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[Researching the Brain] - White House officially proposes BRAIN Initiative

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  • SerukoSeruko Ferocious Kitten of The Farthest NorthRegistered User regular
    [Tycho?] wrote: »
    MrMister wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    Lanz wrote: »
    from the MIT Technology Review piece linked in the article:
    But Nicolelis is in a camp that thinks that human consciousness (and if you believe in it, the soul) simply can’t be replicated in silicon. That’s because its most important features are the result of unpredictable, nonlinear interactions among billions of cells, Nicolelis says.

    That's a computational problem. It's entirely possible to simulate nonlinear, nonbinary interactions of complex systems; given enough money and silicon and processing time. And "unpredictable" on a macro level (as opposed to a quantum level, and I really doubt that quantum interactions have a non-negligible effect on consciousness) just means "we don't understand it... yet."

    I think that Kurzweil has no basis for his 2029 prediction. I'd get behind Nicolelis if he were saying, "It's probably not possible in our lifetimes," but saying that it's not possible at all ever is a bit silly.

    There are some theoretical limits to Turing Machines. For instance, Turing Machines are discrete state machines, and as such cannot necessarily perform the same calculations as continuous state machines (like differential analyzers). So it's not the case that enough money and silicon can get you literally anything in the computational realm. But, to be fair, it's doubtful that this particular difference has that much to do with consciousness or any of the other particularly interesting properties of the human mind.

    edit: I would say the same re ELM above. I'm going off Turing's authority, which may have been superseded in the last half century, but he seemed convinced that there were computational tasks that could not be completed by a digital computer.

    I don't think it was an opinion, I think you can mathematically prove that a computer cannot perform any operation. Even if it isn't a proof, I would think computers would still be limited on account of Godel. Of course, I don't see why human brains can't be limited in a similar way.

    Godel 2 incompleteness theorems how all systems are inherently limited in mathematics. Human, Computers, Math, Language whatever.
    There is a similar philosophical concept in philosophy in post-modernism dealing with all semantic systems.

    "How are you going to play Dota if your fingers and bitten off? You can't. That's how" -> Carnarvon
    "You can be yodeling bear without spending a dime if you get lucky." -> reVerse
    "In the grim darkness of the future, we will all be nurses catering to the whims of terrible old people." -> Hacksaw
    "In fact, our whole society will be oriented around caring for one very decrepit, very old man on total life support." -> SKFM
    I mean, the first time I met a non-white person was when this Vietnamese kid tried to break my legs but that was entirely fair because he was a centreback, not because he was a subhuman beast in some zoo ->yotes
  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    Seruko wrote: »
    [Tycho?] wrote: »
    MrMister wrote: »
    Feral wrote: »
    Lanz wrote: »
    from the MIT Technology Review piece linked in the article:
    But Nicolelis is in a camp that thinks that human consciousness (and if you believe in it, the soul) simply can’t be replicated in silicon. That’s because its most important features are the result of unpredictable, nonlinear interactions among billions of cells, Nicolelis says.

    That's a computational problem. It's entirely possible to simulate nonlinear, nonbinary interactions of complex systems; given enough money and silicon and processing time. And "unpredictable" on a macro level (as opposed to a quantum level, and I really doubt that quantum interactions have a non-negligible effect on consciousness) just means "we don't understand it... yet."

    I think that Kurzweil has no basis for his 2029 prediction. I'd get behind Nicolelis if he were saying, "It's probably not possible in our lifetimes," but saying that it's not possible at all ever is a bit silly.

    There are some theoretical limits to Turing Machines. For instance, Turing Machines are discrete state machines, and as such cannot necessarily perform the same calculations as continuous state machines (like differential analyzers). So it's not the case that enough money and silicon can get you literally anything in the computational realm. But, to be fair, it's doubtful that this particular difference has that much to do with consciousness or any of the other particularly interesting properties of the human mind.

    edit: I would say the same re ELM above. I'm going off Turing's authority, which may have been superseded in the last half century, but he seemed convinced that there were computational tasks that could not be completed by a digital computer.

    I don't think it was an opinion, I think you can mathematically prove that a computer cannot perform any operation. Even if it isn't a proof, I would think computers would still be limited on account of Godel. Of course, I don't see why human brains can't be limited in a similar way.

    Godel 2 incompleteness theorems how all systems are inherently limited in mathematics. Human, Computers, Math, Language whatever.
    There is a similar philosophical concept in philosophy in post-modernism dealing with all semantic systems.

    Which doesn't apply here. That's about how you can't use the axioms of a mathematical framework to prove the framework is valid.

    Nothing to do with simulating a brain's possibility.

