To Build a Supercomputer Replica of a Human Brain

The $1.3B Quest to Build a Supercomputer Replica of a Human Brain

  • By Jonathon Keats
  • 05.14.13
  • See all  Pages: 1 2 3

Even by the standards of the TED conference, Henry Markram’s 2009 TEDGlobal talk was a mind-bender. He took the stage of the Oxford Playhouse, clad in the requisite dress shirt and blue jeans, and announced a plan that—if it panned out—would deliver a fully sentient hologram within a decade. He dedicated himself to wiping out all mental disorders and creating a self-aware artificial intelligence. And the South African–born neuroscientist pronounced that he would accomplish all this through an insanely ambitious attempt to build a complete model of a human brain—from synapses to hemispheres—and simulate it on a supercomputer. Markram was proposing a project that has bedeviled AI researchers for decades, that most had presumed was impossible. He wanted to build a working mind from the ground up.

In the four years since Markram’s speech, he hasn’t backed off a nanometer. The self-assured scientist claims that the only thing preventing scientists from understanding the human brain in its entirety—from the molecular level all the way to the mystery of consciousness—is a lack of ambition. If only neuroscience would follow his lead, he insists, his Human Brain Project could simulate the functions of all 86 billion neurons in the human brain, and the 100 trillion connections that link them. And once that’s done, once you’ve built a plug-and-play brain, anything is possible. You could take it apart to figure out the causes of brain diseases. You could rig it to robotics and develop a whole new range of intelligent technologies. You could strap on a pair of virtual reality glasses and experience a brain other than your own.

The way Markram sees it, technology has finally caught up with the dream of AI: Computers are finally growing sophisticated enough to tackle the massive data problem that is the human brain. But not everyone is so optimistic. “There are too many things we don’t yet know,” says Caltech professor Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at one of neuroscience’s biggest data producers, the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. “The roundworm has exactly 302 neurons, and we still have no frigging idea how this animal works.” Yet over the past couple of decades, Markram’s sheer persistence has garnered the respect of people like Nobel Prize–winning neuroscientist Torsten Wiesel and Sun Microsystems cofounder Andy Bechtolsheim. He has impressed leading figures in biology, neuroscience, and computing, who believe his initiative is important even if they consider some of his ultimate goals unrealistic.

Markram has earned that support on the strength of his work at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, where he and a group of 15 postdocs have been taking a first stab at realizing his grand vision—simulating the behavior of a million-neuron portion of the rat neocortex. They’ve broken new ground on everything from the expression of individual rat genes to the organizing principles of the animal’s brain. And the team has not only published some of that data in peer-reviewed journals but also integrated it into a cohesive model so it can be simulated on an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer.

The big question is whether these methods can scale. There’s no guarantee that Markram will be able to build out the rest of the rat brain, let alone the vastly more complex human brain. And if he can, nobody knows whether even the most faithful model will behave like a real brain—that if you build it, it will think. For all his bravado, Markram can’t answer that question. “But the only way you can find out is by building it,” he says, “and just building a brain is an incredible biological discovery process.” This is too big a job for just one lab, so Markram envisions an estimated 6,000 researchers around the world funneling data into his model. His role will be that of prophet, the sort of futurist who presents worthy goals too speculative for most scientists to countenance and then backs them up with a master plan that makes the nearly impossible appear perfectly plausible. Neuroscientists can spend a whole career on a single cell or molecule. Markram will grant them the opportunity and encouragement to band together and pursue the big questions.

And now Markram has funding almost as outsized as his ideas. On January 28, 2013, the European Commission—the governing body of the European Union—awarded him 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion). For decades, neuroscientists and computer scientists have debated whether a computer brain could ever be endowed with the intelligence of a human. It’s not a hypothetical debate anymore. Markram is building it. Will he replicate consciousness? The EU has bet $1.3 billion on it.

Ancient Egyptian surgeons believed that the brain was the “marrow of the skull” (in the graphic wording of a 3,500-year-old papyrus). About 1,500 years later, Aristotle decreed that the brain was a radiator to cool the heart’s “heat and seething.” While neuroscience has come a long way since then, the amount that we know about the brain is still minuscule compared to what we don’t know.

Over the past century, brain research has made tremendous strides, but it’s all atomized and highly specific—there’s still no unified theory that explains the whole. We know that the brain is electric, an intricately connected network, and that electrical signals are modulated by chemicals. In sufficient quantity, certain combinations of chemicals (called neurotransmitters) cause a neuron to fire an electrical signal down a long pathway called an axon. At the end of the axon is a synapse, a meeting point with another neuron. The electrical spike causes neurotransmitters to be released at the synapse, where they attach to receptors in the neighboring neuron, altering its voltage by opening or closing ion channels. At the simplest level, comparisons to a computer are helpful. The synapses are roughly equivalent to the logic gates in a circuit, and axons are the wires. The combination of inputs determines an output. Memories are stored by altering the wiring. Behavior is correlated with the pattern of firing.

