To get an idea of what this could possibly mean, allow me to paraphrase part of the book I’m reading, “The Spike”, written by Damien Broderick and published in 2001 (pgs 192-194):
Imagine we could send a nanobot into your blood and into your brain, and there it would find neurons and their connections. This nanobot can find, let’s say, a faulty or failing neuron and replace it. Having a few “synthetic neurons” might not seem so bad, and perhaps one wouldn’t notice any difference when one is replaced - but what about when this process continues? What about when all “100 billion” neurons are replaced? You don’t feel any different perhaps - or perhaps you will. Perhaps we can pack in two or three times as many synthetic neurons in a human skull than biological ones. Things start to get very interesting at this point.
Now, we aren’t there yet and we may not take the nanobot route. But one thing is certain: This is big news.
Engineering researchers.. have made a significant breakthrough in the use of nanotechnologies for the construction of a synthetic brain. They have built a carbon nanotube synapse circuit whose behavior in tests reproduces the function of a neuron, the building block of the brain…
Carbon nanotubes are molecular carbon structures that are extremely small, with a diameter a million times smaller than a pencil point. These nanotubes can be used in electronic circuits, acting as metallic conductors or semiconductors.
“This is a necessary first step in the process,” said Parker, who began looking at the possibility of developing a synthetic brain in 2006. “We wanted to answer the question: Can you build a circuit that would act like a neuron? The next step is even more complex. How can we build structures out of these circuits that mimic the function of the brain, which has 100 billion neurons and 10,000 synapses per neuron?” Parker emphasized that the actual development of a synthetic brain, or even a functional brain area is decades away [just decades! This may happen in the next 30 years!], and she said the next hurdle for the research centers on reproducing brain plasticity in the circuits…
She believes the ongoing research of understanding the process of human intelligence could have long-term implications for everything from developing prosthetic nanotechnology that would heal traumatic brain injuries to developing intelligent, safe cars that would protect drivers in bold new ways.
P.s. A lot of work is being done in this area. I wanted to provide a bunch of links but don’t have the time to find them now! Anyways, here’s a recent one also worth a look. (This is also related.) Anyone have some links to articles from respectable sites on this topic?