    Taranis
  • ShivahnShivahn Unaware of her barrel shifter privilege Eastern coastal temptressRegistered User regular
    redx wrote: »
    Shivahn wrote: »
    Um, I might be totally misunderstanding the meaning of the word analog, but... why are we treating brains as analog devices? The computational parts are all neurons that are necessarily, by design, either firing or not firing. There is no in between state, at any given point in time, each synapse's presynaptic cell is either firing or not firing.

    I realize that pretty much everyone disagrees with me and/or has not brought this up, so I'm... assuming I'm wrong, but could someone explain how or why? Because I don't know how different the brain is from a large parallel structure of binary devices operating at 100 Hertz.

    The inputs that determine if the neuron are firing are electrochemical charges and quantities of neurotransmitters that are binding to receptors, these are functionally analog.

    I'm also not 100% on the firing or not firing thing you just said. I mean, there are plenty of chemicals floating around in the brain that that partially inhibit or encourage ion transfer between neurons.

    But they do respond to receptors, and receptors are frequently binary-like, even if there's fair quantities of them. Neurons generally have action-potentials which allow for charge-accumulation type activities - that's not so much analog as more like an A2D input and it's definitely not infinite-resolution.
    That's sort of what I was thinking. Each neuron is effectively digital in output with edge exceptions like when a neuron is in tetanus or whatever. And each neurons inputs at any given time are basically forming an AND and NOT complex. You could totally make a truth table for a given circuit. Which is awesome. Though as pointed out, the circuit's table changes with general environmental regulations. So I think it is fair to call brains binary, though admittedly a complicated system.

  • ShivahnShivahn Unaware of her barrel shifter privilege Eastern coastal temptressRegistered User regular
    Oh, also I wanted to mention this:
    redx wrote: »

    I'm also not 100% on the firing or not firing thing you just said. I mean, there are plenty of chemicals floating around in the brain that that partially inhibit or encourage ion transfer between neurons.

    This is true, but I think irrelevant to outputs. Regardless of the surrounding bath, neurons are either releasing one quanta of transmitter or they are not. How that is interpreted is modular, but with few exceptions, like an NMJ neuron that has been tetanic for some time, the neuron is firing one same sized quantum release or not at any given time.

    Sorry for being short and double posting. Phones are not conducive to discussing neuroscience.

  • ShivahnShivahn Unaware of her barrel shifter privilege Eastern coastal temptressRegistered User regular
    edited March 2013
    Well, except for when a single vesicle is released sometimes. Fucking biology with all her glorious caveats.

    Though actually, still binary. You can't release half of a vesicle. Hmm.

    Shivahn on
  • PaladinPaladin Registered User regular
    There are several exceptions that complicate this binary rule - neurons are cells, after all, and engage in copious amounts of analog cell signaling. For instance, when an action potential reaches the presynaptic terminus, the state of the neurotransmitter vesicles may vary depending on cell state from internal and external signals. Neurotransmitter release is further dependent upon local molecular and electrical signals. The topology of the synaptic cleft, the type of neurotransmitter (or combo of neurotransmitters), the existence of modulating enzymes and proteins in the synaptic cleft that help or hinder neurotransmitter signal, the quantity, quality, and type of postsynaptic receptors which themselves can have fancy regulatory features like inhibiting or promoting their own activity dependent on binding or actual transmission of the neurotransmitter, presynaptic and postsynaptic feedback, feedforward, and feedforward->feedback loops that occur as an additional regulatory mechanism, and finally the fact that all dendritic processes are not created equal, to the point where firing on one means nothing or everything or something in between if another specific or general one has or hasn't fired at around the same time/exactly the same time, in a specific sequence or at a specific location, with certain properties of certain dendrites at a certain distance from the soma arranged in such a way that a specific combination of traveling excitatory and inhibitory post-synaptic potentials will eventually be integrated in a vast network that determines, in the end, whether or not the cell actually fires complicates explaining why a neuron fired when it did. This is not quite a logic complex because each synaptic connection has unique physical properties that modify how a signal is propagated. Dendrites are much less like wires than axons, and there are a lot of variables involved.

    The difference between the mechanics of a cell and the mechanics of a program is that the cell is at the mercy of its environment. Therefore, it integrates components of its environment into its scheme, regardless of whether or not it becomes needlessly complicated or nonsensical. Even freak residual charge that refluxes up the dendritic tree to an innocent bystander synapse without checking in with the soma at all has a purpose simply because it happens, so I'm not so sure that a reductionist philosophy is the way to go.

    Marty: The future, it's where you're going?
    Doc: That's right, twenty five years into the future. I've always dreamed on seeing the future, looking beyond my years, seeing the progress of mankind. I'll also be able to see who wins the next twenty-five world series.
    TaranisFuzzy Cumulonimbus CloudPLAzagdrob
  • Fuzzy Cumulonimbus CloudFuzzy Cumulonimbus Cloud Nurse, Veteran, Army Mom, Ficus, Space Dad, Survivor Contestant God Bless This Mess Registered User regular
    redx wrote: »
    Shivahn wrote: »
    Um, I might be totally misunderstanding the meaning of the word analog, but... why are we treating brains as analog devices? The computational parts are all neurons that are necessarily, by design, either firing or not firing. There is no in between state, at any given point in time, each synapse's presynaptic cell is either firing or not firing.

