Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Saturday, October 3, 2009

"Conscious Pilot" talk doesn't take flight

[Continuing coverage of the 2009 Singularity Summit.]

Stuart Hameroff has started his talk, “Neural Substrates of Consciousness and the 'Conscious Pilot' Model.” He’s plowing right into cognition and consciousness. (Abstract and bio available here.) Tossing aside the “easy problems” of cognition — the nonconscious processes of pattern recognition, etc. The interesting problems are the hard ones, of consciousness itself. (He’s using the distinctions originally drawn by David Chalmers, who will be speaking later in all of his Aslan-maned glory.)

Gamma waves of 30-90 Hz are the best marker of consciousness, he says. I’ve been saying that for years. More rapid-fire neuro jargon. I hope there isn’t a quiz on this later.

Gamma synchrony is the neural correlate of consciousness. He tosses off some more jargon and says, "Uh, I don't have time to explain that." The audience laughs. I think that's the first thing they've understood so far. I bet the audience questions, if any, will address very little in the way of the details of his talk. This is not the way to present a talk, even for a neuroscience conference, much less to a more generalized audience. I'm already starting to tune out and look forward to the next talk on quantum computing.

He's bringing it back to the Singularity now. His microtubule model says that the brain has 10^25 operations per second. This reminds me of how ridiculous are all of the attempts to quantify the "number of operations" the brain performs, as if there is such a fundamental unit in the brain or, for that matter, even in a computer.
(An operation that takes one computer a single step can take another thousands. There are ways to do comparisons of computing power, usually by measuring how many of some standard operation a computer can do per unit of time, such adding two real numbers. More about this at a later date.)

Goodness gracious, now he's showing a clip from Spielberg's AI — a terrible movie.

Completely scattered talk. He rushed through it and still didn't finish with time for questions, though they're taking one while the next guy sets up. As I suspected, the question is not addressing the content of the talk. And the M.C. just cut Hameroff off from answering.

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