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article imageArtificial brain could be a decade away

By Jane Fazackarley     Jul 23, 2009 in Technology
A scientist based in the United Kingdom says an artificial brain that is fully functional could be developed within the next decade. Using rats, he has already simulated some parts of the brain.
Henry Markram works as director for the Blue Brain Project. He made the announcement at a TED Global Conference which was held in Oxford. Markram says synthetically reproduced human brain might be used for treating people with mental illnesses.
It's estimated that approximately two billion people have some kind of brain infliction.
"It is not impossible to build a human brain and we can do it in 10 years," Markram said. "And if we do succeed, we will send a hologram to TED to talk."
The Blue Brain Project was established in 2005. The team have mainly been involved in a project to reverse engineer part of the human brain. The main part of the work has been to look at the neocortex.
"It's a new brain," Markram said. "The mammals needed it because they had to cope with parenthood, social interactions complex cognitive functions. It was so successful an evolution from mouse to man it expanded about a thousand fold in terms of the numbers of units to produce this almost frightening organ."
A software model has now been developed to recreate thousands of neurons that make it possible to built an artificial neocortex. The project discovered that while each neuron was unique, the circuitry in different types of brains all shared regular patterns.
"Even though your brain may be smaller, bigger, may have different morphologies of neurons - we do actually share the same fabric," Markram said. "And we think this is species specific, which could explain why we can't communicate across species."
To bring the model to life, an IBM Blue Gene machine containing 10,000 processors is used - a super computer.
Bringing the model to life has helped show researchers how the brain is working. The team can show the model of the brain some stimuli and then watch the electrical activity the brain produces in response.
"You excite the system and it actually creates its own representation," said Markram.
It is hoped the model can also help find out new information on a variety of brain diseases and may help to find new treatments.
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