The U.S. Government Needs Help Building a Brain to Experiment On
Do you have an interest in the human brain? Are you keen to find out what makes us tick, and how our grey matter is put together?
If so, then the Office of the Director of National Intelligence might have a role for you - the government is looking for someone to build a "human brain" (or at least, something close to it) from scratch so that they can experiment on it. The role involves creating what's known as a Biological Neural Network (BNN) - in other words, a brain with a central nervous system attached that takes in input, analyzes data, and is capable of making rational, human-like decisions.
This is an incredibly complex and difficult job. At present, our technology is nowhere near this sophisticated, and while certain efforts are being undertaken that could see our understanding of the human mind increase, we're still so far away from making a working human brain that the job opportunity looks like a lifetime of study and research.
Or, as assistant professor Zachary Chase Lipton of Carnegie Mellon University said in a statement to Gizmodo: "This isn't a first step, this is a Nobel Prize."
The technology needed to perfectly create a working human brain is phenomenal, but that's not even the goal of the project. According to the job posting, the successful candidate will "examine how BNNs work and determine if they can be manipulated", with an emphasis on learning to trick the brain into misinterpreting signals.
There's already a growing body of research that relates to hacking artificial intelligence to force it to make mistakes, seeing patterns in data that aren't really there, or convincing it that it's looking at a completely different thing to what is actually on display.
This type of computer hacking is intriguing, but ultimately understandable - humans built computer systems, so we know how they work, and it's easier to find weaknesses in their programming.
Essentially, what the US government is looking for is a way to similarly mess with organic computers, tricking the human brain into thinking it's seeing one thing while it's actually looking at something totally different.
We know that optical illusions or hallucinations are possible, and now, the government essentially wants to figure out how to make best possible use of the flaws within our minds. In order to do that, scientists will need to create incredibly detailed fake human brains to experiment on, meaning that, as a byproduct of a slightly suspicious project, the government's scientists might inadvertently create artificial consciousness.
Because of the challenge involved with this project, the government is currently considering two possible avenues in creating viable BNNs. Either scientists can mess with genuine biological systems, working "in vitro with neuron cell cultures or slices", or they can go digital, creating computer models and simulations that work in a similar way to the human brain.
The job opportunity does at the very least state that the role will not involve any experimenting on humans, which is a nice assurance. But for the most part, this project sounds like something out of mad science, as the government learns how best to fool its citizens.
Thankfully, it doesn't seem possible for anybody to make much progress on this technology in the near future, so no matter which direction the project takes, we can rest easy knowing that nobody is messing with our minds just yet.
Or, at least, that's what they want you to think.