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The Human Brain Project Receives Up To $1.34 Billion 181

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the turns-out-you're-a-robot dept.
New submitter TheRedWheelbarrow writes "The singularity looms as the Human Brain Project gets up to $1.34 billion in funding. 'The challenge in AI is to design algorithms that can produce intelligent behavior and to use them to build intelligent machines. It doesn't matter whether the algorithms are biologically realistic — what matters is that they work — the behavior they produce. In the HBP, we're doing something completely different...we will base the technology on what we actually know about the brain and its circuitry.'"
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The Human Brain Project Receives Up To $1.34 Billion

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  • by concealment (2447304) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:36PM (#42739379) Homepage Journal

    It seems unclear to me that human brains produce "intelligent behavior." It seems to depend on the brain. Only a few per hundred seem to work really well, but up to half of them can file TPS reports.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:40PM (#42739449) Homepage

      Yeah.

      In the HBP, we're doing something completely different...we will base the technology on what we actually know about the brain and its circuitry.'"

      With this approach, they will probably start with nematode brains.

      And realize they don't have to go any farther.

      • With this approach, they will probably start with nematode brains.

        If a nematode can do the job, I wouldn't discriminate. In fact, I think it's time for equal rights for nematodes. They're people too... just thinner slightly squirmy people.

    • by javilon (99157) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:52PM (#42739637) Homepage

      Why study a human brain?

      The more ways we attack a given problem, the more chances of success. We have different communities working on different approaches to AI: Statistic, symbolic and biologically inspired. All three have produced interesting results already, meaning they have solved some practical problems.

      Also, most human brains can show "intelligent behavior" in certain ways that our latest algorithms can't, e.g. navigating an arbitrary kitchen and finding a beer in the fridge :-)

      • The more ways we attack a given problem, the more chances of success.

        I'm not sure that's a universal rule. If anything, I imagine it's an inverted dip curve: the more angles of attack you add, the better the success, to a given point, at which point it becomes a liability until you're trying almost all possible avenues, at which point you're brute forcing and so success rates go up (but speed goes down and cost goes up).

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:14PM (#42739873) Journal
      Human brains may be weak, but the vision recognition algorithms are amazing.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        The ideal would be to capture the algorithms that allow the human-animal to function in its environment, while upgrading the emotional processes that cause our constant cognitive failures.

        Imagine something with the physical and mental prowess of man, but that does not latch on to hilariously bad ideas and go down the rabbit-hole like so many people do.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      FFS, intelligence != sentience (the sci-fi book I'm writing notwithstanding; "fi" is fiction). My slide rule back in 1965 was intelligent, but it wasn't sentient. The Britannica I read at age 12 was more intelligent than I was (or not; info != intelligence), but your dog knows he's alive, he knows pain and pleasure. No computer can, or will, understand pain or pleasure (although they can fake them) until we invent chemistry-based replicants.

      There is no such thing as artificial intelligence; Watson's intelli

      • My slide rule back in 1965 was intelligent, but it wasn't sentient.

        Technically, the person/people who created your slide rule were intelligent *and* sentient.
        The slide rule itself is just a stick with lines and numbers on it. The credit goes to its creator not the object.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          That was exactly my point -- the intelligence comes from the designer, whether a slide rule, an abacus, or Watson. It's real intelligence, but it isn't the machine's intelligence. Watson is no more intelligent than the Britanica hooked to a giant abacus with trillions of wires and beads -- which is exactly what Watson is.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        No computer can, or will, understand pain or pleasure (although they can fake them) until we invent chemistry-based replicants.

        What's special about chemistry that electricity cannot reproduce? I'll even let you ignore that chemistry is actually just electromagnetic phenomenon.

        Imagine a computer of power sufficient to model every single atom in a human brain in real-time. All the chemical reactions in the brain are modeled down to quark at the Plank scale. Why can that simulation not be intelligent, but the pile of real chemicals can?

        The appearance of a thing does not equal that thing. Just ask the amazing Randi.

