Janelia Farm is a research campus in northern Virgina where scientists are reverse engineering the brain of a fruit fly. At the facility, part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a transdisciplinary team of biologists, neuroscientists, physicists, and engineers hope their studies of Drosophilia could one day enable them to generate a complete circuit diagram of the human brain. As part of IEEE Spectrum magazine's "Special Report: The Singularity," writer Sally Adee visited Janella Farm to see if the work there might even point toward a giant leap in artificial intelligence. From IEEE Spectrum:
Let's say all the engineering problems can be solved in the next five or 10 years. Could researchers then actually reverse engineer the human brain, creating its functional duplicate in silicon? Would consciousness and all its attendant joy, pain, insanity, and genius be freed from biological containment? Adler sees no reason why not. "The brain is the ultimate micromachine," (researcher David Adler) insists. "The fact that it's made out of meat is a red herring."
His vision is a Google map of the human brain that incorporates not just Janelia's circuit diagrams but also other work in neuroscience. Adler cites the work of Stanford neuroscientist Stephen Smith as "the first steps to finding the soul." At Harvard's Center for Brain Science, neuro-scientist Jeff Lichtman mapped mouse neurons by "painting" them with fluorescent proteins. Rubin believes he'll live long enough to see an MRI-like device that measures function with such high-resolution output that neurons in fruit flies, mice, or even humans can be observed taking in and processing information in real time.
How would all these different systems work together to show us how the brain does what it does? With his 10- billion- pixel-per-second microscope, Adler is confident he'll be able to produce brain-topography images like Google's satellite views, resolving fine details in sharp focus. Smith's cartography, on the other hand, he compares with Google's map views, including street names. Rubin's fMRI data would be like real-time traffic data. Layering these different maps atop each other, says Adler, could lead to a hybrid comparable to a Google map.
Previously on BB:
• Coloring the brain's wiring Link