One project that sounds like a script from a science fiction movie is the Human Brain Project, which has designed a billion-dollar project to recreate the mind of a human inside a computer. The parties involved believes that by simulating the synapses and neurons tangle, their ambitious aim could be the solution for tackling brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, depression and Alzheimer’s. This venture in human brain development is the step which will follow, after its long-running program succeeded in using a computer to design a replica of the neocortex of a rat. This is the brain’s part which is believed to control some higher functions such as conscious thoughts, reasoning and movement.
Scientists at the Blue Brain Project which is based in Switzerland have been trying since the year 2005 to put large quantities of algorithms and data in a computer. These have been produced from studying on the rodent’s gray matter. According to Sean Hill who is a neuroscientist, it is a research tool rather than a simulated brain meant to rule the world. An advancement that is significant was announced last month when they used their simulator to predict accurately the synapses’ location within the neocortex. This effectively mapped out the usually complex electrical circuitry of the brain within which the thoughts travel, as shown by OMG Machines.
According to Henry Markram, a neuroscientist who was born in South Africa and heads the project, the breakthrough could have taken decades or even centuries if it was charted using a neocortex which is real. He added that this was a proof that their concept was going to work. The team has now joined hands with other scientists to come up with the Human Brain Project and as the name does suggest, it is their intention to have their model scaled up to enable them to recreate a whole human brain. However, the step will require a huge funding increase and an access to computers that are so advanced that they are not yet built by this company.
In case their bid of $ 1.3 billion of funding from the European commission over the next 10 years becomes successful, it is Markram’s prediction that his team of computer neuroscientists is only a decade away from creating a synthetic mind capable of talking and interacting in the same manner as humans do. The bold claim has caused a comparison of a theme by the popular fictions that are doom-laden where conscious machines tend to turn on the creator wreaking havoc. The scientists in the project are commonly called ‘team Frankenstein’ while their computers are likened to ‘Skynet’ a virtual intelligence that causes a robot war against humanity in the ‘Terminator’ film. However, Sean Hill who is a neuroscientist working with the team laughs at the comparison. He suggests that the role of the computer will be to become a knowledge’s repository in regard to the brain allowing scientists to conduct various experiments without necessarily probing the inside of the people’s skulls of these guys.
According to Sean, the field of neuroscience is in a crisis. Despite the wonderful data that is being gathered, there is no place where the experimental results can be put together so that their implications can be understood. It is just the beginning of an appreciation of the complexity of the brain which is beyond any device that is known in the universe. The advantage of having the facility is the availability of a place where data can be integrated in a model to test predictions and to learn the principles of how the brain works. There is a phenomenal power that is required to have the model built. In order to replicate a single of the ten thousands neuron brain cells which were involved in the initial rat experiment, it took a full processing capacity which is usually found in a laptop. Therefore, in order to simulate a human brain that is fully functioning, this would need billions. According to Hill, such kind of computational power will be available by the decade’s end. The scientists of the project expect to work with developers of supercomputers to come up with future machines that do match their needs. However, despite the team projecting their project as the solution to the brain disorders affecting around 2 billion people worldwide, there are critics who feel that their work has a scope that is too broad and therefore, it is difficult for them to achieve any usable results. Sean Hill begs to differ, saying that the team was answering critics with its achievements.