beanz Magazine

The Blue Brain Project

Markus Lippman on Flickr

Could a human brain be simulated by a computer? Would it think and feel like we do?

In the digital world, developers can tweak and tinker and take their time to find the perfect design. After all, if your virtual rocket blows up you can just click a button and make a new one! Cheap, quick, and easy. But computer simulations are also limited: they only work if their model is accurate. If the developer doesn’t program physics correctly, or forgets a piece of the puzzle, then it’s game over.

In 2005, when Professor Henry Markram started the Blue Brain Project (BBP), many scientists didn’t think it would work. The goal of the BBP was to create a detailed computer simulation of a mouse brain, down to every last neuron and synapse. It was an exciting idea. Neuroscience is a tricky field, since the object it studies — the brain — is hidden away inside our skulls. Even the most modern measuring technologies like EEGs and MRIs only provide brief glimpses into what’s going on. Imagine seeing a shadow and trying to figure out what it’s owner looks like!

As a result, creating new medicines and treating brain diseases is a game of trial and error. An accurate brain simulation could change that. But could that simulation ever be accurate?

Background Info

Your brain is composed of neurons. Each neuron looks a bit like a tree, with roots and branches extending in many directions and connecting to dozens of other neurons. Together, they create a vast network — 85 billion neurons altogether! But while scientists understand the basics of neurons, they don’t know many specifics. For example, the shape of a neuron helps store your memories, but how exactly does this shape change when you eat an ice cream? When you pet a kitty? How does your brain decide which neuron to change?


Become a subscriber and get access to the rest of this article. Plus all our magazine articles.

Stories also include numerous links to help parents, kids, and teachers learn more. Get access today at just $15 per year!

Subscribe Today!

Also In The February 2018 Issue

In an era before telephones, a clever code was created to send messages by telegraph.

A simple coding activity that creates a virtual tic-tac-toe board with pieces.

Seven days to design, code, and debug a program with PyGame. What could go wrong?

Play with your friends or connect to Minecraft servers all around the world.

Turning scientific data into music can lead to new insights and new solutions.

Tools to help you design and print your own jewelry. Who says geeks can’t be fashionable?

Say hello to your new favorite robot: spherical, programmable, and durable. It can even swim!

The perfect language to help you transition into a new way of coding.

Create a new and improved variation of the classic 1960s board game with micro:bit.

Learn about the origin of Unix time, the calendar system used by digital devices.

Could a human brain be simulated by a computer? Would it think and feel like we do?

Links from the bottom of all the February 2018 articles, collected in one place for you to print, share, or bookmark.

Interesting stories about computer science, software programming, and technology for February 2018.