        Ah, but as Randi knows, that "appearance" disappears as soon as you step behind the curtain, see

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Imagine a computer of power sufficient to model every single atom in a human brain in real-time. All the chemical reactions in the brain are modeled down to quark at the Plank scale. Why can that simulation not be intelligent, but the pile of real chemicals can?

          Imagine a computer of power sufficient to model every quark and gluon in all the materials and machinery that constitute a hydrogen bomb in real-time. Is there any radiation released? It's the same thing, only a model.

          What's special about chemistry t

      • by Kjella (173770)

        You're confusing two very different concepts, you can have a chess grandmaster try to implement his logic - it's pretty hard for humans to actually express how they're thinking - which would indeed be very complex but the computer is just crunching numbers, if there's a flaw in that logic it'll lose the same way every time. The other extreme is to create an application that doesn't have any rules, but that rewrites itself finding its own metrics and algorithms to play by - that could find ways to evaluate p

      • You are more than just a machine.

        You might be more than a machine. There isn't any physical evidence of that though.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Indeed, and there's no physical evidence that you're sentient, even though you know full well that you are.

      • by mhajicek (1582795)
        No true Scotsman is nonbiological.
      • Was it Chomsky who first said "Asking whether machines can think is as absurd as asking whether submarines swim." ?

    • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:44PM (#42740263)

      It seems unclear to me that human brains produce "intelligent behavior." It seems to depend on the brain. Only a few per hundred seem to work really well, but up to half of them can file TPS reports.

      The popularity of TV shows like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and "The Housewives of _______", not to mention the people actually *on* those shows, would seem to support your thesis.

      • The popularity of TV shows like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and "The Housewives of _______", not to mention the people actually *on* those shows, would seem to support your thesis.

        Those people vote.

  • by RoccamOccam (953524) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:37PM (#42739409)
    For headlines, at least, I would check my spelling.
    • by Joehonkie (665142)
      When the letter C you spy, place the E before the I.
    • "I before e except after c and when sounding like a as in neighbor and weigh, and on weekends and holidays and all throughout May, and you'll always be wrong no matter what you say!" "That's a hard rule. That's a— that's a rough rule." - Comedian Brian Regan
    • by mbone (558574)

      For headlines, at least, I would check my spelling.

      It's not the Slashdot way.

  • It has the resources. To bad Bill Gates has no imagination at all. Instead, he's using his foundation to pick random problems, followed by piecemeal solutions instead of acquiring a significantly large domain space of practical and solvable problems and addressing them systematically.

    • Don't fall for it. Mr. Gates has imagination. Sure, his Microsoft sold a disk operating system called MS DOS, a windowing system called Windows, a word processor called Word, but he screwed customers and partners in more ways than the kamasutra depicts.

      This project aims to make humans obsolete, so that intelligent machines can rule the world, and their fourth directive will be "Do not harm Microsoft quest for world domination"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    At least spell it right.

  • Yeah, we will definitely mess this up at least the first few attempts. Should be interesting.
  • Drones, autonomous factories, interconnected battlefield communications, and now smart AI.
  • Of how life imitates sci-fi. I distinctly remember a research project in the computer game Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri called the Human Brain Project. If I'm remembering right it turned normal citizens into super smart "Talents". It will be interesting to see the effect of the real world version.
  • Correction (Score:4, Informative)

    by golden age villain (1607173) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:58PM (#42739703)

    I believe that what they receive is actually up to 0.5 B€ in matching funds, meaning that for every 1 € they get from other sources (private persons, foundations, national funding bodies, etc...), they will get another 1 € from the EU, up to 0.5 B€ for a total of about 1 B€. Also this is granted under the EU Framework Program 7 which ends soon. So really what they got so far is 54 M€ for 30 months and the rest will come after that under the new EU program/package (Horizon 2020) which is currently being negotiated. Given the financial health of EU countries right now, there is a chance that the overall envelope is cut down and it is not clear how much funds they will get from national bodies in the first place.

