Blue Brain project update

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Blue Brain project update

Postby dignan » Wed Nov 28, 2007 10:19 am

They're making progress on the most advanced computer simulation of the human brain.

A Working Brain Model - A computer simulation could eventually allow neuroscience to be carried out in silico.

Technology Review - An ambitious project to create an accurate computer model of the brain has reached an impressive milestone. Scientists in Switzerland working with IBM researchers have shown that their computer simulation of the neocortical column, arguably the most complex part of a mammal's brain, appears to behave like its biological counterpart. By demonstrating that their simulation is realistic, the researchers say, these results suggest that an entire mammal brain could be completely modeled within three years, and a human brain within the next decade.

"What we're doing is reverse-engineering the brain," says Henry Markram, codirector of the Brain Mind Institute at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland, who led the work, called the Blue Brain project, which began in 2005. (See "IBM: The Computer Brain.") By mimicking the behavior of the brain down to the individual neuron, the researchers aim to create a modeling tool that can be used by neuroscientists to run experiments, test hypotheses, and analyze the effects of drugs more efficiently than they could using real brain tissue.

The model of part of the brain was completed last year, says Markram. But now, after extensive testing comparing its behavior with results from biological experiments, he is satisfied that the simulation is accurate enough that the researchers can proceed with the rest of the brain.

the link to the rest of the article:
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Postby dignan » Fri Mar 07, 2008 12:54 pm

Here's an interesting new article about the Blue Brain project:

Out of the Blue

March 3, 2008 - Seed Magazine - In the basement of a university in Lausanne, Switzerland sit four black boxes, each about the size of a refrigerator, and filled with 2,000 IBM microchips stacked in repeating rows. Together they form the processing core of a machine that can handle 22.8 trillion operations per second. It contains no moving parts and is eerily silent. When the computer is turned on, the only thing you can hear is the continuous sigh of the massive air conditioner. This is Blue Brain.

The name of the supercomputer is literal: Each of its microchips has been programmed to act just like a real neuron in a real brain. The behavior of the computer replicates, with shocking precision, the cellular events unfolding inside a mind. "This is the first model of the brain that has been built from the bottom-up," says Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the director of the Blue Brain project. "There are lots of models out there, but this is the only one that is totally biologically accurate. We began with the most basic facts about the brain and just worked from there."

Before the Blue Brain project launched, Markram had likened it to the Human Genome Project, a comparison that some found ridiculous and others dismissed as mere self-promotion. When he launched the project in the summer of 2005, as a joint venture with IBM, there was still no shortage of skepticism. Scientists criticized the project as an expensive pipedream, a blatant waste of money and talent. Neuroscience didn't need a supercomputer, they argued; it needed more molecular biologists. Terry Sejnowski, an eminent computational neuroscientist at the Salk Institute, declared that Blue Brain was "bound to fail," for the mind remained too mysterious to model. But Markram's attitude was very different. "I wanted to model the brain because we didn't understand it," he says. "The best way to figure out how something works is to try to build it from scratch."

The Blue Brain project is now at a crucial juncture. The first phase of the project—"the feasibility phase"—is coming to a close. The skeptics, for the most part, have been proven wrong. It took less than two years for the Blue Brain supercomputer to accurately simulate a neocortical column, which is a tiny slice of brain containing approximately 10,000 neurons, with about 30 million synaptic connections between them. "The column has been built and it runs," Markram says. "Now we just have to scale it up." Blue Brain scientists are confident that, at some point in the next few years, they will be able to start simulating an entire brain. "If we build this brain right, it will do everything," Markram says. I ask him if that includes selfconsciousness: Is it really possible to put a ghost into a machine? "When I say everything, I mean everything," he says, and a mischievous smile spreads across his face.

for the rest of the article: ... e_blue.php
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Postby dignan » Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:39 am

Another Blue Brain update...

Simulated brain closer to thought

BBC -- A detailed simulation of a small region of a brain built molecule by molecule has been constructed and has recreated experimental results from real brains.

The "Blue Brain" has been put in a virtual body, and observing it gives the first indications of the molecular and neural basis of thought and memory.

Scaling the simulation to the human brain is only a matter of money, says the project's head.

The work was presented at the European Future Technologies meeting in Prague.

The Blue Brain project launched in 2005 as the most ambitious brain simulation effort ever undertaken.

