Here are a couple different perspectives on the big news out of Washington this afternoon — an ambitious Obama Administration proposal to appropriate $100 million to begin a project to "map the brain". What's that mean? We have a lot of good data on single neurons. We have a lot of good data on what happens in the brain, as a whole, during certain tasks. What we don't really understand is how those individual neurons work together as networks or what activity in the brain really means on the level of causality and processing. That's what this project would be aimed at understanding. At LiveScience, Stephanie Pappas puts the project into scientific (and financial) context. At Nature News, Meredith Wadman writes about why some scientists are wary of this plan.

16 Responses to “Obama and DARPA want to map the human brain like we've mapped the human genome”

  1. Nash Rambler says:

    Without being flippant, wouldn’t such a successful mapping take us a big step closer to machine consciousness?  I understand the arguments that such an effort would rob other brain research projects of the funding they need, but I think the benefits of such a mapping would far outweigh the negatives.  At worst, you’d end up with a much better idea of where to specifically target further brain research efforts.

  2. Stefan Jones says:

    I think we should hold off judgement until experts like Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh weigh in on the matter.

    • Jellodyne says:

      “The Liar in Chief announced a new plan to map the human brain and locate the center for Liberal Voting.” I’m going to assume the idea is to map brain activity, rendering Dittoheads immune.

    • p96 says:

      It’s probably safe to buy stock in companies that make aluminum foil.

  3. nixiebunny says:

    I applaud this effort, but I wonder how it would be accomplished. The brain is not like a CPU chip that has all the circuits laid out in a plane, ripe for the reverse-engineering.

    I suppose that’s what the $100 million is for.

  4. Nash Rambler says:

    Let’s be honest, $100 million is an appropriation so small it’s not even worth misappropriating.  I mean, c’mon, Avatar cost $250 million, and copies of that are choking Walmart bins everywhere.  I can’t see how this could possibly fail as money well-spent.

    • karl_jones says:

      I’ve seen Avatar, and I’m telling you, if DARPA invents “Erase Bad Memories” technology, then I say a hundred million well spent.

    • oasisob1 says:

      I imagine they’ll spend $5 of that on a copy of Avatar to watch and see how the mind transfer plants do their job, and then just reinvent that with the rest.

      • Nash Rambler says:

        Eh, it’ll probably all end up exactly like “Total Recall.”  Schwarzenegger version of course.

  5. -hms- says:

    It’s worth it just to put efforts toward better science back on the forefront of national consciousness. Even if it’s symbolic (given the low amounts) it is an affirmation of a good use of our collective power. We can use one.

    All that fails if it’s so little money that it peters out and becomes an embarrassment, but fingers crossed! 

  6. dodex1000 says:

    The second article makes a really good point that mapping complicated things like the human genome or the human brain does not necessarily mean that the information produced will be useful.

    That being said, I think this research is worthwhile. Just because the neural networks are complex doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to understand them.

  7. Slartibartfatsdomino says:

    I’d be much happier about this development if some other institution than DARPA was involved, as by definition they will be focusing on the militaristic applications of such science. The science itself I don’t object too. 

  8. allotrope says:

    Fantastic! This research project will generate unprecedented amounts of conspiracy theories.

  9. $100 million? We can’t possibly afford that, we’ve got shit to bomb.

    On a more serious note, I am suspicious about this just because of the US Govt’s shady history, and DARPA’s involvement. Remember the MK-ULTRA mind control project was not so long ago, and some of the creepy lowlifes involved in that are still kicking around in some capacity (ie, not sitting for life in federal prison). As with most things the government does, it’s safe to predict this innocuous and important project will be somehow turned to vile/military ends.

    • jackbird says:

      Like the internet and autonomous cars?  DARPA’s work is so diverse and blue-sky it ends up being applicable all over the place.

  10. Ramone says:

    This is FANTASTIC! It’s the space program for neuroscience–and the spoils go to the American public. Big pharma would never mount such a venture. There’s no profit in discoveries, just drug treatments. Joke all you want, but for someone who was caretaker of family members who died with dementia, this is really inspiring to hear!

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