The Blue Brain project is the first comprehensive attempt to reverse-engineer the mammalian brain, in order to understand brain function and dysfunction through detailed supercomputer-based reconstructions and simulations. The project aims to build comprehensive digital reconstructions of the brain which can be used to study the nature of the brain. This, in turn, helps in understanding how human beings process emotions, and thoughts, and gives us deeper insight into the decision-making power of the human brain.
Introduction to the blue brain project
The blue brain project (BPP) makes use of the Blue Gene supercomputer developed by IBM to carry out simulations. Hence the project is named the “Blue Brain“. The project was founded by Henry Markram at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland way back in May 2005. EPFL is a research institute that specializes in natural sciences and engineering.
Today scientists are carrying out research to create an artificial brain that can think, respond, take decisions, and store information. The main aim is to upload a human brain into the computer, so that it can think, and make decisions without the presence of a human body. After death, this virtual brain can act as an original person. So, even after the death of a person, we will not lose the knowledge, intelligence, emotions, and memories of a person and this can be used for various situations like continuing the pending work, deciding on something based on his/her area of expertise, etc.
The human brain is a complex system consisting of recursive connectors. It is more complex than any circuitry in the world. The human brain is a multi-level system with 100 billion neurons (nerve cells) and 100 trillion synapses. A neuron is a cell designed to transmit information to other nerve cells, muscle, or gland cells whereas synapses help neurons to communicate with each other. So, the question may arise, is it really possible to create a human brain? The answer is Yes. Today it is possible because of advancements in technology. The world of technology has expanded in areas like humanoid robots, computing, virtual reality, wearable devices, Artificial Intelligence, Digital jewelry, Blue Eyes Technology, BrainGate Technology and so much more at a rapid rate. A full human brain simulation (100 billion neurons) is planned to be completed by 2023 if everything goes well. If so, this would be the first virtual brain of the world.
What is a Virtual Brain?
A virtual brain is an artificial brain. It can think like the natural brain, take decisions based on past experience, and respond as the natural brain can. It is possible to do so by using supercomputers, with a huge amount of storage capacity, processing power, and an interface between the human brain and this artificial one. Through this interface, the data stored in the natural brain can be uploaded into the computer. So the brain and the knowledge, and intelligence of anyone can be preserved and used forever, even after the death of the person.
Why do we need a virtual brain?
- Today we are developed because of our intelligence. Intelligence is an inborn quality that cannot be created. Some people have this quality so that they can think to such an extent that others cannot reach it. Human society would always need such intelligence and such an intelligent brain. But the intelligence is lost along with the person after death. A virtual brain is a solution to it. The brain and its intelligence can be alive even after death.
- We often face difficulties in remembering things such as people’s names, birthdays, the spellings of words, proper grammar, important dates, historical facts, etcetera. A virtual brain can take away the extra stress we all face to remember things. It is a perfect technical solution to a very common human problem.
How does the natural brain work?
The human ability to feel, interpret and even see is controlled, in computer-like calculations, by the magical nervous system. Yes, the nervous system is quite like magic because we can’t see it, but it is working through electric impulses through your body.
The human brain is a multi-level complex system with 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses. Not even engineers have come close to making circuit boards and computers as delicate and precise as the nervous system. To understand this system, one has to know the following three simple functions.
- Sensory input: When our eyes see something or when our hands touch a warm surface, the sensory cells, also known as Neurons, send a message straight to our brain. This is called sensory input because we are putting things into our brain by way of senses.
- Integration: Integration is best known as the interpretation of things like taste, touch, and sense which is possible because of our sensory cells, known as neurons. Billions of neurons work together to understand the change around us.
- Motor Output: Once our brain understands the change, either by touching, tasting or via any other medium, then our brain sends a message through neurons to effector cells, muscles or gland cells, which actually work to perform our requests and act upon our environment. The word motor output is easily remembered if one should think that our putting something out into the environment through the use of a motor, like a muscle which does the work for our body.
