Can we build intelligent machines?

It is the most complex organ, controlling our every move. It is fundamental to who we are,  and how we think, behave, and react. We all have one, yet we don’t understand how it is able to do so much, with such ease.

This extraordinary organ is, of course, the human brain.

Chris Eliasmith, Canada Research Chair in Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, has spent years delving into the brain. The result: he has successfully built the world’s largest-functioning, biologically realistic brain model, known as Spaun.

Spaun is not your ordinary brain simulation. It can actually understand commands and perform real tasks. Equipped with an eye and an arm, Spaun is able to see and process information. It can also use its arm to write what it is seeing.

We, as human beings, can read a passage and write it down on a piece of paper immediately. But that process requires the work of millions of neurons interacting with one another in a seamless fashion, in seconds.

Spaun, in comparison, can also understand what is being read, remember it, and listen to music at the same time. A true feat of science.

And that’s just for starters. Eliasmith and his team at the university’s Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience are continuing to grow this simulated model by adding hearing and a sense of smell, while improving vision and movement.

By creating a model of the brain, and gaining a better understanding of its processes, Eliasmith hopes to understand the causes and effects of mental illnesses and also help build more efficient robots and computers.

Eliasmith, who’s also appointed in Philosophy, Computer Science, and Systems Design Engineering, is helping to build a trans-disciplinary approach to neuroscience, as he continues to explore the billions of neurons that form the human brain.

Chris Eliasmith

Chris Eliasmith

University of Waterloo

Canada Research Chair in Theoretical Neuroscience and Director of the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience


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