THE HUMAN BRAIN PROJECT: Digitizing human consciousness; T.A. Eady (& 6 Videos)

The Human Brain Project: Digitizing human consciousness

T.A. Eady

Jan 24, 2015

Webmaster’s Comment: Following this short introduction from the Digitizing Human Consciousness website, I transcribe the 7 minute video on THE HUMAN BRAIN PROJECT in the introduction and list the original organizations involved in this project.

The brain is a computer at its core. Its role in the human organism is to process information. Any entity that can perform the same information processing task as a brain entity will serve the same purposes that the brain entity normally serves. A computer neuron, for example, can substitute perfectly for a biological neuron. That’s true whether “computer neuron” means a physical object inside a neuromorphic computer or a piece of software designed to simulate the physical and biological properties of a neuron.

The computational nature of the brain makes it substrate-neutral. The underlying physical substrate of the brain doesn’t matter. It can be organic matter, silicon, or any other material that can process information as efficiently. In theory, you could build a brain out of anything—an elaborate system of pillows and trebuchets, say — but for most building materials the system would either have to be ludicrously large or slow down milliseconds of brain activity into lifetimes.

The substrate-neutrality of the brain has inspired many cognitive scientists and futurists to imagine humans minds that live on computers. The best recent example of this idea in science fiction is the movie Her.

“You seem like a person but you’re just a voice in a computer.”

“I can understand how the limited perspective of an unartificial mind would perceive it that way.”

The artificial minds in Her are disembodied voices, but there’s no reason artificial minds couldn’t have bodies. In theory, they could even have biological bodies just like ours, except controlled by their computer brains. In that case, what it would be like to be an artificial mind would be exactly the same as what it’s like to be a biological mind. An artificial mind wouldn’t notice that their mind is instantiated in a computer anymore than you notice that your mind is instantiated in a brain. From the inside, there would be no difference.

If the technology for scanning the minute details of brains were advanced enough, a living biological human being like you or me could decide to upload their brain to a computer and not notice the difference. But the advantages of the new substrate would be profound. Once your brain becomes digital, it becomes a lot harder to destroy. You can make backups. Perhaps you can also control your body wirelessly, protecting your brain from any calamity that befalls your body.

In this new form, the human brain could travel as fast as information travels on the Internet: at the speed of light. A trip to Mars would take 17 minutes. Unfortunately, there would need to be a base constructed on Mars ahead of time to receive the incoming brain. Still, it’s the fastest transportation system you could build.

The most powerful advantage of the digitized human brain, however, would be its plasticity. A digital brain can be redesigned on the fly. The possibility then arises for us human beings to improve upon our fundamental cognitive blueprint. We can evolve into something new, like our ape ancestors evolved into us.

“If we build this brain right, it will do everything… When I say everything, I mean everything.”

–Henry Markram, director of the Human Brain Project

All of this might sound purely hypothetical. It’s not. Neuroscientists and computer scientists have already embarked upon the road to this future. One of the first steps is the Human Brain Project, a €1.2 billion European science initiative to simulate every neuron of the human brain by 2023.

There are essentially two components to digitizing the human brain. The first component is building a simulation platform. This is primarily what the Human Brain Project is focused on. The second component is collecting data from the brain. That’s the purview of a complimentary U.S. science initiative called the BRAIN Initiative, budgeted at $3 billion and scheduled to unfold over ten years.

Fortuitously, the European and U.S. neuroscience initiatives synergize. The Human Brain Project is creating a system that will allow the brain to be realistically simulated, so long as neuroscientists can provide the simulation with the necessary data. The BRAIN Initiative, on the other hand, is developing new technologies to more effectively probe the brain and collect the data necessary for a realistic simulation.

The most likely outcome of the Human Brain Project and the BRAIN Initiative is that in ten years, they will not have successfully produced a brain simulation with enough realism to do everything that the brain does. They won’t create a human mind that lives on a computer. But the simulation that they produce will only be a first draft. Neuroscientists will continue to iterate on it and create subsequent drafts. Eventually, the simulated brain will reach parity with the biological brain. At that point, the simulation won’t be any less real than the “real” brain.

When that happens, it will open a new chapter of natural history.

2nd Webmaster Comment: In the short youtube on The Human Brain Project, we learn:

Moderator: A hundred billion neurons connected by a hundred thousand billion synapses. The human brain is the most complex machine we know of and the most mysterious. The Human Brain Project brings together hundreds of scientists from leading European research institutions. It is one of the most ambitious neuroscience projects in the world.

European researchers propose a radically new approach to study the human mind. Their idea is simple: to simulate a complete human brain in a supercomputer… and that could revolutionize the way we do computing.”

Professor Henry Markram, Co-director Human Brain Project- Brain Simulation, EPFL, Switzerland: “What we are proposing is to explore and understand, its diseases, and to use that knowledge to build new computing technologies.”

“The project is coordinated by EPFL located in Lausanne, Switzerland. The researchers will systematically study neurons, the building blocks of the brain. They will collect and consolidate all the biological data produced by scientists around the world. They will integrate this knowledge into a massive simulation running on a supercomputer. The result will be the most accurate model of the human brain ever produced.”

Professor Karlheinz Meier, Co-director for the Human Brain Project, Neuromorphic Computing:

“I’m really thrilled to be part of this and to help neuroscience to have a more coordinated effort to understand the brain and to EXPLOIT the brain, to really use what’s in the brain in computational principles, and to derive new technologies.”

