How the Needs of Big Data Projects Spur Technological Advancements
What is more “disruptive” than innovation? What can interrupt a growth trajectory and alter the course of technological evolution in a way that a new phone or holographic chart never could? A change in perspective.
In 1400, the world was flat. Human knowledge of anything beyond province borders was shrouded in darkness, misunderstanding, and misconception. Science and technology were not yet advanced enough permit discoveries beyond the capabilities of our own senses: we could only prove what we could see, hear, or touch.
By 1900, the earth's nature was largely understood, but our knowledge of space and the universe remained hazy and uncertain.
By 2014, we’ve made massive discoveries into areas as abstract and distant as outer space, yet we are still in the dark about certain fields close to home as our own minds. This lifetime will be revolutionary - projects are in motion that will certainly illuminate the cavities in human knowledge and unveil the mysteries of our own consciousness.
The Human Brain Project
In October 2013, 80 top universities and research institutions joined together in Lausanne, Switzerland to embark on the most ambitious neuroscience project in history: the 10 year, 1.19 billion euro Human Brain Project. The project aims to create a perfect simulation of a human brain on a supercomputer, allowing scientists to study brain diseases and mutations, simulate the effects of drugs on the brain, and query beyond the confines of possible experimentation without the need for human or animal subjects.
With 100 billion neurons and 100,000 billion synapses, the human brain is the most complex and mysterious machine on earth. To make a blueprint of the molecular architecture that defines the organization and development of the human brain, neuroscientists, doctors, data scientists, and roboticists will work together to gather and mine brain data.
These scientists will collaborate within 6 interconnected departments: neuroinformatics, brain simulation, high-performance computing, medical informatics, neuromorphic computing and neurorobotics.
The most challenging activity will be high-performance computing, largely because the technology required to advance the project beyond the initial stages does not yet exist. The computing department will have to make massive strides in terms of memory and storage capabilities. The supercomputer necessary to store the information pertaining to the intricacies of the human brain would have to be 1,000 more powerful than the best existing technology. In this sense, the Human Brain project will not only explore medical possibilities but also stimulate the development of neuromorphic computers, which are modeled directly after the brain and combine human intelligence with the capacity of computers.
In many respects, this project seems impossible, more of a government funded initiative to bring Europe to the forefront of science than an actual project intended to be supervised to completion. Yes, the organization of the project has been roughly structured, but the technological developments needed to complete each step may not be feasible. There are so many ambiguous, hazy areas connecting one step of the project to the next that it seems that it could go in infinite directions depending on the discoveries made during the initial stages. The project could easily shift focus from brain disease research to an exploration of human consciousness depending on the discoveries made along the way.
The possibilities are endless and the ethical implications somewhat alarming, but with such a massive budget and the world's leading scientists on board, it’s likely that the next ten years will prompt insights into the workings of the human mind that will change our perspective toward cognition, consciousness, and every other scientific realm....and when perspective shifts, the world never looks the same again.