Sunday, February 10, 2013

Henry Markram gets 1 billion to build a brain simulator

Henry Markram explaining neocortical neurons
Image wikimedia
Israeli scientist Henry Markram (b. 1962) has had enough brain power to win over a cosmic European Union one billion euro grant for his research. He is currently the director of both the Blue Brain and the Human Brain Project at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.

The enormous grant awarded to Markram is an obvious fact about the convincing power of human mind over other human minds in fierce competition for funding. (The other project that also got the caveted billion euro grant works on graphene.)

The question now is can Markram deliver a working computerized model of brain within the promised time scale so that in 2023 the world will have the Deep Thinker called Blue Brain. It should be simulating the actions of the 86 billion neurons that we seem to control with such ease in our modest 1.4 cubic litre heads?

BBC correspondent Ed Young writes
The very idea has many neuroscientists in an uproar, and the HBP’s substantial budget, awarded at a tumultuous time for research funding, is not helping. The common refrain is that the brain is just too complicated to simulate, and our understanding of it is at too primordial a stage.

Then, there’s Markram’s strategy. Neuroscientists have built computer simulations of neurons since the 1950s, but the vast majority treat these cells as single abstract points. Markram says he wants to build the cells as they are – gloriously detailed branching networks, full of active genes and electrical activity. He wants to simulate them down to their ion channels – the molecular gates that allow neurons to build up a voltage by shuttling charged particles in and out of their membrane borders. He wants to represent the genes that switch on and off inside them. He wants to simulate the 3,000 or so synapses that allow neurons to communicate with their neighbours.
Ed Young
Read the entire article in BBC Future - Science and Environment February 8, 2013

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