Sure, the iPad is a technical marvel, and Sony’s 4K TVs are exquisite looking, and even Ronco’s Showtime Rotisserie is awesome, but there’s no denying the greatest piece of machinery on the planet is the human brain. Though we may never understand everything about the 100 trillion neural processes happening inside our heads, scientists may be able to mimic them relatively soon. It’ll take more than putting their minds to it, however.
The European Commission will be granting $1 million Euros ($1.6 million) to the Human Brain Project, a 10-year effort to understand, map, and replicate as much of the brain’s complexities as possible, and turn it into a supercomputer simulation. Taking cues from the successes of the Human Genome Project and the Large Hadron Collider, the HBP will be centered in Lausanne, Switzerland, and will bring together 200 researchers from 80 international institutions, all working to translate the brain’s structure into an interactive area of study without all the risks of poking and prodding real human brains.
Don’t go getting your hopes up about computers that can carry on a detailed conversation with you while whipping your sorry ass at chess. The brain model will allow for tests on behavior and cognition, and all of the intricacies those processes involve, but it won’t be learning or remembering your name or anything.
For an interview with the Globe and Mail, professor of neurology at Gill University Dr. Alan Evans, also an expert in brain imaging at the Montreal Neurological Institute, explains the actual process:
We start by gathering information from different areas of brain science. At the gross scale we can look at neuroanatomy and we know a lot of the fibre pathways that link different regions of the brain. That’s what will give us the broad strokes – the basic wiring diagram of the brain. What that won’t do is give us the fine structure. So then you step down to a smaller scale to model the connections within a particular region, like the visual cortex, and see if you can get the simulation to reproduce the way the visual sub-system behaves. Different groups within the project will be focusing on different subcomponents of the entire brain. The objective is to build up in complexity to something like a rat brain and then on up to a human brain.
The following video will help to explain things. And though it doesn’t say it, apparently the brain isn’t made out of old penne noodles taped together. This whole science thing is pretty interesting, yes?