[ExI] Fwd: [tt] Darpa’s Simulated Cat Brain Project a ‘Scam’: Top Scientist

Bryan Bishop kanzure at gmail.com
Tue Nov 24 16:08:18 UTC 2009

(the spelling is Markram, IIRC.)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Eugen Leitl <eugen at leitl.org>
Date: Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 5:00 AM
Subject: [tt] Darpa’s Simulated Cat Brain Project a ‘Scam’: Top Scientist
To: tt at postbiota.org, info at postbiota.org, neuro at postbiota.org

Darpa’s Simulated Cat Brain Project a ‘Scam’: Top Scientist

By Noah Shachtman * November 23, 2009  | * 11:49 am  | * Categories:

Last year, the Pentagon’s premiere research arm gave IBM nearly $5 million to
make electronics that mimic the “function, size and power consumption” of a
cat’s brain. Last week, IBM’s lead researcher on the project, Dharmendra
Modha, announced that he had made major progress toward that goal, simulating
on a supercomputer the number of neurons and synapses inside a feline mind.
Now, a leading neuroscientist is blasting the whole project as a “scam” and a

Modha told a supercomputing conference that his cortical simulator had
generated the digital equivalent of a billion neurons connected by 10
trillion individual synapses. It was, apparently, the first baby step toward
Pentagon mad science division Darpa’s goal of re-creating a brain that’s as
compact, as efficient and as power-smart as the one inside a house pet. Some
colleagues went so far as to compare it to the Large Hadron Collider.

But neuroscientist Henry Markham is considerably less impressed. “What IBM
reported is a scam — no where near a cat-scale brain simulation,” he writes
in an open letter to Bernard Myerson, IBM’s Chief Technology Officer. “I am
absolutely shocked at this announcement. Not because it is any kind of
technical feat, but because of the mass deception of the public.”

Markham isn’t exactly a disinterested observer, as IEEE Spectrum’s Sally Adee
notes. He’s got his own ersatz mind project, called Blue Brain, that’s also
affiliated with IBM. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Markham claims Modha
has simply put together a “PR stunt here to ride on Blue Brain.”

Still, such public criticism is unusual — especially when you consider that
it’s also an indirect indictment of Darpa, one of the leading funders of
artificial intelligence research.

   "All these kinds of simulations are trivial and have been around for
decades — simply called artificial neural network (ANN) simulations. We even
stooped to doing these kinds of simulations as benchmark tests four years ago
with 10’s of millions of such points…. If we (or anyone else) wanted to we
could easily do this for a billion “points,” but we would certainly not call
it a cat-scale simulation. It is really no big deal to simulate a billion
points interacting if you have a big enough computer. The only step here is
that they have at their disposal a big computer. For a grown-up “researcher”
to get excited because one can simulate billions of points interacting is

   …This is light years away from a cat brain, not even close to an ant’s
brain in complexity. It is highly unethical of Mohda to mislead the public in
making people believe they have actually simulated a cat’s brain…. That IBM
and DARPA would support such deceptive announcements is even more shocking."

I think the proper response here is: mee-yow! I can’t wait for round three of
this cat-brain cat fight.
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- Bryan
1 512 203 0507

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