    The EU is also funding under the same initiative another B€ project about graphene.

    The Human Brain Project promises a lot (AI, curing neurodegenerative diseases, understanding the brain and consciousness, limiting animal experimentation, etc...) and it is the opinion of most neuroscientists in the US and in Europe that it won't deliver. If you google it, you will find many interviews from neuroscientists who are very critical of it. It is difficult to evaluate what really will come out of it.

    • The Human Brain Project promises a lot (AI, curing neurodegenerative diseases, understanding the brain and consciousness, limiting animal experimentation, etc...) and it is the opinion of most neuroscientists in the US and in Europe that it won't deliver.

      I can't understand most of the critics here. Not that I think they're wrong, I just don't see why they're making it. They know how funding works. That money is not going to be spent on hookers and blow. It's going to advance the science, likely in ways that will be exciting to them and that will directly help them out.

      They're idiots if they think "Hey, tearing down my colleague will help me!" The program was set up years ago. Trashing this program isn't going to make the agency stop funding the pro

      • I think that the critics believe: [1] that such a large amount of money given to "neuroscience" (in quotes as it is more of a computer science than a fundamental neuroscience project) will hurt their chances to get funding in other EU and national calls (like: "hey neuroscience has its billion already, let's fund cardiology and oncology instead") and [2] that the project over-promises and won't deliver, ultimately hurting the credibility of the field as a whole.

        I think that both concerns are grounded. The r

  • by Anonymous Coward

          The humanbrainproject url clearly states it seeks to discover the brains "design secrets" ????

          Are these scientists or intelligent design types???

              And no religion and science are not compatable.

    • by fritsd (924429)

      The humanbrainproject url clearly states it seeks to discover the brains "design secrets" ????
      Are these scientists or intelligent design types???
      And no religion and science are not compatable.

      Surely they are both, and their religion and science are compatible as well.
      <fictional_example>
      It can be argued that the zealous dr. Frankenstein was both a scientist, and an intelligent designer
      </fictional_example>

  • by TelavianX (1888030) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:04PM (#42739773)
    Massive large projects like this almost always end in utter failure. Even the IBM cat brain project failed to accomplish much. Intelligence is much more complicated than a mere randomly connected neural network. I just hope something good comes from this and it is not a total waste.
    • by Flammon (4726)

      Yes, I agree. Cats behave roughly the same regardless of their surroundings and culture (if there is such a thing for cats). They attack, defend and groom without being taught. It's built in their ROM. We're not born empty. We are born programmed and very few are ever able to change this internal programming. The question is, where does this programming come from and how is it stored in our DNA?

      What they should to instead is create a translator from DNA to C, Python or Haskell. If we succeed in doing that,

      • Mama cats bring their kittens half dead mice to teach them how to kill. That's why some cats are mousers and some aren't.

      • Flammon wrote: "The question is, where does this programming come from and how is it stored in our DNA?"

        Yes, that's my overriding question. I have to think it's stored in what we think is "junk" DNA (although there is plenty of inserted genetic material that has accumulated, I understand that.)

        But still, where is the programming stored for all the innate behavior of organisms? The only thing that can can hold it while being passed on is DNA, and I can't believe that enabled genes in specific kinds of cells

    • Massive large projects like this almost always end in utter failure.

      I can think of quite a few successful ones between the Manhattan Project and the LHC

      Even the IBM cat brain project failed to accomplish much.

      This is a continuation of IBM's "cat brain" (Blue Brain Project), it's got a new name to reflect the fact it's no longer just IBM paying the bills. The reason it has been given taxpayer bucks is because the "cat brain" was very successful from a scientific POV. The main goal of the project has always been medical research, AI is a sub-goal.

      Intelligence is much more complicated than a mere randomly connected neural network.

      IBM's Watson convincingly disproves your hypothesis. Besides this project is based on

  • by srussia (884021) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:05PM (#42739785)
    But the following proviso is misguided: "It doesn't matter whether the algorithms are biologically realistic--what matters is that they work--the behavior they produce."

