A Brain-like Computer
With all its components and functions, the human brain continues to baffle science. Even supercomputers can hardly keep up in face of the brain’s data transfer and processing capacities and its low energy consumption. In order to at least technologically approximate this performance and to learn more about how the brain works, how diseases of the nervous system originate and how they can be treated, more and more scientists put their bet on simulating the brain.
Some 100 billion closely connected nerve cells ensure the function of our organs and senses, ensure that we process sensory perceptions, that we assess these and behave accordingly. The brain is capable of learning and even can repair itself. Scientists from the Forschungszentrum Jülich research centre intend to understand and simulate these characteristics in their full complexity. At the recently inaugurated simulation laboratory, the Simulation Laboratory Neuroscience, neuroscientists, medical practitioners, computer scientists, mathematicians and physicists combine their insights to jointly improve the simulation of the brain.
The Jülich-based supercomputers play a major role also in an ambitious pan-European project: the “Human Brain Project”, co-ordinated by Prof. Henry Markram, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and Prof. Karlheinz Meier, University of Heidelberg, is to pool all hitherto known data regarding the human brain in one simulation. Every component, every function, even the genetic characteristics of the nerve cells are to be simulated within a Jülich-based supercomputer. The European Union has declared the project one of its flagship initiatives. It thus can contribute about half the costs totalling a billion Euro or more. The Jülich contribution, however, is not just to develop supercomputers, but also to examine nerve cells down to the tiniest detail. The combination of all knowledge is to advance the treatment of nerve-based diseases. So far, however, computers are not yet able to process the enormous amounts of data. Therefore, innovative technological progress must precede the medical insights. This may render the “Human Brain Project” a risk, but can contribute to revolutionising knowledge in more than just one field.