The Guardian reports on efforts to build a working model of the neo-cortex of the brain. The full story is here. An excerpt:
The neo-cortex, found only in mammals, developed to deal with parenthood and complex social interactions, (Henry) Markram said. The number of neurons has increased by so much that the brain has actually outgrown the space in the human skull. It began to fold back on itself, leading to the grooved and wrinkled surface of our brains. The folds increased the surface area available for the billions of neurons in the human neo-cortex.
Markram is working to develop a model of the human brain because it is a key step to our understanding of the neo-cortex, and scientists cannot continue doing animal experimentation forever. It is key to understanding diseases and disorders, including Alzheimer’s and autism.
To simulate a single neuron takes the computing power equivalent of a laptop. To build even a small model of the brain, they need a lot of laptops, about 10,000. But using an IBM supercomputer, “we can take the magic carpet for a ride”.
You can learn more about the Dr. Markram and the project at the website of the Laboratory of Neural Microcircuitry.
From an engineering standpoint, I see no reason why the circuitry of the brain could not be duplicated. At the same time, speaking from a position of complete and total ignorance (my usual position–and if I’m wrong here, I hope someone will correct me), I suspect that there’s more to it than circuitry. Computers operate in a binary fashion, executing a series of if-then statements, but executing them so quickly that the machines seem to come alive. I suspect that the neural pathways of the brain are so interwoven that what goes on in there left simple binary behind a long time ago.
If he succeeds, I know several persons who might consult him for–er–replacement parts.