The Blue Brain Project is an attempt to create a synthetic brain by reverse-engineering the mammalian brain down to the molecular level. The aim of the project, founded in May 2005 by the Brain and Mind Institute of the École Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland, is to study the brain's architectural and functional principles. The project is headed by the Institute's director, Henry Markram. Using a Blue Gene supercomputer running Michael Hines's NEURON software, the simulation does not consist simply of an artificial neural network, but involves a biologically realistic model of neurons. It is hoped that it will eventually shed light on the nature of consciousness. There are a number of sub-projects, including the Cajal Blue Brain, coordinated by the Supercomputing and Visualization Center of Madrid (CeSViMa), and others run by universities and independent laboratories in the UK, US, and Israel.
In the basement of a university in Lausanne, Switzerland sit four black boxes, each about the size of a refrigerator, and filled with 2,000 IBM microchips stacked in repeating rows. Together they form the processing core of a machine that can handle 22.8 trillion operations per second. It contains no moving parts and is eerily silent. When the computer is turned on, the only thing you can hear is the continuous sigh of the massive air conditioner. This is Blue Brain.
The Blue Brain Project is an attempt to reverse engineer the brain, to explore how it functions and to serve as a tool for neuroscientists and medical researchers. It is not an attempt to create a brain. It is not an artificial intelligence project. Although we may one day achieve insights into the basic nature of intelligence and consciousness using this tool, the Blue Brain Project is focused on creating a physiological simulation for biomedical applications.
The aim is to study the brain's architectural and functional principles. The project was founded by Henry Markram from the Brain and Mind Institute at the École Polytechnique (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland. and is based on 15 years of experimental data obtained from reverse engineering the microcircuitry of the neocortical column.
The human brain is the center of the human nervous system and is a highly complex organ. Enclosed in the cranium, it has the same general structure as the brains of other mammals, but is over three times as large as the brain of a typical mammal with an equivalent body size. Most of the expansion comes from the cerebral cortex, a convoluted layer of neural tissue that covers the surface of the forebrain. Especially expanded are the frontal lobes, which are involved in executive functions such as self-control, planning, reasoning, and abstract thought. The portion of the brain devoted to vision is also greatly enlarged in human beings.
Brain evolution, from the earliest shrewlike mammals through primates to hominids, is marked by a steady increase in encephalization, or the ratio of brain to body size. The human brain has been estimated to contain 50–100 billion (1011) neurons, of which about 10 billion (1010) are cortical pyramidal cells. These cells pass signals to each other via as many as 1000 trillion (1015) synaptic connections.
The brain monitors and regulates the body's actions and reactions. It continuously receives sensory information, and rapidly analyzes this data and then responds, controlling bodily actions and functions. The brainstem controls breathing, heart rate, and other autonomic processes. The neocortex is the center of higher-order thinking, learning, and memory. The cerebellum is responsible for the body's balance, posture, and the coordination of movement.
CONCEPT OF BLUE BRAIN
The Blue Brain Project (BBR) is the first project of its kind where the brain is going to be simulated on the computer so that some of the brain’s functions could be understood better.
In 2005 IBM started new project that would recreate human brain by using IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer. At the end of the developing it would be able to act like the brain. It is currently being developed in Ecoles Polytechnique Fédéralede Laussane. Cortex is the part of the brain that is filled with the grey matter. This part of the brain is responsible for thinking, remembering, reflexes, communication, adaptation to new surrounding, planning the future etc. Neurons are one of the main units of the brain. The brain contains billions of these neurons. Nervous system transfers signals via neurons. In the cortex neurons are organized into functional units. These units operate like microcircuits in a computer known as the Neo Cortical Column (NCC) shown in fig. 3.1.
Main circuit was built with one goal and that is to model neurons, connections between them and the column. The data that was collected previously on juvenile rat will be used as a model to run the Blue Gene supercomputer which will recreate each of the 10,000 neurons in the NCC. Second step is simulating connections between neurons. Some of the problems that are emerging here are all the possibilities. In a column that has 10000 neurons, that can create trillions possible connections. So it will be on Blue Gene to find optimal connection scenario. Last step is modeling the actual column. This is going to be final step of the project. To this day no such project has being developed that can simulate the actual neurons with the optimal number of connections in between them.
The Blue Gene supercomputer has 8192 processors and all of them will have to be activated for solving complex mathematical equations that govern neuron and its behavior when stimuli is applied on them. The results are going to be sent via inter-processor communication. The time that it takes to simulate the whole thing now is not as fast as the actual biological time required. However, future research is going to be based on increasing a speed to the point where it is going to work in a real time, like the brain.
Some of the benefits that this project is going to create are: understanding neocortical information processing, new tool for drug discovery for brain disorders, foundation for brain simulation, cracking the neural code, etc.
The cerebral cortex, the convoluted "grey matter" that makes up 80% of the human brain, is responsible for our ability to remember, think, reflect, empathize, communicate, adapt to new situations and plan for the future. The cortex first appeared in mammals, and it has a fundamentally simple repetitive structure that is the same across all mammalian species.
The brain is populated with billions of neurons, each connected to thousands of its neighbors by dendrites and axons, a kind of biological "wiring". The brain processes information by sending electrical signals from neuron to neuron along these wires. In the cortex, neurons are organized into basic functional units, cylindrical volumes 0.5 mm wide by 2 mm high, each containing about 10,000 neurons that are connected in an intricate but consistent way. These units operate much like microcircuits in a computer. This microcircuit, known as the neocortical column (NCC), is repeated millions of times across the cortex. The difference between the brain of a mouse and the brain of a human is basically just volume - humans have many more neocortical columns and thus neurons than mice.
This structure lends itself to a systematic modeling approach. And indeed, the first step of the Blue Brain project is to re-create this fundamental microcircuit, down to the level of biologically accurate individual neurons. The microcircuit can then be used in simulations
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