A billion dollar research project that seeks to map the active brain could be the next great scientific undertaking, according to a recent article in the New York Times. President Obama alluded to the decade-long undertaking, called the Brain Activity Map, last month in his State of the Union address.
An existing project to map the static human brain is already underway at the National Institutes of Health. But mapping the active brain is a new research direction that could lead to breakthroughs in understanding diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s and could very well pave the way for advances in artificial intelligence.
Funding aside, the project doesn’t come without significant challenges. With between 85 to 100 billion neurons in the human brain, mapping neural activity is no easy task and will require new techniques–and most likely new technologies–in order to even begin the process.
For some perspective, watch the following clip on how much information is needed just to map a millimeter sphere of a bird’s brain.
If researchers can overcome these significant obstacles, the possibilities for understanding “connectomes”, a comprehensive map of neural connections in the brain, could help turn science fiction into reality according to MIT professor Sebastian Seung.