While many computer simulations have attempted to code in "brain-like" computation or to mimic parts of the nervous systems and brains of a variety of animals, the Blue Brain project was conceived to reverse-engineer mammal brains from real laboratory data and to build up a computer model down to the level of the molecules that make them up.

The first phase of the project is now complete; researchers have modeled the neocortical column - a unit of the mammalian brain known as the neocortex which is responsible for higher brain functions and thought.

"The thing about the neocortical column is that you can think of it as an isolated processor. It is very much the same from mouse to man - it gets a bit larger a bit wider in humans, but the circuit diagram is very similar," Henry Markram, leader of the Blue Brain project and founder of the Brain Mind Institute in Switzerland, told BBC News.

He added that, when evolution discovered this "mammalian secret", it duplicated it many many times and then "used it as it needed more and more functionality".

Professor Markram told the Science Beyond Fiction conference that the column is being integrated into a virtual reality agent - a simulated animal in a simulated environment, so that the researchers will be able to observe the detailed activities in the column as the animal moves around the space.

"It starts to learn things and starts to remember things. We can actually see when it retrieves a memory, and where they retrieved it from because we can trace back every activity of every molecule, every cell, every connection and see how the memory was formed."

The next phase of the project will make use of a more advanced version of the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer that was used in the research to date.

"The next phase is beginning with a 'molecularisation' process: we add in all the molecules and biochemical pathways to move toward gene expression and gene networks. We couldn't do that on our first supercomputer."

Moreover, Professor Markram thinks the exponential rise in computing power will allow the project in 10 to 20 years to integrate many facets of medicine, right down to genomic profile, eventually creating a vast database for "personalised medicine".

Such an approach would allow researchers to simulate, on the level of an individual, how they will respond to a given drug or treatment.

The conference is a meeting to foster high-risk, multidisciplinary research in information and communication technologies (ICT), and as such is a mix of many types of researchers, from computer scientists to biologists.

Not all of them agree that the lofty ultimate goals of the Blue Brain project are achievable.

Wolfgang Wahlster of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, and a chief German government scientific adviser on ICT, thinks that the reductionist strategy of the project is flawed - that it won't see the forest for the trees.

"Imagine you could follow in one of the most advanced Pentium chips today what each and every transistor is doing right now," he told BBC News.

"Then I ask, 'What is happening? Is Word running? Are you doing a Google search?' You couldn't answer. Looking at this level you cannot figure it out.

"This is very interesting research and I'm not criticising it, but it doesn't help us in computer science in having the intelligent behaviour of humans replicated."

Professor Markram believes that by building up from one neocortical column to the entire neocortex, the ethereal "emergent properties" that characterise human thought will, step by step, make themselves apparent.

"They are not things that are easily predicted by just knowing elements - by definition - but by putting them together you can explore the principles, where they came from. Basically that's what we're after: understanding the principles of emergent properties."

Such emergent properties lead to the very essence of being human - the spatial awareness of lower mammals graduates to political views and artistic expression in humans.

When asked when the simulation would come up with something artistic or an invention, Professor Markram said it was simply a matter of money.

"It's not a question of years, it's one of dollars. The psychology is there today and the technology is there today. It's a matter of if society wants this. If they want it in 10 years, they'll have it in 10 years. If they want it in 1000 years, we can wait."
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Postby mrhodes40 » Wed Apr 22, 2009 11:26 am

That's super cool! I hope they learn some applicable things that translate to people! :wink:
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Postby dignan » Wed Jul 22, 2009 5:50 pm

Another interesting "Blue Brain" update. A full computer model of the human brain within 10 years sounds like good progress to me.

Artificial brain '10 years away'

BBC -- A detailed, functional artificial human brain can be built within the next 10 years, a leading scientist has claimed.

Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project, has already simulated elements of a rat brain.

He told the TED Global conference in Oxford that a synthetic human brain would be of particular use finding treatments for mental illnesses.

Around two billion people are thought to suffer some kind of brain impairment, he said.

"It is not impossible to build a human brain and we can do it in 10 years," he said.

"And if we do succeed, we will send a hologram to TED to talk."

The Blue Brain project was launched in 2005 and aims to reverse engineer the mammalian brain from laboratory data.

In particular, his team has focused on the neocortical column - repetitive units of the mammalian brain known as the neocortex.

"It's a new brain," he explained. "The mammals needed it because they had to cope with parenthood, social interactions complex cognitive functions.

