New $1.6 billion supercomputer project will attempt to simulate the human brain

In what is the largest and most significant effort to re-create the human brain to date, an international group of researchers has secured $1.6 billion to fund the incredibly ambitious Human Brain Project. For the next ten years, scientists from various disciplines will seek to understand and map the network of over a hundred billion neuronal connections that illicit emotions, volitional thought, and even consciousness itself. And to do so, the researchers will be using a progressively scaled-up multilayered simulation running on a supercomputer.

And indeed, the project organizers are not thinking small. The entire team will consist of over 200 individual researchers in 80 different institutions across the globe. They're even comparing it the Large Hadron Colllider in terms of scope and ambition, describing the Human Brain Project as "Cern for the brain." The project, which will be based in Lausanne, Switzerland, is an initiative of the European Commission.

According to scientists working on the project, HBP will build new platforms for "neuromorphic computing" and "neurorobotics," allowing researchers to develop new computing systems and robots based on the architecture and circuitry of the brain. The researchers will attempt to reconstruct the human brain piece-by-piece, and gradually bring these cognitive components into an overarching supercomputer.

"The support of the HBP is a critical step taken by the EC to make possible major advances in our understanding of how the brain works," said Swedish Nobel Laureate Torsten Wiesel in a recent statement. "HBP will be a driving force to develop new and still more powerful computers to handle the massive accumulation of new information about the brain, while the neuroscientists are ready to use these new tools in their laboratories." He added that the research may also give rise to fundamentally new computer architectures modeled after the brain.

"This cooperation should lead to new concepts and a deeper understanding of the brain, the most complex and intricate creation on earth," he said.

The researchers are also hoping that the insights gained will help in the treatment of neurological disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Moreover, due to the nature of the research, no animals will be required for experimentation.

Sources: Human Brain Project, Globe & Mail, Yahoo! News.

Image: Shutterstock/agsandrew.