the stories about this, including my own, have emphasized the cat brain aspect, but in reality the truly nifty development is the improved ability to map brain structures using advanced MRI and supercomputer modeling.
Ultimately, this is a very interesting development, both for the obvious reasons (an artificial cat brain!) and because of its associated "Blue Matter" project, which uses supercomputers and magnetic resonance to non-invasively map out brain structures and connections. The cortical sim is intended, in large part, to serve as a test-bed for the maps gleaned by the Blue Matter analysis. The combination could mean taking a reading of a brain and running the shadow mind in a box.
Science fiction writers will have a field day with this, especially if they develop a way to "write" neural connections, and not just read them. Brain back-ups? Shadow minds in a box, used to extract secret knowledge? Hypercats, with brains operating at a thousand times normal speed? The mind reels.
The phrase "shadow minds" should be familiar to anyone who read the Transhuman Space game books -- this is almost exactly what the game talked about, and on an even more aggressive schedule!