Human Brain Project Launches: Group Aims To Create Supercomputer For Insight Into How The Brain Operates

By Josh Lieberman on October 10, 2013 12:02 PM EDT

human brain project
The Human Brain Project, which launched in Switzerland this week, aims to create a supercomputer capable of simulating the brain. (Photo: Reuters)

A global group of scientists and researchers are attempting to create a computer that simulates the human brain, running at speeds 1,000 times greater than the current fastest computers. The Human Brain Project, which launched on Monday at a conference in Switzerland, is a 10-year mission involving 135 institutions and funding to the tune of about $1.6 billion USD. The team has a wide range of scientific and research goals, all hinging on the creation of this brain-simulating computer.

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"Understanding the human brain is one of the greatest challenges facing 21st century science," the Human Brain Project website reads. "If we can rise to the challenge, we can gain profound insights into what makes us human, develop new treatments for brain disease and build revolutionary new computing technologies."

Computing technology is not currently fast enough to simulate the human brain; for that, the Human Brain Project needs an "exascale" supercomputer. That means a computer capable of performing one quintillion operations a second (picture the number one followed by 18 zeroes). Henry Markram, the director of the Human Brain Project at école Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, said that companies like IBM and Intel are already working on such a computer, and that they should be a reality by about 2020. But within just a few years, Markram said, early exascale computers will be available for use in the Human Brain Project's initial medical research.

One of the biggest medical research goals of the Human Brain Project is to model brain diseases. By building maps of neurological disorders, the team says that their disease simulations "will provide researchers with a powerful new tool to probe the causal mechanisms responsible for disease, and to screen putative treatments, accelerating medical research and reducing the huge suffering and costs associated with diseases of the brain."

Those sort of simulations would have "unimaginable" medical implications, one California psychiatrist told Fox News.

"The more we know about our brains, the more we can utilize our brains to its full potential, intervene when issues arise, replicate in artificial creations the power of the brain's ability to integrate a vast amount of information that then causes other systems to perform specific actions," said psychiatrist Gayani DeSilva, who isn't involved in the Human Brain Project.

Watch the video below for a good overview of the Human Brain Project.

READ MORE:

Einstein's Brain: 'Unusually Well-Connected' Hemispheres Led To His Genius, Study Suggests 

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