Is the Human Brain Project Getting Back On Track?
The Europeans want to establish their own brain initiative. Will it fail? Is it an actual no-brainer? Here are the issues.
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Back in 2013 the Human Brain Project was unveiled by the European Commission, but the $1.3 billion project was beset by problems and largely failed to emulate its American rival the BRAIN Initiative.
The aim of the project was to simulate the brain’s 86 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses on a supercomputer, and while this still remains a little way off, they are at least showing signs of progress.
Recently the project announced the release of various computing platforms to try and prove the social value the project offers to the scientific community. The platforms include things such as brain-simulation tools and visualization software to allow researchers to study brain processes in real time.
Progress At Last?
At this stage, it isn’t quite clear how the tools will benefit the wider community. Some are available after peer-reviewed application, whilst others are freely accessible, and it’s hard to say at this stage how much traction they’ll receive.
Criticism of the project has focused on the management structure in place, and whilst it has largely been a chaotic endeavor, it has nonetheless secured funding to secure itself through to 2019.
The project has had around 800 scientists from across the world involved in the development of tools to be used by the neuroscience community, with the tools generally aiming to do one of six things:
- Brain simulation
- Medical informatics
- High-performance analytics
- Brain-inspired ‘neuromorphic’ computing
It has been no stranger to controversy however, with a petition signed in 2014 pledging a boycott of HBP unless changes were made. Presumably, the EC are confident that the concerns were met after an independent review was completed in 2015, and hopefully the release of the new tools is a sign of normality returning to the project.
At the moment however it’s probably too soon to say, so it will simply be a case of watching with hope rather than expectation that the project will eventually prove a force for good in what is a crucial area of science.
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