Canadian high-tech startup Intelligence Realm is constructing a distributed virtual brain, one computer at a time. Utilizing a computational model we’ve seen in such projects as SETI@Home, the system will harness the computing power of thousands of machines throughout the world to achieve its goal.
The grid computing middleware BOINC is used as the mechanism to distribute the computing tasks to the client machines. After the BOINC client is downloaded and pointed to the Intelligence Realm master URL, the user’s computer becomes part of the virtual brain, performing the work of 500,000 neurons.
At the moment the brain performs only simple arithmetic, however as time goes on the tasks will become more and more complex. Within eight years it is anticipated the brain will be able to perform automated research in a variety of fields. Additionally, the brain will be able to perform numerous simulations concurrently, such as figuring out a problem in mathematics while working on a physics hypothesis at the same time.
Intelligence Realm’s site includes a Q&A section, with some of the more interesting questions being:
Is this a different kind of intelligence?
No. Intelligence is implemented in the same way across all biological species, from insects to humans. This system will be no different in this respect; it will use the same information processing mechanisms found in all species. Understanding the mechanisms of intelligence allows us to control and increase machine knowledge and understanding beyond human levels. Nonetheless if a person will have the same information in one field as a machine, that person will be able to reach similar conclusions with the machine.
Can we implement consciousness in a computer?
Yes. Consciousness is a state of mind, inside the brain. By simulating on a computer the same brain processes that raise consciousness we will obtain the same result, that is a conscious machine.
Is this a distributed computing project like Seti@Home or Folding@Home?
Yes, but it has some notable differences, mainly that it will not be used for intensive computations only but also as a large neuronal simulator. ‘
What is the future system capacity?
We intend to build a system that has the brain capacity of all people living in the world. This way we can ensure that no one will be left behind. Its capacity will go far beyond the petabyte scale.
If someone would have the program source code would they be able to find out how knowledge is represented in the brain?
Probably not. They won't be able to understand the knowledge representation mechanisms even if they have the entire source code. They will be in the same situtation that neuroscientists are now, where they have access to a lot of biological information, yet they are unable to understand how knowledge is represented in the brain. The fact that the software program is a neural simulator doesn't change the nature of the problem. It is only translated from one system (i.e. the brain) to another (i.e. the computer); having a computer that simulates brain processes doesn't solve this problem.
Can I donate time for this project while running in parallel another distributed computing project?
Yes. You can either run the program as a standalone application or as a screensaver. It is your choice. The only interaction with other projects is in the amount of computing power allocated for each of the projects.
How you can get Involved
Currently there are over 6000 individuals contributing the processing power of 14,000 computers for a running total of 791 billion neurons. If you’d like increase the neuron count by 500,000 by adding your machine to the virtual mind:
* Download the BOINC client
* Set the master URL to http://www.intelligencerealm.com/aisystem
Additionally, some of the core sourcecode has been made available on SourceForge. Find it here
Overall this is a very ambitious project. Some say this is achievable within eight years, while others think that is wildly optimistic. What do you think?