The brain is an amazing machine, capable of many different types of processing, learning, thinking and creativity. And it does all this using one basic substrate : A huge collection of interconnected neurons.

How is this good news?

Until very recently, it appeared that the increasing complexity of brains between the various classes of animal was something that depended not only on the quantity of brain matter, but also on the delicate arrangement of the hierarchy of neural pathways.

However, it appears now that the interconnectedness is less like an intricate 3-dimensional puzzle, and more like a folded 2-dimensional matting. Pure quantity of neurons may be more significant than it first appeared. Higher-order brain functions may simply be a result of more layers of processing power being available to act on the results of lower-order brain functions.

Nature is very efficient

Individual neurons up and down the animal kingdom are very similar to each other : They are excellent building blocks.

Even so, that implies that human neurons are not so specifically adapted to higher-order functions that we have special ‘magic’ neurons capable of doing the stuff that only humans can do.

Looking at history on evolutionary time-scales, in the quest for humans to establish an niche in the animal kingdom many tradeoffs were made in exchange for greater brain capacity : speed, strength, eyesight, hearing, smell, size, etc.

And even within a given volume of brain, some functions have received lower allocations of grey matter than in other animals, essentially to ‘make room’ for things like tool-manufacture, language, reasoning and philosophy.

Where’s this heading?

It seems plausible that pure replication leads to higher functions being developed as a natural consequence.

But is this solely a natural effect? Perhaps ‘dumb replication’ will also lead to something interesting in artificial systems, provided the building blocks making up the system are sufficiently flexible.

Importantly, the wind is at our back : Moore’s law doesn’t apply to human brain power…

Martin Andrews

{Finance, Software, AI} entrepreneur, living in Singapore with my family.

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