Yet when scientists study these systems more closely, such reductionism looks nearly as rudimentary as the Egyptian notions about skull marrow. There are dozens of different neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin, to name two) plus as many neuroreceptors to receive them. There are more than 350 types of ion channel, the synaptic plumbing that determines whether a neuron will fire. At its most fine-grained, at the level of molecular biology, neuroscience attempts to describe and predict the effect of neurotransmitters one ion channel at a time. At the opposite end of the scale is functional magnetic resonance imaging, the favorite tool of behavioral neuroscience. Scans can roughly track which parts of the brain are active while watching a ball game or having an orgasm, albeit only by monitoring blood flow through the gray matter: the brain again viewed as a radiator.

Two large efforts—the Allen Brain Atlas and the National Institutes of Health-funded Human Connectome Project—are working at levels in between these two extremes, attempting to get closer to that unified theory that explains the whole. The Allen Brain Atlas is mapping the correlation between specific genes and specific structures and regions in both human and mouse brains. The Human Connectome Project is using noninvasive imaging techniques that show where wires are bundled and how those bundles are connected in human brains.

To add to the brain-mapping mix, President Obama in April announced the launch of an initiative called Brain (commonly referred to as the Brain Activity Map), which he hopes Congress will make possible with a $3 billion NIH budget. (To start, Obama is pledging $100 million of his 2014 budget.) Unlike the static Human Connectome Project, the proposed Brain Activity Map would show circuits firing in real time. At present this is feasible, writes Brain Activity Map participant Ralph Greenspan, “in the little fruit fly Drosophila.”

Even scaled up to human dimensions, such a map would chart only a web of activity, leaving out much of what is known of brain function at a molecular and functional level. For Markram, the American plan is just grist for his billion-euro mill. “The Brain Activity Map and other projects are focused on generating more data,” he writes. “The Human Brain Project is about data integration.” In other words, from his exalted perspective, the NIH and President Obama are just a bunch of postdocs ready to work for him.

Mind Control Technology Correlates with Victim Allegations

Mind Control Technology Correlates with Victim Allegations

Brain Thechnology

By breaking the problem down to manageable size, mind control technology used in mind control nonconsensual experimentation can be described. SQUID can read minute magnetic signals from the brain and with mathematic computations correlate this to processing of light stimuli by the brain, for example. In the development of MRI in the early 1970s, fourier transforms and pulse techniques were described as a way to decipher the very minute brain signals among all the electromagnetic background noise. And in 1980, Dr. Mackay described cross-correlation as one of the most powerful computational techniques for extracting significant information from brain signals. And now Tennenbaum and many articles describe the future use of HTSC for reading minute biological signals in the late 1980s. The theory behind detecting thought processes is passing the test of time.

MEG was used to pick up the magnetic signals which are oscillating millisecond fluxes of the brain in real time. If there were electromagnetic codes and programs for the brains processes that have already been discovered, (as in the gene mapping project), then the signals would have meaning.

foi mind control

Victims report that their thoughts can be read instantly and replied to, that pictures and dreams, memories and feelings can be remotely manipulated and controlled. Every nerve and muscle of the body can now be controlled. Again, breaking the problem down to manageable amounts is very helpful in describing the technology available that could account for victim’s allegations. One previous example was the artificial retina chip, a copy of the neural organization of the retina and visual processing as the human brain does. This and the visual processing of the brain by frequencies mentioned previously could have been discovered and would account for dreams, pictures and implanted visualizations reported by victims.

The hearing of voices has been described elsewhere via microwave effects by the military to be used against terrorists (see CAHRA, Intelligence tools). The manipulation of memory could be accounted for with Wiener’s theory of the storage via nucleic acid complexes. Others have made the hypothesis of a molecular code that may be searched out and finally mastered, according to discussions at the American Association for the Advancement of Science(Lessing,1967, DNA Pg. 56.). Long and short term memory may use different mechanisms and Pribram’s theory of holography may be a key process. Pribram has suggested that sensory information is relayed and reconstructed by neuron interaction and also the sensory cells can interact to form a type of hologram[which is made up of electromagnetic waves]. This information combined with previously described techniques demonstrate how in principle, this could be done without a chip or implant. From the many facts, it can be concluded that the functioning of the brain has been discovered and applied to military applications. The underlying principles have been discovered.

