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US Joins Google, Microsoft In "Brain Race" 94

Nerval's Lobster writes "Decades after the space race pitted the United States against Russia, a new race has emerged: the race to map the human brain. The New York Times reported Feb. 18 that the Obama administration is gearing up to announce the Brain Activity Map project, an effort to map an active human brain that could give new insight into how neurons interact with each other, providing new avenues of research for diseases such as Alzheimer's. The U.S. will apparently pit itself against a collection of European research agencies that have announced similar projects. The U.S. effort, however, will apparently involve U.S. businesses, which would naturally benefit from the high-profile nature of the effort; in theory, the latter could also apply the resulting discoveries to their own computing efforts. The Times reported that representatives from Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm met with government representatives at the California Institute of Technology to try and figure out whether or not there are sufficient computing resources to process the vast amounts of data that the experiments are expected to produce, or whether new ones would need to be built."
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US Joins Google, Microsoft In "Brain Race"

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  • by Mageek ( 530351 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @03:30PM (#42938029)
    • by Anonymous Coward


      He's not commenting?

      • N/C No Change
        N/C No Comment
        N/C No Charge
        N/C Not Covered
        N/C new condition
        N/C Numerical Control
        N/C No Connect (electronics)
        N/C Normally Closed Contact
        N/C Non-Consensual
        N/C Nuclear to Cytoplasmic
        N/C Newton Per Coulomb
        N/C Number of Users Per Cell Density

        "Nuclear to Cytoplasmic" sounds like Ray. I don't know what it means but that's par for the course, eh?

    • Regarding project to map human brain, I predict that a number of university papers and a heap of data will be generated, and that some spinoff technologies, and then eventually the government will realize they can't afford it and reduce and eventually stop funding altogether.

      Why does the government have to waste millions of dollars to create some spinoff tech? Fucked if I know; because it is packed with bureaucratic public service morons trying desperately to justify their pay.

      Private companies spend their

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Never underestimate Moon Shots. without the Manhattan project, we probably would have never got the fission reactor, and our knowledge of nuclear technology would not be where it is right now. Without the space program, we wouldn't have satellites, the GPS network, a global communication network, Geospatial imaging, and more goodies then I can fit here. The human Genome project was a fed funded project and it revolutionized Genetics and made gene therapy possible.

        The mapping of the Human brain will final

        • you're a shortsighted and ignorant socialist fool and there is nothing Amish about what i said... unless you think every business owner in the world is Amish

          of course without the manhattan project, the moon race etc the tech spinoffs would have eventually been developed with private money if there was projected demand for it... they would have taken longer (we may be still in the age of 80386 processors, or something like it) but the development would have also come at much lower cost.

          the manhattan project

        • without the Manhattan project, we probably would have never got the fission reactor

          That's utter bullshit as the idea of the reactor predates MP by a decade and working ones by a few years.

          I see you act by the Party slogan.

          'Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'

      • by joss ( 1346 )

        Good job, never let historical fact mess with your ideology.

        The last sentence is a particular peach. Sometimes things are not entirely about money, is that a concept you can grasp? It's hard to compete with that, but I'll try:
        The Taj Mahal was a failure measured in terms of return on investment.
        The Mona Lisa is pretty pathetic when measured in terms of luminosity per square inch, he should have painted it white.
        Faberge eggs are pretty useless as crash helmets for chickens.

        • i'm sure you think your snide comment was intelligent, but you are a dope

          Sometimes things are not entirely about money

          that's rather obvious by the state of the us government budget... and its the problem i was trying to highlight, because it currently isn't about money but it should be. everything has a cost, and that cost must be justified. there is no such thing as a free lunch, and even seemingly inexpensive endevors have intangible costs.

          you're also trying to compare art with scientific/technological R&D, which is just stupid
          to some people the

        • Re:my bet (Score:4, Funny)

          by TheInternetGuy ( 2006682 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2013 @03:26AM (#42942341)

          Faberge eggs are pretty useless as crash helmets for chickens.

