I was fortunate to have a long-term freelance gig with the Association for Computing Machinery where I produced a total of 35 interview-based videos and about as many articles. I met some amazing researchers in areas related to the human brain, such as computational biology, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence.
These encounters made me realize how close we are to emulating certain functions of the human brain, thanks to modern computer power and new algorithms. Some have already been solved, such as speech transcription and facial recognition: These bedeviled researchers for fifty years.
Meanwhile, neuroscience has gotten better at understanding how the brain works. The field of "computational neuroscience" emerged as the two fields joined forces to build partial maps of the human brain, and then run virtual experiments on it.
Now, several efforts are attempting to create a complete model. Although their main goal is to examine brain processes, "thought" may eventually emerge from such models, whether intentional or by accident.
Regarding artificial intelligence, Professor Thomas Dietterich told me that media coverage follows two lines:
There's the sort of Commander Data story line, which is really the Pinocchio story. ... And then the other side is Frankenstein's monster, that somehow we create something we then cannot control.
I think the same is true of brain modeling. And like Dietterich, I believe that predictions of both utopia and apocalypse are wrong. Instead, humanity will adapt to the changes. With experts in philosophy I'd especially like to explore the relationship between the (intangible) "mind" and the (physical) brain — what's classically known as "The Mind-Body Problem".
Almost a brain
There will always be differences between artificial and biological brains, if only because some aspects of the brain aren't worth emulating. So the brain we create will always be "almost a brain". We'll continue to put effort into developing features that are important to us. The aspects we choose, and how we react to the results, expose our own humanity.