Last month in New York I had the pleasure to talk personally with the creator of Watson, Dr. David Ferrucci. I found him amicable and his answers to my questions on Watson very direct and informative. So, I have nothing against IBM in general. I love IBM’s computers. Several of my past desktops and laptops have been IBM computers. The first modern computer I had was an IBM Aptiva.
However, there is a constant thread of articles related to claims being reported that IBM has “completely simulate(d)” “the brain of a mouse (512 processors), rat (2,048) and cat (24,576)”, which was revived in force this last weekend. This is entirely false. IBM has not simulated the brain of a mouse, rat, or cat. Experiments have just recently been pursued to even simulate the 302-neuron brain of a flatworm, for which a wiring diagram exists. Instead, IBM has made “mouse-SIZED” neural simulations, “rat-SIZED” neural simulations, and “cat-SIZED” neural simulations, given certain assumptions about the computational power of mammalian brains. The arrangements between neurons being simulated bear little relation to the actual wiring diagram of neurons in these animals, which are not known. Given the tools we currently have, like ATLUM, it would take tens of thousands of years to determine the full connectomes of mice, rats, or cats.
I can never tell if it is the reporters who are being ridiculous, or IBM is deliberately misleading the public. However, I think IBM should issue a press release that clarifies the situation. Directly quoting Scientific American:
IBM describes the work in an intriguing paper (pdf) that compares various animal simulations done by its cognitive computing research group in Almaden, Calif. The group has managed to completely simulate the brain of a mouse (512 processors), rat (2,048) and cat (24,576).
The paper they cite is the same damn paper from 2009, “The Cat is Out of the Bag”, which I immediately reacted to negatively within days of its publication. Since then, I’ve been watching as this false meme, which has yet to be directly repudiated by an IBM representative, makes its way through the media, which doesn’t know any better.
Now, IBM is allegedly claiming that they simulated 4.5% of the (processes?) of the human brain, or at least hundreds of media sources are reporting it. All the media sources seem to just be linking the two-year old paper “The Cat is Out of the Bag”, so I’m not sure if there was a recent announcement or it just took the media two years to pick up the story.
Again, it’s impossible that IBM could simulate 4.5% of the human brain, because we (human civilization) don’t have 4.5% of the wiring diagram of the human brain to use as raw data to build a simulation. We don’t even have 0.1% of the wiring diagram of the human brain, I’d estimate, but you’d have to ask a computational neuroscientist (not one from IBM) to get a more informed guess.
We have the wiring diagram of the 302 neurons in the flatworm brain. That’s about it.
The vast majority of Reddit commenters are clueless and missing the obvious error. Even this seemingly educated comment misses the point that there is NO WIRING DIAGRAM for the parts of the brain IBM allegedly simulated. Even this “best of class” comment seems to take the reporting at face value, as if 4.5% of the human brain had been simulated, and criticizes neuron models instead of the “elephant in the room” that I’ve explained.
Reddit commenters fail for being fooled, the media fails for reporting a false story, and IBM fails for not issuing a clarification. In many cases IBM seems to actively encourage the misconception that a full feline connectome has been simulated.
My prediction is that AGI will be invented and we will have a full-blown Singularity before a complete cat connectome (much less human connectome) is created.
This whole issue is important because the public is already confused about computational neuroscience enough as it is. I see computational neuroscience as very important, and it’s important that the public — and scientists, who despite their alleged higher level of thinking, frequently pull their beliefs from popular articles like everyone else — know what is and hasn’t been accomplished in the field.
For a nice article on connectomics and what has been accomplished so far, see this article from Microsoft Research. It correctly highlights ATLUM as the only technology that is precise enough to get slices that can be imagined in sufficient detail to build a connectome. ATLUM, by the way, was invented by a transhumanist, Ken Hayworth. (Why do people say that transhumanists don’t contribute to science?)
Here’s yet another article.