Idea of Brain Simulation
The following table compares the working procedures of the natural and simulated brain. This is a possible proposed solution. As per EPFL, development is still in progress.
|INPUT||In the nervous system of our body, the neurons are responsible for transmitting information. The body receives the input by the sensory cells. These sensory cells produce electric impulses which are received by the neurons. The neurons transfer these electric impulses to the brain.||Here neurons can be replaced by a silicon chip. So, the electric impulses from the sensory cells can be received through these artificial neurons and send to a supercomputer for the interpretation.|
|INTERPRETATION||The electric impulses received by the brain from the neurons are interpreted in the brain. The interpretation in the brain is accomplished by the means of certain states of many neurons.||The interpretation of the electric impulses received by the artificial neuron can be done by means of a set of registers. The different values in these register will represent different states of the brain.|
|OUTPUT||Based on the states of the neurons the brain sends the electric impulses representing the responses which are further received by a sensory cell of our body to respond to neurons in the brain at that time.||Similarly, based on the states of the register, the output signal can be given to the artificial neurons in the body which will be received by the sensory cell.|
|MEMORY||Certain neurons in our brain, represent some states permanently. When required, this state is represented by our brain and we can remember the past things. To remember things we force the neurons to represent certain states of the brain permanently or for any interesting or serious matter, this happens implicitly.||In the similar way the required states of the registers can be stored permanently and when required this information can be retrieved and used.|
|PROCESSING||When we think about something or make some calculation, logical and arithmetic calculations are done in our neural circuitry and are stored as states. Based on the new requests, states of certain neurons are changed to give the output.||In a similar way, the decision making can be done by the computer by performing arithmetic and logical calculations on the stored states and the new inputs.|
Is it possible to copy data from the brain to the computer?
The uploading is possible by the use of small robots known as the Nanobots. These robots are small enough to travel throughout our circulatory system. Traveling into the spine and brain, they will be able to monitor the activity and structure of our central nervous system. They will be able to provide an interface with computers. Nanobots could also carefully scan the structure of our brain, providing a complete readout of the connections. This information, when entered into a computer, could then continue to function as us. Thus, the entire data in the brain will be uploaded into the computer.
IBM, in partnership with scientists at Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) – a research institute, specialized in natural sciences and engineering, will begin simulating the brain’s biological systems and output the data as a working 3-dimensional model that will recreate the high-speed electrochemical interactions that take place within the brain’s interior. EPFL makes use of the supercomputer Blue Gene/P built by IBM. The machine is installed on the EPFL campus in Lausanne and is managed by CADMOS (Center for Advanced Modelling Science). These include cognitive functions such as language, learning, perception, and memory in addition to brain malfunction such as psychiatric disorders like depression and autism. From there, the modeling will expand to other regions of the brain and, if successful, shed light on the relationships between genetic, molecular and cognitive functions of the brain.
The source code of the project is openly available to everyone on github.com.
The following video from EPFL, explains the complexity and hurdles faced by the researchers in implementing the blue brain project.
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- Even after the death of a person his intelligence can be used.
- This could boost study of animal behavior. That means by interpretation of the electric impulses from the brain of the animals, their thought process can be understood easily.
- It would allow the deaf to hear via direct nerve stimulation, and also be helpful for many psychological diseases.
- We could make use of the information of the brain that was uploaded into the computer and use it to provide a solution to mental disorder.
There could be new types of threats, this technology would bring.
- Increases the dependency on computer systems.
- Computer viruses will pose an increasingly critical threat. Data could be manipulated and used in the wrong way. Read more about cyber crime.
- This may lead to human cloning and we cannot imagine how big this threat would be against nature.
The blue brain project, if implemented successfully, would indeed change many things around us and it will boost the area of research and technology. Certain research and development take decades or even centuries to complete, so the knowledge and efforts of a scientist can be preserved and used further in his absence. At the same time, it is not an easy task to replicate the convoluted brain system into a computer. It may take several years to decades to accomplish this.