          [Citation needed]

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        I'm sure elements of the US Government are fully aware of how mapping the human brain and gaining a greater understanding of it would be useful in enhanced interrogation techniques or more accurately the forced answering of questions with the 'desired' (not necessarily the truth) answer both during and post interrogation. Big bucks will be spent by the US government and some of it for bad reasons but some of it also good ie. in terms of creating a healthier human society, the hunt for the psychopath in orde

        • if defense contractors are the "elements of the US government" that you speak of, then i agree
          the public servents signing the checks on behalf of the government probably have no idea

  • Ewww! (Score:2, Funny)

    by srussia ( 884021 )

    Decades after the space race pitted the United States against Russia, a new race has emerged: the race to map the human brain.

    Money quote: "One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for ... [squish] oops!"

  • Disease (Score:5, Insightful)

    by leadacid ( 1750220 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @03:37PM (#42938091)
    Why does research always have to be done to cure diseases? Have we stopped doing research just because it would be nice to know this, because we might be able to do things we haven't dreamed of yet? 'Curing disease' is the reporting version of fighting terrorists and stopping kiddy porn - filler because you can't think of anything real to say. Surely understanding how our brains work is one of the most interesting things we can do, isn't that good enough?
    • by poity ( 465672 )

      You're probably healthy, and can have your daydreams. Some people just want to live. I'm going to have to side with their priorities.

    • Re:Disease (Score:5, Interesting)

      by javilon ( 99157 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @03:53PM (#42938239) Homepage

      I am not really sure this is about Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. I think this is about the run up to the singularity. There are many riches and power to be gained by the first country or entity able to reverse engineer the human brain. Now it looks feasible and nobody wants to be out of it.

      If it were about health, they would invest the same amount of resources into a cure for circulatory diseases.

      • True AI will appear on the world scene decades before these guys finish mapping anything and long before they even begin to understand what they have mapped. You could map a billion cortical columns but, unless you know what it is supposed to do and how it evolves during learning, you understand diddly squat. All you have is a gigantic map with no labels. The best way to understand the brain is by generating multiple hypotheses and principles that we think might lead to intelligence and writing algorithms t

        • If your "map" includes the rules that govern the evolution that goes on during learning you don't need all that other stuff. You need to understand two things that they believe, one is inarguable (IMO) and the other is highly debatable.

          The inarguable proposition is that being able to run a human equivalent brain on computer hardware will provide amazing benefits. It doesn't matter that you don't know how it works, what matters is that you've got a brain running on silicon; silicon that will be twice as fa

    • Have we stopped doing research just because it would be nice to know this, because we might be able to do things we haven't dreamed of yet?

      We who? We the people? Or we me... some dude or private group of people?

      For we the people the answer should be obvious. In the middle of budget issues a governement SHOULD need more reason to do something than "because is sounds neat". I the people don't give a shit if Obama or Reagan or Bush or whoever thinks it sounds neat. You want to say you're over budget on everything and start threatening to shut down government and its services, but then at the same time embark on some "for shits and giggles" res

    • It's because it's the only way to get funding to do anything these days. NSF funding has been cut to the bone, but NIH is doing much better. This is why you always try to work a few magic words into your research proposal, like whichever disease is topical at the moment. If you can't, cancer is the old reliably, NIH always funds cancer.
    • While academically, I agree with you, but generally there would need to be some point behind it before the research can be funded. Curing disease is potentially such a point.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why does research always have to be done to cure diseases? Have we stopped doing research just because it would be nice to know this, because we might be able to do things we haven't dreamed of yet?

      It wasn't always this way. There was a time when we DID do stuff that was just cool.

      But, then people learned that they could actually make money by being bean counters. And they told the stupid people this (undoubtedly in exchange for money). Fast-forward a few years, and now the universities are churning out bean counting MBAs because it's easier for stupid to make money that way than by being an engineer or scientist.