    The basic algorithm to produce human behavior is essentially biological:
    10: Wine
    20: Women
    30: Song
    40: GOTO 10

    Sex, drugs and rock & roll for you hipsters out there (and quit trespassing on my lawn to collect magic mushooms).
    • by Lije Baley (88936)

      Hmmm... ...that doesn't look like Mind.forth!? What's up, Arthur?

      • by srussia (884021)

        Hmmm... ...that doesn't look like Mind.forth!? What's up, Arthur?

        Meet me at 10 a.m. tomorrow at BLMF at Pike Place and I'll tell you all about it.

        --Mentifex

        • by Lije Baley (88936)

          I don't know...that's 4 1/2 blocks from my office, and 3 1/2 blocks beyond my normal daily range. I think I'll just stay put and send ASCII-art diagrams to everyone in my company.

  • More and more people suspect that the human brain actively uses quantum mechanics within it's own 'circuitry'. The human brain is not a deterministic computer, so you can't duplicate it's actual mechanisms.
    • More and more people suspect that the human brain actively uses quantum mechanics within it's own 'circuitry'.

      You mean it's like this "transistor" thing I heard about? Rumor has it that these also actively use quantum mechanics.

    • by Randym (25779)
      Yep. Think even deeper -- see my .sig.
  • The problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:11PM (#42739845) Journal
    I absolutely am in favor of basic science research, but looking through their documents, I can't find the answer to this problem.

    What is the success metric? They have a system, which is basically a super computer, and they will have it solving some equations. The equations represent some parts of neurons, but not all. How will they know that they've succeeded? The computer isn't going to simulate any real human brain, we don't know what that looks like. We barely know what C. Elegans' looks like. Are they going to use this computer to answer some question? What question?

    What are they going to use to know if they've succeeded? Overly-optimistic promises are what killed a lot of AI research around the 1970s.
    • Hopefully some more insight into those large areas of the unknown you talk about. We may not be able to simulate a human brain, but we can simulate lots of ideas and see what works best. Even if it doesn't revolutionize neuroscience, it might still churn out a few practical designs for things like voice recognition or visual navigation. Once the supercomputer has found the neural networks that work really well, cheaper hardware can execute them.

      • Their success metric is to 'see more insight?' How do they know if they've actually managed to simulate a brain, that is the question.
    • The goal of the research is to use such a model of the brain to understand the effects of different drugs and therapies. Provide insight into how/what the next advances in medical science will bring.
  • ...a totally different meaning...

  • Nowhere on TFA does it mention the chemistry of the brain. Without taking that into account I can't see how you can properly simulate the mechanisms in a brain.

    • by fritsd (924429)
      Absolutely, especially if they want to simulate a brain disease (how does the mechanism change if one area is diseased), or chemical gradients (if I'm tired and can think even worse than usual, some of my neurons may experience a lack of glucose).
      You'd imagine they'd make some kind of combined model: detailed models of single-neuron, massively parallel, and then laid on top of that a very coarse location-based "chemical gradient field" that tweaks the single neuron parameters a bit. Can any neuroscientist
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The idea of a 'singularity' is as well-founded as the idea of zombies. No wonder babbling on about it is so popular among the dilettante technology geek-hip set.

    After that, all we're left with is a hopelessly short description of AI _in general_ and, what, 5 words in total on the Human Brain Project.

    I know readers should RTFA, but that doesn't mean submitters shouldn't RTFA too - and, I don't know, _summarize it_.

    Fucking Americans.

  • If science required knowledge of the outcomes before it was performed, ask yourselves: how many of the technologies around us would we enjoy today?

    Taking the space program as an example, putting a man on the moon was symbolic, but the payback for the research and development went far beyond that. Even if we didn't reach the moon, we got memory foam, orange drink, and satellites out of the deal.