Manipulation of feelings could be done via electromagnetic signals. Penfield described the experiments in the 1930s of stimulating areas of the cortex while surgically treating epileptic patients and patients would describe reliving of a previous memory, a flash-back, smelling certain smells and feeling physical sensations. The process for targeting areas of the brain for rage, happiness, and many other feelings most likely have been located.

brain control

Manipulation of every nerve in the body can be explained via electromagnetic signals to specific locations of the brain. The process of sensations and movement may be catalogued in the atlas of signals which Wiener predicted. And the underlying brain mechanism for processing sensations have been determined. This does not seem so farfetched now that very weak signals can be detected and correlated to specific stimulus. The location of the electromagnetic source is possible with MEGs, magnetoencephalography, as stated in a previous article,(pg. 40) and therefore could be targeted by remote means. Recording the signals and then playing them back has been described as the means for direct communication with the brain. Any sensation could be created if a specifically tailored electromagnetic signal were known or mimicked and transmitted. The military interest in solving very complicated brain processes has created the funding needed for scientific projects such as this.

The robotic effects or street theatre that many victims describe is worth mentioning. Behavior of people can now be engineered as if they were puppets. Delgado’s research with implants which stopped a charging bull and then with remote electromagnetic signals is one part of this puzzle. The military has done extensive research on hypnosis(see Operation Mind Control, Walter Bowart1978). The electromagnetic signal or command is directed to the subconscious, and as in hypnosis the target will do whatever the command states. This has been demonstrated by J.F. Schapitz in government experiments(See The Controller, Martin Cannon). The brain is a complex system and there are no easy explanations. This was meant to be the beginning of a solid foundation of proof of government mind control technology that would overcome the lack of government documents that are classified under the National Security Act.


The capability to read and communicate remotely with the brain is a technology that governments would go to great lengths to develop, especially to surpass an enemy that is developing mind control technology also. Over 25 articles on Russian mind control are available (see also CAHRA UN Report) and a few of the many examples were presented here. The Soviets have had a documented history and interest in mind control weapons from the 1940s to the 1990s. The emerging technologies of quantum physics, brain biology and electromagnetic technology combined with cold war military funding and mind control technology was developed because of an arms race to control man.

The history of the Vietnam sensors technology and targeting of populations firmly established that the military has a bureaucracy for conducting classified research that would be similar for mind control technology. It is clear that remote surveillance is very sophisticated. DARPA and IDA, both active in sensors research, are two organizations to research further and would be likely conduits for mind control technology. Here is an absolutely classic summary of the science and government atmosphere in the early 60s in which mind control would proliferate. Charles Townes, who won the Nobel prize for invention of the laser in 1964 along with two Russian researchers, discussed DARPA in his book Making Waves, 1995. “The proposed position for me was Vice President and Director of Research for the Institute for Defense Analysis. The Institute was a non-profit “think-tank with a very important role, run by five or six prominent universities on the East Coast, Columbia University being one of them. It managed what was known as the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group. We had to pick the right people who would be responsible for analyzing how and whether a weapon worked and its effectiveness. We also advised a new organization, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, whose aim was to consider what could be done in space, and to help initiate new ideas and technologies of importance to national security. We also advised the State Department on arms control problems. …I met with Allen Dulles, then head of the CIA… It was a lengthy presentation of all the highly classified evidence we had. Finally he{Dullles} asked me, “What do you think?” (Townes, Pg. 199).

Tennenbaum felt that SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative was a cover for electromagnetic weapons as the same technology is involved. He stated that in 1983, the beginning of SDI, Russian biophysics research went underground. This is when the strategic expert, Dr. Possony published his article on direct communication with the brain. So much more research is needed.

It is difficult to describe scientific technology while it is classified and has not officially been used. Several independent sources support claims of the existence of government mind control and many scientists worldwide have stated that mind control technology is possible. The bureaucracy is in place and the victims are alleging serious human rights abuse. This is a serious issue worthy of further investigation.

This is more than enough evidence to establish the need for an investigation. The burden of proof of obtaining the classified documents and/or tying the electromagnetic signals used on victims to the government or corporations involved, is too high and victims are suffering and dying. It is cruel to make alleged victims of mind control experimentation and use, meet this burden of proof in order to get help. The government has been and is developing a weapon used against the brain and mind. This fact alone deserves special attention. The claims made by victims may sound crazy, but not in light of the facts. Knowing past government motive and behavior, victims deserve a compensating government mechanism for an investigation into alleged abuses. Please share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions and conclusions with CAHRA.