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 Blue Brain Project - creating a simulated brain

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Date posted: 16/06/2005

On the sixth of June 2005, the most ambitious project to date for brain research was launched. Its mission: to recreate a human brain in simulation, neuron for neuron, connection for connection. Then, turn it on, and give it stimulai, so see what happens.

This will take a long time to achieve - at least a decade to map all the neurons and all the connections. They are starting with the central part of the brain, the neocortex - the part of the brain responsible for learning, memory, language and complex thought. The working model of this part, should be complete within just two years. After that, adjoining brain sections will be added until the entirety is mapped.

The research is funded by big players - IBM is footing much of the bill and a lot of computing power, whilst the Ecole Polytechnique F?d?rale de Lausanne (EPFL), in Switzerland is providing facilities for long-term research.

The Blue Gene/L supercomputer that will be used for the simulation consists of enough independent processors that each processor can be set to emulate a single nerve cell in a column. This is vital as a single nerve cell communicates with about 10,000 others.

Opinions vary wildly on what the researchers hope to achieve. Some think they are looking for the metaphysical soul and doubt it will be found. Others feel the mapping of the brain into a computer is meaningless.

Some academics, such as Roger Penrose of Oxford University, argue that brains do not work in a way comparable with a computer, so any kind of simulation that is built on digital architecture and uses traditional programming techniques is doomed to failure.

Henry Markram, the boss of the Brain Mind Institute, and the leader of the EPFL's side of the collaboration, stresses that Blue Brain's formal goal is not to build an artificial intelligence system, such as a neural network. Nor is it to create a conscious machine.

Of course, if you have the wiring of a brain, and pass enough stimulation through it, that may be exactly what is actually created. The model will simulate the exact electroochemical interactions in a human brain. These patterns are what drive thought in natural brains, so if you simulate them exactly, where is the borderline between natural thought and the simulations thoughts? If it thusly thinks, is it not possible it will be self-aware?

At the very least, it will provide an outstanding source of information on how the brain actually works at a fundamental level, and our first real tool for deconstructing it, and permanently integrating brain-machine interfaces in.

See the full Story via external site: www.economist.com

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