February 23, 2020

The Disappointment of the Human Brain Project

“On July 22, 2009, the neuroscientist Henry Markram walked onstage at the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, England, and told the audience that he was going to simulate the human brain, in all its staggering complexity, in a computer. His goals were lofty: “It’s perhaps to understand perception, to understand reality, and perhaps to even also understand physical reality.” His timeline was ambitious: “We can do it within 10 years, and if we do succeed, we will send to TED, in 10 years, a hologram to talk to you.” If the galaxy-brain meme had existed then, it would have been a great time to invoke it.

It’s been exactly 10 years. He did not succeed.

One could argue that the nature of pioneers is to reach far and talk big, and that it’s churlish to single out any one failed prediction when science is so full of them. (Science writers joke that breakthrough medicines and technologies always seem five to 10 years away, on a rolling window.) But Markram’s claims are worth revisiting for two reasons. First, the stakes were huge: In 2013, the European Commission awarded his initiative—the Human Brain Project (HBP)—a staggering 1 billion euro grant (worth about $1.42 billion at the time). Second, the HBP’s efforts, and the intense backlash to them, exposed important divides in how neuroscientists think about the brain and how it should be studied.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"U.S. President Donald Trump thinks he’s suffered more injustice than the alleged witches of Salem, but it could be worse. Pakistan’s former president Pervez Musharaff faced possible impeachment in 2008, leading to his resignation. In the end..."

"The 2000s felt like a decade of looking forward. Wi-Fi went mainstream, phones got smarter, social media connected us, digital tools let us rely less on physical ones. But the 2010s brought a shift. There was still tons of new technology, but..."

"While some women experience pregnancy and childbirth as joyful, natural and fulfilling, others find themselves recoiling in horror at the physical demands of carrying and sustaining a child in their womb, and even more so at the potential..."

"A few months ago, the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo bemoaned the death of the Manhattan power lunch. Gone were the long, decadent afternoons filled with networking and Negronis: “Suit-and-tie-wearing machers in media and Wall Street gave way to..."

"Economic inequality has moved to the top of the political agenda in many countries, including free-market poster children like the US and the UK. The issue is mobilizing the left and causing headaches on the right, where wealth has long been..."

"If you’re not familiar with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats — or even if you are — then you probably have many, many questions going into the film adaptation this weekend, especially if you’ve witnessed the widespread bafflement the trailer..."

"Despite his precisely targeted campaign and some unexpected support, the chances of Gideon Saar engineering a surprise defeat of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Dec. 26 primaries for the Likud party leadership are still considered modest.."

"Peter Thiel is Big Tech’s most prominent Trump supporter. He is an unabashed enemy of the free press, having covertly funded a lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker three years ago. He has become one of the most vocal pro-monopoly advocates, taking a..."