Why Spend a Billion Dollars to Map the Human Brain?

Barack Obama announced an initiative yesterday that involves significant government investment in neuroscience. So begins the international race to understand the brain.

In January, the European Commission pledged 500 million euros to work towards creating a functional model of the human brain. Then, yesterday, Barack Obama officially announced an initiative to advance neuroscience, funding a large-scale research project aimed at unlocking the secrets of the brain that involves over $100 million in federal spending in the first year alone, as well as investments from private organizations. Both projects are geared towards creating a working model of the brain, mapping its 100 billion neurons.

The first, the Human Brain Project, is being spearheaded by Professor Henry Markram of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Together with collaborators from 86 other European institutions, they aim to simulate the workings of the human brain using a giant super computer. This would mean compiling information about the activity of individual neurons and neuronal circuits throughout the brain in a massive database. They then hope to integrate the biological actions of these neurons to create theoretical maps of different subsystems, and eventually, through the magic of computer simulation, a working model of the entire brain.'

Similarly, the United States' recently renamedBrain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or BRAIN (previously the Brain Activity Map Project, or BAM), is an initiative that will be organized through the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and carried out in a number of universities and research institutes throughout the U.S.

Read more at The Atlantic