IBM's BlueGene Simulates Half a Mouse Brain But Wait 'Til Sun Gets Texas Ranger Running

According to an article in UK Guardian

... researchers at IBM and the University of Nevada have been using IBM's BlueGene L supercomputer - which contains 4,096 processors, each using 256MB of RAM - and succeeded in simulating a small fraction of the power of just half a mouse brain. ... this huge processing effort still only managed to run at a speed 10 times slower than real time, and only for 10 seconds - the equivalent of one second of mouse-thought.

Now the BlueGene, currently the world's most powerful computer, runs at around 327 teraflops but Sun's forthcoming "Ranger" supercomputer, due to go online on January 1, 2008, at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas, Austin will run at ... this is really an amazing jump in power ... 504 teraflops! (And you thought Sun was on cruise control.) With that kind of juice presumably a whole mouse brain could simulated still running at around one tenth of real time at least as far as a mouse is concerned. Now the Ranger will have 16,744 quad-core AMD Opteron processors (giving a total of 62,976 CPU cores), 125 terabytes of memory, and 1.7 petabytes of disk space. But just think of what it would take to simulate a whole mouse brain at real time speed: I guess about 10 times the processors assuming that hardware limitations don't put the kibosh on the whole idea. Of course as and when 16 core processors become available everything would change but as the production yields on quad core designs are still low this is probably quite some way off. One of the biggest questions that the Guardian article raises is whether consciousness will arise in one of these simulations. It is indeed a fascinating question but I wonder whether we'd be able to recognize a mouse-sized consciousness? Given that there is still no good definition or set of tests by which consciousness can be determined I'm betting that anything that we do point at and exclaim "It's alive, it's alive!" will become one of the most contentious achievements in the history of technology. If you switch it off, are you killing it? If it is more profound than simply a mouse-sized consciousness, when do we judge it to be human? Is the potential for being human solely the province of wetware?

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