Abstract: Abstract The Blue Brain Project began in July 2005 as a collaboration between Professor Henry Markram from

the Brain Mind Institute at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique F d rale de Lausanne) and IBM (International Business Machines), aimed at modelling the neocortical column. The neocortical column represents the basic functional unit of the cerebral cortex in mammals that underlies nearly all sensory and cognitive processing. These units are repeated millions of times across the cortex, with the basic structure remaining the fundamentally the same from mouse to man. From its origins IBM's BlueGene/L supercomputer and more than 10 years of experimental data from Professor Markram's laboratory the project has grown to include an international multidisciplinary team of over 35 experimentalists, modellers and computer scientists. The goal of Phase I was to build a cellular level model of the somatosensory cortex of a 2- week-old rat corresponding to the dimensions of a neocortical column as defined by the dendritic arborizations of the layer 5 pyramidal neurons. We have achieved this goal by developing an entirely new data-driven process for creating, validating and researching the neocortical column. Reverse-engineering a portion of the neocortex involves capturing many levels of detail about microscopic cells and fibers living, dynamic entities that are invisible to the naked eye. Modelling efforts must examine the experimental design and weigh the potential inconsistencies and relevance of the resulting data to the construction and refinement of the model. A simulation-based research process requires that this consistency check occur in an ongoing fashion. The simulation itself now serves as an essential tool for integrating experimental data and defining new experiments that can precisely gather the information necessary to capture the complete biological detail.

uses The Blue Brain shows gamma oscillations
Cortical oscillations and synchrony have long been touted as candidate mechanisms to solve the µbinding problem¶ in theoretical neuroscience: when we examine the world around us, how do our brains group multiple parts of the same object together into a coherent whole? A simple example is the cat standing behind a fence. Even though whole segments of the kitty might be blocked off from our view, we still perceive it as a single object. This happens even when the segments of the visual scene are too far apart to be seen by overlapping cells in the retina ± so the

Despite the mountain of work on this topic. Many. they simply stimulated layer IV and watched a wave of activity build up. a real mechanistic description of these oscillations has yet to be demonstrated in a realistic computational model of the brain. 1989). rather than just through their firing rate over longer time periods. The Blue Brain project ± that other big science experiment in Switzerland ± might finally make the link. This might seem like a banal result. I am not going to attempt to dip my toe into this ocean here. As far as I understood. spatially seperated neurons might somehow coordinate their firing patterns to become part of the same neuronal ensemble. BU¶s Nancy Kopell has been a driving force on the more theoretical aspects of oscillations.000 cells with realisitic connectivity patterns and electrophysiological properties. In this way. as long as the neurons both preferred bars of the same orientation and were aligned in the same direction as the moving bar stimulus. Experimental evidence implicating oscillations in this process was first found by Wolf Singer¶s lab in Germany in the late 1980s (Gray et al. It simply emerged after setting up the cortical column of 10. Henry Markam reported that a recent modification to their detailed simulation of a rat cortical column produced persistent oscillatory activity in the gamma frequency band (roughly 40-80Hz). who now runs his own lab in Nijmegen. Following this discovery. and even implicating oscillations in attention and consciousness. a sustained experimental and theoretical scientific interest has resulted in a huge library of data exploring the theory. but it hinted for the first time that neurons in the neocortex might encode information in the exact timing of their spikes (relative to some external osciallation). Earlier this week at the inagural INCF conference on Neuroinformatics. many debates and arguments have ensued over the origins of these oscillations and whether or not they are really used by the brain to code information. because the model wasn¶t designed in any way to produce this behaviour. They reported that spatially seperated neurons in cat visual cortex mostly fired at the same time when the cat was presented with moving bars of light. This behaviour only emerged following one of their . and maybe represent specific features of the outside world. Netherlands. This is significant. propagate throughout the column via layer II/III and initiate gamma ocillatory activity in layer V.information must be µbound¶ somewhere else in the brain. I suggest looking up the experimental work both of Wolf Singer and his former student Pascal Fries. If you¶re interested.

