Thinking in the Box

May 9, 2022Philosophy/Ethics, Tech0 comments

Even the simplest brains of the simplest animals are awesome computational instruments. They do computations we do not know how to do, in ways we do not understand

There is nothing that is done in the nervous system that we cannot emulate with electronics if we understand the principles of neural information processing.

Mead 1990

Julia and Sam are talking about the following article:
Neuromorphic Computing

In this post the dialogue is realised by an interaction of virtual characters, for more information please check the page “Virtual characters

Sam

When we talk about computers, we tend to distinguish the machine and its programming: hardware and software

Today 17:09   

Julia

OK, yes, I think everyone is familiar with those terms                         

Today 17:09

Sam

Great, but I’d like to point out how wrong that is, in some respects …

Today 17:10   

Sam

Where do we draw the line between those? Are they really that different? Doesn’t the design of the one determine the design of the other?

Today 17:10   

Julia

Whoa, those are tricky questions! 😅
Remarkably similar to the kind we ask about humans; is that what you’re after?

Today 17:11

Sam

In a sense. We are so used to the hardware/software distinction, that we forget that somewhere they overlap and interact

Today 17:11   

Julia

Can you give me some examples? Otherwise, I fear our readers won’t all get it …😅

Today 17:12

Sam

Sure: flip-flops are at the same time a hardware device and a software abstraction, a circuit and a one or zero

Today 17:12   

Julia

Right, so there is a level where the distinction is arbitrary: it is both a thing and information

Today 17:13

Sam

Exactly! 😉 But then of course at other levels things are much more clear cut

Today 17:14   

Julia

But what did you mean with “wetware” then?                                       

Today 17:15

Sam

Ah, yes, well as far as I know, the brain is like that all over: it is tremendously difficult to keep the hardware and software apart

Today 17:16   

Julia

Oooh, now I get what you mean: a classical computer architecture is completely different

Today 17:16

Sam

Right, but if the brain is an information processor, you can try to just copy the informationally relevant bits

Today 17:17   

Julia

So like Smee you can capture the same informationally relevant relations in a different hardware?

Today 17:18

Sam

Up to a point, of course. We can try to copy some of the structure of the brain, but only in software really

Today 17:19   

Julia

What do you mean? 🤔                                                                             

Today 17:19

Sam

Well, most “artificial neural networks” (ANN) actually are software simulations that run on ordinary beige box computers

Today 17:19   

Julia

Aha, so as you said: a lot of simplification and abstraction 😊                

Today 17:19

Sam

Correct! We still don’t know exactly how the brain does all its information processing or how to copy that efficiently

Today 17:20   

Sam

and then there’s the whole digital/analog problem …

Today 17:20   

… Continue reading our conversations that are posted every Monday …

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