Category: Events


I have been in Dallas Texas all week at the International Joint Conference on Neural Networks. A major player in President Obama’s Brain Initiative Project gave at talk followed by a Q & A session. So what is this Brain Initiative all about?

Back in April President Obama announced a 100 million dollar funded project in studying the brain, with an extra 90 million a year from private investors. It all started when sometime before a group of nano technologists met up with a group of neuroscientists. After a few days presenting their work to each other, the a nano technologist asked what the neuroscientist would most like to be able to do. The reply was: we would like to be able to record from every neuron in the brain at once. The response from the nano guys was:we can help you with that.

 

Recording from neurons is presently an invasive process of sticking probes into the brain. Back in the day we could only record from one neuron at a time. Now we can record 100-200 simultaneously. There are about 80 billion neurons in the brain. Now there are about 100 thousand neurons in a cortical column. If we want to record from 10 columns thats a million neurons. Now we presently can’t record all the neurons in a column at once because we cant fit that many probes in, there just isn’t enough space. If you use Moores Law to see how the technological growth in our ability record from numerous neurons has advanced and predict into the future, then we will be able to record a million neurons by the year 2100. This is far too long to wait.

The Brain Initiative attempts to develop technologies that will enable us to record from a million neurons within 10-15 years. Not only does it hope to record non intrusively but also aims at being able to stimulate these neurons, and as well as that come up with analysis techniques to understand the complex data.

 

This work will not just advance technology that can also be applied in other areas, but it will help us understand the brain so as to develop AI and cure mental diseases.

 

Present Obama was given a selection of projects to choose to fund and made the choice himself to invest in brain research. A very smart man.

The Brain Connectivity Workshop is my first neuroscience excursion so I have been totally nerding out for the last two days. I am pleased to find such friendly and interesting people. My main interest here is network topology and dynamics. There has been a lot of talk about networks that display small world topological properties (i.e. small characteristic path length between any two nodes and a high cluster index in the network as a whole), as well as talk about the brains fractal and modular formation. As I am sure you are all aware these three properties are mutually compatible.

There was a very interesting talk today by Danielle Bassett form Cambridge University, who along with her colleagues has been studying network organisation properties in both artificial VLSI integrated computer circuits as well as animal brains. Her proposal is that all physical information processing systems share modular organisational properties. The brain was shown to display hierarchical formations which at each level can be modularised. Bassett also showed that the cost entailed in physical wiring was not strictly minimized, but that there is a trade off between this cost and topological complexity which gives rise to fractal and modular designs. In addition she illustrated how volume ratios between gray matter (which contain neural cell bodies) and white matter (which contains axonal connections) across a wide range of mammals remain similar. Interestingly VLSI circuits display an isometric scaling relationship between the number of connections and the number of processing elements. For more details read here.