With 2001 in the rear-view mirror, there have been no little green men, no meal-replacement pills, no flying automobiles, no space odysseys. But as big-budget plans to model the human brain prove, proponents of artificial intelligence remain hopeful. In its most literal sense, AI exists already: encoded and executed, endowed with sensors, lenses and microphones, connected to the internet, and stuck in your pocket. But how intelligent does a machine have to be before our worst nightmares come true? Intelligent enough to pass a Turing test? Intelligent enough to nuke the human race? And/or intelligent enough to be self-aware, and thus real by Cartesian standards? Apocalypse notwithstanding, that's the threshold we're really interested in: artificial consciousness, artificial free will, and artificial bodies for that matter, if they're sexy enough.
But spending all the world's neuroscience dollars on a supercomputer simulation of the brain's neuronal connections will reveal less about AI and more about human stupidity. PZ Myers writes, "We aren’t even close to building such a thing for a fruit fly brain, and you want to do that for an even more massive and poorly mapped structure? Madness!" If the IT resources exist to simulate 90 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections between them, mediated by dozens of different neurotransmitters and organized into highly specialized networks, there's still no reason to expect intelligence to emerge or a ghost to glom on to the machine. The scientific consensus is that there's still much to learn about the brain, and this will only be achieved through less grandiose and far-fetched research.
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Wesley, here's the motivator for this: the belief in "Upload," the idea that you can achieve immortality by copying all the stored information from your brain into an AI that is capable of consciousness.
It's a major tenet of the Singularity religion. God in a box, and silicon salvation for your soul. Pseudoscientific bunk, wrapped up in technology to make it seem scientific.
A large number of Silicon Valley bigwigs and billionaires are into this. One is Sergey Brin, he of Google fame, who got Ray Kurzweil hired at Google with a blank check to develop a conscious AI.
These people believe they are entitled to eternal life, and they will spend whatever amount of money is necessary. Even at the expense of taxpayer dollars, shareholder dollars, and much other research that could have been conducted with those resources.
If Sergey Brin has his brain virtualized (or hardwired) he would just be duplicating himself in some sense. Even if one Sergey Brin became immortal, the original meatbag would still die. Unless the soul is real, in which case some kind of electrical transfer or just a shotgun might suffice to make the 'jump' from one body to another. But in that case we're all secretly immortal anyway.
Besides who wants endless Googlibility as as cyborg, when SF medicine promises endless youth as a human being?