    I realize that pretty much everyone disagrees with me and/or has not brought this up, so I'm... assuming I'm wrong, but could someone explain how or why? Because I don't know how different the brain is from a large parallel structure of binary devices operating at 100 Hertz.

    The inputs that determine if the neuron are firing are electrochemical charges and quantities of neurotransmitters that are binding to receptors, these are functionally analog.

    I'm also not 100% on the firing or not firing thing you just said. I mean, there are plenty of chemicals floating around in the brain that that partially inhibit or encourage ion transfer between neurons.

    But they do respond to receptors, and receptors are frequently binary-like, even if there's fair quantities of them. Neurons generally have action-potentials which allow for charge-accumulation type activities - that's not so much analog as more like an A2D input and it's definitely not infinite-resolution.
    Excitatory receptors are binary. There are many receptors that have multiple off/on states as well as multiple sites for modification. They can have built in timers. They can disassociate. They can integrate multiple signals. They can respond to physiochemical waves independent of initial substrate.

  • Fuzzy Cumulonimbus CloudFuzzy Cumulonimbus Cloud Nurse, Veteran, Army Mom, Ficus, Space Dad, Survivor Contestant God Bless This Mess Registered User regular
    Oh hilarious. Paladin and I are on the same systems wavelength. :P

  • PaladinPaladin Registered User regular
    however, if the federal government is willing to dump stupendous cash into the brain activity map, then I'm all for it as long as I can dump "connectome" in the MeSH list of a vaguely related grant proposal

    Marty: The future, it's where you're going?
    Doc: That's right, twenty five years into the future. I've always dreamed on seeing the future, looking beyond my years, seeing the progress of mankind. I'll also be able to see who wins the next twenty-five world series.
  • Fuzzy Cumulonimbus CloudFuzzy Cumulonimbus Cloud Nurse, Veteran, Army Mom, Ficus, Space Dad, Survivor Contestant God Bless This Mess Registered User regular
    Paladin wrote: »
    however, if the federal government is willing to dump stupendous cash into the brain activity map, then I'm all for it as long as I can dump "connectome" in the MeSH list of a vaguely related grant proposal
    You can already do that. I like connectome and QUANTITATIVE CONNECTOMICS. Make sure to devise the longest mass spec acronym that you can think of. :P

  • LanzLanz Registered User regular
    edited April 2013
    So the project that sparked the thread is now official:

    http://io9.com/obama-has-announced-a-100-million-brain-mapping-projec-465448603
    Io9 wrote:
    Obama has announced a $100-million brain mapping project

    President Obama announced plans this morning for a long-term research project to improve our understanding of the brain. Comparing it to the Human Genome Project, Obama said the brain-mapping initiative could lead to cures for diseases like Alzheimer's and autism, while fueling economic growth and job creation. Here's what you need to know.

    The announcement has been hotly anticipated since mid-February, when The New York Times reported the President would soon seek funds from Congress to "examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity, seeking to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.” At the time, we and others speculated that Obama's plan would resemble a so-called Brain Activity Map (a.k.a. "BAM") project outlined last year in the journal Neuron, and that the Administration might seek billions of dollars from Congress to set things in motion.

    In fact, Obama announced this morning that the project will be called the BRAIN Initiative. The initial price tag: a paltry (relatively speaking) $100 million.

    BRAIN stands for "Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies," and the last word in that acronym is a telling one. When we spoke with Rafael Yuste (one of the neuroscientists whose advice the Obama Administration has sought in planning the initiative) back in February, he told us that the endeavor would be first and foremost "a technical development project." The ultimate goal of the BRAIN may be to create a functional map of neuron activity throughout the human brain, but charting such a map is – as of today – impossible.

    To create such a map will require tools that can measure the activity of any one of the brain's tens of billions of neurons, along with the activity of any and all neurons it's connected to. Scale this measurement up to the level of the entire brain and you've got yourself a functional activity map. Neuroscientists recently managed something akin to this in zebrafish embryos; but doing the same for a human brain – which contains about 85,000 times more neurons than that of a zebrafish – will require nothing short of a technological revolution in the field of neuroscience.

    And so the BRAIN Initiative will focus largely on realizing new tools for imaging, recording, and eventually controlling neurons. "Great promise for developing such technologies lies at the intersections of nanoscience, imaging, engineering, informatics, and other rapidly emerging fields of science and engineering," read a White House statement. Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, also emphasized collaboration. "It aims to bring together nanoscience, engineering and neurology to make sense of how the brain works," he explains in the video featured below, and "how those circuits in the brain allow us to do all those complicated things, that currently we don't understand."

