Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Modeling the brain

A Fascinating look at a team in Switzerland who is attempting to model the brain (first of a rat, then of higher lifeforms) in silicon. An excerpt:
Today the Blue Brain project essentially has its own factory to produce artificial brain matter, so the computer can clone nerve cells almost automatically. The system's production line can produce whole series of neurons, one after another. Its memory contains close to 400 types, differentiated by shape. The stored neurons could be used to construct thinking tools of any size, in principle. Before they can be approved for use, though, the individual cells are randomly provided with individual characteristics -- because in the actual brain, no two cells are identical.

While none of this is especially challenging for a supercomputer, the real work starts when the time comes to link 10,000 non-identical cells to one another in a way that mirrors nature. The result is a particularly tricky 3-D puzzle, because each cell has about 10,000 protrusions with which it attempts to connect to other cells. The computer, in other words, must rotate and twist all cells in the space until their conductors are connected -- correctly -- at a total of 100 million points of contact.



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