The Blue Brain Project is an initiative started by the EFPL (École Polytechnic Fédérale de Lausanne) in 2005. The goal behind the project is to use a computer to model the human brain. Ideally, the result would be a virtual brain that would behave just as an organic brain would. With this virtual model at the ready, scientists could experiment with treatments and procedures without endangering an actual human being. It could be a boon to neuroscience research.
Of course, making an artificial brain is an enormous computational and theoretical challenge. The Blue Brain Project uses one of IBM's top supercomputers -- the Blue Gene/L, which is among the top supercomputers in the world. It can do multiple trillions of operations per second. And for what do they need all of this computing superpower? It's needed to do such things as model a single structure in a rat's brain. The structure is called a neocortical column (NCC), a clump of about 10,000 neurons in the cerebral cortex. Our own human brains are composed of millions of such columns. The project team's idea was to be able to model just that single NCC, and then if it could work artificially in the same manner as it would in a real human brain, they'd have a terrific proof of concept with which to move forward to the task of using a similar simulation on a human brain simulation.
The Blue Brain Project, it turned out, was indeed able to replicate the NCC, and while that's exciting, the simulation doesn't run nearly as fast as a true, biological NCC. Even the IBM supercomputer isn't nearly enough computational muscle to achieve that -- and that's just for a single rat's NCC model! Replicating millions of them, at real-time speed, to make an artificial brain will take raw computing power that isn't yet available. What's needed, the team says, is more computing pop and more funding [source: SingularityHub].
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