Computers and brains

Apr 08, 2016

Miles Berry

An interesting interview with Prof Steve Furber for this week’s #CASTV programme:

The focus of the discussion is on the SpiNNaker project, a massively parallel, ARM powered machine capable of simulating at least some of how a brain functions. Programming a machine like this involves thinking about problems differently, but events and messages are something we can introduce pupils to via Scratch, not that I’m suggesting we start emulating brains in Scratch…

Simulating a brain isn’t necessarily the same as simulating consciousness (qv Penrose, 1999), and this could lead on to some interesting philosophical / ethical discussions in class. Is anyone exploring these ideas with their pupils? How?

Steve’s been a hugely influential figure in UK computing – as the hardware designer for the BBC Micro (qvMicro Men), and subsequently with ARM. He also chaired the Royal Society’s Shutdown or Restart report, which was a key influence on the move from ICT to computing. His Lovelace lecture for the BCS is well worth a watch.

Are we doing enough to prepare pupils for a not too distant future in which machines like SpiNNaker might be able to simulate the connections and behaviour of human brains?