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Spaun, simulated human brain built by Canadian scientists, thinks like a human (VIDEO)

Virtual model of brain can recognize numbers, do math and even pass reasoning tests.
Human brain spaunEnlarge
A real human brain on display in Bristol, UK, on Mar. 8, 2011. (Matt Cardy/AFP/Getty Images)

Scientists at the University of Waterloo in Canada have built a computer simulation of a functioning human brain that can recognize lists of numbers and write them down, do simple math problems and even pass some basic IQ tests, the Vancouver Sun reported.

The virtual brain, called Spaun (for Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network), has proved to be as accurate as the average human at the eight tasks it can perform, including copying an image and finding the next number in a series, Nature reported.

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According to the Vancouver Sun:

Spaun simulates the biological function of real neurons, including the voltages generated in the cells and the signals zipping around the brain.

Spaun contains 2.5 million virtual neurons — the average human brain has 86 billion — along with a simulated eye and a virtual arm that draws, Nature reported.

The researchers were surprised to see how much Spaun resembled human brains in its ability to remember items at the beginning and end of a list better than those in the middle, Nature reported. “We weren’t surprised that it could do tasks,” Chris Eliasmith, a theoretical neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo, told Nature, ”but we were often surprised that subtle features like the time it took or the errors it made were the same as for humans.”

Eliasmith told the Vancouver Sun that Spaun and other simulated brains could be used to learn more about neurological disorders and diseases and to develop machines with more human-like intelligence.

The human-like behavior of Spaun, which possesses no connections not present in the human brain, sets it apart from other large-scale brain models in development at labs around the world, including the Blue Brain Project in Europe, the Vancouver Sun reported.

“Until now, the race was who could get a human-sized brain simulation running, regardless of what behaviors and functions such simulation exhibits,” Eugene Izhikevich, chairman of the Brain Corporation in San Diego, Ca., told Nature. “From now on, the race is more [about] who can get the most biological functions and animal-like behaviors. So far, Spaun is the winner.”

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