Friday, July 28, 2006

A Universe of Silliness?

I was just watching the movie Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy... waits for the Douglas Adams fans to stop cheering... and I thought about something.

First, the brain. A human brain has, on average, 100 billion neurons. Each of these neurons has 1,000 to 10,000 connections with other neurons. Assuming the high end, that's 1,000,000,000,000,000, or 1 Quadrillion synapses. Let's lop off some of that because a synapse between two neurons isn't counted as two synapses when you look from one cell or the other. Let's reduce it by half, so we have .5 quadrillion synapses. 500 trillion.

Now, imagine a way where we could ID and map every cell and connection in the brain. We could take a snapshot of the brain. Assuming a unique identifier system for the nerve cells, and with 100 billion of them we'd need 37-bit identifiers for 137,438,953,472 possible IDs. We could then ID a cell and list the 10,000 cells to which it is connected. 8 bits in a byte, 5 bytes per ID. 500 billion bytes in IDs. That's 500 gigabytes. I have 500 gigabytes and more in my computer right now.

The connection could literally be a yes/no, which is just a 1 or a 0, so that's 500 trillion bits. That equals 62,500,000,000,000 bytes. 62.5 terabytes of connection data. Add the 500 gigabytes of IDs and you have 63 terabytes of data to quanitfy the human brain. That may seem like a lot, but remember, we're now carrying around more storage on our keychains than was available on full hard drives ten years ago. 63 terabytes of storage is not far off.

Now, back to my point. Imagine a day when we can take a snapshot of the brain's structure. Every synapse is recorded. We could, in essence, copy a human. If their was a way to transfer that blueprint into an actual brain we could create a person anew.

I'm not saying we would then understand the language of the brain, but we don't need to. We don't need to know how the system works, we just need to know the location of every part. We could copy our brain once a week and keep spare bodies lying around. One body gets nailed by a bus and we just grow a new brain based on the previous data.

Obivously, the data acquisitions and storage part is the easiest aspect of this dream. How we would grow the new brain is completely beyond my addled imagination at this point. I'm also fully aware all of this was covered in the movie The Sixth Day. I'm just putting more detail into it.

Now my real point is that, with the spectre of death gone, would space actually be like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? There's no such thing as a matter of life and death and, let's face it, being silly and happy is the most desireable state of mind in which to be at any moment.

I think it's very likely that an ultra-advanced civilization would be filled with a large amount of silly geniuses. They have nothing to worry about. They all have food. They're all immortal. They could effectively bumble around the universe having fun. And even better, I think we are only a couple of hundred years away from this point ourselves, perhaps less. With advancements in medical technology, we may all very well live to see the day when the human brain can be recorded.

No comments: