A ten year project, the Brain Activity Map, that attempts to fathom the deepest workings of the human brain at a cost of billions of dollars is expected to feature in President Obama’s budget proposal next month, scientists have revealed. The collaborative research effort, hoping to do for our understanding of neurology and brain activity what the Human Genome Project did for genetic discovery, will see federal agencies along with private institutions receive a huge boost in funding, sources told the NYTimes, with potential applications in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s treatment, in the development of artificial intelligence, and other avenues.
Four scientists and representatives of research institutions have confirmed they have already been involved in planning the Brain Activity Map project, though the US government would not comment on the speculation. However, it’s expected to be managed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, insiders claim, with involvement from DARPA, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institues of Health.
The new project was, in fact, teased during Obama’s State of the Union address last week, where the president pointed out that brain research should be among the top ideas the government must invest in. Apparently pre-empting concerns about the costs the Brain Activity Map project might involve, Obama highlighted that each dollar invested into human genome mapping “returned $140 to our economy.”
As for private sector involvement, although neuroscientists and nanoscientists are expected to do the heavy lifting, there are some familiar names believed to already be adding their input. Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm are all said to have had representatives at a mid-January planning meeting, the subject of which was developing computers that could collect, store, and manipulate the sort and scale of data the Brain Activity Map project would involve.
Such technology did, in fact, exist, was the conclusion, though the technology to actually gather the data still needs work. Current methods of tracking brain activity are either inaccurate or demand invasive application of probes. One possible alternative is using tiny, molecule-scale machines that would individually monitor brain cells, though it’s unclear how close to such systems we are in practice.
[Image credit: Kelly Stoltz]