(LW bug: this comment double-posted with this.)

[Link, 2011] Team may be chosen to receive $1.4 billion to simulate human brain

by John_Maxwell 1 min read9th Mar 201231 comments


This is the team responsible for simulating the rat cortical column.


The team is one of 6 that is being considered for at least 2 "FET Flagship" positions, which comes with all that funding. Each of the six competing teams is proposing to work on some kind of futuristic technology:


Of course, word on the street is that academic neuroscientists don't think much of the project:

Academic neuroscientists that I’ve ever spoken too, which is a fair number now, don’t think much of the Blue Brain project. They sometimes think it will be valuable in terms of collecting and cataloguing information about the neocortex, but they don’t think the project will manage to understand how the cortex works as there are too many unknowns in the model and even if, by chance, they got the model right it would be very hard to know that they had.

Almost all neuroscientists seem to think that working brain models will not exist by 2025, or even 2035 for that matter. What ever the date is, most consider it too far away to bother to think much about.

Such projects probably help to get more kids interested in the topic.

I think trying to influence the committee's decision potentially represents very low hanging fruit in politics as charity.

Even if academic neuroscientists don't think much of the project in its current state, it seems likely that $1.4 billion would end up attracting a lot of talent to this problem, and get us the first upload significantly sooner.

It's true that Less Wrong doesn't have a consensus position on whether to speed development of cell modeling and brain scanning technology or not. But I think if we have a discussion and a vote, we're significantly more likely than the committee to come up with the right decision for humanity. As far as I can tell, the committee will essentially be choosing at random. It shouldn't be hard for us to beat that.

Edit: But that's not to say that our estimate should be quick and dirty. In the spirit of holding off on proposing solutions, I discourage anyone from taking a firm public position on this topic for now.

In terms of avenues for influence, here are a few ideas off the top of my head:

  1. Hire a PR agency to generate positive or negative press for a given project.
  2. Get European Less Wrong users to contact the program via Facebook and Twitter. (The program's follower numbers are in the low triple digits.)
  3. Hire professional lobbyists to do whatever they do.
Just to give everyone an idea of the kind of money involved here, if we have a 1% chance of influencing the committee's decision, we're moving $14 million in expected funds.

We, and the folks at the Future of Humanity Institute, SI, and other groups, seem to spend a lot of time thinking about what would happen in the ideal scenario in terms of the order in which technologies are developed and how they are deployed. I think there is a good case for also investing in the complementary good of trying to actually influence the world towards a more ideal scenario.