Blue Brain Rising

Seed Magazine has a fantastic article on the ‘Blue Brain’ project that aims to eventually create a biologically accurate simulation of the human brain on a supercomputer.

So far, they’ve only managed to simulate a cortical column but this in itself is quite impressive as many thought it could never be done.

The project is currently simulating about 10,000 neurons and a total of about 30 million synaptic connections.

If you’ve heard about artificial neural networks before this might not sound very impressive, but the difference between this project and most others is that it attempts digitally simulate the biological processes of each individual cell.

In contrast, most neural networks are made up of individual elements that are usually little more than metaphors of how neurons actually work.

A huge boost is that the project has shown that their software cortical column spontaneously acts like its biological equivalent when its switched on and stimulated.

It didn’t take long before the model reacted. After only a few electrical jolts, the artificial neural circuit began to act just like a real neural circuit. Clusters of connected neurons began to fire in close synchrony: the cells were wiring themselves together. Different cell types obeyed their genetic instructions. The scientists could see the cellular looms flash and then fade as the cells wove themselves into meaningful patterns. Dendrites reached out to each other, like branches looking for light. “This all happened on its own,” Markram says. “It was entirely spontaneous.” For the Blue Brain team, it was a thrilling breakthrough. After years of hard work, they were finally able to watch their make-believe brain develop, synapse by synapse. The microchips were turning themselves into a mind.

It’s an engrossing article that captures both the science behind the project and some of the personalities involved.

Link to Seed article ‘Out of the Blue’.

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