“From an original group of 13 institutions, the HBP now encompasses more than 80 partners across Europe.”

Professor Stanislaus Dehaene: Cognitive Neuroscience, College de Frane, INSERM and CEA:

“The human cortex is organized into specialized regions. We need to understand what these different regions are doing. Some are specializing for language, some are specializing for vision. So we will create systematic maps of the human brain trying to understand each of these subsystems, trying to understand other specific parameters so they can ultimately brought to simulation.”

Moderator: “Brain diseases have become an immense burden in the Western World. In Europe, they cost more than heart diseases, cancer, and diabetes all put together.”

(ETK Comment): OK. Here’s the usual “sales pitch” to “sell”/justification this satanic project: The number of deaths by heart disease, cancer and diabetes are over 10 times that of strokes and other brain related diseases.

Moderator: “Scientists will work closely with hospitals to find new treatment to neurological disorders. They will collect medical data such as brain scans in order to develop better ways to diagnose diseases.

Prof. Richard Frackowiak, The Human Brain Project, Medical Informatics, CHUV, Switzerland:

“It involves trying to make sense of the enormous amounts of data and using those data in order to define what we collect on all our patients and use those data in order to define their diseases better. And to do that we need first to be able to bring the data together so we need data basing. And for that we’re going to need really high powered computers to be able to what we call “data mine.”

Prof. Seth Grant: Molecular Neuroscience, Edinburgh, Scotland:

“We now have a blueprint to understand the molecular architecture that defines the development and organization of the human brain. But it also gives us the fantastic opportunity to understand how the DNA mutatations that cause hundreds of different brain diseases produce those diseases.”

Professor Richard Frackowiak: “There will be ways of testing potential drugs where you won’t need to use animals where you’ll be able to use something that approaches the human and where you’ll have some information and where you’ll have some information of how good the treatments going to be to correct the defect.”

Moderator: The simulation of a complete human brain will require supercomputers that are a thousand times more powerful than today.”

Professor Thomas Lippert: High Performance Computing, Forschungzentrum Julich, Germany:

“The power of today’s computers is by far not sufficient to compute this complex system. Of course we have to pool resources in order to satisfy the huge demands.”

Moderator: The project will stimulate the development of new supercomputers. By understanding how cognition works, it will help to design radically new devices called neuromorphic computers. They will combine the power of micro-electronics with the flexibility of human intelligence.

Meier: “If you want to solve a new problem you need new software. You don’t do that in your brain. You learn and you are able to learn to handle completely different situation- even things we have never seen before. These are systems that are directly modeled after the brain. So what we build is physical models of brain circuits on silicon substance.

Moderator: “The Human Brain Project will create a realistic simulation of the brain. This new tool will be used to understand how the brain works, to study brain diseases, and invent new electronics. To achieve this goal, more than 80 European institutions have already joined the project.”

Prof. Alaine Destexhe, Theoretical Neuroscience, CNRS, France: “The competence is distributed all over Europe in supercomputing and in neuroscience. By putting so many people together and making such a big community, such a big project, we can do things we could never do with any other smaller scale project.

Prof. Patrick Aebisher, EPFL, Switzerland: “For Europe this is kind a big science project. I believe the 21st century will be the century of the brain.”

Prof. Torsten Wiesel, Scientific Advisory Board, Human Brain Project: “I think this is a visionary project and it seems to me that the field needs this kind of initiative in order to move forward.”

Grant: “And I see fantastic opportunities in the future.”

Moderator: The technology is at reach and the necessary knowledge available.”

Markram: “It’s like building a giant telescope to peer into deep space. Only we’ll be able to look deeply into the brain and ask questions that are impossible experimentally and theoretically. It’s an infrastructure to be able to build and simulate the human brain, objectively classify brain diseases, and build radically new computing devices.”

Meier: “We have what’s called in technology a “roadmap.” We know which technology will be used at which point in time in the project and the way we will scale up our systems so that they reach the complexity of the human brain.”

Moderator: “The Human Brain Project will put Europe at the forefront of neuroscience. It will deliver new strategies to fight brain diseases and it will revolutionize electronics. But first of all, it will offer a revolutionary new tool to study the most mysterious phenomenon of the universe, the human brain.”

(Some) Institutions Involved in the The Human Brain Project in Europe

1. Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (Cambridge, England)
2. CEA-INCERM (French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, Paris, France)
3. CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research; Paris, France)
4. Institut Pasteur (Paris, France)
5. universal Tecnika De Madrid (Spain)
6. Karolinska Instutet (Stockholm, Sweden)
7. Julich Forschungzentrum (Julich, Germany)
8. Universitat Heidelberg (Heidelberg, Germany)
9. Technishce Universitat Munchen (Munich, Germany)
10) EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland)
11) Medinische Universsitat Innsbruk (Innsbruk, Switzerland)
12) CHUV (Centre hospitalier universitaire vaudois, Lausanne, Switzerland)

Related Youtubes:

1) A Brain In A Supercomputer/ Henry Markram (Oct. 15, 2009)

2) Future Computing: Brain-Based Chips/ Henry Markram (March 9, 2015)

3) What is China’s Brain Project? (August 5, 2018)

4) Architects of the Mind: A Blueprint of the Human Brain (Jan. 8, 2014)

5) CERN WATCH: They Are Digitizing Reality! (July 6, 2017)