the other CPU being used for processing the I/O (input/output) of the main CPU) or in 'virtual node' mode (in which both CPUs with 256 MB each are used for computation).024 nodes = 2. with a peak performance of 22. This is mainly for two reasons: y y Of course the current model isn¶t perfect. A rack (1.6 TFLOPS.weekly updates to the simulation. I am sold. Expect a publication forthcoming. BGL. multiple data (SIMD) mode. plasticity rules. and the experiment was done without a hypothesis. Modified with permission from IBM (International Business Machines) © (2005) IBM Corporation. I had seen several presentations from the BB team before. This will be a slow.g. As Markram himself admitted. with no use of SIMD mode). and a peak of 5. but ultimately hopeless in helping us to understand the brain. the aggregate performance of a processor card in virtual node mode is: 2 node = 2 2. the model is actually fairly well constrained by biology. There are many phenomena you can reproduce in any abstract network model which wouldn¶t work in the Blue Brain (or a real brain for that matter). It¶s in the right ball park. torus-like connectivity between processors.096 nodes.6 billion floating point operations per second (gigaFLOPS or GFLOPS) per chip or node.8 teraFLOPS or TFLOPS.6 GFLOPS = 11. This ASIC includes 2 PowerPC 440 cores running at 700 MHz. Blue Gene/L. equal to 8.6 GFLOPS. This leads to a peak performance of 5. There are so many gaps in our knowledge (e. the whole model is ³half-baked´. . torus. which means that the peak performance of the chip is 8 floating point operations per cycle (4 under normal conditions. The Blue Brain Project's Blue Gene is a 4-rack system that has 4. Associated with each core is a 64-bit 'double' floating point unit (FPU) that can operate in single instruction.4 TFLOPS.8 GFLOPS in non-SIMD mode. dendritic ion channel distributions. iterative process. or 360 TFLOPS at peak performance. or 2. But it is a first step on the long road to a biologically realistic large-scale model of the brain. Markram wouldn¶t say exactly what changes they made. neuromodulation) that the whole endeavour seemed to me to be a waste of time. why explore all of theoretical parameter space when we can focus on the biogically relevant subregion within it? Imageeeeeeee Blue Gene/L is built using system-on-a-chip technology in which all functions of a node (except for main memory) are integrated onto a single application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). Many people (especially other experts) do.8 GFLOPS = 5. So.192 CPUs.2 GFLOPS. unsurprisingly enough. and I suppose that I had kind of made up my mind that it was probably going to be a useful logistical excercise which would generate new tools for neural data sharing and analysis. But after seeing Markram¶s talk last Monday. The two CPUs (central processing units) can be used in 'co-processor' mode (resulting in one CPU and 512 MB RAM (random access memory) for computation. Each (single) FPU can execute up to 2 'multiply-adds' per cycle. A 64-rack machine should provide 180 TFLOPS. We could argue all day about the Blue Brain project and its significance. Despite the astronomical number of parameters. and its peak performance (optimal use of double FPU) is: 2 5.048 CPUs) therefore has 2. As Markram says.

a nanoscale pipette. and added some really bold thinking and advanced electronic design. enzymes and genes that power the brain. scientists have been able to unveil physical details. a neuroscientist at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the director of the Blue Brain project. "This is the first model of the brain that has been built from the bottom-up. they have ended up with something really commendable. The name of the supercomputer is literal: Each of its microchips has been programmed to act just like a real neuron in a real brain. and filled with 2. the cellular events unfolding inside a mind. the IBM supercomputer. All of us saw how Deep Blue. The behavior of the computer replicates. and these domains were often dominated by quantitative logic rather than qualitative ones. A fairly significant number of intelligent scientists have been convinced that it could take many more generations. even beat the then world champ Gary Kasparov in the famous chess championship. Such thoughts however do not deter some determined folks. Blue Brain can certainly be thought of as being only the next effort in this continuum. it might require far more computing power than what even the highest end computers of today have on offer. For one.000 IBM microchips stacked in repeating rows. in layman's terms.a supercomputer. chemical pathways. The Blue Brain team started with a neuron. These efforts and experiments offered insights that enabled scientists in understanding what the brain does. "The Blue Brain project is the first comprehensive attempt to reverse-engineer the mammalian brain. Together they form the processing core of a machine that can handle over 20 trillion operations per second. but most scientists of course smirked at that term because the machines were very crude representations of our brains for the most part. but not how it does it. In the basement of a university in Switzerland sit four black boxes. molecules. With previous basic structures. But most of these efforts were aimed at computers trying to replicate human thought processes in a very narrow domain." says Henry Markram. the human brain is far too complex. in order to understand brain function and dysfunction through detailed simulations. This experiment however emulates . and it is not clear to everyone that we have understood its functioning even remotely. each about the size of a refrigerator. This is hardly the first time scientists have made efforts to make computers mimic the brain. but the difference is this one is biologically much closer. with surprising precision. As their web site explains. This is Blue Brain.Can a Supercomputer Think Like a Brain? Computers have long been thought of as "electronic brains". for another. before we can come up with machines that can think like humans. and wow." This is done using a computer that has phenomenal computing power . if at all.

