(NaturalNews) The European Union has approved funding for a project designed to build a robotic brain, the first stepping stone toward constructing robotic humans (androids).
"Robots will challenge the way we feel about machines in general," said robotics researcher Danica Kragic of KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. "A completely different kind of society is on the way."
In January, the EU approved funding for the Human Brain Project, in which 87 separate universities will work on a supercomputer simulation of the cellular, chemical and network conductivity properties of the human brain. The researchers hope to gain better understanding of the architecture, development, function and organization of the human brain. The project will also involve testing prototypes of robots with artificial brains.
"Will we be able to - just by the fact that we can build a brain - build a human?" Kragic said. "Why not? What would stop you?"
But building a robotic brain is not just about creating artificial humans. In general, brains are more energetically efficient, faster, and more powerful than any computer yet known (except in certain specific applications, such as mathematics). In addition, they require no programming because they can learn on their own.
Circuit components that learn
Research on the Human Brain Project will likely involve efforts such as those in a recent study by researchers from Bielefeld University, published in the Journal of Physics, in which scientists designed a new type of electronic microcomponent that can imitate the properties of nerve cells.
The component, known as a memristor, is made of layered nanoparticles and is designed as a connector between separate electric circuits. In this capacity, it is able to imitate the function of synapses (the connections between separate nerve cells). A single nerve cell can be connected to other cells with thousands of synapses, which become stronger or weaker depending on how often they are used. Memristors share this ability to learn (and thereby change their electric resistance) based on past experiences. The researchers hope to use them as the basis of a robotic brain.
The development of robots with brains would cause dramatic changes and challenges to society, Kragic said.
"There is a discussion about robot ethics and how we should treat robots," Kragic said. "It's difficult to say what's right and wrong until you are actually in the situation where you need to question yourself and your own feelings about a certain machine."
Intelligent robots are already being talked about as replacements for human workers in everything from housekeeping to us striving and restaurant work. Social critics have also raised concerns about the safety of widely deploying intelligent robots.
"A robot rebellion - that's the ultimate science fiction scenario, right?" Kragic said.
"It's worth placing some constraints on robots, such as [author Isaac] Asimov's Three Rules of Robotics. At the same time, we have rules as humans, which we break. No one is 100 percent safe, and the same can happen with machines."
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