An article on the BBC news website, discusses IBM’s latest development in artificial intelligence, which is modelled on the way that the brain is wired via neural connections which build and strengthen but also adapt and change over time, making the brain plastic and malleable (read about brain plasticity here). The computer chips used by IBM are capable of rewiring their connections when they encounter new information, in a similar way as that which it is believed biological synapses use in the brain.
This allows the computer to learn and adapt over time, an interesting (and human) feature based on the ways in which synaptic connections in humans (and other animals) physically connect themselves when useful information is presented (that is, something which can help us better predict outcomes). IBM’s computer doesn’t do this by physically ‘soldering’ and removing connections, but rather by amplifying and minimising certain signals, teaching the computer how much ‘attention’ to pay to certain signals.
This seems to me an intriguing parallel with the way that our emotions teach us what to pay attention to (what in the world is important and what is not), and it will be intriguing to see how well their model of the mind can replicate the way that thinking and experience ’emerges’ from the neuronal level computations of our brains.
You can read more about IBM’s SyNAPSE project at the website.