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Singularity Summit – Ray Kurzweil On Quantum Computing In The Brain and Consciousness

Ray Kurzweil spoke at length with the audience Saturday evening. Below is a partial transcript from a recording of that talk.

Ray Kurzweil:

We’ve looked at what the brain does, and we can also look inside the brain and see if we can find anything comparable to quantum computing.

And the first issue: Quantum Computing has a tremendous scalability…but it doesn’t speed up every sort of computation. In fact, it’s pretty inflexible. So the classical problem that it can be applied to is cracking encryption codes based on cracking large numbers… and other combinatory problems like that. So, simulating protiens, solving linear sequences. There are different problems that would be sped up in this exponential manner, but in fact, it’s pretty limited.

But for all those types of problems, human beings do pretty poorly. We can’t even keep up with classical computing, let alone a quantum computer. There’s no indication that our capabilities are demonstrating quantum computing, and we haven’t found anything like quantum computing in the brain.

A more interesting issue is "do we need quantum computing for consciousness?" And I’ve been thinking about the issue of consciousness for a long time, I’m working on a book now called "How The Mind Works And How To Build One." I call it "The Mind" rather than "The Brain." Most of the book talks about the "brain," but the "mind" brings up this issue of consciousness. This ephemeral qualia quality that the mind has that we wouldn’t see in an actual brain…

I’ve actually been thinking about this going back to Junior High School – thinking about this for 50 years…

If I assume I’m conscious, even more than I assume your conscious, though I do that also (audience laughs) but it’s an assumption, a shared assumption. I don’t really even know what I’m conscious of.

"Did you see that bird flying by?" "Well, no, I didn’t." But maybe I did. I don’t remember it, but maybe when it was flying by, I saw it. I can’t actually access what I was conscious of other than my memory of events, but my memory is not perfect. Things can happen. You can be aware of them. Certainly you know that’s true of events that you were desperately conscious of a week ago, and now you’ve forgotten them. So, the fact that we don’t remember something doesn’t mean we weren’t conscious of it at the time.

Note: "How The Mind Works, and How To Build One" will be available from Viking Press in 2011.

Do you think the brain’s calculations go as fast as a quantum computer? What are your thoughts about how we perceive consciousness? Tell us on the blog.

7 Responses

  1. A. Karim says:

    I am not very sure which quantum theory is being used in the basic premise. Considering so many views on what quantum theory really is, its virtually impossible to conjecture which particular quantum computation model is closely coupled with higher brain processes like the “mind”. What I have raised as a real possibility at a computational neuroscience seminar is the use of quantum computing to solve complex models of brain systems. At least that is clearly achievable.

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