What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Your Big Blue Brain on a Silicon Chip

August 19, 2011, 7:02 AM

The new experimental "brain chips" developed by researchers at IBM and DARPA represent a fundamental breakthrough in computing power. If these brain chips are ever commercialized, they would make possible what are essentially thinking, artificial brains. Just as the human brain is capable of building and re-wiring synapses as part of an evolutionary learning process, these IBM brain chips are able to form, re-form and strengthen artificial synapses, giving them the ability to take on tasks related to sentient beings. Instead of being mere calculators, the new era of computers would be able to "sense, perceive, interact and recognize" in the same way that humans can.

In short, the machines are alive.

What exactly are these new brain chips capable of doing? Venture Beat highlighted a number of different computing tasks that had previously been beyond reach of even the most powerful supercomputers:

"As a hypothetical application, IBM said that a cognitive computer could monitor the world’s water supply via a network of sensors and tiny motors that constantly record and report data such as temperature, pressure, wave height, acoustics, and ocean tide. It could then issue tsunami warnings in case of an earthquake. Or, a grocer stocking shelves could use an instrumented glove that monitors sights, smells, texture and temperature to flag contaminated produce. Or a computer could absorb data and flag unsafe intersections that are prone to traffic accidents."

Alan_Turing What is perhaps most exciting is that we may soon have a computer that is capable of passing the Turing Test, which has long been the Holy Grail of computing. Quite simply, the Turing Test, first proposed more than 50 years ago by computer science legend Alan Turing, is a test of whether a machine has the ability to exhibit intelligent behavior. While there have been computer programs such as ELIZA that have been able to imitate intelligent human behavior, as well as non-intelligent behaviors (like making typos), these programs were not "thinking" in the sense of a sentient being. True "thinking" requires learning and reasoning, and that requires the ability to re-create the way the human brain rewires its synapses. The IBM brain chips solve for this problem by actually creating a computer that is wired like the human brain.

Making all this possible is a paradigm shift in the way that we think about computing and computing architecture. The Golden Age of artificial intelligence may be closer than we think. It’s not just IBM and its Big Blue brain chips. Stanford’s new online Artificial Intelligence class, taught by Silicon Valley legends Peter Norvig and Sebastien Thrun, has already signed up 58,000 people worldwide to participate in a first-of-its-kind online learning experiment this fall. The dream of creating a sentient, thinking machine is almost a reality -- and there are now tens of thousands of people around the globe who are ready to take artificial intelligence to the next level. Ray Kurzweil predicted that machine intelligence and human intelligence would merge at some point within the next two decades, giving birth to The Singularity. It appears that he was right.


Your Big Blue Brain on a Si...

Newsletter: Share: