October 9, 2013 - A 10-year, billion pound neuroscience project which aims to revolutionise our understanding of the human brain
has begun. Scientists
from 135 institutions, mostly in Europe, are participating in the The Human Brain
Co-funded by the EU, it aims to develop the technology needed to create a computer simulation of the brain.
It will also build a database of brain research from the tens of thousands of neuroscience papers published annually.
Cognition "The Human Brain
Project is an attempt to build completely new computer science technology that will enable us to collect all the information we have built up about the brain over the years," said Prof Henry Markram, Director of the HBP at EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), in Switzerland.
"We should begin to understand what makes the human brain unique, the basic mechanisms behind cognition and behaviour, how to objectively diagnose brain diseases, and to build new technologies inspired by how the brain computes."
The scientists involved accept that current computer technology is insufficient to simulate complex brain function. But within a decade, supercomputers should be sufficiently powerful to begin the first draft simulation of the human brain.
Another hurdle is the huge amount of data that will be produced, which will mean massively expanding computing memory.
Complex The HBP can be viewed as the neuroscience equivalent of the Human Genome Project, which involved thousands of scientists around the world working together to sequence our entire genetic code. That took more than a decade and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
But whereas that involved mapping every one of the three billion base pairs found in every cell that make up our entire genetic code, the Human Brain
Project will not be able to map the entire human brain. It's simply too complex.
The brain has around 100 billion neurons, or nerve cells and 100 trillion synaptic connections.
Instead the project aims to build a variety of computer simulations.
Scientists at the University of Manchester
are building a model which will mimic 1% of brain function. The SpiNNaker
project is led by Steve Furber, a pioneer of the computer industry, who played a key role in the design of the BBC Microcomputer.
"I've spent my career building conventional computers and I've seen their performance grow spectacularly.
"Yet they still struggle to do things that humans find instinctive.