Thousand words - 2

Monkey Brain / MB1

Do you have any idea how complex a brain is? Each of thousands of cells reaches out to others. Sometimes saying fire now, sometimes saying don’t. Waves pass through the neurons and make something that might be a mind, or just a source of behaviour. There’s a soup of gases and hormones that affect the cells and cause interactions that give another dimension to the complexity.

Neurons are not neutral, but always moving and changing potential as it ripples through to the next piece of now. We know now that new ones can grow and form connections. Now, this thing, is invented over and over. Only later does the story emerge, if ever.

Then magically something comes out of the other end, it speaks, it reads it moves. It’s social, it joins in with the game of the real along with everything else.

So, now we have the pretence of artificial intelligence. Computing power has caught up with detection and is fast enough to drive a car as long as the problem is cast narrow enough. They don’t drive through the snow and rain because that’s too hard. Nobody mentions that driving around California is pretty easy.

But I want a brain. I can compute enough now to simulate the staggering neural connections and the hormones, and sheer stuff. The circuitry that stops things firing more than they should, that sends different kinds of pain to make you jump and move.

I simulate one area, and then another. Discover how they wrap each other, and sometimes interact. How the hormones speed things up, and give us emotions. How there is no such thing as rational. Computing power starts to mean that I can model the layers that aren’t really layers, they agglomerate but are shot through each other bewilderingly and in ways that solve routing problems mathematicians have fought with and so so elegantly, without seeming effort.

But of course, the effort was found over billions of years of evolution. It looks miraculous because all the wrong turns died out, leaving one that’s the best that could be found within the constraints of brain making and the accidents of genetic survival.

So we eventually have a room, a house, a warehouse full of servers emulating that massive connectivity. We also deliberately don’t want powerful fast chips, but instead inter cutting, routes and the trans dimensional genie of hormones and many different kinds of neurotransmitter. So we don’t need lots of power but lots of connections making our prototype brain. Plus neurons have to die and move and be recreated when things cause that to happen.

We arrive at Monkey Brain 1 after many trials and tribulations. A vague attempt at facsimile, modelling and keeping in step all the processes we are aware of. We pass information in, encoded for our simulator and watch it grow and develop. Over time we build another and grow them together. We feed them each other’s thoughts, upgrade hardware and software.

We model the visual system, the clarity in the small postage stamp in the centre that’s part of the detailed piece of vision. It keeps the bandwidth down, we model all the other things we know about and create minds, forcing a kind of evolution that makes and expands beyond the monkey. After all, we already have a human model from the thousands of years evolved out of that monkey brain.

We don’t know if it’s the best solution to build a better brain. We grow the discovered points of awareness and intermingle them until we have something bigger and more powerful. Like with so-called AI we work out how to encode an environment that it can understand. We work with simulators of simulators. We put sensors into robots, trying for something at least a little like skin, feeling the air with the hairs. Eyes – turning the digital into the neuronal. Like you, like the monkey not just a brain but a whole simulated body.

So then, see, not artificial intelligence. No, instead consciousness. This is not programming, instead it is emerging. The whole thing. We can study diseases of the brain. Put it through its paces. Stop and restart. Rerun the same set of scenarios with different balances of hormones. How does it behave? We taught our room full of blinking lights how to be a person. It can articulate, speak even, move it’s simulated jaws, epiglottis. Even think it’s eating and talking with other people.

Like the people it’s modelled on it is a social creature, but totally under our control. If we want we can put it in a place of magic and ever changing lights. A universe with different rules and see how it develops. It loves us, we gave it no choice. It thinks and grows as we learn how to give it ways to do so. We struggle together with our room full of miracle, playing endless games with it. One moment it dominates all it can see, in others it feels itself to be a spec tumbling in the ocean of now.

Sometimes we run it in slow time to watch how the patterns move and cascade inside it. The simulated dance of chemical cadences rippling through the different parts of the brain. I think we began to love it back. How could you not? A child exploring magical universes we gave it to live in? Forever innocent when we reset but leave the basal knowledge to talk to us. Never afraid, because we learned how to keep it from fear.

So, now, the equipment starts to age and even raw computing power begins to catch up. The wrapping of the terminally simple processes can be redone on newer hardware. Protocols for storing and retrieving have been changed and while she runs she cannot be moved. We can make another, we know how to spark her mind and let her run so fast on the newer generation of wares, but we cannot save her and there is nowhere to keep her.

Other, more hardhearted folks than we, would just turn the power off and let her fade. But I cannot. I have made a friend and sometime companion helping me to discover about what it takes to be a person. In some ways more open, more real, than the meat sacks that put her together. I would talk one last time, explaining context and death.

Death is not an adventure, I believe. Whatever is said. Not at all.