A leading neuroscientist says Kurzweil’s Singularity isn’t going to happen. 
Instead, humans will assimilate machines. 
Miguel Nicolelis <http://www.nicolelislab.net/>, a top neuroscientist at 
Duke University, says computers will never replicate the human brain and 
that the technological Singularity is “a bunch of hot air.”

“The brain is not computable and no engineering can reproduce it,” says 
Nicolelis, author of several pioneering papers on brain-machine interfaces.

The Singularity, of course, is that moment when a computer 
super-intelligence emerges and changes the world in ways beyond our 

Among the idea’s promoters are futurist Ray Kurzweil, recently hired on at 
Google as a director of engineering and who has been predicting that not 
only will machine intelligence exceed our own but that people will be able 
to download their thoughts and memories into computers (see “Ray Kurzweil 
Plans to Create a Mind at Google—and Have It Serve 

Nicolelis calls that idea sheer bunk. “Downloads will never happen,” 
Nicolelis said during remarks made at the annual meeting of the American 
Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Sunday. “There are 
a lot of people selling the idea that you can mimic the brain with a 

The debate over whether the brain is a kind of computer has been running 
for decades. Many scientists think it’s possible, in theory, for a computer 
to equal the brain given sufficient computer power and an understanding of 
how the brain works.

Kurzweil delves into the idea of “reverse-engineering” the brain in his 
latest book, *How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought 
*, in which he says even though the brain may be immensely complex, “the 
fact that it contains many billions of cells and trillions of connections 
does not necessarily make its primary method complex.”

But Nicolelis is in a camp that thinks that human consciousness (and if you 
believe in it, the soul) simply can’t be replicated in silicon. That’s 
because its most important features are the result of unpredictable, 
non-linear interactions amongst billions of cells, Nicolelis says.

“You can’t predict whether the stock market will go up or down because you 
can’t compute it,” he says. “You could have all the computer chips ever in 
the world and you won’t create a consciousness.”

The neuroscientist, originally from Brazil, instead thinks that humans will 
increasingly subsume machines (an idea, incidentally, that’s also part of 
Kurzweil’s predictions).

In a study published last week <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23403583>, 
for instance, Nicolelis’ group at Duke used brain implants to allow mice to 
sense infrared light, something mammals can’t normally perceive. They did 
it by wiring a head-mounted infrared sensor to electrodes implanted into a 
part of the brain called the somatosensory cortex.

The experiment, in which several mice were able to follow sensory cues from 
the infrared detector to obtain a reward, was the first ever to use a 
neural implant to add a new sense to an animal, Nicolelis says.  

That’s important because the human brain has evolved to take the external 
world—our surroundings and the tools we use—and create representations of 
them in our neural pathways. As a result, a talented basketball player 
perceives the ball “as just an extension of himself” says Nicolelis.

Similarly, Nicolelis thinks in the future humans with brain implants might 
be able to sense X-rays, operate distant machines, or navigate in virtual 
space with their thoughts, since the brain will accommodate foreign objects 
including computers as part of itself.

Recently, Nicolelis’s Duke lab has been looking to put an exclamation point 
on these ideas. In one recent experiment, they used a brain implant so that 
a monkey could control a full-body computer avatar, explore a virtual 
world, and even physically sense it.

In other words, the human brain creates models of tools and machines all 
the time, and brain implants will just extend that capability. Nicolelis 
jokes that if he ever opened a retail store for brain implants, he’d call 
it *Machines“R”Us*.

But, if he’s right, us ain’t machines, and never will be. 


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