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=slQ8ELULNP0

    On the public-funding front, the NIH will be joined by the National Science Foundation and DARPA in supporting the Initiaive. Private partnerships include the Allen Institute, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavli Foundation, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The effort is being launched with funding in Obama's FY 2014 budget, to be proposed next week.

    Additional Information
    - The NIH's BRAIN Initiative Website
    - The White House's BRAIN Initiative Fact Sheet
    - A BRAIN Initiative Infographic, posted by the White House
    - Our interview with scientists on the scope and feasibility of a brain mapping project
    - Last year's white paper, outlining the Brain Activity Map Project thought to have inspired the BRAIN Initiative
    - A newly published BAM Paper, co-authored by a number of the researchers behind last year's white paper

    Additionally, bits on Colbert about it:
    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/425102/april-04-2013/obama-s-brain-initiative

    And interview with the BRAIN Initiative's director, Francis Collins:
    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/425103/april-04-2013/francis-collins

    Lanz on
    waNkm4k.jpg?1
    kimeElJeffe
  • redxredx I(x)=2(x)+1 whole numbersRegistered User regular
    Paladin wrote: »
    however, if the federal government is willing to dump stupendous cash into the brain activity map, then I'm all for it as long as I can dump "connectome" in the MeSH list of a vaguely related grant proposal
    You can already do that. I like connectome and QUANTITATIVE CONNECTOMICS. Make sure to devise the longest mass spec acronym that you can think of. :P
    Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry. You don't want people to think you are some sort of old fuddy-duddy still working in the time domain.

    This machine kills threads.
  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    redx wrote: »
    Paladin wrote: »
    however, if the federal government is willing to dump stupendous cash into the brain activity map, then I'm all for it as long as I can dump "connectome" in the MeSH list of a vaguely related grant proposal
    You can already do that. I like connectome and QUANTITATIVE CONNECTOMICS. Make sure to devise the longest mass spec acronym that you can think of. :P
    Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry. You don't want people to think you are some sort of old fuddy-duddy still working in the time domain.

    Fourier transform sounds cool till you realize it's literally just moving a damn mirror. Sometimes not even that.

  • ArchArch Neat-o, mosquito! Registered User regular
    So, what with the Obama thing being official now, I guess, the time for reservations has passed. That is, I am incredibly sceptical that we will learn much about the brain, or at least anywhere near as much as we think.

    The comparisons to the human genome project are apt- that initiative certainly advanced science but one of the main goals (I.e. finding the genetic basis for diseases) really was kind of a letdown.

    That being said, I don't doubt we will get some cool stuff out of this. I just think the contributions to science from knowing the connectome will be less exciting than whatever technology they develop along the way, just like the human genome project.

    Plus I also feel politics about the whole thing.

  • electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    Still important. There's an Alpha Centauri quote relevant for here:
    There are two kinds of scientific progress: the methodical experimentation and categorization which gradually extend the boundaries of knowledge, and the revolutionary leap of genius which redefines and transcends those boundaries. Acknowledging our debt to the former, we yearn, nonetheless, for the latter.

    Arch
  • redxredx I(x)=2(x)+1 whole numbersRegistered User regular
    Arch wrote: »
    So, what with the Obama thing being official now, I guess, the time for reservations has passed. That is, I am incredibly sceptical that we will learn much about the brain, or at least anywhere near as much as we think.

    The comparisons to the human genome project are apt- that initiative certainly advanced science but one of the main goals (I.e. finding the genetic basis for diseases) really was kind of a letdown.

    That being said, I don't doubt we will get some cool stuff out of this. I just think the contributions to science from knowing the connectome will be less exciting than whatever technology they develop along the way, just like the human genome project.

    Plus I also feel politics about the whole thing.

    ehhh... we've learned a bunch about genetic basis for diseases. A lot of that is "well... this shit is complicated and has a lot to do with the environment, and gentics is frequently just a predisposition."

    Another thing about the human genome project is we knew how much work we had to do. They could read x thousand pairs per hour, there were about n base pairs, so they know it would require y work.

    We have no clue how complicated the brain actually is. We could throw $Texas at the brain and still not know how much more work we have to do, unless we uncover some new science.

    This machine kills threads.
  • durandal4532durandal4532 Registered User regular
    $100 million is laughably small.

    Like, good! I've got a big stake in this both on account of being human and being in the field. But it'll probably just be a way of maintaining some grant money during the austerity measures.

    You could probably do significantly more by just increasing NSF funding.

    Take a moment to donate what you can to the International Rescue Committee, the National Immigration Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union. There has never been a more urgent moment to do so.
  • PLAPLA The process.Registered User regular
    Or developing a science-gun, that shoots science.

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