Grab your tools, everyone. We might be on our way to building an android brain!
Given that we're still struggling to create a humanoid robot that can get out of a car without falling over, the idea of one day building an actual android seems almost absurd, but this breakthrough in artificial neuron research is promising. Even with all the progress we've made in anatomy and neuroscience, we're still not actually sure how the brain — that fatty lump of weird meat inside our skulls — works to create a living, thinking, feeling person. One way to try unraveling that mystery might just be to build a physical copy of a brain out of something other than biological neurons — like electronic multi-state memory cells, or perhaps in the parlance of the 24th century, a “positronic matrix.” If you could build something like that and fire it up, what might you create? Would you have a functioning android on your hands?
Lacking any evidence to the contrary, I'm going to say, "yes." Let's face it: nobody in or out of Starfleet has ever actually explained in truly concrete terms what positronic technology actually is. What we do know is that it's incredibly hard to build, so hard that Dr. Noonien Soong was essentially the only person to ever get it right, which implies a problem of serious depth and complexity; we also know that it's the key to making android brains. A very strong case could be made that positronic technology has something to do with accurately recreating the structure and function of biological neurons using inorganic materials and signaling. If the Soong-type androids are any guide, solving this problem means opening up a world of possibilities.
For starters, you can create a truly sentient artificial person with their own thoughts, memories, and preferences — even desires.
Jon Sung is a contributing writer for XPRIZE and copywriting gun-for-hire to startups and ventures all over the San Francisco Bay area. When not wrangling words for business or pleasure, he serves as the captain of the USS Loma Prieta, the hardest-partying Star Trek fan club in San Francisco.
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