30 April 2007

Brain simulation on computer

This is important:

US researchers have simulated half a virtual mouse brain on a supercomputer. The scientists ran a "cortical simulator" that was as big and as complex as half of a mouse brain on the BlueGene L supercomputer. In other smaller simulations the researchers say they have seen characteristics of thought patterns observed in real mouse brains.

Using this machine the researchers created half a virtual mouse brain that had 8,000,000 neurons that had up to 6,300 synapses.

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.

8,000,000 neurons with 6,300 synapses each works out to about 50 billion synapses total, a far cry from the estimated 100 trillion synapses in the human brain. Even Blue Gene, the world's most powerful computer, was able to run this simulation only at one-tenth of the processing speed of an actual mouse brain -- ten seconds to simulate one second of actual mouse brain activity. And as the researchers note, the simulation itself needs some refinement to reflect the properties of the organic brain more closely. So, much work remains to be done, and much more powerful systems will be needed, before we can simulate human brains with the accuracy needed to "run" individual people.

Nevertheless, this work is a milestone on the path leading to the Singularity, as the flight of the Wright brothers was, on the path to the age of interplanetary space probes. Slowly but surely the human brain is working closer to full understanding of the last and greatest mystery -- itself.

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