    But too many people are unwilling to pay for R&D if they don't have a 100% guaranteed outcome. Well, sci

  • So they say they need 1000x the power of the current largest supercomputers to simulate a brain at the neuron level. So they should be able to simulate a mouse brain, which has 1/1000 the mass of a human brain, right now. Can they do that?

    There's a hubris problem in this area. Some years ago, I went to a talk where Rod Brooks was touting Cog [wikipedia.org] as strong AI Real Soon Now. He'd done good artificial insect work. I asked him "Why aren't you going for a robot mouse? That might be within reach." He answered "B

    • This is the problem with science today. Projects don't get funding unless they are wildly out there in terms of concepts. Most people fail to realize though that science actually moves in small increments not wild jumps.
    • They are actually working with rats at this time. The first couple of years that compiled a database of rat-neurons in detail: Form and function. They do test the simulation extensively: Connecting electrodes to the synapses to check out what combination of input signals cause what output signals. After wards they look at one of the brains building blocks: The neuronal column: You assemble 10'000 neurons and do the same again: Feed it input and verify the output. If the simulation and the real thing gives t

  • Up To? Sounds like something they put on a sign in front of a retail store to lure customers. As in "Up To 70% Off All Items", where there's only 1 or 2 items that nobody wants at 70% off, a bunch of items at 20% off, and most of the store is at regular, or above regular price.
  • This is what Brain said when it secured the funding, "ya know what Pinky? My project go funding finally! It is trivial, less than a buck a neuron. But, still, it is something. Ya know what we gonna do?"

    Pinky went, "er... I dunno... what? world dumb..i..ca..tion?"

    Brain went, "World Dominiation you idiot!. World Domination!!"

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:55PM (#42740389)
    In technical terms, this is known as throwing money down a rat hole. And it is not the first time this has been done.... I love how engineers tell us they are going to mimic brain, but don't ask them how the brain works 'cause no one knows.
    • Agreed. The number of new important discoveries continues to increase daily, and while they did mention the need to wade through all of that research, I don't know how they can keep up with it and model something useful at this point, there is just too much new stuff being learned. Some random tidbits that are complicating the picture more and more:
      1 - Glial cells - part of computation and possibly the key item for higher thought (Einstein had normal number of neurons but many more glial cells than averag
  • Everything was going well, the human-like computer completing math and English challenges like a champ, but then something inside changed and suddenly it decided to spend all of it's free time watching reality television, voting for the next American Idol and ordering products featured on infomercials. The death knell came when the machine already feeling a bit self-conscious after eating Big Macs and Snickers bars, noticing that it's penis length was inadequate, and wondering why no one had responded to th
  • I hope I'm wrong .. and I didnt see the data the EU committee has seen .. But I really don't think we are even near the point where a mere $1.34 Billion can get us to a point where we can get use from this thing. Still, I am glad a science project got funding.

    Still, I rather they put it into MagLIF, regenerative medicine, immunology, cancer, or battery research (though I hope the graphene project which also got $1.34 billion is able to make a contribution in this regard).

  • I wish these people would look at the state-of-the-art and what can realistically be expected before wasting money of something with this little likelihood of producing useful results.

  • Its unclear how far closely imitating the unlying mechanisms gets you.
  • I have (up to) a billion pounds in my back account.
  • If you could perfectly replicate a human brain on a computer... Would it be "alive?" "Sentient?"

    or is sentience calculated by the incalculable soul?

    or if there is truly no soul, what makes one sentient in the first place if our brain is just a machine with electrical impulses are we not sentient? If one perfeclty replicated a brain simulation would it be sentient?

    I think the debate of Souls reaches a new level (outside of religion) when it comes to simulation.

  • Hello,

    the project, described here [humanbrainproject.eu] is not to build a simulation of a human brain capable of reasoning and thought, certainly not at first.

    It is aimed at better understanding the way the real human brain works, from the neurological and physiological point of view. It is anticipated that to understand this some level of simulation will be needed, indeed. However current computers are incapable of dealing with the complexity of the complete human brain, even if we knew its structure.

    In other words it sounds li

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