September 11, 2013
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has created a new department called the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines (CBMM) for researchers to study what constitutes intelligence and how humans are artificially engineer it.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has given MIT, Cornell University, the Rockefeller University, the University of California at Los Angeles, Stanford University, the Allen Institute and Harvard University $25 million to be spread out amongst other academia, industrial interests and “international partners” to study:
• How an infant’s mind develops
• Understand how the human brain digests social situations
• Build computers capable of thinking like humans
• Collaborating neurobiology, electrical engineering and AI
Industry “partners” includes:
• Boston Dynamics
• ReThink Robots
• Willow Garage
Tomaso Poggio, director of the CBMM explained: “It is a short time in terms of the size of the problem; I don’t expect at all we’ll solve the problem of intelligence and how the brain works and how the mind works. But we hope to make significant progress, and we hope to shape the research, not only here in Cambridge, but also around the world in how to approach this problem.”
In May of this year, President Obama devoted $100 million in taxpayer money to fund the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) project.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH); DARPA; and privately funded institutions such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Kavil Foundation (KF), and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (SIBS) will share in the initial $300 million Obama set aside to kick off the project.
To understand the brain, how it functions, how the neuro-network connects, the NIH has brought together researchers and scientists from the Rockefeller University and Stanford University will assist in creating a human brain blueprint and co-chair the governmental council that oversees the entire project.
Francis S. Collins, director of the NIH said that BRAIN would have “practical applications across a variety of neurological illnesses and injuries: autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s.”
Collins is also interested in how BRAIN will affect the studies into traumatic brain injury (TBI) and prosthetics. The other psychological aspect of the project will fully understand how a “healthy brain functions” and be able to compare that data to unhealthy brains to uncover mental illness and develop more effective treatments.
According to a white paper entitled, “The Brain Activity Map Project and the Challenge of Functional Connectomics”, BRAIN would facilitate research that would allow wireless applications for the human brain as well as possibly give governmental access to targeting specific populations.
The study states: “This emergent level of understanding could also enable accurate diagnosis and restoration of normal patterns of activity to injured or diseased brains, foster the development of broader biomedical and environmental applications, and even potentially generate a host of associated economic benefits.”
Indeed, the BRAIN project will allow the government and private entities to define mental illness, neuroscience and psychiatric disorders. This will redefine society, families and individuals from predictive measures to treatment in “acute” stages.
BRAIN is expected to include certain initiatives:
• Key investments to jumpstart the effort: The National Institutes of Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation will support approximately $100 million in research beginning in fiscal year 2014.
• Strong academic leadership: The NIH will establish a high-level working group co-chaired by Dr. Cornelia “Cori” Bargmann of The Rockefeller University and Dr. William Newsome of Stanford University, to define detailed scientific goals for the NIH’s investment, and to develop a multi-year scientific plan for achieving these goals, including timetables, milestones and cost estimates.
• Public-private partnerships: Federal research agencies will partner with companies, foundations and private research institutions that are also investing in relevant neuroscience research, such as the Allen Institute, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavli Foundation and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
• Maintaining our highest ethical standards: Pioneering research often has the potential to raise new ethical challenges. To ensure that this new effort proceeds in ways that continue to adhere to our highest standards of research protections, the president will direct his Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to explore all ethical, legal and societal implications raised by this research initiative and other recent advances in neuroscience.
Obama said that the BRAIN project will develop technologies that are expected to record all electrical activity in the brain (as well as individual brain cells) to decipher “the speed of thought”.
DARPA is excited to begin this project, as evidenced by the statement on their website: “DARPA plans to explore two key areas[of the brain] to elicit further understanding of the brain. New tools are needed to measure and analyze electrical signals and the biomolecular dynamics underpinning brain function. Researchers will also explore, abstract and model the vast spectrum of brain functions by examining its incredible complexity.”
BRAIN’s applications for military operations and research and development projects into BRAIN in respect to computer networking, as well as hardware/software technologies facilities scientific disciplines such as quantum mechanics and using the human body for exploratory purposes with the assumed intention of curing disease.
DARPA explains their involvement in neurosciences as: “DSO [Department of Sciences Office] develops and leverages neurophysiological sensors, neuro-imaging, cognitive science and molecular biology to provide support, protection and tactical advantage to warfighters who perform under the most challenging operational conditions. DSO is discovering and applying advances in neuroscience to improve warfighters’ resilience to stress, increase the rate and quality of learning and training, defend against injury and enhance our warfighters’ ability to exert influence. DSO’s advances in neuroscience are leading to better sensors and novel neuro-morphic system architectures in the fields of computing, robotics and information integration, providing solutions to challenging issues. By harnessing the capabilities of neuroscience and fusing them with cutting edge electronics and the social sciences, DSO is bringing a new level of efficiency and situational awareness to provide warfighters with reliable information, training and tools to execute their missions.”