Can An Entire Brain Be Simulated In A Computer?
A big team of researchers from Jülich Research Centre, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Aachen University, RIKEN, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and KTH Royal Institute of Technology are trying a large-scale simulation of the brain's neurons and connections.
The algorithm was developed using NEST* (“neural simulation tool”) — open-source simulation software in widespread use by the neuroscientific community and a core simulator of the European Human Brain Project. With NEST, the behavior of each neuron in the network is represented by a small number of mathematical equations...
During the simulation, a neuron’s action potentials (short electric pulses) first need to be sent to all 100,000 or so small computers, called nodes, each equipped with a number of processors doing the actual calculations. Each node then checks which of all these pulses are relevant for the virtual neurons that exist on this node.
That process requires one bit of information per processor for every neuron in the whole network. For a network of one billion neurons, a large part of the memory in each node is consumed by this single bit of information per neuron. Of course, the amount of computer memory required per processor for these extra bits per neuron increases with the size of the neuronal network. To go beyond the 1 percent and simulate the entire human brain would require the memory available to each processor to be 100 times larger than in today’s supercomputers.
Achieving whole-brain simulation on future exascale supercomputers. That’s where the next-generation NEST algorithm comes in. At the beginning of the simulation, the new NEST algorithm will allow the nodes to exchange information about what data on neuronal activity needs to sent and to where. Once this knowledge is available, the exchange of data between nodes can be organized such that a given node only receives the information it actually requires. That will eliminate the need for the additional bit for each neuron in the network.
With memory consumption under control, simulation speed will then become the main focus. For example, a large simulation of 0.52 billion neurons connected by 5.8 trillion synapses running on the supercomputer JUQUEEN in Jülich previously required 28.5 minutes to compute one second of biological time. With the improved algorithm, the time will be reduced to just 5.2 minutes, the researchers calculate.
“The combination of exascale hardware and [forthcoming NEST] software brings investigations of fundamental aspects of brain function, like plasticity and learning, unfolding over minutes of biological time, within our reach,” says Diesmann.
SF fans have spent generations waiting for hardware brain components.
Isaac Asimov, in his short story Reason,
All that had been done in the mid 20th century on "calculating machines" had been upset by Robertson and his positronic brain paths. The miles of relays and photocells had given way to the spongy globe of platinum iridium about the size of the human brain.
(Read more about the positronic brain)
Another train of thought stimulated by this research is the idea that each of us is a computer simulation. This gives some idea of the hardware required to simulate a brain full of connections.
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