Terminator Made Real

My husband is building a brain.

And I think I may be living the Sarah Connor Chronicles.

My dear husband is in his home office with his home-built computer that could launch the space shuttle (and gets PG&E richer with every new board he installs), creating a brain that could become the real Terminator. Mind you, it won't be Arnold Schwarzenegger. We're all still waiting on our personal robotic assistants that do even our menial tasks. And though still decades away from that, my DH is inventing a computer that can learn on its own...with no emotions to guide it— no compassion, tolerance, hope...

He started with software, Bayesian networks, I believe, then onto more complex combinations of neural nets. He recently settled on synthesizing neurons and their conductivity over multiple levels, virtually modeling human brain function...in code, and began AI testing.

The quest is to have his neural network, which we all lovingly refer to as 'the Brain,' learn tic-tac-toe. Easy right? Most kids by three have been taught how to play the game. But my DH designed the brain so it would learn on its own. Virtually no instructions; no rules imposed or presented. Only a simulated expert opponent who teaches the Brain by example over hundreds of thousands of games.

My husband spends most of his [very limited] free time working on the Brain. Why? He'll tell you it's to scratch a mental itch he got watching Astroboy—wondering how the animated boy's mechanical brain worked. The current iteration of the Brain wins some, loses some, but it's been stuck a while. Endless hours coding, and then testing, then analyzing the results to pinpoint learning difficulties, and the Brain's improvement seemed incremental and somewhat arbitrary.

The loving wife/best friend part of me wishes for my husband's success in this creative endeavor he feels so passionate about. From the day I met him he's been working on AI software in one form or another. We've shared 16 years of discussions about intelligence—what it is, where it comes from, brain function, neurology, psychology, how it all comes together, what happens when it doesn't. And though he impresses with his diligence and rather obsessive efforts, that the virtual Brain apparently wasn't really making the mental leaps my DH hoped for helped me sleep nights.

Along comes FPGA boards,'logic blocks' my DH told me to paint a simple picture, tiny CPU's with limited function individually, but when a million of them are put on a chip they become powerfully complex with the right programming. My husband's new plan: to model the biological construct of the human brain, not just with software, but hardware now, turning the logic blocks into physical neurons.

My DH just crossed the line between virtual and real.


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