Grand Engineering Challenge: Reverse-Engineering The Brain

At engineeringchallenges.org we find a number of engineering challenges, the most important of which is perhaps the one of reverse-engineering the brains.

For decades, some of engineering’s best minds have focused their thinking skills on how to create thinking machines — computers capable of emulating human intelligence.

Why should you reverse-engineer the brain?

While some of thinking machines have mastered specific narrow skills — playing chess, for instance — general-purpose artificial intelligence (AI) has remained elusive.Part of the problem, some experts now believe, is that artificial brains have been designed without much attention to real ones. Pioneers of artificial intelligence approached thinking the way that aeronautical engineers approached flying without much learning from birds. It has turned out, though, that the secrets about how living brains work may offer the best guide to engineering the artificial variety. Discovering those secrets by reverse-engineering the brain promises enormous opportunities for reproducing intelligence the way assembly lines spit out cars or computers.

Figuring out how the brain works will offer rewards beyond building smarter computers. Advances gained from studying the brain may in return pay dividends for the brain itself. Understanding its methods will enable engineers to simulate its activities, leading to deeper insights about how and why the brain works and fails. Such simulations will offer more precise methods for testing potential biotechnology solutions to brain disorders, such as drugs or neural implants. Neurological disorders may someday be circumvented by technological innovations that allow wiring of new materials into our bodies to do the jobs of lost or damaged nerve cells. Implanted electronic devices could help victims of dementia to remember, blind people to see, and crippled people to walk.

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