An effort to create the first computer simulation of the entire human brain, right down to the molecular level, was launched on Monday.Teaching it to think is going to be a problem though, one possibly not solvable. But even if not, that will each us a lot too.
The Blue Brain project, a collaboration between IBM and a Swiss university team, will involve building a custom-made supercomputer based on IBMs Blue Gene design.
The hope is that the virtual brain will help shed light on some aspects of human cognition, such as perception, memory and perhaps even consciousness.
It will be the first time humans will be able to observe the electrical code our brains use to represent the world, and to do so in real time, says Henry Markram, director of Brain and Mind Institute at the Ecole Polytecnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.
It may also help in understanding how certain malfunctions of the brains microcircuits could cause psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and depression, he says.
Until now this sort of undertaking would not be possible because the processing power and the scientific knowledge of how the brain is wired simply was not there, says Charles Peck, IBMs lead researcher on the project.
But there has been a convergence of the biological data and the computational resources, he says. Efforts to map the brains circuits and the development of the Blue Gene supercomputer, which has a peak processing power of at least 22.8 teraflops, now make this possible.
There's also an ethical problem. This thing will never be human, absent some massive change in our understanding of how our minds work, so we can superimpose a human template on it. But it may just be intelligent. It may feel.
Hat Tip : Fred Kiesche of The Eternal Golden Braid.