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They called it the Hubble Telescope of the mind.

 

This was in 2009, after the announcement that a team of scientists from IBM’s Cognitive Computing group had built what was, at the time, the largest artificial brain ever. It was a cell-by-cell computer simulation of the human visual cortex, large as a cat’s brain.

 

The reference to Hubble, the deep-space telescope, is a nod to the galactic complexity of building a computer with brain-like infrastructure. The cat-sized brain built in 2009 represented 1 billion neurons connected by 10 trillion synapses, according to IBM. Since then, they’ve scaled up dramatically—mapping the neural pathways of a macaque monkey brain, and edging closer to an accurate simulation of the human brain.

 

Simulating an entire, biologically realistic human brain remains an elusive goal with today’s hardware. The processing power that would be needed to pull off such a feat is mind-boggling. “It would be a nuclear power plant,” Horst Simon, a mathematician and the deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told Popular Mechanics in 2009. “The electricity alone would cost $1 billion per year.” Since then, scientists have said they expect to be able to simulate a human-scale brain by 2019, but they still haven’t solved the problem of how to power such a simulation. (That said, Simon and others have successfully created computer simulations inspired by the number of synapses in the human brain—which is different than a biologically realistic model, but still one step toward that ultimate goal.)

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The Atlantic

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