The often contentious, EU-funded Human Brain Project whose initial aim was fixed firmly on full-brain simulation is now in the midst of a reboot targeting a more modest goal – development of informatics tools and data/knowledge repository for brain research. Think Google search engine and associated repository for brain researchers. It’s still a massive effort.
There’s a fascinating article in IEEE Spectrum (The Human Brain Project Reboots: A Search Engine for the Brain Is in Sight) touching on the highs, lows, and emerging aspirations of the HBP. High performance computing, not surprisingly, is a core component of the HBP and not restricted just to traditional computing paradigms – both the SpiNNaker and BrainScaleS neuromorphic platforms are HBP efforts.
According to the IEEE Spectrum article, “Sheer computing muscle is one thing that won’t be a problem, says Boris Orth, the head of the High Performance Computing in Neuroscience division at the Jülich Supercomputing Center. Orth walks between the monolithic black racks of the JuQueen supercomputer, his ears muffled against the roar of cooling fans. This is one of the big machines that HBP researchers are using today. Jülich recently commissioned JURON and JULIA, two pilot supercomputers designed with extra memory, to help neuroscientists interact with a simulation as it runs.”
The original plan, spearheaded by Henry Markram (an HPCwire 2013 Person to Watch), spurred debate and backlash in the brain research community. You may recall Markram also led the Swiss Blue Brain Project at EPFL. Here’s another excerpt from the article:
“As soon as the HBP was funded, things got messy. Some scientists derided the aspiration as both too narrow and too complex. Several labs refused to join the HBP; others soon dropped out. Then, in July 2014, more than 800 neuroscientists signed an open letter to the European Commission threatening to boycott HBP projects unless the commission had an independent panel review “both the science and the management of the HBP.”
“The commission ordered an overhaul, and a year later an independent panel published a 53-page report [PDF] that criticized the project’s science and governance alike. It concluded that the HBP should focus on goals that can be “realistically achieved” and “concentrate on enabling methods and technologies.”
The Human Brain Project reboot is being likened more to the international Human Genome Project which produced a full, searchable genome, and associated tools. The HBP will emulate this approach. The ambitious project is scheduled to end in 2023, ten years after it was begun. The IEEE Spectrum article is fascinating as well as a quick read.
Link to IEEE Spectrum article: http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/the-human-brain-project-reboots-a-search-engine-for-the-brain-is-in-sight
3D Reconstruction: Data from the polarized light imaging of the brain is pieced together by a computer to produce a 3D image of the neuronal fiber tracts (shown here as tubes). Credit: Katrin Amunts and Markus Axer/Jülich Research Center