Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Today, Half Mouse Brain, Tomorrow Whole Human Brain

BBC News (why them?) reports this weekend that US researchers have simulated half a mouse brain on the BlueGene L supercomputer. Called a "cortical simulator," the program simulated the equivalent of 8 million neurons, each of which can have as many as 8,000 synapses, or connections, to other neurons.
In other smaller simulations the researchers say they have seen characteristics of thought patterns observed in real mouse brains.
Some researchers believe that it will take until about 2020 before supercomputers are able to simulate a human brain, and another 5 years or so for personal computers to manage this feat. This achievement may seem modest when compared to simulating an entire human brain, but it seems to me rather analogous to the difference between the Wright brothers' first faltering flight and the power of today's jets. But because of the law of accelerating returns, the time between half a mouse brain and a whole human brain will be much more compressed than that.
On other smaller simulations the researchers said they had seen "biologically consistent dynamical properties" emerge as nerve impulses flowed through the virtual cortex.

In these other tests the team saw the groups of neurons form spontaneously into groups. They also saw nerves in the simulated synapses firing in a ways similar to the staggered, co-ordinated patterns seen in nature.

The researchers say that although the simulation shared some similarities with a mouse's mental make-up in terms of nerves and connections it lacked the structures seen in real mice brains.

Imposing such structures and getting the simulation to do useful work might be a much more difficult task than simply setting up the plumbing.

For future tests the team aims to speed up the simulation, make it more neurobiologically faithful, add structures seen in real mouse brains and make the responses of neurons and synapses more detailed.
Today, half a mouse brain. Tomorrow, ? Stay tuned.

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