Human Brain Project
|Human Brain Project|
|Mission statement||Understand the human brain|
|Type of project||Scientific research|
The Human Brain Project is a large 10-year scientific research project, established in 2013, coordinated by Henry Markram (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) and largely funded by the European Union, which aims to provide a collaborative informatics infrastructure and first draft rodent and human whole brain models within its 10 year funding period. The project is based in Geneva, Switzerland and was initiated by Markram.
- Brain simulation
- High-performance computing
- Medical informatics
- Neuromorphic computing
Organisation and funding
The Human Brain Project is directed by scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (neuronal stimulation) and co-directed by scientists from the University of Heidelberg (computer), the University Hospital of Lausanne, and the University of Lausanne (medical).
The project involves hundreds of researchers, from 135 partner institutions in 26 countries.
Its total costs are estimated at €1.19 billion, of which €555 million would go to personnel, to compensate 7148 person-years of effort. It is funded by the European Commission through its Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship grant. 113 institutions across Europe are now involved as partners and another 21 as collaborating partners and will between them receive up to one billion euro in funding over ten years.
The call for initial funding for the "ramp-up" phase of €54m closed in November 2013 and the results were announced in March 2014. 22 projects from 32 organizations were selected for the initial funding of €8.3m. of which €2.4m was for "virtual robotic environments, agents, sensory & motor systems".
The primary hurdle in the project is the unsystematic nature of the information collected from previous brain research. Neurological research data varies by biological organization schemes, species studied, and by developmental stages, making it difficult to collectively use the data to replicate the brain in a model that acts as a single system.
Other obstacles include engineering problems involving power consumption, memory, and storage. Detailed neuron representations are very computationally expensive and the project's aim to model a whole brain of them is at the bleeding edge of our computational capability. Some would argue beyond it, at least within the stated time frame of the project.
Technologies generated by the Human Brain Project and other similar projects offer several possibilities to other fields of research. The project will create a better understanding of the human brain and its functions, as well as facilitate medical research related to healing and brain development.For instance, the brain model can be used to investigate disease signatures and the impact of certain drugs, leading to better (and earlier) diagnostic and treatment methods. Ultimately, these developments will lead to more advanced medical options available to patients at a lower cost.
Design of the artificial human brain will also lead to developments in the engineering of computer chips and in developing new supercomputing and energy-efficiency techniques modeled with the human brain as an example. The project's platforms include those on Neurorobotics, Neuromorphic Computing, and High Performance Computing. Computational developments can be extended into realms such as data mining, telecommunications, appliances, and other industrial uses.
It is also crucial to note the long-term ethical consequences of such a project. The project follows a policy of Responsible Innovation. The Ethics and Society Programme, with subcommittees Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects Committee (ELSA) and Research Ethics Committee (REC), is responsible for monitoring the use of human volunteers, animal subjects, and the data collected. Implications on European society, industry, and economy are to be investigated by the programme's Foresight Lab.
An open letter was sent on 7th July 2014 to the European Commission by 154 European researchers (750 signatures as of September 3rd, 2014) complaining of an overly narrow approach which they claim gives a significant risk that it will fail to meet its goals, and threatening to boycott the project. Central to this controversy was an internal dispute about funding for cognitive scientists who study high level brain functions, such as thought and behaviour. Peter Dayan, director of computational neuroscience at University College, London, argues that the goal of a large-scale simulation of the brain is radically premature. Geoffrey Hinton said that "[t]he real problem with that project is they have no clue how to get a large system like that to learn."
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