Saturday, October 31, 2015

You Will NOT be Uploaded: a Most Excellent Rant about The Human Brain Project

This is a guest post [on a blog I am linking to, ed] by a neuroscientist who may or may not be a graduate student somewhere in Massachusetts.

You asked me about the Human Brain Project. Well, there is only one way to properly address that topic: with a rant.

Henry Markram at EPFL in Switzerland was the leader of the “Blue Brain” project, to simulate a brain (well, actually just one cubic millimeter of a mouse brain) on an IBM Blue-Gene supercomputer. He got tons of money for this project, including the IBM supercomputer for the simulations. Of course he never published anything showing that these simulations lead to any understanding of brain function whatsoever. But he did create a team of graphics professionals to make cool pictures of the simulations. Building on this “success”, he led the “Human Brain” EU flagship project into being funded by some miracle of bureaucratic gullibility. The clearly promised goal was simulating a human brain (hence the name of the project). Almost everyone in Europe publicly supported the project, although in private the neuroscientists (who, if they have done any simulations, know that the stated goal is completely absurd) would say something more like “hey, maybe it’s crazy, but it’ll bring a bunch of money.”

Now, some simple observations must be made, which are true now, and will still be true in ten years’ time, at the conclusion of this flagship project

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