2007. more updates from the Blue Brain Project web site. In November. with the announcement of an entirely new data-driven process for creating. If they are able to complete this cycle.000 neurons. physics is information from the outside. validating. and automatically connect them in a biological manner. At the push of a button. the model could reconstruct biologically accurate neurons based on detailed experimental data. if it is to simulate our brains.success? The Blue Brain Breakthrough Blue Brain Status and the Future of Whole Brain Simulation A 2005 article from The Speculist A 2005 BusinessWeek article There's a whole range of fascinating resources on the topic of computers and human brains. Once the team has been able to get this correlation right (and I'm not sure this will be easy!).a human neocortex column has 60. the Blue Brain will provide a huge leap in our understanding of brain function and dysfunction and help us explore solutions to intractable problems in mental health and neurological disease. What has been most difficult even for supercomputers so far is to understand "experience". needs to somehow figure out what "experiencing something" means. Fascinating! Analogous in scope to the Genome Project. (A nice quote from the philosopher David Chalmers. reversing this process should be relatively easy. The Blue Brain team intends to succeed in this by deciphering the connection between the sensations entering the machine and the flickering voltages of its brain cells. By the end of 2006. the Blue Brain project had created a model of the basic functional unit of the brain. Impressive! Read a nice story on Blue Brain here. and researching the neocortical column. Blue Brain. â¼ Experience is information from the inside. and the Blue Brain IBM/EPFL page @ IBM Other Related Web Resources Blue Brain @ Wikipedia Blue Brain . Clusterflock ).Thank you. the neocortical column.000 neurons and 30 million synapses . the Blue Brain project reached an important milestone and the conclusion of its first Phase. the supercomputer should be in a position to generate "experieces".chemical signaling and actually functions as a real brain. The current simulation uses 400 segments for each neuron and they have precisely researched individual ion channels and biological functions to precisely generate the simulation. Blue Brain has currently simulated one column of a neocortex of a rat with 10. We . a task that involves positioning around 30 million synapses in precise 3D locations.â¼ .

and the R2-D2's of Star Wars movies. and different understandings of the concept of thought.The processors. this has been written for kids.well. and will never really think. neuroscientists may be forced to overhaul their view of . believe. many `'computer experts" don't believe that machines will ever "really think.by Marvin Minsky. so to an outside observer. surrounded by so many automatic machines. the authors who present the extraordinary future clearly think that within the next century computers will far surpass humans in intelligence. Brief but interesting stuff discussed here titled Can Computers Think?.see a related article by John Searle Is The Brain a Digital Computer? Most neuroscientists adhere to the pixel view of neurons.? They don't understand anything. or emotional. our brain is cascading through shades of grey. But he doesnt: he's just following rules. "Today. Computers @ Neuroscience for Kids . realistic projections of increases in computer processing speed. in our brain or in a cluster of computers. (see this article in PDF format) Brain vs. And there are many other reasons why so many experts still maintain that machines can never be creative. the language is so simple and easy to understand that all of us can learn something from it! Brains Don't Learn Using 0s and 1s. a neurosurgeon who leads this UCLA research program. after all. the world's fastest supercomputers have difficulty performing that pattern-recognition feat. This essay explains why they are wrong. But Itzhak Fried. the researchers found that our learning process was similar to other biological organisms: we're not learning through a series of 0's and 1's. how computers work.try to list some that we found most useful and interesting: Why People Think Computers Can't . and our mental processing is continuous. this is not true. how the brain works. MORAL: computers are like the rule-follower. it looks as if whatever's inside the room understands Chinese. or understand anything. is supposed to act sequentially. The Chinese Room . believes he has found "thinking cells" in the brains of his subjects.? It turns out that the input Chinese characters are meaningful questions and the output Chinese characters are appropriate answers to the questions. This leads them to believe that there can't be room left for anything else-like minds or selves. intuitive. In order to do this the writer considers related issues such as the nature of human intelligence.A person inside a room gets input in the form of Chinese characters on cards." Computer Intelligence in the Extra-ordinary Future . Instead. Not so fast! According to a new study from Cornell University. Actually.One requirement for the extraordinary future is that computers will be as smart as humans. In this chapter the writer describes their reasons for making this claim and considers whether it is plausible. most people think AI is much more advanced than it is. industrial robots. But still. If he's right... and produces output in the form of Chinese characters by looking up the input Chinese characters in a rule book (written in English) that shows him what Chinese characters to give back. arguing that individual cells can't possibly be clever enough to make sense of subtle concepts." I think those specialists are too used to explaining that there's nothing inside computers but little electric currents. even if they appear to do so. but They Learn Through Shades of Grey . By tracking mouse movements of students working with their computers. the renowned AI pioneer. but precisely for that reason.

