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October 16, 2013

Supercomputing Essential to Human Brain Project

Tiffany Trader

The Human Brain project officially begins this month with more than 130 research institutions from Europe and around the world and hundreds of scientists from a diverse range of fields. With €1.2 billion in funding from the EU, this is unquestionably the most ambitious neuroscience effort ever launched. Project backers anticipate that a deep understanding of how the human brain operates will open the way for tremendous advances in medical and information technologies.

On Monday, October 7, 2013, six months after the Human Brain project was selected by the EU as one of its FET Flagships, the project partners met at EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne), the coordinating institution, to begin the first leg of this exciting journey. Gathering for this one-week intensive workshop are a multitude of domain experts, including neuroscientists, doctors, computer scientists and roboticists.

The initial project goal is to create six research platforms matched to the following specialities: neuroinformatics, brain simulation, high-performance computing, medical informatics, neuromorphic computing and neurorobotics.

During the next 30 months team members will build and test the platforms. They are scheduled for completion by 2016 at which point they will be turned over to Human Brain Project scientists as well as researchers from around the world – and that’s when the science begins. As with most preeminent academic and government computational resources and tools, these platforms will be available on a competitive basis.

In honor of this launch, the Brain Project has published several high-quality videos describing the different aspects of this endeavor.

In this video, called “Future Computing,” the narrator explains that simulating the complete human brain will require supercomputers 100 times more powerful than any that exist today. The project’s high-performance computing platform will offer simulation scientists unprecedented exascale capabilities and multi-scale technologies will enable each part of the brain to be modeled at the appropriate level of detail. An emphasis on interactive supercomputing will allow scientists to work with the new platforms – to visualize and engage with simulations – in the same way that they would utilize other lab devices and instruments.

“New high-performance computing technologies from the Human Brain Project will have an impact that goes far beyond brain research,” the narrator reports. “No engineered system can match the flexibility, resilience and energy-efficiency of the human brain. None can match its ability to effortlessly learn new tasks without programming.

“One of the Human Brain Project’s most important goals is to develop a completely new category of neuromorphic computing systems – chips, devices and systems – directly inspired by detailed models of the human brain. Neuromorphic computing has the potential to make an enormous impact in industry, transport services, health care and in our daily lives.”

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