Excerpts from a discussion with Graphcore’s Chief Technology Officer, Simon Knowles

My Global Consulting Project (GCP) team, made up of myself, Apoorv Pandit, Jenn Atchley, Lana Bazzy and Nicolas Croix, have recently arrived at the headquarters of our client, Graphcore, in Silicon Valley. Graphcore are experts in machine learning and artificial intelligence. One of our first meetings was with Chief Technology Officer, Simon Knowles, and it wasn’t the kind of conversation that we were expecting. It went something like this:


Suppose I remove your arm and attach a mechanical one…
Is it still you?

What if I replace your eyes with lenses that connect directly to your brain…
Is it still you?

Suppose I replace your entire body and attach your head to a robotic body….
Is it still you?

Suppose I mixed your brain with the contents of someone else’s brain…
Is it still you?

Suppose I upload the contents of your brain into a machine that doesn’t have your form…
Is it still you?

To every single one of these scenarios, our GCP team smiled and hesitantly responded with a positive affirmation. We knew Simon was carefully leading us to a crucial point and the point was this: “What makes you “you” is your data model, nothing else.”

But Simon wasn’t finished….

Every waking hour your senses process vast amounts of data and manage to store only a very small fraction of it- about 2GB total throughout a person’s life. That is about an eighth of the average storage capacity of an iPhone, and about 1/64 of a Macbook Air.

To process a friend’s face for example, your brain calls on various bits of stored memory to identify the face as your friend. At the same time, machine learning systems, known as neural networks, have been successfully trained to identify faces better than the best of humans. Tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, as well as many startups, are working on systems that will be able to replicate activities humans do on a daily basis: speech and image processing, simple tasks such as writing emails and answering phone calls, and more complex tasks such as deducing the illness of a particular patient in a hospital.

In short, the cyborg reality that exists in sci-fi novels and films, could easily be a reality in the future. The question is, in what form and in what capacity? Simon was optimistic –”there are many scenarios besides the classic Armageddon example, which I find highly unlikely.”

Whatever may come in the future, the four hours we spent with Simon came at us like a hurricane. Shaken with excitement, we left our kick-off meeting determined to contribute to the force that is Graphcore.

Join us on our journey at #isitstillyou.