There were news today that researches from the University of Padua, have developed “neuro-chips”, a bundle of living brain cells, and silicon circuits.
To create the neuro-chip, researchers squeezed more than 16,000
electronic transistors and hundreds of capacitors onto a silicon chip
just 1 millimeter square in size… They used special proteins found in the brain to glue brain cells, called neurons, onto the chip. However, the proteins acted as more than just a simple adhesive…. “They also provided the link between ionic channels of the neurons and semiconductor material in a way that neural electrical signals could be passed to the silicon chip,”
How can we not be reminded to the scenario described in Searle’ book “The Rediscovery of the Mind”…
Imagine that your brain starts to deteriorate in such a way that you are slowly going blind. Imagine that the desperate doctors, anxious to alleviate your condition, try any method to restore your vision. As a last resort, they try plugging silicon chips into your visual cortex. Imagine that to your amazement and theirs , it turns out that the silicon chips restore your vision
to its normal state. Now, imagine further that your brain, depressingly, continues to deteriorate and the doctors continue to implant more silicon chips. You can see where the thought experiment is going already: in the end, we imagine that your brain is entirely replaced by silicon chips. . . . In such a situation there would be various possibilities. (p.65)
And the possibilities Searle names are:
you continue to have all of the sorts of thoughts,experiences, memories, etc., that you had previously; the sequence of your
mental life remains unaffected.
You find, to your total amazement, that you are indeed losing control of your external behavior. You find, for example, that when the doctors test your vision,you hear them say, “We are holding up a red object in front of you; please tell us what you see.” You want to cry out, “I can’t see anything. I’m going totally blind.” But you hear your voice saying in a way that is completely out of your control, “I see a red object in front of me.
the silicon chips did not duplicate the causal powers of the brain to produce conscious mental states, they only duplicated certain input-output functions of the brain. The underlying conscious mental life was left out. (p.68)
Maybe few years in future, we will have such person to ask…
While the researches admit that implanting chips in human brains to
cure disorders may be decades off, shorter term uses could be in the
pharmaceutical industry, where chips could be used to monitor drug
effects on the brain.
The question is though, even if we ask… who would be answering?
For further analysis of the situation, check Chalmers’ Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia, and my previous post on why artificial neural networks can’t be conscious.