Russia hails breakthrough in building artificial brain

Russian scientists claim to have developed the first artificial brain, a "neuro-computer" with the same intellectual potential as its human counterpart, the Interfax news agency reported last weekend.

The new Russian computer is based on the human brain cell, or neuron, and outstrips previous brain models by using state-of-the-art findings in neurophysiology and neuromorphology to produce a truly thinking machine, scientist Vitaly Valtsev said.

But he warned of the potential hazards of the scientific breakthrough, saying the brand new brain could turn into a Frankenstein monster if mistreated.

Dr. Valtsev, a member of the International Academy of Information Science, told Interfax that Russian scientists succeeded where others had failed because they used a model of the neuron of the brain in building the computer.

Earlier attempts to create artificial intelligence failed because scientists had tried to create a smart machine using a model of the neuron of the spinal cord, which was first developed in the 1940s.

However, others were dubious about the extent of the Russians' findings.

"I really think this is overstated," says Prof. Paul Coleman of the University of Rochester, N.Y. "[There is so much that] we do not know about how the real brain works, about the sheer numbers of cells and connections.... We're really decades from replicating an adult human brain."

Professor Coleman says the closest we have come to an artificial adult brain so far is through programming general-purpose computers in ways that can learn. For example, the chess-playing machine Deep Blue was able to learn enough from each mistake it made that it eventually was able to beat humans.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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