"It was so successful an evolution from mouse to man it expanded about a thousand fold in terms of the numbers of units to produce this almost frightening organ."

And that evolution continues, he said. "It is evolving at an enormous speed."

Over the last 15 years, Professor Markram and his team have picked apart the structure of the neocortical column.

"It's a bit like going and cataloguing a bit of the rainforest - how may trees does it have, what shape are the trees, how many of each type of tree do we have, what is the position of the trees," he said.

"But it is a bit more than cataloguing because you have to describe and discover all the rules of communication, the rules of connectivity."

The project now has a software model of "tens of thousands" of neurons - each one of which is different - which has allowed them to digitally construct an artificial neocortical column.

Although each neuron is unique, the team has found the patterns of circuitry in different brains have common patterns.

"Even though your brain may be smaller, bigger, may have different morphologies of neurons - we do actually share the same fabric," he said.

"And we think this is species specific, which could explain why we can't communicate across species."

To make the model come alive, the team feeds the models and a few algorithms into a supercomputer.

"You need one laptop to do all the calculations for one neuron," he said. "So you need ten thousand laptops."

Instead, he uses an IBM Blue Gene machine with 10,000 processors.

Simulations have started to give the researchers clues about how the brain works.

For example, they can show the brain a picture - say, of a flower - and follow the electrical activity in the machine.

"You excite the system and it actually creates its own representation," he said.

Ultimately, the aim would be to extract that representation and project it so that researchers could see directly how a brain perceives the world.

But as well as advancing neuroscience and philosophy, the Blue Brain project has other practical applications.

For example, by pooling all the world's neuroscience data on animals - to create a "Noah's Ark", researchers may be able to build animal models.

"We cannot keep on doing animal experiments forever," said Professor Markram.

It may also give researchers new insights into diseases of the brain.

"There are two billion people on the planet affected by mental disorder," he told the audience.

The project may give insights into new treatments, he said.
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Postby dignan » Thu Oct 15, 2009 11:16 am

Here's the video of the presentation discussed in the BBC article from July 2009: ... crets.html
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Postby Lyon » Thu Oct 15, 2009 1:20 pm

Last edited by Lyon on Thu Nov 24, 2011 11:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby dignan » Sat Nov 21, 2009 1:25 pm

OK, this isn't technically the Blue Brain project, but it is from IBM and it is about the brain (cat, human...what's the difference? we're all mammals...).

IBM brain simulations exceed scale of cat's cortex

By Jon Brodkin , Network World , 11/18/2009 -- IBM's quest to build a computer that can mimic the human brain has reached a new milestone, with what IBM calls the first brain simulation to exceed the scale of a cat's cortex.

The simulation involves 1 billion spiking neurons and 10 trillion individual learning synapses, and was performed on an IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer with 147,456 processors and 144TB of main memory.

"This is a tremendous historic milestone," says Dharmendra Modha, the lead researcher on IBM's cognitive computing project. "It shows that if we build a supercomputer with 1 exaflop computing power and 4 petabytes of main memory -- which might be possible within the decade -- then a human-scale simulation in real time will become possible."

Ultimately, IBM wants to build a computer that "simulates and emulates the brain's abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition, while rivaling the brain's low power and energy consumption and compact size."

The project will last multiple decades, Modha says. Today, simulations are as powerful as 4.5% of a human cerebral cortex. But with current technology a human simulation would require a billion times more energy than is consumed by the human brain itself, a statistic that illustrates just how remarkable our brains really are.

for the rest of the article: ... tions.html
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Postby sou » Sat Nov 21, 2009 3:21 pm


That's simply fantastic!!! But what makes a brain a really useful organ is education, which starts a long time before our birth and requires precise sensory organs, such as skin, ears, eyes etc. We will have to build some of them, and this is exciting, because we will them be able to replace missing human body parts! During fetal development, it is the existence of a muscular system progenitor that triggers the development of the brain. The nervous system is the evolutionary RESULT of the muscular system presence. Only artificial muscular and sensory systems would create a really accurate brain.

My second concern is about the algorithms used to simulate neurons. It is impossible for all algorithms to be 100% accurate, since we don't know the 100% of the functional details of the single neuron. Aberrance from observations could very well push biology to see things some other way and make new discoveries!

This is an absolutely fantastic project I would really really really love to work on! I wish I have such luck one day...

I am very excited!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you, dignan, for pointing this out!

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