in busy street scenes. HTM is a rich theoretical framework and this article provides a high level overview of the theory and technology. HTMs thus learn in much the same way that children do. More from here Human Brain Region Functions Like Digital Computer . The model even tends to make similar errors as humans. You don't program an HTM as you would a computer. then train it by exposing it to sensory data. it is predicted that the required hardware will be available in cheap machines in the 2020s. a computer model designed to mimic the way the brain itself processes visual information performs as well as humans do on rapid categorization tasks. called Hierarchical Temporal Memory. 2006 . and have made significant progress in understanding how it works. 6 (2006) edition of the journal Science. you will understand why we should take any claims to mimicing the brain with a huge tablespoon of salt. which combines neuroscience and artificial intelligence with computer science. An interview with John McCarthy. says this 2005 article from MIT titled "Can A Single Brain Cell Think?" In a new MIT study (2007).ScienceDaily Oct. The processing power and memory capacity necessary to match general intellectual performance of the human brain are estimated.A region of the human brain that scientists believe is critical to human intellectual abilities surprisingly functions much like a digital computer. Based on extrapolation of past trends and on examination of technologies under development. Please make sure you read it sometime.how the human brain works. possibly because it so closely follows the organization of the brain's visual system. according to psychology Professor Randall O'Reilly of the University of Colorado at Boulder. rather you configure it with software tools. or HTM. In a review of biological computer models of the brain that appeared in the Oct. mimics how the brain functions to recognize objects in the real world. More from here 10 Important Differences Between Brains and Computers . such as cars or people. an AI pioneer and the person credited with coining the term Artificial Intelligence Researchers at the MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research have used a biological model to train a computer model to recognize objects..This paper describes how the performance of AI machines tends to improve at the same pace that AI researchers get access to faster hardware. O'Reilly contends that the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia operate much like a digital computer system. An interview with Jeff here . they have created a software platform that allows anyone to build HTMs for experimentation and deployment. Their innovative approach. Details of HTM are available at Numenta. Jeff Hawkins and his colleagues have been focused on researching the brain's neocortex.this is a phenomenally useful and entirely readable article. When will computer hardware match the human brain? ( a 1997 paper) . Using their theory.

By demonstrating that their simulation is realistic. called the Blue Brain project. "It's amazing work. the main building block of a mammal's cortex. Software tools were then developed to process this information and .000 neurons and 30 million synaptic connections that make up a rat's neocortical column. "There's no point in dreaming about modeling the brain if you can't model a small part of it. and a human brain within the next decade. says Markram." says Markram.A Working Brain Model A computer simulation could eventually allow neuroscience to be carried out in silico. The neocortical column was chosen as a starting point because it is widely recognized as being particularly complex. a computational-neuroscience researcher at MIT. the researchers aim to create a modeling tool that can be used by neuroscientists to run experiments. The model itself is based on 15 years' worth of experimental data on neuronal morphology. appears to behave like its biological counterpart." The project began with the initial goal of modeling the 10. the researchers say. which began in 2005. The model of part of the brain was completed last year.") By mimicking the behavior of the brain down to the individual neuron. who led the work. he is satisfied that the simulation is accurate enough that the researchers can proceed with the rest of the brain. synaptic connectivity. ion channels. November 28. "This is likely to have a tremendous impact on neuroscience. codirector of the Brain Mind Institute at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. these results suggest that an entire mammal brain could be completely modeled within three years. test hypotheses. y y Wednesday. 2007 By Duncan Graham-Rowe E-mail Audio » Print An ambitious project to create an accurate computer model of the brain has reached an impressive milestone. arguably the most complex part of a mammal's brain. (See "IBM: The Computer Brain. gene expression. But now. "What we're doing is reverse-engineering the brain." says Henry Markram. in Switzerland. and electrophysiological recordings of the neocortical columns of rats. Scientists in Switzerland working with IBM researchers have shown that their computer simulation of the neocortical column. after extensive testing comparing its behavior with results from biological experiments. and analyze the effects of drugs more efficiently than they could using real brain tissue. with a heterogeneous structure consisting of many different types of synapse and ion channels." says Thomas Serre.

imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. which has now been modeled using a supercomputer. IBM. Credit: BBP/EPFL IBM Computers to Create Virtual Brain By David Worthington | Published June 6. The representation shows the complexity of this part of the brain.automatically reconstruct physiologically accurate 3-D models of neurons and their interconnections. 8:35 AM y y y Print Article E-mail Article Add Comment The question has been proposed: When will computer hardware rival the human brain? In the 1980's futurist Vernor Vinge popularized the notion of a technological singularity where artificial intelligence will one day overtake the human brain and even foil any attempt to comprehend its complexity. That may yet happen. the basic building block of the cortex. in partnership with scientists at Switze . 2005. but for the time being. Connect the dots: A representation of a mammalian neocortical column.

) Having created a biologically accurate computer model of a neocortical column scientists are now planning to model the entire human brain within just 10 years.brain power: This representation shows the connectivity of the 10. (The different colors correspond to different levels of electrical activity.000 neurons and 30 million connections that make up a single neocortical column. Credit: BBP/EPFL .