      Then, take the modern investor cloning vats. They're full of second- or third-generat

    • You honestly think that a Corporation can sell the idea of doing something like research for the sake of research to shareholders?? The fact there are possible patents and heaps of money to be gained from the proposed helping map the brain, would be easier to sell to your shareholders who only care about the bottom line, as opposed to the greater good.
      • Anymore, sadly, no. If they did, the major shareholders would sue the corp for depriving them of their $DEITY guaranteed profits in the form of dividends.

        Something like Bell Labs will never again exist.

  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @03:38PM (#42938113)
    So I'm guessing the U.S. government and Microsoft are one of the control groups...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Anything involving MS would result in studies of how a virus effects the brain...

    The results of which would be bloated beyond the ability to compute.

  • This sounds like a pork program. When I read about computer companies talking to the Government about there not being "enough compute resources", I think of the various supercomputer boondoggles. Here's the current job list for the Mississippi Supercomputer Center. [olemiss.edu] Look at the CPU and memory usage columns. Most, if not all, of those jobs could be running on a 4-core 64-bit desktop machine. Instead, they're running some 10-year old SGI supercomputers as a batch processing service, free to Mississippi acade

  • Envy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is just a poor copy of the European Union project to model the brain. This is an investment of a milliard euros over some years that has the goal to understand the human brain by building a working simulation of equivalent size in information and complexity terms.

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @04:12PM (#42938373)
    There are 13 billion bits of information in a human DNA sequence. A brain has a trillion cells of several dozen types that may touch 10,000 other cells. You are talking about a 100 quadrillion edge graph there.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @04:21PM (#42938423) Journal

    Anybody fancy a guess as to how many (more) brains will be produced by unskilled labor before the first one is simulated?

    • Well... according to wiki the global birth rate is about 2% of the global population. So 200,000,000 per year... say 10 years... 2 billions? But then, I imagine that at least some of that activity will be skilled. :)

    • by p1esk ( 1622615 )
      The first simulated one can be easily replicated. Also, even if there will be no effort to improve it architecturally, it will double its thinking speed every couple of years due to Moore's Law.
  • First faction to discover Secrets of the Human Brain gets a free tech!

    Stories like this one always make me want to play Alpha Centauri again. It always feels strange how much of the early technology in that game we've already discovered or probably will discover soon.

  • And when Apple comes out with their map, iPhone users will all go mad.

  • by dinther ( 738910 ) on Monday February 18, 2013 @05:03PM (#42938773) Homepage

    No doubt the processes discovered in the brains inner workings will be patented and I will no longer be allowed to think unless I pay a license fee.

    • by vik ( 17857 )

      My fears exactly.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Fortunately you're not exercising that capability now, so you're well prepared to save on that fee

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      Uh, when the brain's inner workings are figured out, you'll do whatever your robot overlord tells you to do. If the guy who figures it all out is nice you might be allowed to live - unless it is as a pet you won't be of any actual use to him, just like everybody else.

  • Religion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nethead ( 1563 ) <joe@nethead.com> on Monday February 18, 2013 @05:33PM (#42939033) Homepage Journal

    Could this become a cure for religion? I mean, if we know exactly how the brain works there is going to be a lot fewer gaps for God to hide in.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by pacov ( 512801 )

      Amen, Brother!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      lol just because something is known doesn't mean the vast majority of America will accept it. *Cough* evolution *cough*. Heck most of them still think hell exists in the middle of the earth, and babies can be conceived without gonads touching...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "U$A patents human brain."

  • They forgot to mention who are they competing against: http://www.humanbrainproject.eu/introduction.html [humanbrainproject.eu]
  • Can some patent stuff from the this and make everyone pay a fee? have some kind of SCO like lawsuits?

  • If the White House is involved, their motive would be more effective means of torture or the direct extraction of memories from the minds of those that are a threat to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. If that seems outlandish, remember the only thing that really prevented 24/7 non-warranted surveillance was not morality nor the rule of law, merely ROI and effective data storage and retrieval.

Lend money to a bad debtor and he will hate you.