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The Human Brain Project

A couple of weeks back, I saw an article on a very interesting topic over on EE Times.

Like a Manhattan Project, resources are coming together for the big push to simulate the human brain. Personnel on European Union (EU)’s Human Brain Project reported their progress toward the primary directive — an artificial brain by 2023 — at the annual HBP Summit at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, yesterday, September 29.

The 10-year-long Human Brain Project, funded to the tune of $1 billion euro (US$1.3 billion) by the European Commission Future and Emerging Technologies as one of its “Flagship Programs,” aims to simulate the entire human brain on supercomputers first, then build a special hardware emulator that will reproduce its functions so accurately that diseases and their cures can be tried out on it. Ultimately, the long-term goal is to build artificial brains that are inexpensive enough to outperform traditional von Neuman supercomputers at a fraction of the cost. (Source: EE Times)

In the words of the Human Brain Project (HBP) itself – that is, they would be the Human Brain Project itself actually had words, rather than use the words of actual humans:

Understanding the human brain is one of the greatest challenges facing 21st century science. If we can rise to it, we can gain profound insights into what makes us human, build revolutionary computing technologies and develop new treatments for brain disorders. Today, for the first time, modern ICT has brought these goals within reach. (Source: Human Brain Project)

According to the EE Times article, HBP reports that it’s making good initial progress in terms of pulling together researchers and setting up the systems that will enable those researchers to collaborate. Some starter projects have also begun. I would like to point out that, for now at least, all those researchers are human, as are the folks responsible for creating and deploying all the technology that will be used in the project. Not to mention any bricks and mortar, web site development, etc. So humans haven’t been replaced quite yet!

The next phase of the project will be compiling data on brain functioning and developing “the necessary infrastructure for developing six ICT platforms.” These platforms, which will be served by supercomputers, will include a data depository, a brain simulation platform “where simulation algorithms of the various brain components will be assembled”, and a platform “that mimics the various functions of the brain.”

Reading through the comments on the article, you can see that people are intrigued, excited, and maybe a bit worried that, when a computer-based human brain is created, there won’t be much left for us to do. On the excited side, there’s the happy expectation that, once free of having to take care of tasks that computers can now perform, we’ll be freed up to enjoy more leisure, spend our time more creatively, tend more to our emotional lives…

I guess you can say that I’m a bit of all of the above.

There’s science, engineering, and technology at play. So of course I’m interested.

But I also like my work, which is challenging and creative.

We’ll see what happens as 2023 nears and the project is closer to completion.

In the meantime, it all reminds me of a show that used to be on, The Worst Jobs in History, a British show that focused on some really terrible jobs that the industrial revolution pretty much did away with. The one that sticks in my mind is that of fuller. A fuller’s job was to stand in vats of urine all day, stomping on wool cloth to get rid of its dirt and grease.

Something to think about when you’ve had a bad day at work…