The idea of building a thinking brain used to be that personality and self determination will "emerge" if you just throw together enough circuitry. I think that's nonsense. The complexity of every mind came from the pressures of evolution, not magical "emergence". A smarter, though more difficult, path is to understand the circuitry of a biolgical brain and duplicate it in hardware.
While still in the realm of science fiction, this has moved a bit closer to reality with the "OpenWorm" project. As explained at Scientists Put A Worm's Mind Into A Robot's Body , these folks reverse engineered the brain of a simple worm and recreated it in hardware. Although still imperfect, the manufactured brain is said to react to stimuli just as an actual worm would.
We're a long, long way from doing that with a human brain, but it demonstrates the possibility. And then what?
Well, Stephen Hawking is worried that those machines will destroy us (Hawking's Fears Stir Debate).
He's losing it, honestly. Mapping a brain to hardware requires understanding what the biological circuits do and we are a long, long way from that. This would require massive engineering and research. But there's no magic in that worm brain and there will be no magic in the mapped human brain when we get there. We may create programming errors, but we will not add any circuitry that was useful to us during our evolution (anger, jealousy, for example) but would be pointless or dangerous in a machine brain. The robot brains aren't going to rise up against us unless we stupidly design them with that goal.
See Killer Robots also.
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