Why you should bet big on bionic brains

November 23, 2012

When an IBM computer program called Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov at chess in 1997, wise folk opined that since chess was just a game of logic, this was neither significant nor surprising. Mastering the subtleties of human language, including similes, puns and humor, would remain far beyond the reach of a computer.

Last year another IBM program, Watson, triumphed at just these challenges by winning Jeopardy! (Sample achievement: Watson worked out that a long, tiresome speech delivered by a frothy pie topping was a “meringue harangue.”) So is it time to take seriously the prospect of artificial intelligence emulating human abilities?

The brain may not be incomprehensibly intricate. In fact, it may be a bit like Manhattan. Yes, argues the inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil in his new book How to Create a Mind. Mr. Kurzweil reckons that a full understanding and simulation of the human brain is a lot closer than most people think. Since he has a more impressive track record of predicting technological progress than most, he deserves to be heard.[…]