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Will human brain emulation be the first successful route to human-level digital intelligence?

In the quest for "strong" Artificial Intelligence, defined here as digital intelligences rivaling or surpassing that of humans, a number of potential path have been discussed. Among them is "brain emulation," in which the physical functioning of a human brain is directly simulated, at some level of detail, in a digital computer.

In an interesting recent book, The Age of Em, Robin Hanson explores the potential dynamics of human society assuming such "Ems" can be created, and that this occurs prior to the advent of other forms of strong AI. (See also a recent post by Hanson discussing the relative timing of different AI paths.)

There is considerable debate about the technological feasibility of such simulation: though there is general (though not universal) agreement that the brain, being a physical system, is amenable to being simulated, the necessary computations (and data gathering) span many orders of magnitude depending upon the level of detail required. Significant intellectual effort and funding is being directed toward understanding the Brain well enough to simulate it, for example in the massive Blue Brain Project, but there is no clear consensus as to how much progress has been made toward the ultimate goal. See for example this NYT editorial with a skeptical evaluation of brain emulation, and this response by the Brain Preservation Foundation

To gather thinking about this and track how the relative probabilities of "Ems" vs. other types of AIs evolve with time, we ask here:

Will the first human-comparable digital intelligences be simulated human brains?

Resolution is positive if the effort to create a viable (functioning, lasting, sane, etc.) emulated human, based on direct simulation of the neural connectome (and a requisite level of its physical instantiation), succeeds before another form of human-level digital intelligence. The latter will be defined as a digital entity capable of equalling or surpassing most or all core human cognitive capabilities. No view is taken as to the timeline for either effort except that a resolve date of 2060 is set, and resolution is negative if neither effort has succeeded by then.


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