The most complex object known to humanity is the human brain—and not only is it complex, but it is the seat of one of the few natural phenomena that science has no purchase on at all, namely consciousness. To try to replicate something that is so poorly understood may therefore seem like hubris. But you have to start somewhere, and IBM and the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), in Switzerland, propose to start by replicating “in silico”, as the jargon has it, one of the brain's building blocks.Oooh, very cool. 2015: a brain replicated in silicon. I am marking my calendar now.
In a partnership announced on June 6th, the two organisations said they would be working together to build a simulation of a structure known as a neocortical column on a type of IBM supercomputer that is currently used to study the molecular functioning of genes. If that works, they plan to use future, more powerful computers to link such simulated columns together into something that mimics a brain.
Assuming that the growth of computing power continues to follow Moore's Law, Charles Peck, the leader of IBM's side of the collaboration, reckons it should be feasible to emulate an entire human brain in silico this way in ten to 15 years.