Almost everyday, surprising discoveries about the organization and mechanisms of nervous systems are being reported. The VLSI revolution has provided computer science with unprecedented tools to transform what we know about the brain into silicon. Silicon retinas and cochleas have already been designed and manufactured. Although it is nearly impossible to predict future technological breakthroughs, ever more sophisticated neuroengineering is in the offing.
Neural networks, composed of silicon neurons, could be used to emulate intelligent circuits in the brain. These simulations could be used to investigate mechanisms of learning, memory, and cognition, and perhaps consciousness. Some scientists speculate that consciousness is some combination of short-term memory and attention, two neural processes that could conceivably be modeled by silicon networks. If scientists could simulate artificial consciousness (not to be confused with artifical intelligence), perhaps they can observe it, if not understand it.
The Current Status of Neuroscience.