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Updated: January 5, 2010 15:35 IST

Brains working for an intelligent brain

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An exhibit of a brain created by the Max Planc Society, Germany, for the Science Express. File Photo: Special Arrangement
THE HINDU An exhibit of a brain created by the Max Planc Society, Germany, for the Science Express. File Photo: Special Arrangement

An artificial mind! Yes, a machine brain, perhaps much more intelligent than your own may someday be a reality, if scientists are to be believed.

A Swiss team, led by Professor Henry Markram, claims to be working on the world’s first artificial conscious and intelligent mind, made of silicon, gold and copper, which they say would be ready latest by 2018.

According to Prof Markram of the Brain Mind Institute at Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, the artificial mind would render vivisection obsolete, conquer insanity and even improve human intelligence and ability to learn.

What Markram’s ‘Blue Brain’ project amounts to is an audacious attempt to build a computerised copy of a brain — starting with a rat’s brain, then progressing to a human brain — inside one of the world’s most powerful computers, British newspaper the ‘Daily Mail’ reported.

“We will do it by 2018. We need a lot of money, but I am getting it. There are few scientists in the world with the resources I have at my disposal,” Prof Markram said.

The Swiss team is in fact building what it hopes will be a real person, or at least the most important and complex part of a real person — its mind. And so instead of trying to copy what a brain does, the scientists have started at the bottom, with the biological brain itself.

As human brains are full of nerve cells called neurons, which communicate with one another using minuscule electrical impulses, the project takes apart actual brains cell by cell, analyses the billions of connections between the cells, and then plots these connections into a computer.

The upshot is, in effect, a blueprint or carbon copy of a brain, rendered in software rather than flesh and blood.

The idea is that by building a model of a real brain, it might begin to behave like the real thing, the scientists say.

And, to demonstrate how they are achieving this, Prof Markram has already showed a machine that resembles an infernal torture engine; a wheel about 2ft across with a dozen ultra-fine glass ‘spokes’ aimed at the centre.

It is here tiny slivers of rat brain are dissected, using tools finer than a human hair. Their interconnections are then mapped and turned into computer code.

So far, the team’s supercomputer — an IBM Blue Gene — is using the information gleaned from the slivers of real brain tissue, to simulate the workings of about 10,000 neurones, amounting to a single rat’s “neocortical column” — the brain’s part believed to be centre of conscious thought.

“That is the hard part. To go further, he is going to need a bigger computer. We (now) need a billion-dollar machine custom-built. That could do a human brain,” Prof Markram said, whose project is being funded by the Swiss government, the EU and private backers, including the computer giant

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