Some say the most complex object in the universe is the human brain and that the brain’s most complex creation is the computer. With this in mind, a team of Swiss neuroscientists and computer engineers plan to go full circle: They want to program a computer to create a brain.
The scientists, in collaboration with IBM, are launching the effort by building a computer model of the neocortical column of a rat, a single circuit of about 10,000 cells, each of which is capable of thousands of connections. Rat brain information is being downloaded into IBM’s Blue Gene computer, which can crunch through 22 trillion operations per second. Although this first model will depict only the electrical activity of the neurons, future versions will also simulate chemicals in the brain, of interest because the combination of electricity and chemistry may cause thought. Eventually, as the simulations become more sophisticated and computer technology advances, the team hopes to replicate the entire rat brain.