Ah, the human brain. Seat of consciousness, miracle of creation or evolution (discuss amongst yourselves), able to jump to tall conclusions in a single bound, so incredibly complex that we’ll never be able to understand how it works.
Um, not so fast.
A year and a half ago, scientists at the Blue Brain Project
in Switzerland announced they had successfully created an extremely detailed—down to the molecular level—model of the neurocortical column of a two-week-old rat...and that was just Phase 1 of their ambitious research effort aimed at nothing less than reverse-engineering the mammalian brain and recreating it in a computer.
The neurocortical column (NCC) is the basic unit of the neocortex, which in mammals is responsible for higher brain functions ...
As I’ve noted before, the very first science column I wrote, ca. 1991, was entitled, “What is a scientist?”
Last year I re-ran that column
with minor editing: the answer to the question hadn’t changed in 17 years.
But it may have changed now.
That’s because researchers at Cornell University have created a computer program that can derive fundamental physical laws from raw observational data.
In other words, they’ve created an artificial scientist.
By observing the behavior of a single pendulum, a double pendulum, and a spring-loaded linear oscillator (things you might use in a high school physics classroom), their software figured out some basic laws of physics, previously discovered by Isaac Newton and successors.
Big difference: it took human scientists centuries. The computer ...
This evening in the car my six-year-old daughter, Alice, commented out of the blue that she wished our car could drive itself.“I’d like that, too,” I said, and explained that scientists were, in fact, working on cars that could do exactly that, thinking of the Grand Challenges for driverless cars held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency over the past few years.“You should get one,” she said. I explained I couldn’t buy one yet, but maybe she could when she’s grown up.“That would be cool,” she said.Then I got home, started looking for a topic for this week’s science column, and the first item that popped up was John Tierney’s
Download the audio version.Get my science column weekly as a podcast.
***Robots were once science fiction: in fact, the word comes from the Czech word “robota,” meaning work, and originated in Karel Capek’s popular 1920 science-fiction play R.U.R. (for Rossum's Universal Robots).These days, there are robot vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and dogs, and all kinds of robots that work on assembly lines and in other industrial capacities.But let’s face it, we all know that a real robot is one that resembles a human being: what science fiction writers call an android (as in Philip K. Dick’s story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, which became the movie Blade Runner).The ...
Computer scientists at the University of Alberta have solved the ancient game of checkers
:After 18-and-a-half years and sifting through 500 billion billion (a five followed by 20 zeroes) checkers positions, Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer and colleagues have built a checkers-playing computer program that cannot be beaten. Completed in late April this year, the program, Chinook, may be played to a draw but will never be defeated.