VMworld’s Thursday keynote: How We Think

Todays keynote is not directly about new technology or cool things. Well actually it is about cool things. No bloggers tables today, no press. So, nothing new? Maybe not, but still an interesting blogpost I think.

David Eagleman: The Brain, The Mind and Consciousness

First up on stage is David Eagleman, a neuroscientist. He has been doing some tests on the human brain, even some tests on Steve Herrod’s brain in an attempt to find out how it works 🙂

An important result of the testing he did was, that we live in the past: The brain actually sees our world with all of its sensors, and then report back to your the conscience-part of your brain.

Different parts of the brain work at different speeds. So my take on this: The brain has several CPUs. Some are AMD, some Intel, some Atoms etc. 😉

It is interesting to see though that the human brain somehow manages to sync this all together and constantly recalibrate its different parts. Vision interpretion is way slower than sound interpretion. Still, your brain tells you that a visual event making noise is still in sync.

For neuroscientists it may be groundbreaking to see that our brain lives in the past, but for us technical geeks? Not much new I think: We simply call it latency. Some storage is faster, some is slower. Your VM waits for all of them introducing different latencies, and stitches it all together so the VM thinks it lives “now”. Pretty much the same!

The human brain is a VM!

So now we have vSphere 5, and we have Marvin, the 32vCPU monster VM, maybe we can start to build a brain inside Marvin? With that the circle is complete! For those who read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, they’ll recognise Marvin, “the paranoid android” right?? Douglas Adams was right after all.

V.S. Ramachandran: The brain and neurons

Up next on the stage is V.S. Ramachandran. He has been researching the human brain as well but in a different way from the first speaker. He experiments further with the human brain. Numbers and color, colored numbers. Colors and numbers are actually two adjacent parts of the brain. Sounds like Intel here, one core and its associated hyperthreading core. Hang on, we’ll get there.

Up next the “monkey see monkey do” neurons. Some neurons will actually simulate behavior. Why are these important? These neurons emphatise with something you see. It simulates what would happen if it happened to you. Add another hyperthreading core 🙂

Deb Roy: The jump to the digital world

Deb Roy has been involved in two mayor experiments involving really big data:

Test number one: Discovering your own shadow
The first experiment is placing fisheye cameras in his house. With 150 terabytes storage “in the basement” he is capturing about 90.000 hours of video! From these videos, he is rebuilding these images to completely new views, converting video to static images. These images are then used to explore how his baby boy leans to say the word “Water” from “gaga” to “water”. 6 months captured in 30 seconds.

Interestingly, you can now predict the birth of words. First, he tried to connect the birth of word to the frequency he hears the words. This connection was there, but was only very weak.

When video was included in this picture, another thing became obvious: Interaction with the environment was a big factor. He was able to create a “landscape” where he was learning these words. This “wordscape” was far more important than just hearing the word when hi son was learning words!

Conclusion: Marvin needs both audio AND video. Added to the list 🙂

It is amazing to see how much data was used and analysed in these experiments. I can’t keep myself from thinking EMC’s Greenplum would do great here!

Test number two: We’re all watching TV in a virtual livingroom
With the introduction of the television, the circle of interaction was broken: The TV is a one-way thing, no feedback. What was done, was to analyse feedback that was given on the TV, through social media and other channels.

Breaking down this really big data showed that it really is true: “the media is the message”. Using social media they found out we all watch TV shows in one big virtual living room, all together alone. Add VMware vShield to Marvin’s list 🙂

My take

Thinking about the brain the way everyone has been doing at this session gave me the idea for a new and exciting idea: Why not create the tiniest VM, replicate it a few hundred times and network them together? How many of these tiny VMs could I fit on a vSphere 5 node?

Marvin the paranoid android may be conceivable after all!

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